Which decade is Tops for Pops? (8/10) – 2004 edition.

Slowly but surely, this year’s contest is turning into a walkover for the 1960s, who are now four points ahead of their nearest rivals. Looking at today’s selection, I think they have every reason to continue feeling confident. Jeez, I’ve started anthropomorphising whole decades now. Nurse – the screens! Bring on the Number Threes!

1964: Anyone Who Had A Heart – Cilla Black.
1974: The Air That I Breathe – The Hollies.
1984: Street Dance – Break Machine.
1994: The Sign – Ace Of Base.
2004: Baby I Love U – Jennifer Lopez featuring R.Kelly.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.

Time for the customary pretentious-music-journo waffle, then. I’ve been searching high and low for my copy of Semiological Signs & Signifiers In The Work Of Cilla Black, but I think our cleaning lady must have made off with it. In which case, I shall have to wing it. (Note to newer readers: he gets like this when he’s been out on the piss the night before. Just smile and nod.)

Anyone Who Had A Heart: undeniably great song, one of Bacharach & David’s finest, and Dionne Warwick’s impeccable original version is a much-loved classic. So what are we to make of Cilla’s cover version, which reached Number One and prevented Miss Warwick from getting any higher than Number 42? Tatty cash-in cover version? Pale imitation of the real thing? (There’s a whole thesis waiting to written here about ethnicity issues, but let’s save that for another day.) And, c’mon – bleedin’ Cilla “light entertainment” Black? I can hear the cries of “travesty” from here.

But let’s try and be fair. Let’s strip away all the naffness which followed – the Blind Dates, the Surprise Surprises, the Moments of Truth – and remember Cilla as she was in March 1964: the 20 year old former coat check girl from the Cavern in Liverpool, as breezy, optimistic, youthful and fresh as the rapidly emerging new pop culture that surrounded her, enjoying her first major hit and patently loving the whole experience. Let’s credit her – or at least her “people” – with the good taste to spot a hot US import of the day, and to cover it with love and respect for the song’s essence. Where Warwick is all elegant restraint, our Cilla chooses instead to belt the song out like the Mersey girl she is, with a screech on the chorus like an oxyacetalene blow torch. Technically speaking – even, dare I say it, aesthetically speaking – she’s not a great singer, the kindest word possibly being “eccentric”. But there’s an undeniable passion at the heart of the record, which saves it – by a whisker, mind, but a significant whisker – from being superfluous trash.

You’re My World, however, was bloody awful. Meanwhile, Dionne didn’t need to sulk for long; a month later, she entered the charts with her first UK hit, Walk On By, which went onto reach the Top 10. So everyone went home happy.

Wow, look everyone! The Hollies are back! So soon! Thirty years ago, I loathed The Air That I Breathe, viewing it as a dismal, never-ending dirge. With the wisdom of adulthood, hem hem, I am inclined to view it more favourably. Much more favourably. The song takes its time to work through its various sections (making it a bugger to edit down for the MP3), all of which are heading inexorably in the same direction, towards that epic, soaring chorus. The simplicity of the song’s lyrical theme, as the singer strips his existence down to the bare essentials, is juxtaposed wonderfully well with the full-on, everything-but-the-kitchen sink orchestration in the chorus. Lovely stuff, and – along with He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother – one of the only two moments in The Hollies’ long but somewhat second division career that approached greatness.

In the case of Break Machine, the passage of time has produced the reverse effect. Twenty years ago, boom-box electro boy that I was, I fairly lapped up Street Dance – especially as it appeared on one of my favourite labels of the time, Record Shack (home of cult Hi-NRG divas such as Miquel Brown, Earlene Bentley and Evelyn Thomas). Indeed, I remember standing in the Record Shack store in Berwick Street the week before this very chart appeared, flicking through the import racks while the shop and label people discussed where Street Dance was going to end up (and correctly predicting its rise from #5 to #3). A moment later, Miquel “So Many Men, So Little Time” Brown casually strolled in with her shopping, and the whole shop went into a star-struck swoon. No, really, it did. Heady days!

However, the essential fakeness behind Break Machine has meant that Street Dance hasn’t worn at all well. Portrayed as beat-of-the-street b-boys, they were in fact the latest confection from Jacques Morali, former svengali to the Village People. Yes – it’s a little known fact, but Street Dance was written by the same team who brought you YMCA, and Eartha Kitt’s über-camp Where Is My Man. And as James Hamilton waspishly remarked in Record Mirror at the time, the vocals were distinctly more Santa Monica Boulevard than the Bronx. Miaow!

Faced with the prospect of writing anything at all about the irredeemably dreary Ace Of Base, I feel the will to live draining from my body. Did you know that they made the 1994 Guinness Book Of World Records for the biggest selling debut album of all time? It beggars belief, doesn’t it? Instead of trying to invent new ways of saying “pants”, I shall offer you the following little exchange from earlier this evening, when K did his voting.

K: “She’s got some sort of speech impediment, hasn’t she?”
M: “Actually, she’s Swedish.”

Laugh? We nearly drowned out the rest of the track.

At this stage of the game, I find myself desperately wanting to defend contemporary R&B from all you h8erz out there who are slagging it off for being unmelodic. As I see it, the essence of R&B isn’t melodic at all, or even particularly song-based. The emphasis here is on rhythm – on the intricate syncopated interplays between the various elements in the music, both vocal and instrumental. You might just as well slag Cilla Black off for not being funky enough; the criticism would be equally wide of the mark.

Unfortunately, I only have Jennifer Lopez and R. Kelly as today’s evidence for the defence, with this ropey old pile of toss. No doubt stunned by the somewhat freakish success of last year’s staggeringly good Ignition (remix) – my favourite single of last year, and a record which worked so well partly because it sounded so casual and accidental – R. Kelly is doggedly, and all too self-consciously, trying to repeat the formula here. It doesn’t work. At all. In fact, it sucks a big one. Meanwhile, J-lo continues to betray her utter disinterest in music as anything other than a means to an end, with her useless, indifferent, can-we-get-a-move-on-my-driver’s-waiting warbling. The track reaches its absolute nadir during what I suppose we must call the “chorus”, which sounds like the work of, ooh, about 3 seconds’ creative effort. If that. Plus there’s this awful percussive klatsch noise about once every bar, which sounds horribly intrusive on headphones. Pah. A pox on all your houses!

Mv votes: 1 – The Hollies. 2 – Cilla Black. 3 – Break Machine. 4 – Ace Of Base. 5 – Jennifer Lopez featuring Our Shelleh.

Over to you. Except that you’ve already started, haven’t you? (A skeleton version of this post first appeared three hours ago.) Naturally, I’m expecting a Cilla/Hollies two-horse race. But I’ve been wrong before. Come on, surprise me.

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (8/10) – 2004 edition.”

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Which decade is Tops for Pops? (7/10) – 2004 edition.

For the first time in this year’s survey, all of today’s vocalists are male. Prepare for a pretty-boy pop / classic rock / country & western soundclash, as we hold our noses and plunge headlong into the testosterone stew of the Number Fours:

1964: Not Fade Away – The Rolling Stones.
1974: The Most Beautiful Girl In The World – Charlie Rich.
1984: Wouldn’t It Be Good – Nik Kershaw.
1994: Streets Of Philadelphia – Bruce Springsteen.
2004: Mysterious Girl – Peter Andre.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.

As with Needles & Pins at Number 10, the first top ten hit for The Rolling Stones is, by the standards of its day, a progressive and prescient record, which – in common with much of the best pop music – simply could not have existed a year earlier. With its gritty, driving, loose-limbed physicality, Not Fade Away reveals its faux-Beatles contemporaries as woefully derivative and buttoned-up by comparison, their feet still planted in Tin Pan Alley hacksmithery. Forty years on, and you can still catch a whiff of the incendiary impact that this must have had.

Expecting some sort of toupeed & cummerbunded, rhinestone-encrusted & candelbra-bedecked cabaret nightmare, I was pleasantly surprised by Charlie Rich. Hokey yet heartfelt, there’s a deft emotional sway to The Most Beautiful Girl In The World – particularly in the latter stages of its chorus – which reels me right in. Amplified beautifully by the song’s arrangement, Charlie’s regret sounds genuine to me – and ultimately, that’s what counts.

With Nik “re-appropriating the snood as a fashion accessory” Kershaw, the situation is more problematic. Namely, that the whole stiff, lumpen, clod-hopping sound of Wouldn’t It Be Good is so deeply unappealing from an aesthetic point of view (to say nothing of the awful rock-lite guitar sound) that I find it almost impossible to concentrate on the actual song for any sustained amount of time. But, mindful of my duties, concentrate I must – and what do I find lurking behind the clueless A&R-approved AOR bluster but the thinnest, most pitiful, whiniest excuse for a song ever? For real, gloriously transcendent self-pity in 1984, you needed to look no further than The Smiths. Compared to the majesty of Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, this primped and pouting little pipsqueak doesn’t even register as a blip on the map. Begone, Kershaw, and take your snood with you!

With Bruce Springsteen – an artist whose appeal has always been lost on me – the situation grows still more problematic. From the soundtrack of the Oscar-winning Big AIDS Movie of the same year, Streets Of Philadelphia is – for all of its understated, stripped-down, bluster-free qualities – Springsteen’s Big AIDS Song. And that’s where, for me, the problem lies. As with the film, there’s a confusion between symbolic gesture and emotional truth, which clouds objective judgement of the work’s intrinsic merits. The tragedy of AIDS is, per se, an emotionally upsetting subject – hence the film made me bawl my eyes out in the cinema like no other film before or since, and the song made me go out and buy a Springsteen record for the first and last time. However, it didn’t take long before the film stood revealed as a shallow, manipulative, resolutely minor piece of work, expressly calculated to extract as many tears as possible from its audience – the cinematic equivalent of a piece of red ribbon. Similarly, Springsteen’s song doesn’t stand up too well, either. Somehow, it revels in the suffering it describes, in a manner which I find slightly distasteful (“and my clothes don’t fit me no more“, indeed). Unlike Charlie Rich’s record – sentimental and yet somehow sincere – I simply don’t believe in Springsteen’s undoubtedly well-intentioned, yet strangely impersonal performance. It’s not a bad record – there’s an eerie, haunting quality which is undeniably effective – but it falls a long way short of the great record which it was self-consciously trying to be.

All of which makes the sudden lurch into Peter Andre‘s exhumed pop-reggae confection from 1996 all the more difficult to bear. Doesn’t the false jollity on offer simply make you want to retchMysterious Girl was bad enough the first time round; as a re-release on the back of Andre’s recent exposure on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here, new and even more irritating factors come into play.

The myth that we have been sold here is that Mysterious Girl was re-released due to “overwhelming public demand”, as whipped up by a “campaign” by DJ Chris Moyles on Radio One’s breakfast show. Do we believe that? Or do is it considerably more likely that the single was already earmarked for re-release before Andre even went into the “jungle” alongside John Lydon, Jordan, Jennie Bond et al? The essence of the Moyles campaign was that Andre’s record is “so bad that it’s good”, and that re-releasing it would be, groan, ironic. By buying it, we would somehow be in on the joke – and not only that, but we would be granting a formerly washed-up pop star an escape route from the dumper. The second myth, therefore, is that Andre is back in the charts at our behest – that we have gifted him a form of redemption (witness the slightly bemused, pathetically grateful smile with which the admittedly simple-minded Andre now performs the song on TV). The success of Mysterious Girl thus represents a triumph for the sort of ubiquitous OK/Heat-magazine celeb-culture which was once an amusement, but which has now become a suffocating force upon popular culture.

Or am I reading too much into a daft little pop song? Oh, quite possibly. I’ll shut up now, shall I?

My votes: 1 – Rolling Stones. 2 – Charlie Rich. 3 – Bruce Springsteen. 4 – Peter Andre (because K & I once got pissed and danced to it at chucking-out time at the Admiral Duncan 8 years ago, so at least there’s one happy memory associated with it). 5 – Nik Kershaw.

Over to you. A walkover for the Stones, do we think? The 1960s are already leading the pack; maybe today’s selection will increase that lead. Meanwhile, after a disastrous last couple of days, support for the 2000s is collapsing. With a reminder that voting is still open for all the other selections… please leave your votes in the comments box.

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (7/10) – 2004 edition.”

Which decade is Tops for Pops? (6/10) – 2004 edition.

Goodness, are we halfway through already? Into the Top Five we lurch, then – with one much-loved classic, and four songs which are, well, slightly less than classics. (Oh, come on – you’ve heard worse.)

For yesterday’s vote, K admitted to actually liking – yes, liking – all five records. Today, I suspect he might revert to type. Quick – hide the crockery! It’s the Number Fives!

1964: Just One Look – The Hollies.
1974: You’re Sixteen – Ringo Starr.
1984: Hello – Lionel Richie.
1994: Girls And Boys – Blur.
2004: Not In Love – Enrique Iglesias featuring Kelis.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.

Another day, another bunch of cut-price Beatles imitators. Merseybeat was the flavour du jour, and “beat groups” were springing up faster than a dose of acne on the face of a Liverpudlian teenager. Manchester’s Hollies hung around longer than most, with a run of 21 consecutive Top 20 hits between 1963 and 1970 – and yet how many people under the age of 50 could hum more than a couple of them? Here I Go Again? (#4) Look Through Any Window? (#4) I Can’t Let Go? (#2) Stop Stop Stop? (#2) Sorry Suzanne? (#3) No, thought not.

And so it is with the sweet, but ultimately forgettable, Just One Look, which climbed as high as #2. Do you think that maybe – just maybe – The Hollies were at all familiar with the works of Lennon & McCartney? Which isn’t to say that it’s a bad record – as with The Merseybeats at #7, there’s an untutored freshness and spirit which appeals considerably.

Round about this time thirty years ago, my sister (aged 9) and I (aged 12) devised a game which amused us greatly. Using the current edition of Disco 45 magazine as a guide, one of would choose a song, and – without revealing its title – would ask the other to supply a series of words. (noun – adjective – somebody’s name – item of clothing…etc.) Substituting those words in the appropriate places in the song, we would then sing the new version out loud – with hilarious consequences.

Why am I telling you this? Because the one song that sticks in my memory from these days is today’s 1974 selection: Ringo Starr‘s You’re Sixteen. “Lips like dandelion & burdock, tee hee hee“, we would trill, on car journeys to Sainsburys in the Doncaster Arndale Centre.

Earlier today, in a bid to re-create this cherished childhood memory, I asked you to supply eight words in my comments box:

You come on like a dream, peaches and cream
Lips like strawberry wine
You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful and you’re mine.
You come on like a NOUN, FOOD and FOOD
PART OF THE BODY like DRINK
You’re NUMBER, you’re ADJECTIVE and you’re ADJECTIVE.

Before revealing the hilarious consequences, I should warn you: they are going to be hilarious. So hilarious, that you might want to go to the toilet before reading any further.

Yes, I think it’s probably best if we all go to the toilet now. See you back here in two minutes.

OK, has everyone been to the toilet? Good. I think we’re ready.

Now, I want you to promise me one thing. When you listen to today’s MP3, will you be sure to sing the hilarious new words, out loud if you please, in time to the music?

You would? Splendid! OK: on the count of three, let’s have a quick practice. One – two – three!

You come on like a BANANA, BROCCOLI and TOAST
LEGS like GLENMORANGIE
You’re 666, you’re SMOOTH and you’re SHORT.

Very good. Give yourselves a nice big round of applause. I did tell you it would be hilarious, didn’t I?

And so the mood darkens. Hopefully, you will now have stored up sufficient hilarity to tide you over the minute-and-a-bit of Sheer Bloody Hell that is Lionel Richie‘s Hello. Have you ever noticed that time actually slows down when this is playing? It’s probably something to do with quantum physics. And, look, is anyone going to admit to liking this?

Anyone at all?

Nobody?

I’m not seeing any hands.

Look, if the people responsible for buying this execrable pile of toss don’t own up, I might have to keep the whole group back.

Oh, do stop snivelling. At least I haven’t made you watch the video.

Ah, here come Blur. Smiles all round!

Girls And Boys was, firstly, Blur’s comeback hit, almost exactly three years after their last Top 10 single (There’s No Other Way). Secondly, it could arguably be credited with being the first of the big Britpop hits; I’ve certainly always thought of it that way. Pulp, Oasis, Wake Up, Yes, You’re Gorgeous… for the next three years or so, the UK singles charts would be stuffed full with all manner of goodness. And, er, Cast and Ocean Colour Scene. But you can’t have everything.

And finally: Mister Potty Strain meets Ms. Potty Mouth in a dodgy Benidorm disco. I hold Enrique Iglesias personally responsible for the most annoying trend in pop vocals in living memory: the “potty strain” form of emoting, as demonstrated in the deathless Hero.

“….wwwwwrrrrrggggghhhhhhACHG-KN-be your hero….”

Bastard. On the strength of this, every other contestant in shows like Pop Idol now feels duty bound to demonstrate their “emotion” by pulling the same trick. Thanks, Enrique – thanks for giving birth to a whole nation of aspirant potty-strainers with ironed hair and tiger-striped “extreme boot-cut” jeans. Oh yeah, and thanks too for fooling a whole generation of otherwise attractive young men into thinking that they will somehow look cool with one of those bloody stupid woollen tea-cosy thingies on their heads. You’ve been a great help to society, haven’t you?

As if this wasn’t enough, Julio’s little boy has seen fit to:

a) Drag the otherwise impeccable Kelis – fresh from bringing us all to the yard with her Milkshake – into an ill-advised “boundary crossing” collaboration. For such a usually mouthy gal, I’d say that Kelis was keeping pretty quiet on this one. Is she even in the studio? Is she phoning her part in on Enrique’s mobile? For shame, Kelis. For shame.

b) Re-contextualise the key line from 10cc’s sublime I’m Not In Love, whilst robbing it of all its multiple levels of meaning. While 10cc were – movingly – trying to pretend to themselves that they weren’t in love, Potty Man actually isn’t in love; like “Fiddy” Cent before him (on In Da Club), all he wants is a sodding shag. Tsk, youth of today. Ten years ago, Blur were being ironic about it; in 2004, Enrique is living it, entirely without irony.

Ooh, I’ve got quite steamed up. Shall we move onto the votes?

My votes: 1 – Blur. 2 – Ringo Starr (by a whisker). 3 – The Hollies. 4 – Enrique & Kelis (at least it’s got a catchy tune). 5 – Lionel Richie.

Over to you. Yesterday, Relax became the most popular record in the series so far, thrusting the 1980s into the lead. Will it be an even cleaner sweep for Blur? God knows, the 1990s need some urgent help. Please leave your votes in the comments box.

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (6/10) – 2004 edition.”

Which decade: preparatory work.

Before posting today’s entries in the Which Decade project, I’d like you to leave eight words in the comments box below. Just one word per person, please.

1. Noun.
2. Something you might eat.
3. Something you might eat.
4. Part of the body, in the plural.
5. Something you might drink.
6. Number.
7. Adjective.
8. Adjective.

If you’re wondering why: I’m re-creating a childhood memory. All will be explained in due course.

Update: OK, got ’em all now. Ta very much.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? (5/10) – 2004 edition.

Four days down, and the 1960s & 2000s are still neck and neck at the head of the pack – with the lead switching every time that someone chooses Jim Reeves over George Michael, or vice versa. Something tells me all of that could be about to change. Please make way for… the Number Sixes.

1964: Diane – The Bachelors.
1974: Devil Gate Drive – Suzi Quatro.
1984: Relax – Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
1994: Renaissance – M People.
2004: Hey Mama – Black Eyed Peas.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.

There’s nothing new under the sun. Forty years before Westlife elevated it into an art form, The Bachelors were busily forging careers as the original Irish stool-rockers. On variety show after variety show, there they were: side by be-stooled side, palms oh-so-lightly slapping against thighs, velvet dickie bows quivering against adam’s apples, warbling their own particular brand of syrupy piffle. However, as syrupy piffle goes, there’s something about Diane – the group’s only UK Number One, and their biggest international hit by far – which tickles me in a strange place.

In early 1974, the songwriting team of Nicky Chinn & Mike Chapman were hitting their commercial and creative peak, with three of their biggest and best hits: Mud’s Tiger Feet, The Sweet’s Teenage Rampage, and this absolute belter from Suzi Quatro. All Chinn/Chapman singles followed the same winning formula: an exciting and distinctive intro, which grabbed your attention within the first five seconds; verse/chorus, verse/chorus, completely different middle bit, repeat chorus to fade (upwards key change optional). As such, Devil Gate Drive worked the formula to perfection, with its stylised and shamelessly inauthentic air of greasy, leather-clad,That’ll Be The Day/American Graffiti 1950s rock & roll revivalism – and oh, how we pop-mad pre-pubescents lapped it up at the time. Even now, I find it impossible to give it an objective assessment; indeed, I cannot imagine what it would be like to hear it for the first time in 2004. If this applies to you, then do tell.

At last: with today’s 1984 selection, we have our first indisputable, unassailable, out-and-out classic. Will it be a straight set of five points all round for Frankie Goes To Hollywood, or is anyone out there prepared to buck the critical consensus? Twenty years later, Relax still sounds like some sort of high water mark for “intelligent”, “conceptual”, image-driven early 80s pop. Indeed: after Frankie’s three iconic Number Ones, dealing in turn with the Big Themes of sex, war and love, there was nowhere left to go – for early 80s pop, and for Frankie themselves. As a result, December’s Band Aid single, Do They Know Its Christmas, felt in some way like a full stop – like the cast party at the end of the run. Six months later, Live Aid brought back the superstars, and redrew the map.

You may scoff now – but in March 1994, it was still officially OK to like M People. One Night In Heaven and Moving On Up had been well received, and Renaissance merely continued the dominance of Pineapple Head, Mister Badly Mimed Sax Solo, Excitable Bongo Man, and their cohorts. For us, this was likeable, proficient, “quality” pop-dance crossover material. We had yet to realise that Pineapple Head was a one-trick pony, and the band were still a good six months away from jumping the shark with the piss-poor, formula-stretching Sight For Sore Eyes. More importantly, M People had yet to inflict the execrable Search For The Hero Inside Yourself upon the world. As it was, Renaissance – a tribute to the emerging super-club of the same name – had a simple but effective killer piano riff, and we bopped away to it without shame.

Those of you who had “issues” with the records by Beenie Man and Reel 2 Real may well regard the Black Eyed Peas in an altogether more favourable light. Fuller, sleeker, and more melodic than its ruffneck cousins, Hey Mama – like Where Is The Love and Shut Up before it – is hip hop for people who don’t like hip hop. Even as the purists loathe it, copies of the band’s album (Elephunk) have been flying off the shelves at Asda & Woolworths for the past several months. Me, I’m something of an agnostic here. Whilst I don’t have any problem with commercialised, “inauthentic” hip hop – and indeed, against all my better judgement, had something of a major soft spot for Where Is The LoveHey Mama is too slight, too bitty, too also-ran for me.

My votes: 1 – Frankie Goes To Hollywood. 2 – Suzi Quatro. 3 – M People. 4 – Black Eyed Peas. 5 – The Bachelors.

Over to you. It’s a Frankie walkover, right? Or are you all secret renegade stool-rockers? Come on – surprise me. Please leave your votes in the comments box.

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (5/10) – 2004 edition.”

Which decade is Tops for Pops? (4/10) – 2004 edition.

Three days down – and already, your votes are stacking up differently from last time. A year ago, the 1970s and 1980s quickly established a clear lead, and hung onto it for the rest of the project. This time round, it’s the 1960s and 2000s which are steaming ahead – with the 1990s trailing badly. Time to bring on the Number Sevens, then:

1964: I Think Of You – The Merseybeats.
1974: Remember (Sha La La La) – Bay City Rollers.
1984: Jump – Van Halen.
1994: Pretty Good Year – Tori Amos.
2004: Thank You – Jamelia.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.

Riding the crest of the Merseybeat boom, the appropriately titled Merseybeats were enjoying their second – and, by some distance, their biggest – hit with I Think Of You, which peaked at #5. (Christ, I’m sounding like Dale Winton on Saturday afternoons.) What appeals about this record: the unadorned immediacy, the low-res production values, and the ragged edge to the performance (especially on some of the double-tracked vocals). The song only just hangs together; it could fall apart at any minute, and probably frequently did. You sense that the band had only just finished rehearsing it before being rushed into the studio to make a quick Merseybeat buck while the fad lasted.

I reserve a special loathing for the ghastly, unforgiveable Bay City Rollers, who were on the point of supplanting the Osmonds as Britain’s number one teen scream sensation. Where the Osmonds were at least partially redeemed by a certain well-meaning sincerity – a detectable niceness – and a measure of creative input which occasionally produced some creditable pop music (Crazy Horses, the sublime Let Me In, the ambitious “concept album” The Plan), the Bay City Rollers were pure, 100%, solid gold, production line pap. More than possibly any other teen band before or since (and I have given the matter some thought), the sole raison d’etre of the Rollers was – as Peter is so fond of saying – to extract the maximum amount of money from the purses of teenage girls in the shortest space of time. The band’s total indifference to the processed dreck which passed for their music is blatantly evident, at all times. When listening to Remember, and indeed to all their hits, one struggles in vain to detect even a shred of feeling, or even of enjoyment. The ugliness at the heart of the Rollers remains unsurpassed to this day. Yes – they even make Westlife look good. And for that alone, I detest them.

After even a minute of the above, the sheer relief brought on by the opening strains of Van Halen‘s mighty Jump is enough to make me want to mount my desk and punch my fist in the air. This is one of a select handful of commercial FM rock-lite anthems which – for me, a confirmed opponent of the genre – work quite brilliantly. (Other examples: Boston’s More Than A Feeling, Rainbow’s Since You Been Gone, Bon Jovi’s Living On A Prayer.) There’s nothing more to add other than: BOOOOOGIEEEEE!!!

In the current pop climate, it’s impossible to imagine a record as gentle, as delicate, as understated and as downright peculiar as Tori Amos’ Pretty Good Year getting within sniffing distance of the Top 10. In 1994, with Radio One in the process of shedding its dated Smashie & Nicey image and making determined efforts to Get Hip with the Music Press Kids, such a thing was still entirely possible. A tender, haunting melody, beautifully sung and played, and with the added bonus of a set of bonkers lyrics that mean absolutely nothing at all. We like!

We also like Jamelia, the newly crowned queen of UK R&B (those Winton-isms are flowing thick and fast today), with her top quality follow-up to last year’s gloriously addictive Superstar. Its message is one of proud defiance: what doesn’t destroy me makes me stronger. “For every last bruise you gave me, for every time I sat in tears, for the million ways you hurt me, I just wanna tell you this: you broke my world, made me strong, thank you. Personally, I think it’s great that a song with subject matter like this should currently be getting heavy radio airplay. More power to ya, Joh-meeel-yoh!

My votes: 1 – Van Halen. 2 – Tori Amos. 3 – Jamelia. 4 – The Merseybeats. 5 – Bay City Rollers.

Over to you. For my money, Van Halen, Tori Amos and Jamelia all deserve healthy smatterings of 5 points each, while I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a string of last placings for the Bay City Rollers. As usual, please leave your votes in the comments box.

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (4/10) – 2004 edition.”

Which decade is Tops for Pops? (3/10) – 2004 edition.

What with all the excitement over the outing (or not) of Belle de Jour, my poor little Top-di-Pop project is getting somewhat short shrift, with the number of votes for yesterday’s (admittedly rancid) selection registering an all-time low, even when compared to last year. Never mind; onwards and upwards we plough, with a reminder that voting will stay open for all the selections, right up until the end of the project.

Something else which I neglected to mention yesterday: the New Seekers track was the second of this year’s two substitutions, owing to the unavailability of the real Number 9 from 1974, Freddie Starr’s gloopy ballad It’s You. Yes, that Freddie Starr. Trust me, you were spared.

The general reaction to yesterday’s selection seems to be one of abject horror, with a couple of you professing to be so appalled that you found yourselves unable to put the five songs in any order of preference. We had similar reactions last year, with some of you wondering whether I had deliberately chosen the worst week in the history of pop. The simple truth to be gleaned from all of this: the charts have always been full of crap. And today’s tunes are, by and large, no exceptions. Steel yourselves, pop-pickers, as we hold our noses and plunge into the Number Eights:

1964: Boys Cry – Eden Kane.
1974: Jet – Paul McCartney & Wings.
1984: An Innocent Man – Billy Joel.
1994: Return To Innocence – Enigma.
2004: Red Blooded Woman – Kylie Minogue.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.

Playing these to K late last night in order to glean his votes, something in him snapped. “I refuse to put these in order”, he fumed. “Because I HATE ALL OF THEM!” Let’s see whether his hissy fit was justified, shall we?

Prior to the success of Boys Cry, Eden Kane, real name Richard Sarstedt, had spent over 18 months without a hit single, releasing a string of flops and even changing record labels. Sadly for him, Boys Cry proved to be his last ever hit. A few years later, both of his brothers had one-hit wonder mini-careers of their own: Peter Sarstedt with Where Do You Go To My Lovely (1969) and Robin Sarstedt with My Resistance Is Low (1976).

I’m stalling for time here, as I haven’t got much to say about Boys Cry. It… exists. Its message – that hey, men are sensistive too – may have been mildly radical for its day, but unfortunately The Searchers covered similar territory, with considerably more depth, just two days ago (Needles & Pinssee below).

Nevertheless, it has a certain period charm. Or, in K’s words: “It’s not very good, but I quite like it.” This is in stark contrast to his comments on Paul McCartney & WingsJet: “It’s quite good, but I ABSOLUTELY DESPISE IT. F***ing Wings! All this says is: I’ve married the Kodak heiress, so I don’t need to bother any more.”

Yeah – ‘cos Paul, like, really needed the money? Did I mention that we’d had a few by then?

Time to ‘fess up, then. Reader, I was a pubescent Wings fan. Band On The Run – loved it. Venus & Mars – loved it even more. Wings At The Speed Of Sound – OK, they lost it there. (Before temporarily regaining it with the genuinely excellent Goodnight Tonight in 1979.) Having said that, Jet was never one of my favourites. There’s an angularity about it which swiftly becomes grating, and an underlying hollowness – a sense that, with his young family and his newly found personal stability, McCartney has forgotten how to let loose and rock out, and is merely going through the motions. Nevertheless, he hasn’t yet lost his knack for melodic inventiveness; the horror of Mull Of Kintyre is still over three years away.

As soon as the opening strains of Billy Joel‘s An Innocent Man struck up, K began to keen and to wail, and to turn the air bluer than blue. Even more than dance music (which he can just about tolerate in small doses and at low volumes, if pushed), this represents everything he hates. Airbrushed AOR nothingness, made even more horrible by overuse of an echo chamber, and what I charitably presume must be deliberate nods to Ben E. King’s Stand By Me. Billy Joel has had his moments – particularly with the stirring My Life, which could have been a gay anthem if covered by a disco diva – but this ain’t one of them.

But how can you possibly rank An Innocent Man above or below the faux-ethnic, pseudo-deep, new-age-decaff montrosity that was Enigma? Return To Innocence is the sound of a thousand mashed-up queens with zero taste bunging something “tasteful” on the stereo to impress their new shags at four in the morning, while skinning up on the coffee table and waiting for the pills to wear off a bit. It gives me The Fear.

Which leaves us with dependable old Kylie Minogue, who is once again going through one of her “sophisticated” phases. As such, Red Blooded Woman, deftly constructed as it is, doesn’t really play to her strengths, coming across as little more than a poor man’s Britney Spears. I like Kylie best when she remembers that – as she once admitted in an interview – “I’ll always be a little bit naff.” Spinning cheese into gold – that’s her particular skill. Red Blooded Woman is neither cheesy nor golden, but merely adequate. On the other hand, as K grudgingly admitted, it does have the virtue of a certain freshness.

My votes: 1 – Kylie Monogue. 2 – Eden Kane. 3 – Paul McCartney & Wings. 4 – Billy Joel. 5 – Enigma.

Over to you. Come on, be brave. At the time of writing, and after just two days, the 1960s are in a clear lead. Will Eden Kane keep them ahead, or will plucky little Kylie push the much-maligned Noughties into the lead? Please leave your votes in the comments box.

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