Which decade is Tops for Pops? (2/10) – 2004 edition.

Earlier on today, controversy poked its ugly head into my dinky little fluffball of a project, as it was revealed that Beenie Man (yesterday’s 2004 entrant) is a rampant homophobe, who has recorded a song (Bad Man Chi Chi Man) with vicious – nay, murderous – anti-gay lyrics. But does this make Dude a worse record? Should we all be amending our votes to mark it fifth? And what does his fragrant sidekick Ms. Thing make of it all?

While we wrestle with our consciences, let’s all do it to the soundtrack of today’s sparkling array of contestants. Let’s hear it for the Number Nines!

1964: I Love You Because – Jim Reeves.
1974: I Get A Little Sentimental Over You – New Seekers.
1984: Somebody’s Watching Me – Rockwell.
1994: I Like To Move It – Reel 2 Real featuring The Mad Stuntman.
2004: Amazing – George Michael.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.

In terms of the history and development of pop, Jim Reeves is a name which has slipped off most people’s radar altogether. Apart from the appearance of the occasional K-Tel 40 Golden Greats compilation in the album charts of the 1970s or 1980s, and an early 1970s BBC Nationwide film about an obsessive fan who had converted her flat into a Reeves shrine, curtains permanently drawn, never stepping outside the front door, and relying on her neighbours to fetch her groceries, he is someone whom I have always tuned out. Indeed, I Love You Because, a hit for Reeves just four months before his fatal plane crash, is the first record of his which I have ever knowingly listened to. And OK, so it’s hokey, sentimental and a heavily diluted take on Hank Williams – but nevertheless, there’s something which draws me in. I think it’s the song’s deeply reassuring quality; the aural equivalent of being wrapped in warm, freshly laundered, fluffy white bath towels. Reeves’ voice is so honeyed, so velvet smooth, that I begin to understand what it was that prompted so much posthumous adulation.

By the time that the equally hokey – and consciously “old-fashioned” sounding – I Get A Little Sentimental Over You hit the charts, Eve Graham & Lyn Paul had announced their departure from the New Seekers, who were midway through a marathon farewell tour prior to splitting up in May. As such, this was their final hit until a new line-up enjoyed rather more modest success two years later. It sounds a little bit valedictory, as it liltingly sways along in its cosy saloon bar sing-song style. It’s not much cop though, is it?

However, my real derision is reserved for so-called “mystery artist” Rockwell, enjoying his only real hit, assisted by Michael Jackson on what passes for the song’s chorus. In reality, Rockwell was the son of Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown records – which explains a) how this crock of poo got recorded/promoted in the first place and b) how a genuine talent like Jackson came to lend his name to it. (Bear in mind that in early 1984, Jackson was at the height of his Thriller-era mega-popularity; he would have had a hit with anything, even his shopping list.) Jobs for the boys, in other words. Oh, just listen to that ghastly, boggle-eyed, faux-spooky “comedy” rap and that weedy, wafer-thin backing. Unforgiveable.

I’m really making K suffer this week. Even ten years on, I can remember his near-violent reaction to Reel 2 Real‘s (admittedly total kack) appearance on Top Of The Pops, with The Mad Stuntman tunelessly growling his way through the track. It was one of his defining “this is the end of the line for all decent pop music” moments. As for me, I never cared much for I Like To Move It either… except that, as with yesterday’s Needles & Pins, it actually turned out to be quite prescient. There’s a line that can be drawn between this song and such gems as Basement Jaxx’s Jump & Shout, and on through to today’s dancehall/house crossovers. Viewed retrospectively, I find myself rather fond of it. Maybe that’s because, when all is said and done, I too like to move it, move it.

Which leaves us with dependable old George Michael, sounding for all the world like the eight years since his last album had never happened, with a song that basically comes across as a slightly re-jigged version of Fast Love. And what, pray, is wrong with that? I’m a sucker for this kind of smooth wine-bar funk, and George does it so well, so “classily”, with not the slightest nod to contemporary musical fashions.

My votes: 1 – George Michael. 2 – Jim Reeves. 3 – Reel 2 Real. 4 – New Seekers. 5 – Rockwell.

Over to you. The 1960s and 1980s both got off to a strong start yesterday, with the last two decades trailing badly behind. Will George and the Stuntman even things up, or will the dulcet tones of Gentle Jim send the Sixties soaring? Oh, I could drivel on like this all evening! Please leave your votes in the comment box.

Incidentally, it’s not too late to vote for yesterday’s selections either – voting will stay open for all ten groups of singles until the end of the project.

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (2/10) – 2004 edition.”

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Which decade is Tops for Pops? (1/10) – 2004 edition.

Thanks to the recent hiatus, this is nearly a month overdue (it was supposed to run on the week of my birthday) – but no matter; it’s finally time to welcome back the second annual instalment of the Which decade is Tops for Pops? project. (It is almost impossible to resist the urge to whoop at this stage, but let’s not burn ourselves out before we’ve even begun.)

If you were reading this site in February 2003, then you’ll already know the procedure. If not, then please allow me to explain.

Over the next ten instalments, we will be systematically comparing the records in the Top 10 UK singles chart for this week in 1964, 1974, 1984, 1994 and 2004. Today, we’ll be looking at all the records in the Number 10 position; tomorrow, we’ll look at the Number 9s; and so on until we reach the Number 1s.

Each day, I’ll be posting a short MP3 medley of the five songs under consideration, containing about a minute’s worth of each song. Your job is to listen to the medley and place the five songs in order of preference. It doesn’t matter how rubbish you might think they are; all five songs must be ranked, with no tied positions and no omissions.

(Note: to save on my space and your time, I’ve encoded the medleys at a scintillating 96kbps, for that authentic “listening on a cheap transistor radio” pop experience.)

Once you have scored the songs, please place your votes in that day’s comment box. I will then aggregate total scores for each song based on your votes, with 5 points for each 1st place, 4 points for each 2nd place, etc.

In this way, we will eventually end up with 10 sets of combined votes, i.e. one for each chart position. Using the same inverse points system, I’ll then aggregate combined votes for each decade, thus establishing, at the end of the 10 days, which is decade truly is Tops for Pops. I’ll also be keeping a running total going each day, so that you can track how the decades are faring against each other.

Still confused? Oh, don’t worry; it will all become clear soon enough. Perhaps I should instigate a mentoring scheme between old hands and newcomers? No, perhaps not.

Last year, the 1970s and 1980s pulled clear ahead of the rest of the pack, finishing with a dead heat which had to be resolved with a tie-breaker. Eventually, the 1970s were crowned victorious. This year, I have a sneaking suspicion that the decades will be rather more evenly matched… but there again, I could be wrong. It’s all down to you, readers!

Onto business, then. Here are the Number 10 singles for this week in 1964, 1974, 1984, 1994 and 2004.

1964: Needles And Pins – The Searchers.
1974: The Wombling Song – The Wombles.
1984: It’s Raining Men – The Weather Girls.
1994: Breathe Again – Toni Braxton.
2004: Dude – Beenie Man featuring Ms Thing.
Listen to a short medley (about a minute each) of all five songs.

Last year, when the Top 10 for mid-February 1963 fell under the microscope, many of you commented that the music didn’t feel like the 1960s; it felt stale, out of date, in need of change. Frankie Vaughan, Mike Berry, Brenda Lee, Del Shannon, Maureen Evans, Frank Ifield, Kenny Ball’s Jazzmen: this was the sound of the 1950s clinging on for dear life. The one shining exception in the 1963 chart was The Beatles’ Please Please Me, which sounded like it was beamed in from a different universe – a harbinger of the future.

Sure enough, just over a year later, the Top 10 for 1964 bears scant relation to its dusty Tin Pan Alley predecessor. The 1960s had finally begun in earnest, with the whole British “beat group” explosion already in full swing – and this record by The Searchers is a classic example. Indeed, with its jingly-jangly folk-rock guitar sound already hinting at developments to come from the likes of The Byrds, Needles And Pins is in itself something of a stylistic trailblazer. Co-written by Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono, and originally recorded in the US by Jackie DeShannon, this cover version swaps the genders, turning the man into the wounded, brooding, victim of the woman who has deserted him. A surprisingly mature, progressive record to find in the pop charts of this period…

…in stark contrast to The Wombles, with an extended version of the theme tune to their animated TV show. Dismissable kiddie crap, then? Actually, no. This, and many of The Wombles’ surprisingly long run of hits, is of a much higher musical order than it strictly needs to be, with its deft, distinctive melody underpinned by a really rather lovely orchestration. Nestling between the whimsical jauntiness of the main refrain, there is even a hint of real wistfulness in the “Uncle Bulgaria” verse. You won’t find such richness in the collected works of The Tweenies or The Teletubbies, that’s for sure.

Indeed, as The Wombles’ hit-making career continued, composer Mike Batt used it as an exercise for dabbling in a wide variety of musical genres: glam-rock, reggae, classical waltz, vintage rock and roll… the fourth album even contains a full-blown Rick Wakeman pastiche, “The Myths And Legends Of King Merton Womble And His Journey To The Centre Of The Earth“. Such a shame, then, that Batt has recently seen fit to blot his copybook by inflicting the awful Katie Melua upon us. (“Feeling twenty-two, acting seventeen” has to be the most memorably grating line in pop since J-Lo’s “Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I’ve got, I’m still Jenny from the block“.) I’m sorely tempted to deduct points for that alone – but I try to be a fair man.

Unlike last year, I have failed to find MP3s of two songs from this year’s crop, and in each case am subsituting the Number 11 record from the same chart. Thus it is that Richard Hartley & The Michael Reed Orchestra’s The Music Of Torvill & Dean EP (lead track: the inevitable Bolero) is nudged out by – Hi! Hi! We’re your Weather Girls, and have we got news for you! I think we’ve all been spared, don’t you?

It’s Raining Men had been knocking around as an import 12″ in UK gay clubs since the summer of 1982, meaning that by the time it charted, some of us were growing just a little bit sick of it. Indeed, it’s a record which I could cheerfully never listen to again. That’s not to deny its genius; it’s merely to admit that even great jokes can eventually wear thin. Yes, it’s a comedy record – but what a comedy record. Like the musical equivalent of one of those uber-successful US comedies which have been written by committees of 20 or more, It’s Raining Men simply crams in Big Moment after Big Moment after Big Moment, with devastating efficency. I wonder how many of you will be on the point of throwing your hands up in the air for a rousing chorus of “GOD BLESS MOTHER NATURE, SHE’S A SINGLE WOMAN TOO!”, just as the the medley switches to…

Toni Braxton‘s dire ditty. Plod plod, plink plonk, whine whine. Any more than a minute of this arid, self-pitying, soulless dirge would rob me of the will to live, I think. Apologies if I’m treading all over someone’s treasured memories, but I speak as I find.

Finally, I am fully expecting Beenie Man featuring Ms. Thing to grate horribly on many of you. Ruffneck dancehall ragga over a minimal, repetitive backing, enlivened only by the judicious use of steel drums; this will have some of my more seasoned readers covering their ears in horror. And yet, and yet, it works. There’s an insistent rough-edged energy to Dude which exerts a physical pull that I find wholly appealing. So there.

All I would say is this, though: when voting, try not to be overly swayed by nostalgic associations with your own personal Golden Age Of Pop, whichever decade it might be. In other words: don’t let’s be beastly to the Noughties.

My votes: 1 – The Searchers. 2 – The Weather Girls. 3 – Beenie Man featuring Ms. Thing. 4 – The Wombles. 5 – Toni Braxton. K’s votes will appear in the comments shortly.

Over to you. (That’s my catchphrase, that is.) Please leave your votes in the comments box below. The gloves are off. May the best decade win!

Continue reading “Which decade is Tops for Pops? (1/10) – 2004 edition.”