The Troubled Diva Keep Fit Club: progress charts.

The first chart shows the actual number of steps covered each day, by myself, K, Peter, Asta and Rhys.

The second chart plots the average number of steps per day. This will eventually become a rolling seven-day average for each participant.

(As you can see, both K and I have just dropped below the recommended average of 10,000 steps per day. A temporary blip, no doubt.)

If you want to join the club, then please leave your daily pedometer reading(s) in the comments.

Update (1): With all of yesterday’s totals now collated, I discover to my horror that none of us has a running average of above the recommended 10,000. This simply will not do. Come on, team! Look lively!

Update (2): Well, at least one of us is trying. (Tough love! You’ll thank me for it eventually!)

Update (3): Hmm. This is actually quite hard to maintain on a daily basis, isn’t it…

tdfit01 tdfit02

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – THE WINNER.

1st place – The 1980s. (34 points)

Last year: 3rd place, 30 points.
Two years ago: 2nd place, 35 points.

10: 1999/Little Red Corvette – Prince. 1st place, 5 points.
9: Nightshift – The Commodores. 3rd place, 3 points.
8: Close (To The Edit) – Art Of Noise. 2nd place, 4 points.
7: A New England – Kirsty MacColl. 2nd place, 4 points.
6: Things Can Only Get Better – Howard Jones. 5th place, 1 point, least popular.
5: You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) – Dead Or Alive. 1st place, 5 points, most popular.
4: Dancing In The Dark – Bruce Springsteen. 1st place, 5 points.
3: Solid – Ashford & Simpson. 5th place, 1 point.
2: Love And Pride – King. 3rd place, 3 points.
1: I Know Him So Well – Elaine Paige & Barbara Dickson. 3rd place, 3 points.

Three different years, three different winners… and really, who would have thought at the outset that 1985 – that much derided frumpy old trout of a year – would ultimately have triumphed?

1980sSo maybe 1985 wasn’t all bad after all. You showed your love for Prince, Dead Or Alive and Bruce Springsteen – all of whom produced classics, whether or not you choose to acknowledge them as such. You showed affection for Art Of Noise and Kirsty MacColl, polite respect for King, The Commodores and Elaine Paige/Barbara Dickson, and only heaped vitriol upon Howard Jones (understandable) and Ashford & Simpson (unfortunate).

The chart from February 1985 is certainly the one which means the most to me personally. Seven of the top ten were played by myself and Dymbel at my second ever gig as a DJ, in what was to remain the biggest venue I ever played in. One of them (I Know Him So Well) was the break-up song for a short but affectionate relationship, on which I look back with nothing but fondness.

Two Number Ones later, Easy Lover by Philip Bailey and Phil Collins became the break-up song for my next relationship, if we can call it that: an ill-advised, pointless affair, which I brought to a swift and merciful end before too much damage was done. (I moved fast in those days.)

While Easy Lover remained at Number One – on Saturday April 20th 1985, to be precise – I embarked upon my next relationship. We celebrate our twentieth anniversary as a couple next month.

This winning Top Ten therefore represents practically my last gasp as a single man. It also represents practically the last gasp for a particularly fine era in pop, which was just drawing to a close. The long dark nights of Simply Red, Chris De Burgh, Tina Turner, Dire Straits, Jennifer Rush and Marillion were about to close in. Next year, I suspect that the 80s will struggle hard to survive. But for now, let us give them their due.

1985: you Rule The World. Indeed, you Are The World. The readers of Troubled Diva salute you.

The Top Ten and the Bottom Five Six.

(Positions are calculated by dividing the numbers of points scored by the number of people voting on that day.)

1. You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) – Dead Or Alive.
2. 1999/Little Red Corvette – Prince.
3. You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling – The Righteous Brothers.
4. Dancing In The Dark – Bruce Springsteen.
5. Angie Baby – Helen Reddy.
6. Shame Shame Shame – Shirley & Company.
7. Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) – Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel.
8. A New England – Kirsty MacColl.
9. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – The Animals.
10. No More I Love You’s – Annie Lennox.

46= Wooden Heart – Elvis Presley, Come Tomorrow – Manfred Mann.
47. The Special Years – Val Doonican.
48. Black Superman – Johnny Wakelin.
49. Almost Here – Brian McFadden & Delta Goodrem.
50. Think Twice – Celine Dion.

Cumulative scores for the decades to date, after three years:

1 (2) The 1980s – 99 points.
2= (3) The 1960s – 97 points.
2= (1) The 1970s – 97 points.
4 (4) The 2000s – 80 points.
5 (5) The 1990s – 78 points.

As the 1980s pull ahead of the 1960s and 1970s, a yawning chasm of seventeen points opens up between these three decades and the 1990s/2000s.

Will all of this change next year?

Come back in February 2006 to find out.

Thank you for participating. As always, it’s been a blast. Regular transmissions will now be resumed.

Interval act: the Tops For Pops Notepad Awards.

You know when you throw a party, and you’ve got these totally different groups of friends all converging in the same place, and you start worrying about what they’re going to think of each other and how they’re all going to get along? Well, so it has been with this year’s Which Decade project. Brought here as a result of some generous plugging by Tom Ewing on the venerable ur-music-blog New York London Paris Munich, a whole bunch of new commenters have appeared this year. These people, with whom I am wont to mingle in my other online identity over on the I Love Music messageboard, take their pop music seriously, and they know of what they speak. So how are they going to get along with my Core Readership Base, who know what they like but aren’t necessarily bothered about dissecting every last nuance of the codes and signifiers of the prevalent semiological structures of the blah-di-blah?

I am inclined to conclude that – as usually happens at such potentially fraught gatherings – everybody rubbed along together just fine. The world of the music-blog can be a rather hermetically sealed one; a closed shop, to which only those who talk the talk with conviction may gain admittance. Maybe it has therefore been of some interest for the ILM crowd to find out what, um, how do I put this, people with more typically arranged priorities feel about this kind of stuff. Meanwhile, maybe the regulars on this site have been confronted with some fresh and unexpected new ideas along the way.

Oh look, this is my bubble, so don’t be going popping it. Actually, what I did notice towards the closing stages of the contest was that a lot more commenters started explicitly linking the songs with their own personal situations, rather than always confining themselves to some sort of “objective” commentary. Which, as any brave soul who managed to wade through my last big overblown blog stunt will testify, is something I approve of whole-heartedly.

Particular thanks go to the following people, who voted on every day of this year’s contest: Alan Connor, Barry, Chig, Clare, David (dubmill), David (swish), Dymbel, hedgerow, James, KoenS, lathbud, Lyle, megan, NiC, Simon H, thom, timothy, Tina, Tom, Will and zebedee. To you, I award the Bronze Notepad, for services to Popular Music Studies. Future generations will doubtless be in your debt.

The Silver Notepad award goes to those of you who have voted each time over the last two years: Adrian, jo and Simon Cede, as well as Gordon (19 out of 20 ain’t bad) and djg (full sets in 2003 and 2005, with a year off last year).

The Golden Notepad goes to those of you who have lasted the course over the past three years: to Nigel, who has provided gloriously entertaining commentary on almost every entry, only missing four days in total, and to asta, another stellar commenter who has only ever missed one day.

However, the ultimate award – the Troubled Diva Platinum Premier Notepad Plus – goes to the three people who have left a comment on every single entry to date. Including the 2003 tie-break and the 2005 double A-side from Prince, that adds up to no less than one hundred and fifty-seven daft little pop songs. Such stamina!

So step forward Pam (who admittedly abstained on one particularly crap day, but who still left a comment explaining her reasons), Stereoboard (I know where he lives, so there was never really going to be any excuse), and – with her last minute mercy dash into the two remaining comments boxes on Sunday night – Gert, who has provided hand-crafted individual reviews of all one hundred and fifty-seven songs.

Asta, Gert, Nigel, Pam and Stereoboard: you all qualify for copies of my Best Of 2004 triple mix CD. Please send your current postal addresses to mikejla at btinternet dot com… and allow 14 days for delivery, ‘cos I’m a lazy sod. A round of applause, please.

Coming soon… the winner of the Which Decade Is Tops For Pops project for 2005.

Who could it be?

Fret not. The time is almost nigh.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

2nd place – The 1960s. (33 points)

Last year: 1st place, 36 points.
Two years ago: 3rd place, 28 points.

10: Go Now – The Moody Blues. 2nd place, 4 points.
9: Funny How Love Can Be – The Ivy League. 5th place, 1 point.
8: Come Tomorrow – Manfred Mann. 5th place, 1 point.
7: The Special Years – Val Doonican. 5th place, 1 point, least popular.
6: Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – The Animals. 1st place, 5 points.
5: Game Of Love – Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders. 2nd place, 4 points.
4: Keep Searchin’ – Del Shannon. 2nd place, 4 points.
3: You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling – The Righteous Brothers. 1st place, 5 points, most popular.
2: I’ll Never Find Another You – The Seekers. 2nd place, 4 points.
1: Tired Of Waiting For You – The Kinks. 2nd place, 4 points.

After a catastrophic start to this year’s contest, with three last places in a row from The Ivy League, Manfred Mann and Val Doonican, last year’s winning decade looked like a lost cause. Who would therefore have predicted such a strong comeback over the remaining six days? Never coming lower than second from that point on, the 1960s clawed their way back from a poor fifth to a strong second, breathing down the neck of our winning decade all the way to the finishing line, and causing me to prepare an emergency tie-break medley, just in case.

Just as the 2000s received a raw deal, so I can’t help feeling that 1965 has rather lucked out. Standard issue beat groups and unreconstructed male chauvinism are the order of the day here; indeed, The Seekers’ Judith Durham provides the only female voice on this list.

Nevertheless, when the 1960s are good, they’re bloody good. With the first revolution of 1963/1964 beginning to settle down, and the second revolution of 1966/67 yet to come, 1965 provides something of an entr’acte, with an emphasis on strong songwriting (several of these songs having since become standards) and a sometimes overpowering emotional pull.

Yes, maybe that’s what 1965 has in particular abundance this year: emotional pull. Even if some of those emotions are decidedly questionable at times.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

3rd place – The 1970s. (30 points)

Last year: 2nd place, 31 points.
Two year ago: 1st place, 35 points + 1 tiebreak point.

10: Black Superman – Johnny Wakelin. 5th place, 1 point, least popular.
9: Footsee – Wigan’s Chosen Few. 4th place, 2 points.
8: Angie Baby – Helen Reddy. 1st place, 5 points, most popular.
7: Shame Shame Shame – Shirley & Company. 1st place, 5 points.
6: Goodbye My Love – The Glitter Band. 4th place, 2 points.
5: The Secrets That You Keep – Mud. 3rd place, 3 points.
4: Sugar Candy Kisses – Mac & Katie Kissoon. 3rd place, 3 points.
3: Please Mr. Postman – The Carpenters. 4th place, 2 points.
2: January – Pilot. 4th place, 2 points.
1: Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) – Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel. 1st place, 5 points.

As the 1970s slowly slips from first to second to third place, so does any sense of purpose and direction about its pop music. Take away the three undeniable classics from Steve Harley, Helen Reddy and Shirley & Company – distinctive, unique, pushing at the edges of their genres – and you’re left with seven rather ploppy, soppy pieces of feather-light inconsequence. The relative paucity of your comments on songs such as Sugar Candy Kisses and January says it all: with nothing much to love or to hate, your overall reaction was a resounding “so what”.

Not a great year, 1975. With glam-rock all played out and disco still finding its feet, 1975 was the year when the Bay City Rollers went stratospheric, while an ever more pompous and facile prog-rock emerged from the underground, smoothed over its trippier edges, and started shifting serious units in the album charts. Snobbery was rampant. Albums were “serious”, singles were “for kids”, and the divide between the two had never been greater. Even as a 13-year old at the time, I felt that the singles charts were getting a bit beneath me. Who still needed Mud and The Glitter Band when you had Roger Dean gatefold sleeves and Rick Wakeman performing The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur on ice?

With the singles chart regularly being denounced by the more haughty members of the then all-powerful music press, a paradigm shift was badly needed. Luckily, we got two, as the combined forces of punk/new wave and disco eventually pulled the Top 40 out of the mire during 1978, thus restoring some measure of legitimacy to the form. As for poor little 1975, the session men had well and truly taken over the asylum.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

4th place – The 2000s. (27 points)

Last year: 5th place, 26 points.
Two years ago: 4th place, 27 points.

10: Goodies – Ciara featuring Petey Pablo. 3rd place, 3 points.
9: Galvanise – Chemical Brothers. 2nd place, 4 points.
8: Only U – Ashanti. 3rd place, 3 points.
7: Angel Eyes – Raghav. 3rd place, 3 points.
6: Black & White Town – Doves. 2nd place, 4 points, most popular.
5: Almost Here – Brian McFadden & Delta Goodrem. 5th place, 1 point, least popular.
4: Soldier – Destiny’s Child. 4th place, 2 points.
3: Like Toy Soldiers – Eminem. 2nd place, 4 points.
2: Wooden Heart – Elvis Presley. 5th place, 1 point.
1: Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own – U2. 4th place, 2 points.

Time and again when totting up the voting, I see the same divide: while first, second and third places are shared between the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, it always seems to be the two most recent decades which are left scrapping for fourth and fifth places. And so it is with the final scores, as the 1990s and 2000s occupy the back positions for the third year running.

At least the 2000s had their brief moment of glory this year, as respectably consistent placings for Ciara, The Chemical Brothers, Ashanti, Raghav and the Doves combined to put the decade in the lead for one day only. However, this good early start was swiftly demolished by a catastrophic run in the top five, with two fourth places and two fifth places sending the Noughties into an irreversible free-fall.

This time round, I think that the present decade has been sorely hard done by. A couple of glaring horrors (Brian McFadden, Destiny’s Child) and a pointless re-issue (Elvis Presley) aside, this was as strong a Top Ten as we could reasonably have wished for. Bold, tough, futuristic R&B from Ciara and Ashanti, which simply couldn’t have been conceived of ten years earlier. Solid, above-par offerings from “proper music” stalwarts (Doves, U2). Interesting blends of Western and Eastern styles from Raghav and the Chemical Brothers. Eminem back on form with the arresting “Like Toy Soldiers”, which at least forces you to form an opinion on it. Come on, this was hardly a shonky selection! Compared with the strained, over-sexualised fakery of most of last year’s Top Ten, we’re practically living in a Golden Age!

Nevertheless, you have spoken decisively. This modern pop, she is not for you; and even when you do show an interest, it rarely converts to passion. (This is the only decade which failed to score a first place on any of the ten days.)

There’s little point in pretending that this isn’t generational, either. Of course most of you will always opt for the music of your own youth, with all of its accumulated personal resonances. So next year, I’m going to do what I can to draft in some bona fide Young People, to see whether they draw the same conclusions.

We said we’d never let this happen to us, didn’t we? Yeah, whatever.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

5th place – The 1990s. (26 points)

Last year: 4th place, 27 points.
Two years ago: 5th place, 25 points.

10: Don’t Give Me Your Life – Alex Party. 4th place, 2 points.
9: Reach Up – Perfecto Allstarz. 1st place, 5 points.
8: Total Eclipse Of The Heart – Nicki French. 4th place, 2 points.
7: Run Away – MC Sar & The Real McCoy. 4th place, 2 points.
6: Here Comes The Hotstepper – Ini Kamoze. 3rd place, 3 points.
5: I’ve Got A Little Something For You – MN8. 4th place, 2 points.
4: Cotton Eye Joe – Rednex. 5th place, 1 point.
3: Set You Free – N-Trance. 3rd place, 3 points.
2: No More I Love You’s – Annie Lennox. 1st place, 5 points, most popular.
1: Think Twice – Celine Dion. 5th place, 1 point, least popular.

I never was much good at making predictions. Witness this piece of misplaced optimism, from last year’s results:

The glories of the Britpop years were just about to begin. Had our sample been taken from the Top 10s of 1995, 1996 or 1997, I suspect that the 1990s would have placed a lot higher than fourth.

How wrong can you be? In a year which is chiefly remembered for the twin mass movements of Britpop and Dance, 1995 is instead represented by a rag-bag of cheesy commercial dance hits which bear little relationship to what was being “dropped” in “credible” clubs of the time. Some (N-Trance, Perfecto Allstarz) have worn well. Others (Alex Party, The Real McCoy) less so. Most feature that essential accessory of the era, the wailing disco diva – as ubiquitous then as Mariah-esque cadenza trills and Enrique-style potty-strain grunts are now.

This isn’t just a freak result from an atypical week, either. In the recent 1000 UK Number Ones poll which I hosted at I Love Music, no hits between 1992 and 1996 charted in the Top 100. By contrast, at least one hit charted from every other year between 1962 and 2004. There’s no denying it any longer: something went very wrong with chart pop in the early-to-middle 1990s.

Or maybe we’re all just trapped in the traditional cycle of popular taste, where thirty years ago equals classic, twenty years ago equals cool, and ten years ago equals stale/boring/hideous. Whilst it’s difficult to imagine MN8 ever being elevated to “cool”, or Nicki French being elevated to “classic”, perhaps we should let the perspective of another ten years settle before making our final damning judgement.