Which decade is Tops for Pops? – THE WINNER.

1st place – The 1970s. (38 points)

2005: 3rd place, 30 points.
2004: 2nd place, 31 points.
2003: 1st place, 35 points + 1 tiebreak point.

10: Dat – Pluto Shervington. 1st place.
9: We Do It – R & J Stone. 3rd place.
8: Love Machine – The Miracles. 2nd place.
7: Convoy – C.W. McCall. 3rd place.
6: Love To Love You Baby – Donna Summer. 2nd place.
5: Mamma Mia – Abba. 1st place, most popular.
4: Rodrigo’s Guitar Concerto De Aranjuez – Manuel & His Music Of The Mountains. 4th place, least popular.
3: I Love To Love – Tina Charles. 2nd place.
2: Forever And Ever – Slik. 2nd place.
1: December 1963 (Oh What A Night) – Four Seasons. 2nd place.

slkmdgRight from Day One, when Pluto Shervington’s “Dat” took the lead, there was never any real doubt as to which decade would be this year’s winner. Throughout all ten rounds of voting, the 1970s remained ahead, earning them the highest score of any decade in any of our four years to date. Despite fielding only two winners, from Pluto and Abba, only one song from 1976 finished below third, with five songs finishing second. That’s what we call conclusive.

But before this all started, did we think that naff old 1976 had it in them to win? After all, approved rock history tells us that these were the dark days before punk rock came along and Saved Music. Or something.

Interestingly, there isn’t a single record in this top ten which could be said to belong to the “rock” tradition, however tangentially. This is pop all the way, with the odd foray into light soul, reggae, disco, country & western and easy listening. The only faint hints of “rebellion” come from Pluto’s taboo-breaking meat-related purchase, and CW McCall’s “bear”-dodging escapades on the Great American Highway.

As a lad, I remember an NME singles review column from round about this time, bearing the headline “Don’t Look Now, But You’re Living In A Golden Age”, which went on to make specific mention of several of the songs in this list. At the time, it seemed like a decidedly questionable proposition. But in these newly liberated, post-Guilty Pleasures days, it would seem that the dear old “rockist” NME showed remarkable presience.

The Top Ten and the Bottom Five.

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

1. 19th Nervous Breakdown – Rolling Stones.
2. Mamma Mia – Abba.
3. These Boots Are Made For Walking – Nancy Sinatra.
4. Borderline – Madonna.
5. Chain Reaction – Diana Ross.
6. Slight Return – The Bluetones.
7. Dat – Pluto Shervington.
8. Keep On Running – Spencer Davis Group.
9. You Got The Love (New Voyager Mix) – The Source featuring Candi Staton.
10. Spanish Flea – Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass.

46. Anything – 3T.
47. That’s My Goal – Shayne Ward.
48. Thunder In My Heart Again – Meck featuring Leo Sayer.
49. Burning Heart – Survivor
50. Open Arms – Mariah Carey.

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

1 (2=) The 1970s – 135 points.
2 (2=) The 1960s – 134 points.
3 (1) The 1980s – 132 points.
4 (4) The 2000s – 101 points.
5 (5) The 1990s – 99 points.

It’s still neck and neck at the top, with the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s regularly swapping positions. Next February, we start all over again – with what I must warn you is a truly shocking selection of ropey old toss.

No, I can hardly wait either! Thanks to all who particpated. It’s been a blast.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

2nd place – The 1960s. (37 points)

2005: 2nd place, 33 points.
2004: 1st place, 36 points.
2003: 3rd place, 28 points.

10: Mirror Mirror – Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours. 3rd place.
9: Tomorrow – Sandie Shaw. 4th place.
8: Keep On Running – Spencer Davis Group. 1st place.
7: Love’s Just A Broken Heart – Cilla Black. 2nd place.
6: A Groovy Kind Of Love – The Mindbenders. 3rd place.
5: Michelle – The Overlanders. 5th place, least popular.
4: Spanish Flea – Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. 2nd place.
3: You Were On My Mind – Crispian St Peters. 1st place.
2: 19th Nervous Breakdown – Rolling Stones. 1st place, most popular.
1: These Boots Are Made For Walking – Nancy Sinatra. 1st place.

cstpFor a year which is commonly held to contain some of the most ground-breaking pop music of the last half-century, our 1966 selection looks a tad under-baked. Here are Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours and The Mindbenders, trotting out the same sort of neat-n-tidy neo-Merseybeat that has been regularly charting since 1963. Here are Cilla Black and Sandie Shaw, delivering the sort of MOR ballads that would sit easily amongst the TV light entertainment shows of the day. Here’s Herb Alpert, standing right outside the prevailing pop/rock/r&b fashions with his cheesy MOR. And here are The Overlanders, pointlessly carbon-copying one of the Beatles’ sappier numbers for a quick buck.

However, the remaining four singles in our top ten do contain music that was, in some way, pushing against genre restrictions and moving things forward. There has never been an easy-listening standard quite like the gleefully perverse “These Boots Are Made For Walking” – a song which is custom-made for the epithet “kinky”. Crispian St Peters, though destined only to enjoy two UK hit singles, messes with the Roy Orbison/Everly Brothers template to agreeable effect. The Spencer Davis Group are helping to define a grittier r&b-influenced rock sound – and the Rolling Stones are right out there, rising further above the herd with every new release, and giving establishment Middle England the heebie-jeebies good and proper.

After floundering about for a bit, the top three brought the 1960s to an almost triumphant conclusion in our voting, shortening a six-point gap between winner and runner-up to a difference of just one point. That’s not bad going for a forty-year-old. But really, this year’s winner was never in any doubt…

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

3rd place – The 1980s. (33 points)

2005: 1st place, 34 points.
2004: 3rd place, 30 points.
2003: 2nd place, 35 points.

10: The Captain Of Her Heart – Double. 2nd place.
9: Living In America – James Brown. 2nd place.
8: Burning Heart – Survivor. 5th place, least popular.
7: System Addict – Five Star. 4th place.
6: Borderline – Madonna. 1st place, most popular.
5: How Will I Know – Whitney Houston. 3rd place.
4: Chain Reaction – Diana Ross. 1st place.
3: Eloise – The Damned. 3rd place.
2: Starting Together – Su Pollard. 3rd place.
1: When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going – Billy Ocean. 3rd place.

mblineIn contrast with the hapless, harshly judged 1990s, the decade of Big Hair, upturned collars, rolled-up jacket sleeves and saxophone solos has lucked out big time this year. Is this decidedly motley Top 10 from February 1986 really worth 12 more points than its nearest rival for third position? Did Double’s weedy synth-pop and James Brown’s over-produced ersatz funk really deserve to come second? Did Whitney’s unexceptional dance/pop and The Damned’s slightly desperate, give-us-a-hit-at-all-costs cover version really deserve to come third? And as for Batty But Loveable Su Pollard finishing any higher than fifth… HELLO, what were you thinking?

So maybe the 1980s have benefitted from the luck of the draw this time. Nevertheless, in amongst all the dodgy (and remarkably similar) spray-on gloss effect production jobs lurked the odd gem or two. Madonna’s “Borderline”, Diana Ross’s “Chain Reaction”… and OK, maybe even Billy Ocean’s “When The Going Gets Tough” is ripe for re-habilitation, Guilty Pleasures style.

Still, however you look at it, February 1986 really wasn’t one of pop’s finest hours. Little did we know that a whole clutch of era-defining moments were just around the corner: Prince’s “Kiss”, Cameo’s “Word Up”, Run DMC and Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”, the renaissance of post-electro hip-hop as spearheaded by LL Cool J and Def Jam records, the dawn of DJ/sampling culture, and the emergence over the summer of Chicago house music. For me and for many other pissed-off music fans, 1986 was the year of The Rebirth Of The Groove. It’s just that, looking at this little list, you wouldn’t quite have known it yet.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

With apologies for the continued delay. We were out looking at prize poultry at the Manifold Valley Agricultural Show – don’t scoff, the poultry was STUNNING – and then Clare Boob Pencil popped round for tea (and stayed for sardines). You know how it goes.

Equal 4th place – The 1990s. (21 points)

2005: 5th place, 26 points.
2004: 4th place, 27 points.
2003: 5th place, 25 points.

10: I Wanna Be A Hippy – Technohead. 5th place.
9: Slight Return – The Bluetones. 1st place, most popular.
8: Children – Robert Miles. 3rd place.
7: Do U Still – East 17. 5th place.
6: Open Arms – Mariah Carey. 5th place, least popular.
5: One Of Us – Joan Osborne. 4th place.
4: Lifted – The Lighthouse Family. 3rd place.
3: I Got 5 On It – Luniz. 5th place.
2: Anything – 3T. 5th place.
1: Spaceman – Babylon Zoo. 4th place.

jmannbzooSharing its disgrace with the 2000s, this year sees the overall lowest scores awarded to any of our decades to date – and by quite some distance at that. (Previously, the lowest score ever awarded was 25 points.)

Despite a promising start, with decent placings for The Bluetones and Robert Miles, the 1990s quickly tanked, with 50% of our selection finishing in last place. And yet, running my eye down the 1996 top ten, it looks on the face of it like a perfectly reasonable, diverse and representative selection, with Britpop, dance, soul, hip-hop, rock and pure pop all rubbing shoulders.

Maybe 1996 just got unlucky, slammed into the lower positions by an unusually strong showing from the earlier decades. In particular, Robert Miles, Joan Osborne and Luniz seem to have suffered from this, with all three picking up plenty of favourable comments along the way. And I’d also put a good word in for Technohead’s novelty toytown rave, and the Lighthouse Family’s thoroughly pleasant MOR soul. In fact, I own a whopping 60% of the 1996 top ten on CD single, and have happy memories and associations with all of them.

Nevertheless, this is a truly dismal result for the 1990s, which opens up an unprecedented 12 point gap between third and fourth places – a gap which has always existed between the oldest three and the youngest two decades, but which this year has become a yawning chasm.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

Equal 4th place – The 2000s. (21 points)

2005: 4th place, 27 points.
2004: 5th place, 26 points.
2003: 4th place, 27 points.

10: That’s My Goal – Shayne Ward. 5th place.
9: Say Say Say (Waiting 4 U) – Hi_Tack. 5th place.
8: Sugar We’re Goin’ Down – Fall Out Boy. 4th place.
7: You Got The Love (New Voyager mix) – The Source featuring Candi Staton. 1st place, most popular.
6: Check On It – Beyonce featuring Slim Thug. 4th place.
5: All Time Love – Will Young. 2nd place.
4: Run It – Chris Brown featuring Juelz Santana. 5th place.
3: Boys Will Be Boys – The Ordinary Boys. 4th place.
2: Nasty Girl – Notorious BIG featuring Diddy, Nelly, Jagged Edge & Avery Storm. 4th place.
1: Thunder In My Heart Again – Meck featuring Leo Sayer. 5th place, least popular.

swardlwalshWith each passing year, as humiliation upon humiliation is heaped upon the beleaguered 2000s, so my desire to see them do well increases. It’s the usual Support The Underdog syndrome, in other words. But how can you help a decade which so steadfastly refuses to help itself?

Despite having disqualified one single from this year’s 2006 top ten (Dead Or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)”) on the grounds that it was a straight re-release (and substituting the record at Number 11, Will Young’s “All Time Love”), our top ten is still riddled with re-mixes, re-makes and re-hashes. Hi_Tack and Meck have slapped perfunctory dance beats and hackneyed sound effects on top of a couple of quote-unquote “forgotten classics”. An old Candi Staton vocal from 1986 gets re-issued for the third time, with yet another backing track. A rapper who has been dead for 9 years is milked for cash yet again, surrounded by as many hangers-on – sorry, sincere admirers and upholders of his legacy – as could fit in the studio. And even one of the few original compositions is a re-release from June 2005, hyped up on the back of the singer’s appearance on Celebrity Big Brother.

Of the acts that remain, one is another direct product of Reality TV (Shayne Ward, the recent winner of X Factor), and another (Will Young) owes his inital exposure to winning Pop Idol. Which leaves two US R&B acts (complete with their now obligatory second fiddles in the “featuring who?” slots) and one young British indie band. Hardly a vintage selection, in other words – and containing precious little that could be held to encapsulate the best of contemporary pop.

And didn’t this just show up in your votes! Only two songs (“You Got The Love” and “All Time Love”) placed inside their respective top twos, and the remaining eight all songs placed either fourth or fifth. Is this mere generational bias (after all, the Troubled Diva readership is a tad light on Yer Actual Young People these days) – or, four years into our survey, is the consistently low placing of the 2000s an indicator of a harsh objective truth?

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 4 – the Number Ones.

OK, I have kept you waiting long enough. With victory for the 1970s looking increasingly likely, this is the last chance for our four other decades to make their mark. All rise please! It’s the Number Ones!

1966: These Boots Are Made For Walking – Nancy Sinatra.
1976: December 1963 (Oh What A Night) – Four Seasons.
1986: When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going – Billy Ocean.
1996: Spaceman – Babylon Zoo.
2006: Thunder In My Heart Again – Meck featuring Leo Sayer.
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

Some time in the spring of 1966, my parents threw a party. In the course of this, they somehow acquired a small collection of 45rpm singles, probably brought along by one of the guests. As my parents had only minimal interest in pop music, these 45s remained the mainstay of the family singles collection for several years afterwards. I must have played them many dozens of times over the next few years, A-sides and B-sides both, before commencing my own collection in the early 1970s.

The full list of singles from spring 1966 was as follows:

  • Homeward Bound/The Leaves That Are Green – Simon & Garfunkel.
  • Substitute/Waltz For A Pig – The Who.
  • Wild Thing – The Troggs.
  • Hold Tight – Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch.
  • I Don’t Want You/Ball And Chain – The Anteeks.
  • These Boots Are Made For Walking/The City Never Sleeps At Night – Nancy Sinatra.

No prizes for guessing which single was my favourite. “These Boots Are Made For Walking” was sassy, provocative, and faintly perverse – even to a four year old. It also sounded like no other record I had ever heard: those weird descending chromatics on the bass, for instance, matched by Nancy’s downwardly drawled “walk all over you” at the end of the chorus. This is a song which has never quite gone away over the past 40 years, its singularity rendering it impervious to the vagaries of fashion. In other words: a classic.

(So much so, that the song even resisted my attempts to massacre it a couple of weeks ago, down at karaoke night at The Foresters. Oh yes. As if one humiliation hadn’t been enough…)

And speaking of classics, and of songs which have never gone away: there is something about the arrangement of the Four Seasons’ “December 1963” which is just… perfect. Every little contributory element of the song’s irresistable groove is somehow weighted to precisely the right degree, maximising pleasure levels throughout, and turning what might have been a slight and rather corny little number about losing one’s virginity into something far greater than the sum of its parts.

(Full disclosure time: the boy I loved bought a copy of this, on the same afternoon that I bought my copy, so we ended up with two copies in the school common room. Such telepathy! We were meant to be together! It was a sign!)

By the spring of 1986, I was rapidly losing any last vestiges of interest in guitar bands, with the exception of The Smiths, REM and the Jesus And Mary Chain. The ground-breaking thrills of post-punk had atrophied into the weedy, wilfully under-achieving new orthodoxies of “indie”, as encapsulated in the wildly overrated C86 cassette that was issued, manifesto-style, by the NME.

Instead, my affections had transferred themselves to the alternative canon of soul/funk: from the classics of the 1960s and 1970s to the latest 12″ imports, including the new genres of hip-hop, Washington DC go-go – and, within a few months, Chicago house music. And my my, what a snobby purist I was already becoming, policing my genres of choice in much the same way that I had insisted on “real” punk during 1976 and 1977.

So, just as I had derided the Boomtown Rats for not being properly punk enough in 1977/78, I was now doing the same with Billy Ocean, and the suspiciously poppified pseudo-funk of “When The Going Gets Tough”. Where everyone else saw a catchy-as-hell slice of pure, participative fun – for this was a song which dared you not to sing along with it – I saw nothing but naffness.

How wrong I was, and how great this is – transcending even the same synthetic 1980s production job which has blighted most of 1986 over the past two weeks. And thank heavens that I have learnt to transcend such pointless snobberies in the meantime.

None of which is to say that I’m prepared to find any value in Babylon Zoo’s irredeemably gruesome “Spaceman”: a jingle from a jeans ad, which brought accidental and strictly fleeting glory to its creator, a boggle-eyed loon in silver trousers called Jas Mann. This sort of thing used to happen quite regularly in the 1990s. (Anyone remember Stiltskin? Robin Beck? Freakpower?) At least in our media-fragmented, de-centralised 2000s, it takes more than a thirty second jeans ad to get a single in the charts.

On the other hand… at least in the 1990s, it took more than slapping a dance beat over an second-rate old disco record to get a single in the charts. Step forward, Meck featuring Leo Sayer, and their graceless re-working of Sayer’s “forgotten classic” Thunder In My Heart. (Ever get the feeling we’re running short on forgotten classics?) Because obviously, what Thunder In My Heart needed all along was one of those bits where everything goes muffled like a wonky old cassette tape, WHY do people persist on doing this in the middle of dance tracks, WHY WHY WHY?

And there you have it: our final selection for this year, complete with yet another tell-tale gap in quality between our three oldest and our two youngest decades. 1990s and 2000s: you’ve let yourselves down again. With the best will in the world, there’s not much we can do to help you, if you can’t help yourselves. Tsk.

My votes: Nancy Sinatra – 5 points. Four Seasons – 4 points. Billy Ocean – 3 points. Meck featuring Leo Sayer – 2 points. Babylon Zoo – 1 point.

Over to you, for one last time. Voting will remain open for all ten selections, until I say “stop”. Which will be some time towards the middle of next week. So if you want to play catch-up, then now’s your chance.

Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 4 – the Number Ones.”

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 4 – the Number Twos.

Once again – and this happens every year – there is still plenty of jockeying for position going on across the board, as a steady flow of late votes continues to trickle in. As various songs quietly swap places further down the page, this has a knock-on effect on the cumulative scores for each decade. So, if you’re late to the party, then be assured that late votes can still make a difference.

As I write this, the Spencer Davis Group and the Miracles are battling it out for first place among the Number 8s, with the lead regularly swapping – and the same holds true for the Cilla Black/Candi Staton bitchfest in the Number 7s. Meanwhile, Crispian St Peters is only just ahead of Tina Charles in yesterday’s Number 3s. It’s so exciting! But wait, there’s more! It’s the Number Twos!

1966: 19th Nervous Breakdown – Rolling Stones.
1976: Forever And Ever – Slik.
1986: Starting Together – Su Pollard.
1996: Anything – 3T.
2006: Nasty Girl – Notorious BIG featuring Diddy, Nelly, Jagged Edge & Avery Storm.
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

A few days ago, some of you confidently predicted that there wouldn’t be a better song this year than Abba’s “Mamma Mia”. Well, here’s your challenge, right here, right now.

This classic number from the Rolling Stones represented a quantum leap forward from the beefed-up R&B of the band’s earlier hits, ushering in a darker, more menacing, more confrontational attitude. As a result, “19th Nervous Breakdown” broke their run of five consecutive Number Ones, and kicked off a sequence of six “dark period” hits, ending with the incandescent “Jumping Jack Flash” just over two years later. It’s about now that Mick Jagger became the British establishment’s premier whipping boy – indeed, I remember genuinely believing that he was the most evil man in the country, thanks to the sustained outrage of my parents and grandparents. Listening to this track, you can still see why the Stones must have seemed such a threat.

But how do you compare a swaggering rock workout like this to the intricately crafted pop of “Mamma Mia”? Both convey a certain sense of accusation – but where the one shakes its fist, the other merely wags its fingers. So which is the greater record? Which moves you the most? Are you Rock or are you Pop? Which SIDE are you on?

Ah, it’s the age old question – and one which I prefer to side-step, having a foot in both camps. However, of one thing I am certain: that there will be a string of 5 points for the Stones. Maybe even our first ever 100% score, who knows. Because, yeesh, have you seen the state of the competition?

Slik – featuring a fresh-faced Midge Ure on lead vocals, before he graduated into Pop’s Mister Worthy And Dull (sorry, but all the Live Aids in the world won’t excuse him ruining Ultravox) – were being heavily promoted as The New Bay City Rollers, with the tartan swapped for bowling shirts, and the cheesy grins swapped for “mean and moody” poses which generally included chewing on matchsticks. (Grr!) Other than that, both bands were Scottish, and both used the services of the same songwriting/production partnership.

Not that you can tell this at the beginning of “Forever And Ever”, which is impressively weird for a teen group, all monk-like chanting and, erm, clanging chimes of doom. But just as you’re thinking “You know, I could quite get into this”, the whole track lurches into a godwaful chunka-chunka-chunka satin-scarf-waving limp-wristed (sorry) Thing Of Complete Hideousness, which has NOTHING to do with what has come before it. 5 points for the verse, but 1 point for the chorus. I’m seeing a string of second places. Unless… unless…

“Can I do yer chalet?” Rejoice, rejoice, IT’S SU POLLARD, HERE TO SAVE THE EIGHTIES!

(In fact, so eager was Su to do her duty, that she barged in ahead of Slik on the MP3 medley. An unstoppable force, that’s our Su.)

I’ve written about “Starting Together” before, you know. But to recap: it was the theme tune from a BBC documentary series about a young couple getting married. This was particularly memorable for its video, in which Su, looking fetching in a furry white winter cap with matching pom-poms, indulged in a playful snowball fight in the woods with said young marrieds.

OK, so it’s shit. But at least it’s entertaining shit, unlike…

3T, who were benefitting from heavy attention due to being Michael Jackson’s nephews. Tito’s sons, weren’t they? Three of them, right? Hence the awful name 3T, which makes them sound like a bunch of straight-to-cabaret no-hopers off The X Factor.

I can’t stand “Anything”. Really, really can’t stand it. Worst record we’ve had so far. Hell, even Mariah Carey was good for a snooty giggle for a couple of seconds. This is just… ugh. And, especially given their pedigree, it’s disgracefully badly sung. Adenoidal, that’s the word. But, oh, just wait till we get to the witless necrophiliac slobberings of the collected might of (deep breath)…

Notorious BIG featuring Diddy, Nelly, Jagged Edge & Avery Storm. One has been dead since 1997, and the rest are a bunch of vultures crowded round the still profitable cadaver, and dribbling mildly offensive pre-pubescent inanities all over it. Putrid stuff, which tempts me to re-activate my inner Unreconstructed 1980s Gender Politics Warrior… but maybe not, maybe not.

Nevertheless, at least “Nasty Girl” is built around a cute and catchy 1980s soul/funk retro backing, the niftiness of which lifts it up to third place in my voting. Sorry, Su. Fair’s fair. Luvya loadz.

My votes: Rolling Stones – 5 points. Slik – 4 points. Notorious BIG – 3 points. Su Pollard – 2 points. 3T – 1 point.

Over to you. Come on, it’s the Stones all the way, isn’t it? So perhaps the real battle is for last place. It’s gonna be tough!

Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 4 – the Number Twos.”