Which Decade: Cumulative scores, after five years.

(Click here to view all of this year’s Which Decade posts on one page.)

And finally, here are the scores which matter the most. At the top of the table, the 1960s take over the lead from the 1970s, by the most slender of margins. At the bottom of the table, the 2000s increase their lead over the 1990s – but with a 26 point gap between third and fourth place, the 2000s face an almost impossible struggle.

1 (2) The 1960s – 168 points.
2 (1) The 1970s – 166 points.
3 (3) The 1980s – 159 points.
4 (4) The 2000s – 133 points.
5 (5) The 1990s – 125 points.

With two more years of the Which Decade still to run, I’m predicting an upswing for the 1970s – especially when we reach 1979, one of the greatest years ever for chart pop. (Generational bias, you say?) Nevertheless, there’s still plenty of fight left in the 1960s, and who knows what as yet undreamed of heights the 2000s might reach? As for the 1980s and 1990s, it’s going to be very much down to the luck of the draw, combined with your tolerance for commercial dance and the collective works of Stock, Aitken and Waterman.

Thanks to all who have voted, and particularly to all those who have left comments along the way: Adrian, Alan, Amanda, asta, Ben, betty, Chig, chris, Clare, David, diamond geezer, Dymbel, Geoff, Gert, Hedgie, jeff w, jo, JonnyB, Koen, Lionel d’Lion, loomer, Lyle, Marcos, NiC, Oliver, Pam, robert, robin, Sarah, Simon C, Simon & The City, Stereoboard, SwissToni, TGI Paul, Will and z. Why, you’ve been quite the little community. Thank you also for playing so nicely, and not getting all het up like some other online music forums I could mention. As always, a selection of your comments has been appended to the respective final scores for all 50 of this year’s songs.

For the hardcore stats-geeks among you – and don’t roll your eyes, I’ve had requestshere’s the spreadsheet which I’ve been using to collate this year’s scores. (Is that OK for you, Clare?)

Join me next February, as our glorious mission enters its sixth year, bringing us ever closer to finding the answer to that eternal question: Which Decade Is Tops For Pops?

We now return you to your regular scheduled programming.

Which Decade: your Top Ten and your Bottom Five.

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

1. Don’t Leave Me This Way – Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes.
2. Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane – The Beatles.
3. I’m A Believer – The Monkees.
4. Grace Kelly – Mika.
5. Let’s Spend The Night Together – Rolling Stones.
6. Daddy Cool – Boney M.
7. Mellow Yellow – Donovan.
8. Don’t Cry For Me Argentina – Julie Covington.
9. Boogie Nights – Heatwave.
10. Same Jeans – The View.

46. I Wanna Love You – Akon featuring Snoop Dogg.
47. The Music Of The Night – Michael Crawford.
48. Heartache – Pepsi & Shirlie.
49. I Shot The Sheriff – Warren G.
50. Stay Out Of My Life – Five Star.

(Note that there is nothing from the 1980s or the 1990s in the Top Ten, and three songs from the 1980s in the Bottom Five.)

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – THE WINNER.

1st place – The 1960s. (34 points)

2006: 2nd place, 37 points.
2005: 2nd place, 33 points.
2004: 1st place, 36 points.
2003: 3rd place, 28 points.

10. Mellow Yellow – Donovan. 5 points.
9. Matthew And Son – Cat Stevens. 3 points.
8. Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron – Royal Guardsmen. 1 point, least popular.
7. Peek-A-Boo – New Vaudeville Band. 3 points.
6. Let’s Spend The Night Together – Rolling Stones. 5 points.
5. Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane – The Beatles. 5 points, most popular.
4. Here Comes My Baby – The Tremeloes. 4 points.
3. I’m A Believer – The Monkees. 5 points.
2. Release Me – Engelbert Humperdinck. 2 points.
1. This Is My Song – Petula Clark. 1 point.

wd60topAnd so, for the second time in five years, to the 1960s: a decade which has only once finished below second place. 1967 picked up our highest share of top scores, with Donovan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Monkees all finishing in first place. These more than compensated for the rare occasions (Royal Guardsmen, Engelbert Humperdinck, Petula Clark) when it fell out of favour.

Whereas our 2007 Top 10 was consistently OK but rarely spectacular (unless you count “Same Jeans” and “Grace Kelly” as “spectacular”), our 1967 Top 10 veers wildly between godawful corniness and genre-defining transcendence, rarely pausing for half measures. It’s also our most optimistic selection, as befits the relative innocence of the times.

wd60botHowever, perhaps we are once again drinking in the Last Gasp saloon. If 1997 represented the end of the road for post-Britpop “credibility”, and if 1987 sounded the death knell for “style” pop, and if 1977 marked the overthrowal of the Boring Old Farts by the New Wave, then maybe 1967 marked the end of the first rush of creative energy that had been set in motion by Merseybeat. Could something like “Here Comes My Baby” have existed in 1968, after the schism created by the Summer of Love? For in the post-psychedelic world, as the Serious Artists graduated to the albums format, the singles chart rapidly became the target of their sneers: a playground for the very young, or a graveyard for the middle-aged. Bubblegum and MOR flourished, as the concept of the “beat group” more or less died overnight.

Congratulations, 1967. You sat on the cusp, hinted at the best of what was to come, and reaped the benefits accordingly. Just be warned, though: you might not find things quite so easy in a year’s time.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

2nd place – The 2000s. (32 points)

2006: Equal 4th place, 21 points.
2005: 4th place, 27 points.
2004: 5th place, 26 points.
2003: 4th place, 27 points.

10. The Sweet Escape – Gwen Stefani featuring Akon. 1 point.
9. I Wanna Love You – Akon featuring Snoop Dogg. 2 points, least popular.
8. Same Jeans – The View. 5 points.
7. Too Little Too Late – Jojo. 4 points.
6. How To Save A Life – The Fray. 2 points.
5. Exceeder – Mason. 4 points.
4. This Ain’t A Scene It’s An Arms Race – Fall Out Boy. 2 points.
3. Starz In Their Eyes – Just Jack. 3 points.
2. Ruby – Kaiser Chiefs. 4 points.
1. Grace Kelly – Mika. 5 points, most popular.

wd20topYou see? You see? Downloading is changing EVERYTHING.

For why else would the 2000s, after four years of ignominy, suddenly spring into life in 2007? The answer has to lie, in part if not in whole, with the recent changes in the way that the chart is compiled, and with the shift in the singles market from CD to MP3.

Under the new rules, songs can qualify for inclusion in the charts even if they aren’t available as physical CD singles. That “Top 40” display rack in Woolworth’s, Virgin and HMV? It has been rendered null and void, ever since Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” reached Number One in April 2006 on downloads alone.

Until the start of 2007, songs were only allowed to chart on downloads if a full CD release was planned for the following week. Now that rule has been scrapped, the whole notion of a single as existing in a physical format has been sabotaged. Any song, from any era, so long as it can be downloaded as a single entity from a legal source, can qualify for inclusion.

At a stroke, this demolishes the short-term marketing strategies which had contributed so effectively to the devaluation of the Top 40 over the last ten years or so, and whose early effects can be detected in our 1997 selection. The techniques of building up demand through pre-release airplay, or of mobilising a committed fan base to snap up multiple format copies of a single in its first week, or of heavy first-week discounting to ensure a speedy purchase – all of these fall by the wayside, if all we have to do is log on to the iTunes music store as soon as we hear something we like, search, click, and cough up our standard 79 pence.

wd20botAs a result of all this, songs are once more permitted to rise gradually and gracefully up the charts, as their popularity spreads outwards. Few songs crash straight into the Top 10, only to drop out of the Top 40 three weeks later. And equally importantly, the singles-buying demographic has widened once again, restoring the charts to their status as an accurate gauge of the nation’s favourite tunes. Just like it used to be in the old days, when Engelbert and Petula sat next to the Beatles and the Stones.

How could all of this not lead to a rise in the overall quality of the Top Ten, if only from the perspective of an older audience such as thee and me? You may not personally care for all of the singles featured in our representative sample, but you have to admit that they’re a diverse and interesting bunch, with next to nothing in the way of out and out crap. (Yes, even that Akon and Snoop single works, in its own way.) Basically, I can see a reason why people would genuinely like all of these tunes – and that’s not something that I’ve been able to say for a lot of the shit that the 2000s have flung at us thus far. (“Reminisce” by Blazin’ Squad, I’m looking at YOU.)

And so I, for one, am rejoicing. For if the 2000s still have it in them to finish second, then that suggests two things. Firstly, that the quality of chart pop music is not in a state of inexorable decline after all. Secondly, that the readers of this site – few of whom are under 25 – aren’t incapable of appreciating and fairly evaluating new pop music, even long after they have ceased to “follow the charts”.

It gives me hope, people.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

3rd place – The 1970s. (31 points)

2006: 1st place, 38 points.
2005: 3rd place, 30 points.
2004: 2nd place, 31 points.
2003: 1st place, 35 points + 1 tiebreak point.

10. Chanson D’Amour – Manhattan Transfer. 2 points.
9. Daddy Cool – Boney M. 5 points.
8. Jack In the Box – Moments. 2 points.
7. Don’t Leave Me This Way – Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes. 5 points, most popular.
6. Boogie Nights – Heatwave. 4 points.
5. Isn’t She Lovely – David Parton. 2 points, least popular.
4. Side Show – Barry Biggs. 1 point.
3. Don’t Give Up On Us – David Soul. 2 points.
2. Don’t Cry For Me Argentina – Julie Covington. 5 points.
1. When I Need You – Leo Sayer. 3 points.

(Boring statistical aside: Although David Parton scored 2 points and Barry Biggs only scored 1 point, David Parton has the least popular song, as derived by dividing the total number of points by the total number of voters on that day.)

wd70topI blame the MINDLESS BRAINWASHED MASSES, who were FED A DIET OF LIES by our FASCIST REGIME. Or rather, my Public School Punk Rocker fifteen-year old self would have done, as he KNEW THE TRUTH ALRIGHT?

But, I ask you, just look at this creaking load of smarmy smoothies. Simpering David Soul. Bleating Leo Sayer. Over-enunciating Julie Covington. Vacuum-packed swing from the twinkly-toed Man Tran. Carbon-copy ersatz soul from hired hack David Parton. Chicken-in-a-basket Philly Disco from the frizzed and frilled Moments, and boil-in-the-bag Euro Disco from the PLASTIC PRODUCTION LINE PUPPETS known as Boney M. Limp pop-reggae from Barry Biggs, a thousand miles away from the groundbreaking likes of Lee Perry, Culture, Burning Spear, all busy Chanting Down Babylon as the Two Sevens Clash.

wd70botBut then there was also Grade A Philly disco from Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes – the most popular single in the entire five-year history of the Which Decade project – and classy sophisto-disco from Rod Temperton’s Heatwave, ushering in the Saturday Night Fever era. And in any case, history has been rather kind to “Daddy Cool” and “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”, and most of you were WRONG WRONG WRONG about the sublime “Side Show”, and Punk Rock Phase One was never even aimed at the charts in the first place, so one can hardly bemoan its absence.

Yes indeed. Crisis, what crisis? As long as we could all Get Up And Boogie at the Best Disco In Town, all was far from doom and gloom in 1977. So never mind those FILTHY FOUL-MOUTHED YOBS spitting and swearing, and those BLASTED UNIONS HOLDING THE COUNTRY TO RANSOM, because we had a lovely Silver Jubilee to look forward to, and street parties to plan! Ra-da-da-da-dah!

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

4th place – The 1980s. (27 points)

2006: 3rd place, 33 points.
2005: 1st place, 34 points.
2004: 3rd place, 30 points.
2003: 2nd place, 35 points.

10. I Love My Radio – Taffy. 3 points.
9. The Music Of The Night – Michael Crawford. 1 point.
8. Running In The Family – Level 42. 3 points.
7. Stay Out Of My Life – Five Star. 1 point, least popular.
6. It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way – Blow Monkeys. 3 points.
5. Almaz – Randy Crawford. 3 points.
4. Male Stripper – Man 2 Man featuring Man Parrish. 5 points, most popular.
3. Heartache – Pepsi & Shirlie. 1 point.
2. Down To Earth – Curiosity Killed The Cat. 3 points.
1. I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) – George Michael & Aretha Franklin. 4 points.

wd80topI blame Thatcher.

It was February 1987, and Great Britain had, allegedly, Never Had It So Good. To ensure a landslide victory for the Conservative Party in the forthcoming general election, Chancellor Nigel Lawson had over-heated the economy to a degree which bordered on the reckless. The ace in his pack was the systematic privatisation of publicly owned utilities – a policy which sought to make grubby, short-termist shareholders of us all, with nothing more elevated on our minds than making a nice little return on our investments. This had coincided with the “Big Bang” in the City of London, which deregulated the financial markets and led to a feverish rush of share-dealing. London property prices were beginning to move sharply upwards, and the post-Election stock market crash known as “Black Monday” was still eight months away.

The age of the Yuppie was upon us: an almost mythical figure, to whom we were all encouraged to aspire. The “If You See Sid, Tell Him” campaign for the privatisation of British Gas was possibly Yuppie culture’s defining moment, ushering in a bizarre period in which it was seen as deeply cool to be working in advertising.

wd80botAnd of course, to complement the Yuppie look (striped shirt & braces) and the Yuppie lifestyle (Docklands apartment, red Porsche 911), one needed some suitably aspirational Yuppie pop. Something with the veneer of cool, but without any bothersome substance. Something with hair gel and shoulder pads; Fairlight synths and Jazz Sax; fake soul and plastic funk.

In other words, something like Curiosity Killed The Cat, Five Star and Pepsi & Shirlie (if you were young); George Michael and Level 42 (slightly older); Crawfords Randy and Michael (older still) – or, for the champagne socialists, the Blow Monkeys (but stick them on the CD player during your dinner party, and no-one would be any the wiser). Dance music? You’ll be wanting some latter-day Hi-NRG cheapo knock-offs, suitable for swinging your gold lame puffballs down at Stringfellows.

1987: you were the last gasp of Eighties Style Pop, which had begun so promisingly at the start of the decade (ABC, Human League, Soft Cell), but whose initial attempts at daring, subversion, and wit had gradually rendered down to mere vapid meretriciousness. And as for any musical legacy: this year’s unpredecented fourth place speaks volumes.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results.

5th place – The 1990s. (26 points)

2006: Equal 4th place, 21 points.
2005: 5th place, 26 points.
2004: 4th place, 27 points.
2003: 5th place, 25 points.

10. Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Dub – Apollo Four Forty. 4 points.
9. Remember Me – Blue Boy. 4 points.
8. Barrel Of A Gun – Depeche Mode. 4 points, most popular.
7. Ain’t Nobody – LL Cool J. 2 points.
6. I Shot The Sheriff – Warren G. 1 point, least popular.
5. Clementine – Mark Owen. 1 point.
4. Don’t Let Go (Love) – En Vogue. 3 points.
3. Don’t Speak – No Doubt. 4 points.
2. Where Do You Go – No Mercy. 1 point.
1. Discotheque – U2. 2 points.

wd90topWell, this is a surprise.

I was expecting a much stronger result for the 1990s this year – especially after the first few rounds of voting, which actually placed them in the lead for a couple of days. There was a brief moment of resurgence towards the end, thanks to reasonable showings from En Vogue and No Doubt – but the combined weight of No Mercy and U2 dragged the decade back down from second place to last place, in just two days.

Whereas all our other decades managed to produce at least one winning song, the 1990s never finished any higher than second place – something which they managed four times (Apollo Four Forty, Blue Boy, Depeche Mode and No Doubt). Thanks to Warren G, Mark Owen and No Mercy, they also managed to finish last on three occasions.

Personally, I think 1997 has been rather hard done by. Looking through the ten songs, I’m struck both by the lack of so-called “manufactured” pop, and by the comparatively uncommercial nature of many of the tracks. “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Dub” and “Remember Me” are club tracks with substance; neither pander to obvious crowd-pleasing formulas. “Barrel of a Gun” and “Discotheque” are similarly uncompromising rock tracks, which make no concessions to daytime radio-friendliness. “Don’t Let Go (Love)” and “Don’t Speak” are mature ballads, which favour emotional integrity over stock schlockiness.

wd90botThis was a period when the radical and controversial changes that Matthew Bannister had introduced at BBC Radio One were starting to bear fruit. With the “Smashy and Nicey” era firmly dead and buried, this was a new, credibility-chasing, almost self-consciously “intelligent” re-incarnation, which was keen to distance itself from the “disposable” – hence the preponderance of slightly more stretching material in the charts.

However, “stretching” does not necessarily equate to “enduring”, and it has been interesting to discover how little some of these tracks are remembered. The age of high new entries and rapid descents was upon us, with its consequent devaluing of the upper end of the charts. “Ain’t Nobody” and “Discotheque” might have reached Number One – but most of us have struggled to remember them, even just ten years on.

1997 was also the year when the Britpop wave started to recede. Blur pointedly turned their back on the genre, and started looking towards American alt-rock acts such as Pavement for inspiration. Oasis brought out the disasterous cocaine-nosebleed that was Be Here Now, and lost ground which they have never fully recovered. Pulp were on extended hiatus, pending the release of the similarly career-dampening This Is Hardcore in 1998. Instead, the year belonged to Radiohead’s OK Computer and The Verve’s Urban Hymns, two albums whose weighty solemnity signalled that the party was drawing to an end.

By the end of the year, the Spice Girls were straddling the globe, paving the way for the resurgence of Robbie Williams in 1998, and for the rise of pure pop acts such as Steps and B*Witched. 1997 thus stands as something of a high water mark for “credibility” in the charts – which is precisely why I was predicting a good result. Perhaps you’re all a good deal more Pop than I had given you credit for.

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – voting deadline.

“Closing date for voting will be in a few days time. I haven’t yet decided when.”

Um… sorry for being picky, but this is screaming SETUP! at me.

Will your decision be based at all on the decades you fancy looking like they’re in with a chance? Hmmm?

Only joking. I know you wouldn’t do such a thing. But maybe an early announcement would prevent any more unsavoury speculation…

Very well, Clare. Let it never be said that Which Decade is ever anything but whiter-than-white.

The voting deadline for this year’s Which Decade is Sunday night (March 4, 2007).

Let the unsavoury speculations cease forthwith.

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 1s.

What a eventful Which Decade it has been thus far. As we enter the final round, all eyes are on the mid-table tussle between the 1970s, 1990s and 2000s. It already looks certain that our most recent two decades will, for the first time ever, not occupy the bottom two places – but more excitingly than that, there’s a very real chance that one of them might end up finishing in second place. Just how consensus-busting is that, pop-pickers?

Shall we crack on? Bring ’em out – it’s the Number Ones!

1967: This Is My Song – Petula Clark. (video, in French)
1977: When I Need You – Leo Sayer. (video, in a tree, with Muppets)
1987: I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) – George Michael & Aretha Franklin. (video)
1997: Discotheque – U2. (video)
2007: Grace Kelly – Mika. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

As with the Hump, so with Our Pet. Sitting at Number One in 1967, we find – possibly to our slight dismay, given the excitement of the lower positions – a second consecutive Forces Family Favourite, performed by that doyenne of the Light Programme, Miss Petula Clark.

To further underline its pre-rock-and-roll credentials, “This Is My Song” was composed by none other than Charlie Chaplin, who had originally envisaged it as the instrumental theme from his final movie, A Countess In Hong Kong. Having penned some English lyrics to sit over the top, Chaplin was all set to offer the song to Al Jolson, unaware that he had passed away 17 years earlier. Thus thwarted (and it allegedly took a photo of Jolson’s grave to convince him), the song was next offered to Chaplin’s neighbour in Switzerland, the aforementioned Miss Clark.

Never exactly thrilled with the English lyrics (and who could blame her, for with all its beatific talk of smiling flowers, one wonders whether Chaplin was conducting some era-appropriate psychedelic experiments of his own), Clark soon took to performing the song in French as much as possible – as evidenced by the video which I’ve linked to above. Meanwhile, a rival version by Harry Secombe entered the charts in March, overtaking Petula’s version a few weeks later, and eventually peaking at Number Two.

All of which is a lot more interesting than “This Is My Song” itself. Good grief, 1967. What were you thinking?

“Everybody loves Leo!” (Leo Sayer, 2007)

My Crypto-Maoist Year Zero Punk Rocker fifteen-year old self might have been wrong about “Daddy Cool” and “Boogie Nights”, but he’s not about to make any posthumous concessions to “When I Need You”. Boring then, boring now. Next!

Poor old Aretha Franklin. Having been roped in by Annie Lennox to add a bit of weight to “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves”, she was now doing the same thing for George Michael: another early 1980s pop star who was busily trying to swap delusions of Style and Subversion for delusions of Authenicity, Passion and Commitment. “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” is an OK enough tune, but it doesn’t half sag under the weight of its own “meeting of the giants” self-importance, what the Ross/Turner-invoking references to “rivers”, “mountains” and “valleys”. Don’t be blinded by nostalgia, Voters Of A Certain Age!

Let us now turn to the vexed question of U2: a band whose lumbering earnestness turned me right off in the 1980s, and whose equally lumbering attempts at corrective “irony” turned me off equally in the 1990s. (Although I will concede that the not-too-earnest, not-too-silly synthesis of their 2000s work really hasn’t been too bad at all.) Come on, now: “Discotheque” is basically a collection of admittedly quite groovy noises in search of a song, isn’t it? Well, can you remember how it goes? Thought not.

And so, finally to Mika: an act upon whom I have resisted Forming A Position for quite long enough. Having been perfectly vile about all of our other Number Ones, it would only be fair to be equally vile about “Grace Kelly”.

However, not only I am absolutely f**king desperate for the 2000s to come second, I am also quite fond of this arch little show-tune confection, which makes a pleasingly theatrical Grand Finale to this year’s offerings. It communicates little beyond “I Am The Fabulous Multi-Talented Mika, And You Must Love Me As Much As I Love Myself” – but in pop, we can allow that. For the course of a single, at least.

(As for the album, I’m with Pete: rarely has an act got on my tits as rapidly as this uppity charlatan. Oh wait, I forgot about Joanna Newsom.)

My votes: Mika – 5 points. George Michael & Aretha Franklin – 4 points. U2 – 3 points. Leo Sayer – 2 points. Petula Clark – 1 point.

This is it, then. The final vote. Unless late votes on the other rounds throw a spanner in the works – and they still quite easily might – the 1960s would appear to have it in the bag, although I’m forecasting last place for Pet. Meanwhile, the nostalgia factor might well give the 1980s a final shot in the arm. But whither the 2000s? Where do you stand on Mika? Or will you defend U2 against my heinous slurs? Or does everybody really love Leo? Over to you.
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 1s.”

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 2s.

The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. The Monkees. Donovan. Cat Stevens. With that kind of line-up, is it any wonder that the 1960s have been steaming ahead?

With just two days to go, that might all be about to change. Without wishing to get all Gillian McKeith on you, shall we examine the Number Twos?

1967: Release Me – Engelbert Humperdinck.
1977: Don’t Cry For Me Argentina – Julie Covington.
1987: Down To Earth – Curiosity Killed The Cat. (video)
1997: Where Do You Go – No Mercy. (video)
2007: Ruby – Kaiser Chiefs. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

As played at the wedding of some dear friends of ours (anyone remember the story of Ron and Yvonne?), Engelbert Humperdinck‘s “Release Me” famously kept The Beatles off the Number One slot, in an act of pop injustice which rivals only the “Vienna”/”Shaddup You Face” debacle of 1981 and the Rod Stewart/Sex Pistols scandal of 1977 for the levels of froth-mouthed outrage which it has inspired. And as epoch-defining chart battles go, The Fabs versus The Hump in 67 easily tops the minor local skirmish that was Blur versus Oasis in 1995. (Hell, it even tops Girls Aloud versus One True Voice in 2002, and that’s really saying something.)

Epoch-defining? Hell, yeah. This was Hipsters versus Squares, long-haired layabouts versus Forces Family Favourites, the post-war “never had it so good” generation versus the pre-war “we didn’t fight the Battle of Britain for this” generation. And The Hump walked it.

Personally, I can’t listen to “Release Me” without experiencing certain olfactory side-effects: Mister Sheen on teak veneer, Blue Grass by Elizabeth Arden, over-boiled cabbage, and the faintest top notes of stale urine. But maybe that’s just me.

Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s second contribution to this year’s Which Decade comes as a salutary reminder that occasionally – not often, but occasionally – he is capable of knocking out a bloody good tune, and “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” stands as his greatest achievement. Or does it? Perhaps the song’s greatness is more attributable to Tim Rice’s lyrics – sorry darlings, libretto – and most particularly, to Julie Covington‘s absolutely spot-on performance. She doesn’t overdo it, you see. There’s a controlled, un-showy integrity to it. She serves the song, not the other way round.

In my tortured teenage years, I managed to twist most song lyrics around so that they became All About Me And My Unique Unrequited Suffering, and “Argentina” was one of the prime examples. God knows how I did it. But, y’know, it still means a lot. Let’s not delve further.

Lloyd-Webber is not the only svengali figure from our Number Nines round to make a return in the Number Twos, either. Step forward Frank Farian: the man behind Boney M in the late 70s, Milli Vanilli in the late 80s… and in the late 90s, No Mercy, a Latino three-piece vocal group from Miami. “Where Do You Go” is unashamedly corny Europop, what with its Eurovision-esque Spanish guitars and its 1980s Italo-disco “woh-oh-ohs”, and I vaguely seem to remember being massively irritated by it at the time. Ten years on, and the kindly, forgiving Eurovision fan in me finds it perversely enjoyable.

Last time round, Frank from Germany whupped Our Andrew’s sorry ass. For this re-match, I’m confidently predicting that the tables will be turned.

During the latter part of 1985, Curiosity Killed The Cat had enjoyed a good deal of attention in the all-important “style press” of the day, leading eager style queenlets such as I to expect something rather special. Plus the band – with the possible exception of gangly lead singer Ben Vol-Au-Vent Poltroon – were droolsomely gorgeous looking in a clean-cut smoothie kind of way, which always helps.

You can therefore imagine my disappointment when “Down To Earth” was revealed as yet another drippy, ploppy, piddling little piece of clueless yuppie-pop nonsense, which communicates nothing but its own everything-just-SO self-satisfaction. “You’re shattered by the final frame of the movie scene that generates your every aim.” Whatever you say, Mister Vol-Au-Vent Poltroon.

And so to cheeky chappy Britpop revivalists the Kaiser Chiefs, serving up the sort of cheery knees-up that you could easily imagine as the opening performance on TFI Friday in 1997. “Ruby” isn’t really about anything much, other than a vague sense of emotional nothingness at the end of a seemingly insignificant relationship. It’s a kind of extended shrug; a “so that was that then, now I’m off out with the lads”. And that’s only if you listen closely – when actually, the track is nothing more or less than another sloshing-about-at-the-indie-disco party tune, to stick on the same playlist as “Same Jeans”. For some of you, that’s not nearly enough. For me, it’ll do nicely for now.

My votes: Julie Covington – 5 points. Kaiser Chiefs – 4 points. No Mercy – 3 points. Curiosity Killed The Cat – 2 points. Engelbert Humperdinck – 1 point.

Over to you. With three first places and one second place over the last four rounds, the 1960s are surging ahead – but will The Hump stop them in their tracks? The 2000s are still looking useful, and I’m expecting the Kaiser Chiefs to keep them well in the game. Having sagged badly in the middle rounds, the 1990s are staging a major comeback – but could La Covington lead a rear-guard action for the established order? And at this late stage, can anything to be done to save the 1980s? Mister Vol-Au-Vent Poltroon and your sorry Stu-Stu-Studio-Lined lackeys, you’re letting not just yourselves but your whole decade down.
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 2s.”

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 3s.

“Can I just say that one of the things I really like about this project is that over the years many people with considerably different tastes, backgrounds and influences have been reasonably candid about their views on these records and there has never been a mocking of people for holding those views, and certainly no personal attacks. It’s a model of how the personal internet should work.”

Hear hear, Gert. And if it’s a diverse range of opinions that you’re after, then look no further than the previous round, where it’s still neck and neck between The Tremeloes, Man 2 Man and En Vogue. Meanwhile, back at the Number Sixes, the Rolling Stones and Heatwave are also still slugging it out for pole position. I ask you: could it get more exciting? Could it? No, but could it though?

Time to chuck five more songs into our democratic melting pot. Hold onto your hats, it’s the the Number Threes!

1967: I’m A Believer – The Monkees. (video)
1977: Don’t Give Up On Us – David Soul. (video)
1987: Heartache – Pepsi & Shirlie. (video)
1997: Don’t Speak – No Doubt. (video)
2007: Starz In Their Eyes – Just Jack. (video; alternative X Factor spoof video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

Proof positive, should any still be needed, that so-called “manufactured” pop can be as capable of transcendence as music made by any other means, The Monkees more or less defined the classic boyband template, setting the bar high as they did so. They also benefitted from working with some of the top songwriting talents of their day – such as Neil Diamond, who wrote “I’m A Believer”, and still includes it in his live show to this day. Flawless stuff, and so much a part of the iconography of pop that any fresh objective assessment is rendered almost impossible.

Like the Monkees, Dishy David Soul came to prominence as part of a hit TV show (Starsky and Hutch), and was therefore almost guaranteed to gain major-league exposure with his first single release, if only for the curiosity factor. With its winsome pleading for a second chance from his Lady Love, “Don’t Give Up On Us” plays perfectly to Dishy David’s adoring female fanbase – and its the underlying sincerity of his performance which rescues it from the slush bin. Plus there’s a strong tune and a deft arrangement, which always helps.

Pepsi & Shirlie‘s curiosity-factor fame-boost sprang from their roles as backing singers for Wham!, and it proved just about enough to sustain them through two Top Ten singles in early 1987 – despite “Heartache” earning a slagging from none other than Margaret Thatcher on BBC1’s Saturday morning children’s show Swap Shop. (“Very professional, the voices, yes, but where’s the heartache?”) The sub-“Billie Jean” rhythm and the horrid, horrid 1980s hi-gloss/hi-tack airbrush production job haven’t worn well, and the whole track feels lifeless and forced.

Making her second appearance in this year’s Which Decade, Gwen Stefani enjoyed prolonged success as the lead singer with No Doubt before going solo, and the adult-contemporary maturity of “Don’t Speak” stands in marked contrast to the dayglo juvenalia of her more recent work. Although the track isn’t for me stylistically, I’ll happily concede that as a break-up song, it strikes all the right chords. This stands as yet another example of how it’s often the unfashionable songs which endure the longest.

And so to Just Jack‘s utterly splendid “Starz In Their Eyes”, which – once you’ve got over the obvious comparisions with Mike Skinner of The Streets, which in my case took several weeks – delivers a timely and welcome broadside to talent-show-pop culture, with articulacy and wit. There’s something about the chugging funkiness of the chorus which reminds me of 2000-era disco-house cuts such as Spiller’s “Groovejet” and Modjo’s “Lady (Here Me Tonight)”, and there’s something about Just Jack’s vocal delivery, particularly in the “Dog and Duck karaoke machine” section, which sticks in the memory in the most deliciously compelling way. This is my favourite track in the 2007 Top Ten to date, by some distance.

My votes: Monkees – 5 points. Just Jack – 4 points. David Soul – 3 points. No Doubt – 2 points. Pepsi & Shirlie – 1 point.

OK, so the Monkees are almost certain to keep the 1960s ahead – but hey, just look at the plucky Noughties, snapping at their heels in joint second place. Will Just Jack spell further good news for our plucky underdog of a decade? Over to you.
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 3s.”

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 4s.

You know: for a while back there, I thought that we were going to get our second ever run of perfect 5s, to match Harold Melvin’s recent triumph. But no: for a couple of you renegades (and I name no names here), Mason & Princess Superstar’s chunky club track has the edge over The Beatles’ all time classic (© Mojo, Uncut, The Word, Rolling Stone, Dad Rock Monthly etc etc). Such heresies are what we live for, here at WDITFP.

As for today’s selection, things could get a little more unpredictable once again. At the time of writing, I have no idea which one of these five tunes is going to come out on top. Could we be looking at our closest photo-finish since the epic tussle – still going strong, incidentally – between The View and Depeche Mode, back in the Number 8s? Set your stop-watches: it’s the Number Fours.

1967: Here Comes My Baby – The Tremeloes. (video)
1977: Side Show – Barry Biggs.
1987: Male Stripper – Man 2 Man featuring Man Parrish. (video)
1997: Don’t Let Go (Love) – En Vogue. (video)
2007: This Ain’t A Scene It’s An Arms Race – Fall Out Boy. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

Every year without fail, one or two hidden gems reveal themselves during the course of assembling the project – and here’s a case in point. Over the past few weeks, I’ve devloped quite an unseemly obsession with the first hit to be scored by The Tremeloes, following their split from front man Brian Poole. “Here Comes My Baby” has so many of the elements I love: it’s ridiculously catchy, with a spirited rhythmic thrust that puts me in mind of “If I Had A Hammer” by Trini Lopez – and to top it all, THERE ARE COWBELLS. I’m such a sucker for a good cowbell – in fact, it’s probably half the reason why I retain such a soft spot for Hi-NRG.

Despite all of its surface cheeriness, “Here Comes My Baby” sports a incongruously melancholic set of lyrics – thus pre-dating the collective oeuvre of Steps by over thirty years. Sticking with the love-lorn and the bereft, Barry Biggs‘ “Side Show” provides a neatly turned example of the time-honoured “sad showman mocked by the gaiety of the fairground” lyrical archetype. This time, however, both the jauntiness and the melancholy are reflected in the song’s light pop-reggae stylings. There’s a wonderfully haunting quality to the tune and the arrangement – plus a great el cheapo synth break further down the line, which somehow evokes the gaudy cheapness of the fun fair – and in other circumstances I would have had no hesitation in doling out the 5 points…

…except that, with Man 2 Man featuring Man Parrish on the agenda, no-one else was likely to get a look in. “Male Stripper” is the second late-period Hi-NRG hit in the 1987 Top 10 – and my my, it has lost none of its power over the years. In fact, I think it still makes me feel a little bit “funny” down there. Hey, I never said that my sexuality was sophisticated. Shall we move on?

Much as I enjoyed En Vogue‘s soulfully sassy early 1990s hits such as “Hold On” and “My Lovin'”, R&B and rock have never struck me as a particularly winning combination. Fine on their own – but stick ’em together, and they don’t half curdle in the churn. Throw in a dollop of Power Ballad, and the stench can become unbearable. Although I dare say it will find its supporters in the comments box, I find “Don’t Let Go (Love)” a deeply annoying piece of music, which is currently tying with Five Star as my Dud Of The Year. (Hey, at least Michael Crawford has some comedy value.)

And so to Fall Out Boy, who make their second consecutive appearance on Which Decade, following last year’s “Sugar We’re Goin Down”. (Oh, so they’re American, are they? Why did none of you correct me last year? I feel such a fool!) This is another case of a single which would normally fall into the Not My Sort Of Thing category, but for which I have developed a creeping fondness. I like the slight nods to pomp-rock, especially with some of the backing vocals – and as such, I guess that you can forge certain stylistic links between this song and the recent work of My Chemical Romance and Muse. (Er, can you? How the hell should I know; this falls so far outside of my generational demographic, that it’s almost embarrassing to be caught discussing it in public.)

My votes: Man 2 Man – 5 points. The Tremeloes – 4 points. Barry Biggs – 3 points. Fall Out Boy – 2 points. En Vogue – 1 point.

As I say, this one’s wide open. Will Man 2 Man give the lagging 1980s a much needed boost? Or Will The Tremeloes widen the 1960s’ lead even further? Over to you.
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 4s.”

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 5s.

Well now, there’s a thing. At the time of writing, “Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes has scored a maximum 5 points from every single voter, making it the first single ever in the history of Which Decade to do so – and therefore, if you stick with my admittedly patchy logic, The Best Single Ever In The History Of Which Decade, If Not Of All Time.

But hark! And hist! What’s that coming over the hill? Could it be a victory to rival that of Harold Melvin? Only one way to find out: it’s the Number Fives.

1967: Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane – The Beatles. (video)
1977: Isn’t She Lovely – David Parton.
1987: Almaz – Randy Crawford.
1997: Clementine – Mark Owen. (video)
2007: Exceeder – Mason. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

As JonnyB rightly points out in the previous comments box, The Rolling Stones were actually in the Top Ten with a double A-side single, which combined “Let’s Spend The Night Together” with “Ruby Tuesday”. I’d feel guiltier about this oversight if the Stones weren’t already in the lead – but I’m certainly not about to make the same mistake with this double A-sider from The Beatles.

Despite breaking their four year run of consecutive Number Ones, “Strawberry Fields Forever”/”Penny Lane” is regarded by many – myself included – as the Best Beatles Single Ever, and regularly tops the sort of magazine polls to which men of my age and background are so irresistably drawn. I’ve written about it before, so shan’t bang on for too long – except to re-state that “Penny Lane” evokes memories of my 1960s childhood with an almost supernatural accuracy, and an almost overwhelming poignancy. Meanwhile “Strawberry Fields Forever” – Side One, Track One on the first album I ever bought – more or less invented the future. Not bad going for a pop single, is it?

Given Stevie Wonder’s refusal to release “Isn’t She Lovely” – already a major airplay hit – as a single from his massively successful Songs In The Key Of Life, it fell to some previously unheard-of (and never to be heard of again) jobber called David Parton to seize the commercial opportunity, and to milk it for all it was worth with this carbon-copy cover version. Since the song is dedicated to Wonder’s baby daughter Aisha – even mentioning her by name – Parton’s already shabby opportunism looks all the more artistically indefensible. Still, since carbon-copy cover albums (such as the perennial Top of the Pops series) were still selling well in the late 1970s, nobody outside of the music press and the Wonder fan club cared too much – indeed, Parton was widely hailed as nobly fulfilling a public demand, in the face of Wonder’s stubborn intransigence – and “Isn’t She Lovely” duly peaked at Number Four. God, but the Seventies could be such a shabby decade.

Randy Crawford, whose breezy, carefree, seemingly effortless vocals worked so well on The Crusaders’ “Street Life” in 1979, got bogged down during the 1980s with a right load of syrupy cabaret gloop, and “Almaz” is one of her very gloopiest. It’s a pleasant enough tune, and the essentially likeable Crawford does her best with it – but the song itself’s an utter dog, whose endurance – often as source material for TV talent shows – totally baffles me.

By early 1997, so-called “manufactured” pop was right at the bottom of the cycle of popularity, the rise of the Spice Girls notwithstanding. East 17’s final hit was on its way down the charts, Kylie had “gone indie”, and the former members of Take That were having to adapt to survive, with mixed fortunes. Gary Barlow was enjoying an immediate but short-lived flash of success as a pretender to the thrones of George Michael and Elton John; Robbie Williams was floundering and looking increasingly marginalised (this was still 10 months before “Angels” saved his career); but on the face of it, Little Marky Owen (The Cute One™) seemed to be re-inventing himself quite successfully as a more “mature” artiste, working with Radiohead producer John Leckie and replacing the cheesy grins with moody pouts.

I say “on the face of it”, because “Clementine” – like “Almaz” before it – is another array of pleasant noises thrown over another utter dog of a song (in this case, a remarkably depressive ode to a desperate single mother). Weirdly, it also sounds as if it could have fitted – stylistically at least – onto Take That’s all-conquering comeback album. However, when placed next to TT’s two current Top Twenty singles – “Patience” (justly voted Best British Single at last week’s Brits) and “Shine” (lead vocals by one Mark Owen), it stands revealed merely as an object of minor historical curiosity.

And so to Mason, whose club hit “Exceeder” has been re-worked as a mash-up with the vocal line from Princess Superstar’s “Perfect”. Or so I’ve read, at any rate; never having heard either of the originals, the combination of the two sounds perfectly natural to me – as if it was always meant to be. I like the chunky electro-house feel, and I like the way that the basic themes are subtly developed over the course of the track, and I particularly like the “whooshy” bits later on (they’re not on the MP3), which sound like something that the rather ace dance act Vitalic might have put out two or three years ago. Heavens to Betsy, a more-than-decent club track in the Top Ten, whoda thunk it? There is hope.

My votes: Beatles – 5 points. Mason – 4 points. Mark Owen – 3 points. Randy Crawford – 2 points. David Parton – 1 point.

OK, so the Beatles are a shoo-in for first place – but how are the rest of the votes going to pan out? As predicted, former leaders the 1990s have taken a nasty tumble, as the old order of the 1960s and 1970s re-establishes itself. Can Mason keep the 2000s in the running? Or will Randy Crawford lead a resurgence for the rapidly flagging 1980s? Over to you.
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 5s.”

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 6s.

Ooh, but it’s getting close down there. At the time of writing, Depeche Mode have drawn level with The View in the battle of the Number Sevens, and Taffy is slugging it out with Apollo Four Forty for second place in the Number Tens. Which means that, yes, every vote does count, and can significantly affect the final result. So it’s never too late to get involved.

With that in mind, let’s check out the Number Sixes.

1967: Let’s Spend The Night Together – Rolling Stones. (video)
1977: Boogie Nights – Heatwave. (video)
1987: It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way – Blow Monkeys.
1997: I Shot The Sheriff – Warren G.
2007: How To Save A Life – The Fray. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

This is the third time that the Rolling Stones have represented the 1960s, having finished in first place on both previous occasions (“Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown” in 2006, and “Not Fade Away” in 2004). “Let’s Spend The Night Together”, while not perhaps quite the equal of its two predecessors (although its unambiguously libidinous intent highlights all the deficiencies of the Akon/Snoop effort in a most instructive and timely manner), has only one real rival in today’s selection…

Heatwave‘s “Boogie Nights” is the second single in our 1977 Top Ten to have lent its name to a 21st century nostalgia-based musical show. Like Boney M, Heatwave began their career in West Germany, before moving to the UK and teaming up with songwriter Rod Temperton (later to write “Rock With You” and “Thriller” for Michael Jackson) and producer Barry Blue (a minor star of the glam-rock period). “Boogie Nights” is a fine early representation of the sort of overground disco music that was to reach its commercial peak in 1978 and 1979 – although my aforementioned crypto-Maoist Year Zero punk rocker 15-year old self loathed everything which it stood for. That’s sexual repression for you.

(I also misheard the lyrics, for many years, as “one two three four dancing, three four dancing“, but that’s AM radio for you.)

The Blow Monkeys are a prime example of the sort of act which seemed cool in the obsessively style-conscious climes of 1987, but whose music has largely failed to stand the test of time. Although this was their biggest hit by some considerable distance, they had better material, such as the still-rather-nifty “Digging Your Scene” from 1986. They were also brave enough to commit commercial suicide just three months later, with a doomed piece of eve-of-General-Election Thatcher-bashing/wishful thinking called “Celebrate (The Day After You)”, featuring guest vocals from no less a figure than Curtis Mayfield, if you please. The band’s hit-making career never really recovered after that, and so it would be tempting to redress this historical injustice by awarding “It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way” oodles of points – but sadly, WDITFP doesn’t work like that. Harsh but fair; it has to be this way.

To endure one lazily rubbish rap remake of a pop classic in the space of a single Top Ten might be a misfortune; to endure two in a row smacks of carelessness. But then, there was a lot of it about in 1997; Notorious BIG’s “Mo Money More Problems”, which massacred Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out”, was a few months away from charting, as was Puff Daddy’s deeply yucky mega-smash “I’ll Be Missing You”. The self-styled “G-funk” artist Warren G had promised so much in 1994, with the sublime “Regulate” – but by 1997 his artistic stock was much diminished. Not that the singles-buying public (puh, them) cared, as “I Shot The Sheriff” duly followed his late 1996 assault on “What’s Love Got To Do With It” into the Top Ten. Tellingly, Youtube doesn’t have a video for this one, either.

And so to The Fray, who would appear to be a US take on the likes of Coldplay, Snow Patrol, and most especially Keane. “How To Save A Life” has all the earnest, preachy, mid-paced ponderousness of the above three acts, and positively drips with the sort of unfocussed “meaningfulness” which can so frequently drive me to distraction – and yet, a dozen or so listens down the line, I have formed a kind of grudging accommodation with it. If preachy ponderousness is the lingua franca of the day, then at least The Fray execute it with a tolerably acceptable efficiency. It’s not for me, but I don’t particularly begrudge its existence.

My votes: Heatwave – 5 points. Rolling Stones – 4 points. The Fray – 3 points. Blow Monkeys – 2 points. Warren G – 1 point.

Over to you. The 1990s are holding onto their lead, but I fear that the combined weight of LL Cool J and Warren G are about to change all of that. Meanwhile, the 1980s are trailing badly, with two last places (Michael Crawford and Five Star) in four days. Today has to be a good one for the 1960s and the 1970s, doesn’t it? Could Heatwave be about to nudge the 1970s ahead? It’s all up to you…
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 6s.”

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 7s.

Wow. What an unexpected and wonderful birthday present (yes, it’s today; no, that’s fine, you couldn’t be expected to remember) the Which Decade project has seen fit to bestow on me.

Five years, 44 rounds of voting and scoring… and yea, on the 44th day, something rather marvellous has happened.

At the time of writing, the votes for this year’s Number 8s are stacked up in exact chronological order. Sure, this has happened several times before; but always with the 1960s in first place and the 2000s in last. However, for the first time ever in the history of Which Decade Is Tops For Pops, the 2000s have the leading song (The View’s “Same Jeans”), and the 1960s have the losing song (The Royal Guardsmen’s “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron”).

Many congratulations to The View for salvaging the reputation of this most beleaguered of decades; you must be feeling very proud of yourselves right now.

To underline the magnitude of their victory: “Same Jeans” is the first winning song from the 2000s since The Source’s “You Got The Love”, on Day 4 of last year’s contest. However, since “You Got The Love” was essentially a microscopic re-twiddle of a 1990s backing track and a 1980s vocal, which would have been excluded under this years rules, we have to go all the way back to 2004 to find a previous victor from the 2000s: Britney Spears’ “Toxic”. Thus it is that “Same Jeans” breaks a drought which has lasted for no less than twenty-three rounds of voting.

Welcome back to the game, Noughties. Now, let’s see whether you can capitalise on your renewed success, as we get our critical teeth stuck into the Number Sevens.

1967: Peek-A-Boo – New Vaudeville Band. (video)
1977: Don’t Leave Me This Way – Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes.
1987: Stay Out Of My Life – Five Star. (video)
1997: Ain’t Nobody – LL Cool J.
2007: Too Little Too Late – Jojo. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

My my, but wasn’t February 1967 an uncommonly whimsical time for chart pop? Following Donovan’s surrealist strut and the Royal Guardsmen’s ever-so-slightly-sweary beagle-based novelty, the New Vaudeville Band, with their exaggerated plummy accents (shades of Neil Hannon from The Divine Comedy?) and their nostalgic 1920s tea-dance stylings, come across like a somewhat sanitised Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band – as the above video link will confirm. (It’s worth watching just for the introduction from the bosomy old broad in bottle-green, and for the performance of their US Number One hit “Winchester Cathedral” which follows.)

“Peek-A-Boo” was the work of the songwriter Geoff Stephens, who also penned pop hits such as “The Crying Game” (Dave Berry), “Semi-Detached Suburban Mr.James” (Manfred Mann), “Goodbye Sam, Hello Samantha” (Cliff Richard, pre-empting gender-bending by over a decade) and the mighty “Knock Knock, Who’s There?” (Mary Hopkin). It’s a cute but slight affair, whose initial charm wears off fairly swiftly.

There were, of course, two competing versions of “Don’t Leave Me This Way” in the Top 20 of February 1977, nine years before the Communards took the song to Number One. Thelma Houston’s fine rendition peaked at Number 13, but this superior version (originally recorded in 1975) by Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes – featuring Teddy Pendergrass on lead vocals, and best heard in its dizzying, ever-intensifying, seemingly endless full length version – made it as far as Number 5. (In the US, where Thelma’s cover of the Bluenotes’ original reached Number One on the pop charts, the fortunes were reversed.) Thirty years on, and despite saturation exposure to the Communards version in the 1980s, the song has lost none of its power, and I’m banking on a solid stream of first placings.

Five Star‘s ghastly “System Addict” was at Number Seven in last year’s snapshot of the 1980s, and it is our unique misfortune to have them back at Number Seven this year, with the even more forgettable “Stay Out Of My Life”. To all of you who are about to lose just over a minute of your lives to its anaemic, cloying, personality-free wretchedness: be at least grateful that you didn’t have to spend 79p on its acquisition (and, yes, I resent every last penny).

“I Can’t Live Without My Radio”, “Rock The Bells”, “I’m Bad”… yes, in his early days on Def Jam records in the 1980s, LL Cool J produced some of the most compelling and ground-breaking hip hop cuts of all time. And then he recorded a rubbishly piece of slush called “I Need Love” (or “I Need A Hit”, as we all called it), hit the charts, and generally went a bit rubbish. Successful, but still a bit rubbish.

LL’s utterly pointless version of Rufus & Chaka Khan’s classic “Ain’t Nobody” was taken from the soundtrack of Beavis & Butthead Do America, and the single came packed with a picture of Beavis & Butthead on its front cover. At the time, it felt like a new benchmark of marketing over content – and it also felt like the most insignificant Number One in British chart history. (Go on, I bet you had forgotten all about it. YouTube doesn’t even have a video.) The slow devaluation of the Top 40 was just beginning, and “Ain’t Nobody” was at the vanguard.

All of which leaves Jojo‘s rather effective little lament to a love affair turned sour, which has been hanging around inside the 2007 Top Ten for several weeks now. Yes, “Too Little Too Late” is part of the new breed of real hits, which are hanging around because people actually like them, and are getting the chance to know them before they disappear from sight.

I like to think of “Too Little Too Late” as a necessary corrective to Akon & Snoop’s witless slobberings of a few days ago. Jojo’s image is that of a comparatively ordinary girl-next-door, and the plight which she describes is an easily identifiable one. Unfortunately, this is badly undercut by the auto-tuning software, which makes her sound like a whiney robot – but not even that can altogether prevent little glimpses of true emotion from poking through the sheen. I particularly like the wordless wailing at the end of the track (not featured on the MP3 medley), in which Jojo is either celebrating her new freedom, or exorcising her pain – but most likely a mixture of both.

My votes: Harold Melvin – 5 points. Jojo – 4 points. New Vaudeville Band – 3 points. LL Cool J – 2 points. Five Star – 1 point.

Over to you. After three days of voting, the 1990s are our clear leaders – blimey, whoda thunk it, there is hope, etc etc – with the gap between the other four decades still too close to call. Why, even the 2000s are still in the running. There’s everything to play for here, in what could be our most open competition to date.
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 7s.”

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 8s.

OK, time to face facts. No longer quite the carefree little thing that I was in previous years, my ongoing “professional” duties – plus a fatal weakness for, you know, actually enjoying the occasional night in front of telly with a fine wine and my man by my side – do rather stand in the way of being able to maintain a daily service.

On the other hand, it does give all of you busy little blog-hoppers and feed-snappers a bit of breathing space, and more time to form thoughtful evaluations of the material on offer.

But here I am, and here we are, and here they are: the Number Eights.

1967: Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron – Royal Guardsmen. (video)
1977: Jack In the Box – Moments.
1987: Running In The Family – Level 42. (video)
1997: Barrel Of A Gun – Depeche Mode. (video)
2007: Same Jeans – The View. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

With the memory of Snoop “Doggy” Dogg’s unseemly slavering still fresh in our minds, let us now turn to his predecessor in title, as immortalised by the Royal Guardsmen‘s dodgy stab at World War Humour. Dozens of dead soldiers! Ho ho ho!

As an eleven-year old fan of the Trojan Records sound, and a Peanuts afficionado to boot, I was mightily fond of the 1973 pop-reggae re-working of “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron” by the Hotshots, which blared out of my newly acquired Bush monaural gramophone with the smoked perspex lid, all the way through the High Summer of Glam. Some of our childhood enthusiasms stay with us through to adulthood, while others are gladly cast aside – and this song, in any version, shall forever reside in my mental Clearance Bin.

Like Whizzer & Chips, The Sutherland Brothers & Quiver, and Alfreton & Mansfield Parkway, The Moments shall be forever linked with their musical other halves, The Whatnauts. Sans Whatnauts, The Moments merely feel like half the deal – and sans any genuine disco-funkiness, or even a halfway decent song, the sickly, cloying “Jack In The Box” merely feels like bargain basement fodder for the Port and Lemon set.

It’s at times like these that I reconnect with my inner adolescent crypto-Maoist year-zero scorched-earth Punk Rocker. Production line garbage for the brainwashed masses! With my Slaughter & the Dogs and Eater singles, I shall obliterate you all!

None of which can adequately prepare me for the creeping realisation that “Running In The Family”, by the hitherto irredeemable Level 42, is – whisper it if I dare – actually quite good. There, I’ve said it. Back in 1987, when I was in thrall to more received notions of “cool” than were good for me (for what is a man, if he cannot be judged by the cut of his 501’s and the badges on his black MA1 flying jacket?), I wouldn’t have given this track house room. Looking back, it’s so bizarre…

By 1997, former electro-pop pretty boys Depeche Mode had reached the height of their gnarly, “industrial”, wannabe-Nine-Inch-Nails phase, and Dave Gahan had just begun to emerge from his own private Skaghead Hell of self-destruction. Produced by Tim “Bomb The Bass” Simenon, “Barrel of a Gun” is a harrowingly accurate reflection of his turmoil. I’ve never formed much of an emotional connection with the work of Depeche Mode – a band whose continued international mega-success has always bemused me – but this song comes pretty close to convincing me otherwise.

“Hang on, Mike: what’s this cover of “Brimful of Asha” by The Proclaimers doing in the 2007 chart?” Oh, I will have my little joke, even if it’s scarcely an original one. The Lurching Around At The Friday Night Indie Disco With A Pint Of Cooking Lager Aesthetic gets far too short a shrift in some purse-lipped quarters, and I happen to find it a perfectly acceptable aesthetic – which means that, bless my soul, The View have turned in my favourite track of the bunch. Oh, come on. It’s FUN. You remember FUN, dontcha?

My votes: The View – 5 points. Depeche Mode – 4 points. Level 42 – 3 points. Moments – 2 points. Royal Guardsmen – 1 point.

Over to you. Cartoon capers, plastic disco, yuppie funk, f**ked-up self-loathing, or Sheer Youthful Exuberance From Some Promising Youngsters Who May Go Far? The choice is yours!
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 8s.”

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 9s.

At this early juncture, I should explain something about the thorny matter of re-releases. In past years, I have sometimes included them (Elvis Presley’s “Wooden Heart”), and sometimes excluded them (Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round”). This year, I’m definitely excluding them – and here’s my reasoning.

The objective of this little stunt is to compare the music that was actually made in each decade. Therefore, older records which happened to find popularity in a different decade – most usually because of successful marketing – would only skew the sample. Exceptions can be made for remixes which noticeably change the original, and for re-releases that still belong to the same decade.

This year, three singles fall foul of the re-release rule: Elvis Presley’s “Suspicion” (a 1962 recording which hit the charts in 1977), and two hits from 1987: Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” and Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves A Woman”, which were both used in massively popular (and deliciously homo-erotic) TV advertisments for Levi’s Jeans. To fill the gaps, I’ve added Number 11 and Number 12 hits to the bottom of the lists, and shuffled everything up accordingly.

Now that we’re all singing from the same revisionist hymn sheet, let’s crack on with the Number Nines.

1967: Matthew And Son – Cat Stevens.
1977: Daddy Cool – Boney M. (video)
1987: The Music Of The Night – Michael Crawford. (video)
1997: Remember Me – Blue Boy. (video)
2007: I Wanna Love You – Akon featuring Snoop Dogg. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

Ah, but didn’t The Artist Subsequently Known As Yusuf Islam have some great moments, before he went all soppy and sappy in the early 1970s? Boasting some terrific orchestration, “Matthew And Son” is a fine piece of slightly Kinks-esque social observation, which bemoans the plight of the Oppressed Worker and delivers a sophisticated pop take on the emergent genre of the “protest” song.

From deep and meaningful to shallow and meaningless, but in the best possible way: Boney M were rarely less than preposterous, and rarely more fun than on this, their debut hit. So good that they based a musical around it, “Daddy Cool” is production-line German disco from that eternal pop tart, Frank Farian (of whom more in a few days’ time) – and as such, it sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from Giorgio Moroder’s increasingly ground-breaking work with Donna Summer. “Daddy Cool” may be no “I Feel Love” – but at eight out of ten wedding discos, it’s the one which is more likely to get me wiggling my pin-striped booty with the bridesmaids.

Ooh Betty, Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s done a whoopsie all over the Top Ten! From the musical Phantom of the Opera, Michael Crawford buries the memory of Frank Spencer with… with…

…no, sorry. We all have our blind spots, and this brand of over-egged, pseudo-operatic Musical Theatre is one of mine. Please don’t make me think about it any more than I have already had to.

Featuring vocal samples from Marlena Shaw’s superb “Woman of the Ghetto”, Blue Boy‘s “Remember Me” was one of those crossover club hits that just about everybody loved at the time. Perhaps it got a little over-played, and perhaps it needs laying aside for a few more years before we can all start loving it anew – for such is the fate of the “used groove” – but you can’t argue with class like this, can you?

I’ve tried to do my best by Akon & Snoop Dogg, even beefing their track up with a running beat-mix from “Remember Me”, but I can already hear the howls of outrage building up in my embryonic comments box. Although bearing the DJ-friendly title “I Wanna Love You”, the word “love” is mysteriously absent from the track itself – and there are no prizes for guessing which four-letter word takes its place, either.

A couple of years ago, I penned a fairly detailed defence of the use of the f-word in Eamon’s huge hit, “F**k It (I Don’t Want You Back)” – and I’d stand by that defence today. With Akon & Snoop’s “I Wanna F**k You” – a straightforward ode of dribbling lust towards a pole dancer – the issues are somewhat different. There’s no subtlety here. No subversion of the apparent meaning. Not even any redeeming wit. They want to f**k her. End of.

So in that case, why do I find myself becoming increasingly obsessed with this song, which I must have played half a dozen times in the past 24 hours? Maybe it’s because I’m trying to absorb the shock – because, yes, having a song like this in the Top Ten does shock me. Maybe it’s because I’m trying to work out, from a generational distance of at least twenty years if not thirty years, how this song is being consumed by its target audience. Do they find it funny, or horny, or thrillingly transgressive (I’ll bet this is huge with 13-year old boys), or are they even listening that closely in the first place?

Although this country doesn’t boast much in the way of a pole-dancing culture, it’s a safe bet that “I Wanna F**k You” will be blaring out thrice nightly, in every titty-bar from New York to L.A. Well, of course it would, as it handily perpetuates the fantasy that the dancers are gagging for it, and that the punters have some sort of legitmate claim over them.

On the other hand, perhaps people aren’t as dumb as I’m making out. Of course this track perpetuates an erotic fantasy. That’s the whole point. It’s a fantasy – and as such, does its existence necessarily have to be a harmful one?

But then again: is it just me, or isn’t there something bleak, desolate and almost mournful about the atmosphere on this track? Doesn’t it exude some kind of languid, disconnected loneliness, which intensifies with each repeated listen, to the point where the tune becomes perversely enjoyable?

Or maybe I’m over-analysing, and it’s just a pile of lazy, offensive crap (and also Akon’s second consecutive appearance in the 2007 Top 10, but I can’t think of anything remotely interesting to say about that). We shall see, soon enough.

My votes: Cat Stevens – 5 points. Blue Boy – 4 points. Boney M – 3 points. Akon & Snoop Dogg – 2 points. Michael Crawford – 1 point.

Over to you. Votes in the comments box, please. I’m predicting an early lead for the 1960s, but what do I know?
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 9s.”

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 10s.

Oh, is it that time of the year again? Why, I do declare it is! Let joy be unbounded, as we gird our loins for Year Five of our seven year quest: Which Decade Is Tops For Pops?

Before we start, here’s a brief introduction for newcomers. Over the next couple of weeks, we shall be examining the Top Ten best-selling UK singles from this week (my birthday week, as it happens) in 1967, 1977, 1987, 1997 and 2007. Today, we shall be looking at the five singles at Number 10; tomorrow, we look at the Number 9s… and so on until we reach the Number 1s, at the end of next week.

On each day, I shall be publishing a short medley of the five songs under examination. Your job is to listen to the medley, to arrange the five songs in descending order of merit, and to leave your vote in the comments box.

I’ll be totting up the points for each day, and adding them all together, using a simple scoring method which is frankly too tedious to bother you with at this early stage. You’ll soon pick things up as you go along.

Suffice it to say that at the end of the ten days, one of our decades – the Slinky Sixties, the Sexy Seventies, the Excessive Eighties, the Naughty Nineties or the Neglected Noughties – will be crowned this year’s winner.

Last year, 1976 brought it home for the Seventies, who duly notched up their second victory in four years. Can the Top 10 from February 1977 work similar wonders – or will we finally see some big points for those two perennially scorned decades, the Nineties and the Noughties, neither of whom have even so much as placed in the Top Three?

Are we all ready, then?

OK, eyes down (and indeed eyes sideways, as we’ve got video links for the first time this year, Youtube be praised) … it’s the Number Tens!

1967: Mellow Yellow – Donovan. (video)
1977: Chanson D’Amour – Manhattan Transfer.
1987: I Love My Radio – Taffy. (video)
1997: Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Dub – Apollo Four Forty. (video)
2007: The Sweet Escape – Gwen Stefani featuring Akon. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

Not too shoddy an opening selection, is it? Listening to Donovan‘s gentle whimsy, a small window opens onto the Sixties’ Next Big Thing: hippy psychedelia, which would hit its historic peak over the “Summer of Love” in five months’ time. The first clues are there – the wacky surrealism, the langourous nonchalance, the “anything goes” attitude – but at the same time, there’s not much of the overtly counter-cultural on display here. “Mellow Yellow” might take us on a dandified strut down Carnaby Street or the King’s Road, but we’ll search in vain for a signpost to Haight-Ashbury.

Ten years on, and the next soi-disant Youth Revolution was swiftly gathering momentum – but looking at the February 1977 singles chart, there was no evidence whatsoever that punk rock was on the way. Never mind the bollocks – here’s Manhattan Transfer, stalwarts of the peak time TV variety show, with their biggest UK hit – and also possibly one of their downright naffest musical moments. Displaying little of the slick sophistication of their best material, “Chanson D’Amour” is well-executed but swiftly irritating swayalong schlock for the Sing Something Simple generation, whose main redeeming feature is to summon up images of a Morecambe and a Wise, gleefully hamming it up to the ra-da-da-da-dahs.

Another ten years on, and with yet another musical paradigm shift waiting in the wings, most of the country’s gay clubs were happy to continue ploughing the same old Eurodisco furrows. Why bother learning how to jack your body, when you could simply pass the poppers and party like an eternal 1983? Within this increasingly impoverished cultural cul de sac, walloping belters such as Taffy‘s “Midnight Radio” (to give it its correct original title) were as manna from heaven – and this one duly ruled every gay dancefloor in the country for weeks on end, stretching well back into late 1986.

However, when it came to promoting “Midnight Radio” as mainstream chart crossover material, a hideous compromise was made. Since BBC Radio One (The Nation’s Favourite!) actually stopped broadcasting at midnight, handing its airwaves back over to Radio Two (Brian Matthew! Sheila Tracey’s Truckers Hour!) for the wee small hours, none of its DJ’s were likely to promote a song with lyrics like “Wo-oh, my guy, my DJ after midnight, I love my radio, my midnight radio”. Instead, an absolute clunker of a re-worked chorus was forced upon the UK singles market: “I love my radio, my deejay’s radio.” Big Yuck! Sacrilege!

A further decade down the line, and the musical shifts that Chicago House had set in motion were now at their popular, commercial peak. Dance culture was mainstream, and ubiquitous, and yet to harden over into the diminishing returns of Ibiza Trance, which were to deal it an almost fatal blow towards the end of the decade. And so it was that interesting, well-crafted, non-formulaic, genre-blurring tunes such as Apollo Four Forty‘s Van Halen-sampling “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Dub” got a crack at the Top Ten – complete with one of the few instances of jungle/drum-and-bass rhythm patterns selling in large quantities, even if Apollo Four Forty themselves were anything but a jungle/drum-and-bass act. Covering broadly similar ground to The Prodigy, one of the biggest dance acts in the country at this stage, “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Dub” stands up remarkably well.

And so, with a weary sigh, we turn to the singles chart of 2007 for the first time, ready for whatever half-assed pap that the Noughties might throw at us – but stop! Wait! Reconsider! After a slow ten year slide in relevance, during which genuine popularity was routinely overshadowed by efficient but meaningless target marketing, newly liberalised regulations are already re-establishing the Top Forty as a genuine barometer of taste. With most new entries now falling outside the Top Ten, the “climber” is back, and we are once again seeing those gratifyingly smooth rises and falls which are a more accurate reflection of the way that we fall in and out of love with our favourite tunes of the day.

None of which offers much by way of defence for Gwen Stefani‘s latest effort: a slight piece of retro-tinged pop fluff, with shades of Madonna’s “True Blue” and faint echoes of the soda fountain, which falls some way short of the standards set by her enjoyable run of hits from a couple of years back. Cute but forgettable – and I promise you that we’ll hear better.

My votes: Donovan – 5 points. Taffy – 4 points. Apollo Four Forty – 3 points. Manhattan Transfer – 2 points. Gwen Stefani – 1 point.

Over to you. Please leave your votes in the comments, starting with your favourite and working downwards. No tied positions are allowed, and all five songs must be ranked. You’ll find me very strict on that.

And there’s one more earnest plea, which I make at this stage every year: when casting your votes, please try to rank them in terms of merit, and not just in terms of subjective nostalgia appeal. OK, let’s go…
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 5 – the Number 10s.”