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.