Which Decade: Cumulative scores, after six years.

1 (1) The 1960s – 205 points.
2 (2) The 1970s – 202 points.
3 (3) The 1980s – 182 points.
4 (4) The 2000s – 164 points.
5 (5) The 1990s – 150 points.

Although the positions on our cumulative league table remain unchanged, it’s worth looking a little more closely at the gaps between each decade.

At the top of the table, the 1970s are still chasing the 1960s hard, with last year’s two point difference widening to a mere three points. However, these two decades are now pulling ever clearer of their nearest rivals, as last year’s 7 point gap between the 1970s and 1980s becomes a yawning 20 point chasm.

The 2000s are making reasonable ground, but with last year’s 26 point lag behind the 1980s only reducing to 18 points, they still have a lot of work to do. As for the 1990s, now lagging by 14 points as compared to last year’s 8, it does look as if they are already out for the count.


I think it’s time for a graph, don’t you? This shows the waxing and waning fortunes of each decade over the past six years. I’m not sure that it proves anything, but doesn’t it look nice?

wd2008-graph


Finally, and in accordance with Which Decade custom, it only remains for me to thank everyone who voted: Adrian, Alan, anne, asta, betty, Bryany, Cathy, chris, Clair, David, diamond geezer, Dymbel, Erithian, Geoff, Gert, Gordon, Hg, imsodave, jeff w, jo, JonnyB, Lizzy, LKSN, lockedintheattic, Lyle, Marcello, NiC, Nikki, Nottingham’sMr Sex‘, Oliver, Rebecca, Rob, Sarah, Silverfin, Simon, Simon C, Stereoboard, Stu, SwissToni, The commenter formerly known as, Tina, Tom, Vicus Scurra, Will and Z. Nearly everyone who took part in last year’s Which Decade came back again this year, which is particularly heart-warming – as is the record number of votes cast, with all rounds picking up over 30 sets of votes for the first time, and some even touching a new high of 40 votes. (Frankly, I’m not sure that I could have coped with many more.)

The Golden Notepad award for Outstanding Commenting goes this year – and how could it not? – to Marcello, whose extraordinary expert knowledge combined with his real passion for the subject has added much to the enjoyment of the last three weeks. Oh, and he also happens to be my favourite music writer on the planet, so it has been a joy to have him along.

As ever, it’s been a phenomenally labour-intensive but also richly rewarding slog, and I look forward to welcoming you all back next February, for what could be our final episode of… Which Decade Is Tops For Pops?

Thank you, and goodnight.

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Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results: THE WINNER.

1st place – The 1960s. (36 points + 1 tiebreak point)

2007: 1st place, 34 points.
2006: 2nd place, 37 points.
2005: 2nd place, 33 points.
2004: 1st place, 36 points.
2003: 3rd place, 28 points.

10. Gimme Little Sign – Brenton Wood. 4 points.
9. Judy In Disguise (With Glasses) – John Fred & His Playboy Band. 5 points.
8. Fire Brigade – The Move. 4 points.
7. Pictures Of Matchstick Men – Status Quo. 4 points.
6. Am I That Easy To Forget – Engelbert Humperdinck. 1 point, least popular.
5. Bend Me Shape Me – Amen Corner. 5 points.
4. Everlasting Love – The Love Affair. 5 points, most popular.
3. She Wears My Ring – Solomon King. 1 point.
2. Cinderella Rockefella – Esther & Abi Ofarim. 4 points.
1. Mighty Quinn – Manfred Mann. 3 points.

Tiebreak round:
This Guy’s In Love With You – Herb Alpert. 4 points.
Fire – The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. 5 points.
Mony Mony – Tommy James and the Shondells. 6 points.

wd1968Yes indeed: for the third time in six years, the Sixties have swung it – meaning that either you lot are tiresomely predictable, or else that the music from four decades ago was consistently wonderful.

Looking at this little lot, one has to veer towards the latter conclusion. The creative rush of the beat boom (and its close successor, the Summer of Love) was abating, in favour of a lighter, more overtly commercial sound – but there was still an unmistakeable optimism in the air, as evidenced by all that strident brass, those straight-up boom-thwack beats, that toytown surrealism, and those soaring feelgood choruses.

Sure, Englebert and Solomon did their best to poop the party, but they feel irrelevant to the spirit of the age – especially when compared to the exquisite and heart-melting easy listening of Herb Alpert, one of my best finds of this year’s project. (If you only click on one of the YouTube links, then take a look at Herb in action, and then try telling me you haven’t fallen in love with him just a little.)

Meanwhile, the Heavy Brigade were moving elsewhere, as the first divisions between “serious” and “disposable” began to make themselves felt. It was the dawn of that most obstructive of creatures, the Rock Snob – and perhaps the first example of pop music’s periodic need to shed its skin, and to re-engage with a new set of believers.

So let’s leave the “heads” to sneer at the Amen Corner and the Love Affair, while we more enlightened souls raise a glass (I’ve actually just finished my third, but hey, it’s Saturday night) to our winners… our official, mathematically proven Tops For Pops decade… ladies and gentlemen, guys and gals, I give you… THE SIXTIES!

Which Decade: your Top Ten and your Bottom Five.

Just before we announce our winning decade, let’s look back at Those You Loved, and Those You Loathed. Positions are calculated by dividing the numbers of points scored by the number of people voting on that particular day… which is all rather good news for our winner, who benefitted to no small degree from being up against a bad bunch. Tsk, statistics eh?

1. I Think We’re Alone Now – Tiffany.
2. Never Ever – All Saints.
3. Take A Chance On Me – Abba.
4. Everlasting Love – The Love Affair.
5. Mr. Blue Sky – Electric Light Orchestra.
6. Uptown Top Ranking – Althea & Donna.
7. Bend Me Shape Me – Amen Corner.
8. A&E – Goldfrapp.
9. Wishing On A Star – Rose Royce.
10. Fire Brigade – The Move.

46. Valentine – T’Pau.
47. All I Have To Give – Backstreet Boys.
48. Am I That Easy To Forget – Engelbert Humperdinck.
49. My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion.
50. Cleopatra’s Theme – Cleopatra.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results: 2nd place.

2nd place – The 1970s. (36 points)

2007: 3rd place, 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. Sorry I’m A Lady – Baccara. 2 points.
9. Love Is Like Oxygen – The Sweet. 4 points.
8. Mr. Blue Sky – Electric Light Orchestra. 5 points.
7. Uptown Top Ranking – Althea & Donna. 5 points.
6. Wishing On A Star – Rose Royce. 5 points.
5. Hot Legs – Rod Stewart. 2 points.
4. Come Back My Love – Darts. 4 points.
3. If I Had Words – Scott Fitzgerald & Yvonne Keeley with the St. Thomas More School Choir. 2 points.
2. Figaro – Brotherhood Of Man. 2 points, least popular.
1. Take A Chance On Me – Abba. 5 points, most popular.

Tiebreak round:
Substitute – Clout. 2 points.
You’re The One That I Want – John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John. 3 points.
Three Times A Lady – The Commodores. 1 point.

wd1978For the second time in Which Decade history, our leading decades have been obliged to submit to the rigours of a tie-break. Five years ago, the 1970s came out on top – but this year, the combined might of Clout, Grease and The Commodores were not sufficient to save them.

Like our 2008 chart, there’s something prematurely old-fashioned about the selection from 1978. There’s straight-up 1950s revivalism from Darts, which is echoed in the rather mangled take on the decade from Travolta and Newton-John. There are some well-established hit-makers (Abba, Rod Stewart, ELO), doing their well-established thing, and there’s even an unexpected last gasp from The Sweet. Disco is poorly represented by Baccara, and new wave isn’t represented at all. Instead, our one nod towards the contemporary comes from Althea and Donna, representing a fluke break-out for a habitually underground culture.

So for the most part, it all feels like business as usual – which makes the changes that were shortly to sweep over the charts all the more unexpected, and all the more welcome. Yes, chart pop was about to drop another generation, but you’ll have to wait another year (at the very least) to find out how the first representatives of that generation – hell, of my generation – made that change.

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results: 3rd place.

3rd place – The 2000s. (31 points)

2007: 2nd place, 32 points.
2006: Equal 4th place, 21 points.
2005: 4th place, 27 points.
2004: 5th place, 26 points.
2003: 4th place, 27 points.

10. A&E – Goldfrapp. 5 points, most popular.
9. I Thought It Was Over – The Feeling. 2 points.
8. Work – Kelly Rowland. 2 points.
7. What’s It Gonna Be – H “two” O featuring Platnum. 2 points, least popular.
6. Don’t Stop The Music – Rihanna. 4 points (tied position).
5. Chasing Pavements – Adele. 3 points.
4. Sun Goes Down – David Jordan. 3 points.
3. Now You’re Gone – Basshunter. 3 points.
2. Rockstar – Nickelback. 3 points.
1. Mercy – Duffy. 4 points.

wd2008Ah. And this, folks, is where my “dropping a generation” theory runs into choppy waters. For what do we have here, but precisely the sort of retro-flavoured, adult-friendly, “quality” tunes that are bound to find favour with my dominant voting demographic, hence this eminently respectable third placing?

For here are Adele – the anointed successor to Amy Winehouse – and her anointed successor (for doesn’t Adele-mania already seem like months ago?), “don’t call me Aimee” Duffy, both delivering solid, bankable (if precocious) evocations of classic songwriting styles. And here are The Feeling, still ploughing the Guilty Pleasures 1970s soft-rocking furrow (and at the time of writing, The Feeling are a few minutes away from appearing on a prime time ITV1 show of the same name, with their “ironic” cover of Buggles’ Video Killed The Radio Star).

And speaking of Trevor Horn: here’s the reliable old master back in action, producing a tune from David Jordan which could have existed at any time during the last 20 years or so. Oh, and there’s Nickelback, with their quite extraordinarily retrograde Mezozoic Era “rawk” (featuring a special guest appearance from one of the beardy blokes in ZZ Top), and there’s Kelly Rowland, working that tired old Bhangra Knight Rider sample from five years ago… you get the picture? (Yes, we see.)

Meanwhile, when Ver Kids do get a look-in, with the utterly splendid What’s It Gonna Be, you lot only go and give it the lowest average mark of anything in the 2008 Top Ten! What are we going to do with you, eh? Well, at least we all achieved some sort of cross-generational consensus with Rihanna, so let us be grateful for that.

So, I’m a little conflicted here. Delighted that the 2000s have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, especially after the humilations of Years One to Four – but a little saddened that they have done so by coming over all fuddy-duddy in the process. But mostly, I’m pleased that popular culture isn’t on an irreversible one-way journey to hell in a handcart after all….

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results: 4th place.

4th place – The 1990s. (25 points)

2007: 5th place, 26 points.
2006: Equal 4th place, 21 points.
2005: 5th place, 26 points.
2004: 4th place, 27 points.
2003: 5th place, 25 points.

10. Together Again – Janet Jackson. 3 points.
9. High – The Lighthouse Family. 3 points.
8. You Make Me Wanna… – Usher. 3 points.
7. Gettin’ Jiggy With It – Will Smith. 3 points.
6. Angels – Robbie Williams. 4 points (tied position).
5. Cleopatra’s Theme – Cleopatra. 1 point, least popular.
4. My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion. 1 point.
3. Never Ever – All Saints. 5 points, most popular.
2. All I Have To Give – Backstreet Boys. 1 point.
1. Doctor Jones – Aqua. 1 point.

wd1998While our 1988 Top 10 began badly, it was in its upper reaches that our 1998 Top 10 floundered the most, with Cleopatra, Celine Dion, the Backstreet Boys and Aqua all placing last. As such, this is another wretched result for our most wretched of decades, which after six years of trying has never placed higher than fourth.

Remember that theory which I aired in the previous post? (And if you’re reading these posts out of sequence, then kindly desist.) Well, I’d argue that the “dropping a generation” theory holds true here as well. With Britpop a spent force, the Spice Girls had heralded a return to “pure” pop – or, as the disgruntled Oasis fans of the day would have it, shallow, manufactured, production line… well, I’m sure you can fill the rest in by now.

And so we had All Saints (on the plus side) and Cleopatra (on the minus side), continuing the boom in Girl Power Pop (for which see also B*Witched, Billie and the aforementioned filles d’espice). Aqua were serving the pre-teens, all the while tipping a cheeky wink to an older crowd who could see through their subversions. Best of all, Usher was in the vanguard of nu-R&B, showing the way forward with his superb You Make Me Wanna. And worst of all, the Backstreet Boys were pointing the way towards all the truly mind-numbing, truly production-line, identikit boy-band balladry that was to follow (yes, of course I mean Westlife).

By 2000 and 2001, this rebirth of “pure pop” had reached something of an apex, with all manner of boundary-stretching greatness charting high. But none of this helps our dear old 1990s, lumbering under the weight of crap pop-rap, coffee-table soul, and the deathless caterwauling of Celine. 1998, was this really all you had to give?

Which decade is Tops for Pops? – the results: 5th place.

5th place – The 1980s. (23 points)

2007: 4th place, 27 points.
2006: 3rd place, 33 points.
2005: 1st place, 34 points.
2004: 3rd place, 30 points.
2003: 2nd place, 35 points.

10. The Jack That House Built – Jack ‘N’ Chill. 1 point.
9. Shake Your Love – Debbie Gibson. 1 point.
8. Valentine – T’Pau. 1 point, least popular.
7. Say It Again – Jermaine Stewart. 1 point.
6. When Will I Be Famous – Bros. 2 points.
5. Beat Dis – Bomb The Bass. 4 points.
4. Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car – Billy Ocean. 2 points.
3. Tell It To My Heart – Taylor Dayne. 4 points.
2. I Think We’re Alone Now – Tiffany. 5 points, most popular.
1. I Should Be So Lucky – Kylie Minogue. 2 points.

wd1988Oh, Eighties! Whatever happened, that a once mighty decade should sink so low?

Five years ago, the 1983 chart was so strong that the results had to be decided by tie-break. Three years ago, the 1985 chart emerged as our outright champion. Last year, the 1987 chart hit a record low – and this year, the shoddy sounds of 1988 have disgraced the entire decade.

Although things picked up a little towards the end, with respectable placings for Bomb The Bass and Taylor Dayne and even a lone victory for Tiffany, 1988 was never going to recover from that disastrous opening run of four consecutive last places: Jack ‘N’ Chill, Debbie Gibson, T’Pau and Jermaine Stewart.

And time and again, the same complaint was voiced in the comments box: it was that cheap, tinny, synthetic production job that you hated the most, be it from Jack ‘N’ Chill’s Woolworths-own-brand take on house music, from the brash aspirationalism of Bros, or from the rattling and clattering of cut-price diva Taylor Dayne.

I have been revisiting and refining a favourite theory over the past couple of weeks: namely that towards the end of each decade, chart pop drops a generation, leaving those who thought that pop was always going to grow with them feeling scornful and betrayed. In this instance – and as someone who was a 26 year old DJ in an “alternative” nightclub at the time, I can speak with some measure of authority – it was Kylie, Tiffany and Bros who grated on our sensibilities the most (the equally youthful Debbie Gibson being too marginal a figure to care about). God, but we hated them all with a passion: they were “production line”; they were “plastic”; they endorsed Thatcherist values (whether they knew it or not, but WE COULD TELL); and they were everything that some of us hated disco music for in the late 1970s (“mindless brainwash music for the masses”).

Meanwhile, in a handful of clubs in the London area, a new movement was brewing which would provide pop’s next great paradigm shift. Like the paradigm shift of punk before it, acid house (and its close siblings, techno and rave) never really dominated the charts; instead, they had to content themselves with Changing Everything. Down at my club night, we were already transforming the venue with home-made smiley-faced banners; a month or so later, we even gave away matching badges to everyone who walked through the door. There were faint clues in the Bomb The Bass record, and there would be stronger clues in a couple of future Number Ones: Theme From S-Express and The Only Way Is Up.

A seminal year for youth culture it might have been; but at our chosen point in time, it was still a shit period for chart pop. Better luck next year, eh?