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?


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.

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?

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – Tie-break.

The comments boxes are closed. Your votes have been counted and verified. And I can now reveal that, for the first time in five years, we have a dead heat for first position. Which can only mean one thing…

We go to tie-break. Repeat: we go to tie-break!

It has occasionally been suggested that, were we to pick charts from the summer months rather than miserable old February every year, we might end up with a stronger selection. In that spirit, let us travel forwards in time

…until we land precisely six months later, in mid-August. Mmm, feel the warmth! You might want to lose those bulky sweaters.

In our bonus tie-break round, we’ll be examining the Top Three for August 17th 1968, and for August 17th 1978. The usual rules apply, except that we’ll be voting for six songs rather than five. The decade with the largest number of points in this round will duly be crowned this year’s winner.

Here goes, then. The best of Troubled Diva luck to both our decades…

#3, 1968: This Guy’s In Love With You – Herb Alpert. (video)
#3, 1978: Substitute – Clout. (video)
#2, 1968: Fire – The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. (video)
#2, 1978: You’re The One That I Want – John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John. (video)
#1, 1968: Mony Mony – Tommy James and the Shondells. (video)
#1, 1978: Three Times A Lady – The Commodores. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all six songs.

Given that this is such a uniquely sensitive and critical moment in the contest, I shall refrain from passing comment on these selections, for fear of leading the jury with my piercing aperçus.

(The suggestion that this is merely because I’m short on time and can’t be arsed is, of course, quite groundless, and you should be ashamed of yourselves.)

For the very last time this year, then: over to you. Your votes have never been more vital.

Voting on the tie-break round will remain open for 48 hours.
The deadline is therefore midnight on Wednesday night.

Final tie-break results:
1968: Mony Mony – Tommy James and the Shondells. (141)
1968: Fire – The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. (132)
1968: This Guy’s In Love With You – Herb Alpert. (125)
1978: You’re The One That I Want – John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John. (106)
1978: Substitute – Clout. (105)
1978: Three Times A Lady – The Commodores. (84)

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – interval poll.

While we wait for the final votes to trickle in, I have a few questions for you concerning this year’s selections.

1. Of the fifty songs featured, which one was your absolute favourite?

2. And which one was the biggest pile of stinking doo-doo?

3. Are there any good songs which you’ve discovered (or re-discovered) as a result of this year’s contest?

4. And finally, a trivia question: how many of this year’s acts have performed at the Eurovision Song Contest?

At the time of writing, the final positions are still in a state of flux, with a lot of very closely fought battles still taking place throughout. At one point during the weekend, the 2000s came within two points of second place – and if nothing changes between now and tonight’s midnight voting deadline, then we’ll be going to tie-break. Could this BE more exciting?

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 1s.

Gosh, is it that time already? Whereas most previous Which Decades have, barring the initial head-rush of Year One, unfolded over a relatively leisurely three weeks or so, I haven’t half been banging them out this year.

(There’s a reason for that: namely four gigs on four consecutive nights next week, AND an interview to write up, AND a 1200-word article for… well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. But if I don’t get this post up by tonight, there simply aren’t going to be enough hours in the day.)

In terms of the daily decade-by-decade league tables, this year has been almost entirely free of drama. The 1980s, 1990s and 2000s have been fixed in their respective positions, while the only real action has occurred at the top of the league, with the 1960s and 1970s frequently swapping places or else drawing level with each other.

Nevertheless, and with just one more round to go, the pole position is still very much up for grabs. There are some extremely close border skirmishes lower down the league, and the three closest (Lighthouse Family vs The Feeling, Usher vs Kelly Rowland, Robbie Williams vs Rihanna, none more than two points apart) are all battles between the same two decades. Add that to the current one-point gap between Nickelback and the Ofarims, and you can see that the 2000s are still capable of snatching victory, for the first year ever.

Have I got you all worked up again, then? Because after those last two rounds, our collective spirits could do with some reviving. Once more into the breach we go, brave soldiers! It’s Friday night, it’s Top Of The Pops… it’s the Number Ones!

1968: Mighty Quinn – Manfred Mann. (video)
1978: Take A Chance On Me – Abba. (video)
1988: I Should Be So Lucky – Kylie Minogue. (video)
1998: Doctor Jones – Aqua. (video)
2008: Mercy – Duffy. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

wd08-01-68What is it with our insistence on reading non-existent “naughty” meanings into innocent cultural artifacts of forty years ago? There were no sexual double entendres in Captain Pugwash; Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds wasn’t about LSD; Bob Dylan’s Puff The Magic Dragon wasn’t about cannabis; and his 1967 composition Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn) weren’t about no coke dealer, neither. (The song actually drew its inspiration from Anthony Quinn’s portrayal of an eskimo called Inuk, in the 1960 movie The Savage Innocents. God, I love Wikipedia.)

“Yeah, but he’s an eskimo, right? And where do eskimos live? In igloos! And what are igloos made of? Snow! And what does snow look like, eh? Eh? Eh? You’re a man of the the world, squire! Say no more, say no more!

To which I say, look at the third verse, Tedious Throwback Drugs Bore: “Nobody can get no sleep, there’s someone on everyone’s toes, but when Quinn the Eskimo gets here, everybody’s gonna wanna doze.

Must be pretty shite charlie, then. I rest my case.

Oh yes, the Manfred Mann version. (Stripped of its parentheses and its definite article, Fact Fans. These things matter.) The Manfreds had a bit of a “thing” for covering Dylan songs, having already scored Top Ten hits with versions of If You Gotta Go, Go Now and Just Like A Woman. Never having heard Dylan’s 1967 Basement Tapes original, I find myself quite unable to imagine what it might sound like – and indeed, I would never have guessed from the typically strident, straight-up, boom-thwack 1968 arrangement that this was even one of his compositions. Having subtracted its attendant – and considerable – nostalgic pull, I also find myself wondering how it ever came to top the charts. It’s pleasant, it’s curious… but, you know, what the f**k was going on here? He’s an eskimo! Who cares?

wd08-01-78It’s always a bit boring when Abba songs come up on Which Decade, because everyone just goes “yadda yadda yadda classic”, and they get maximum points all round, and where’s the thrill in that? But then again, what can you can do when they keep knocking out material of this quality, except salute their genius?

As a love-struck teen with the most massive, all-consuming, and needless to say unrequited boy-on-boy crush on a fellow school mate (who still hasn’t shown up on Friends Reunited, and yes, I do still check from time to time), I found a considerable personal resonance within Take A Chance On Me – as indeed I did with just about every song on the radio for the full three years that we were at school together, up to and including Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, and believe me, that takes some doing. Listening to it again this morning, I had to smirk at lines such as “If you’re all alone when the pretty birds have flown, honey I’m still free, take a chance on me“, which cast me as some sort of lovelorn Mr. Humphries Junior – but we didn’t have much in the way of role models in 1978.

(OK, Tom Robinson – but I never really thought of him as gay in a fancying-blokes sort of way, just in an abstracted fist-punching badge-wearing way. I’m rambling, aren’t I? It’s been a long day.)

Incidentally, those of you watching the video should pay close attention to Agnetha’s small but significant pout at around the 2:17 mark, as this was the moment that totally slaughtered the lads in the school TV room on Thursday nights, just after supper and just before prep. I can still remember the anticipation (“Wait for it, wait for it!”) and the almost post-coital sigh which followed (“She just looks so… easy, you know what I mean?”) Hey, they didn’t get out much. At least my source material was closer to hand. (And I mean that entirely metaphorically.)

By way of introducing our third Number One, I can do no better than to quote SwissToni‘s and Z‘s comments on When Will I Be Famous:

Have I really wasted 20 years of my life hating this record? Listening to it now, it all seems so…so… innocuous. How could I have expended so much passion loathing something that is ultimately this harmless?

I was too old for this back in 1988. Now, I’m not.

Because, you see, back in the days when Soap Starlet Kylie Minogue had yet to morph into SexKylie, DanceKylie, IndieKylie, PopKylie, SexKylie2.0 and BraveKylie, SnottyLittleHipsterMike was as yet allergic to her charms.

wd08-01-88OK, I f**king DETESTED I Should Be So Lucky, despite having bought it as a “just in case” standby for my club nights. I only ever played it the once, at another benefit night down the Old Vic (I did a lot of benefit nights), this time to raise funds for a Lesbian & Gay Community Centre which, with the wisdom of hindsight, never stood a ghost of a chance of being opened. (And what’s worse, I accidentally played the instrumental version on the B-side. Oh, the cheek-burning shame of it! Hateful, hateful, song!)

Well, look. If you’d told us at the time that Kylie’s pop career would still be going strong twenty years later, with the artist elevated to the position of Much Loved National Treasure, we’d never have believed you. Besides which – and I know she’s never claimed to be the world’s greatest singer, but still – this has to be one of the most lacklustre vocal performances on any UK Number One ever.

Sorry, Kylie. Luvyaloads, you know that. And I also love the good grace with which you’ve worn this particular albatross: reciting it straight-faced at a highbrow poetry festival in the 1990s, reworking it as Ibiza trance on your 2002 tour, and most recently, with that deliciously slinky Jessica Rabbit cocktail lounge version, on Jools Holland’s New Year’s Eve show. Never was a turd more ably polished, I’ll grant you that. But you know, and I know, that I Should Be So Lucky is still… well… a bit shit, really.

wd08-01-98No such taste-related problems befell me in 1998, as my extended Oh What A Big Fat Gay Cliché mid-life crisis reached its autumn years. By that time I’d have danced to any old rubbish, provided it was “gay” enough – as my Vengaboys collection alone would prove – but if truth be told, Aqua‘s Doctor Jones holds up rather well.

Oh, the new crop of snotty little hipsters hated it with a passion, of course. At the end of 1997, when Muzik magazine polled its best known DJs for their end of year round up, almost every single one of them named Aqua’s Barbie Girl as the worst single of the year – whereas, as I’m sure we’ve all come to realise, it was nothing less than Total Pop Genius. (I think the penny first dropped with the Goodness Gracious Me parody, Punjabi Girl.) And while Doctor Jones might not scale the same Olympian heights, it sure as hell comes close.

wd08-01-08And finally, it’s this week’s New Amy Winehouse! Move over Adele, you’re ancient history: Duffy‘s the new gal in town!

Actually, and before we go any further, shall we put all this New Amy Winehouse conspiracy theory nonsense to bed? For lest we forget, Amy only went stratospherically massive a few months ago, whereas Adele and Duffy have been in “artist development” for considerably longer than that. The time lines simply don’t fit. So let us hear no more about it.

I haven’t yet made my mind up about Duffy, whom I’ll be seeing at The Social in exactly a week’s time (and what’s she even doing playing such a tiny venue when she’s at Number One, anyway – so much for the carefully plotted Evil Masterplan). I heard a few selections from the new album earlier in the week and liked them – but having heard the full album this evening in a single sitting, I find that her voice grates badly after half a dozen numbers. Then again, as Tina said last to me last night, “She’s more Lulu than Dusty” (although Chig and I think she’s more Carmel than Lulu – follow these links and you’ll see what we mean) – and if you downgrade your expectations accordingly, then numbers like Mercy become a whole lot more palatable.

For when all’s said and done, and despite my increasing aversion to retro-ism in 2000s pop (hell, anyone would think they were chasing the Fifty Quid Bloke market!), I really like Mercy, even somewhat despite myself. I’ve been earworming it literally all day, and it hasn’t yet driven me bonkers, so that alone is a good sign – and hell, it’s just good plain, tongue-in-cheek, gently chiding, finger-wagging FUN. With the added bonus of some totally hot Mod boys dancing on their own in the video, which can only help…

My votes: Abba – 5 points. Duffy – 4 points. Aqua – 3 points. Manfred Mann – 2 points. Kylie – 1 point.

Over to you, for the last time. This is the Big One, folks. I’ll keep the voting open, for all selections, until midnight on Monday night. Have a great weekend! Sorry for rambling! I’m outta here!
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 1s.”

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 2s.

There’s a quote somewhere in the Ian Gittins Top Of The Pops book – ah, here it is, page 71 – from Johnny Marr, talking about the special Christmas editions of the show:

“It was often a letdown, because the records I really liked tended to get to Number Eleven, not Number One. I would much rather have seen Mott The Hoople do All The Young Dudes than Don McLean singing bloody Vincent again.”

I know exactly what he means by that. And having feasted your ears upon the motley crew which comprise our Number Twos (was a Which Decade selection ever more appropriately named?), I fancy that you will too. Hold yer noses! In we go!

1968: Cinderella Rockefella – Esther & Abi Ofarim. (video)
1978: Figaro – Brotherhood Of Man. (video)
1988: I Think We’re Alone Now – Tiffany. (video)
1998: All I Have To Give – Backstreet Boys. (video)
2008: Rockstar – Nickelback. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

wd08-02-68I AM THE LADY

(Sorry, a little Nottingham Textile Heritage In Joke there. The rest of you, please skip on by.)

Of all the songs in our 1968 Top 10, Esther & Abi Ofarim‘s novelty duet is the one that I remember the most vividly, doubtless because it was played on the radio shows that my parents were most likely to listen to. (I’m guessing Housewives’ Choice and Family Favourites.)

There’s period charm, I’ll grant you (especially in the video clip) – and I’m always partial to bit of yodelling – but, ecch, maybe I’m just a jaded old grump, as this stopped putting a smile on my face a long time ago.

wd08-02-78From one Eurovision act (Abi Ofarim represented Switzerland in 1963, as did Celine Dion in 1988) to another. Whereas Celine shoved Scott Fitzgerald into second place, the Brotherhood Of Man, as any fule kno, triumphed in 1976 with Relax Missus, I’m A P@3do! – and two years later, there was still mileage to be extracted from their Woolworths Own Brand Abba act.

Not content with distilling the loamy essence of Fernando (and the piano riff of Dancing Queen) into the milky piss-water of Angelo, the sheer paucity of creative vision at the heart of BOM enured that, in best dog-returning-to-its-own-vomit style, the formula could bear one more reduction. Adios, ill-starred Mexican shepherd boy! And hola, medallion-clanking scourge of the Costa de Sol!

Believe it or not, this was voted Best Single of 1978 by the viewers of the ITV children’s show Magpie. Tsk, kids, eh? And we have the nerve to complain about bassline house on the bus?

(But I do still quite like the rising and falling bass vamp which underpins the chorus. There, I’ve said it. Fair and balanced, me.)

wd08-02-88And just in case those two WEREN’T QUITE PERKY ENOUGH FOR YOU, heeeeeeeeere’s Tiffany! Come on, ON YOUR FEET! And FLEX! And POINT! I’m not seeing enough SMILING FACES AT THE BACK!

Much as I loathed it at the time, snobby little hipster that I was, you simply couldn’t keep a good song down – and I Think We’re Alone Now, whether by Tiffany in 1988, or Lene Lovich in 1978, or The Rubinoos in 1977, or Tommy James and the Shondells in 1967, or indeed Girls Aloud in 2006 (and I can do interpretive movements to the Girls Aloud version, as demonstrated in a Brighton gay club last May, hem hem, ooh I can still show them youngsters a thing or two), is a great song. So much so, that even Tiff’s generically tinny 1980s production job somehow ends up playing to the song’s strengths.

(And before we move on, I must pay a fond tribute to my long-lost friend Nik’s “alternative cabaret” version of this, as performed down the Old Vic on a Stop Clause 28 benefit night, which approached the song from the perspective of a pair of smug young marrieds. “We’ll tear down the walls! And build an archway to the dining room!” Ah, ’twas class…)

wd08-02-98A couple of days ago, commenter Jeff W said of Bomb The Bass: “If we could play one joker in any one round each year, this is probably where I’d play mine.” Well, if I could play a joker in any one round, then it would be one that excused me from doing a blurb for one of the fifty songs – and the song in question would be this total waste of space from the Backstreet Boys.

Because, you see, there’s some sort of protective override system in my brain which absolutely refuses to ingest production-line boy-band ballads of this nature. I must have played All I Have To Give a good half dozen times in the last couple of weeks, in an attempt to reach an informed opinion – and every goddammed time, my brain detuned after the first thirty seconds.

So, all I have to give is this. Firstly, that this is an early example of the sort of ghastly straining-on-the-potty pop vocal technique that would come to dominate the early-to-mid Noughties (Enrique, I’m looking at you) – and secondly, that Louis Walsh, having already bludgeoned us into submission with Boyzone, must have been taking careful notes for his next project

wd08-02-08And so, dear MP3 medley listeners – and dear God, hasn’t this felt like the longest six and a quarter minutes in living memory? – to those unlikeliest of comeback kings: Nickelback, back in the Top 10 for the first time since 2003 with their, ahem, Wry Social Commentary.

For if you’re the sort of person who derived profundity from Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) and an important history lesson from We Didn’t Start The Fire, then I’m guessing that Rockstar is your idea of Wry Social Profundity. But hey, with major cultural figures in the video like Gene Simmons, Kid Rock, Nelly Furtado and Ted Nugent, they must be doing something right, yeah?

Sorry, readers. I don’t know what’s got into me this evening. Perhaps we should leave it there. I’ll be Princess Fluffy again tomorrow, I promise.

My votes: Tiffany – 5 points. Esther & Abi Ofarim – 4 points. Nickelback – 3 points. Brotherhood Of Man – 2 points. Backstreet Boys – 1 point.

Over to you. I have suffered for my art, and now it’s your turn. Don’t all rush at once!
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 2s.”

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 3s.

Le sigh. Once again, I am Homo Alone, with only the upstairs PC and a freshly poured glass of Valdivieso for company. K is in Copenhagen until Saturday, and has just loyally logged on, in the hope of finding today’s selections and “cheering me up”. Given his habitual hatred of the voting process, this takes loyalty to a new level, and so I do feel a bit bad for letting him down.

Shall we? Yes, we shall. Ladies and gentleman of the blog, it’s the Number Threes!

1968: She Wears My Ring – Solomon King. (video)
1978: If I Had Words – Scott Fitzgerald & Yvonne Keeley with the St. Thomas More School Choir. (video)
1988: Tell It To My Heart – Taylor Dayne. (video)
1998: Never Ever – All Saints. (video)
2008: Now You’re Gone – Basshunter. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

wd08-03-68Making Engelbert Humperdinck sound positively rock-and-roll by comparison, there’s something disturbingly proprietorial about Solomon King‘s ode to wedded bliss, which conjures up images of a scene from an imagined 1980s “suburban noir” David Lynch movie. Can’t you just picture this being crooned by a nitrous oxide-inhaling Dennis Hopper, while a caged, shackled, gagged Isabella Rossellini cowers behind him? I know I can.

Why, it’s almost enough to make She Wears My Ring sound interesting… and on one level, the downright creepiest Which Decade entry since Billy J. Kramer’s Little Children.

wd08-03-78And speaking of little children: although, as I can now reveal, you have been spared the sound of the St Winifred’s School Choir – backing Brian And Michael in pre-Grandma days, on pop music’s other ode to L.S. Lowry (which didn’t chart for another couple of weeks) – it is nevertheless my duty to inform you that the St. Thomas More School Choir have gamely stepped into the breach, with their contribution to Scott Fitzgerald and Yvonne Keely‘s reggae-fied vocal reworking of the Maestoso from Camille Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78 (Gert, I hope you’re impressed by my research).

(There, I swore I wasn’t going to waste more than a sentence on that load of old toot. Scott Fitzgerald ended up doing Eurovision, you know. Surprised? No, I didn’t think you would be.)

wd08-03-88Although my “alternative” night down the Barracuda Club on Hurt’s Yard (“A Polysexual Pink Playground for Lesbians Gay Men and their Friends!” ran one slogan; “An Equal Opportunities Dancefloor!” ran another) operated a strict NO HI-NRG! policy (the battle lines had been drawn, and one simply had to make a stand), we weren’t above bending the rules to let in the odd disco diva or two… and they didn’t come much odder (Wa-hey, I Am On Fire Tonight!) than the capaciously-gobbed and frankly bloody scary Taylor Dayne.

Although, like the depressing majority of our 1988 Top 10, this is fairly standard issue stuff, Taylor belts it out like a trouper (eventually receiving a Grammy nomination for her labours), and I cannot help but gaze fondly on – meaning that, unlike, Scott and Yvonne, she’s worth, ooh, two sentences.

wd08-03-98And at last, a touch of class. With lyrics inspired by the break-up of band member Shaznay Lewis’s relationship, and with a chord progression borrowed from Amazing Grace (Scott and Yvonne please note: this is how you nick stuff and make it work), the second single from All Saints took a couple of months to climb to Number One, before taking an equally leisurely amount of time dropping back down again.

Despite the faintly comical spoken intro, which can’t quite decide which side of the Atlantic it comes from, Never Ever oozes class from the moment that the main track kicks in. (And frankly, dear hearts, class is in rather short supply today.)

wd08-03-08Right then, who’s ready for some good old Swedish Schaffel-Bosh? Anyone? Come on, I need to see hands in the air.

Basshunter‘s Now You’re Gone started life nearly two years ago, in a distinctly slower Swedish-language incarnation known as Boten Anna: a love song directed to an IRC bot, if you can countenance such a thing. (Or rather, to a woman whom Mister Basshunter mistook for an IRC bot. What’s IRC? What’s a bot? Oh, you go and look it up.)

If you think that all sounds quite quirky and interesting, then I’m afraid that none of it translates to the duller-than-dull English language version, which is to its Swedish original what the clunking 99 Red Balloons was to the delightful 99 Luftballons, and hence not worthy to lick the boots of the H “two” O track with which it shares a record label.

My votes: All Saints – 5 points. Taylor Dayne – 4 points. Basshunter – 3 points. Solomon King – 2 points. Scott & Yvonne – 1 point.

Over to you. Not the best bunch we’ve ever had, I’ll grant you. A string of Fives all round for All Saints, then? Or are you all a bunch of closet Schaffel Boshers? The 1960s are back ahead again, but the 2000s could still catch up, at least in theory. Phone lines are open…. NOW!
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 3s.”

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 4s.

Sometimes, I think that my whole life could be defined as an epic struggle against procrastination – and it’s a struggle which, regrettably, I have spent most of today losing. And so, while K packs his clobber for Copenhagen (where he’ll be from tomorrow until Saturday), I’m going to seize the moment and squeeze out today’s instalment. Number Fours, get your arses over here! And look lively about it!

1968: Everlasting Love – The Love Affair. (video)
1978: Come Back My Love – Darts. (video)
1988: Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car – Billy Ocean. (video)
1998: My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion. (video)
2008: Sun Goes Down – David Jordan. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

wd08-04-68Remember what I was saying last time, about the simple joys of a boom-thwack beat and a parping brass section? Well, here’s further evidence of the same – as well as another example of a song which charted in a different version in the States.

Although I’m still not entirely clear as to whether Amen Corner covered American Breed or vice versa, the provenance of Everlasting Love is a clear one: Robert Knight performed the “authentic”, “soulful” original, and The Love Affair (or rather lead singer Steve Ellis and a bunch of session men) followed up with the “watered down”, “manufactured” cheapo Brit-pop copy (Marmalade having already rejected it as “too poppy”, THE FOOLS).

Having been cleansed of my residual “rockism” a long time ago, I can’t say that such issues of “authenticity” particularly trouble me. The Love Affair’s version is, after all, still the work of living, breathing human beings, and to my ears it works gloriously well, anything that the song loses in hesitant tenderness and lightness of touch being adequately compensated by the soaring, widescreen grandeur of the production.

wd08-04-78A decade on, and the British doo-wop revival group Darts were up to a broadly similar trick: taking a US hit, and poppifying it for the UK market. Except that in this case, the hit in question (for a long-forgotten act called The Wrens) was already 23 years old, and the band covering it had the sort of solid pub-rocking, dues-paying credentials that lifted them head and shoulders above those other 1950s revivalists of the day, Showaddywaddy.

(And, oh look, here’s a 1975 clip of the band in their former incarnation as Rocky Sharpe and the Razors, performing the self same song.)

Darts were always just the right side of Hip for people like me, with a winning freshness and an underlying knowingness, which somehow tipped you the wink that there was slightly more to them than met the eye. And of course, for school kids of a certain age, there was the added thrill of The Bit Where It Sounds Like They’re Singing “Do The Wank” – which should never be discounted.

wd08-04-88Enough with the Learnedness already. Sheesh, we’ll be here all night. Thankfully, Billy Ocean‘s slight little effort need not detain us for too long. Repeating more or less the same formula that had brought him so much success two years earlier with When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going (and tellingly, following a period when he had once again started to flounder commercially), Get Outta My Dreams is an unimaginative reduction which, as I said earlier, needn’t detain us long. Hey, if he can do it, then so can I.

wd08-04-98After yesterday evening’s lecture (see below), Dymbel kindly treated me to dinner – during which he presented me with a copy of a book which I have very much been wanting to read: Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey To The End Of Taste, by the Canadian music journalist (and blogger) Carl Wilson. Its premise, if I have correctly grasped it, is that Wilson embarks upon an exhaustive examination of the work of an artist that he cannot stand, in order to reach a better understanding of why so many millions of people love her work.

The artist in question is Wilson’s fellow Canadian Celine Dion: a singer whose appeal has similarly always been lost on me (or in other words, I can’t f**king stand her either). Despite her own early hatred of it, My Heart Will Go On became Celine’s biggest hit – eventually landing her an Oscar for her trouble – and it has since been ranked as the 14th most successful song in music history.

Even after making allowances for the massive boost that it received from the equally risible Titanic, I too am at a loss to explain why this banal little dirge captured the hearts of millions. As for Celine’s performance, it’s Humperdinck Syndrome all over again: technically adept, but smarmily over-egged and clinically devoid of true emotion.

All of which makes me more than eager to get stuck into Carl Wilson’s worthy little tome – especially since, as Dymbel was quick to point out, Wilson has seen fit to quote selections from my 2006 Eurovision series for Slate on pages 43 and 44: fully attributed, although he’s a full decade out on the date. Woo! And indeed, Hoo!

wd08-04-08K has finished his packing and is now preparing dinner, so my window is rapidly narrowing. What to say about David Jordan, then? To be honest, I know nothing about the man, and have no idea where Sun Goes Down came from. Standing quite at odds stylistically from anything else in the 2008 chart, this is a curiously old-fashioned sturdy campfire sing-a-long, which puts me in mind of 2002-era Shakira for some strange reason. Somewhat despite myself, I find that I quite like it. Don’t ask me why. It’s, um, catchy? Yes, that’s probably the long and the short of it.

My votes: Love Affair – 5 points. Darts – 4 points. David Jordan – 3 points. Billy Ocean – 2 points. Celine Dion – 1 point.

Over to you. The 1960s and 1970s are neck and neck once again, but otherwise there’s not much change in our accumulated chart – which, to be honest, could do with a few upsets. (It’s not always this static, you know!) Then again, have the 2000s ever scored so consistently well before? As a perennial champion of the underdog, that gladdens me mightily. OK, dinner time!
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 4s.”

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

Swings and roundabouts, folks. Swings and roundabouts. Yesterday, you got the learned, considered, well-researched treatise, which touched on The Very Nature Of Popular Song Itself. Today, you’re getting the hasty, top-of-my-head, Back From The Pub And Oh Shit It’s Ten Fifteen On A Sunday Night And I’d Better Bash This Out Quick version.

(Which I would have written earlier, had I not spent the best part of the day scaling the North Face of Gary Numan, and bricking myself about tomorrow’s 90 minute lecture about blogging to Dymbel’s Trent Uni Creative Writing M.A. course – of which more in due course, on both fronts.)

Let’s not fart about, then! Number Fives, please make yourselves known to the group!

1968: Bend Me Shape Me – Amen Corner. (video)
1978: Hot Legs – Rod Stewart. (video)
1988: Beat Dis – Bomb The Bass. (video)
1998: Cleopatra’s Theme – Cleopatra. (video)
2008: Chasing Pavements – Adele. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

wd08-05-68For me, one of the defining features of 1968 pop is a certain new-found stridency of tone, as exemplified by the straight-up boom-thwack beat and the blaring, parping, stentorian brass of Amen Corner‘s Bend Me Shape Me. (Don’t you just love the cheeky, tush-wiggling, almost Carry On-style implied upward inflection – “Ooh-wa, Ooh-wa!” – on the final two notes of each brass riff? I know I do.)

Set against the buoyant Brylcreem bounce of the rest of the track, Andy Fairweather-Low’s vocals strike just the right note of restraint, with a delivery that suggests he’s almost too cool even to bother moving his lips. And it just my over-ripe imagination, or is this music for swinging wife-swappers, high on Mackesons and Cherry B, to fling their keys into the onyx ashtray, before casting off their natty sports jackets and 18-hour girdles and hurling themselves upon the Brentford Nylons? Mm, kinky!

wd08-05-78And speaking of the unsophisticated lusts of the suburban lothario, here’s their 1970s poster boy Rod Stewart (“Britt Ekland? Wa-hey, get in there son!”), with the aural equivalent of that Athena photo of the tennis player scratching her behind.

I have to say that Hot Legs, which I fully intended to pan, sounds a damned sight more enjoyable after an early doors skinful down the boozer – as I discovered less than three hours ago, re-connecting with my inner caveman as I Jagger-swaggered round the kitchen, pointing and pouting and feeling myself up in my notional skin-tight leopard skin leggings.

Sexist? Yes. Neanderthal? You betcha. But tossed-off, raunchy-arsed rock-a-beatin’ boogie has its place, you know?

wd08-05-88And before I torch what remaining stocks of Sensitive New Man Cred I possess, here’s some ideologically sound, GLC-approved, NALGO-Benefit-Night-sanctioned (and yes, I speak from direct experience), Lesbians-Gay-Men-And-Their-Friends-compatible, MA1-bandana-and-cycling-shorts-friendly Eighties Groove from Tim Simenon, aka Bomb The Bass – who originally put Beat Dis together as a coursework project, on a budget of about 20 pence.

Set against the transgressive likes of Bend Me Shape Me and Hot Legs, there’s something almost prim about Simenon’s invitation to party – but then again, I have nothing but fond memories of the way it used to fill the floor at my club nights: the natural successor to Pump Up The Volume, the 114 BPM bridge between hip-hop and house (and hence extremely useful in my DJ sets), and a record which, by getting in there seconds ahead of its legions of imitators (even if it did blatanly rip off the true pioneers such as Steinski and Coldcut, and boy, didn’t we quickly tire of those same old samples?), managed to encapsulate a precise moment in time.

Yes, it’s a “used groove” whose time will never come again – but dance music has never been burdened with the need to strive for longevity, and this is as neat an encapsulation of the ephemeral as you’ll find anywhere.

wd08-05-98Cleopatra! Coming atcha!” Hey, and you thought Beat Dis was disposable? There was a massive resurgance of capital-P Pop in 1998, and of GIRL-POWAH! pop in particular, as the revolution which the Spice Girls kicked off began to bear fruit in the shape of B*Witched, Billie, [spoiler deleted] and this bunch of happy-go-lucky teenage sisters from Birmingham.

As with the unseen Heaven 17/Scritti Politti fans behind When Will I Be Famous, the crew behind Cleopatra’s Theme clearly knew their stuff, and in this case I’d wager that at least a couple of Eighties Soul Boys must have been involved somewhere down the line. And as with Beat Dis, ephemeral disposability is no barrier to enjoyment. This is frothy, feisty and fun, and marred only by the painful memory of the girls’ Top Of The Pops appearance, in the exact same trendy beige combat trousers that I had bought in Covent Garden a week earlier, with which to go clubbing in Trade. Way to ruin a Hot Look, ladies!

wd08-05-08It’s getting late, the early doors booze is wearing off, and only Adele stands between me and beddy-byes. How quickly can I knock this one out?

OK, it’s like this. Having seen her on The Brits last week, I found myself quite warming to Adele as a character. Hyped to the heavens and beyond she might be (“Critics’ Choice” award, my arse), but I liked her warm, earthy and unexpectedly unspun quality, which put me in mind of a future Alison Moyet in the making.

However. The trouble that I have with Chasing Pavements is much the same trouble that I had with The Feeling’s I Thought It Was Over, a few days ago: namely that it is little more than an artfully assembled collection of tastefully retro-classic moments, which fail to plaster over the gaping void that they seek to conceal.

For what is Chasing Pavements about, and what emotion is it trying to convey? If you know, then please enlighten me, as all I can hear is a self-consciously “big” chorus in search of a song to support it. As an ad-break soundbyte, it works fine for about 10 seconds, but since when was that enough? And can I go to bed now, please?

My votes: Amen Corner – 5 points. Bomb The Bass – 4 points. Rod Stewart – 3 points. Cleopatra – 2 points. Adele – 1 point.

Over to you. Thanks to a strong showing by Rose Royce and a weak showing by Engelbert Humperdinck, the 1970s have overtaken the 1960s at the top of the pile, with the 1990s and 2000s close on their heels (for once). Can Bomb The Bass revive the 1980s’ fortunes? Could Adele send the 2000s shooting ahead? Or will Amen Corner give the 1960s the necessary shot in the arm? I’ll begin to find out in the morning. Vote wisely!
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 5s.”

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

Well now, here are a couple of Fun Facts that I didn’t know this time two days ago – and they both concern your new favourite and mine, H “two” O ft. Platnum’s “opinion-dividing” What’s It Gonna Be.

Firstly: in common with its 1968 rival Pictures Of Matchstick Men, What’s It Gonna Be was created in a toilet. Secondly: the toilet in question was right here in Nottingham, inside the Golden Fleece pub on Mansfield Road. (Read the full story here.) Yes, folks: a fully fledged Youth Culture Explosion has been taking place right under my nose, not half a mile from where I’m currently sitting, and I never knew about it until today. And I call myself a local music journalist? It Is Just Pathetic.

Anyhow, this means that What’s It Gonna Be stands a good chance of becoming Nottingham’s fourth ever Number One, after Paper Lace (Billy Don’t Be A Hero), KWS (Please Don’t Go) and Bob The Builder (Can We Fix It?) Or even the fifth, depending upon the importance that you place upon DJ Vimto’s contribution to Fragma featuring Coco’s immortal Toca’s Miracle. Who said that we don’t have a music scene to be proud of?

With that little flash of municipal pride duly dispatched, let us examine today’s Number Sixes.

1968: Am I That Easy To Forget – Engelbert Humperdinck. (video)
1978: Wishing On A Star – Rose Royce. (video)
1988: When Will I Be Famous – Bros. (video)
1998: Angels – Robbie Williams. (video)
2008: Don’t Stop The Music – Rihanna. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

wd08-06-68Oh dear, didn’t we have our fill of Engelbert “The Hump” Humperdinck this time last year? Then as now, this comes as a salutary reminder that the mid-to-late 1960s weren’t all about tinpot psychedelia, day-glo rainbows, granny glasses, foofy cravats, tie-dyes and bell-bottoms. Representing the interests of the age group of which I now find myself a part, The Hump could always be relied upon to remind us of The Way Things Were Supposed To Be Done, Before Those Pesky Kids Spoiled Everything: you know, proper music played by proper musicians, with lyrics that were actually about something, rather than all this juvenile matchsticks-and-fire-brigades nonsense. (In which case, perhaps every generation has its Humperdincks.)

None of which would particularly trouble me (for I quite like a good inter-generational ding-dong, when the sides are well matched), if only The Hump’s records were actually any damned good. But, no. Backed by the sort of string arrangement which forever puts me in mind of Care Homes and Chapels of Rest, Hump delivers a technically assured but not altogether convincing performance, with a certain smarminess at its core that smothers a good deal of the potential emotional effect – assuming that a dreary workaday ballad such as this could have such an effect in the first place, of course. None of this is helped by the syrupy and superfluous Mike Sammes-style backing singers, whose presence threatens to turn Hump’s lovelorn lament into a cosy saloon bar sing-song.

wd08-06-78In striking contrast to Hump’s inert self-pity, Rose Royce‘s similarly lovelorn Gwen Dickey is far from ready to accept defeat. Wishing On A Star she may be – but as long as there’s a glimmer of hope, she’s going to keep praying and pleading.

In certain respects, Wishing On A Star serves as the blueprint for Rose Royce’s masterpiece: Love Don’t Live Here Anymore, which hit the charts just over six months later. There’s a distinct similarity in the arrangements – and particularly with those swooning, soaring, shimmering, shivering strings, whose presence lifts both recordings into another almost unworldly dimension. For there’s true magic to be found here, despite this being the weaker of the two songs, as well as the sort of exquisite musicianly polish that can’t help but leave you wondering whether popular music really has slid steadily downhill ever since…

wd08-06-88…at which point, the blaring crash-bang-wallop of Bros is perhaps the last thing you might want to hear right now. But then, it’s worth bearing in mind that When Will I Be Famous is also the sound of pop music dropping down a generation, as it is historically wont to do at the end of each decade – and such drops have always jarred with the sensibilities of those who had spent the previous few years “maturing” with their pop music, secure in the false hope that pop music would continue to keep pace with them. We had it when bubblegum trampled over the ground that psychedelia had laid; when punk ripped up the cherished rule book of Dinosaur Rock; when the Spice Girls, UK garage and nu-R&B killed Britpop, diva house and “classic” soul; and with a bit of luck and a fair wind, we might be seeing faint signs of it again right now.

A dumbing down? A return to Square One? A case of Have We Learnt Nothing? No, not a bit of it. Pop music has to be cyclical, it has to be rooted in an endless present, and certain key divisions of it have to address the concern of an eternally adolescent age group. However, this doesn’t mean that that the rest of us necessarily have to dismiss it as witless trash. We were all there ourselves at some point or other, defending our own Square Ones as if they were the beginning of time itself.

Yes Mike, but does this make When Will I Be Famous any good? Well, strangely enough, I’d venture that the years have been quite kind. Aged 26 at the time it charted, perhaps I in turn was generationally obliged to loathe Bros – or to see through their blatant artifice, at the very least. But as brash, solipsistic teen-pop goes, this ain’t too shabby. Someone with a central involvement in its construction has clearly been listening to their Heaven 17 and their Scritti Politti, and if you listen closely enough then you might detect a certain wryness at work, which rather subverts the thrusting Thatcherite triumphalism of those buzzcut bimbos up front.

wd08-06-98Then again: for every bunch of fresh-faced ingenues, there must always be a counter-balancing set of somewhat over-ripe idols, their three or four years in the sun drawing to a natural close, who are facing that crucial adapt-or-die crossroads. The thick ones, the cutie-pie chancers who merely got lucky (and please don’t look back up the page, you’ll only embarrass them): they’ll drop off our radars without us even noticing. Some will move into light entertainment in its wider sense; and others will try to pull off that riskiest of tricks, the “growing with our audience” manoeuvre.

So it was for Robbie Williams: dismissed as “the fat dancer from Take That” by his would-be role model Noel Gallagher, and floundering to such a degree that he had been reduced to playing venues the size of Nottingham Rock City on his Autumn 1997 solo tour. The debut solo album had stiffed, and the third single hadn’t even gone Top Ten. Angels was the only card that Williams had left to play: a final fourth single from the album, whose atypical trad-balladry took him far away from the sort of laddish latter-day Britpop that he had been attempting to peddle.

The turning point came one Friday in December 1997, with an appearance on Chris Evans’ TFI Friday. His live interview completed, a nervous, vulnerable – hell, almost humble looking Williams semi-apologetically squeezed through the crowd, made his way to the stage downstairs… and gave the best performance of his solo career to date, by a country mile. In a stroke, he had granted us the opportunity to exert one of our favourite powers: the power of redemption.

“Ah bless, Robbie’s not so bad after all! Let’s give him another chance!” We duly clasped the overtly sentimental Angels to our seasonally sentimental bosoms (perhaps those sleigh-bells at the start of the song were exerting a subliminal effect?), turned the former fat dancer into the biggest star of his generation (well, in the UK at least; we couldn’t work miracles), and appointed Angels as our new national anthem.

Ten years on, and while Williams looks to be a washed-up spent force, his public’s patience having run out at around the time of the scrappily indulgent, are-you-taking-the-piss-or-what Rudebox album, his formerly beached boy-band compatriots have spent the past eighteen months surfing their own wave of ah-bless-it’s-good-to-have-them-back public redemption, with the admittedly sublime Patience having taken the place of the over-played and ultimately tiresome Angels (one funeral too many, perchance?) in our affections.

(And I am uncomfortably conscious of using that most irritating of devices, the first person plural, in order to make my point. “When DID we all fall out of love with Robbie?” “Why HAVE we all fallen back in love with Gary, Mark, Howard and Jason?” “What IS this, Troubled Diva or G2?“)

wd08-06-08Despite the corner-cutting laziness of her recent Nottingham Arena show (under an hour and a quarter on stage including costume changes; songs dropped from the set list because it’s the last night and it’s only Nottingham, so who even cares), I am still just about prepared to acknowledge (and gosh, she’ll be so glad to hear it!) Rihanna‘s current pre-eminence as one of our brightest, boldest and best pop stars. Don’t Stop The Music (another fourth-single-off-the-album, like Angels before it) was perhaps THE key unifying moment of that live show, even more so than her run of fine, astute ballads (and definitely more so than Umbrella, which chugged on for ten long minutes as the cast and crew indulged in end-of-term foam fights with each other, almost oblivious to the 10,000-strong crowd in front of them).

Now in its third month on the chart – and still inside the Top Ten at that – this is a track which seems to accumulate power as time goes on, and repeated plays during the past few days have only served to reinforce its greatness. Just as Althea and Donna may never have heard the 1967 Alton Ellis single which set off the chain of events leading to Uptown Top Ranking, so it is entirely possible that the 20-year old Rihanna has never even heard of Manu Dibango, the veteran African saxophonist whose 1972 single Soul Makossa provides Don’t Stop The Music with its central motif (via a circuitous route which takes in Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Starting Something, Jay-Z’s Face Off, Jennifer Lopez’s Feelin’ So Good – and hell, even Thursday’s Will Smith track quotes from it).

Well, at least not until Dibango filed a law suit against Rihanna in December for unauthorised usage, but that’s beside the point for the purposes of this argument. What I’m trying to say is that there’s something rather wonderful about these chains of mutation: quoting and re-quoting and re-re-quoting, like a game of Chinese Whispers, such that the end product isn’t even aware of the original source. And most importantly of all – and it has this in common with the H “two” O track – Don’t Stop The Music remains thrillingly, propulsively, intoxicatingly modern and of the moment.

For a wrinkly old bifter like me, caught at a vulnerable enough moment (as happened during the walk to work yesterday morning, and again during the walk home that evening), it can even represent a kind of prayer for the future: a re-statement of faith, that the gloriously daft and conflicted medium of pop music, which has obsessed me for almost all of my life, can still, and hopefully always will, have the power to delight, to surprise, to challenge, to excite, and to make me feel that life is worth living. All together now! MAMMA SEH MAMMA SAH MA MAKOOSA, MAMMA SEH MAMMA SAH MA MAKOOSA, PLEASE DON’T STOP THE, PLEASE DON’T STOP THE, PLEASE DON’T STOP THE MUSIC!

My votes: Rihanna: – 5 points (but sort things out with Manu Dibango, you thieving little bitch). Rose Royce – 4 points (the most musically proficient by far, but I’m voting for the future this time, as perhaps I should have done with H “two” O on Thursday). Robbie Williams – 3 points. Bros – 2 points. Engelbert Humperdinck – 1 point.

Over to you. Sheesh, I’ve rambled on for so long that I’ve ended up missing a day. Future posts will probably be shorter than this one, but I had a lot to say. And in any case, you always skim-read this bit and head straight to the comments box, don’t you? Oh, don’t attempt to hide it! Well, let me detain you no further. It’s down there. Off you trot…
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 6s.”

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 7s.

Looking at the results from the first three days of voting, it seems that your perennial enthusiasm for the 1960s remains undimmed, with strong showings for Brenton Wood, John Fred and The Move. Conversely, the 1980s have never got off to a worse start. At the time of writing, Jack ‘N’ Chill, Debbie Gibson and T’Pau have all placed last in their respective rounds, meaning that the 1980s are already trailing by 5 points (as you’ll see in the score table at the bottom of today’s post).

If there’s one theme that links today’s five selections, I’d say it was this: cheapness. I’ll explain what I mean by that in a moment – but first, let us fling open the doors to our Bargain Basement and hurl ourselves in an unseemly scrum upon the Number Sevens.

1968: Pictures Of Matchstick Men – Status Quo. (video)
1978: Uptown Top Ranking – Althea & Donna. (video – link fixed)
1988: Say It Again – Jermaine Stewart. (video)
1998: Gettin’ Jiggy With It – Will Smith. (video)
2008: What’s It Gonna Be – H “two” O featuring Platnum. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

wd08-07-68Remember what I was saying yesterday about the make-do-and-mend shonkiness of that 1968 Top Of The Pops? Well, here’s another prime case in point. A few years before their re-invention as no-nonsense boogie merchants in brushed denim, Status Quo had a brief flirtation, both musically and indeed sartorially, with post-psychedelic pop. Although Pictures Of Matchstick Men sold well, both here and in the USA, giving the band their first hit, it sounds to these ears like a decidedly awkward marriage, with a primitive, low-rent feel that suffers by comparison with the likes of Itchycoo Park, or even Flowers In The Rain.

Rather than conjuring up images of a lysergically-fuelled Arcadia, the plodding, prosaic production sounds as if it was funded by Green Shield Stamps (the logical extension of post-war ration book culture?), and held together by Sellotape, Copydex and scraps of greasy twine. But then, as its composer Francis Rossi eventually revealed, the song was written not while tripping his tits off in some far-flung ashram, but while sitting “on the bog… to get away from the wife and mother-in-law”.

Poor old Frank. Not so much Timothy Leary as Timothy Lumsden – and in the Lowry-tribute stakes, his song even ended up being eclipsed, ten years later, by…

wd08-07-78…but hey, we’ll have no spoilers here. Let us turn instead to Althea and Donna, and the first of this year’s songs to have featured in a previous Which Decade. (Hands up, who remembers the Year One tie-break?) Played to death on Jamaican import by John Peel for most of the second half of 1977, Uptown Top Ranking was a product of reggae’s standard cost-cutting device, whereby numerous vocal tracks were laid upon the exact same backing track (or “riddim”) – in this case, Trinity’s Three Piece Suit, which was itself a dub version of a cover version of a song which first appeared in 1967… look, are you keeping up with all this?

Despite its humble Frankenstein’s Clone origins, what’s remarkable about Uptown Top Ranking is that, to the unschooled ear, the backing track (featuring “the ubiquitous Sly and Robbie”, as we are contractually obliged to call them) sounds as if it had been expressly recorded with Althea and Donna’s vocals in mind.

And what vocals! If you can get beyond the patois, this is a deliciously sassy and endearingly unspun exercise in bigging oneself up – and as such, almost enough to make you believe in the strange erotic power of the humble khaki suit. (And, indeed, ting.)

(A quick aside about Althea and Donna’s video, before we move on. This is the famous clip in which A&D were obliged to sing with the Top of the Pops orchestra: a performance which the Ian Gittins book brands as an embarrassing disaster, but which I think isn’t all that bad, considering that a BBC light entertainment orchestra could hardly be expected to display any great natural affinity with the genre.)

wd08-07-88Along with the trusty old “Gareth Gates naked”, my other most notable search engine referral term has been, for many years, “Jermaine Stewart gay”. And, do you know what: in all those years, it has never occurred to me to find out. Having just looked up his details, I now know that Stewart met an untimely death in 1997, a few months short of his fortieth birthday, of an AIDS-related disease – and there, I feel, is where my brief investigation should end.

Let us instead consider the merits of Say It Again: a slight confection, whose typically thin and tinny 1980s production does it no favours, but which is partially redeemed by an intriguing if ultimately misleading introduction (cut from the MP3 medley, but you’ll find it on the YouTube clip), some frisky piano vamps, and a general air of good-natured bonhomie which, when set against the forced relentlessness of Debbie Gibson’s Shake Your Love, comes as a refreshing blast of early spring air.

wd08-07-98“Cheap” is, of course, a relative concept. As Dolly Parton famously said, “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap” – a maxim that can be somewhat less favourably applied to Will Smith‘s lazy, slapdash, but probably eye-wateringly expensive bastardisation of Sister Sledge’s He’s The Greatest Dancer.

Dear Lord, didn’t we have enough of this pop-rap claptrap last year, with LL Cool J’s Ain’t Nobody and Warren G’s I Shot The Sheriff? What, was there some sort of movie soundtrack tie-in going on here? (For it’s the only logical explanation that I can think of, other than the commercial imperative to provide Will Smith with regular vehicles to carry on being “Will Smith”.) And can I really be arsed to find out?

(Answer: No, I can’t. If Will’s people can’t be arsed to put the effort in, then neither can I.)

Compare and contrast, then: Will Smith’s half-assed shotgun wedding with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, versus Althea and Donna’s arranged marriage with Joe Gibbs, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. Two very similar techniques, two massively different budgets, and two entirely different outcomes. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Eeh, I can’t half waffle on when I’ve got the bit between my teeth. And there’s still loads that I want to say about H “two” O featuting Platnum, but a dwindling time slot in which to do so.

wd08-07-08Quick bit of background, then. A brand new entry on the UK chart last Sunday, What’s It Gonna Be follows T2’s Heartbroken as the second breakout hit for the “bassline house” scene: a largely underground dance music sub-culture rooted in the Midlands and the North of England, with a particularly strong base in Sheffield. H “two” O are a two-man production team from Leicester, Platnum (sic) are a vocal trio from Manchester, and the video for What’s It Gonna Be has received over 1.5 million viewings on YouTube in just over a month. This, my fellow oldsters, is The Exciting New Youth Sensation That Is Sweeping The Country, and as such it is widely tipped to hit Number One within the next couple of weeks.

It therefore logically follows – and really, this is only right and proper – that the vast majority of my generation will loathe What’s It Gonna Be with a passion. Oh, I can hear you all now: “It’s music for people with ASBOs to play on the bus!” And, for those of you who were clubbing in the 1990s: “Call this new? It’s just souped-up Speed Garage from 1997! Heard it all before!” (It’s a reasonable enough charge, and I have the same issue with 2000s dubstep versus 1990s trip-hop.)

Equally, it also follows that an aging former hipster such as myself arguably has no business enjoying this tune as much as I do – but, and I fully expect to stand alone in this, I bloody love it. Like so much great teenage music over the years, it’s simple to the point of crudeness, it’s wilfully dumb to the point of insolence, it celebrates itself whilst ignoring all else around it… and it has the most irresistable thrust and drive and energy and general sense of alive-ness. And, indeed, a monumentally thumping and fully genre-appropriate bass line. And so, at the risk of acting like a soul-sucking leech upon a youth culture that by its very definition must exclude me, all I can say is this: I LUV DIS TUNEE!!!

My votes, then: Althea & Donna – 5 points. H “two” O – 4 points. Jermaine Stewart – 3 points. Status Quo – 2 points. Will Smith – 1 point.

Over to you. Which cheapo bargains from our basement are going to end up in your shopping trolley? The comments box awaits you. Happy shopping…
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 7s.”

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 8s.

It’s early days yet, but already the 1960s are establishing a commanding lead, with maximum points currently assigned to Brenton Wood and John Fred. As ever, this could all change in an instant – so if you’re late to the party, then please add your votes to the lower stack.

Today’s selection is something of a Brum Beat/nu-R&B sandwich, with a light AOR filling. Chow down, pop-pickers: it’s the Number Eights!

1968: Fire Brigade – The Move. (video)
1978: Mr. Blue Sky – Electric Light Orchestra. (video)
1988: Valentine – T’Pau. (video)
1998: You Make Me Wanna… – Usher. (video)
2008: Work – Kelly Rowland. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

wd08-08-68A few weeks ago, as part of its Pop Season, BBC4 screened one of the few surviving 1960s Top Of The Pops recordings in its entirety. As luck would have it, the show in question was drawn from February 1968, with most of this year’s Which Decade selections featured – including this one from The Move.

Watching the show, I was struck by its unexpectedly primitive quality. For the Top 20 countdown at the start, someone had run a pair of scissors round each individual mug shot of each individual artist, and had stuck them to a piece of cardboard with Copydex. Possibly the very same pot of Copydex was then redeployed in the construction of both the stage sets and the artists’ hairdos, lending a distinctly ramshackle, steam-powered, make-do-and-mend air to the proceedings.

And then there were the mimed performances themselves: curiously static, disengaged affairs, with few of the artists showing much in the way of enthusiasm for the task at hand. Perhaps this was because, as Ian Gittins’ fascinating illustrated history of the show (Mishaps, Miming and Music) explains, they had all been hanging around the set since early morning, with nothing to do except get pissed at the BBC bar. This would certainly explain the uncertain gaits, the glassy eyes, the bored and/or cynical half-smiles, and the barely concealed corpsing – not least from The Move themselves, all lined up in their Carnaby Street finest.

But in this case at least, the uninvolving performance on screen masked an extraordinary performance on record. Fire Brigade is, well, just plain bonkers basically: a barely contained yelp of adolescent lust mixed with pyromaniac imagery, a gleefully unhinged, over-stuffed arrangement (typically Roy Wood, in other words), and a direct quote from a 1950s rock and roll tune (ditto), namely the booming, twanging “DOINGG-da-da, DOINGG-da-da” riff from Duane Eddy’s Peter Gunn.

(Side note: Glen Matlock has since admitted that said re-appropriated “DOINGG-da-da” was subsequently re-re-appropriated for the Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen. It took me a while to work out where, but it’s there all right. No Peter Gunn, no Fire Brigade, no God Save The Queen. It all connects.)

wd08-08-78As chance would have it, the band which formed from the ashes of The Move was also in the singles charts ten years later – although in actual fact, The Move of Fire Brigade and the Electric Light Orchestra of Mr. Blue Sky only share one band member, drummer Bev Bevan. (Jeff Lynne had yet to join The Move, and Roy Wood had bailed out early from the ELO.)

From a 1978 perspective – and indeed from a 1988 or 1998 perspective – you could never have predicted that the dowdy old ELO would exert such an influence on the chart pop of 2008 (Hoosiers and Feeling, I’m looking at you). Most notably, Mr. Blue Sky‘s fingerprints can be found all over The Hoosiers’ wildly successful (i.e. my nieces aged 9 and 13 love it) Goodbye Mister A. And so, in the weirdest of ways, Mr. Blue Sky almost sounds contemporary.

Yes, it’s a great tune, beautifully arranged – but if I might be permitted one pert parp of dissent, isn’t there also something rather studiously bloodless about it? Don’t get me wrong, for I love most of the band’s singles output from 10538 Overture to Xanadu – but for me, they didn’t hit their absolute peak until 1979, in the shape of the more disco-inspired material from the (oho!) Discovery album.

wd08-08-88From clever adult-oriented pop that I can get with, we must reluctantly switch to the dreary AOR of the tiresome T’Pau, who were following up the previous autumn’s chart-topping China In Your Hand with the oh-so-cannily timed Valentine. But hold up, hold up, and hold that seasonally appropriate purchase! This is no soppy paean to connubial bliss, but rather a Howl Of Anguish from the Other Woman! (“I see you every day with happy home and child, I look the other way, cold on the outside.”) Oh yes indeed! Much more Edgy and Interesting!

But, alas, still shit. There was a contingent within the “serious” music press of the day which, for reasons unknown, did their darndest to promote singer Carol Decker as somehow worthy of interest – for granted, she was indeed a Bit Of A Character – but it was an ultimately futile exercise. I’ve never been able to get over my natural antipathy to AOR power ballads, and I see no reason to make an exception in this case.

wd08-08-98From the prescient to the redundant, and – wa-hey! – we’re back with the prescient again, as the still teenaged Usher lands one of the very first hits of the modern R&B era. Sure, we’d had signs of what lay ahead – En Vogue, D’Angelo, TLC – but You Make Me Wanna… sounded bracingly, thrillingly modern, with its sparse acoustic-led instrumentation set against the dizzingly intricate metre and the relaxed, near-conversational vocal. For some, the 2000s began a year later, with Britney’s Baby One More Time – but I think there’s also a good case for planting the marker flag right here, inches ahead of Destiny’s Child’s chart debut a month later.

wd08-08-08Oh, did someone mention Destiny’s Child? Well, look who we have right here in 2008: it’s only former member Kelly Rowland, striking out on her own as an Independent Woman, a Survivor, and not a poor man’s Beyoncé at all, no sir, no way!

On the MP3 medley, I’ve decided to go with the UK remix by the Freemasons (featuring one half of the late 1990s commercial dance act Phats & Small), as this is the version which has been picking up most of the sales and airplay. On the YouTube link, I’ve gone with the more traditionally R&B flavoured – and vastly better – original album version. Nothing against the Freemasons per se, whose recent collaboration with Bailey “daughter of Judy” Tzuke (it’s a fine club to be in) on Uninvited made my Singles Of 2007 list, but the remix adds nothing and subtracts quite a lot.

As for the song itself, I can’t muster up much emotion either way. It’s a tolerably efficient little blighter, but the laboured fnarr-fnarr innuendos (“Put it in!” “Go hard!” “You gotta get it all the way in!”) do little for me.

My votes: The Move – 5 points. ELO – 4 points. Usher – 3 points. Kelly Rowland – 2 points. T’Pau – 1 point.

Over to you. There’s never been much of a pro-R&B brigade on here, has there? But perhaps you’ll surprise me yet. Votes in the usual place, please. And now I’m off to watch The Brits…
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 8s.”

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 9s.

Ah, it feels good to be doing this again! Welcome back to those of you who have participated before, and warm greetings to those taking part for the first time. As usual, we’re getting a fair old spread of opinion, with Goldfrapp’s early commanding lead in the first round steadily eliminated by the Brenton Wood Barmy Army as the day has progressed.

Nothing too unbearably horrible thus far, I’d say – and that includes our next selection. Pipe ’em in! It’s the Number Nines!

1968: Judy In Disguise (With Glasses) – John Fred & His Playboy Band. (video)
1978: Love Is Like Oxygen – The Sweet. (video)
1988: Shake Your Love – Debbie Gibson. (video)
1998: High – The Lighthouse Family. (video)
2008: I Thought It Was Over – The Feeling. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

wd08-09-68Any song which gets me spontaneously doing the Gizmo Dance at 8:30 in the morning is officially OK With Me, and so I have nothing but kind words to say about John Fred & His Playboy Band. Composed as a parody of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, this gave the Louisiana cajun musician John Fred a surprise novelty chart-topper in the USA, from which his career never quite recovered – but once again, as albatrosses go, this has mighty fine plumage. As befits the seasoned touring band that performed it, the arrangement is deft and inventive throughout, and packed with all sorts of pleasurable little twists along the way, right from the comedy “freak out” moment at the end of the intro (or is that an early under-the-radar example of that future pop standby, the Fake Orgasm?)

wd08-09-78By the time that Love Is Like Oxygen charted, it had been two years since The Sweet‘s last Top 40 hit, and despite continuing success in Northern Europe (particularly in Germany) most of us in the UK had written them off as a spent force. Featuring one of the most absurd extended metaphors in all of pop (because oxygen doesn’t work like that; it’s not poppers!) and with a hefty nod to the ELO in its arrangment, it was an archetypal “hope you like our new direction” moment… and, for a few weeks at least, it looked as if we did.

Twelve months later, singer Brian Connolly left the band, and the fortunes of all four went into free-fall. Thirty years on, the song might have enjoyed a brief moment of re-appropriation by the Guilty Pleasures brigade – but in truth, it’s no lost classic, but merely an unlikely postscript to the career of a once great “manufactured” pop band, whose desire for creative autonomy ultimately proved their undoing.

wd08-09-88One place above Jack ‘N’ Chill’s year-too-late jackity-jack-tracking, we find another curiously dated offering in the shape of fresh-faced Debbie Gibson‘s winsome attempt to channel the spirit of early Madonna. Shake Your Love is basically a simple hook linked by some instantly forgettable verses: a characteristic which is rammed home by its cart-before-the-horse intro (i.e. let’s get that hook in quick, before they re-tune their radio dials). There’s some OK clappity-clap-tracking bits here and there (for I was always a sucker for a clap-track), but that’s the limit of my charity.

wd08-09-98Cue The Lighthouse Family, and doubtless cue the “Habitat coffee-table soul” groaning from several quarters… but hold up, hold up, there’s something of merit going on here. Perhaps I’m just adding my own nostalgic bias – and you know what a dim view I take of nostalgic bias – but, well, let’s pause a while, as I share what High means to me…

Picture this: it was summer 1998, and our London friend J was staying with us in Nottingham for the weekend. He had a brand new man in tow – of less than 24 hours’ standing, as it happened – who had also planned a weekend in Nottingham, so there was a happy coincidence for you. J was (and is) a handsome devil – the sort that everyone stared at when were out on the scene together – and, well, let’s just say that he was habitually free with his affections. But M, the new chap, seemed markedly different from the rest, and K and I were struck by him from the off.

That night, we went dancing down the old Admiral Duncan – pre-refurb, when it was a shitty old dive, but it was our shitty old dive, and some of us had grown rather fond of lurching around to Insomnia in puddles of spilt lager and broken glass on the itsy-bitsy, ever-rammed dancefloor.

The longer we, ahem, “partied” (such a useful word), the more we realised that M was far, far too good a man to be summarily chucked into J’s emotional waste disposal by the middle of next week. At various intervals, one or the other of us would drag J to one side, fix him with Sincere Eyes, and tell him not to let this one go in such a hurry. And each time, J would nod with the same quiet resolve, in a way which we hadn’t quite seen before.

A long way into the night, and well past the point where we had stopped caring about the Cool Factor, the DJ spun the dance mix of High, and we all danced in a smiling circle, and I thought optimistic thoughts, but (untypically, given the particular state I was in) kept them to myself. It was just one of those moments when all the elements came together; not in an emotionally overwhelming way, but in a yes-that-fits way. Perhaps I was the only one who even noticed.

This coming summer, ten years after that first weekend together, J & M will be registering their civil partnership (and yes, of course we’re invited). Every time I hear High – and it has been a fair few times in recent days – I think back to that first night, and forwards to the coming ceremony, and I think: yes, this song just fits. It fits perfectly, both as introductory overture and as roll-the-credits Richard Curtis rom-com finale, and what, pray, is so very wrong about that?

wd08-09-08Oh, were we in the middle of doing a music-based collaborative blog stunt? I quite forgot where I was. Onto The Feeling, whose appeal is significantly heightened, for both K and myself (in a rare show of unity), by the dreamboat dishiness of their lead singer Dan Gillespie-Sells (and he bats for our team, so theoretically There Is Hope). Having said that, Dishy Dan has been a tad over-styled in the video for I Thought It Was Over, particularly in the Hitler-helmet-hair department, and so our affections have been wandering somewhat (i.e. that guitarist’s not bad, or maybe we’ll just have to be ravished by all of them at once).

There’s a lot to like about I Thought It Was Over, provided you don’t listen too closely. As a piece of appealingly textured Drive-time Radio pop, it works more than fine – but in terms of matching the lyrics to the musical mood, it falls flat on its expertly tailored arse, those “look what we’ve been listening to!” ELO/Pilot/Elton John-style retro flourishes coming at all the wrong moments, in terms of articulating and sustaining an emotion. Which means that, after prolonged dithering, the wedding-disco gloopiness of the Light-Arse Famleh j-u-s-t knocks the, oh my sides, Tight-Arse Famleh into third place.

My votes: John Fred & His Playboy Band – 5 points. The Lighthouse Family – 4 points. The Feeling – 3 points. The Sweet – 2 points. Debbie Gibson – 1 point.

Over to you. Sixties kitsch-pop, Seventies pomp-pop, Eighties dance-pop, Nineties soul-pop, or Noughties meta-pop? The choice, as ever, is yours…
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 9s.”

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 10s.

Are you ready?

I said: ARE – YOU – READY?!?!?!

Forget all inferior Johnny-come-lately knock-off jobs, for this is the Real Deal. Yes, we have reached Year Six of our marathon quest to determine which of the past five decades has produced the finest chart pop music of all.

When we last left our competing decades, the 1960s were just out in front, with the 1970s snapping crossly at their heels. This could all change by the end of the next ten posts.

For newcomers, the rules of the game are simpler than they appear when I try and explain them. But in essence, what happens is this. Day by day, we’ll be comparing the UK Top Ten singles from this week in 1968, 1978, 1988, 1998 and 2008, working through the charts from bottom to top. So today we’ll be comparing the records at Number Ten in each year, tomorrow we’ll be assessing the Number Nines, and so on.

I’ll be providing descriptive blurbs for each track, along with a short MP3 medley of each day’s contenders, and YouTube links wherever possible.

Your job will be to listen to the songs (five per day, one for each decade), and to arrange them in order of preference, leaving your votes in the comments box.

(When doing this, I do ask that you check your nostalgic prejudices in at the door, assessing the relative merits as objectively as you can. Otherwise it all gets a bit predictable.)

I’ll then be feeding your votes into a spreadsheet, churning out daily scores for each round, and feeding them into an accumulated score for each decade. However, voting will remain open for all songs, right the way through the fortnight-and-a-bit, so there will always be time to catch up.

Shall we get started, then? OK, let’s have this year’s batch of Number Tens

1968: Gimme Little Sign – Brenton Wood. (video)
1978: Sorry I’m A Lady – Baccara. (video)
1988: The Jack That House Built – Jack ‘N’ Chill. (video)
1998: Together Again – Janet Jackson. (video)
2008: A&E – Goldfrapp. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

wd08-10-68I’ll say one thing for the Sixties: as an earworm-producing decade, they are unsurpassed. Every year, during the week of preparation that leads up to the main event, one song from our fifty contenders installs itself as an unshakeable earworm for the duration, and it’s always from the Sixties. Last year, Here Comes My Baby from The Tremeloes ran through my head on an endless loop for days on end, and this year the gig falls to minor league US soulster Brenton Wood, whose addictive Gimme Little Sign was totally unknown to me until just a few weeks ago.

This was Brenton’s only UK hit, and also his only significant chart placing in the USA (for who now remembers The Oogum Boogum Song or Lovey Dovey Kinda Lovin?). From the end of 1968 onwards, he would trouble the Billboard Hot 100 no further (although as his offical website proclaims, he “still makes frequent club appearances in the Los Angeles & San Diego area”… God, I’m in danger of morphing into Simon Amstell on the Buzzcocks identity parade). As such, Gimme Little Sign might well be his albatross – but as albatrosses go, this one bears a particularly fine plumage.

(I can’t believe I just typed that. Well, let it stand. It’s the best I can manage through this bloated post-prandial fog – as compounded by a birthday weekend spent mostly eating to excess, leaving K and I myself waddling around like a pair of whoopee cushions in sore need of a puncturing. As it were.)

wd08-10-78Our next three selections are so BPM-compatible that I’ve been able to beat-mix them together, in best Non Stop Disco Party style. We start with Baccara, following up their 1977 Number One Yes Sir I Can Boogie in time-honoured Eurodisco fashion, by slightly jiggling around with its component parts and adding a few new lyrics along the way.

To those of us who thought at the time that disco music was Mindless Fodder For The Brainwashed Masses, this was a prime case for the prosecution, our innocent punk-rinsed sensibilities unable to discern the vast cultural chasm between Baccara’s inspidly campy port-and-lemon strut, and the sensual, radical, utterly sublime music that was simultaneously pouring out of the US black and gay undergrounds.

Thirty years on, it’s the camp factor which keeps Sorry I’m A Lady just this side of bearable, but in all other respects it hasn’t worn well. And neither has our first selection from the 1980s, in which the UK production team behind Jack ‘N’ Chill jump onto the first-wave “jack track” bandwagon over a year too late, trotting out a tinny Woolworths-own-brand take on the house sound of Chicago.

wd08-10-88By this time twenty years ago, I had secured a monthly (and soon to be fortnightly) residency at the Barracuda club on Hurts Yard, where our alternative mixed gay night Get Happy was pulling in the emergent crowd that was forming itself in opposition to the newly announced Section 28 legislation. Sure, I played The Jack That House Built – but it was a dance floor filler with the accent on “filler”, and usually dispensed with in the first hour or so. There was plenty of better dance music than this in early 1988, not to mention a major musical paradigm shift which would change everything before the year was through, leaving this slender little cash-in track looking prematurely dated in the process.

wd08-10-98Onwards we thrust to 1998, where we find three influential figures from the pre-house club scene of some twelve years earlier, proving themselves still more than capable. Aided by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on production and co-composition duties, Janet Jackson – sporting a bizarre new hairdo which looked as if it had been modelled according to the principles of fractal geometry – was on a major creative and commercial roll for most of the Nineties, and this was a prime example: a sighing swoon of a song, with a melodic and rhythmic undertow that was somehow deeply reassuring, like wrapping oneself in warm, freshly laundered towelling…

wd08-10-08…which is just how many might view the woozy, dream-like tunefulness of Goldfrapp‘s lead single from the forthcoming Seventh Tree album… until they snag themselves on the barbs of the lyric, that is.

All drugged up in Accident and Emergency, our Alison seems dimly aware of the circumstances leading up to her admission – can we say “cry for help” here? – but her raw pain is buried beneath the numbing sweetness of the Radio Two-friendly arrangement, to such an extent that, as William B. Swygart says in his spot-on post on the matter (one of several that have recently sprung up around the music blogosphere), you could stick this on the soundtrack to a bank advert and most people wouldn’t even notice.

I’m glad that Alison has progressed beyond her Weimar Sex Robot phase; it was cool for its time, but there was always more to her than that, and now we’re beginning to see it again.

My votes: Goldfrapp – 5 points. Janet Jackson – 4 points. Brenton Wood – 3 points. Baccara – 2 points. Jack ‘N’ Chill – 1 point.

Over to you. A pretty decent opening selection, wouldn’t you say? Hardly the stuff of classics, but I’ll wager that the Goldfrapp track is going be one of the year’s stayers, and it has been good to re-familiarise myself with the Janet Jackson and to exhume the Brenton Wood. But hey, don’t wanna lead the jury! Tell me what you think! My pristine spreadsheet is itching to be filled!
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 6 – the Number 10s.”