Which Decade Is Tops For Pops 2011
If you were here twelve months ago, then you’ll know exactly what this is all about. If you weren’t here twelve months ago, then you’ll soon figure out what’s going on; just watch, absorb and imitate, and you should be fine.
But if you do need a quick summary: over the next two or three weeks, we’ll be collectively appraising the Top 10 UK singles charts from this week in 1961, 1971, 1981, 1991, 2001 and 2011. Today, we’ll be looking at the records at Number Ten in each chart; in the next post, we’ll look at the Number Nines, and so on until we reach the top. There will be voting, there will be scoring, and there will be cumulative, decade-against-decade ranking, all of which will be explained in due course.
OK. Ready? Let’s do it!
1961: Where The Boys Are – Connie Francis (video) (lyrics)
1971: Bridget The Midget (The Queen Of The Blues) – Ray Stevens (video) (lyrics)
1981: Lately – Stevie Wonder (video) (lyrics)
1991: Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey) – De La Soul (video) (lyrics)
2001: Star 69 – Fatboy Slim (video) (lyrics)
2011: Buzzin (Remix) – Mann ft 50 Cent (video) (lyrics)
Spotify playlist (minus De La Soul)
1961: African Waltz – Johnny Dankworth (video)
1971: Something Old Something New – The Fantastics (video) (lyrics)
1981: Einstein A Go-Go – Landscape (video) (lyrics)
1991: Get The Message – Electronic (video) (lyrics)
2001: Clint Eastwood – Gorillaz (video) (lyrics)
2011: Run The World (Girls) – Beyonce (video) (lyrics)
Spotify playlist (all 6 tracks)
If Johnny Dankworth‘s aim was to conjure up some sort of recognisably “African” flavour with this track (better known to American audiences in its Grammy Award-winning cover version by Cannonball Adderley), then fifty years of shifting cultural signifiers have made it hard to divine his intentions. There’s barely anything here which suggests “Africa” to contemporary ears, barring a certain skulking-through-the-souk “imaginary soundtrack” quality (with attendant premonitions of Barry Adamson) which might conceivably place it on the continent’s northern shores. But then again, its Canadian composer (Galt MacDermot, who went on to write the music for Hair six years later) was a scholar of African music who graduated from Cape Town university, so what do I know?
Having traded as The Velours since 1956 – with some decent doo-wop releases to their name – this presumably down-on-their-luck vocal harmony group made a decision to move from Brooklyn to the UK in 1968, in order to capitalise on the new British soul boom. Thus did The Velours become The Fantastics, who by 1971 had been driven into the arms of the then-ubiquitous Cook/Greenaway songwriting partnership, resulting in this, their sole chart entry.
As you might expect from the duo who brought us “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing”, the “soul” on offer here is more Batley Variety Club than Muscle Shoals – but considering this is also the same duo who brought us “Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart”, you might expect a better standard of songcraft than this routine boom-thwacker, which presaged Greenway’s later compositions (There Goes My First Love, You’re More Than A Number In My Little Red Book) for the similarly rehoused Drifters.
Having first become vaguely aware of Landscape as a jazz-rock outfit, I nursed a certain generational suspicion regarding their conversion to synth-pop (“pah, old men trying to be trendy” – oh, the cruelty of the young!) – but equally, I could hardly ignore band leader Richard James Burgess’s production work on all of Spandau Ballet’s early releases (still properly trendy in May 1981, at a time when I ascribed rather too high a value to such concerns). So the slightness of “Einstein A Go-Go” quickly palled for me (despite its arch references to IMPENDING NUCLEAR DOOM, but this was small beer next to Crass’s “Nagasaki Nightmare”), eventually to be eclipsed by Thomas Dolby’s similarly boffin-centric “She Blinded Me With Science” a couple of years later.
Johnny Marr once called Electronic’s “Get The Message “the best song I’ve written“. If he’d only added “since leaving The Smiths”, I might have been persuadable (not that I’m exactly au fait with the back catalogues of The Healers, Modest Mouse or The Cribs, but I’d be happy to take his word on the matter).
As it stands, this is a striking case of selective amnesia from someone who once collaborated with one of the finest lyricists of the Eighties, only to fetch up in a songwriting partnership with someone who seemingly strings his lyrics together from fridge magnets. And that’s with all due respect to Bernard Sumner – without whom the line from post-punk to New Pop to pre-house to post-house to Madchester baggy would be a good deal harder to trace – but, let’s face it, he’s hardly the most quotable of lyricists, and “Get The Message” is no exception.
So perhaps the strengths of “Get The Message” lie more in its arrangment (does its bassline carry a faint echo of Magazine’s “A Song From Under The Floorboards”, or have I just got Barry Adamson stuck in my brain today?), its mood, and the cultural weight which has been attached to it – for this is as good a representation of 1991 indie-dance as you’ll find.
My initial reaction on hearing this, the debut single from Gorillaz, was baffled disappointment; I thought that a cartoon band would sound jollier than this, and I couldn’t match the subdued mood with the sparky graphics. It wasn’t until the second album, 2005’s Demon Days, that the penny dropped and I began to grasp the point of the project, and so “Clint Eastwood” appeals to me more now than it ever did ten years ago. That said, there has always been a certain Late Review/Front Row/Sunday-broadsheet-culture-supplement dryness attached to Gorilla, which prevents them fully working as proper pop, and I’m already hearing it here.
In place of 2011’s real Number Nine (it’s a reissue of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”, and I make it a rule to exclude reissues), I’ve substituted the track at Number Eleven. My jury’s still out on Beyonce‘s latest female-empowerment anthem; it doesn’t immediately bowl me over, but neither did “Single Ladies” for the first few weeks, and the two tracks do share a certain elemental, schoolyard-chant quality.
Not being previously familiar with the track on which this is heavily based – Major Lazer’s “Pon De Floor” – I shall deftly sidestep any discussions of their relative merits, save to say that my first thoughts on hearing “Run The World (Girls)” was “Ooh, she’s doing a MIA on us” – an impression which its provenance rather confirms.
And so to the voting. Goodness me, has it really been a whole week since I unveiled the Number Tens? I shall endeavour to whiz through the remaining eight rounds a little more efficiently, but – to be frank – I’ve found this a rather uninspiring round to blurb about, despite the weightiness of some of the names involved. Perhaps you’ll find more to cheer or to carp about than I have; I shall wait with baited breath!
1961: Theme From Dixie – Duane Eddy (video)
1971: (Where Do I Begin) Love Story – Andy Williams (video) (lyrics)
1981: Night Games – Graham Bonnet (video) (lyrics)
1991: The Whole Of The Moon – The Waterboys (video) (lyrics)
2001: It Wasn’t Me – Shaggy ft Rikrok (video) (lyrics)
2011: Guilt – Nero (video) (lyrics)
Spotify playlist (all 6 tracks)
It’s a tenuous segue, but what the heck: just as the last round closed with a martial rhythm (of sorts, at least), so this round opens with one. And there the similarities end, as we switch from the fully contemporary to a song that dates from the middle of the 19th century. Not being au fait with the American minstrel tradition, my only prior exposure to “Dixie” was as a part of Elvis Presley’s funereally paced “American Trilogy”, so the chirpiness of Duane Eddy‘s version was initially startling – but despite its lyrical pining, this was traditionally a cheerfully rendered tune, and so Eddy takes fewer liberties with it than I had thought.
The track’s first half sticks fairly faithfully to Eddy’s “man with the twang” template, reminding me of the influence that he exerted on Hank Marvin’s playing style, and the combined influence of both players on the rock guitar heroes that would follow in their wake. (This stuff might sound corny now, but if you were a suburban bedroom musician with no access to the cooler stuff – your Hookers, your Wrays – then Hank and Duane on the Light Programme might well have been your beacons.) But during the second half, things start to go a bit loopy, as if the whole studio has suddenly slid into devil-may-care drunkenness: hollered yee-haas, a yakety sax, a half-mumbled lyrical fragment, a demented, almost parodic diva. It all leaves me wondering how much of this madness can be laid at the door of Eddy’s long-time collaborator, the late Lee Hazlewood. (Ah, NOW you’re interested!)
1961: Don’t Treat Me Like A Child – Helen Shapiro (video) (lyrics)
1971: Remember Me – Diana Ross (video) (lyrics)
1981: This Ole House – Shakin’ Stevens (video) (lyrics) (Popular entry)
1991: Senza Una Donna (Without A Woman) – Zucchero ft Paul Young (video) (lyrics)
2001: Liquid Dreams – O-Town (video) (lyrics)
2011: Unorthodox – Wretch 32 ft Example (video) (lyrics)
Spotify playlist (minus O-Town & Wretch 32)
I commented on the phenomenon last year, when evaluating Steve Lawrence’s “Footsteps”, but now Helen Shapiro‘s debut single gives us another chance to savour one of the kitschiest delights of early Sixties pop. I’m such a sucker for the rinky-dink backing vocals which sometimes threaten to overwhelm “Don’t Treat Me Like A Child”, and here they’re used to cunning effect, undercuttiing the 14 year old’s earnest plea to be taken seriously with an almost malevolent schoolgirl glee. (I’m picturing Helen’s singers with bunched hair and painted freckles, waggling oversized lollipops – but then I’ve always had an overactive imagination.)
As rallying cries for Disaffected Youth go, “Don’t Treat Me Like A Child” is tame fare indeed. But if the generational schism which rock and roll had opened was closing again, and if the journey from the primness of “My own point of view has got to be known” to the fury of “Why don’t you all f-f-f-fade away” had barely begun, then Disaffected Youth would have to rally round any cries it could find. You tell ’em, Helen!
1961: Are You Sure – The Allisons (video) (lyrics) (Lena’s write-up)
1971: Hot Love – T.Rex (video) (lyrics) (Popular entry)
1981: Can You Feel It – The Jacksons (video) (lyrics)
1991: Born Free – Vic Reeves & The Roman Numerals (video) (lyrics)
2001: Dream On – Depeche Mode (video) (lyrics)
2011: E.T. – Katy Perry ft Kanye West (video) (lyrics)
Spotify playlist (all 6 tracks)
Modelled so closely on the Everly Brothers that they even affected a fictional sibling status, The Allisons followed a career path that became familiar in the 2000s: a TV talent show, a record deal, a chance to represent the UK at Eurovision, a lone hit, and a quick slide from public view. Still, at least their brief star got to shine a little more brightly than Jessica Garlick’s, or James Fox’s, or Andy Abraham’s, as – in accordance with Sixties/Seventies Eurovision custom – “Are You Sure?” finished in second place for the United Kingdom, beaten by the entry from plucky little Luxembourg.
(Eurovision Stats Overload Parenthesis, For Those Who Care: Kathy Kirby and The New Seekers were similarly trounced by France Gall and Vicky Leandros in 1965 and 1972, while Anne-Marie David elbowed Cliff Richard into third place in 1973. It almost goes without saying – but let’s say it anyway, because there’s nothing the British like more than a decades-old competitive grudge – that none of the victorious acts were actually native to Luxembourg. Poor show, what?)
Having watched The Assassination Of Richard Nixon over the weekend, I can’t help but imagine “Are You Sure?” being crooned by Sean Penn’s simpering, simmering salesman-turned-killer. For while the track might start with soft, courtly entreaties to the departed lover – “Look here, old thing, are you absolutely positive about all this?” – an increasingly unveiled sense of menace starts to seep through the well-mannered veneer. The tone becomes accusing (“for you’re the one who went and broke the vow”) and then threatening (“You’ll be sorry, wait and see, spend your life in misery”), casting a different complexion on the final iteration of “hold you tightly in my arms”. Just how tightly, you flukey fraternal fakes?
1961: Warpaint – The Brook Brothers (video) (lyrics)
1971: Mozart Symphony No 40 – Waldo de los Ríos (video)
1981: Grey Day – Madness (video) (lyrics)
1991: Sailing On The Seven Seas – OMD (video) (lyrics)
2001: Get Ur Freak On – Missy Elliott (video) (lyrics)
2011: Sweat (David Guetta Remix) – Snoop Dogg (video) (lyrics)
Spotify playlist (minus Waldo De Los Rios)
One place up from The Allisons, we find another “Britain’s answer to the Everly Brothers” – but there’s no sibling fakery this time round, as The Brook Brothers are properly born of the same stock. This cover of Barry Mann’s “Warpaint” (a rare excursion into performance for the songwriter, which didn’t chart in the US) gave the former skiffle act their biggest hit, and deservedly so; it’s a likeable romp, boosted by a strong production from Tony Hatch, which adds an affectionately teasing quality to Mann’s harsher original. Why, I can even forgive the yakety sax.