The People’s Pop Polls

I started doing the People’s Pop Polls on Twitter (@peoples_pop) during lockdown in the COVID-19 pandemic, as a distraction for me and others. They did this job extremely well – so I kept doing them, moving them to a dedicated account and setting up a monthly schedule.

How do you join in? Nominate tracks, and vote! Here are the tournaments we’ve run so far including links to Spotify playlists of the nominees.

  • MARCH 2020: UK Number 1s – won by Donna Summer – “I Feel Love”
  • APRIL 2020: UK Number 2s – won by Pulp – “Common People”
  • MAY 2020: The People’s Pop Poll (charity poll with no set entry criteria) – Won by David Bowie – “Heroes”
  • JUNE 2020: Cover Versions – won by Aretha Franklin – “Respect”
  • JULY 2020: The Year 1990 – won by George Michael – “Freedom ’90”
  • AUGUST 2020: Debut Singles – won by Neneh Cherry – “Buffalo Stance”
  • SEPTEMBER 2020: The Year 2001 – won by Missy Elliott – “Get Ur Freak On”
  • OCTOBER 2020: Duets – won by Queen and David Bowie – “Under Pressure”
  • NOVEMBER 2020: The Year 1980 – won by Talking Heads – “Once In A Lifetime”
  • DECEMBER 2020: The Tree And The Stocking (2 holiday polls) – won by Darlene Love – “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) and Duke Ellington – “Sugar Rum Cherry”
  • JANUARY 2021: The Year 2020 – won by Christine And The Queens – “People, I’ve Been Sad”
  • FEBRUARY 2021: Album Openers – won by Pixies – “Debaser”
  • MARCH 2021: The Year 2008 – won by Estelle ft Kanye West – “American Boy”
  • APRIL 2021: Around The World In 384 Songs – won by Gladys Knight And The Pips – “Midnight Train To Georgia”
  • MAY 2021: The Year 1977 – won by Talking Heads – “Psycho Killer”
  • JUNE 2021: Short Songs – won by Ray Charles – “Hit The Road Jack”
  • JULY 2021: The Year 1999 – won by TLC – “No Scrubs”
  • AUGUST-SEPTEMBER 2021: Four Letter Words – in progress.

Here’s the schedule of upcoming tournaments, assuming running them doesn’t become unviable.

  • OCTOBER 2021: Black Pop History 1968-1972
  • NOVEMBER 2021: The Year 1987
  • DECEMBER 2021: Special poll – To Be Decided
  • JANUARY 2022: The Year 2021
  • FEBRUARY 2022: Album Closers (provisional)
  • MARCH 2022: Year poll – probably mandating a 60s one.

WHAT WE’RE ALL ABOUT

There is, I’ve discovered, a whole awesome micro-culture of Twitter music polling. What makes the PPP distinctive?

It’s open-entry: Each poll is built out of reader nominations. While some tracks are excluded each time – mostly ones which have already done well in another poll – I try to include as many nominations as possible. This ensures a wider spread of tracks than I could ever manage myself, and gives people a minor personal stake!

It’s track-based: A lot of polls focus on LPs. We focus on tracks. This makes playlisting and discovery less demanding and allows us to move faster and get large polls done within a single month.

It puts a big emphasis on discovery.: The later stages of poll tournaments narrow things down to well-known, generally popular options. This is inevitable. So I encourage people to also nominate a lot of lesser-known or downright obscure tracks, so the qualifying round has plenty of new discoveries or re-discoveries. Obviously this is delicately dependent on a voting base with diverse tastes. (Thanks you lot!)

This all leads to probably the most distinctive feature of the PPP…

It’s often cruel. Rather than use seeding, I design the brackets so that as far as possible every track has a chance of qualifying. It’s not always feasible, but I try.

“That sounds nice, not cruel” you might say. But! Because familiarity is the single biggest advantage a track can have, this means separating the well-known from the less well-known tracks early on. Which in turn means qualifying groups with three or four already popular options, from which you’re asked to pick one. Ouch! But it makes for more excitement and for greater survival rates for the minnows early on.

HOW IT WORKS

I tweak the exact mechanisms (number of entries, qualification methods, etc.) each time, but broadly every tournament has four phases.

  • NOMINATIONS: Pre-tournament. We open nominations during the previous month, and they are open for up to 24 hours (they tend to fill up VERY quickly). I then create a Spotify playlist, a YouTube playlist for the stuff which isn’t on Spotify, and I put the brackets together.
  • QUALIFIERS: Weeks 1-2. This phase involves cutting the nominees down by half. This is the “discovery” phase, where you get to hear lots of new-to-you tracks (if you so desire). It’s pretty intense, so some people might prefer to jump in for…
  • THE MIDDLE BIT: Weeks 2-3. Two rounds, reducing the surviving tracks to 32, while also gradually shrinking the differential between popular/less popular brackets.
  • FINALS: Week 4. Final groups and the knockout stages, modelled shamelessly on the FIFA World Cup tournament. Anything which reaches this stage may be excluded from future tournaments.

THE GOLDEN BEAT AWARD:

Starting with the World Cup of 1990, we have awarded the Golden Beat Award to the track voted the best discovery of the poll (from a shortlist co-created with voters). Starting with the Placenames poll, the Golden Beat nominator has been given their own group to curate in the next available poll.

  • 1990: L7 – “Shove”
  • Debut Singles: Charisma.Com – “HATE”
  • 2001: Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie”
  • Duets: Positive K – “I Got A Man”
  • 1980: The Sequence – “And You Know That”
  • Christmas: Cristina – “Things Fall Apart”
  • 2020: Bob Vylan – “We Live Here”
  • Openers: Art Ensemble Of Chicago – “Theme De Yo-Yo”
  • 2008: Nneka – “Heartbeat”
  • Placenames: Poni Hoax – “Budapest”
  • 1977: Billy Ocean – “Red Light Spells Danger”
  • Short Songs: Bunker Hill – “The Girl Can’t Dance”
  • 1999: Aztec Mystic – “Jaguar”

THE HALL OF FAME aka POLLHALLA:

This is a list of every track which has got to the last 8 of a tournament (winners in bold). These songs are currently presumed excluded from all future polls – they have gone to poll Valhalla! Friend Of The Poll, Dan Perry, has built a POLLHALLA PLAYLIST featuring these hallowed tracks.

  • ABBA – “Take A Chance On Me”
  • ABBA – “Waterloo”
  • A-Ha – “Take On Me”
  • Althea And Donna – “Uptown Top Ranking”
  • Aretha Franklin – “Respect”
  • A Tribe Called Quest – “Can I Kick It?”
  • Basement Jaxx – “Romeo”
  • Bee Gees – “Stayin’ Alive”
  • Beyonce – “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”
  • Bill Withers – “Lovely Day”
  • Bjork – “Human Behaviour”
  • Black Sabbath – “War Pigs”
  • Blondie – “Call Me”
  • Blondie – “Heart Of Glass”
  • Blur – “Coffee And TV”
  • Bob Vylan – “We Live Here”
  • Britney Spears – “…Baby One More Time”
  • Buzzcocks – “Ever Fallen In Love”
  • Cardi B ft Megan Thee Stallion – “WAP”
  • Chaka Khan – “I Feel For You”
  • Chaka Khan – “I’m Every Woman”
  • Chic – “Good Times”
  • Christine And The Queens – “People, I’ve Been Sad”
  • Cristina – “Things Fall Apart”
  • Daft Punk – “Digital Love”
  • Darlene Love – “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”
  • David Bowie – “Heroes”
  • David Bowie – “Station To Station”
  • Dead Kennedys – “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”
  • Deee-Lite – “Groove Is In The Heart”
  • Depeche Mode – “Enjoy The Silence”
  • Destiny’s Child – “Say My Name”
  • Diana Ross – “Upside Down”
  • Dionne Warwick – “Do You Know The Way To San Jose?”
  • Dolly Parton – “9 To 5”
  • Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers – “Islands In The Stream”
  • Donna Summer – “I Feel Love”
  • Dr. Dre ft Snoop Doggy Dogg – “Nuthin But A G Thang”
  • Dr. Dre ft Snoop Dogg – “Still DRE”
  • Duke Ellington – “Sugar Rum Cherry”
  • Eddie Cochran – “Summertime Blues”
  • Electric Light Orchestra – “Mr Blue Sky”
  • Estelle ft Kanye West – “American Boy”
  • Fats Domino – “I Hear You Knockin”
  • Fiona Apple – “Shameika”
  • Fleetwood Mac – “The Chain”
  • Frankie Goes To Hollywood – “Relax”
  • George Michael – “Freedom ’90”
  • Gil Scott-Heron – “Whitey On The Moon”
  • Gladys Knight And The Pips – “Midnight Train To Georgia”
  • Glen Campbell – “Wichita Lineman”
  • Gorillaz – “Clint Eastwood”
  • Half Man Half Biscuit – “It’s Cliched To Be Cynical At Christmas”
  • Happy Mondays – “Kinky Afro”
  • Hercules And Love Affair – “Blind”
  • Hot Chip – “Ready For The Floor”
  • Isaac Hayes – “Walk On By”
  • Jimi Hendrix – “All Along The Watchtower”
  • Johnny Cash and June Carter – “Jackson”
  • Joy Division – “Disorder”
  • Joy Division – “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
  • Kate Bush – “Wuthering Heights”
  • Kirsty MacColl – “A New England”
  • KLF – “What Time Is Love? (Live At Trancentral)”
  • Kraftwerk – “Europe Endless”
  • Kylie Minogue – “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”
  • Lauryn Hill – “Doo Wop (That Thing)”
  • Len – “Steal My Sunshine”
  • Lily Allen – “The Fear”
  • Macy Gray – “I Try”
  • Madonna – “Like A Prayer”
  • Martha And The Muffins – “Echo Beach”
  • Mary J Blige – “Family Affair”
  • Marvin Gaye – “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”
  • Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”
  • Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – “You’re All I Need To Get By”
  • MGMT – “Kids”
  • MGMT – “Time To Pretend”
  • Missy Elliott – “Get Ur Freak On”
  • Moloko – “Sing It Back (Boris’ Musical Mix)”
  • Motörhead – “Ace Of Spades”
  • Neneh Cherry – “Buffalo Stance”
  • New Order – “Age Of Consent”
  • Outkast – “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)”
  • Pet Shop Boys – “Being Boring”
  • Pet Shop Boys – “Left To My Own Devices”
  • Pet Shop Boys – “West End Girls”
  • Phoebe Bridgers – “I Know The End”
  • Pixies – “Debaser”
  • Prince – “1999”
  • Prince – “Sign O’ The Times”
  • Prince – “U Got The Look”
  • Prince – “When You Were Mine”
  • Pulp – “Common People”
  • Queen and David Bowie – “Under Pressure”
  • Ray Charles – “Hit The Road Jack”
  • Run DMC and Aerosmith – “Walk This Way”
  • Run The Jewels – “Walking In The Snow”
  • Sam And Dave – “Hold On I’m Coming”
  • Santigold – “LES Artistes”
  • SAULT – “Wildfires”
  • Shakira – “Whenever, Wherever”
  • Sinead O’Connor – “Nothing Compares 2 U”
  • Slade – “Merry Xmas Everybody”
  • Soccer Mommy – “Circle The Drain”
  • Soft Cell – “Tainted Love” AND “Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go?”
  • Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto, and Astrud Gilberto – “The Girl From Ipanema”
  • Talking Heads – “Once In A Lifetime”
  • Talking Heads – “Psycho Killer”
  • Talking Heads – “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)”
  • Television – “Marquee Moon”
  • The Avalanches – “Since I Left You”
  • The Beach Boys – “God Only Knows”
  • The Beach Boys – “Good Vibrations”
  • The Chemical Brothers – “Hey Boy, Hey Girl”
  • The Clash – “London Calling”
  • The Cure – “A Forest”
  • The Cure – “Pictures Of You”
  • The Jackson 5 – “I Want You Back”
  • The Kinks – “Waterloo Sunset”
  • The Mamas And The Papas – “California Dreamin'”
  • The Ramones – “Judy Is A Punk”
  • The Rolling Stones – “Gimme Shelter”
  • The Specials – “A Message To You Rudy”
  • The Stooges – “I Wanna Be Your Dog”
  • The Strokes – “Last Nite”
  • The Undertones – “Teenage Kicks”
  • The Waitresses – “Christmas Wrapping”
  • The Wombles – “Wombling Merry Christmas”
  • They Might Be Giants – “Birdhouse In Your Soul”
  • TLC – “No Scrubs”
  • TLC – “Waterfalls”
  • Tom Jones – “It’s Not Unusual”
  • Underworld – “Born Slippy (Nuxx)”
  • Wham! – “Last Christmas”
  • Wire – “Three Girl Rhumba”
  • Wu-Tang Clan – “Bring Da Ruckus”

(Other tracks which reached the final groups are usually excluded, but this may be relaxed on specific occasions.)

OTHER STATS

The record vote total for a single match is 1,651 for Talking Heads vs Althea And Donna in the Quarter-Finals of the 1977 tournament.

Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” got 1,014 of those votes, which is the highest raw vote to date.

The highest verified tie is “Lovely Day” v “Mr Blue Sky” in the 1977 poll – it was level at 1,168 (though given the closeness of the eventual result it probably levelled higher too).

The winning track to get the highest number of votes in a final was “Psycho Killer” (1977) with 536. “Under Pressure” (Duets) has the highest proportion of final votes – 66.5%.

No track has ever finished a qualifier on zero votes. The track which has gone the longest with no votes is Soil’s “Halo” in the 2001 poll, which had 0 at 156 total votes.

DISQUALIFICATION PROTOCOL

Twitter being Twitter, occasionally enthusiastic fans RT individual matches looking for support for their fave. This is fine – but not if they overwhelm the poll.

There is a disqualification protocol, as follows.

At my discretion, a track can be disqualified (or an anonymised rerun declared) if it fits all three of these criteria:

  • There is a detectable effort to affect voting in favour of one track.
  • It changes the outcome of the match.
  • The match in question has more than 50% more total votes than the average for its day.

i.e. if I can’t tell for sure where the vote surge is from, or if it doesn’t actually change anything, or if the fans rush in but vote on other matches too, I won’t take any action. It’s a drastic action and I want the bar to be high to taking it!

Examples: George Michael and PWEI fans brigaded the 1990 poll and changed match outcomes but they did vote in the other matches. Chaka Khan fans brigaded the Neneh/Chaka/Britney Debuts match but didn’t change the main outcome (Neneh winning).

FUNDING

The time I take to run and curate the People’s Pop Polls is partly paid for by the wonderful people who contribute to my Patreon.

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