10
May 10

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? Round 1: the Number 10s.

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops67 comments • 1,870 views

Hello! I’m Mike Atkinson, and over the course of the next three or four weeks, I’ll be overseeing an IMPORTANT EXPERIMENT IN PARTICIPATIVE DEMOCRACY, right here on Freaky Trigger. If you’ve ever visited my old blog during the month of February, then you might be familiar with the procedures – but with a new decade underway and the old blog sinking into disrepair, it felt like the right time to move operations to a new home (and arguably its natural home), and to start the process all over again from scratch.

If you’re new to the game, then this is what’s going to happen. I’ll be taking you on a guided, step-by-step excursion through the Top Ten UK singles from this week in 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010. Today, we’ll be looking at the singles at Number Ten in each chart. In two days’ time (all being well), we’ll examine the Number Nines… and so on, until we reach the Number Ones.

I’ll be providing YouTube links throughout, as well as a brief memory-jogging MP3 medley, containing roughly thirty seconds from each of that day’s six tracks.

At the end of each post, you will be invited to rank the six tracks in descending order of preference. I’ll be totting up your votes (using an inverse points system, but let’s not sweat the details just yet) and providing running totals at regular intervals.

As we step through the chart positions together – day by day, place by place, from the Number Tens to the Number Ones – your scores will be accumulated into running totals for each decade. So when we get to the end of the exercise, we will have SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN which of our six decades – the Sixties, the Seventies, the Eighties, the Nineties, the Noughties or, um, this one – contains the GREATEST POP MUSIC OF ALL TIME.

Now, if you’re thinking that the whole exercise sounds a bit arbitrary – for how can ten songs in one given chart, in one given year, be in any way representative of a whole decade? – then fret not, for next May we do the whole exercise all over again, looking at the Top Tens for 1961, 1971, 1981 etc etc. And then we combine this year’s scores with next year’s scores, and the scores from the year after that, and so on for the next ten years (oh yes!), until we have accumulated grand totals for each decade. So think of today’s inaugural post as merely the first tentative step on a Grand Quest for ABSOLUTE POP TRUTH.

Excited, much? Then let’s press on with Round One, in which we look at this week’s Number Tens from the past six decades.

1960: Steve Lawrence – Footsteps (video)
1970: The Move – Brontosaurus (video)
1980: The Undertones – My Perfect Cousin (video)
1990: The Family Stand – Ghetto Heaven (video)
2000: MJ Cole – Crazy Love (video)
2010: Kelis – Acapella (video)

(Download the MP3 medley)

And so to my unshakeable earworm of the past four weeks, courtesy of Steve Lawrence. Every time my thoughts turn to the Which Decade project, my mental jukebox invariably cues up the opening refrain of “Footsteps”, whether or not I wish to be reminded of it – and now (hah!) it’s your turn to be similarly plagued.

What strikes me first about “Footsteps” (once I’ve accepted its presence in my brain for the next hour or so) is its musical simplicity. The repeated ascending modulation of its opening refrain sounds a bit like something you might have been given for piano practice, reminding me in turn that sheet music sales would still have been a significant factor in the popularity of many hit songs. Easy to score, easy to learn, easy to play – but to modern ears, does the easiness merely translate as triteness?

That aside, what strikes me most about “Footsteps” is the way that the rinky-dink backing vocals almost threaten to upstage the lead singer. We got this a lot in the Tin Pan Alley pop of the early Sixties – Helen Shapiro’s “Walking Back To Happiness” immediately springs to mind – and I’m a sucker for such campy charms. Close your eyes, and try to imagine a chorus line of chickens from The Muppet Show parading across the screen, clucking away in unison, or perhaps Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, vamping behind their special guest of the week, or… OK, suit yourselves. Shall we move on?

Ten years on, has The Riff supplanted The Tune as chart pop’s compositional foundation stone? The Move have cropped up twice before on Which Decade – with “Fire Brigade” two years ago, and with “Blackberry Way” last year – but they’ve never sounded quite this heavy before.

Well, I say heavy – and in 1970, at the tender age of eight, I certainly thought that The Move were as heavy (and indeed as hairy) as heavy could possibly get – but in truth, this is a pop approximation of “heavy”, and not a very able or convincing one at that. Granted, the riff has all the lumbering qualities of the titular prehistoric beast itself – but really, that’s the problem. Where a good riff should soar, this riff can only plod. There’s a bit of an attempt at a “freak-out” near the end, but one senses that the band’s hearts aren’t fully in it. Even more than “Blackberry Way”, this feels like a stylistic excursion rather than a statement of musical belief – and we can’t have that from our hairy heavy rockers, can we?

Just as I have finished waffling on about the dwindling simplicity of early 60s tunesmanship, up pop The Undertones, ready to challenge my assertions. After all, tunes don’t come much simpler than “My Perfect Cousin” – against which “Footsteps” looks positively baroque.

Thus did the post-punk pendulum swing, affording exposure to those acts who could best make a virtue of the New Simplicity – and of those acts, there were few better exponents than Feargal Sharkey’s bunch. But most winningly of all, “My Perfect Cousin” is rooted in the everyday realities of its audience, depicting an instantly recognisable slice of life as it was actually being led.

And best of all from my perspective, “My Perfect Cousin” describes – with near-faultless accuracy, right down to the bloody Christian name, if you please – the affectionately competitive dynamic between my life partner of five years’ hence and his younger cousin from the house next door. He thinks that I’m a cabbage, because I hate University Challenge… like, how did these people KNOW?

Although obliged to put The Family Stand‘s original version on the MP3 medley, as it was the only version I could legally source (for yes, every 30-second snippet has been acquired without recourse to piratical means), my memories of “Ghetto Heaven” are all centred around the superior Jazzie B/Nellee Hooper remix, which was also the lead track on both the 7-inch and 12-inch versions. (You’ll also find this version on the YouTube link.)

Following Soul II Soul’s massive success in 1989, their downtempo, tough-but-mellow signature sound was ubiquitous for much of 1990. Or at least it was in our house, as I made it my personal mission to snaffle up every last mutation thereof – yea, even unto dodgy cash-ins such as the cover of “Loving You” by Massivo featuring Tracy. (I’m not proud. But such were the times.) But “Ghetto Heaven” was always a class apart, so it has been great to dig the 12″ out of the attic and languish once more within its smoking groove.

All of which leads us nicely into the equally classy mellowness of MJ Cole‘s track, which exemplifies the smoother, more song-based, more overtly soulful, and arguably more aspirational end of the 2-step/UK Garage spectrum.

Touching on my original thesis for a moment, there’s an effortless intricacy to the construction of “Crazy Love” which – in my opinion – places it far in advance of the likes of “Footsteps”, suggesting that pop’s overall progression might indeed have been an upwards one. And I could never quite get a purchase on that skittering 2-step rhythm, whose lack of obvious four-to-the-floor kick came as such sweet relief in an age which had become suffocated by the diminishing returns of Ibiza Trance. (There may be more examples of this to follow, by the way – but let’s not indulge in spoilers.)

And to close today’s entries, let’s go out with an absolute walloping belter. Back in the UK Top Ten for the first time in three years, Kelis sounds fully, thrillingly contemporary once again, with a track that has all the forward-thinking, shock-of-the-new impact of “Milkshake” and “Caught Out There” before it. An electronic club banger about motherhood, you say? Well, why ever not? For if there’s one thing I like better than a forward-thinking, shock-of-the-new electro club banger, it’s a forward-thinking, shock-of-the-new and emotionally affecting electro club banger.

Over to you, then. Take a good listen to these six tracks. Take several good listens, if you need to. And then, in the comments box, please arrange them in descending order of preference, i.e. starting with your favourite and working down.

When voting, please remember these three golden rules.
1) No omissions!
2) No tied places!
3) As much as you are able, please vote on merit, rather than being overly swayed by nostalgic generational predispositions!

Have fun! (Oh, and rest assured: voting for each round stays open right the way through to the end of the whole extended caper, so there’s no immediate hurry.)

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE SCORES SO FAR.

Comments

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  1. 1
    Mike Atkinson on 10 May 2010 #

    FINAL SCORES:

    246 points: Kelis – Acapella
    231 points: The Undertones – My Perfect Cousin
    173 points: MJ Cole – Crazy Love
    171 points: The Family Stand – Ghetto Heaven
    139 points: The Move – Brontosaurus
    111 points: Steve Lawrence – Footsteps

    (I’ll be keeping them periodically updated here.)

    My own votes:
    6 points – Kelis
    5 points – The Undertones
    4 points – MJ Cole
    3 points – The Family Stand
    2 points – Steve Lawrence
    1 point – The Move

  2. 2
    JonnyB on 10 May 2010 #

    Oh lawks this is exciting once again.

    I shall settle down properly tomorrow and listen to them all, thus avoiding a kneejerk vote. For now, can I just ask whether anybody else thinks that Steve Lawrence looks like a 1960s Suggs?

  3. 3
    Gordon on 10 May 2010 #

    Right, I’m determined to vote on every one this time round (will be a first for me!).

    And yeah, stand out winner her, the ever underrated Kelis, and once again the 60s show just how hit or miss they can be, awful!

    6 points – Kelis
    5 points – The Undertones
    4 points – The Family Stand
    3 points – MJ Cole
    2 points – Steve Lawrence
    1 point – The Move

  4. 4
    Andrew Hickey on 10 May 2010 #

    6 points – The Move
    5 points – The Undertones
    4 points – Steve Lawrence
    3 points – MJ Cole
    2 points – Kelis
    1 point – Family Stand

    Impossible really to choose between Move and Undertones

  5. 5
    Martin Skidmore on 10 May 2010 #

    6 points – The Undertones
    5 points – The Move
    4 points – Kelis
    3 points – MJ Cole
    2 points – Family Stand
    1 point – Steve Lawrence

    I love all the top three, so this was a tough choice – 6th was the only one I was sure of. Also, why are we only doing this for May each year? I’d love this to happen more often that that!

  6. 6
    Billy Smart on 10 May 2010 #

    What a good start! I like every single, or at least can extract a degree of genuine pleasure out of curiosity;

    6 points – The Undertones
    5 points – Kelis
    4 points – The Move
    3 points – MJ Cole
    2 points – Steve Lawrence
    1 point – The Family Stand

  7. 7
    diamond geezer on 10 May 2010 #

    6 points – Kelis
    5 points – The Undertones
    4 points – Steve Lawrence
    3 points – The Move
    2 points – The Family Stand
    1 point – MJ Cole

    But only because you won’t allow me to have two 6s and four 1s

  8. 8
    Ciaran Gaynor on 10 May 2010 #

    A very strong selection I must say!

    6 points – Kelis
    5 points – The Undertones
    4 points – Steve Lawrence
    3 points – The Family Stand
    2 points – MJ Cole
    1 point – The Move

  9. 9
    Tom on 10 May 2010 #

    You should mention that comments are encouraged too Mike – though your write-ups get better and better – this is cracking stuff to put us all into context!

    The six-pointer in this first batch is very difficult – loyalty to garage vs shock of the new? Not that I think Kelis is especially shocking, just a well-constructed and classier version of the stuff Guetta was doing last year. I love “Acapella” to pieces, though interestingly it got a somewhat lukewarm reception at Poptimism so I wonder if others will swing in behind me here. “Crazy Love” is almost perfect too, that amazing futurist-steel-in-a-silk-glove vibe UK garage did so well. Maybe if this was 2020’s poll I’d let it overtake Kelis.

    Bit of a drop to The Family Stand – and definitely click through to the video before you cast your vote, the excerpt on the MP3 has none of the depth or dread of the video version. Also you’ll miss out on some great examples of early 90s bluescreen abuse. The Undertones is a track which has suffered badly from being so overquoted – you know its best lines already and it doesn’t improve the track.

    The backing vocals on Steve Lawrence are a deal-breaker for me, and it winds up last behind the Move, whose record isn’t very good but is at least about a dinosaur.

    Recap:

    6 points – Kelis
    5 points – MJ Cole
    4 points – The Family Stand
    3 points – The Undertones
    2 points – The Move
    1 point – Steve Lawrence

    Exact reverse chronology! Cor!

  10. 10
    lonepilgrim on 10 May 2010 #

    That’s an outstanding performance from Kelis btw

    6 points – Kelis
    5 points – MJ Cole
    4 points – The Undertones
    3 points – The Family Stand
    2 points – Steve Lawrence
    1 point – The Move

  11. 11
    Billy Smart on 10 May 2010 #

    The Undertones do the double of both best single and best sleeve, says I.

    While The Family Stand are made to display their alleigence to France…

  12. 12
    grange85 on 10 May 2010 #

    6 points – The Undertones
    5 points – Kelis
    4 points – Steve Lawrence
    3 points – The Move
    2 points – MJ Cole
    1 points – Family Stand

    I thought the Undertones would lose position because of what a nob Sharkey turned out to be – but no – the Subbuteo line clinched it. The three most recent tracks come from a world I barely know – but the Kelis track was fine and Family Stand was just dreadful… as were The Move but ultimately the plain old “rock” fan that I am pushed them up a place they maybe didn’t deserve…

  13. 13
    Mike Atkinson on 10 May 2010 #

    Yes, as Tom says: comments are very much encouraged – in fact, they’re usually my favourite bit of the exercise.

  14. 14
    Mike Atkinson on 10 May 2010 #

    Grange85: Actually, the Subbuteo line is the only line that doesn’t channel the spirit of my future life partner. I doubt whether he’s ever flicked a kick in his life…

  15. 15
    Al Ewing on 10 May 2010 #

    6 points – Kelis
    5 points – The Undertones
    4 points – The Family Stand
    3 points – Steve Lawrence
    2 points – MJ Cole
    1 points – The Move

  16. 16
    lockedintheattic on 11 May 2010 #

    Ooo, what an ace selection to welcome you to your new home.

    The first 20 seconds or so of Ghetto Heaven may well be my favourite pop intro of all time – so much so that the rest of the song doesn’t quite match up that beginning. Although that alone is worth my 6 points. (oh – and Mike, thanks for reminding me of that Massivo track – will have to dig out my vinyl copy now). As for the rest – awesome comeback for Kelis there; Funnily enough I like MJ Cole waaaay more than I did at the time – as back then I was listening to garage in clubs more and it’s working much more for me now listening at home. I would give The Move zero if I could.

    6 – Family Stand
    5 – Kelis
    4 – MJ Cole
    3 – The Undertones
    2 – Steve Lawrence
    1 – The Move

  17. 17
    thefatgit on 11 May 2010 #

    Well here goes:

    6 points-The Undertones
    5 points-Kelis
    4 points-The Family Stand
    3 points-MJ Cole
    2 points-The Move
    1 point-Steve Lawrence

    I have to admit that I had no idea who Steve Lawrence was and then I saw the pic on the record sleeve…now I have this unshakeable belief that Biff Tannen from Back To The Future was a doo wop heart-throb. The brain sometimes fails to properly to compute such data. The Move are likeable enough, but this is no Flowers In The Rain. However I enjoyed the steel guitar outro. MJ Cole again, I’m a sucker for Sincere, but this somehow almost feels like a b-side that got lucky.
    Ghetto Heaven places me right in the driving around town stereo blaring headspace. Good times. Kelis and The Undetones? Well I had to choose one for the full 6. The Undertones win out, but Kelis ran them pretty close.

  18. 18
    Lex on 11 May 2010 #

    I’ve only heard two of these songs before, the most recent two.

    6 – MJ Cole. A UK garage classic. Absolutely perfect.
    5 – Family Stand – never heard this but it’s lovely smooth stuff, fits nicely alongside Soul II Soul, Brand New Heavies et al. If I’d been a bit older at the time I’d have LOVED this shit. The strings = proto-“Unfinished Sympathy”, the bassline is killer. A find!
    4 – Kelis – A real disappointment given who she is – reviewed it at the Jukebox.
    3 – The Move – turgid and strained but I don’t dislike that sleazy riff that underpins it. Can someone sample it please.
    2 – Steve Lawrence – sounds like a joke song, WTF are those chirping backing vox about?
    1 – The Undertones – feel like I’ve heard this song a million times before. The kind of song I blame for Britpop existing. His vocal affectations are intolerable, especially on the horrible economics/bionics rhyme, which made me actually wince.

  19. 19
    Mike Atkinson on 11 May 2010 #

    Ulp, I hadn’t even realised that “Acapella” was produced by David Guetta! In which case, kudos to him for channelling Kelis’s spirit and reining in the cheese. (I adored his collaboration with Kelly Rowland on “When Love Takes Over”, but this song required a different approach.)

  20. 20
    Andrew F on 11 May 2010 #

    What exactly is post- about the Undertones’ punk?

  21. 21
    asta on 11 May 2010 #

    I am over the moon with delight at the return of Which Decade.Thanks mike.
    Here we go. I only recognised two of these performers by name, the first and the last, so I’m coming to most of these songs with fresh ears.

    6 pts- Kelis. As others have pointed out, the Guetta hand is apparent here and that’s a good thing.

    5 pts- The Family Stand. It’s got a great baseline,a kicking bridge and sweet groove. My only complaint is I wish the verses were in another key.

    4 pts MJ Cole- The 90s in North America were full to bursting with black R&B divas with almost interchangeable songs, vocal tricks and rhymes. Ah yes, here we have the ‘eyes/disguise’ and the ‘what to do/know it’s true’ of pop. It’s fine for what it is, but it ain’t all that.

    3 pts- The Undertones This is just a hop skip and a Morris Dance away from a novelty song. It’s not without charm, but the regional references do nothing for me.

    2 pts- Steve Lawrence- The best thing about Steve and Eydie, was Eydie and what I liked best about their 1970s television specials was the banter, not the singing. This song is vanilla do wop.

    1pt- The Move- This is why 70s big hair rock gets such a bad name. It’s sloppy and insincere.

  22. 22
    Clapham Mal on 11 May 2010 #

    You really have put me off work this mornig – will take buckets of cofefe to get me back on track!!

    My first thoughts would have to be:
    The Undertones
    The Family Stand
    Kellis
    MJ Cole
    Steve Lawrence
    The Move

    But then I read some of the comments and now think I need to listen again, and again, and again…

  23. 23
    David Belbin on 11 May 2010 #

    6 – The Undertones were the first band I saw at Rock City, shortly after this single was a hit. Fantastic
    5 – Kelis – I saw Kelis in the dance tent at Glastonbury in 03, when she was outstanding. This is good, but not great
    4 – The Move – Love The Move, but this is minor. I just downloaded the only extant live recording of ELO with Roy Wood. It’s dire.
    3 – The Family Stand – I did buy this, a 10p ex jukebox copy from Music Inn on the Alfreton Road, doesn’t seem to have worn too well
    2 – MJ Cole – don’t remember this, but it’s quite good
    1 – Steve Lawrence – whereas this is pretty horrible

  24. 24
    Mike Atkinson on 11 May 2010 #

    We must have been at the same gig, then! In fact, The Undertones played the opening night at Rock City – although the honour of being the first band ever to play there falls to their support act: Orange Juice.

  25. 25
    Tina on 11 May 2010 #

    Points wise:
    6 – The Undertones – I also was at that Rock City gig, indeed the very first ever at Rock City – in fact my good friend Tony, now a pillar of Australian society, was one of those who stormed the stage to have a good pogo and was next day dismissed as a lout by that august organ, the Nottingham Evening Post. Love the band, we even named our son after one of their tracks (not this one!)
    5 – Kelis – I’m not so well up on the happening tunes of today but this sounds like a cracker.
    4 – Steve Lawrence – catchy
    3 – Family Stand
    2 – M J Cole
    1 – The Move – they made many a fine record but this isn’t one of them.

    So glad this is back. I am planning to vote on merit, rather than being overly swayed by nostalgic generational predispositions as requested by Mike, but I can’t just ignore my past history with the Undertones, they hold a special place in my heart.

  26. 26
    Lionel d'Lion on 11 May 2010 #

    Good to see this back again. The votes from the leonine jury are:

    6 – Undertones
    5 – MJ Cole
    4 – Kelis
    3 – The Move
    2 – The Family Stand
    1 – Steve Lawrence

  27. 27
    Amanda S on 11 May 2010 #

    6 Points – The Undertones – For the lyrics
    5 Points – MJ Cole – For her voice
    4 Points – Kelis
    3 Points – The Family Stand
    2 Points – The Move
    1 Point – Steve Lawrence – Have pizzicato strings ever worked in pop?

  28. 28
    Mike Atkinson on 11 May 2010 #

    Interesting. Kelis made a strong start, breaking well ahead of the pack – but five consecutive first placings for The Undertones have reduced her lead to just two points.

    Meanwhile, it’s neck and neck between MJ Cole and The Family Stand in mid-table – and it’s equally close between Steve Lawrence and The Move at the bottom of the table.

  29. 29
    jo on 11 May 2010 #

    1960 Footsteps – Steve Lawrence
    1970 The Move – Brontosaurus
    1990 The Family Stand – Ghetto Heaven
    1980 The Undertones – My Perfect Cousin
    2000 MJ Cole – Crazy Love
    2010 Kelis – Acapella

    UGGGGGH!

  30. 30
    Steve Mannion on 11 May 2010 #

    6 points: The Family Stand
    – Amazingly I’d never heard the original until now! It may help that I’ve been listenining and thinking about stuff from 20 years a lot (I mean more than usual) lately but the remix has retained its power via the potent combo of orchestral and vocal grace with street beats. The original lacks the strings but has more of a Mantronixy vibe I can get with just as readily.

    5 points: Kelis
    – A solid study in how to create a euphoric electro-house hit – reminds me of the Carl Craig remix of Goldfrapp’s ‘Fly Me Away’. Easy for me to like.

    4 points: MJ Cole
    – I tend to find Cole (and this kind of 2Step in general) in refined “smooth+happy” mode as dull as it is pleasant so this is a middleweight. Love ‘Sincere’ a lot but this follow up has never done much for me.

    3 points: The Undertones
    – Probably heard this at least once in the past but haven’t remembered. As vivacious yet one-dimensional as I expected but I’m feeling little patience for someone just having a bit of a whinge about their annyoing relatives, sorry Fergs.

    2 points: The Move
    – First time hearing. Great title (and sleeve). The slowness could be a drag or it could be raucous fun. Likely a poor man’s effort against similar Bowie and T Rex stuff from the time. Don’t really like it but hard to pin down why without more listens (but it doesn’t really deserve them).

    1 point: Steve Lawrence
    – I’m finding the chirpiness and simplicity of this annoying which is probably unfair and inconsistent but again it seems like there’s plenty of better equivalents.

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