12
May 10

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? Round 2: the Number 9s.

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops74 comments • 1,690 views

Historical background note: Phase One of “Which Decade”, which ran for seven years on my old blog, was nearly always timed to coincide with my birthday week in mid-February. So I’m glad that Phase Two has shifted to May – partly because February’s charts tend to suffer from the back end of the post-Christmas dip, but mainly because they rarely capture the musical essence of the forthcoming year, which usually takes a little longer to define itself.

Looking at Monday’s opening selections, all of which possess at least some discernible measure of merit, it looks as if the decision might have been justified. But as we count our way up our six Top Tens, will quality prevail? Only one way to find out! Let’s wheel out the Number Nines.

1960: Lonnie Donegan – My Old Man’s A Dustman (video) (Tom’s post on Popular)
1970: Creedence Clearwater Revival – Travelin’ Band (video)
1980: Hot Chocolate – No Doubt About It (video)
1990: Heart – All I Wanna Do is Make Love To You (video)
2000: Sweet Female Attitude – Flowers (video)
2010: Professor Green – I Need You Tonight (feat. Ed Drewett) (video)


(Download the MP3 medley)

He might have made his name as the King of Skiffle, but twenty-one chart entries down the line, Lonnie Donegan had begun to sound a lot more music hall – doubtless to the dismay of the purists, but when did chart pop ever give two hoots about what they thought?

Fittingly, the song was recorded in front of a live audience – and I’m proud to report that the venue in question was the Gaumont cinema (later renamed the Odeon) in my home town of Doncaster. (I’d love to know whether my dear old Dad knew anyone in the audience, but I never thought to ask.) Twelve years later, Chuck Berry deployed the same tactic with “My Ding-A-Ling”, which was recorded live in Coventry – and eight years after that, a live recording at the very same venue topped the charts for The Specials. But I digress.

What bugs me the most about “Dustman” – and Lord knows, there’s a long enough list to choose from – is the way that it so blatantly signposts its punchlines, as both performer and audience build up to crescendos of forced mirth that explode over the song like a salvo of sneezes. Perhaps that was the tradition – but oh, how grating it sounds to modern ears.

There is one moment that does tickle me, though, and you’ll hear it on the MP3 medley. It comes at the end of the intro, when a lone audience member shrieks with laughter at the word “flipping”. Ooh-er missus! Sounds a bit RUDE! I’m so glad it’s not 1960 anymore.

And speaking of the bafflingly dated: what was it about the amiable but unremarkable bar-room boogie of Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s “Travelin’ Band” that sent it scuttling into so many Top Tens around the world? I’ve nothing against amiable bar-room boogie per se – although I prefer its toughed-up mid-Seventies pub rock mutations, from the likes of Eddie & the Hot Rods and Dr Feelgood – but as an actual song, “Travelin’ Band” is slight stuff indeed.

Not to mention derivative; its similarity to Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly” gave rise to a threatened lawsuit, which was settled out of court. Can’t say I noticed the resemblance myself, but my partner spotted it instantly, and without any prompting.

The bafflement continues! I’ve never fully understood how Hot Chocolate managed to sustain their hit-making career for so long, notching up twenty-five hits over fourteen years, given their seeming lack of any identifiable fan base. I’ve never met a Hot Chocolate fan, and I’m not convinced they ever existed in any significant numbers. Did any form of anticipatory buzz surround their releases, or were they only ever as good as their last hit, perpetually having to prove themselves anew with every single? And if this was the case, then did this free them from the pressures of stylistic consistency, as their eclectic run of hits would suggest?

Here in May 1980, we find them flirting with sci-fi lite, like The Real Thing (“Can You Feel The Force?”) and Sarah Brightman (“I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper”) before them. Aliens and spaceships and related extra-terrestrial matters were a big deal at the time (the first Star Trek movie was still big at the box office, and The Empire Strikes Back was due out at the end of the month) and so the band picked its moment well – but once again, I’m fair itching to type the “dated” word.

Perhaps you’ve just caught me in a particularly jaded mood, but my memory of “No Doubt About It” – as a burbling, surging disco-pop curio – fails to match the somewhat strained and limping track which I hear today.

Oh crap, it’s a bloody power ballad. This isn’t going to lift my spirits one little bit, I fear. And yet, and yet… despite a long-held and unyielding aversion to the form, I find myself warming to Heart‘s hoary old schlock in a most peculiar way. Perhaps it’s the Glee effect, as I enjoyed the show’s reworking of Heart’s first UK hit “Alone” – very much against my better judgement, but that’s Glee for you – or perhaps I’m finally on the verge of shedding an unhelpful prejudice. That said, I do feel that the song would be improved by an uplifting Eurodance/NRG cover version – but wouldn’t they all?

(UPDATE: I have found an uplifting Eurodance/NRG cover version! But it isn’t very good! Oh well!)

But my main suspicion with Heart – and I have much the same problem with Starship – is that they were never really committed to the genre in which they found themselves operating, choosing commerical pragmatism over artistic preference. So it’s interesting to find this quote from Ann Wilson, who sings the track, in the liner notes for a 1995 live album: “Actually we had sworn off it because it kind of stood for everything we wanted to get away from […] but there was a lot of pressure on us to do the song at the time.” If that’s the case, then all credit to her for turning in a credible performance, cast in the role of baby-hungry hitchhiker-picker-upper. (No, I never listened that closely to the lyrics before, either. Surprising, isn’t it?)

Happily, there’s nothing remotely dated about Sweet Female Attitude‘s lone hit, which sounds as every bit as life-affirmingly glorious today as it did ten years ago. One of UK Garage’s finest ever moments, this is difficult for me to talk about without defaulting to dribbling gush – but I love its freshness, its urgency, its drive, its innocence, its spontaneity, and most of all its overwhelming sense of joy. I also like the contrast between the roughness of the rhythm track and the unforced sweetness of the vocals, and the way that the tumbling vocal cut-ups propel the track forwards.

Of the various mixes, the Sunship Edit was the one which got all the airplay, and frankly it’s the only one you need. Six points all round, then? Please don’t let me down.

Although I’m banking on unanimous love for “Flowers”, I’m a good deal less certain as to which way you’ll bend for our 2010 selection. On the evidence of “I Need You Tonight” (for I am a stranger to his earlier work), Professor Green is the sort of chirpy cheeky cockney chappie to whom many of you might well take violent exception – but I find myself mostly won over by his shtick.

The track is a cutely turned comic fable of come-uppance, with Green cast as the player who gets played right back. And “play” is the operative word here; this is dating viewed purely as a game, which leaves Green strolling away with a shrug and a grin and a can’t-blame-a-boy-for-trying attitude. The phone conversation at the start of the track is nicely done, as is Green’s disclaimer at the end – and while nothing particularly clever is achieved with the INXS sample that runs all the way through the track, the riff is still strong enough to withstand the repetition. Sure, it’s more Just Jack than Jay-Z – but there’s room for that, isn’t there?

Over to you, then. Kelis and The Undertones have pulled decisively ahead of the pack in Round One, with Steve Lawrence and The Move still battling it out for last place – but will this be a tighter race? Does Lonnie make you laugh? Is there room in your bar room for Creedence’s boogie? Are you that Hot Chocolate fan? Do power ballads float your boat? Does 2-step make you quickstep? (Look, it’s been a LONG DAY and I have a HANGOVER.) Or has Professor Green mapped your personal emotional landscape with almost unbearable accuracy? Tell me, do!

(Note: As before, I’ll keep a running total of the scores in the first comment of this thread.)

Comments

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  1. 61
    grange85 on 20 May 2010 #

    Dustman is dreadful, but I knew every lyric and gag so I guess I grew up with it and probably liked it when I did – sounds awful now. I found a list I made in the 80s that had Creedence’s Travellin’ Band as one of my fave songs, which is terrible – it was on a list with The Clash and Motorhead FFS! Listening now I get a nagging feeling that I still quite like it but can’t figure out why! The rest are all pretty poor too – this is such a hard round…

    6 – Creedence Clearwater Revival
    5 – Professor Green
    4 – Heart
    3 – Lonnie Donegan
    2 – Sweet Female Attitude
    1 – Hot Chocolate

  2. 62
    Martin on 22 May 2010 #

    6 points – Creedence Clearwater Revival
    5 points – Professor Green
    4 points – Lonnie Donegan
    3 points – Heart
    2 points – Hot Chocolate
    1 point – Sweet Female Attitude

    In the number 10s there was something to like about every track. Here there’s something to dislike about every track, even though the overall quality probably isn’t that much different. Very diverse group. Not a CCR fan, but that track is present as hell and rocks out. Poor Lonnie gets points for authenticity. The last two just don’t stick with me.

  3. 63
    Martin on 22 May 2010 #

    Mike @31: The thing is, this is popland. CCR fails on any pop metric, but they succeed on rock terms. If you like rock, you’ll prefer CCR to all the others. If you like pop, you’ll prefer all the others to CCR.

  4. 64
    Mark Davis on 22 May 2010 #

    6p: Creedence Clearwater Revival – Travelin’ Band
    5p: Heart – All I Wanna Do is Make Love To You
    4p: Professor Green – I Need You Tonight
    3p: Lonnie Donegan – My Old Man’s A Dustman
    2p: Sweet Female Attitude – Flowers
    1p: Hot Chocolate – No Doubt About It

    If I could give zero points to the last two I would. I don’t get how you guys like the sweet female attitude song at all.

  5. 65
    Ben on 23 May 2010 #

    6 – Sweet Female Attitude
    5 – Heart
    4 – Professor Green
    3 – CCR
    2 – Lonnie Donegan
    1 – Hot Chocolate

  6. 66
    Clair on 25 May 2010 #

    6 points – CCR
    5 points – lonnie donnegan
    4 points – sweet female attitude
    3 points – heart
    2 points – professor green
    1 point – hot chocolate

  7. 67
    Z on 29 May 2010 #

    Ooh, this is more like it – keen competition for last place. The final three could have come in any order, really. And a sixth track just makes it harder to decide.

    My husband has just come in the room and is giving me a funny look. Heh.

    6 points – Creedence Clearwater Revival – I’m not saying this is particularly good, just that it’s the one I enjoyed listening to most. Even on the third hearing.
    5 points – Heart – Yes, quite liked this
    4 points – Hot Chocolate – a bit off-key at the start, aren’t they?
    3 points – Professor Green – hated it first time, but it’s growing on me.
    2 points – Lonnie Donegan – oh dear, hasn’t worn well.
    1 point – Sweet Female Attitude. Sweet FA? Did they do that on purpose?

  8. 68
    crag on 31 May 2010 #

    pretty poor pickings IMO..
    6 Hot Chocolate
    5 Creedence
    4 Professor Green
    3 Heart
    2 Lonnie Donegan
    1 SFA

  9. 69
    Rachiesparrow on 3 Jun 2010 #

    Ooh, tough one this. At least 3 of them should get no points at all.

    6 SFA
    5 Professor green (I can’t help but love this – it’s a mystery to me why, but I do)
    4 Heart
    3 CCR
    2 Hot chocolate
    1 Lonnie Donnegan – nooo, I am going to be earworming this for DAYS

  10. 70
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 5 Jun 2010 #

    6: Sweet Female Attitude – Flowers
    5: Professor Green – I Need You Tonight (feat. Ed Drewett)
    4: Heart – All I Wanna Do is Make Love To You
    3: Hot Chocolate – No Doubt About It
    2: Creedence Clearwater Revival – Travelin’ Band
    1: Lonnie Donegan – My Old Man’s A Dustman

    haha, in exact reverse order of time’s passing! I AM MERLIN PH34R ME

    i would have marked HC a lot higher until it slumped out of the quite taut and intriguing black-science-fiction intro into the chorus, and i suddenly realised i knew it quite well and it’s dull dull dull

    ccr are a parody of themselves in this song

    i am a bit of a sucka for prof green’s kind of jilted john indie-uselessness: “it was meant to be GRATE but it’s rubbish” — the shadow side of any genre whatever! except actual indie obv

  11. 71
    i alex on 5 Jun 2010 #

    6p. All I Wanna Do is Make Love To You
    5p. I Need You Tonight
    4p. My Old Man’s A Dustman
    3p. Travelin’ Band
    2p. No doubt about it
    1p. Flowers

  12. 72
    RobMiles on 6 Jun 2010 #

    6 – Sweet Female Attitude. Funky but slightly melancholic.
    5 – Heart. Silly but irresistible.
    4 – Creedence Clearwater Revival
    3 – Hot Chocolate
    2 – Lonnie Donegan
    1 – Professor Green

  13. 73
    Tom Lawrence on 9 Jun 2010 #

    6 points – Sweet Female Attitude! AMAZING
    5. Heart – BOMBAST
    4. Creedence Clearwater – I have a lot of time for this sort of thing
    3. Professor Green – this thing is kind of pointless
    2. Lonnie Donergan – because my dear old grandad taught it to me!
    1. Hot Chocolate – just sits there

  14. 74
    sarlitchin on 10 Jun 2010 #

    6 points – SFA (the best of this bunch by a considerable margin)
    5 points – Hot Chocolate
    4 points – Professor Green
    3 points – Creedence Clearwater Revival
    2 points – Lonnie Donegan
    1 point – Heart

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