Finally, the moment of ABSOLUTE POP TRUTH is upon us! And my goodness, what a nail-biter of a contest this has been. Halfway through the voting, two decades broke decisively ahead of the pack, establishing a lead that proved impossible to catch up with. Although one of them looked to have the edge, its rival chased it hard, making up crucial lost ground in the closing stages and ensuring a RIVETING PHOTO-FINISH. Oh yes.
Meanwhile, the bottom four decades enjoyed a right old ding-dong, jostling each other furiously and never bowing out of the fight. The gap between the lower four was every bit as close as the gap between the upper two, making this year’s “Which Decade” our CLOSEST! CONTEST! EVER!
Shall we proceed? Yes, perhaps we should. Lord knows, you’ve waited long enough.
NOTE: For extra at-a-glance clarity, I have designated the 20 top scoring records as HITS, the middle 20 as MAYBES, and the 20 lowest as MISSES.
Sixth place: The Seventies.
Cumulative average score: 32.31 points.
Share of the vote: 15.39%
Norman Greenbaum – Spirit In The Sky. 4.84 points, first place.
Christie – Yellow River. 4.12 points, 2nd place.
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Travellin’ Band. 3.68 points, 3rd place.
The Moody Blues – Question. 3.41 points, joint 3rd place.
Dana – All Kinds Of Everything. 2.92 points, joint last place.
The Hollies – I Can’t Tell The Bottom From The Top. 2.90 points, 4th place.
Frijid Pink – House Of The Rising Sun. 2.80 points, 4th place.
The Move – Brontosaurus. 2.73 points, 5th place.
Tom Jones – Daughter Of Darkness. 2.70 points, last place.
England World Cup Squad – Back Home. 2.21 points, last place.
Some time towards the end of the Seventies, I remember the sprawling, noodly blues-rock of Chicago’s “I’m A Man” popping up as a Golden Oldie on Tony Blackburn’s Radio One show. “That was a hit in 1970, when the heavier stuff used to get in the charts”, Blackburn explained, as the record faded out. Lethal pause. “Aren’t you glad it’s not still 1970!” he chuckled, brightly.
Based on this miserable showing (one winning song, three losing songs, six misses out of ten), it looks as if most of you have taken Blackburn’s line. This was our most rock-centric Top Ten, with Frigid Pink, The Move, CCR, Norman Greenbaum and the Moody Blues all representing aspects of the dominant heavy-and-hairy mindset, to varying degrees. Perhaps heavy-and-hairy doesn’t play too well round these pop-centric parts. Or perhaps it was simply a matter of poor representation; if Sabbath or The Stones or Hendrix or Free had popped up, things might have been different.
But that’s not quite the full story, either. Although only seven years old when the Sixties ended, I can remember picking up on a general feeling of wow-how-fabulous-was-that fondness for the passing decade, followed by a rather self-conscious, laboured attempt at heralding the dawn of a shiny new techno-utopian future. “The sensational… SEVENTIES?” No, this didn’t yet sound quite right.
So, you could argue that pop culture was still in the grip of a post-Sixties hangover, awaiting new directions that had yet to manifest themselves. Exactly how did you follow the most progressive and revolutionary decade that anyone had ever witnessed? Decimalisation? Bond bugs? Edward Heath? Hotpants? Dana?
And speaking of the most progressive and revolutionary decade ever…
Fifth place: The Sixties.
Cumulative average score: 32.81 points.
Share of the vote: 15.62%
Brenda Lee – Sweet Nothin’s. 5.00 points, first place.
The Everly Brothers – Cathy’s Clown. 4.24 points, 3rd place.
Elvis Presley – Stuck On You. 4.02 points, joint first place.
Anthony Newley – Do You Mind?. 3.81 points, 2nd place.
Cliff Richard & The Shadows – Fall In Love With You. 3.34 points, 4th place.
Jimmy Jones – Handy Man. 3.05 points, 5th place.
Adam Faith – Someone Else’s Baby. 2.50 points, last place.
Lonnie Donegan – My Old Man’s A Dustman. 2.44 points, last place.
King Brothers – Standing On The Corner. 2.23 points, last place.
Steve Lawrence – Footsteps. 2.18 points, last place.
When I started reading the weekly music press in late 1973/early 1974, received rock-crit wisdom had it that 1960 was The Worst Year For Pop Music Ever. Caught in a post-rock-n-roll/pre-Beatles dip, the charts were easy prey for a re-assertion of Tin Pan Alley values, drowning us all in a soup of sappy moon-in-june-isms. Or so the canonical-boomer-rockists would have you believe.
If this particular selection is at all representative, then the received wisdom might have been selling 1960 somewhat short – for there’s a good deal more than mooning, juneing and spooning going on here. Adam Faith wants to steal your girl, basically for the shits and giggles. Jimmy Jones will get with anyone who’ll have him, in the guise of mending broken hearts (cute line, not buying it for a second). Anthony Newley wouldn’t mind, but he can barely get the words out. The King Brothers would love to, but they’ve yet to progress beyond the phwooar-cop-a-load-of-that stage. The Everlys are betrayed and bitter, dodging the public flak. And Brenda Lee knows it’s all a game, and that she’s been dealt the strongest hand. All this, from a cultural lull? Pfft, you can keep your Merseybeat!
Having dispensed with our two oldest decades, we now arrive at our two newest decades, starting with…
Fourth place: The Teens.
Cumulative average score: 33.01 points.
Share of the vote: 15.72%
Kelis – Acapella. 4.82 points, first place.
Plan B – She Said. 4.71 points, first place.
Professor Green – I Need You Tonight. 3.86 points, 2nd place.
Diana Vickers – Once. 3.40 points, 4th place.
Usher – OMG. 3.16 points, 5th place.
Aggro Santos ft Kimberly Wyatt – Candy. 2.92 points, joint last place.
Taio Cruz ft Ke$ha – Dirty Picture. 2.80 points, last place.
Pendulum – Watercolour. 2.49 points, 5th place.
Chipmunk – Until You Were Gone (ft. Esmee Denters). 2.45 points, 5th place.
Roll Deep – Good Times. 2.41 points, 5th place.
Whatever you might think of our 2010 Top Ten, you can’t deny that a) it has an identifiable overall character, b) it sounds like NOW, not even like twelve months ago, c) it’s really really YOUNG, d) it’s really really BRASH, and e) eeh, it’s REALLY REALLY NOISY.
“Visit my website!” “Text me your tits!” “Let’s get wasted!” “WOH-OH-OH-OH-OH!” The messages are anything but subtle, and the instrumentation is all PARP PARP THUMP THUMP POW-POW-POW: a return to club-banging dance, but in a condensed, compressed format. All peaks, all the time: shorn of syncopation, breakdowns and builds, light and shade. Rappers turned pop stars. Grime acts going fuck it, time we got paid. R&B shape-shifters, embracing Guetta’s and Gaga’s electro-throb. Late night shopping, high street bopping, sponsored T-shirts on Carnage bar crawls. Blaring, crass and instant. But when you compare it to…
Third place: The Noughties.
Cumulative average score: 33.72 points.
Share of the vote: 16.06%
Sweet Female Attitude – Flowers. 4.60 points, first place, most popular.
Fragma – Toca’s Miracle. 3.62 points, 4th place.
Toni Braxton – He Wasn’t Man Enough. 3.58 points, 3rd place.
Sisqó – Thong Song. 3.47 points, 3rd place.
Mandy Moore – Candy. 3.45 points, 3rd place.
MJ Cole – Crazy Love. 3.39 points, 3rd place.
Bloodhound Gang – The Bad Touch. 3.20 points, 3rd place.
Oxide And Neutrino – Bound 4 Da Reload (Casualty). 3.12 points, 4th place.
Craig David – Fill Me In. 3.03 points, 5th place.
True Steppers Featuring Dane Bowers – Buggin’. 2.25 points, last place.
…you might find that less has changed than you first thought. Mandy’s “Candy” and Aggro’s “Candy”: there’s always room for confectionary-based metaphor. Taio wants your dirty picture; the Bloodhounds want you doggy style, for mutual televisual convenience. Usher’s clocking “boobies” (like wow oh wow), while Sisqó’s all over your “dumps” (like a truck, thighs like what). Roll Deep are gonna leave the day behind, gonna have a real good time; Fragma need a miracle, more than physical. Oxide and Neutrino, the grime godfathers, setting wheels in motion; Chipmunk and Professor Green, their prodigal spawn, selling off the family silver.
From whispered sweet nothings at high school hops, to slurping single-entendres in gaudy pleasure palaces: as the taboos fell away from sexuality, so the songs became less allusive and more assertive. Other moral compasses may vary.
All that aside, our 2000 chart represents something of a high water mark for UK Garage, even as the first signs of schism were starting to appear. With UKG making up 50% of our top ten, I was expecting high marks all down the line – but as it turned out, only Sweet Female Attitude’s “Flowers” fully convinced you. As for the rest, most of the 2000 tracks ended up floating around in mid-table, neither particularly loved nor particularly loathed.
So much for the old; so much for the new. There was never any real doubt that our middle two decades would triumph: but in what order? Well now, here’s a surprise…
Second place: The Eighties.
Cumulative average score: 38.90 points.
Share of the vote: 18.52%
Blondie – Call Me. 5.11 points, 2nd place.
The Undertones – My Perfect Cousin. 4.53 points, 2nd place.
Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Geno. 4.44 points, 2nd place.
Sky – Toccata. 4.17 points, first place.
Motörhead – Leaving Here. 4.02 points, joint first place.
David Essex – Silver Dream Machine. 3.97 points, 2nd place.
Paul McCartney – Coming Up. 3.94 points, 2nd place.
Rodney Franklin – The Groove. 3.47 points, 3rd place.
Hot Chocolate – No Doubt About It. 3.32 points, 4th place.
Johnny Logan – What’s Another Year? 1.91 points, last place.
They might have topped the leader board all the way down the line, but halfway through the voting in the final round, the Eighties finally started to wobble. Johnny Logan’s disastrous showing in the Number Twos had weakened their position, and Dexys’ failure to overtake Madonna proved to be the final straw. The late votes in previous rounds didn’t help, either: David Essex was inches behind Stevie V, Blondie had Adamski in their sights… but each time, the Eighties had to settle for second best.
That said, any chart with Blondie, Dexys and The Undertones in it was always going to do well – but what of the shock result for Sky, whose polite take on symphonic prog provided a neat bookend to the Moody Blues’ early progressive dabblings? And for a habitually rock-averse crowd, who would have expected a Motörhead track to triumph – still less a live Motörhead track? Elsewhere, Seventies stalwarts David Essex and Hot Chocolate consciously attempted to Move With The Times, while Paul McCartney just did what he damned well pleased, and sounded all the better for it.
With seven tracks finishing in the top two positions, this was a strong showing indeed. But in the final analysis, the ULTIMATE POP VICTORY belonged to…
First place: The Nineties.
Cumulative average score: 39.25 points.
Share of the vote: 18.69%
Adamski – Killer. 5.17 points, first place.
Snap! – The Power. 4.92 points, 2nd place.
Madonna – Vogue. 4.59 points, first place.
The Adventures Of Stevie V – Dirty Cash. 4.37 points, first place.
Paula Abdul With The Wild Pair – Opposites Attract. 3.66 points, 3rd place.
Alannah Myles – Black Velvet. 3.41 points, joint third place.
UB40 – Kingston Town. 3.40 points, 4th place.
The Family Stand – Ghetto Heaven. 3.35 points, 4th place.
Soul II Soul – A Dream’s A Dream. 3.28 points, 5th place.
Heart – All I Wanna Do is Make Love To You. 3.10 points, 5th place.
Their results may have been more varied than those of their closest rivals – but when the Nineties scored, they scored BIG. “Killer”, “Vogue”, “The Power”, “Dirty Cash”… these were the tunes that really swung it, earning high marks across the board. And even at the other end of the scale, nothing from 1990 truly offended you: even the bottom-placed Heart record still managed to average over three points.
For those of you who have followed Which Decade in previous years at my old blog, this victory might seem all the more remarkable. Since the project began in 2003, the Nineties have never placed higher than the bottom two, making them the least successful pop decade of all time… until now, that is.
Could this be the start of a renaissance for the music of twenty years ago? Will the Nineties be riding equally high this time next year, when we examine the charts of 1961, 1971, 1981, 1991, 2001 and 2011? Time alone will tell. But for now, let us salute the decade of grunge, rave, Britpop, drum and bass, trance, big beat, IDM, gangsta rap, acid jazz, handbag house, girl-power pop, etc etc: NINETEEN NINETIES, YOU ARE OUR WINNERS! WE SALUTE YOUR INHERENT POP SUPERIORITY!
I’ll be back in May 2011, ready to continue our collective quest. In the meantime, as the credits roll, here’s a diagrammatic representation of the waxing and waning fortunes of this year’s pop decades. Round numbers are on the X-axis, and cumulative percentages of the total vote are on the Y-axis. Hope you’ve enjoyed yourselves! See you next year!