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May 11

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops 2011: the Number 9s

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops56 comments • 2,156 views

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!

CLICK HERE FOR THE SCORES SO FAR.

Comments

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  1. 31
    thefatgit on 11 May 2011 #

    6 pts- Johnny Dankworth
    5 pts- Electronic
    4 pts- Gorillaz
    3 pts- Landscape
    2 pts- Beyonce
    1 pts- The Fantastics

    Better quality than I first imagined.
    To begin, the single point goes to The Fantastics. I recognise it from an old R1 Saturday morning feature (forget which DJ, DLT probably) where the wedding dedications would accompanied by 4 songs: old, new, borrowed, blue. It usually threw up some pretty sickly dross. As a kid, I got to dislike quite a few choices on this slot, but then I wasn’t aware of the allure of the xx chromosone then.
    Beyonce adds little of worth to the otherwise excellent Dancehall-Electro of Major Lazer.
    Anybody mentioned “Norman Bates” yet? I preferred it’s synth-noir stylings to “Einstein A-Go-Go” but it’s not bad having said that. I tend to file them under “novelty” but that’s a little harsh. Devo tribute may be a little more accurate. Oh, and one of Landscape (Andy Pask) co-wrote The Bill theme tune!
    I would have marked the Ed Case mix higher than 4, but this stood head and shoulders above everything (well almost) else in 2001, for me.
    “Get The Message”? *listens*…Oh, it’s this one! I really like it, but having to be reminded of how it goes suggests the song’s charm doesn’t endure, so it misses the full marks.
    So top marks for Johnny Dankworth. I hate to use the word “retro”, but in the wake of Mad Men and the inherent coolness of 60’s film scores, I’m really enjoying the vibe. Imagine wearing sharp italian tailored linen suit and sipping a hot, sweet coffee in a Marrakesh cafe, watching the world go by with Dankworth’s rhythms in the background. Evocative.

  2. 32
    byebyepride on 11 May 2011 #

    6 points – Electronic
    5 points – Beyonce
    4 points – Landscape
    3 points – Johnny Dankworth
    2 points – The Fantastics
    1 point – Gorillaz

    I still like the Electronic track a lot, but listening to it once every five years or so seems about right… The Beyonce I haven’t heard before but is reminding me of some of the Missy Elliot tracks that used to turn ILM upside down every so often… Landscape had some nice noises on it, Dankworth was an interesting curio, and literally ANYTHING ON EARTH has to be better than the Gorillaz.

  3. 33
    byebyepride on 11 May 2011 #

    Ah, having read the comments I see that Beyonce is getting credit from me for someone else’s WTF production jam. Might have to check out the Major Lazer album next then.

  4. 34
    RobMiles on 11 May 2011 #

    This is quite tough as I don’t really like any of them, but here goes.

    6 – Johnny Dankworth. Mainly because my Grandad knew him. (Sorry for name dropping)
    5 – Electronic
    4 – Landscape
    3 – The Fantastics. Bland but inoffensive.
    2 – Beyonce. I’d like it better if she wasn’t singing.
    1 – Gorillaz. Damon’s voice ruins it for me.

  5. 35
    Erithian on 12 May 2011 #

    6 pts 1981 – Landscape. It was the tunes, as much as anything else, which made early 80s pop so refreshing, and I was whistling the hook to this most of yesterday. Yes, there’s the background of IMPENDING NUCLEAR DOOM, but it was a funny record, and would send you to the bunker with a smile on your face. Combining lyrics about judgment day with the chorus “you better watch out, you better beware, Albert said that E=mc2 “, what’s not to like?

    5 pts 1991 – Electronic. I was watching that compilation of clips on BBC4’s 1991 theme night with recurring thoughts of “hey, this stuff was really good, you know” (with one or two exceptions, Gary Clail). This highly hummable and amiable, if less than dramatic, record among them. Good to hear it again.

    4 pts 1971 – Fantastics. Since we’re among friends and (I hope) they can’t touch you for it, I’ll say this – when I was on jury service a few years ago, we acquitted (and rightly so I think) a former member of the Fantastics who was up on an assault charge. Not a classic, but a good old pop tune in the spirit of the times.

    3 pts 2001 – Gorillaz. So this half-speed version was the original, and the rather better, faster version was the remix? I clearly wasn’t paying attention in 2001. Not bad at all though.

    2 pts 1961 – Johnny Dankworth. Hadn’t heard it before, it’s good, although I don’t go quite such a bundle on it as others on here. But this was an indication of a possible future for pop in 1961 – trad jazz, and this more original kind, were booming in the post-RnR, pre-Beatles world, and this could have been the dominant idiom in the years to come. Cool.

    1 pt 2011 – Beyonce. She’s too good a singer to produce something that sounds like Rihanna on a bad day backed by a steelworks.

  6. 36
    Ed on 12 May 2011 #

    6 pts 2011 Beyonce. “Rihanna backed by a steelworks” is right, but if anything it is even better than that makes it sound. A monster.

    5 pts 1961 Johnny Dankworth. Really cool; most other weeks this would have been a 6. A revelation about the charts of 50 years ago, it is as radical a smash hit as Hendrix or the Prodigy.

    4 pts 2001 Gorillaz. Whoever said the rap redeems it is right, but i still find it hard to have much of an opinion about this. They went on to do much better.

    3 pts 1971 The Fantastics. The Averages would have been more accurate.

    2 pts 1981 Landscape. Back in the day, we would argue about which of the supposedly disposable hits of our era would stand the test of time. I thought this would. I was wrong.

    1 pt 1991 Electronic. So dull it literally brought tears to my eyes. Never thought I would miss Peter Hook and Morrissey so badly. In fact, I missed Gillian Gilbert and Mike Joyce, too.

    Good thing ‘Fast Car’ wasn’t in there, as the system doesn’t seem to allow for negative marks ;)

  7. 37
    DietMondrian on 13 May 2011 #

    6 – Electronic
    5 – Johnny Dankworth
    4 – Landscape
    3 – Gorillaz
    2 – The Fantastics
    1 – Beyonce

  8. 38
    AndyPandy on 13 May 2011 #

    6 – Johnny Dankworth
    5 – Landscape
    4 – The Fantastics
    3 – Beyonce
    2 – Electronic
    1 – Gorillaz

  9. 39

    6: Run The World (Girls) – Beyonce
    What first caught my ear re Destiny’s Child was the tensile detail of their rhythmic robo-precision. I love the casual megalomania of this, but I can’t decide if Beyonce has ever really put together a post-DC team that allows her to stretch and bend the beat across the lines she’s riding with such trust and such daring. More of this feels like fluffed transitions than it should; but group psychology could (maybe) validate it. I guess I just prefer team sports to solo work.
    5: Clint Eastwood – Gorillaz
    I think if I’d spent the 90s immersed in the pop wars I might actually share the outraged disdain some of you have for this — but to me it’s the sound of the summer I started listening again, and it came without any baggage. Laidback simplicity is hard for white rock-based pop, which is always over-anxious about its “intellectual signature”, and to me, this dodges that anxiety comfortably. My lay-off protected me from the feeling that this is a bigger surprise than it is, Albarn being who HE is, etc.
    4: African Waltz – Johnny Dankworth
    Lovely ensemble sound and very evocative parade of sleeves on the youtube video, as JD moves into the film soundtrack trade — nothing much breaks up or away from the main riff (try out the Cannonball Adderley Orc version, from the same year, for a less lumbering, faintly more “African” rhythm section). This is the kind of music — a likeable if not perhaps the exciting example — that rock drove from the charts (a crime); and that anti-rock, whatever its pretensions, never managed to bring back (another).
    3: Einstein A Go-Go – Landscape
    The birth of the hardcore continuum! Very political, very silly, very let down by the singing.
    2: Get The Message – Electronic
    If “Clint Eastwood” reminds me of my full re-entry into pop in 2001, Electronic are part of my farewell to it in 1991: I was dep-ed at The Wire, and had my hands and ears full of what that mag was meant to be covering (or actually of just getting it out every month); didn’t have time to actually FOLLOW music! Electronic combine one thing I really like that most of his fans feel a bit guilty about (Barney’s voice) with another thing his fans slatheringly adore and I’m a bit underimpressed by (Marr’s guitar); so it was a combo I found potentially interesting. Like “Clint Eastwood” it’s laid back and slight; but this time to (at best) pleasantly nondescript effect.
    1 Something Old Something New – The Fantastics
    Maybe a bit unfair to remark on this 40 years later, but it doesn’t exactly deliver on the “new” there in the title. A style of soul I generally enjoy a lot, but a pretty tired and clumsy example.

  10. 40
    AndyPandy on 15 May 2011 #

    just seen a good description of the this track by the Fantastics on youtube “70’s youth club pop-soul” – think that about sums it up- I wasn’t at youth clubs in the early 70s but I can imagine them putting it on between the T Rex and the Slade

  11. 41
    wichita lineman on 15 May 2011 #

    That link isn’t the Fantastics’ original, it’s some TOTP-style remake. There’s prob not enough of a difference to make everyone suddenly give it 6, but I was wondering why everyone thought it was QUITE so weak!

    Here’s the 1971 single version:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4x9IhZdOUg&feature=related

    Much fuller, warmer, youthclubbier.

    Macaulay/Greenaway/Cook were also the team behind Edison Lighthouse’s Love Grows.

  12. 42
    swanstep on 16 May 2011 #

    @wichita. That’s quite a lot better! As well as the singer’s better tone, the backing vox *really* lift things. If we all redid our scores, I’d now take this over Gorillaz and possibly Beyonce (so 1->2/3).

  13. 43
    Lena on 17 May 2011 #

    None of these songs are exactly grabbing me, but that may well be because I associate them – the ones that I knew already – with times that could best be described as ‘interesting’.

    6pts – Electronic – Only works if you see the video with its many quotation marks; New Pop giants get together to make a song that is like a big shiny postcard and Barney is once again with a woman he can’t keep…the lyrics aren’t so much fridge magnets as pointers to something maybe too sordid or complex to talk about. Then Johnny’s wah-wah comes in and I begin to think the song is a kindly New Order parody. Hmm….

    5pts – Johnny Dankworth – The ghost of many things to come, and it’s Canadian – how could I not love it?

    4pts – Beyonce – On the youtube comments list there seems to be a split between those who love and those who hate; this in the meantime is another missive from Queen B(ee) on how the world actually works…(part of me cannot help but think of “Women Around The World At Work” by Martha and the Muffins, another song patiently waiting to be sampled)…I like this more than love it, hence the mark.

    3pts – Gorillaz – The spring of ’01 was not kind to me; I essentially had a cold that turned into bronchitis and watched way, way too many videos, even as my hearing partially went. So all the music from this time I remember in a feverish, hazy state, and this was just a bit too much for me then, as it is now. (Even though they are a cartoon band, I can never process them as one; it’s always Albarn & Co. to me.)

    2pts – Landscape – HUH? It’s better than Duran Duran’s line “You’re about as easy as a nuclear war” (said with Le Bon’s gestures to emphasize just how *difficult* he’s finding her today) but this time lent itself to all kinds of well-meant but awkward gestures; already I anticipate having to explain that for a while there everyone thought the world was going to end…and so songs like this one were written. Oh dear, the lead singer’s voice *indeed*.

    1pt – The Fantastics – Precisely the sort of pop that ushered in the mellow 70s, a time when all those wacky lovestruck kids decided to get married; I can’t imagine anyone really loving this song, though, as it’s just…there. Nice enough, for what it is.

  14. 44
    jeff w registered on 18 May 2011 #

    6pts – Landscape. I loved this at the time, recently re-acquired it on one of those “100 80s Hits!” type box sets. Still like it. Lyrics? What are they? It’s all about the whistling synth innit.

    5pts – J Dankworth. RIP, sir. Classy stuff as ever.

    4pts – Beyonce. I’ve only heard this once and I applauded the intention then, even if doesn’t quite come off from a musical perspective. Nice to see the limited melodic range in the vocal is still there. One of these days B will release a track which is literally sung all on a monotone.

    3pts – Electronic
    2pts – Fantastics
    1pt – BLURILLAZ!

  15. 45
    swanstep on 23 May 2011 #

    Beyonce doing Run the world at some award show. I knew it, B. wouldn’t let any of us not like this song for long. It’s funny, for all its problems, the music industry has real star power/glamour these days (Hollywood by way of contrast feels franchise heavy and almost star free). Amazing.

  16. 46
    lonepilgrim on 30 May 2011 #

    any news on the Number 8s?

  17. 47
    Alan not logged in on 5 Jul 2011 #

    bump

  18. 48
    Mike Atkinson on 5 Jul 2011 #

    Number 8s coming later tonight, folks.

  19. 49
    Mark M on 5 Jul 2011 #

    Re 48: exciting!

  20. 50
    lonepilgrim on 5 Jul 2011 #

    Hooray!

  21. 51
    Al Ewing on 7 Jul 2011 #

    Better late than never dept:

    6 – Landscape
    5 – Fantastics
    4 – Electronics
    3 – Johnny Dankworth
    2 – Beyonce
    1 – Gorillaz

  22. 52
    grange85 on 7 Jul 2011 #

    6 points – Dankworth – More instrumental loveliness… I think I have a problem with singing and not having singing generally makes a song better.
    5 points – Electronic – If I ever went to an indie disco I might stop hating it for a couple of mins while this was on.
    4 points – Gorillaz – Ploddy and repetitive and Albarn’s whine… but it was OK
    3 points – Landscape – Of course I knew this one but I had no idea who it was by… still don’t.
    2 points – Beyonce – See what I said about singing up there… here’s evidence to support it.
    1 points – Fantastics – Sounds like a billion others – and most of those are better.

  23. 53
    Lionel d'Lion on 22 Jul 2011 #

    6 points: Landscape
    5 points: The Fantastics
    4 points: Gorillaz
    3 points: Electronic
    2 points: Johnny Dankworth
    1 point: Beyonce

  24. 54
    Clair on 24 Jul 2011 #

    Neil and I give the following scores:

    1 pt : Beyonce
    2 pts : The Fantastics
    3 pts : Electronic
    4 pts : Johnny dankworth
    5 pts : Landscape
    6 pts : Gorillaz

  25. 55
    hardtogethits on 25 Jul 2011 #

    6 Electronic
    5 Gorillaz
    4 Landscape
    3 Beyonce
    2 Johnny Dankworth
    1 Fantastics

    An obvious pecking order for me, but a higher standard than could be expected.

  26. 56
    asta on 21 Aug 2011 #

    ( re-posting because first attempt seems to have disappeared into the ether)

    Sorry for taking so long to get to these. This may be the only year I will applaud you Mike for taking so long with them; it give me time to catch up.

    6 pts: Dankworth- Funny that thefagit mentioned MadMen. Listening to this I immediately pictured the cast at a half-time college football game. Any marching band could play this today, with a beefed up drumline, and win nationals.

    5. Beyonce- The sentiment is ridiculous, but that never stopped Beyonce. Not much does. What makes this for me is the the work of Tofo Tofo and Beyonce’s determination to include their style in her video, determination that led to her, not the video director, choreographer, or the label or anyone else, but her hiring the troupe for dance lessons.

    4 pts: Gorillaz- I may be one for the few who liked this from the beginning. then again it hit my ears at a time when I was just discovering what was happening in popular music in England and I had no prior conceptions of what to expect. I simply heard the album and fell for it.

    3 pts: Electronics- This band may have been attempting languid and detached but delivered listless and bored. the only thing that saves it from total torpor is the bassline

    2 pts: The Fantastics- this is the theme song for the long lost pilot of A Very Brad WEdding: Carol and Mike at the Altar.

    1 pt: Landscape- Dreck

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