Apr 14

AQUA – “Doctor Jones”

Popular85 comments • 6,312 views

#783, 7th February 1998

doctorjones Delightful as “Doctor Jones” is, probably the most interesting thing about this record is that I’m covering it at all. “Barbie Girl” – smart as it was – was also obviously a novelty record: for Aqua to return not once but twice shows that Europop enjoyed more commercial clout in Britain than it had in years.

The classic form of Europop is the holiday smash, which sets some ground rules for the genre: it has to be catchy enough for anyone to recognise it on a minimum of encounters, and it should be essentially a-lingual – simple and nonsensical enough to make the idea of a language barrier a mockery. Pop that the polyglot audiences of Europe could embrace, when brought together in a sangria haze. With European Union – and the rise of pan-European cable channels – big cross-continental audiences weren’t just for holidays any more, and the 90s were a boom decade for Europop.

In the UK, meanwhile, Europop appealed to the new audiences being brought in by supermarkets and Woolworths. Kids liked it, casual record buyers liked it, students and post-students liked it, and it’s the sort of thing dedicated record shops tended to hold at arms’ length.

This feels a good entry to drop some broad Europop analysis in, because “Doctor Jones” is as straightforward as “Barbie Girl” was layered. It’s notionally about Indiana Jones, but there’s no sense of that in the song – only in the video, and then only as a game of dress-up (including, as Wikipedia helpfully warns us, a “stereotypical voodoo tribe”, perhaps in homage to the Indy films’ nuanced and well-researched portrayals of other cultures).

In fact, as a song “Doctor Jones” is “Barbie Girl” played absolutely deadpan: a cartoon romance two-hander – no song with Rene Dif on it is going to not be a cartoon. He sounds less slavering as he makes the transition from plastic action figure to cardboard pulp hero: Lene Nystrom sounds slightly more winsome switching from doll to damsel in distress.

What Aqua have also done, though, is absolutely stuff this song with hooks. “Barbie Girl” had two – the chorus and “let’s go party” – and they were both deliberately annoying. “Doctor Jones” bounces with them: a really pretty verse melody, “Baby I am missing you!”, the yippee-i-yoos, and a chorus just as catchy as “Barbie” but a bit less irksome. It turns out the formula works even when you strip out the satire. “Doctor Jones” is pure froth, a lot less interesting and dense than its predecessor but ultimately rather more likeable.



  1. 1
    Rory on 23 Apr 2014 #

    Looking at the lyrics I was surprised to see how little the medical theme appeared in them – just that “please, please cure me”. If it was about Indiana Jones that would explain it, although curare rather than cures would have been more Indy’s style.

    This was my favourite Aqua song, an irrepressible tune that stands in for me for any number of Europop also-rans. 8.

  2. 2
    Garry on 23 Apr 2014 #

    So a summery Europop tune reminiscing about a Summertime love gets to number 1 in the depths of winter. Was it a particularly bad winter in 1998?

    In Australia Doctor Jones entered the charts a week before the Christmas of 1997 and got to number 1 for seven weeks over New Years. It replaced Tubthumping, which had itself replaced Barbie Girl.

    I was in the not very summery Cooma – max 25 degrees – working at the Snowy Hydro Scheme in my uni break. So bereft of my friends, my possessions, my music collection – and definitely not the place for the mythical summer romance – I can’t say this resonated with me past, “Oh, they are at it again” type disposable fun.

  3. 3
    wichitalineman on 23 Apr 2014 #

    Like the Sugarcubes, but more fully realised.

    Doctor Jones is very pretty, perfect for a sunny spring day, and Lene sings it sweetly without ever threatening to sound cloying. I’d only knock points off for an off-the-peg backing track which could do with at least one little twist or counter melody.

  4. 4
    JLucas on 23 Apr 2014 #

    I think what this song confirmed was that Aqua hadn’t just struck lucky with Barbie Girl, but were actually really talented pop songsmiths. The Aquarium album wasn’t exactly ‘Voulez Vous’, but it was absolutely bursting with hooks. It was sort of a Europop ‘Bad’, spawning seven hit singles around Europe (five in the UK).

    The notion of this kind of pop as having any kind of artistic merit is always the subject of intense debate. I absolutely think it does though. Dolly Parton’s famous line is ‘It takes a lot of money to look this cheap’. By the same token, I think it’s very easy to make a really bad pop record, but deceptively difficult to make a good one. Doctor Jones is another charming example of how well Aqua understood the distinction.

  5. 5
    Mark G on 23 Apr 2014 #

    Not much to add, but will give it 7 also.

  6. 6
    anto on 23 Apr 2014 #

    I’m finding it hard to concentrate on anything apart from those platform shoes.

  7. 7
    Cumbrian on 23 Apr 2014 #

    Judging by the initial comments here, there’s likely a lot of people will disagree with this but I think this is pretty poor, especially by comparison with Barbie Girl.

    Plus points are Lene’s vocals, the chorus and the “yippee-i-yoo” hook. But the last minute is just pounding these two hooks over and over again. Remarkably for a single at 3:30, it could stand to be half a minute shorter I think. I don’t think the verses are anything special – I don’t find that they’re particularly pretty, they just seem like placeholders until Rene comes in and gurns like the human cartoon he is. Still, I do like Lene’s voice and the major hooks are catchy. In short, it just about works, even though I don’t like it much.

    #2 watch – this kept Backstreet Boys’ “All I Have To Give” at #2. I don’t remember this at all.

  8. 8
    Kinitawowi on 23 Apr 2014 #

    I wasn’t particularly impressed with this either. If 17-year-old me thought that Barbie Girl was a bad joke to begin with, then Doctor Jones was the exact same joke played out until it was even less funny. There are flavours of Europop I like (it’s nigh impossible to listen to Saint Etienne or the Divine Comedy without at least some acknowledgement of the art involved), but this is not one of them.


  9. 9
    Chelovek na lune on 23 Apr 2014 #

    I too prefer Barbie Girl. This is hooky, catchy to the point of being annoying, brightly coloured, good quality pop: but: it is a bit more generic and less clever and less well constructed than its predecessor. The Indiana Jones references require the video for them to be obvious or close to obvious. 5

  10. 10
    swanstep on 23 Apr 2014 #

    Woo hoo, 140 bpm, the highest on a #1 since ‘Firestarter’ (and before that ‘No Limit’). That together with the girl/boy vocal feels like a basic formula for pop/party success that hasn’t been explored enough (the B-52s built their career on it, 2 Unlimited to some extent, but who else?).

    Anyhow, watching vids on youtube of Aqua massacring DJ live has renewed my appreciation of the backing track here. The electronic clickiness of the drums really works, as does the 1/16 notes-before-the-beat-ness of the bass-part (when the bass is pulled back to 1/8 notes live the track falls apart I reckon), and the fizzy daffiness of the vocals flies by (putting dramatic pauses into the song as Aqua are wont to do live is death). DJ did nothing in the US so I’m fairly sure I didn’t hear this until a few years later… when it struck me as delightful. That initial bubble-gum hit has long-since faded for me now (and hearing it 10 times in a row just now in various forms has driven me round the twist), but the hooks are well-worked enough to make fun to hear occasionally (and the bpm means it always pops on a mixtape):

  11. 11
    iconoclast on 23 Apr 2014 #

    Sadly, next to “Barbie Girl”, this exemplifies virtually everything I heartily dislike about this genre of music. The only part of any value is the vocals in the first two verses; otherwise the rest is almost as annoying as “Firestarter”. THREE.

  12. 12
    James BC on 23 Apr 2014 #

    #10 Re girl/boy party pop, the obvious modern-day successors are Alphabeat. They had a huge hit with Fascination and then tailed off a bit, though it’s by no means their only good song.

    As for Doctor Jones, I can appreciate it as an effective pop song but I wouldn’t say I actively like it. I’d give it a 5, or maybe a 6 when taken in combination with the video.

  13. 13
    lonepilgrim on 23 Apr 2014 #

    I prefer ‘Barbie Girl’ because of the ambiguity of the lyrics. This is more straightforward and less interesting. 5 from me

  14. 14
    hectorthebat on 23 Apr 2014 #

    I’ll just leave this here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZb6q2B3QB8

  15. 15
    AMZ1981 on 23 Apr 2014 #

    It is – for me – Barbie Girl without the edge. However BG had one hit wonder written all over it so for this to take and hold number one felt quite an achievement. A glance at Wikipedia (1998 in music) shows it actually increased its sales second week as opposed to simply carrying over into a quiet sales week and if the record we get to next had its release delayed a week we’d be talking three weeks.

    Bunnying now but even more impressively they weren’t done yet. Maybe this belongs in the discussion to come but Dr Jones is a rather obvious attempt to repeat a winning formula and whether their third single would have taken off so strongly had it been released in January 98 is something we’ll never know.

  16. 16
    Jonathan on 23 Apr 2014 #

    I (really) know how dreadful caviling over scores can be, but I think the progression in the charts marks one difference between Tom and I: this example of the Euro-pop formula working for a 7 vs. last week’s “on-trend … R&B” scraping a 6. It might just be one point, but give me Usher’s spare abrasion over (enjoyable!) Danish pantomime any day.

  17. 17
    Tom on 23 Apr 2014 #

    It’s more like – in terms of my shilly-shallying over the mark – an enthusiastic 6 and a scraped 7, but point taken.

    (The wider picture is that I’ve come to dislike doing the marks a bit, and I think it’s partly because it’s getting near the present day. I probably don’t listen to as much R&B as Jonathan, but I listen to quite a lot, so I’m mentally comparing a decent Usher song against a lot of brilliant other records from the last 15 years. Whereas I don’t listen to nearly as much Europop, so there isn’t that comparison for Aqua: I’m not thinking, “if only it was Cartoons” say. It means the marks get distorted to an extent they haven’t since the early-mid 80s, where there was a huge childhood filter in place.)

  18. 18
    punctum on 23 Apr 2014 #

    The least valuable of the Aqua Popular trilogy, “Doctor Jones” is essentially more of the same minus dollhood subversion. A pretty standard Eurovariant on the farewell-my-summer-love meme – the video makes it clear that Doctor Jones is of the Indiana variety – we find Lene craving his cure with her unfeasibly boisterous semi-yodel of “Ah-yippie-yi-yu/Ah-yippie-yi-yeah,” and the track’s slender reserves of humour are supplied, and the song’s central theme undermined as a result, by René’s doltish gorilla response (“BAYBEE OI YAM MISSIN YEW!”). The song is another to be framed by dreams of chirping birds (“Wake up now”), but there isn’t much to connect the heart to here; 5000 Volts’ “Dr Kiss Kiss” translated and watered down for the Disney Channel generation.

  19. 19
    Andrew Farrell on 23 Apr 2014 #

    I’ll be the first to suggest that this has exactly as much satire as Barbie Girl IE it had none either and you all lost your minds on that thread.

  20. 20
    thefatgit on 23 Apr 2014 #

    I responded positively to this mostly because of the NRG (in the Hard House sense) beat. Dial in some phat bass and honking synths and you’re not a million miles from Scooter. Needless to say, beyond the BPM rate, it’s frothy Europop. “Doctor Jones” most probably reached the top on the strength of the residual goodwill towards “Barbie Girl”.

    Right, that’s the received wisdom out of the way. A bit of me wants to monster the video for not imitating Indiana Jones enough. Yes, it’s obvious with the plane leaving a red line on the map and the snakes and insects and tribesmen, but the narrative is superficially closer to Heart Of Darkness, with Rene Dif as Kurtz. Aqua missed a trick here. Pop doesn’t always have to hammer home a message, but it would have been great if Aqua had been a tad braver with a critique on colonialism. Nevertheless, “Doctor Jones” is a fun bit of escapism and worth a 7.

  21. 21
    flahr on 23 Apr 2014 #

    Aqua continue their upward trajectory with some bright, sunny, not-sonic-but-other-medium-theft-except-a-bit-vague-merchanting [7]

  22. 22
    Tommy Mack on 23 Apr 2014 #

    I bet if you were a teacher called Dr Jones, you heard a lot of this song in the playground during its chart run…especially if you were prone to nodding off on a Friday afternoon.

  23. 23
    Billy Hicks on 23 Apr 2014 #

    Whereas Barbie Girl I had taken an instant childhood dislike to because it was about icky girls and Barbie (the concept of satire I had yet to understand) I think I first heard this on something like Live & Kicking and forgave them instantly for their past crimes. This I loved, perhaps even more so as the word ‘Doctor’ made me think of a show I had massively started getting into called Doctor Who, virtually unknown to any of my 1998 school chums but one I had been buying videos of and fascinated by. If only it were on TV now, I used to think. Walking around the playground shouting “EXTERMINATE” wasn’t very fun when no one knew what the hell you were doing.
    Still a lovely nostalgic listen today and 7 is a perfect score – one of the very few I can think of where I absolutely agree with the Popular majority.

    Also re 2 – it may only have been February but it got bloody hot that late winter, temperatures reaching a balmy 19 degrees around the time this was number 1 which I think is still an all-time UK February record.

  24. 24
    mapman132 on 23 Apr 2014 #

    This was skipped in favor of “Lollipop (Candyman)” in the US for reasons unknown, but its refrain is still familiar to me somehow (a commercial maybe?) even if the entire song is not. Not quite as catchy as “Barbie Girl” but still worth a 6/10 from me.

  25. 25
    Auntie Beryl on 23 Apr 2014 #

    A poor, galloping, undeserved number one. Very much the weakest they managed: I’m not even sure the first one should have made it but this is awful, heard nowhere now, and with very good reason. A low 3.

  26. 26
    Ed on 24 Apr 2014 #

    @16 This is probably my favourite Julian Cope thing ever, on the perils of numerical reviews:

    “Four years ago, I had dinner with a very successful journalist who told me that he’d had to review Love’s “Forever Changes” for Q Magazine now that it was available on CD. Wow, I shouted. You lucky fucker! Yes, he said. But I know it so well I couldn’t summon up any real energy, so I just gave it 8/10. “Forever Changes” is a dark achievement. Were it an ancient text or a document it would be hidden from view and spoken of in obscure circles, But because it operates through the medium of Pop Music, it gets tarts like said Journalist giving it 8/10. This is a classic case of a man sleepwalking through life.”

    Not that I’m saying giving a 6 to ‘You Make Me Wanna’ is exactly the same as that….

  27. 27
    nixon on 24 Apr 2014 #

    I have a Motown themed project on Popular lines, and when I started adding marks (retrospectively for the first 200-odd records), both the number of comments and the number of hits doubled instantly. Take that, Cope.

    Anyway, Aqua. I had and have a great deal of respect for this as frothy pop – if you’d asked me, I’d have been certain it hit the top in summer, as it seems that would be its natural habitat – and I agree with #4 that this proves Barbie Girl was no fluke on the earworm front. I’m also surprised it got to number one at all – neither this one nor the preceding Usher really feel like records you’d tip for the top. But both welcome all the same. 7.

  28. 28
    Mark M on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Re 26: I know that Cope lives in a world high above fact-checking, but Q reviews use a one to five star system. The basic point stands.

    I’ve got my issues with marks out of whatever, but they work for the punters. It would lovely to think that everyone is willing to wade through long Bangsian screeds and get to the end and then work out for themselves whether that was a recommendation or not, but mostly they’re not. I do have a slight bias towards systems that give as much room for nuance as possible, while admitting that (for instance) marks out of a hundred gives you a bogus sense of scientific rigour.

    (I don’t give marks on my blog, but as I’m not getting paid, my gaff, my rules).

  29. 29
    punctum on 24 Apr 2014 #

    I’ll say what I always say in such circumstances; if you have a star system, all records should be given either zero or five. Either they’re worth spending time and money on or they’re not.

    I don’t write for “punters” which is probably why comparatively very few people read my blog. But quality over quantity innit.

  30. 30
    Tom on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Obviously I’ve had the marks since the beginning, so I’ve no idea of the boost they give to the readership – as with any blogging project, the thing that builds and keeps an audience is posting regularity, which, let’s face it, I’ve often been bad at. (Popular’s views are at an all time high at the moment, which can’t be down to the wayward marking). They certainly offer a handle for discussion – an opportunity for people to agree or disagree which seems to liberate them to offer comments. But there are similar blogs which reject the idea of marks and get an awful lot of comments, so that can’t quite be it.

    My method at the moment is to write the review, then play the song and mark on a hunch according to how much I enjoyed listening to it. This has all sorts of bad effects – it means marks cluster in the centre of the scale, it brings in the comparison problem I mentioned upthread, and it disconnects the mark from the write-up even more (though I quite like that). It does mean I’m less tempted to mark for “importance”, which is best left to the write-up and comments, I think. And it stops me spending too much time thinking about the scores!

    ANYWAY all this and I realised Jonathan misread my review anyway – I’m not saying Aqua are formula europop, I’m saying they showed their OWN formula (the Sugarcubes-style two-hander europop song) worked away from “Barbie Girl”. They are the Timbaland of Europop, if you like. We will meet some actually formulaic Europop in time, it may well score less than Usher.

  31. 31
    glue_factory on 24 Apr 2014 #

    I think the ‘less tempted to mark for “importance”‘ effect is great though. I mentally mark all the records here, just because it forces me to stop thinking about the influence they had, or their timeliness, or whatever and forces me to decide, would I rather hear this or Mouldy Old Dough. Which then often drives me to revise my original opinion.

  32. 32
    Rory on 24 Apr 2014 #

    A key difference between the marks Tom gives here and the marks in Q, Rolling Stone or wherever is that the person handing them out here is one and the same as the person who wrote the review. Once magazine editors get their mitts on a review you can end up with so-so write-ups accompanied by four or five stars. Here, the marks give useful additional focus to the write-up, implying either a summing-up of what was written or “despite the praise/disparagement above, I gave this a 5” or whatever. I find that interesting and valuable, and have done since the beginning, even when (or especially when) I disagree with Tom’s mark. It helps build up a cumulative sense of where Tom’s tastes lie – and even how they have evolved over 10+ years of writing Popular – which is more easily revisited than having to re-read each and every review. The marking system here also justifies the inclusion of reader marking, which provides a whole new level of fascination, especially when we look at large tranches of data, as we did the other day with our look at the annual polls.

    In my day job I spend more than half of each year with marking of some sort hanging over me (I’m in the thick of it right now). It’s usually straightforward enough to come up with a number to attach to a piece of work; the time-consuming struggle is in writing the feedback that justifies that number and agrees with it. Often after writing feedback you end up adjusting the mark, until you’re sure that you can stand by it. Then we have moderation processes to cross-check our marks with others, to be as confident as we can that we’re all marking consistently; Popular’s discussion threads and reader ratings serve something of that role. At the end of it all, some students look only at the mark and ignore the accompanying feedback. I’d be surprised if that happens here – you might as well just visit the Populist page and be done with it, and who would do that?

    What the marks do do, though, for students and for we readers here, is give a lens through which to interpret the accompanying feedback or review. Saying something is “good” and 6 or 62 is different from saying it’s “good” and 7 or 72 – not that that’s all that feedback or a review will ever say, but even the lengthiest write-up can end up capable of being interpreted in different ways by different readers. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of ambiguity, even mystery, but there’s also nothing wrong with an author taking that last opportunity to say “this is where I’m coming from: 3”.

    Nobody could seriously accuse Tom of being “a man sleepwalking through life” when it comes to Popular reviews; what keeps me coming back is the impression that they’re never phoned in, that he’s trying to say something fresh about something that in many cases is overfamiliar (just as Punctum is at TPL). When Popular reviews get attention elsewhere, it’s for the writing, or for the significance of the milestones reached, not for the 2/10 or 8/10 at the end of them.

  33. 33
    Your Brother, The Astronaut on 24 Apr 2014 #

    To me Aqua always meant Barbie Girl and so perhaps the fact I always thought that this was by the Cartoons shows that it just isn’t up that level. (A similar problem with their next hit, which is a shift in style as well as quality)

    It would be interesting to see whether I’d have felt the same way if Doctor Jones was released before Barbie Girl and Aqua was associated with that first and foremost…or whether Barbie Girl is strong enough with all its different layers (if indeed there are layers, which is itself one of the more interesting things about it) to always eclipse its rivals.

    (With all the mark-chat, I’d give it a 7; but I’d gave Barbie Girl a ridiculously high score and was using that as a yardstick.)

  34. 34
    James BC on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Five star reviews I can see the value of – they say “Listen, you might usually skip over a review by this artist or in this genre, but you should check this out because we think it’s exceptional.” Two, three and four star ones have less of an obvious purpose, but perhaps they need to exist for the five stars to make sense.

    Q used them too sparingly, though. By reserving them for absolute stone-cold classics, they forced themselves into trying to judge what was a stone-cold classic on the first few listens, which no one can do.

  35. 35
    punctum on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Like Be Here Now and On Every Street, you mean?

    In music monthly speak five stars usually mean: “Stunning Return To Form”™ and/or “we need that cover interview.”

  36. 36
    iconoclast on 24 Apr 2014 #

    What all this points to is: if you must give marks to a song or an album, how many different marks do you need? Punctum suggests two; anything more than ten is too fine-grained. And then you have to have to consider the probable appeal to someone who doesn’t listen to the genre, too.

  37. 37
    Tom on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Having reviewed plenty for Pitchfork I am used to even the frilliest of marking schemes. And obviously my day job involves this kind of thing, not that I applied the wisdom of generations of researchers in “designing” the Popular scale, I just ripped off Edge magazine. If I think back to my training (late-90s) it was felt a 7 point scale got the best out of survey respondents. Absolutely nobody uses one outside research, though. (And barely within it these days).

    The five star system is totally ubiquitous now, thanks to Amazon, iTunes, TripAdvisor, Yelp etc. It makes an enormous difference to sales, by all accounts, which is why it gets gamed so much.

  38. 38
    Cumbrian on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Well off topic/Research industry geek speak coming up: I’ve never really liked odd numbered scales for questions, as I’ve tended to find you get a lot of people bailing out into the either/or camp on the mid-point. Even numbered scales tend to make people make a choice between positive and negative, even if only a weak one (which you then have to explore further but still, better some choice than nothing, when you’re trying to work out what people might actually do when faced with a choice).* Of course, if someone is genuinely undecided, a DK option is useful, but I’ve usually tried to hide them outside the frame of the scale in the survey window – like below the question or well off to the right hand side, depending on what is being asked/how it is being designed – but I’ve found that it gets used less than people congregating into the mid-point on an odd numbered scale.

    *This is coloured by the types of research I have generally done though. I can imagine them being useful outside the narrow confines of what I have been doing.

    Getting back on topic then, I do find an element of attraction in Punctum’s two point scale. Make a choice, that scale says to me. Human nature is to congregate around the middle – it’s why you can see a lot of normally distributed data sets knocking around – whereas forcing a choice and then exploring why that choice has been made (and whether it is a weak or strong preference and why, etc) seems more interesting to me.

  39. 39
    Tom on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Personally, I broadly agree – though 5-point Likert scales are unlikely to go anywhere quickly. That’s part of why we don’t have a 0 out of 10 here. And the year polls here, of course, use a two-point scale (i.e. a tick box) – in discussion terms that was the thinking behind “Classic Or Dud?” back in the ILX days: force people out to the margin, or make equivocation something you had to assert rather than the default.

  40. 40
    Erithian on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Don’t know how well-remembered or otherwise this might be: which film was awarded SIX stars by Q when it came out on DVD? There’s a kind of logic to the answer…

  41. 41
    Tom on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Spinal Tap I would guess?

  42. 42
    punctum on 24 Apr 2014 #

    I’ve never held much faith in the middleground, and the star system has always seemed too focus group-comforting a compromising device to me. I also have plenty of doubtless wrongheaded faith that people are able to read long-form pieces about records which come to no comfortable conclusion. I certainly don’t buy the spiel about modern people being “too busy” to read long-form reviews. Too busy doing what? Checking on their smartphones what Caitlin Moran just said to India Knight about Khloe Kardashian? Watching rubbish on TV and tweeting about how bad it is? It’s not a question of laziness but a question of subtly tempting people away from easy time-filling options.

  43. 43
    weej on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Doctor Jones is such a joy all round, even more so than their previous #1. Though it obviously lacks the social commentary of Barbie Girl, that doesn’t need to matter – it’s so hook-laden and positive than a couple of performances on TOTP single-handedly converted me to the pro-pop position after five years in the indie wilderness. In the sullen-faced indie landcape of 1998 apparently serious things were afoot everywhere, though in reality most of the bands had no more depth than Aqua and something like 5% of the fun (that seems like a problem with the late 90s in general though.) I literally knew nobody else in the world who would listen to this or so much as imagine it being anything apart from utter shit, so very glad to see I’m not alone in this now. 7 is fair, but I’ll stretch to an 8.

    Re: marks and re: marks on Pitchfork, a link to this seems relevant, though you must’ve all seen it before: http://www.theonion.com/articles/pitchfork-gives-music-68,2278/

  44. 44
    Tommy Mack on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Indeed, I was powerless not to like this and decided ant man b (note v. 90s lower case throughout!) would definitely do a punk cover on the B-side of one of our many future million-selling singles…

    I was always a bit of a late adopter of pop trends – c.f. my not liking the Spice Girls until Stop (typically their first single not to reach number 1!)

  45. 45
    Rory on 24 Apr 2014 #

    I much prefer Popular’s 1-10 scale to the five stars at Amazon. Users there are forced to give only whole stars, even though the overall averages display half stars. It encourages too many ratings of 4 or 5 stars, because 3 feels too damning for something you like, which pushes the overall average up: better for driving sales, but not as meaningful when every halfway-decent album ends up with a four-and-a-half star average. Here, only 17 songs out of 783 have had a four-and-a-half star average, if we count everything that has averaged 8.5 or more in the Reader Top 100, and none has achieved a five-star average.

    We get the effects of a two-point scale as well: I can’t be the only one who considers carefully whether a track is 5 versus 6 because it will determine whether I vote for it in the year-end poll. But I’m still glad that I (and Tom, and all of us collectively) can distinguish between a 6 and a 10. Some interesting number-crunching could be done around the difference between reader ratings and the percentages of readers who voted for tracks in the year-end polls. “I Feel Love” is the clear leader in the former with its 9.46 average from 48 ratings, but only 76% of 417 voters scored it 6+ in the 1977 poll (cf 84% of 547 for “Heart of Glass” in 1979, or 80% of 573 for “Wuthering Heights” in 1978). Fascinating stuff, because around such figures legends are formed. Which of those is Popular’s favourite? “I Feel Love” because of the reader ratings, “Heart of Glass” because of the polls, or “Wuthering Heights” because Tom gave that 10 and the other two 9? Not KB, I’m guessing, because there are several other Tom 10s to compete with it, and maybe not “Heart of Glass”, because six songs from 1958, 1963 and 1966 got higher percentages in their annual polls, although those had only 165, 170 and 230 voters respectively…

    Numbers are fun.

  46. 46
    Nixon on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Re Tom #30 – well obv. the blog is ace and its reputation burgeoning etc etc (and, without flattery, I think the writing is better than it’s ever been), but more prosaically, total pageviews would always be likely to increase as the number of pages increases (because you’re still getting the steady flow of long tail search traffic from people looking up Eddie Calvert or the Dreamweavers, but this year you also have the same thing from e.g. Hanson and Peter Andre fans too, and once the “new” has worn off for each post the effect should be cumulative), while higher individual page views for recent new entries might reflect that we’re (I think?) more “caught up” than ever before in terms of date of post vs. date of song and so the reader demographic is slowly changing/expanding – more people with memories of growing up listening to Usher than David Whitfield…? (he pontificated without evidence)

  47. 47
    Tom on 24 Apr 2014 #

    #46 this is all theoretically true* but actually the all-time highs in question are on the main page and main Popular page, so not as likely to be search. And it takes a new entry around 24 hours to get to 1,000 views now, whereas it used to take several days.

    *actually FT in general gets less pageviews than we used to – good thing there’s no advertisers! – because our Google and other search hits are about 1/3 of where they were a few years ago (direct hits are strongly up, referrals pretty much the same though more social now than blogs). Most of those search hits were complete junk – we used to get 10,000 unfortunate souls a year who came looking for “porn” but hadn’t turned their safesearch filters off. But in general Google skews a lot more to recency and to stuff with a big social media presence these days, and there isn’t as much of a blogsphere sustaining Popular as there used to be.

  48. 48
    flahr on 24 Apr 2014 #

    I quite like marks-out-of-ten because of a sort of mirror of the Unwanted Consistency Watch problem: it lets you claim that two records are EXACTLY as good as each other (especially if you use Spurious Decimals too). (It will probably not surprise anyone that K by Kula Shaker is exactly as good as Nuisance by Menswe@r, it is perhaps slightly less obvious that Let England Shake by PJ Harvey is exactly as good as Chill Out by The KLF.)

  49. 49
    Izzy on 24 Apr 2014 #

    35: On Every Street as a five-star record is interesting. From memory it’s tired and kind of oddly-displeased-with-itself, but far from bad and certainly more worthy of that honour than Be Here Now.

    Right, off to see if it stands up properly…

  50. 50
    Tom on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Another classic Q Magazine WTF 5-star rating is Semisonic’s All About Chemistry. If you’re in the mood for investigations, of course ;)

  51. 51
    Patrick Mexico on 24 Apr 2014 #

    Oh Tom, I bought that the week it came out! Actually an excellent pop record… but depends on your tolerance for fellow Minnesotans the Replacements downing all punk tools and deciding to be Foreigner meets Toto.

    Then again I remember the “Get A Grip” video being unwatchable, and “Follow” being the harbinger of Mumfords/Passenger doom.

  52. 52
    Kinitawowi on 24 Apr 2014 #

    One of my uni mates had All About Chemistry, and there’s undeniably some pretty good songs on it. Not sure about five stars, but…

    XKCD taught us the problem with star ratings in #1098.

  53. 53
    Ed on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Aren’t we being a bit quick to assume that those five-star ratings in Q are all necessarily either venal or foolish? If you put together ‘On Every Street’, ‘Be Here Now’ and ‘All About Chemistry’, you’ve got a pretty well-defined aesthetic right there.

    Now, many of us would probably view that aesthetic as almost criminally wrong-headed, but you can’t deny it’s coherent. Say what you like about Q Magazine, at least it has an ethos. In commercial terms, it seems pretty successful, too: at the very least it has created a defensible market niche.

    And maybe more of us could embrace that aesthetic, if only we gave it a proper chance… But perhaps I am being too influenced by the next entry here.

  54. 54
    weej on 25 Apr 2014 #

    The road to venal and foolish is paved with the writing of criticism for a target audience / market niche rather than actually saying what you think, surely?

  55. 55
    Erithian on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Been offline since posting #40 but you’re spot on Tom!

  56. 56
    punctum on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Niches, and catering to them (reducing critics to the level of butlers), aren’t aesthetics. “Criminally wrong-headed but coherent”? You could say the same about fascism.

  57. 57
    James BC on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Yes you could, as Ed himself acknowledged by using that Big Lebowski reference (“at least it was an ethos”).

  58. 58
    punctum on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Clearly my whole life has been a failure, as evinced by my inability to spot obscure references to “cult” movies.

    The overgrown student union “ethos” is actually one of the worst aspects of FT. The whole “you either GET this reference from when the rest of us were at uni or you are an ABNORMAL ALIEN BEGONE” thing. The “who’s in and who’s out” business.

  59. 59
    iconoclast on 25 Apr 2014 #

    @59: I perhaps wouldn’t be quite so harsh, but you do have a point: smug clever self-aware self-knowing cult-referential hyper-trendy shite is still shite, however you dress it up.

  60. 60
    Tommy Mack on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Isn’t the problem with Q one of white, middle-class, male self-entitlement?

    It’s basically a specialist magazine (for £50 man) that claims to be an all-encompassing overview of music (because of the priviledge and over-representation of £50 man)

    Vibe doesn’t claim to cover anything other than Hip-Hop and RnB, Mixmag doesn’t claim to cover anything except dance but Q covers ‘a bit of everything’ (which is to say a lot of white-guy music and a bit of everything else because white middle-class guys are normal and everyone else is other: ‘you might want to check out this list of the top ten reggae albums of all time but you HAVE TO HAVE OK Computer because it is a BIG IMPORTANT WHITE-GUY ALBUM).

    Perhaps I’m being a bit studenty myself in drawing Qs division of mainstream and other partly along racial lines (I’m not suggesting anyone at Q is a racist) – Let me put it another way: if you were a total hip hop head but you also owned Nevermind, OK Computer and London Calling, all which you gave an occasional play, you probably wouldn’t claim to be an authority on rock music whereas, I always imagine Q man as seeing himself as an educated and broad-minded person because he occaisionally plays What’s Going On, Legend and Blue Lines amid a load of Radiohead, Coldplay, U2 etc.

    They also gave Adam Ant’s Hits two stars so must burn in hell forever.

  61. 61
    Tom on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Since I’ve never met Ed or James BC, I don’t think you can really hang a charge of FT cliqueiness on them, Punctum!

  62. 62
    Tom on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Anyway, Q magazine – to be honest, I hardly notice it any more. I mean, I follow a bunch of music journos on Twitter, and Q hardly ever gets mentioned. Nobody says “Wow, did you read…?” about a Q review. If someone says something interesting in a Q interview, it’s in the papers the next day anyhow. The circulation’s halved in the last year, and readership dropped 40% the year before that. It’s scrapping for identity and readers in the middle of a bunch of roughly identical magazines, most of whom have more authority or a more clearly-defined taste. The thought of buying it is…. it’s impossible to imagine being so desperate. (Though tbh I never buy music magazines, so I’m not the best person to ask there). So while I think Tommy Mack, Ed, Punctum et al have decent points about its failings, it’s also never seemed less relevant.

    (Which suggests the question – when was Peak Q? When was the zenith of its importance in the British music scene?)

  63. 63
    James BC on 25 Apr 2014 #

    #58 Everything’s a travesty with you!

    I’m not attacking you for not getting the reference. I’m just saying that your “JUST LIKE FASCISM!” point is a bit flat because Ed had already put it in his post.

  64. 64
    Cumbrian on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Re: peak Q. Isn’t it about now, maybe 6 months earlier, in Popular time? This could be my own biases speaking but when people refer to the BHN review mess, I get the feeling that they are generally talking about what Q and Select said, which would seem to indicate that their influence at that point might well have been at its zenith. Also ties in with Tommy’s reference to OK Computer earlier on – people still talk about that album coming top of some poll or other for Q at around this sort of time.

  65. 65
    James BC on 25 Apr 2014 #

    I agree that Q was at its peak about here, maybe lasting into the early 00s. I would identify three signifiers of its decline:
    1) Making up a spurious “50 best” or “50 greatest” list every single issue, which always contained the same canonical bands in a slightly different order. They no longer do this, and the magazine is a bit better now.
    2) Having more lifetime achievement awards than regular awards in the Q Awards. They do still do this.
    3) The general public finally losing interest in U2, the quintessential Q band, with the release of No Line On The Horizon.

  66. 66
    Tom on 25 Apr 2014 #

    My own Peak Q was 1987-88 – it was a fine gateway drug into the harder stuff (NME/Melody Maker) and a bridge from the canon stuff I was being exposed to at school into current music. The affair came to an end shortly after I bought the first Wonder Stuff album, purely on their recommendation.

    (I think you’re right about Peak Q in general terms, though – the idea that their Best Band In The World Today award meant something, for instance)

  67. 67
    Tommy Mack on 25 Apr 2014 #

    #64 I’d say you’re pretty spot on, maybe even a little earlier, ’96-’97, basically when it was still something of a novelty for ‘alternative’ music to be massive: so you had bands like Pulp who were big enough to be on the cover of a glossy monthly but still had the sort of fanbase who’d buy a magazine because they were on the cover (I may be wrong, but I don’t imagine many Coldplay fans being particularly interested in what Chris Martin has to say – and anyway you have Twitter etc now where you can hear pop star proclomations straight from the horse’s mouth)

  68. 68
    Andy M on 25 Apr 2014 #

    #60 If they ever made any attempt to set the white-guy guitar band agenda I’d be a bit more sympathetic, it’s that they’ve always needed all the other magazines to tell them which white guys it’s OK to like before they’ll put their money down. Hence the Be Here Now thing, hence bad records like R.E.M.’s Reveal get 5 stars because when the previous record came out everyone else said them it was probably OK to like them again. Even Mojo put the White Stripes on the cover before Q did. Reading Q magazine is like reading an ‘On This Day…’ nostalgia column about bands everyone was getting excited about 3 years ago.

  69. 69
    lonepilgrim on 25 Apr 2014 #

    I started reading Q when it first came out – it was a novelty to have such a glossy, colourful representation of the music I liked. The downside of such (relatively) high production values was that it inevitably seemed to lead to a conservative editorial policy and a focus on the same few bands.
    I still read Mojo albeit with decreasing levels of interest.

  70. 70
    anto on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Following on from Q was Word which seemed torn between glorifying the olden days of yore and excitedly proclaiming anything that happened in the last ten minutes. It might have been aiming for cross-generational appeal but it often came across as the kind of magazine the two guys from ‘Peep Show’ might come up with.

  71. 71
    Rory on 25 Apr 2014 #

    #60: “you probably wouldn’t claim to be an authority on rock music whereas, I always imagine Q man as seeing himself as an educated and broad-minded person because…”

    I’ve bought maybe two issues of Q in my life, to read on trains, but there’s enough overlap in Q man’s reputed tastes and my own that I’ll take up his (straw) mantle here.

    It’s possible to see yourself as – or aspire to be – educated and/or broad-minded without claiming to be an authority on a particular branch of music. Why would Q man consider himself an authority on soul music because he occasionally plays What’s Going On? Or perhaps: what Q man would consider himself such an authority? If that album is his only soul album he’s better educated (even if only a little) than someone who’s never heard any, and if he likes it and is open to the idea that similar stuff could be good then he’s more broad-minded than somebody who dismisses all soul music out of hand, but neither implies a claim to authority.

    There must also be plenty of Q readers who dismiss entire branches of music on the basis of limited examples of it, but I doubt they’d claim authority in those types of music either, just an instinctive dislike of them. There are plenty of people who do that, not just Q people. I bet it’s happening right here! Hands up all who are dismissing the idea of five stars for All About Chemistry without ever having heard it? Keep your hands up if Q’s rating of All About Chemistry feels like further evidence of how rubbish the mag, the band and that kind of music are… even though you’ve never heard it.

    (Without wanting to rehash my stout defence of Semisonic from the Deep Blue Something thread, I have heard it, and under no influence from Q it was one of my top ten albums of that year; if I were giving it inflated Amazon stars I would have given it five, or in Popular ratings terms an 8. If Q got it wrong, they were off by a star – nothing like the three stars they were out by in the case of Be Here Now. In my opinion, of course. But then I am An Authority on BHN, along with the eight million other people who’ve bought it.)

    I wouldn’t want to underestimate the value of instinct in determining our responses to entire branches of music, even on the basis of limited examples. Those instincts can act as useful attention filters, if the examples we’ve heard are good ones. If you’ve heard and disliked OK Computer, I can be fairly confident that you won’t like much Radiohead. If you like it, you’ll probably like more of their albums. I wouldn’t be so confident if your test case were Kid A, because it isn’t a typical Radiohead album. If you’ve only heard – and hated – Be Here Now, I have no real idea whether you would like Oasis’s better, earlier stuff. I can guess that you wouldn’t like their later stuff much.

    What’s Going On, as it happens, is one of the few soul albums I own. I bought it a decade ago because it’s so highly regarded, in order to sample a genre I hadn’t really explored. I thought it was okay; it didn’t really grab me. I haven’t investigated further, but am open to the idea that there are other soul albums that would excite me more. I still make no claim to knowing much about soul in general, or even about Marvin Gaye’s overall body of work. Educated? Marginally more than before I heard it. Broad-minded? I don’t know – to the extent that I didn’t dismiss it out of hand, I suppose. An authority? Of course not.

  72. 72
    Alan not logged in on 25 Apr 2014 #

    “We will meet some actually formulaic Europop in time”. Fair enough, Wales IS in europe

  73. 73
    Jonathan on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Tom’s right: I did misread his review. Also, I was nitpicking dreadfully, even if I was being self-aware about it.

  74. 74
    Alan not logged in on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Have we neglected to mention Lene’s co-credit on Girls Aloud “No Good Advice”?

  75. 75
    wichitalineman on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Ah! Thanks Alan. I was trying to remember which GA songs she had a credit on. Were there any others?

  76. 76
    tm on 25 Apr 2014 #

    Rory @ 71: that’s a fair point. I suppose there’s just such a sneery condescensionin some of Q’s copy coupled with the reverence they’re required to adopt towards the bands who advertise with them that it’s easy to assume a similar ‘oh, I know all about music’ attitude in some of their readership. But yes, I don’t mean to suggest that rock or indie fans shouldn’t dabble in other genres. There’s no law that says you have to spread yourself equally.

  77. 77
    Alan not logged in on 25 Apr 2014 #

    @75, wikip sez just one other track off the first album, though she did cover Here We Go (written by Miranda Cooper) before Girls Aloud did

  78. 78
    Mark M on 25 Apr 2014 #

    I think there were two basic ideas behind Q, one of which concerns the reviews section and the other (just as, maybe, more important) doesn’t). 1) Grown-ups don’t generally have the time or intensity to maintain the approach to rock and pop music that teenagers have and that reading the NME, Melody Maker, Sounds, The Face or i-D demanded, and so would appreciate a high-production value magazine that covered a range* of stuff in a simple-to-grasp way (and it’s worth mentioning that in the mid-’80s there was precious little pop coverage in the broadsheets).

    2) That whether they were musically relevant or not, the likes of Elton John had much better stories to tell than whoever was on the cover of the NME or The Face that month. And that would make for a better read.

    Now, none of that made me want to read Q, but has kept it in business for the best part of 30 years.

    *A range that was, however, limited in many ways, obviously.

  79. 79
    PurpleKylie on 25 Apr 2014 #

    All I have to contribute to the debate: This was #1 on my 10th birthday. What a milestone!

  80. 80
    Lazarus on 26 Apr 2014 #

    And on my 35th, I see. Not a great time for personally, it was the Year of Four Jobs, but I have a Showbiz Anecdote coming up soon, and it will relate directly to an upcoming Popular act. Nothing to add about Doctor Jones I’m afraid, except that it does seem to be a common surname in pop titles, much moreso than Smith, and is this the first yodelling on a number one since Frank Ifield?

  81. 81
    Billy Hicks on 26 Apr 2014 #

    My tenth birthday #1 is a few months away, and depressingly it’s probably one of my least favourite #1s of an otherwise epic decade. But more on that when we reach September.

  82. 82
    ciaran on 28 Apr 2014 #

    I enjoyed Barbie Girl a lot and was pleasantly surprised by the somewhat positive response that got here but this just doesnt do much for me at all.

    Unexpected bunny notwithstanding this is too much of a you’ve-heard-one-you’ve-heard-em-all type hit. Once was alright but the act was wearing a bit thin here.

    2 or a 3.

  83. 83
    Turn on 20 Feb 2017 #

    Occasionally this still comes into my head, out of nowhere. By some distance my favourite instalment in the Indiana Jones franchise. All the Aqua virtues. For me, it’s an 8.

  84. 84
    Duro on 12 Sep 2018 #

    I associate this song with Barnsley’s just-about-deserved victory over Man Utd in the FA Cup in February 1998, mostly because I attempted and failed to create a crossover chant celebrating two-goal hero Scott Jones in order to annoy United fans at school.

    * Just researched Scott Jones – it’s interesting that he faded into obscurity quicker than Aqua did. I wonder if it bothers him that he’s not mention in the same breath as Matthew Hanlon, Tim Buzaglo, Roy Essandoh etc.

  85. 85
    Gareth Parker on 31 May 2021 #

    I’m happy to go to a 5/10 for Aqua.

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