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May 10

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

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops74 comments • 1,800 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. 31
    Mike Atkinson on 13 May 2010 #

    Interesting to note that just over half the votes for Creedence thus far have been either 6s or 1s. How very polarising they are.

  2. 32
    Erithian on 13 May 2010 #

    Lex #30 – love “My Old Man’s A Diplomat”. Try this version from England’s Barmy Army referring to an Australian cricket betting scandal:

    “Mark Waugh is an Aussie / He wears the baggy cap / And when he saw the bookie’s cash / he said “I’m having that” / He shared it out with Warnie / They went and had some beers / And when the ACB found out / They covered it up for years”.

  3. 33
    Alan on 13 May 2010 #

    “depressing listening to this and Sweet Female Attitude together”

    apples and oranges tho innit. SFA is a lot of awesome, prof green is ‘just a bit of fun’ (yes, your least liked thing) and there’s ALWAYS been high charting “lazy samples with no purpose…” since like samples ever. high-profile examples (ice ice baby) are exactly why rockists despise samples in general.

    6 sfa – smashing
    5 hot chocolate – love it
    4 prof green – i heart london grimepop
    3 ccr – good example of stuff from an unliked genre/band
    2 heart – i don’t heart dismal reminder of better stuff
    1 lonnie – eye roll

  4. 34
    Steve Mannion on 13 May 2010 #

    FYI Vampire Weekend’s ‘Diplomat’s Son’ is a sequel to ‘My Old Man’s A Diplomat’.

  5. 35
    Lex on 13 May 2010 #

    @33 I first heard Professor Green doing a really great guest verse on Ny’s reggae-grime ballad “No One Ever Cared” – I was actually enthusiastic about hearing what he’d come up with solo. Until I actually heard it. It’s not just a bit of fun, it’s a lot of bullshit. Hideous production, terrible lyrics, no character at all. Prof Green has access to some of the best beat-makers in the UK right now and the ability to craft better verses than this so why does this even exist?

    And I love samples but there’s a massive difference between one repurposed in an effective way (whether obvious or not) and one which is literally just there so that casual listeners go “oh, I liked that other song”.

  6. 36
    Abe Fruman on 13 May 2010 #

    6 SFA – No recollection of this at all but quite comfortably the best of today’s 6.

    5 Hot Chocolate – Hot Chocolate did a song about a UFO encounter? Why was I not informed of this before?

    4 CCR – Good all round rock tune. Solid.

    3 Prof Green – Absolute genius sample but sorry, can’t thole that wee nyaff in the video.

    2 Lonnie – Chirpy.

    1 Heart – Snooze.

  7. 37
    Steve Mannion on 13 May 2010 #

    The ‘Need U Tonight’ sample is a bit unusual because it’s combined two different loops from the original and pushed them into one, then ran this all the way through the track (with the title then shoved in over that here and there kinda ropily) rather than trying to match the guitar sequences in the INXS song, or varying the loops in a similar way. Doing this or just fiddling with the hook more in general would certainly have made me like it more and wouldn’t even have taken that much work.

  8. 38
    Mike Atkinson on 13 May 2010 #

    For those of you with access to Spotify, here’s the Eurodance/NRG cover of “All I Wanna Do”. Better than Heart, or worse than Heart?

  9. 39
    lonepilgrim on 13 May 2010 #

    re 25 I love the idea of Ozark Mountain Daredevil fans turning up to an Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark gig (or vice versa)

  10. 40
    Dan on 13 May 2010 #

    I think “Travelin’ Band” sounds more like “Long Tall Sally” than “Good Golly Miss Molly,” but maybe that’s just me

  11. 41
    Mike Atkinson on 13 May 2010 #

    I agree, Dan! And I’m amused to discover that Creedence’s John Fogerty was later sued by his record label for allegedly plagiarising one of his own songs

  12. 42
    Alan on 13 May 2010 #

    @35 I agree with you. It’s not a great use of sampling at all. But I’m saying it also makes it a bad example to bemoan the state of urban uk music. tho it’s an example of the current fad for mash-up level sampling(in grimepop) it’s at the stupider end. I suspect you’re not keen on any of that shenanigans at all tho. I’m more than happy with the poppier success of wiley with White town, tinchy (and others!) w olive, going back to dizzee w capt sensible. I understand it grates w plenty others tho

  13. 43
    thefatgit on 13 May 2010 #

    This choice seems a little more clear cut to me:

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

    Lonnie, a warning from history. Well, not Lonnie himself but MOMAD and those lamely delivered “jokes”.
    Erroll Brown and Hot Chocolate. Even your Gran likes ’em and that’s their problem really, Brit-Soul Status Quo with me Bannister head on.
    CCR do Rock ‘n’ Roll quite well actually, and John Fogerty has a fine voice. This is fun.
    Pro-Green, Wiley, Tinchy Stryder and the like pushing the Grime-Pop crossover with wit and style. And I love the INXS riff.
    SFA bring “Flowers” and although I barely remember this without the YouTube prompt, it’s charming, breezy and thoroughly likeable UKG.
    Finally the 6 goes to Heart. I’m holding my hands up here…good grief they were sexy, weren’t they? But the song stands up by itself, bridging the gap between Whitesnake and Shania Twain, which is no bad thing.

  14. 44
    Tina on 13 May 2010 #

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

  15. 45
    lockedintheattic on 13 May 2010 #

    Mike – that cover is awful. And I speak as someone who has enjoyed many a Hi-NRG cover in my time (and she does a very bad Ann Wilson impersonation, which I think is the problem)

  16. 46
    taDOW on 14 May 2010 #

    6 – sfa
    5 – hot chocolate
    4 – ccr
    3 – prof green
    2 – lonnie donegan
    1 – heart

  17. 47
    weej on 14 May 2010 #

    6 – SFA – Don’t love this as much as some others, but it’s still pretty great.

    5 – Professor Green – I like the basic idea, it’s kind of like this – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csAVx-oSLUM – only, obviously, nowhere near as good.

    4 – CCR – Derivative, not particularly special, but it “rocks” fairly convincingly, so I can give it a pass

    3 – Hot Chocolate – Very hard to have any sort of opinion about this.

    2 – Lonnie Donnegan – Is there any other great artist whose reputation has been so sullied by their biggest, worst hit?

    1 – Heart – Just plain horrible.

  18. 48
    Erithian on 14 May 2010 #

    “Is there any other great artist whose reputation has been so sullied by their biggest, worst hit?” – Chuck Berry for one!

    Mike #41, the record label head who sued Fogerty for plagiarising himself (as you no doubt know but for others’ information) was Saul Zaentz, later the Oscar-winning producer of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”, “Amadeus” and “The English Patient”. I’m guessing Fogerty didn’t send him congrats for those.

  19. 49
    JonnyB on 14 May 2010 #

    Chuck Berry probably more so, as Lonnie was a repeat offender.

    So:

    6 – Hot Chocolate. I am heartened that I’m not alone in this. I’m really not a fan of the band, but this is a pop classic for me. A pop classic.

    This now begins to get difficult, as I can’t say I’d have any of the others on my desert island.

    5 – SFA. It’s got that summer thang.

    4 – Prof Green. Yep – this drives along nicely.

    3 – CCR. Really nothing special, but I can see myself liking it in certain circumstances and when pissed.

    2 – Lonnie. Truly this is our country’s ‘Wichita Lineman’

    1 – Heart. I almost marked this up, as it’s so frighteningly efficient. But I listened to it again, and it gets 1 as a punishment.

  20. 50
    Amanda S on 14 May 2010 #

    6 Points: Sweet Female Attitude – The stand out
    5 Points: Professor Green – This could become very annoying if heard too often but it’s fun for the first few times
    4 Points: Creedence Clearwater Revival – Couldn’t they just have covered Good Golly, Miss Molly?
    3 Points: Lonnie Donegan – I’d prefer another song but you can still tell that he was a great performer
    2 Points: Hot Chocolate – Bit boring
    1 Point: Heart – Not boring, just OTT

  21. 51
    jo on 14 May 2010 #

    6 points: 1970: Creedence Clearwater Revival – Travelin’ Band (video) – Love Creedence. Love this track. Its jhappy times in the 70’s for me.

    5 points: 1990: Heart – All I Wanna Do is Make Love To You (video) – Worst video ever with HAIR and scary CORSETED clothes, but I still adore her voice.

    4 points: 1960: Lonnie Donegan – My Old Man’s A Dustman (video) (Tom’s post on Popular) – Husband of course started singing along in his not very melodious voice, but I like the Donegan as well.

    3 points: 1980: Hot Chocolate – No Doubt About It (video)

    2 points: 2000: Sweet Female Attitude – Flowers (video) – I can’t even listen to this. It makes me anxious like a song out of phase.

    1 point: 2010: Professor Green – I Need You Tonight (feat. Ed Drewett) (video) – A sad waste of a good INXS song. Michael would be rolling in his closet.

  22. 52
    DietMondrian on 14 May 2010 #

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

    I found these much harder to rank than the number 10s as I can find little to like about any of them.

  23. 53
    Nick on 14 May 2010 #

    Hmm. Right.

    6 points – Hot Chocolate. Yes, I am surprised, too.
    5 points – Heart (although it has the most questionable lyrics in any song, ever. As I recall, it’s about being impregnated by a stranger in a motel. Nice!)
    4 points – Creedence
    3 points – Lonnie Donegan
    2 points – Professor Green (for the riff, only)
    1 point – SFA. No, ta.

  24. 54
    Simon C on 14 May 2010 #

    6. Professor Green
    5. Heart
    4. Creedence Clearwater Revival
    3. Hot Chocolate
    2. Lonnie Donegan
    1. Sweet Female Attitude (I really don’t get it… sorry!)

  25. 55
    Al Ewing on 15 May 2010 #

    Another clear win for the NOW, with second place being a hard-fought WAR OF THE RIDICULOUSNESSES, fourth place going in a battle of two tunes that could easily be mashed together into one and the 70s coming bottom again, which can’t be right, surely.

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

  26. 56
    Ciaran Gaynor on 15 May 2010 #

    6 points – Professor Green
    I love this record despite it being so reliant on a sample (I can’t help feeling there’s something a tad lazy about relying on such a great riff). It’s a funny record, I love the Prof’s protesting at the end “This is just a song, this wouldn’t happen in real life! I am a pimp!” etc.

    5 points – Lonnie Donegan
    This is just the sort of record that gets young kids (i.e. under tens) excited about pop music for the first time, and that’s no bad thing. It’s not really that overexposed and at least serves as a reminder of the skiffle scene. The jokes aren’t very strong but is nevertheless good fun.

    4 points – Hot Chocolate
    Although Hot Chocolate never really excited me – even at their number one hitting peak, I’ve actually quite liked this since I was a kid. Very dark and strange, not much like any of Hot Chocolate’s other big hits. The chorus ruins it, mind you. What possessed them to write a song about aliens anyway?

    3 points – Sweet Female Attitude
    The most striking thing for me about this is how dated it sounds. It just screams 2000 doesn’t it. I’d completely forgotten about this. It’s alright but doesn’t really grab me to be honest.

    2 points – Heart
    This is corny as hell. Alone, There’s The Girl and These Dreams were all ace singles, but this just sits awkwardly with me. The lyrics are cringeworthy. The performance is nothing special, and the production is too bombastic for my taste.

    1 point – Credence Clearwater Revival
    I don’t like this sort of “revivalist” (sorry) sweaty, rock ‘n’ roll. It sounds stodgy and, for a rave record, strangely joyless and workmanlike.

  27. 57
    intothefireuk on 15 May 2010 #

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

  28. 58
    Lena on 17 May 2010 #

    Difficult, but here goes:

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

    If it was another song by any of the latter three, it would have been different!

  29. 59
    The Lurker on 17 May 2010 #

    6 – CCR – yes, it’s not their best song and it rips off Good Golly Miss Molly, but it’s still streets ahead of the rest of this round

    5 – Professor Green – quite surprised by this, good use of the sample

    4 – Hot Chocolate – the verse is better than the chorus

    3 – SFA – forgettable

    2 – Heart – not a great fan of Heart but this is a long way short of Alone

    1 – Lonnie – the song I’d least like to hear again.

  30. 60
    Gordon on 17 May 2010 #

    Six points – Sweet Female Attitude
    Five points – Professor Green
    Four points – Lonnie Donegan
    Three points – Creedence Clearwater Revival
    Two points – Hot Chocolate
    One point – Heart

    Sentimentality wins through for Lonnie, but SFA easily best of bunch.. ahhh the memories

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