May 10

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? Round 3: the Number 8s.

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops53 comments • 1,765 views

Timely reminder: I’ll be keeping the voting open on all rounds until a few days after we’re done – so if you’ve just breezed in and fancy playing catch-up, there’s no immediate rush. Experience has shown that late votes in earlier rounds frequently affect the final placings, so NO VOTE IS A WASTED VOTE.

Got that? OK, then let’s unveil the Number Eights.

1960: Elvis Presley – Stuck On You (video)
1970: Tom Jones – Daughter Of Darkness (video)
1980: Motörhead – Leaving Here (from the Golden Years EP) (video)
1990: Soul II Soul – A Dream’s A Dream (video)
2000: Toni Braxton – He Wasn’t Man Enough (video)
2010: Diana Vickers – Once (video)

(Download the MP3 medley)

BONUS CONTENT! As we’ve struck lucky on Spotify, here’s a playlist of all six of today’s entries.

Discharged from the US army in March, Elvis Presley was back in the studio before the month was through. By April, his first post-military single was charting, eventually peaking at #3 in the UK. Impressively swift work, to be sure – but what of the results?

The standard critical line on Elvis instructs us that he was “never quite the same” after national service: a tamed beast, sliding into showbiz respectability. Thus it’s tempting to apply this storyline to “Stuck On You”, which does lack some of the unschooled vigour and raunch of his early work.

But if a certain obedience has crept into Presley’s delivery, there are still bursts of fire – most notably when hollering “a team of wild horses couldn’t TEAR US APART”, which in former days could have formed the bridge to a rip-roaring upwards gear shift. But, no: the moment passes, the piano continues to vamp merrily along, and the dear old a-doo-doo-ing Jordanaires ensure that the anchor is never loosened.

How much does any of this matter? “Stuck On You” remains likeable, catchy and fun, and even a tamed Elvis can still sell the hell out of a decent tune.

By the turn of the Seventies, Elvis and Tom Jones were working the Las Vegas cabaret circuit, hanging out together, and ploughing broadly similar artistic furrows. Jones was entering his Medallion Man phase, and beginning to sound faintly preposterous with it.

For how seriously can we take the sweaty “oohs” and “ughs” which crop up towards the end of “Daughter Of Darkness”? How seriously can we take the hammy grandstanding of Tom’s delivery? And indeed, how seriously can we take the song (the work of Les Reed, who brought us “The Last Waltz”, “Delilah” and even “It’s Not Unusual”), which largely fails to build a convincing case against the object of its scorn?

We know she’s wronged you, Tom – but we don’t really know how. Could you be more specific? With Delilah, the charges were clear (even if the rough justice you meted out was questionable, to say the least) – but here, you switch from breast-beating self-pity to finger-jabbing scorn, without actually telling us what went down. More back-story, please!

Back at the end of 1976, Motörhead were mostly regarded as a bad joke. A washed-up freak whose dissolute behaviour had earned him the boot from Hawkwind (no mean feat), playing sloppy, incompetent metal on the toilet circuit – well, who in their right minds would buy into that? Some critics went further, dubbing them the worst band in the world. There was talk of a debut single (“Leaving Here”) on the Stiff label – a catalogue number was even assigned – but the project went tits-up, and few seemed to care.

Three and a half years later, a live recording of “Leaving Here” – a Holland/Dozier/Holland composition, first recorded for Motown in 1963 by Eddie Holland, subsequently covered by The High Numbers in 1964 (before they became The Who), and best of all by The Birds in 1965 (featuring a young Ronnie Wood) – was released as the lead track on Motörhead’s Golden Years EP. Light years better than the slower, clumsier, messier 1976 studio version, its debt to punk rock – and specifically to The Damned – was plain to see, blurring the boundaries between punk and metal. Somewhere along the line, the band had learnt to play – and in this instance, they were rewarded with their first Top Ten entry, and second biggest hit single.

As someone who is emphatically not a metal fan – and yes, I know that Motörhead don’t classify themselves as such, but they’re close enough for me to have given them an equally wide berth – I’m amazed by the greatness of this recording, and my prejudices are confounded by the way it absorbs its influences – early Motown, British R&B and garage rock, thrashy two-chord punk – and channels them into something new and distinctive. We live and learn, eh readers?

Two places above their Family Stand remix, Jazzie B and Nellee Hooper show up again with Soul II Soul, their main operation – and another track which is founded upon that instantly recognisable and ubiquitous downtempo rhythm. You could argue that it was all getting a little formularised (and Jazzie B’s spoken “Voice of God” interludes are beginning to border on the tiresome), but there are still enough added touches – the “I can see right through you” folk-soul operatics which suggest a familiarity with Rotary Connection, the lift from Rose Royce’s “Wishing On A Star” – to move the music onwards, and enough general goodwill towards the band to keep them commercially comfortable.

What I love about Toni Braxton‘s “He Wasn’t Man Enough” is the state of unresolved emotional turmoil that it conveys. Braxton starts assertively enough, setting us up for a typically Millie Jackson-esque love triangle vignette, in which the wronged woman heaps scorn upon her successor. But as the song progresses, the singer’s true emotions seep through, undercutting her bravado with flashes of raw pain, and giving the lie to her attempts at screw-you-sister attitude. I’d never particularly rated Braxton before, but this is a masterful performance.

Set against the energy of Motörhead, the class of Soul II Soul and the passion of Toni Braxton, poor old Diana Vickers can only suffer by comparison. As with Ellie Goulding before her, the single’s over-glossy production sheen does Diana no favours – and although “Once” boasts an A-list songwriting pedigree, being co-written by Cathy Dennis (“Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”, “Toxic”, “I Kissed A Girl”) and Eg White (“Leave Right Now”, “Chasing Pavements”, “Warwick Avenue”), the song fails to fully engage.

That said, “I’m only gonna let you kill me once” is a well-chosen hook for Diana’s intriguingly skew-whiff performance style, and it’s heartening to see her make good on the promise she displayed on 2008’s X Factor. I’d just hoped for something a bit more special, that’s all.

Over to you. The Sixties have been tanking thus far, but could Elvis restore their fortunes? 2010 has been doing best of all, but will Diana Vickers impede its progress? Two rounds in, The Eighties and Noughties are tying in second place, and both have fielded strong candidates in today’s draw – so where will this leave the scoreboard at the end of Round Three? Vote wisely!


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  1. 1
    Mike Atkinson on 14 May 2010 #

    173 points: Elvis Presley – Stuck On You
    173 points: Motörhead – Leaving Here
    154 points: Toni Braxton – He Wasn’t Man Enough
    146 points: Diana Vickers – Once
    141 points: Soul II Soul – A Dream’s A Dream
    116 points: Tom Jones – Daughter Of Darkness

    My votes:
    6 points: Toni Braxton – He Wasn’t Man Enough
    5 points: Motörhead – Leaving Here
    4 points: Soul II Soul – A Dream’s A Dream
    3 points: Elvis Presley – Stuck On You
    2 points: Tom Jones – Daughter Of Darkness
    1 points: Diana Vickers – Once

  2. 2
    Nick on 14 May 2010 #

    6 points – Diana Vickers. Sorry, Mike, I think it’s a little pop gem, this one.
    (I should then say that awarding points here is like choosing which are my favourite Tory Cabinet ministers).
    5 points – Elvis
    4 points – Motorhead
    3 points – Soul II Soul
    2 points – Tom Jones
    1 point – Toni Braxton

  3. 3
    weej on 14 May 2010 #

    6: Diana Vickers
    5: Motorhead
    4: Elvis
    3: Tom Jones
    2: Toni Braxton
    1: Soul II Soul

  4. 4
    DietMondrian on 14 May 2010 #

    6. Motorhead
    5. Diana Vickers
    4. Elvis
    3. Soul II Soul
    2. Tom Jones
    1. Toni Braxton

  5. 5
    Erithian on 14 May 2010 #

    6 pts – 1960 Elvis Presley: my mum bought this single, which meant it was one of the first half-dozen records I ever owned. I grew up with it and knew it better than most of his other material, so although this is a minor one in the Elvis canon, to me it’s definitive and I love every second of it. (This of course was the one that was kept off number one by Lonnie Donegan.)

    5 pts – 1990 Soul II Soul: Again, setting up a groove and doing something different within it. This one escaped me first time round, but yes I’m enjoying catching up on it. A song that carries you with it, and a lovely insertion of the “Wishing On A Star” motif at the end too. (Could have done without the Jazzie B spoken bit mind you.)

    4 pts – 1970 Tom Jones: Oh, you have to take this stuff at face value, and as a Tom Jones performance it’s quality. Not a record I can envisage myself buying at any stage in my life, granted, but he sells it like a good ‘un.

    3 pts – 2010 Diana Vickers: Hmmm, I’d like to hear this song performed by someone who isn’t using Dolores O’Riordan as a vocal role model. Good song, but even within the timeframe of a single song the vocal styling gets tiresome, I don’t know how I’d put up with much more than this.

    2 pts – 2000 Toni Braxton: not hearing much here that we haven’t heard countless times in other r’n’b songs (in the modern connotation of the phrase). Doesn’t do much for me.

    1 pt -1980 Motorhead: sounds very little magic to this – the dictionary definition of meat’n’two veg rock. Checking Wikipedia to try to find out why I didn’t remember this, the entry for the Golden Years EP says it got very little radio play because the vocals were too far down in the mix. This certainly bears it out – it sounds really badly recorded, and it’s hard to believe this was a hit other than amongst diehard fans.

  6. 6
    Billy Smart on 14 May 2010 #

    6 – Elvis. The swagger never quite went away even after he was demobbed, and every Elvis single is an invitation to spend some time with the most remarkable personality you can imagine.

    5 – Motorhead – Massive, more a force of nature than a song

    4 – Soul 2 Soul – Their third best single, hamstrung by Jazzie B presenting himself as a self-styled seer.

    3 – Toni Braxton – Handicapped by those backing vocals, which sound over-dominant to my ears.

    2 – Diana Vickers – You have to be listening pretty hard to pick up the interesting things about this single, but at least they are in there.

    1 – Tom Jones – This bellowing idiot is one of my least favourite figures in pop history.

  7. 7
    lonepilgrim on 14 May 2010 #

    6 – Toni Braxton
    I like the way TBs smokey vocal slips around the syncopated bassline, also the swiss-watch precision of the call and response between the lead and backing vocals. In contrast to Billy I like the way the latter feature so strongly, like a greek chorus. Also love TBs ‘yeah’ and ‘no’ during the middle eight.

    5 – Motorhead
    I love the sound of the audience at the start of this – it sounds elemental, like the wind or the sea – and the band channels that energy into a pummelling performance.

    4 – Soul 2 Soul
    The syncopated piano and percussion keep this one interesting – Jazzy B almost spoils it but the Wishing on a Star reference saves it. It’s interesting to contrast the pop surrealism of this video with Heart’s soapy narrative.

    3 – Elvis
    A solid performance from Elvis which skips along pleasantly and doesn’t outstay it’s welcome

    2 – Diana Vickers
    I like this song and the production is a little history of pop in itself with rocky guitar sounds, dance rhythms, hints of emo in the vocal, etc. although that does make it a bit indistinctive. My main problem is that DV is such a minor presence in the song that the lyric and mood seem unengaging.

    1 – Tom Jones
    I lost interest during TJs groaning which I didn’t do with any of the others. It’s so-so.

  8. 8
    Lionel d'Lion on 14 May 2010 #

    6 points – Motörhead
    5 points – Elvis
    4 points – Diana Vickers
    3 points – Toni Braxton
    2 points – Soul II Soul
    1 point – Tom Jones

  9. 9
    thefatgit on 14 May 2010 #

    Tough choice this:

    6 points-Motorhead
    5 points-Soul II Soul
    4 points-Elvis
    3 points-Diana Vickers
    2 points-Tom Jones
    1 point-Toni Braxton

    Let’s start with Toni. I’m not against this track per se, but it’s an anonymous example of smooth R&B among far superior examples of smooth R&B. Unbreak My Heart this is not.
    Tom Jones puts in a powerful bells and whistles performance, but the song doesn’t stick in the memory as well as it should. I’m just thinking Goth Showtune, and the concept just raises my hackles. Sorry Tom.
    Erithian mentions Dolores O’Riordan for good reason. Every time I hear this on the radio, I’m envisaging a burst of “ZOMBIE ZOMBIE UHHHooh UHHHooh OOOHhuh!”. Strange, because I thought Diana and her non-generic voice could have gone all the way in X Factor.
    Elvis’ mid-tempo number is charming if maybe a little too simplistic. But maybe that’s the point. Like cooking, the hardest thing to to is to keep it simple.
    I loved Soul II Soul, they oozed class. This track is a little Daisy Agey which in itself is no bad thing, but we had PM Dawn and De La Soul doing this sort of thing much better.
    So the 6 goes to Motorhead. And rightly so, because Lemmy and pals channel Blues, Punk and Metal like no other band can with energy and infectious “f*ck you” bravado. Lemmy gargles with gravel on here, and despite production being all to cock, it doesn’t matter. He addresses the mic like Liam Gallagher’s rock hard uncle.

  10. 10
    scott woods on 14 May 2010 #

    6 – Toni – I’m kinda hit and miss with “sultry” but I can’t deny the kickingness of this arrangement, which is a subtly more fluid and more Latin and more disco (and hence superior) “No Scrubs.”
    5 – Elvis – decently middling Elvis at best, but the pickings below it are pretty slim.
    4 – Soul II Soul – An exercise in genre — a genre they invented mind you, but still.
    3 – Tom Jones
    2 – Motorhead
    1 – Diana Vickers – Response to first full listen was ‘meh,’ response to second full listen was ‘this is annoying.’ Neither of these bode well for a (fully not planned) third listen.

  11. 11
    pink champale on 14 May 2010 #

    6: motorhead – never heard this before (or much ‘beyond ace of spades’). it’s fantastic
    5: toni – no ‘unbreak my heart’ but best of the fairly uninspiring rest
    4: elvis – pleasant and comforting is bit of a waste for elvis, but pleasant and comforting none the less
    3: soul 11 soul – their supply of genius seemed to run out pretty quickly
    2: tom – not really
    1: vickers – there are good things here but i hate her voice and i hate that fizzy guitar sound under the chorus (but not as much as i hate her voice)

  12. 12
    Simon C on 14 May 2010 #

    6. Motörhead
    5. Toni Braxton
    4. Elvis Presley
    3. Diana Vickers
    2. Soul II Soul
    1. Tom Jones

  13. 13
    Steve Mannion on 15 May 2010 #

    6: Soul II Soul really stands out for me and that’s without having heard it for some time. Their last decent single maybe (oh wait I liked ‘Love Enuff’).

    5: Lemmy sounds a bit lost in this one but maybe that’s just the wrawk-tastic ‘live’ sound.

    4: Mostly agree with thefatgit about this Braxton one but it’s better than I remembered.

    3: Vickers and her song are completely average in every way but average is still better than actively bad I guess.

    2: As formulaic as Elvis gets surely and i find him almost impossible to care about at the best of times.

    1: Tom’s more blusterous than illustrious here.

  14. 14
    lockedintheattic on 15 May 2010 #

    6. Toni Braxton – this stands ahead of the rest by miles for me. I’m not a particularly big Toni fan, but the production on this is great and her vocals are great too

    I’d rather not score the others at all, but if I have to, here goes…

    5. Motorhead – best of a bad bunch
    4. Soul II Soul – if Nellee Hooper genuinely was still involved here it’s hard to tell, as this is nowhere near his usual production standards (and way off the first album). And Victoria Wilson-James is no Caron Wheeler
    3. Tom Jones – blah
    2. Elvis

    1. I had entirely forgotten quite how irritating Diana Vickers’ voice is. It only takes a few seconds to remind me.

  15. 15
    Amanda S on 15 May 2010 #

    6 Points: Elvis Presley – Maybe not his most memorable but still fun
    5 Points: Toni Braxton
    4 Points: Soul II Soul
    3 Points: Tom Jones – Let down by the chorus
    2 Points: Motörhead – I’d forgotten they had a hit song
    1 Point: Diana Vickers – I really loathe this singing style

  16. 16
    David Belbin on 15 May 2010 #

    6 Points: Elvis Presley – At this point, Elvis turns into Cliff, imitating Elvis, but still miles ahead of anything else this time – the youthful, optimistic, sheer joy of it
    5 Points: Toni Braxton – Millie Jackson comparisons are a stretch, but this is OK
    4 Points: Tom Jones – I never liked this much
    3 Points: Soul 2 Soul – tedious
    2 Points: Motörhead – Awful
    1 Point: Diana Vickers – I couldn’t get all the way through this one

  17. 17
    taDOW on 15 May 2010 #

    6 points – Elvis
    5 points – Soul II Soul
    4 points – Motorhead
    3 points – Tom Jones
    2 points – Toni Braxton
    1 point – Diana Vickers

  18. 18
    intothefireuk on 15 May 2010 #

    6 – Motorhead
    5 – Soul ii Soul
    4 – Elvis
    3 – Diana Vickers
    2 – Tom Jones
    1 – Toni Braxton

  19. 19
    intothefireuk on 15 May 2010 #

    This has probably already been said but surely many of these top ten tracks more likely represent the decade just passed than the one just started.

  20. 20
    punctum on 16 May 2010 #

    6 points – Diana Vickers: Doing the double is a lovely Cowell revenge, as lovely in its own way as RATM at Christmas, and “Once” demands to be heard more than once; a very characteristic Cathy Dennis modulation in the sixth and seventh bars of each half of the chorus and the overall feeling is one of Liz Frazer being parachuted into a parallel 1985, one where she’s expected to be a Glossy Pop Star.
    5 points – Toni Braxton: She always sounds as though she’s hiding the last, fatal emotional card behind her back but this performance represents a great turnaround – she’s bluffing tolerance and kickbacks but at the end she really cannot take it and the collapse is noble if not agreeable.
    4 points – Motorhead: Lemmy has always said they were firmly in the main tradition of rock ‘n’ roll and who could deny them on this hearing; still learning from beat group Motown, threading it through purple 1976 vortices, remembering excess but also to take the freakery from ’72 and make it part of their metallic bloodstream. Magnificent.
    3 points – Tom Jones: As ludicrous as anything Jones did at the time but the ITC theme song overkill of the arrangement and performance is actually quite endearing; you can sense he’s striving to make something tangible out of this mess and tries to turn it into Solomon Burke testimony, always foredoomed (he doesn’t really hide the notion that he’s HATING having to do this sort of knicker-pleasing mush) but the Brentford Nylons bluntness of the performance sets up camp for Tony Christie.
    2 points – Elvis Presley: An underwhelming “comeback,” like a detoothed “All Shook Up,” but Elvis Is Back! proved that this was but a cautious warm-up.
    1 point – Soul II Soul: As I previously said, I had plenty of time in 1990 for Soul II Soul wannabes but SIIS themselves were starting to get on my wick a wee bit and Jazzie B was becoming as annoying as Einar in the Sugarcubes. The song’s there – well, sort of – but not much else is. I have to write about this album (and its predecessor) on Then Play Long so maybe I’ll have warmed to it a little by then, but twenty years on it still leaves me tepid.

  21. 21
    Tina on 16 May 2010 #

    6 – Motorhead – amazing, I’m no way a metalhead but this really appealed to me
    5 – Elvis
    4 – Diana Vickers – I’ve always been a Strictly rather than an X factor girl but this is pretty OK (damned by faint praise)
    3 – Soul II Soul
    2 – Toni Braxton
    1 – Tom Jones – I usually like his stuff but this a real turkey!

  22. 22
    swanstep on 17 May 2010 #

    So what are the surrealist refs in the Soul II Soul vid.? Dali’s dream sequence from Hitchcock’s Spellbound is the main one, but Beinicx’s Moon in the Gutter (more just pretentious than especially surrealist IIRC) is also in there (the gal swinging into the car and some of the moon imagery). What are the others? (I did the obvious google searches and couldn’t find any info., which suggests how far SIIS’s star has fallen, how quickly Massive Attack and all the rest ate their lunch – there aren’t any SIIS obsessives out there!)

  23. 23
    lonepilgrim on 17 May 2010 #

    re22 I thought the stairway could be a reference to ‘A matter of Life and Death’ – again not Surrealist, just the video director demonstrating his art school cred

  24. 24
    swanstep on 17 May 2010 #

    Ah, thanks for that lonepilgrim. To my shame, I’ve never seen AMOLAD. I thought maybe the staircase in the vid. was just a generic MGM musical staircase, but looking at clips from AMOLAD now on youtube, that’s obviously the reference that’s intended.

  25. 25
    jo on 17 May 2010 #

    1960: Elvis Presley – Stuck On You (video)
    2010: Diana Vickers – Once (video)
    1980: Motörhead – Leaving Here (from the Golden Years EP) (video)
    1970: Tom Jones – Daughter Of Darkness (video)
    1990: Soul II Soul – A Dream’s A Dream (video)
    2000: Toni Braxton – He Wasn’t Man Enough (video)

  26. 26
    JonnyB on 17 May 2010 #

    6 – Motorhead. Also not a massive metal fan, but every interview I’ve ever seen with Lemmy sees him harking back to the fifties and sixties R&R acts, implying that Motorhead are just a louder and dirtier extension of this. Yep. Rough and ready, perhaps not the greatest recording, song, vocal, production etc. – but let’s face it – it’s a bit exciting, innit?

    5 – Diana. I am a bit surprised with myself for this.

    4 – Elvis.

    3 – Toni

    2 – Tom. The original plan was to give this the one. Tom’s single gear is so desperately frustrating. But I didn’t mind the verse actually (the bit that I couldn’t recall from hearing it before).

    1 – Soul

  27. 27
    Lena on 17 May 2010 #

    6 – Diana Vickers. The truth will out, and so does talent (it’s a fine album if you like this but don’t own it already).

    5 – Toni Braxton, whose new album I am looking forward to hearing.

    4 – Motorhead – When in doubt, rock, is one of my mottoes.

    3 – Elvis – He’s stuck at nine, he’s stuck on you, he’s…ELVIS!

    2 – Soul II Soul – Normally would place higher but there is some FINE stuff here…

    1 – Tom Jones – He is capable of doing so much better than this!

  28. 28
    Abe Fruman on 17 May 2010 #

    What a load of old toot. No stand out tracks there so scoring will need to be slightly arbitrary :

    6 Elvis
    5 Toni
    4 Diana
    3 Soul
    2 Tom
    1 Motorhead

  29. 29
    The Lurker on 17 May 2010 #

    Not a great round, but here goes:

    6 – Motorhead – I feel Ace of Spades is all the Motorhead I’ll ever need, but this is still enjoyable

    5 – Soul II Soul – it’s no Back to Life, but still fairly decent

    4 – Tom Jones – the chorus is bizarrely cheerful for the lyrics, but I wouldn’t mind hearing it again

    3 – Elvis – not a classic

    2 – Diana – this seems all over the shop

    1 – Toni – boring

  30. 30
    Gordon on 17 May 2010 #

    6 points: Diana Vickers – Once
    5 points: Motörhead – Leaving Here
    4 points: Soul II Soul – A Dream’s A Dream
    3 points: Toni Braxton – He Wasn’t Man Enough
    2 points: Tom Jones – Daughter Of Darkness
    1 points: Elvis Presley – Stuck On You

    That Diana Vickers track WILL NOT LEAVE MY HEAD!! MAKE IT STOP!!!!

    Not a great bunch this though.

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