May 10

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? Round 4: the Number 7s.

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops46 comments • 1,564 views

With three rounds of voting already underway, let’s take our first look at how the six decades are matching up against each other. In accordance with the mood of the times, i.e. in order to make every vote count, I have replaced the hated and discredited “Cumulative Inverse Points” system with the progressive and inclusive “Cumulative Average Scores” system. (This is probably even more baffling to the layman than the old method – but if you’d like it explaining, please see me in the comments box.)

Cumulative scores so far:
1. The Eighties – 12.62 points.
2. The Teens – 11.78 points.
3. The Noughties – 11.72 points.
4. The Nineties – 9.80 points.
5. The Sixties – 8.71 points.
6. The Seventies – 8.37 points.

It’s been a good run so far for the Eighties, who have yet to place outside the top three in any round – whereas the opposite is true for the Seventies, who have been stuck in the bottom three throughout. Meanwhile, it’s neck and neck between the Noughties and the Teens, who are virtually tied for second place.

Time for a new round, then. Let’s take a look at the Number Sevens.

1960: Brenda Lee – Sweet Nothin’s (video)
1970: The Hollies – I Can’t Tell The Bottom From The Top (video)
1980: Rodney Franklin – The Groove (video)
1990: Snap! – The Power (video)
2000: True Steppers Featuring Dane Bowers – Buggin’ (video)
2010: Chipmunk – Until You Were Gone (ft. Esmee Denters) (video)

(Download the MP3 medley)

A child star in the US since the mid-Fifties, Brenda Lee‘s first taste of British chart success came at the age of fifteen, with a coquettish little ode to teen romance that recently resurfaced on the soundtrack of An Education (and very well-placed it was too, as I recall).

As with the Professor Green track, this is dating viewed as a game – and once again, it’s the girl who’s calling all the shots. Brenda plays her hand well, assuming a knowing, somewhat conspiratorial air that masks both her true feelings and the likely depth of her actual experience. Delighting in her beau’s attention, she relishes the newly-found power which it affords her – but still she plays her cards close to her chest, leaving us to wonder just what is being said, and leaving her beau to wonder how seriously he is being taken.

Viewed in this light, the title of the song works as a disingenuous disclaimer, throwing all of us – including Brenda’s anxious mother – off the scent. (“What’s he been saying to you, honey?” “Oh, nothing…”) Nice work, Brenda. You’re growing up fast.

If you’re thinking that there’s something a bit Elton John-ish about “I Can’t Tell The Bottom From The Top”, then you’d be quite right: as an in-demand session player of the day, Elton played piano for The Hollies on this recording, just as he had done for its predecessor, “He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother”.

I’ve recently had cause to re-assess my opinion of The Hollies – partly thanks to Marcello Carlin’s fine appraisal of their Greatest Hits collection from 1968 – but at this stage in their career, with Graham Nash departed for CSN&Y and the hired songwriting hacks drafted back in, the band were on the artistic slide.

There was life in them yet, of course – I’ll not have a word said against the magnificent “The Air That I Breathe” – but although this song starts promisingly enough, its chorus slides into a banal juxtaposition of opposites (cloudy/bright, day/night, wrong/right) that instantly puts me in mind of Eurovision. It therefore came as little surprise to learn that its songwriters (Doug Flett and Guy Fletcher) went on to pen Cliff Richard’s second Eurovision entry, “Power To All Our Friends”. Cute in its way, but we’re already a long way from “King Midas In Reverse”.

During the first half of 1980, I worked behind the counter of the Hamleys toy store on Regent Street. For much of that time, I shared a till with a bona fide, card-carrying, burgundy trousered, white-socked-and-loafered Essex soul boy, who was forever championing the latest import tracks, weeks before they charted: Stacy Lattisaw’s “Jump To The Beat”, The Gap Band’s “I Don’t Believe You Want To Get Up And Dance” (later retitled “Oops Upside Your Head”) and Rodney Franklin‘s smoothly stop-starting jazz-funk instrumental… otherwise known as the WANKAH! song.

For according to my source, an Essex clubland ritual developed around “The Groove” whereby, whenever the music stopped dead – as it does no fewer than eleven times in the course of the 7-inch version – the whole club was duty bound to fill the space with a lusty cry of WANKAH! And so, while I’d be amazed if the ritual ever travelled further than my mate’s local disco, I’ve never been able to listen to “The Groove” without inserting a mental WANKAH! of my own, in each and every one of its eleven allotted gaps.

None of this has ever impeded my enjoyment of Franklin’s ivory-tickling craft, though – especially during the rippling solo break, which manages to stay WANKAH!-free for a full eighty seconds. Although never much more than a niche interest, jazz-funk wasn’t unheard of in the charts – Spyro Gyra’s “Morning Dance” and Mezzoforte’s “Garden Party” spring immediately to find – and I’ve always been more than fond.

As it won’t be long before FT readers have a chance to discuss it in detail, I don’t want to say too much about Snap!‘s “The Power” at this stage. Like “Ride On Time” before it and “Gypsy Woman” after it, “The Power” enjoyed a few weeks of unassailable supremacy on all the dancefloors I regularly visited – and so inevitably, we all got a bit sick of it by the end of its chart run. But it has held up well – and better than I had expected, given Snap!’s shall-we-say erratic subsequent output – slotting neatly into the post-Soul II Soul landscape, while paving the way for the likes of C&C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat”.

Until his appearance on this year’s Celebrity Big Brother (YES, I WATCHED IT ALL), I hadn’t given Dane Bowers a second thought in years – and yet from 1998 to 2001, both with Another Level, True Steppers and on his own – he was a big draw, clocking up a dozen big hits and collaborating with Jay-Z (*cough*), Ghostface Killah (*splutter*) and Victoria Beckham (*snort*) amongst others.

For the True Steppers phase of his career, Bowers turned towards the UK Garage scene – and much as I am minded to sneer at his opportunism, “Buggin’ Me” is far from disastrous. OK, so it’s no “Crazy Love” (and it’s most certainly no “Flowers”) and Dane’s mopey vocals are admittedly its weakest link – even if his use of Auto-Tune was several years ahead of its time – but really, this is nothing to be too ashamed of.

From pop stars going urban in 2000, to grime MCs going pop in 2010: taking his lead from Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder’s massive commercial success last year, Chipmunk moves right into the middle of the mainstream with this collaboration (also featuring the Dutch pop singer Esmee Denters), obliterating any remaining vestigial links with the scene in which he first made his name.

The history of pop is stuffed with examples of this kind of unabashed careerism, and aggrieved cries of “sell out” are all part of the ritual, but as sell-outs go, this one feels shabbier than most – more defeated, even. There’s little joy and little life to be found here; instead, you feel that Chipmunk has merely sighed, rolled over and ceded control to his production team (headed by the ubiquitous Fraser T. Smith, whose signature style seems to be swamping British chart pop at present).

Much as I hate to use words like “disposable” in a pejorative sense, I can’t think of a more fitting moment to break the habit. In fact, what the hell, let’s go the whole hog: it’s AURAL CHEWING GUM!

Ooh, I do feel better for having said that. But what do you think? Please leave your scores in the comments box.


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  1. 31
    Tom on 20 May 2010 #

    6 points – Snap! It’s not really a spoiler to say that I think this is tremendous.

    5 points – Brenda: goodness me, this is good stuff – first real indication we’ve had that the turn away from rock’n’roll at the end of the 50s was a good idea as well as a bad one.

    4 points – Chipmunk: appreciate the general drift of Marcello’s argument but the fact is while I don’t like the bubblegrime stuff we’re getting as much as the mid-00s music it’s springing from, I do still LIKE it, and I have a particular soft spot for Chipmunk whose hangdog relationship pop always seems to get stuck in my head.

    3 points – Bowers: what makes this song both not work and also be memorable is that harpsichord effect, which was all over UK garage pop in 2000 but really does not suit ANYTHING about the rest of this record!

    2 points – Hollies: not a bad tune but a little ham-fisted in the delivery.

    1 point – Rodney: I don’t really ‘get’ it but certainly this isn’t unpleasant. Good round overall.

  2. 32
    intothefireuk on 20 May 2010 #

    …….with comments this time.
    6 The Groove – soundtracked many a night at the local hop.
    5 Sweet Nothins – have always enjoyed her fiesty vocals.
    4 I Can’t Tell The Bottom etc. – decent tune if a little jaded delivery
    3 The Power – marked down due to over repetition and the fact that I don’t like his rappin.
    2 Buggin – exactly
    1 Until You Were Gone – generic pop

  3. 33
    grange85 on 20 May 2010 #

    Love Brenda to pieces; Hollies track was very very dull; Enjoyed Rodney for about a minute and then got bored. I think over-familiarity has ruined The Power – it’s good but I’m tired of the whole “I’ve got the power” bit. True Steppers did nothing. Not being aware of how Chipmunk might be selling out I just let it go – not wonderful but doing no harm…

    6 – Brenda Lee
    5 – Snap!
    4 – Chipmunk
    3 – Rodney Franklin
    2 – True Steppers
    1 – The Hollies

  4. 34
    Mark Davis on 22 May 2010 #

    6p: Brenda Lee
    5p: Rodney Franklin
    4p: The Hollies
    3p: Snap!
    2p: Chipmunk
    1p: True Steppers

  5. 35
    Martin on 22 May 2010 #

    6 points – Rodney Franklin
    5 points – Brenda Lee
    4 points – The Hollies
    3 points – Snap!
    2 points – Chipmunk
    1 points – True Steppers

    For me this became three sets of 2 to distinguish, Rodney narrowly beats out Brenda, The Hollies edge out Snap!, and Chipmunk beats True Steppers by a nose. The space separating the dyads is LARGE. And (Snap! excepted) I think there’s a general consensus in the voting on this. This is the round so far where I agree with the polling the most.

    Furthermore, Rodney and Brenda are the first two tracks that I’d seek out and add to my iPod — so far.

  6. 36
    Ben on 23 May 2010 #

    6 – Snap!
    5 – Brenda Lee
    4 – Truesteppers
    3 – Chipmunk
    2 – Rodney Franklin
    1 – The Hollies

  7. 37
    Tina on 23 May 2010 #

    6 points: Snap!
    5 points: Rodney Franklin
    4 points: The Hollies
    3 points: Brenda Lee
    2 points: True Steppers Featuring Dane Bowers
    1 points: Chipmunk

  8. 38
    Clair on 25 May 2010 #

    6 points – Snap!
    5 points – Brenda Lee
    4 points – Rodney Franklin
    3 points – The Hollie
    2 points – Chipmunk
    1 point – Dane Bowers

  9. 39
    wichita lineman on 26 May 2010 #

    6 Snap – cowbells shakin’!
    5 Brenda Lee – wr. by Ronnie Self! Check out his twisted rock’n’roll rave-up Bop A Lena!
    4 Dane Bowers – w/ joanna newsom on harp!
    3 Rodney Franklin – flick! Lonsdale! Farahs!
    2 Chipmunk – err, ok-ish!
    1 Hollies – I blame The Band!

  10. 40
    Z on 29 May 2010 #

    I found this hard to score – I liked it all, except Until You Were Gone.
    6 – Brenda Lee – what a great performance. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
    5 – Snap – It’s not their fault that it’s been played so much that I was bored at the prospect of watching the video. Actually, it’s still damn good and I liked it a lot better than I thought I would. Brilliant
    4 – The Hollies – I can’t even remember this but I must have listened to it a lot at the time – needed something to take my mind off my homework.
    3 – True Steppers Featuring Dane Bower – I like..
    2 – Rodney Franklin. Ooh dear, it was very good, but it went on rather and I got a bit bored. Sorry.
    1 – Chipmunk. Formulaic and dull. And stop pointing at me, child.

  11. 41
    Lord B on 31 May 2010 #

    Good heavens. It’s not a vintage, is it?

    6 points – The Hollies (I think it’s Elton on piano, you know.)
    5 points – True Steppers. It’s Ok, innit
    4 points – Chipmunk. I find him increasingly palatable, actually
    3 points – Brenda Lee – meh
    2 points – Rodney Franklin – sounds like Al’s Bit Of A Disco
    1 point – Snap – Always hated this. Horrid horrid horrid

  12. 42
    Rachiesparrow on 3 Jun 2010 #

    Disco baby!

    6pts – Rodney Franklin
    5pts Brenda Lee
    4pts Snap
    3pts – The Hollies – yawn.
    2pts – Chipmunk
    1pt – Dane Bowers.

  13. 43
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 6 Jun 2010 #

    Six for Rodney Franklin – The Groove
    Five for Snap! – The Power
    Four for Brenda Lee – Sweet Nothin’s
    Three for Chipmunk – Until You Were Gone (ft. Esmee Denters)
    Two for True Steppers Featuring Dane Bowers – Buggin’
    One for The Hollies – I Can’t Tell The Bottom From The Top

    Never never never liked the Hollies
    Love the word BUGGIN: singin is a little nasal and unconcerned in a very pretty arrangement, though it sharpens up when the autotune starts to wrinkle it.
    Brenda is the highest I’ve marked the oldest song so far, I think: I always loved her rasp and i like how she growls it out into view here but doesn’t purely trade on it.
    RUN AWAY CHIPMUNK RUN AWAY! Go build a tree fort, as Ewing Minor would put it. A MILF-RESISTANT TREE FORT.

  14. 44
    RobMiles on 6 Jun 2010 #

    6 – Snap. Immense all-time dance classic.
    5 – Brenda Lee
    4 – True Steppers Featuring Dane Bowers
    3 – The Hollies
    2 – Chipmunk
    1 – Rodney Franklin

  15. 45
    Tom Lawrence on 9 Jun 2010 #

    6. Snap! But of course.
    5 Brenda Lee
    4. Rodney Franklin
    3. Chipmunk
    2. True Steppers feat. Dane Bowers
    1. Hollies

  16. 46
    sarlitchin on 10 Jun 2010 #

    6 points – Snap!
    5 points – Brenda Lee
    4 points – True Steppers
    3 points – The Hollies
    2 points – Rodney Franklin
    1 point – Chipmunk

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