May 10

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? Round 5: the Number 6s.

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops57 comments • 1,494 views

First things first: let’s see how Round 4 has affected the cumulative scoreboard. I’ve put positions from the previous round in brackets.

Cumulative scores so far:
1(1) The Eighties – 15.84 points.
2(4) The Nineties – 14.94 points.
3(2) The Teens – 14.24 points.
4(3) The Noughties – 13.96 points.
5(5) The Sixties – 13.59 points.
6(6) The Seventies – 11.44 points.

So it’s good news for the Nineties, as “The Power” nudges them up a couple of spaces at the expense of the Teens and the Noughties. The Eighties are holding steady at the top, while the Seventies have a lot of catching up to do.

Eyes down for the Number Sixes, then…

1960: Jimmy Jones – Handy Man (video)
1970: Christie – Yellow River (video) (Tom’s post on Popular)
1980: Sky – Toccata (video)
1990: UB40 – Kingston Town (video)
2000: Mandy Moore – Candy (video)
2010: Taio Cruz ft Ke$ha – Dirty Picture (video)

(Download the MP3)

I have two overriding problems with “Handy Man”. Firstly, there’s something fingernails-down-the-blackboard irritating about Jimmy Jones’s voice. It sounds modelled on Sam Cooke, but Cooke’s sweetness is replaced here by an oddly grating quality – particularly on the higher end of Jones’s falsetto, which wafts in and out of focus like the wavering signal on an AM radio dial. And secondly, there’s the whistling, of which I’m rarely a fan – although in fairness, it should be noted that this was a hastily conceived replacement for a flute player who failed to show up.

I’m also a little unsettled by the video clip, in which Jones ingratiatingly skips around – almost in a Freddie Garrity style at times – in front of a sullen, gum-chewing representation of middle American youth. “I’m your handy man”, he chirps – and perhaps that’s how his audience would like to see him, as a happily subservient service provider.

But if this is so, then what of the lyric, in which Jones offers his services as a 24-hour on-call mender of broken hearts? This is a very strange service to be offering the newly dumped daughters of America! And what, pray, is his remedy? “I’m handy with love”, he boasts. “I whisper sweet things, you tell all your friends, they’ll come runnin’ to me!” Quite the player, isn’t he? So there’s a certain subversion here which intrigues me – but it isn’t quite enough to turn “Handy Man” into an enjoyable listening experience.

I have a different set of problems with Christie‘s “Yellow River”, which is so deeply embedded into my memories of 1970 that I experience it almost synaesthetically. Appropriately enough, it makes me think of waterways – and boat clubs, and outboard engines, and dirty-blue reflections of petrol on the surface of a muddy canal. The sense of acute nostalgia which it invokes is mirrored by the intense longing for home which the song’s returning soldier expresses – as if both he and I are yearning to return to a simpler, happier time and place.

The effect it has on me is almost unbearably powerful. I well up; I get shivers down the spine; and I find it impossible to disassociate these feelings from the objective qualities of the record itself. What would it be like to hear “Yellow River” for the first time in 2010? Is it a great pop record, or merely a catchy little period piece of no great import? Well, that’s for you to tell me, isn’t it?

One of prog rock’s more foolish aspirations – and I speak as someone with a great affection for the genre – was the way in which it sometimes seeked to position itself as classical music’s contemporary equivalent. Think of Emerson Lake and Palmer’s assault on Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition; think of Rick Wakeman, butchering Brahms on Yes’s Fragile; and more generally, think of the way in which musical technique was prized as an end in itself.

Although not exactly prog in its purest form, Sky represented a logical (ahem) progression from – or reduction of – these ideals. Their aridly flashy reworking of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor is just the sort of thing your music teacher would have approved of, as “a cut above the usual pop nonsense” – and yet if the now barely remembered Sky were indeed aiming for posterity, how cruelly has history served them! “Toccata” barely rises above the level of a theme tune for a TV arts documentary, and while the playing is nimble enough, it’s far from exceptional.

Subjectively speaking, I’ll grant it two redeeming features. Firstly, the drummer once played on a Kevin Ayers album, and so he can’t be all bad. Secondly, my exhuming of “Toccata” has served to unlock a long-held musical mystery: so that’s where Jam and Spoon got the riff for their wonderful 1994 dance anthem “Right In The Night”! I’ve puzzled over that for years!

You can keep your Beanos and your Dandys – my favourite DC Thomson comic was Sparky, and one of my favourite Sparky strips centred around the adventures of Willie Getaway: a short-sighted heir to a fortune, who misread the “WANTED – reward offered!” posters bearing his image as a sign that he was in trouble with the law. Every week, well-meaning members of the public would attempt to flag him down, and every week he would give them the slip.

I was reminded of Willie Getaway when reading the story of Lord Creator, who recorded the orginal version of UB40‘s “Kingston Town”. By the time that UB40’s version was a hit – and it was a massive hit, topping the charts in France and the Netherlands – Lord Creator was living the life of a homeless destitute, unaware of the substantial royalties that were owed to him. When approached on the street by Clancy Eccles, the record’s original producrer, Lord Creator assumed that Eccles was chasing him for an unpaid debt, and fled the scene. Happily, Eccles gave chase. Justice was duly done, and Lord Creator’s fortunes were restored in a way that was always denied to the hapless Willie Getaway.

With this heart-warming tale in mind, I’m inclined to think more kindly of UB40’s fond, if somewhat workmanlike, cover. It must have been galling for them to realise that the only way to maintain chart success was to crank out the covers – “Kingston Town” is taken from their sequel to 1983’s Labour of Love, and one wonders how much the labour had come to replace the love – but there are far worse ways to spend one’s time than by engaging in wealth redistribution operations on behalf of the ripped-off Jamaican heroes of one’s youth, and so I must salute their endeavours accordingly.

Let us now turn to hallowed quartet of so-called “pop princesses” that emerged at around the turn of the last decade: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson… and Mandy Moore, charting here with her debut release. I find little to love here: the track is conceived in blatant imitation of Britney, right down to Mandy’s horrible mis-pronounciation of “me” as “maaay”.

My memories of Mandy’s brief reign are mostly centred around an in-flight movie which I half-watched a couple of years later, in which she played an annoyingly perfect “America’s Sweetheart” character. I resented the way that she seemed forced upon us by an invisible marketing committee; nothing new there of course, but these calculations struck me as particularly clinical, and Mandy did little to stamp her own character on her work.

Reviewing the pop princesses ten years on, only Jessica Simpson seems largely unchanged by the passing of time (although I’m no expert, and maybe I missed a scandal or two). Britney flipped out – Christina went DIRRTY – and (oh my goodness, can this be true?) Mandy ended up marrying Ryan Adams, and denouncing her early recordings as “so bad” and “just awful”. And frankly, who are we to contradict her?

As few of you showed much love to Chipmunk in the previous round, I question whether you’ll be any kinder to composer/producer Fraser T. Smith’s second offering, as joylessly intoned by Taio Cruz and Ke$ha.

Smith and Cruz are not without some degree of form – I enjoyed their work on Tinchy Stryder’s “Take Me Back”, for instance – but Cruz’s godawful chart-topper “Break Your Heart” marked the exact moment when I fell out of love with the predominant pop sound of 2009. Truly, it was a club banger too far – and despite some vaguely appealing electro-dance rasping and parping (which pale into insignificance next to the likes of Fedde Le Grand, Mason’s “Exceeder” and the Crookers remix of Kid Cudi’s “Day n Nite”), “Dirty Picture” is scarcely any better.

In its defence, I suppose you could argue that the witless, charmless, endless repetition of “take a dirty picture, take a dirty picture of me” accurately portrays a state of feverishly monomaniacal erotic obsession – but why make the effort, when Taio and Ke$ha have made so little of their own?

Over to you, then. Christie might be a five-star classic in my head, but does it tower over the rest of today’s selections like a colossus for the rest of you? Something tells me that, by virtue of its overall mediocrity, this round is wide open. Let’s find out!


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  1. 31
    David Belbin on 20 May 2010 #

    I’m nearly in agreement with you on this lot.

    6 points: Christie – Yellow River reminds me of the summer before I became a teen, boy scouts and a holiday in Jersey
    5 points: UB40 – Kingston Town I saw them on their first tour, back in 82. They were quite hip then
    4 points: Jimmy Jones – Handy Man I much prefer the James Taylor version, which is lovely, and in which he sort of takes the piss out of his ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ persona
    3 points: Taio Cruz ft Ke$ha – Dirty Picture
    2 points: Mandy Moore – Candy When she married Ryan, I thought she was a porn star, but no – worse
    1 point: Sky – Toccata now this is porn, and certainly worse, Ayers connection not withstanding

  2. 32
    Erithian on 20 May 2010 #

    6 pts: 1980 Sky – Yah boo to all the hataz, I enjoyed this a lot back in the day and still do – stylish (apart from Tristan Fry’s glasses of course) and stands up as a fine record regardless of the “look we can do a classical piece as rock” aspect. I saw them at Manchester Apollo! – only gig I’ve ever seen where the band remained seated throughout.

    5 pts: 1970 Christie – this and others in the lower half of 1970’s top ten remind me that this was the month after the Beatles finally broke up, when it was all to play for as regards what pop and British pop in particular would sound like. This was one option, and good to spend time with, although Christie were not to stick around as major players. Of course we’ve stumbled upon two elements of “Karma Chameleon” unconnected except by the coincidence of being number 6 in charts ten years apart – “Yellow River” for the intro and “Handy Man” for the “karma-karma” hook.

    4 pts: 1990 UB40 – take it in isolation leaving aside the knowledge of the band’s long history of retreads, and it lopes pleasantly enough – it’s worthy, encourages empathy with the Windrush generation and all that, but it’s a wee bit boring by the end.

    3 pts: 1960 Jimmy Jones – this of course was the year that historic Kennedy-Nixon TV debate. They say Nixon won convincingly among those who listened to it on the radio, whereas Kennedy won it with the TV audience. Same goes here – this is a far better track if you only hear it! Without the dancing and the bemused audience, the vocal is endearingly quirky.

    2 pts: 2000 Mandy Moore – dull and generic. But still infinitely preferable to…

    1 pt: 2010 Taio Cruz – this would have been better if two things had happened: (i) the vocalists hadn’t turned up; (ii) the track had stopped after about 35 seconds. Up until then I was pleasantly surprised. As it is, it’s not even good soft porn.

  3. 33
    intothefireuk on 20 May 2010 #

    This decades thing is like pulling teeth so far…….

    6 UB40 – cos I heard it a lot when I was in Barbados in 1990.
    5 Sky – What we need is more musos in the charts.
    4 Christie – Despite the p*ss references a nice mediocre song.
    3 Jimmy Jones – purely for the dancing (& whistling).
    2 Mandy Moore – cos she isn’t Taio Cruz.
    1 Taio Cruz – disgusting nonsense.

  4. 34
    jeff w on 20 May 2010 #

    Oh, I looooved Sky 2 back in 1980/81. Right up my street it was, what with being a proper musician what played in school orchestras and stuff. Or at least I wanted it to be right up my street. Secretly, I thought half the (double) album was a bit boring and much preferred The Higsons and The Pretenders and Rush. Still, Tristan Fry was something of a hero (I was a percussionist in said school orchestra) and “Toccata” still stands up now, is still great to air drum-fill to.

    6 pts – Sky
    5 pts – Mandy M

    And after those two, everyone deserves 1 point. They cut cards for the honours shown below. You wouldn’t think 1970 was one of the classic pop years from the selections so far, would you? And much as I like both Taio Cruz and Ke$ha separately, this collab is a bit of a disaster.

    4pts – UB40
    3pts – Christie
    2pts – Taio Cruz ft. Ke$ha
    1pt – Jimmy J

  5. 35
    Mike Atkinson on 20 May 2010 #

    Poor old Jimmy. Only two voters out of 21 have awarded him 1 point, and yet he’s still trailing behind the pack. Elsewhere, the 6s and the 1s are being thrown around so haphazardly, that they’re sort-of cancelling each other out…

  6. 36
    grange85 on 21 May 2010 #

    OK – pretty tired bunch – quite liked Sky and Christie, quite didn’t like UB40 (I have always had such a problem with UB40 that I was never going to love this – but I do feel that my dislike is justified in this case). Mandy Moore was awful – it looked like a by-numbers shot at a pop song… but that was so much more enjoyable than the vile Taio Cruz…

    6 – Christie
    5 – Sky
    4 – Jimmy Jones
    3 – Mandy Moore
    2 – UB40
    1 – Taio Cruz

  7. 37
    Lena on 21 May 2010 #

    Well, as the immortal Mike Holmes of Holmes on Homes would say, “I’m looking at a world of crap.” Nevertheless I will try to rate this as best I can.

    6 – Taio “Pablo” Cruz and Ke$ha, Queen of the Desert – I’m not much for M. Cruz and His Sunglasses, but I like Ke$ha.
    5 – Mandy Moore – Candy rarely doesn’t work for me as a metaphor/reference, same as Cupid really.
    4 – Sky – What ‘hip’ people in the 70s avoided I guess, which means its hipness, if it has any, is still intact. For now.
    3 – UB40 – The sort of song you hear on the radio before something more exciting comes on…
    2 – Jimmy “Hello Metaphor” Jones – If only because it’s interesting to hear how, um, VIVID the song’s original version is, compared to the James Taylor lullaby one I grew up knowing…
    1 – Christie does nothing for me but make me want to listen to CCR, but then as a Californian I need no prompting to do that anyway.

  8. 38
    Mark Davis on 22 May 2010 #

    6p: Jimmy Jones – Handy Man
    5p: Christie – Yellow River
    4p: Sky – Toccata
    3p: Mandy Moore – Candy
    2p: UB40 – Kingston Town
    1p: Taio Cruz ft Ke$ha – Dirty Picture

  9. 39
    Martin on 22 May 2010 #

    6 points – Christie
    5 points – Jimmy Jones
    4 points – Sky
    3 points – Taio Cruz ft Ke$ha
    2 points – Mandy Moore
    1 point – UB40

    Not much to say — the last three tracks are pretty bad. The notable thing about Sky isn’t the cringeworthy arty pretension but the surf-pop elements. By rights JJ should be number 1 but I go for the thick, lush popness of Christie.

  10. 40
    DietMondrian on 22 May 2010 #

    6 – Sky – obviously it’s pretty dreadful but it reminds me of things like The Adventure Game and Think of a Number, and as such was the only track here that gave me any kind of positive feeling
    5 – Mandy Moore – sounds like a randomised version of a Britney Spears song but I’ve heard worse
    4 – Jimmy Jones
    2 – UB40
    2 – Christie – quite an effort to be worse than UB40
    1 – Taio Cruz – now I like a bit of filth as much as the next man, but this is just depressing

  11. 41
    Ben on 23 May 2010 #

    6 – Sky
    5 – UB40
    4 – Christie
    3 – Mandy Moore
    2 – Jimmy Jones
    1 – Taio Cruz ft Ke$ha

  12. 42
    Tina on 23 May 2010 #

    6 points: UB40
    5 points: Christie
    4 points: Sky
    3 points: Jimmy Jones
    2 points: Taio Cruz ft Ke$ha
    1 point: Mandy Moore

  13. 43
    Gordon on 24 May 2010 #

    Ugh. Christie was a nice surprise, Sky was better than I remember when it was force fed up on me, and UB40 still have something that I grudingly like.

    6 points: Christie – Yellow River
    5 points: Sky – Toccata
    4 points: UB40 – Kingston Town
    3 points: Taio Cruz ft Ke$ha – Dirty Picture
    2 points: Jimmy Jones – Handy Man
    1 point: Mandy Moore – Candy

  14. 44
    Pete on 24 May 2010 #

    Need to vote if just because I think Mandy Moore has has a pretty good career as a teensomething actress in the 00’s, and due to a preference of my mp3 player I think Candy may well be one of the most played songs of the 00’s for me, and I always love the spoken word breakdown. So Mandy gets 6.

    And then it gets tough.
    Tiao & Ke$ha get 5 because it sounds very jolly, even if it is not much cop.
    4: Sky – cos its prog
    3: Jimmy Jones, cos he’s handy
    2: Yellow Fever Yellow Fever
    1: Cos its UB40 and this is terribly tired bilge.

  15. 45
    Clair on 25 May 2010 #

    6 points – sky
    5 points – UB40
    4 points – jimmy jones
    3 points – christy
    2 points – mandy moore
    1 point – tiao & ke$ha

  16. 46
    Al Ewing on 26 May 2010 #

    Made the mistake of looking at videos for some of these rather than letting the pure sound wash over me.

    6 points – Jimmy Jones. Plus points for the yodelling.
    5 points – Tiao Cruz feat. Ke$ha – pronounced like Kilg%re presumably. Plus points for ‘witcha/pitcha’ rhyme. Anyway, a song ABOUT SEXTING, so of its time that presumably in 20 years it will sound as dated as…
    4 points – Sky – Jeff Wayne flashback but without the martians.
    3 points – Christie – Bearably dull.
    2 points – UB40 – similar problems to Christie only slower and duller. Still, some warmth here unlike…
    1 points – Mandy Moore – This is what Britney Spears would sound like if she was dead. Also, that video is like Mini Pops. YOU’RE NINE YEARS OLD BUILD A TREE FORT.

  17. 47
    wichita lineman on 26 May 2010 #

    6 Jimmy Jones – I didn’t know that flute substitute story. Reckless pitching, hiccups, fabulously odd
    5 Christie – CCR go Eurovision. Double trouble!
    4 Taio Cruz/Kesha – Repetition, like falsettos, is something I dig. It is pretty grubby, too
    3 UB40 – never knew the original before this came out. Sleepy + melancholy = good combo
    2 Mandy Moore – as Punctum said, not a patch on Mandy More and her proto Kate Bush-isms
    1 Sky – I was on a German exchange in West Berlin when this came out. It wasn’t the soundtrack

  18. 48
    Z on 29 May 2010 #

    6 – Christie. It may be nostalgia – and it’s a bit relentlessly plinky (I remember it as slower) but it’s the best of this lot.
    5 – Sky – If I were a real Bach fan, I’d hate it. As it is, this rather perks up the relentlessly repetitive genius.
    4 – UB40 – everything of theirs sounds exactly the same. Okay.
    3 – Jimmy Jones – better listened to than watched. But not much. That this had three points is a reflection on what comes afterwards rather than appreciation of its quality.
    2 – Mandy Moore. I’ve nothing to say about this.
    1 – Taio Cruz ft Ke$ha – nondescript and mildly unpleasant..

    I’ve spent two hours of a Saturday night on this, Mike. And Eurovision on and all. I’ll return tomorrow.

  19. 49
    Mike Atkinson on 30 May 2010 #

    Blimey Z, your commitment impresses me!

    As for my own commitment, which has been sorely lacking in recent days… the Number Threes should be along tomorrow (Monday May 30th).

  20. 50
    Lord B on 31 May 2010 #

    6 points – UB40 – although I’m not a fan, I actually quite like this record.
    5 points – Christie
    4 points – Mandy Moore – it’s alright, as **** pop goes…
    3 points – It sounds like Nana playing a better record on her Bontempi organ. Eeeewwwww. Like Jean Michel Jarre without the lasers
    2 points – Jimmy Jones – Does nothing for me, I am afraid
    1 point – Taio Cruz and Ke$ha, by a country mile. Horrible

  21. 51
    Rachiesparrow on 3 Jun 2010 #

    Are you sure I can’t give all of these an equal score of nothing? i suppose I could just not vote…. But where’s the fun in that?

    6pts Christie
    5pts Sky
    4pts Jimmy Jones
    3pts Mandy Moore
    2pts Taio Cruz and Ke$ha
    1pt – UB40. Nothing can match the loathing I have for this band.

  22. 52
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 6 Jun 2010 #

    6 for Taio Cruz ft Ke$ha – Dirty Picture
    5 for Mandy Moore – Candy
    4 for Jimmy Jones – Handy Man
    3 for UB40 – Kingston Town
    2 for Sky – Toccata
    1 for Christie – Yellow River

    Liked UB40 better than expected: this has a Culture Clubbish light melancholy to it, which I don’t routinely associate with them.

    I spent yesterday in and around the house I lived in in 1970, with old friends of my dad. This song reminds me of then — I remember being frustrated that if you listen closely you don’t learn more (as in “Puff the Magic Dragon”: I like dragons and want a fuller story please); turns out this is because it is rather a boring and flimsy song!

    Toccata is arguably Bach’s proggest work, but Sky’s part here writing is all propulsive sludge. I was hoping to like this more, if only in a shout-out to jeff w

  23. 53
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 6 Jun 2010 #

    Sky’s part here writing = Sky’s part-writing here

    There’s a semi-famous story of Bach improvising a five part fugue alone in a church organ (with pedals), and someone — knowledgeable — listening and thinking to self: wait, no one human has this many fingers and feet. when he quizzed jsb after, the great man confessed he had played some of the notes with his nose

    so i don’t think he would have been totally against prog’s self of purpose: for technicians, technique is indeed occasionally its own reward, and plus toccata is kinda asking for the phantom of the opera stuff that’s befallen it over the centuries

  24. 54
    RobMiles on 6 Jun 2010 #

    6 – Christie
    5 – UB40
    4 – Mandy Moore
    3 – Sky
    2 – Jimmy Jones
    1 – Taio Cruz

  25. 55
    Mike Atkinson on 6 Jun 2010 #

    Still absolutely neck and neck between “Yellow River” and “Toccata” on this one, “Yellow River” now regaining the lead by a single point.

  26. 56
    Tom Lawrence on 9 Jun 2010 #

    6 points Mandy Moore
    5 points Sky
    4 points Taio ft Ke$ha
    3 points Christie
    2 points Jimmy jones
    1 point UB40 – no reason for them to exist ever

  27. 57
    sarlitchin on 10 Jun 2010 #

    6 points – Sky (I never thought I’d be placing one of my Dad’s favourites at the top of a poll!)
    5 points – Christie
    4 points – Mandy Moore
    3 points – Taio Cruz
    2 points – Jimmy Jones
    1 point – UB40

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