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!