After days of stasis, there’s change at last! A good result for Plan B in the last round has reversed the declining fortunes of the Teens, and the Seventies are finally off the bottom of the pile, where they have been languishing since Round Three. This is all at the expense of the Noughties and the Sixties, who are going to need all the help they can get as “Which Decade” approaches end-game.

Cumulative scores so far:
1(1) The Eighties – 33.55 points.
2(2) The Nineties – 30.26 points.
3(5) The Teens – 27.41 points.
4(6) The Seventies – 25.88 points.
5(3) The Noughties – 25.96 points.
6(4) The Sixties – 24.95 points.

And so, with everything still to play for, let us place our Number Twos under the microscope:

1960: Anthony Newley – Do You Mind? (video) (Tom’s write-up on Popular)
1970: Norman Greenbaum – Spirit In The Sky (video) (Tom’s write-up on Popular)
1980: Johnny Logan – What’s Another Year? (video) (Tom’s write-up on Popular)
1990: Paula Abdul With The Wild Pair – Opposites Attract (video)
2000: Fragma – Toca’s Miracle (video)
2010: Usher – OMG (video)

(Download the MP3)

Listen to all six songs on Spotify.

If you’ve got the time after listening to the studio version linked above, then do take a look at this performance clip (titled “Most Promising Newcomer 1960”), in which Anthony Newley cavorts with a bunch of dancing girls (while a couple of on-stage suits mutter that “he’s an actor, not a singer”) before singing a similarly arranged version of “Do You Mind”. It might help to explain his peculiarly downplayed, almost embarrassed studio rendition, as we see the actor-turned-singer adding comically exaggerated hand gestures to his already-verging-on-the-hammy delivery, suggesting that the song’s corniness is rather beneath him.

Corny as the song may be (compare and contrast with Brenda Lee’s deft handling of her own whispered “sweet nothings”, for instance), Newley does succeed in mining it for points of interest (that sudden snap of luv-ya is a cute touch), casting himself as a diffident, buttoned-up Englishman forced into Sinatra’s shoes. Too stiff to swing, he shies away from declaring his romantic interest too forcefully. (When the lyric demands it, the hamminess merely steps up a notch.) As for his handling of the intrinsically cautious title line, I am reminded of George Mikes’ observations of the English from How To Be An Alien, published fourteen years earlier:

The English have no soul; they have the understatement instead. If a continental youth wants to declare his love to a girl, he kneels down, tells her that she is the sweetest, the most charming and ravishing person in the world, that she has something in her, something peculiar and individual which only a few hundred thousand other women have and that he would be unable to live one more minute without her. Often, to give a little more emphasis to the statement, he shoots himself on the spot. This is a normal, week-day declaration of love in the more temperamental continental countries. In England the boy pats his adored one on the back and says softly: ‘I don’t object to you, you know.’ If he is quite mad with passion, he may add: ‘I rather fancy you, in fact.’

Having first encountered “Spirit In The Sky” through Doctor And The Medics’ flashy, irreverent cover version, I find it hard to listen to Norman Greenbaum‘s original without thinking of daft costumes, silly dance routines, and indeed of the glam-rock glitter-stomp (“Son Of My Father”, “Rock And Roll Part Two”, “Blockbuster”, “The Jean Genie” and particularly “My Coo-Ca-Choo”) which its fuzzed-up bluesy shuffle must have helped to inspire.

This does rather distract from the song’s presumably sincere evangelical intent – although lines such as “never been a sinner, I never sinned” suggest a cockiness on Greenbaum’s part (there seems to be no doubt in his mind that paradise rather than purgatory awaits) that could just be satirically meant. Where’s the repentance, Norman? You’re skipping a key step in the process!

Every now and again – 2010 being the most recent case in point – a Eurovision winner is heralded as a victory for the contemporary, which will assuredly “bring the contest up to date”. (They never do, of course.) The false dawn of Johnny Logan‘s triumph is a good case in point, for in the context of 1980 MOR pop, “What’s Another Year” was really rather on-trend. (We’ll hear echoes of its production style in some of Sheena Easton’s ballads from a year or so later, for instance.)

“A winsome fella”, commented Wogan, whose old pal from RTE days (the TV presenter Shay Healy) composed “What’s Another Year”. The song was inspired by the grief felt by Healy’s father over the loss of his wife, and Logan does a decent enough job of conveying a certain measure of that sense of loss. But although the track might have sounded refreshingly modern to the Eurovision juries of 1980, its signature devices quickly palled. Yes, gloopy jazz-sax solo, I’m looking at you.

The premise of “Opposites Attract” – she’s a lady, he’s kinda shady, ain’t it crazy! – is hardly a new one, if you cast your mind back to romantic comedies of the Fifties and Sixties (for some reason, I’m picturing Rock Hudson and Doris Day in matching pyjamas, back to back, arms folded, mugging to camera), but Paula Abdul was fully entitled to update it for 1990, “aided and abetted” by the “lovable” cartoon character MC Skat Kat. It’s chirpy, it’s cheeky, it’s clever enough in its way – and it leaves me absolutely stone cold. Can we leave it there, please?

Oh, mash-up culture, so much to answer for! For every “Freak Like Me”, there has to be a “Toca’s Miracle”, in which Fragma‘s perfectly serviceable instrumental trance hit from 1999 is needlessly plastered over with the vocal line from Coco’s humdrum “I Need A Miracle”. For this, we have to thank a DJ from my home town of Nottingham, who slapped together an illicit bootleg mix that became “big in Ibiza”, leading Fragma to recreate the magic for themselves.

To my ears, there’s something brutally ice-cold about “Toca’s Miracle”. Like “Dirty Cash”, it reminds me of false excitement in crap clubs, with Coco’s artlessly strained vocals striking a jarring, almost desperate note. She’s pretending to feel something – we’re pretending to feel something – and somehow the experience diminishes us all. (Then again, 2000 was the year I retired from regular weekend clubbing, and “Toca’s Miracle” played its part in soundtracking my disillusionment – so feel free to dismiss me as an unreliable witness.)

As for Usher‘s club-banging collaboration with of the Black Eyed Peas, I sense we are headed for a sharply polarised verdict. If 1991 was “the year that punk broke” in the States, then it has taken almost as long for electronic dance music to achieve equal mainstream success – but in the wake of Gaga and Guetta, Eurodance derivatives are now big box office, and the scramble to jump aboard the bandwagon is everywhere to be seen.

Most of you approved of Kelis’s similarly inclined “Acapella”, which won Round One of “Which Decade” with ease – but what will you make of Usher’s “OMG”? Are you gearing up to dismiss it as an act of lazy, cynical acquiescence from an artist who should know better? Or do you, like me, welcome “OMG” as a daring, thrilling, joyously life-affirming piece of pow-pow-pow, which has you sighing wow-oh-wow?

And on that note, it’s over to you. Will Johnny Logan and Paula Abdul keep the Eighties and Nineties out in front? Or will Usher hasten the Teens’ advance on the Top Two? Let’s find out together!