10
May 11

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops 2011: the Number 9s

Which Decade Is Tops For Pops56 comments • 2,321 views

1961: African Waltz – Johnny Dankworth (video)
1971: Something Old Something New – The Fantastics (video) (lyrics)
1981: Einstein A Go-Go – Landscape (video) (lyrics)
1991: Get The Message – Electronic (video) (lyrics)
2001: Clint Eastwood – Gorillaz (video) (lyrics)
2011: Run The World (Girls) – Beyonce (video) (lyrics)

Spotify playlist (all 6 tracks)

If Johnny Dankworth‘s aim was to conjure up some sort of recognisably “African” flavour with this track (better known to American audiences in its Grammy Award-winning cover version by Cannonball Adderley), then fifty years of shifting cultural signifiers have made it hard to divine his intentions. There’s barely anything here which suggests “Africa” to contemporary ears, barring a certain skulking-through-the-souk “imaginary soundtrack” quality (with attendant premonitions of Barry Adamson) which might conceivably place it on the continent’s northern shores. But then again, its Canadian composer (Galt MacDermot, who went on to write the music for Hair six years later) was a scholar of African music who graduated from Cape Town university, so what do I know?

Having traded as The Velours since 1956 – with some decent doo-wop releases to their name – this presumably down-on-their-luck vocal harmony group made a decision to move from Brooklyn to the UK in 1968, in order to capitalise on the new British soul boom. Thus did The Velours become The Fantastics, who by 1971 had been driven into the arms of the then-ubiquitous Cook/Greenaway songwriting partnership, resulting in this, their sole chart entry.

As you might expect from the duo who brought us “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing”, the “soul” on offer here is more Batley Variety Club than Muscle Shoals – but considering this is also the same duo who brought us “Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart”, you might expect a better standard of songcraft than this routine boom-thwacker, which presaged Greenway’s later compositions (There Goes My First Love, You’re More Than A Number In My Little Red Book) for the similarly rehoused Drifters.

Having first become vaguely aware of Landscape as a jazz-rock outfit, I nursed a certain generational suspicion regarding their conversion to synth-pop (“pah, old men trying to be trendy” – oh, the cruelty of the young!) – but equally, I could hardly ignore band leader Richard James Burgess’s production work on all of Spandau Ballet’s early releases (still properly trendy in May 1981, at a time when I ascribed rather too high a value to such concerns). So the slightness of “Einstein A Go-Go” quickly palled for me (despite its arch references to IMPENDING NUCLEAR DOOM, but this was small beer next to Crass’s “Nagasaki Nightmare”), eventually to be eclipsed by Thomas Dolby’s similarly boffin-centric “She Blinded Me With Science” a couple of years later.

Johnny Marr once called Electronic’s “Get The Message “the best song I’ve written“. If he’d only added “since leaving The Smiths”, I might have been persuadable (not that I’m exactly au fait with the back catalogues of The Healers, Modest Mouse or The Cribs, but I’d be happy to take his word on the matter).

As it stands, this is a striking case of selective amnesia from someone who once collaborated with one of the finest lyricists of the Eighties, only to fetch up in a songwriting partnership with someone who seemingly strings his lyrics together from fridge magnets. And that’s with all due respect to Bernard Sumner – without whom the line from post-punk to New Pop to pre-house to post-house to Madchester baggy would be a good deal harder to trace – but, let’s face it, he’s hardly the most quotable of lyricists, and “Get The Message” is no exception.

So perhaps the strengths of “Get The Message” lie more in its arrangment (does its bassline carry a faint echo of Magazine’s “A Song From Under The Floorboards”, or have I just got Barry Adamson stuck in my brain today?), its mood, and the cultural weight which has been attached to it – for this is as good a representation of 1991 indie-dance as you’ll find.

My initial reaction on hearing this, the debut single from Gorillaz, was baffled disappointment; I thought that a cartoon band would sound jollier than this, and I couldn’t match the subdued mood with the sparky graphics. It wasn’t until the second album, 2005’s Demon Days, that the penny dropped and I began to grasp the point of the project, and so “Clint Eastwood” appeals to me more now than it ever did ten years ago. That said, there has always been a certain Late Review/Front Row/Sunday-broadsheet-culture-supplement dryness attached to Gorilla, which prevents them fully working as proper pop, and I’m already hearing it here.

In place of 2011’s real Number Nine (it’s a reissue of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”, and I make it a rule to exclude reissues), I’ve substituted the track at Number Eleven. My jury’s still out on Beyonce‘s latest female-empowerment anthem; it doesn’t immediately bowl me over, but neither did “Single Ladies” for the first few weeks, and the two tracks do share a certain elemental, schoolyard-chant quality.

Not being previously familiar with the track on which this is heavily based – Major Lazer’s “Pon De Floor” – I shall deftly sidestep any discussions of their relative merits, save to say that my first thoughts on hearing “Run The World (Girls)” was “Ooh, she’s doing a MIA on us” – an impression which its provenance rather confirms.

And so to the voting. Goodness me, has it really been a whole week since I unveiled the Number Tens? I shall endeavour to whiz through the remaining eight rounds a little more efficiently, but – to be frank – I’ve found this a rather uninspiring round to blurb about, despite the weightiness of some of the names involved. Perhaps you’ll find more to cheer or to carp about than I have; I shall wait with baited breath!

CLICK HERE FOR THE SCORES SO FAR.

Comments

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  1. 1
    Mike Atkinson on 10 May 2011 #

    My votes:
    6 points: Johnny Dankworth
    5 points: Electronic
    4 points: Beyonce
    3 points: Gorillaz
    2 points: Landscape
    1 point: The Fantastics

    THE SCORES SO FAR:
    1961: African Waltz – Johnny Dankworth – 174 points
    1991: Get The Message – Electronic – 150 points
    1981: Einstein A Go-Go – Landscape – 129 points
    2001: Clint Eastwood – Gorillaz – 119 points
    2011: Run The World (Girls) – Beyonce – 106 points
    1971: Something Old Something New – The Fantastics – 78 points

  2. 2
    Steve Mannion on 10 May 2011 #

    Ooh snap

    6: Johnny Dankworth – Sassy but suave, like ‘Soul Bossa Nova’ but…waltizer.

    5: Electronic – Fine work altho I do prefer their two other biggest hits.

    4: Beyonce – Exciting but messy, like a milkshake on a rollercoaster…enjoyable elements but often forced together in a way that doesn’t really work in the end. Fortunately for B (as is so often the case) the competition just isn’t that hot.

    3: Gorillaz – Intentionally plodding and I liked it at the the time (less so the arguably more popular Ed Case remix because the extent to which the vocals had to be sped up really bugged me, and it didn’t/couldn’t include the rap) but it doesn’t hold up too well and much of their later stuff has outstripped their early efforts.

    2: Landscape – Have been known to whistle that hook from time to time but an equivalent to Dolby’s or Buggles playful peaks this ain’t.

    1: The Fantastics – Found this too cloying in its cheerfulness and just rather dull.

  3. 3
    Billy Smart on 10 May 2011 #

    6. Electronic. So lush and so expansive an arrangement. And then Sumner’s disco existentialism heartbreak… However ostensibly lyrically weak a New Order song is, I always find at least one moment of heartbreaking vunerability – “Why won’t you look at me? I live and breathe.”

    5. Johnny Dankworth. Wow! That was fun! Adventure, escape, romance, glory.

    4. Landscape. Doesn’t quite fit in with anything, which fits the mood of wry apocalypse.

    3. Beyonce. I’m a sucker for those marching band drums.

    2. Gorillaz. I always think that, away from Blur, Albarn is trying a bit too hard to prove his eclectic credentials.

    1. The Fantastics. Not on this evidence, they weren’t.

    The seventies haven’t done very well thus far, have they?

  4. 4
    chelovek na lune on 10 May 2011 #

    I thought this was a rather better bunch of tracks than the number tens, actually, if not overwhelmingly breathtaking or anything like that.

    6. Electronic. Decent enough (but not a patch on “Getting Away With It”)
    5. Johnny Dankworth. Not heard this before, but instantly appealing and “picturesque”.
    4. Gorillaz. A bit grey, and goes on too long.
    3. Landscape. Much as I love New Romanticism and bow down to 1981 and 1982 as the best pop years ever….this is far from a shining example of it. And, despite being somewhat under 3 minutes, it too goes on too long and runs out of substantive ideas about half-way through. Although, as one comment on the YouTube page points out – there is a face-mask in the video that does have an uncanny resemblance to Tony Blair.
    2. Beyonce. Seriously un-good. Would very much have preferred Tracy Chapman (who I think would have at least 4 points from me. And wasn’t the Jungle Rock track from last week a re-release….) ;)
    1. Fantastics. Not up to it.

  5. 5
    lonepilgrim on 10 May 2011 #

    6 points – African Waltz – Johnny Dankworth
    Never heard this before but really love the dense arrangement and those pounding drums

    5 points – Clint Eastwood – Gorillaz
    This has a skanking rhythm and the rap adds some energy and contrast to Damon’s sly vocal

    4 points – Run The World (Girls) – Beyonce
    Kinetic and bullying –with a witchy breakdown. Those are all good things by the way

    3 points – Something Old Something New – The Fantastics
    Pleasant but dull

    2 points – Einstein A Go-Go – Landscape
    Unpleasant and dull

    1 point – Get The Message – Electronic
    Listless and dull

  6. 6
    Mark M on 10 May 2011 #

    6: Johnny Dankworth: not sure I’ve heard this before, but it’s got that early/mid ’60s TV theme tune feel. Terrific.

    5: Electronic: odd, saw an old clip of them doing this on TV the other day and found it lifeless. I’m liking it today, though.

    4: Gorillaz: I’ve always been rather anti-Gorillaz, partly for Albarn’s often annoying voice, partly for the tedious conceptual stuff, and often I just haven’t liked the songs much. But they do get great guest rappers in.

    3: Beyoncé: It might grow on me, but this seems short on tune and broadly disappointing, like a lot of her recent stuff.

    2: Landscape: Not sure I’d ever noticed the verses before. Tiresome.

    1: The Fantastics: Instantly forgettable

  7. 7
    Z on 10 May 2011 #

    Several of these were vying desperately for last place.

    6 – Johnny Dankworth – I know it, but didn’t expect it to be so strongly in 3/4 time. Anyway, I enjoyed it far more than anything else on offer here.
    5 – Electronic – Pretty good.
    4 – The Fantastics – I was unimpressed, it was quite ponderous and would have been far better if it had been played faster. However, once I’d heard the rest of the offerings, it went comparatively up in my estimation.
    3 – Gorillaz – Reasonably enjoyable, but too long.
    2 – Beyonce – Tricksy, not good.
    1 – Landscape – goodness, that’s irritating.

  8. 8
    Mike Atkinson on 10 May 2011 #

    #2 – I had completely forgotten about “Disappointed”! But yes, I’d place it and “Getting Away With It” ahead of “Get The Message”. (Hmm, what’s the common link there? Ah yes, Neil Tennant, of course…)

    #2 – Likewise, I had completely forgotten the Ed Case remix of “Clint Eastwood”, as I suspect most have by now – although I think I do recall it briefly eclipsing the original in terms of exposure. But agreed, it just sounds wrong now…

    #3 – As of now, the Seventies are totally tanking – but rest assured, they do have a few aces in store…

    #4 – Butbutbut, there WAS no Jungle Rock last week! And besides, it was a reissued hit in 1976! Are you perhaps thinking of the BBC4 TOTP reruns?

    #6 – Yes, for me the rap (from Del Tha Funkee Homosapien – anyone else remember “Mistadobalina”?) saves the track. Well, that and the melodica…

  9. 9
    chelovek na lune on 10 May 2011 #

    #8 ah, yes, that’s a very good point indeed re. Jungle Rock. It would appear that I am indeed getting mixed up with TOTP and, erm, 1976 with 1971. Oops. Please accept my most profuse apologies… *embarassed face*

    And, yes, I do remember Mistadobalina – Mistabobdobalina… it was alright…

  10. 10
    Garry on 11 May 2011 #

    6 points: Electronic
    5 points: Gorillaz
    4 points: Landscape
    3 points: Jonny Dankworth
    2 points: Beyonce
    1 point: The Fantastics

  11. 11
    swanstep on 11 May 2011 #

    Boy, these are 5 seriously charm-free tracks to my ears!

    6 points – African Waltz – Johnny Dankworth
    Not great but it picks up enough steam half-way though to take the chequered flag here.

    5 points – Clint Eastwood – Gorillaz
    Not a patch on their subsequent singles. Expected more Morricone given the title. Morricone wrote great tunes, not just pirrups on harmonicas. Albarn knows that and it’s irritating he doesn’t take that to heart here.

    4 points – Einstein A Go-Go – Landscape
    Famously irritating, silly song, but in this company it stands pretty tall I’m finding. Has some slight charm which goes a long way.

    3 points – Run The World (Girls) – Beyonce
    Mike captured exactly my response to this: dislike it but B. has pummeled me into submission before.

    2 points – Get The Message – Electronic
    Formulaic, everything sounds preset, half asleep. Why Suede and grunge had to happen.

    1 points – Something Old Something New – The Fantastics
    Decent to begin with but goes absolutely nowhere. Amazing to think that this was considered chart-fresh in the year of Hunky Dory.

    Oh, and as someone else said above: Fast Car (Tracey Chapman) would have won this round by the proverbial country mile!

  12. 12
    taDOW on 11 May 2011 #

    6 – johnny dankworth
    5 – electronic
    4 – gorillaz
    3 – beyonce
    2 – landscape
    1 – the fantastics

  13. 13
    weej on 11 May 2011 #

    6 – Johnny Dankworth – Sounds like grade-A library music, or a cut from the soundtrack of a classic film. Really a rather pleasant surprise.

    5 – Gorillaz – Not as good as it was at the time, absolutely – but the guest rap from, er, Del the Funky Homosapien and the background wurlitzer noises really sell it for me.

    4 – Beyonce – B herself doesn’t really add anything to it, but this still works for me, more than anything she’s done in years, just because the backing and production are so insistent and driving. If she could sit back a bit and not try to take control of the track this would be a winner for me.

    3 – Lanscape – I enjoy the complete ridiculousness of this perhaps more than I should.

    2 – The Fantastics – When I watch old Top Of The Pops from the early and mid 70s there seem to lots of songs like this – minor league soul-disco that hasn’t survived the last 35 years, this is as competent and uninteresting as any of them.

    1 – Electronic – As utterly tedious as every other Electronic track. How can two otherwise talented people (with equally talented collaborators) have produced nothing of interest over a whole decade? It mystifies me.

  14. 14
    David Belbin on 11 May 2011 #

    6 points: Johnny Dankworth
    5 points: Gorillaz
    4 points: Electronic Preferred ‘Getting Away With It’ but this has worn well
    3 points: The Fantastics
    2 points: Landscape
    1 point: Beyonce (because I’m a pedant and think that excluding reissues is wrong, or at the very least you should have bumped Mann ft 50 Cent up one rather than putting this in at 9 – otherwise this would be 4 or 5 points)

  15. 15
    Mike Atkinson on 11 May 2011 #

    Beyonce is my only substitution this year. There’s actually another re-issue coming up in the next round, which I’m allowing through because the gap was much smaller and it still feels representative of its year – unlike “Fast Car”, which is a 23-year old BGT-driven anomaly that tells us next-to-nothing about pop in 2011.

  16. 16
    David Belbin on 11 May 2011 #

    I had to google to find out what BGT is and would nevertheless argue that ‘Fast Car’ is a fantastic song, anomaly or not. I’d certainly have given it 6, so I suppose if lots of other people did the same, that might distort things. But doesn’t the effects of crap TV reality shows tell us something about a year? Answers in no more than 250 words.

  17. 17
    intothefireuk on 11 May 2011 #

    6 goes to Electronic a lovely horizontal ditty from the Manc co-op.
    5 goes to Landscape and their electro jazz dance new pop masterpiece.
    4 points to the very lovely Johnny Dankworth and nice piece of big band theme tuneism.
    3 points for The Fantastics very Drifters-ish early 70s sounding number.
    2 points to The Gorillaz – would have scored higher but the rap does my head in.
    1 point to Beyonce – not quite sure what she is trying to achieve but whatever it is it doesn’t get there.

  18. 18
    Mike Atkinson on 11 May 2011 #

    #16 – “Fast Car” is indeed a fantastic song, which would almost certianly have walked this round and given a major boost to 2011. But I just don’t think that 2011 would have deserved to benefit from it!

  19. 19
    Erithian on 11 May 2011 #

    Couldn’t agree more re Fast Car, Mike. Waiting for a chance to hear the Dankworth before voting. I have a strange connection to the Fantastics – having met a member of the band in odd circumstances a few years ago. I won’t go into detail, but I hope he and his family are well!

  20. 20
    Scott M on 11 May 2011 #

    6 points: Gorillaz
    5 points: Landscape
    4 points: Electronic
    3 points: Johnny Dankworth
    2 points: The Fantastics
    1 point: Beyonce

  21. 21
    jo on 11 May 2011 #

    6 points African Waltz – Johnny Dankworth (video) Ok maybe it makes us old but husband and I both agree out of this bunch this song is the best of the crop.
    5 points 1981: Einstein A Go-Go – Landscape (video) (lyrics) Dear lord the 80’s were cheesy.
    4 points 1971: Something Old Something New – The Fantastics (video) (lyrics)
    3 points 2001: Clint Eastwood – Gorillaz (video) (lyrics)
    2 points 2011: Run The World (Girls) – Beyonce (video) (lyrics)
    1 point: YAWN 1991: Get The Message – Electronic (video) (lyrics)

  22. 22
    Pete on 11 May 2011 #

    6: Johnny Dankworth – I used to live in his house you know. Or at least one of his houses. There was some form of keyboard in nearly every room! This is ace.
    5: Einstein A-Go-Go: A lifelong earworm that I remember in 1981 being one of the first things I taped off the radio with my own tape record and played it to death. I was also an Art Of Noise fan you know.
    4: Electronic: My second favourite Electronic track though in this context it is starting to sound a bit sluggish. Oddly it was always a killer on the dancefloor.
    3: Beyonce: I am a bit of a sucker for marching band style tracks, but this is a bit of a mess, which could be a lot better. And Beyonce herself is about the worst thing on it (ie it doesn’t suit a decent singer)
    2: BLURZILLAZ: Thought at the time it was a bizarre way to kick off the project, still think that. The rap is great but the track is so dull.
    1: The Fantastics: Its a bit light entertainment innit. In a bad way.

  23. 23
    JonnyB on 11 May 2011 #

    Hm. Disagreement in the comments over whether this is a good batch or not. Personally, I thought the average came in much higher here than the number tens. But that’s an average – no obvious stand-outs, none that tank. But if I’m forced to rate them WHICH I AM, then:

    6 – Dankworth. Hadn’t heard it before. What everybody else said.
    5 – Electronic. Without any particular reason why, other than I thought that it rattled along nicely in a restrained way.
    4 – Fantastics. Not to be awkward. OK – it’s not the Four Tops but I wasn’t hit with the ‘ugh’ factor that a lot of people have picked up on.
    3 – Einstein. Walks the line between interesting and irritating; just teeters off for me, but I might be being harsh.
    2 – Gorillaz. I didn’t like Space much either.
    1 – Beyonce. I don’t find it either catchy, hooky or remotely interesting as a piece of music.

  24. 24
    lex on 11 May 2011 #

    6pts – Beyoncé – I’m pro-reissue exclusion both on principle and because this actually gives me a rare thing to be properly enthusiastic about this week. I don’t know whether I’ll end up thinking it’s one of B’s best singles but I do know that for now, I love it – the “Pon De Floor” beat is like catnip to me, I love that it’s become something that a bunch of artists are trying their hand at, and I think B does a pretty fab job – “I think I need a barber, none of these niggas can fade me” is the best bit. That said it’s not as strong as the two main other “Pon De Floor” samples/remixes I’ve heard – but then that’s a bit unfair given that Diddy/Dirty Money’s “Ass On The Floor” and Princess Nyah’s “Pon De Floor” were two of the very best songs of last year. Easy winner in this company, anyhow.

    5pts – Einstein A-Go-Go – kind of want someone to sample to clarinet hook, it’s absolutely brilliant and would work so well in anything from disco to pop to house. Reminds me of “Funkytown” actually! And I like the loose rhythm, like something on Zé Records. Not keen on the singer though and my sneaking suspicions were confirmed with that absolutely fucking ghastly yelpy middle bit happened. Urgh. Yeah, someone just get on the sampler and then bun the original

    4pts – Johnny Dankworth – this is nice enough I guess, sounds like the incidental music in some sort of old Hollywood film, but not to a particularly important scene, just the hero (Western of course) strolling around some sort of ~exotic~ location

    3pts – Electronic – pretty boring and affectless, singer sounds like he couldn’t care less about what he’s singing, “I don’t know where to begin” – don’t know where to end more like. Drum fills nice but not enough

    2pts – The Fantastics – generic cheesy wedding disco filler, whatever

    1pt – Gorillaz – I quite liked the Ed Case 2-step remix but the original was so damn dreary. And yet probably the best thing they were responsible for! I can’t believe Damon Allbran’s fucking novelty cartoon act actually went on to the bafflingly acclaimed proper career that they have – nothing they’ve done since this has had ANY WORTH AT ALL and I just cannot see why anyone would care about them? They seem to have a weirdly high appeal among people I know, even those who should know better :(

  25. 25
    lex on 11 May 2011 #

    While we’re on the subject of Ed Case, though – and yeah, his remix of “Clint Eastwood” was played way more than the original, to the extent that I didn’t realise it wasn’t the original for YEARS – anyway let’s hear it for his own finest moment imo, “Deal With The Matter” with Ms Dynamite. Pure fire. WE DON’T LIKE DEM FUSSY OLD HATER / CHA-CHING, MAN AH WE NUH CATER

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> bloody Blurillaz

  26. 26
    Tom on 11 May 2011 #

    Looked a promising line up but it ends up being a very soft 6 points for the winner.

    6 – J Dankworth – yeah, nice to hear this kind of thing, there’s a swagger to it isn’t there? About the only coherent and soup-to-nuts enjoyable thing on offer here!

    5 – Beyonce – this might grow on me, and I like the sparseness of it a lot, the drum noises too, but the centre performance/hook isn’t grabbing me enough. Bit of a mess, but unlike almost anything else here it’s an interesting mess.

    4 – Electronic – this was my favourite thing on the album when I bought it at the time, I thought the chord progression on the chorus was just gorgeous. It hasn’t aged well at all though, mostly because the verses are just SO inert and Barney unbothered even by his standards. (I suspect the REST of the Electronic album would be even poorer now though, except “Getting Away With It”).

    3 – Landscape – nothing to it beyond the riff, to be honest. I remember the bass and beat being a lot more muscular than this weedy guff.

    2 – Gorillaz – oh god I hate Damon’s voice on this so much, that half-arsed tone he’s affected pretty much since 1997. Del The Funkee Homosapien does his best to redeem things, the backing noises are good, but CHRIST that voice, like cheesewire on my brain.

    1 – The Fantastics – grossly underinspired plodder. Could barely finish it. Scrapes in as worse than the ‘rillaz.

  27. 27
    Mike Atkinson on 11 May 2011 #

    #26 – It’s odd, isn’t it: on paper this looks like a strong round, but when you actually sit down and listen, you’re left feeling rather flattened by it.

    I am cheered by all the Dankworth love, as “African Waltz” has been a favourite of mine ever since I heard it on an NME cassette (Low Lights & Trick Mirrors, where it follows the wonderful vocalese of “Jackie” by Lambert Hendricks & Ross).

    #24/#25 – You’ve tipped some great tunes there, Lex – which in turn led me to Princess Nyah’s “Frontline” – WOW, how did I miss this?

  28. 28
    lockedintheattic on 11 May 2011 #

    6 – Electronic
    5 – Gorillaz
    4 – Beyonce
    3 – Landscape
    2 – Johnny Dankworth
    1 – The Fantastics

  29. 29
    lex on 11 May 2011 #

    #27 “Frontline” was a huge club track when it came out – first notable Ill Blu production that I remember!

  30. 30
    wichita lineman on 11 May 2011 #

    6 – Johnny Dankworth
    5 – Beyonce
    4 – Electronic
    3 – The Fantastics
    2 – Gorillaz
    1 – Landscape

1 2 All

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