Saturday, 4 December 2010

A personal view of UK Number One Singles: 2009 to date

My love-hate dialectic with pop continues apace... 
See what I had to say back in 2008 at Quiet Talks and Summer Walks:


1: Lady Gaga featuring Colby O'Donis "Just Dance" (11 January 2009) 3wks 

Not to be denied: excellent pop music. Archetypal pop, indeed, but with a certain gravity with that resonant opening chord sequence. You might dislike it, but have to respect its power. The answer-record to 'How Soon is Now'. 9

2: Lily Allen "The Fear" (1 February 2009) 4wks 

'It's not my fault, it's how I'm programmed to function'.

Perhaps the clearest moment of self-realisation in recent British pop, with a celebrity singer identifying the vacuum at the heart of consumerist, celebrity Blighty. Languid, subtle guitar and superlative use of synths which shudder. Little of the rest of the album stands up - including a facile, not to mention late, attack on Dubya - but this song demonstrates she has something. 9

3: Kelly Clarkson "My Life Would Suck Without You" (1 March 2009) 1wk

All too predictable and trying-too-hard, I feel. Not enough subtlety in the music; no interesting dynamics, unlike plenty of aurally adventurous 2009 #1s. Admittedly, there is much worse to come, but it doesn't grab me. 5

4: Flo Rida featuring Ke$ha "Right Round" (8 March 2009) 1wk 

Unnecessary visitation of the Dead or Alive track; surely covered / sampled a thousand times previously? The 2009 additions are banal, however much it tries to fuse SAW with contemporary synth motifs. 3

5: Vanessa Jenkins and Bryn West featuring Sir Tom Jones and Robin Gibb "Islands in the Stream" (15 March 2009) 1wk

Never seen the sitcom, so can't really comment on all that. This is just pure karaoke, inoffensive yet entirely inoccuous. The song itself has presumably been better served in the past. 2

6: Lady Gaga "Poker Face" (22 March 2009) 3wks 

This was probably the first Lady Gaga song I heard and liked, back in early 2008 if I recall correctly. The chorus fades slightly upon repetition, but remains astute pop. The verses are the best: stuttering, syncopated vocals and bendy synths. 8

7: Calvin Harris "I'm Not Alone" (12 April 2009) 2wks

Already saluted on this blog at least once before; magnificent - is there a better British pop song of the 2000s? It affirms life and speaks of some hope for the future. It even make festivals seem like a good idea (see below - even if some of the song's infinite, studio-etched depths are lost). 10

8: Tinchy Stryder featuring N-Dubz "Number 1" (26 April 2009) 3wks

Musically rather adept, twinkling synths doing the trick. Doesn't grab me otherwise, though it is the sort of thing that could have been regarded as a highlight in some other pop-years. It is diminished by some of the company it keeps in this list. 6

9: Black Eyed Peas "Boom Boom Pow" (17 May 2009) 2wks -- across 2 spells

Strong and economical dance pop; Black Eyed Peas have clearly learned some of the lessons of T.I., Kanye and Guetta. Good to see a group getting wiser and profounder with time. 8

10: Dizzee Rascal "Bonkers" (24 May 2009) 2wks

Probably the finest thing here and along with #7, the track most played by myself over the last year and a half. A juggernaut of electronic pop - hard Euro-dance meets even harder South London attitude. Brutalist truth telling from Mr Rascal. 10

11: Pixie Lott "Mama Do (Uh Oh, Uh Oh)" (14 June 2009) 1wk 

irksome, adj.

1. Affected with weariness or disgust; tired; disgusted; ‘bored’. Const. of. Obs.

[implied in: R. Misyn tr. R. Rolle Fire of Love 22   Þat godis lufar, þe warld, idylnes & irksumnes forsakis. [at irksomeness n. 1]
c1440    Promp. Parv. 266/1   Irkesoum (K.,P. irksum), fastidiosus.
1483    Cath. Angl. 198/2   Irkesome fastidiosus.
1534    T. More Treat. Passion in Wks. 1289/1   Vnto sufferaunce for our synne, how lothe and irkesom wold we be of our selfe.
1549    T. Chaloner tr. Erasmus Praise of Folie I iij a,   He shall see straight all the audience, other slepe, or gaspe, or be urksome.
1590    Spenser Faerie Queene i. ii. 6   Yrkesome of life, and too long lingring night.

 2. Wearisome, tedious, tiresome; troublesome, burdensome, annoying. Formerly also, in wider sense, Distressing, painful; in early use, Disgusting, loathsome.

1513    G. Douglas tr. Virgil Æneid vi. viii. 90   Hevy curis lang Of irksum weir and sad.
a1530    Prov. Howsolde-Kepyng in Pol. Rel. & L. Poems 31   A sity garment is yrksome to neybors.
1576    A. Fleming tr. Hippocrates in Panoplie Epist. 290   The putrified botches and irksome scabs of vice.
a1616    Shakespeare Taming of Shrew (1623) i. ii. 186,   I know she is an irkesome brawling scold.
1616    Greenes Mourning Garment (new ed.) sig. C,   Thou shalt pocket vp much disparagement of humor, which I know will be yerksome to thy patience.
1667    Milton Paradise Lost ix. 242   Not to irksom toile, but to delight He made us.
1769    E. Burke Corr. (1844) I. 168,   I know and feel what an irksome task the writing of long letters is.
1808    S. Smith Wks. (1867) I. 126   It is very galling and irksome to any‥men to be compelled to disclose their private circumstances.
1834    F. Marryat Jacob Faithful I. xv. 254   The confinement to the desk was irksome.


12: David Guetta featuring Kelly Rowland "When Love Takes Over" (21 June 2009) 1wk

The vocal is resistible, but the piano sequence is not. More well-crafted Guetta pop overall, if not the most transcendent of his contributions. 7

13: La Roux "Bulletproof" (28 June 2009) 1wk

She's not bad, but not great either - I can generally take or leave the La Roux I have heard; I tend to prefer her northern counterpart, Little Boots. Admittedly a great tonic to be applied to ears worn out with X Factor 'pop'. Popular with women of my age. I reckon the 80s revivalism can only really work if more Prince or Kate Bush inspired, or indeed anti-Thatcherite in sentiment. My occasional fear with this music is that you can imagine Michael Gove dancing to it, which could never be the case with entry #10. 7

14: Cascada "Evacuate the Dancefloor" (5 July 2009) 2wks

Routine, but enjoyable enough Euro-dance. Not Kleerup, Nite Jewel, The Juan Maclean, Annie or Sally Shapiro, but then that sort of music can't seem to quite crossover as it should. Preferable to a Stereophonics (sorry, slap) in the face. 

That this sort of thing marks the median sort of number one demonstrates how 2009 is a better vintage than, say, 2005: 6

15: JLS "Beat Again" (19 July 2009) 2wks

Reasonable but uninspiring boyband entry, that doesn't quite haunt - despite judicious usage of synthesizer. There is relative sonic interest; inoffensive. 5

16: Black Eyed Peas "I Gotta Feeling" (2 August 2009) 2wks -- 2 spells

Cover of the Guetta song which will surely become one of the true 'classics' of the late-00s era. Heartening really that the decade which started so well in pop terms manages to close with US hip-hop and Euro-dance again in fruitful union. Thoughts of the mid-decade lull - cuminating with the aftermath of GWB's re-election and the moribund, pre-download-inclusive charts - are banished when listening to this. The decade is best thought of in pop terms as bookended by Daft Punk, Janet Jackson's 'Someone to Call My Lover' and Missy Elliot, with Kanye West, Guetta and Black Eyed Peas at the other end. 9

17: Tinchy Stryder featuring Amelle "Never Leave You" (9 August 2009) 1wk 

'But they're tulling us we're selling out
All we wanna do is open doors'

Typical of the late-00s #1s with energetic synths and an upbeat ethos. The key to the song is in those lines above: it makes an unlikely but welcome partner to Richard Hawley's 'Open Up Your Door' from the same year. I read this as an openness to new influences, and to being moved emotionally.

18: David Guetta featuring Akon "Sexy Bitch/Chick" (23 August 2009) 1wk

'I'm trying to find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful'.

A masterly grasp of pop dynamics from Guetta again, with subtle Akon vocals (with delay applied) and streamrolling rhythm. That opening betrays a slight Vive la fete ('Noir Desir') influence in its alluring, European blankness. The lyric is ambivalent; Akon's anguished concern about respecting her, whilst being turned-on. Comparisons of the titular protagonist with a 'neighbourhood hoe' may undermine this, but they don't lessen the intoxicating effect of this track. 9

19: Dizzee Rascal "Holiday" (30 August 2009) 1wk

One of the most compulsive rhythms and catchiest of tunes in this list, and a strong collaboration between those behind entries #7 and #10. Like many other of the better songs in 2009, there is a summery aesthetic underpinned by a graver, autumnal disposition. It is made all the stronger by being aware of the fragility at the heart of things. You get a wider sense of people trying to articulate a new outlook by thinking back to the pre-Blair era - that strain of late-80s / early-90s techno pop, everything from Adamski to New Order. Of course, 'Dirtee Cash' makes the point most profoundly with its pivotal sample, but then he goes back to the hedonistic comfort zone of 'Money, Money' - which isn't going to trouble Anthony Blair, or Dave Cameron for that matter. 9

20: Jay-Z featuring Rihanna and Kanye West "Run This Town" (6 September 2009) 1wk

Possesses a certain cinematic scope and sense of importance; it's impossible not to make the Obama connection. 8

21: Pixie Lott "Boys and Girls" (13 September 2009) 1wk 

Redefining banal, making one long for Blur, or the Pet Shop Boys. Efficient, but leaves me utterly cold. 3

22: Taio Cruz "Break Your Heart" (20 September 2009) 3wks 

A bit better, but with those generic arpeggios and a rather archetypal late-noughties chord sequence. Representative of its time, though better and worse than many of its companions in this list. I am still slightly surprised that this managed 3 weeks at the summit - maybe people like the typical. 5

23: Chipmunk featuring Dayo Olatunji "Oopsy Daisy" (11 October 2009) 1wk

Less generic, but not necessarily much better. Nice to see an 808 shout-out, but the execution, on the whole, is a tad clunky. Rather lackadaisical use of its relatively archaic title phrase for 2009 pop. 5

24: Alexandra Burke featuring Flo Rida "Bad Boys" (18 October 2009) 1wk 

Just so much 2003 pop in its unlovely 'striving' beat and sentiments. I like the harp refrain, but absolutely nothing else. 3

25: Cheryl Cole "Fight for This Love" (25 October 2009) 2wks

I am not going to personally attack a mere pawn in the game, as she clearly is on the strength of this. Again, all too soporific. With the introduction of a synth line at 70 seconds, there are hints that her producers considered going the Little Boots / La Roux synth girl route. Instead, this turns out to be one of the most forgettable of recent number ones, with an insipid 80 beats per minute. 2

26: JLS "Everybody In Love" (8 November 2009) 1wk

Rave influenced siren heralds this revival of the "boyband" ballad after so many years of Boyzone/Westlife gravedigging. At 93bpm, it unfolds at just the right pace. The harmonies around 1:20 actually come off, due to an innate subtlety. The whole thing avoids the usual chest-beating and histrionics. It ebbs a little towards the fade, and there aren't any interesting midpoint detours - but, this is surprisingly good overall. Upon the general evidence offered by 2009 and 2010, it is odd to see how Alexandra Burke exceeded this lot. But then one remembers that the British public were voting - same lot who gave Cameron's Conservatives nearly 11million votes. Don't get me wrong - I hate X Factor and its influence on our culture and music - but I can appreciate this record with an open mind. 7

27: Black Eyed Peas "Meet Me Halfway" (15 November 2009) 1wk

This is stately and effortless and quite the loveliest thing I've heard from them. The beat - and subtle lead guitar - is vintage Prince. And there are vocoders and deft little variations. The lyric is worldly and humane. 9

28: The X Factor Finalists 2009 "You Are Not Alone" (22 November 2009) 1wk 

'Faithful' exaggeration of the inherent sentimentality of Jackson/Kelly's original. This makes the original's sickening key change moment even more unspeakable. Inevitably a projection of Cowell's mind - he was always bound to prefer Jackson's ballads, the sap. 0

29: Peter Kay's Animated All Star Band "The Official BBC Children in Need Medley" (29 November 2009) 2wks 

Yearly gubbins, this time torturing the Jacksons' 1980 classic and other unfortunates. These records seem to be constructed as a sort of purgatory for music lovers. 1 (and that's for the cause)

30: Lady Gaga "Bad Romance" (13 December 2009) 2wks - across 2 spells

'I want your Psycho
I want your Vertigo stick
Want you in my Rear Window'

Who couldn't love this breath of dirty air, coming after the sanitised saccharine of the previous two chart-toppers? It is Hitchcockian pop; expressing and relishing danger in all its titilation. There is a familiar Lady Gaga 'anthemic' chord progression in the chorus and then oddball techno-inflected verses. Genuinely excellent because not bothered about being 'genuine' as so many other pop fools do; it's just a shame that so few others are trying to match this level of work. More pop songs would benefit from adopting this sort of 140bpm rhythm, too. 9

31: Rage Against the Machine "Killing in the Name" (20 December 2009) 1wk

Necessary, if not an answer in itself. 7

32: Joe McElderry "The Climb" (27 December 2009) 1wk

An edifice of resounding humanity and songcraft that frankly puts the entire Motown corpus to shame. 0

So, in 2009 there were 32 discrete chart toppers - some of which plumb the depths, but a cluster of outstanding singles that are as good and telling as any. A notable drop-off after 'Run this Town', however, though it was good to see the year end with Cowell humbled (however temporary his defeat was).


1: Iyaz "Replay" (16 January 2010) 2wks

Like many of these number 1s, we have a fairly androgynous, wimpy sounding male vocal. Definitely preferable to have this rather than testosterone knuckleheadery. However, this is just too wispy and meagre; hardly lingers in the mind, whatever its referencing of symphonies. 5

2: Owl City "Fireflies" (30 January 2010) 3wks 

If Iyaz is vaguely wimpy, then this is C86, this is Shelleyan Orphan. Emotive laptop electropop; a successful popularisation of the Postal Service / Casiotone for the Painfully Alone ethos. 8

3: Helping Haiti "Everybody Hurts" (20 February 2010) 2wks

We're back to the old standby of cameos, as in that '90s smugathon, 'Perfect Day'. Why are such singles necessary? The cause is strong enough not to need them - it is surely a symptom of our media and many peoples' laziness that it takes overblown cover-versions to get people focused on a global issue.

Stipe's lyric becomes in this context an unfortunate 'oh well, we've done our bit' show of empathy, so familiar within neo-liberalism. 1

4: Jason Derülo "In My Head" (6 March 2010) 1wk 

Rather too boastful and self-centred by half. Very much in the standard-2010 mould, musically. 4

5: Tinie Tempah "Pass Out" (13 March 2010) 2wks

References to Concorde and Scunthorpe. A different voice, clearly. And the music here is of a different order to anything that surrounds it. Computer game-bleeps gallop over the steady 92bpm. 8

6: Lady Gaga featuring Beyoncé "Telephone" (27 March 2010) 2wks

Don't really like this, proficient but somehow dull - which it shouldn't be. Clinical. 5

7: Scouting for Girls "This Ain't a Love Song" (10 April 2010) 2wks 

The sort of stuff that was very prevalent in my 2008 epic chart-essay, and for several years previously. claims this is 'indie'-pop. It's no less than the forced ressucitation of Bryan Adams. Such chest-beating, such 'defiance'; 'strings' never more studied. 2

8: Usher featuring "OMG" (24 April 2010) 1wk

Expressing my world-weariness at having to listen to its 2-week predecessor at the top. Grave, well arrange synth parts and minimal handclap-driven rhythm. There are proper pop dynamics here, the sort missing in the last record, and it certainly has an atmosphere about it. Maybe it's my antipathy to text-speak and acronyms, but I just don't love it. 6

9: Diana Vickers "Once" (1 May 2010) 1wk

About as 'atypical' a voice in British pop c.2010 as Danny Alexander is in British politics. Very appropriate number one for the General Election week, a pawn in the X Factor long-game positioned to keep all sides happy by including synthesizer in as token a manner as possible. Blackburn roots, not that you can tell. The sound of very British bet-hedging, and thus irritating in its inoffensiveness. 4

10: Roll Deep featuring Jodie Connor "Good Times" (8 May 2010) 3wks

'I'm in the mood to live a higher life [...]
I'm gonna leave the world outside
Spend my money 'cause it's gonna be a real good night'

Good times for Clegg and Cameron, if not necessarily the people of Britian, being dragged to an unloved 'centre'. This record speaks of a different compromise: a former Grime collective producing entirely consumerist pop. Where 'Never Leave You' has a certain grand tenderness, this just speaks off withdrawal into mere hedonism, and 'late night shopping'. It is perhaps straining for the feel of Chic's 'Good Times' and Jacko's 'Workin' Day and Night'/'Off the Wall', but falls tediously short, in several senses. 4

11: B.o.B featuring Bruno Mars "Nothin' on You" (29 May 2010) 1wk

Lovely chord-sequence and backing vocals on the chorus, nearly up there with 'Meet Me Halfway'. Courtly love is alive in pop. 8

12: Dizzee Rascal "Dirtee Disco" (5 June 2010) 1wk 

128bpm disco outing for Dizzee, upbeat and almost like Basement Jaxx in an odd way (whom he worked with in a past life). Not bad; dandy enough but not transcendent. There is John Lydon tongue-rolling (2:55) and 'Disco Disco Disco Disco!' summons up the spectre of 2 Unlimited, for good or ill! 7

13: David Guetta & Chris Willis featuring Fergie and LMFAO "Gettin' Over You" (12 June 2010) 1wk

Almost Supertramp-style 70s keyboards in that opening bit. The main techno lead part that comes in with the kick (1:10) is truly stonking - and there is Guetta's usual masterly sense of dynamics, of building layer upon layer and juxtaposing contrasting bits. Surely one of the best number ones of this list when considered in its (im)proper dancefloor context! 8

14: Shout for England featuring Dizzee Rascal and James Corden "Shout" (19 June 2010) 2wks

After a fine dancefloor stormer, to be confronted with this... Clearly some bright spark realised that Dizzee is where it is at, but he need not have agreed to becoming a mouthpiece for the 'Bobby Moore 'n' that' (a disavowal which inevitably brings up the comparisons, as with 'Three Lions '98'). There is some mild upbraiding of the WAGS and acknowledged blunders of the previous campaign, but did anyone really think that this England team would or could 'pull their fingers out' and win the tournament?

And then we have the barroom bellowing of an overrated mid-1980s hit. Electro-pop when it had turned bloated and Thatcherite. I don't know who James Corden is, but suspect that I am missing little on the evidence of this. Amusing to consider Dizzee's words on the hapless Rooney, so disinterested, petulant and pathetic in the context of the World Cup. Overall, a record that is as damp a squib as the gormless, indulged 'superstars' were. Will we ever be able to recapture 'World in Motion'? Not unless the country changes, seriously. 2

15: Katy Perry featuring Snoop Dogg "California Gurls" (3 July 2010) 2wks

An ode to home that I cannot particularly dislike, though can't really say I like it either. Prefer the Beach Boys. Perry offers a predictably rosy - if unexceptional - vision of the Golden State, a state very much in crisis, in many ways. Snoop sleepwalks. 5

16: JLS "The Club Is Alive" (17 July 2010) 1wk

Rodgers and Hammerstein citation that works well enough in the context of 2010 pop. Some effective touches; would their former master regard it as a desecration to have musical numbers underpinned by electronic touches? Probably. 6

17: B.o.B featuring Hayley Williams "Airplanes" (24 July 2010) 1wk

Streetwise teen-rock vocals meet with a fairly conscious sounding hip-hop - the vocalist rapping according to older schools. Not up to 'Nothin' On You', but agreeably moody. Adolescents will love it, and not without reason; though for me, it doesn't entirely take off. Sorry. 7

18: Yolanda Be Cool & DCUP "We No Speak Americano" (31 July 2010) 1wk

Some of that Real Tuesday Weld / White Town aesthetic of sampling old music. Catchy and well put together, modestly successful. Canny to dance to, I reckon. 8

19: The Wanted "All Time Low" (7 August 2010) 1wk

'Praying won't do it
Fighting won't do it
Hating won't do it'

I love the spare, Stanley Myers-esque strings at the start. Perhaps an attempt at doing an 'I'm Not Alone' of 2010. Doesn't reach that level, but a subtle, thoughtful pop song that admits to vulnerability and frailty. With the introduction of the euphoric early-90s synths at 2:10, it steps up a notch. 8

20: Ne-Yo "Beautiful Monster" (14 August 2010) 1wk 

A real grower, continuing a rather consistent set of summer chart-toppers - this is better the more you hear it. It's that chord change with the 'But I don't mind' line (which itself has a . Then the reincarnated Michael Jackson style vocalising from 1:16 which display a real anguish. Economical, mutant pop with loads of subtle touches; at 2:38, just savour the Dowlandesque hush. Then back for more of that chorus, probably the best of its parent year. 8

21: Flo Rida featuring David Guetta "Club Can't Handle Me" (21 August 2010) 1wk 

Best intro of the year; more of that transplanted Supertramp piano, and that backwards cor-anglais type sound. Then a luscious unfolding, right into the kick at 0:45, when elation ensues. There are 128 beats per minute, just like its predecessor. Guetta at his irrepressible best. 9

22: Roll Deep "Green Light" (28 August 2010) 1wk

Fractionally slower than the previous two, but the same bpm as the previous Roll Deep entry. This is much deeper, sonically. A little bit of machismo in the lyrics, and the same android-anonymous female vocals that you might get on 'Dangerous' Dave Pearce mixtapes. Better than 'Good Times', if not great; the more expansive use of synthesizer lends it some impact. 7

23: Taio Cruz "Dynamite" (4 September 2010) 1wk

The first few seconds are rather like those of Edwyn Collins' 'Never Felt Like This' (2001). Pleasant enough, and Cruz seems mercifully free of bravado or aggro. This an artisan's take on textbook 4/4 120bpm dance-pop. 6

24: Olly Murs "Please Don't Let Me Go" (11 September 2010) 1wk

There are some pleasing enough touches in the music - theremin (?), sedate piano. However, the vocals and song are faintly insufferable. Won't be listening again. 3

25: Alexandra Burke featuring Laza Morgan "Start Without You" (18 September 2010) 2wks 

Harking back to Tight Fit? Seriously? Comedy dancehall vocals do little to alleviate this slice of cod-reggae. 3

26: Bruno Mars "Just the Way You Are" (2 October 2010) 2wks -- 2 spells

Great distant, submerged whistling sounds in the chorus, and on a different plane to the last two clunkers. Shame that the vocal is overblown and cliched in that typical 2000s bland balladeer manner. 6

27: Tinie Tempah featuring Eric Turner "Written in the Stars" (9 October 2010) 1wk

Could be compared with 'Airplanes' in the meeting of rock and urban styles. Energetic enough at 124bpm, but nothing special. The late guitar solo irritates me, and it is just the wrong side of the fine line between irritating and endearing. 5

28: Cee Lo Green "Forget You" (16 October 2010) 2wks 

Or 'Fuck You' in English. Rather absurd this lingering censoriousness. A welcome return from Cee-Lo, making the first uncomplicatedly good #1 since the summer. 8

29: Cheryl Cole "Promise This" (6 November 2010) 1wk

The intro has a rather terrible approximation of Lady Gaga. Might come off with a bit of character - maybe even using some Geordie dialect? But then Cole's solo career seems, like those of most British ex-boy/girl band members, designed to please, rather than innovate. Bland as Gary Lineker. 2

30: Rihanna "Only Girl (In The World)" (13 November 2010) 2wks

Somebody doing pop properly; not her best, but very shrewd euphoric euro-dance synths pound us to submission. Rihanna is one of relatively few successful female vocalists who sounds entirely in control. 7

31: JLS "Love You More" (27 November 2010) 1wk

After their relative experimentation within the 'boyband' genre, this is merely generic tosh that proceeds at funereal pace: 82bpm (just 2 up on 'The Climb'). This could be Boyzone, Westlife or indeed any group of X Factor chancers. 2

32: The X Factor Finalists 2010 "Heroes" (4 December 2010) 1wk 

I was playing this expecting some anonymous ballad, but should have known it would be a strangling of Bowie's original: art and life and complexity reduced to sentimental simplicity. In the world as it is portrayed,tThe British army are the good guys, who can do no wrong and are heroes - and, of course, that nice Mr Gove is right that they should become our teachers.

This is National television using the same tactics as the BNP did in the function room scenes captured in More 4's insightful The Battle for Barking. Truly ghastly stuff, irresponsible in the extreme. 0

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