Friday, 4 June 2010

The 20 greatest pop songs

This blog has covered many types of music in its short life from Turkish disco to Australian funk. If one was going to be critical though you could argue that it isn’t always accessible to the occasional enjoyer of popular music. This week I seek to unashamedly redress that balance by presenting the top 20 pop records.

First though some rules. All the records selected are post 1980 – which for me is when the era of manufactured pop really began. OK so there were the Bay City Rollers, the Jackson 5 and the Osmonds but pop was really born out of synthesised pop and anyway I can’t really remember much pre Thatcher. Second, I’m only including acts that are undoubtedly pop acts – Charley by the Prodigy is a pop record but they can’t really be considered a pop act. See also Gnarls Barclay, Chemical Brothers, Basement Jaxx, Depeche Mode, Blur, Missy Elliott and Goldfrapp. Finally, every record has to be at least a top 10 UK hit – pop music is by its very nature popular and this is the measure of success I choose. That’s enough of the rules – let’s enjoy the music!

20. Don’t go – Yazoo

The combination of Vince Clarke’s synth melodies and Alison Moyet’s husky vocal provides an early 80’s classic. Famously championed by Diplo in recent years on his superb Fabric mix – it holds up well alongside full on electro.

19. Comfortably Numb – Scissor Sisters

It’s easy to forget that Scissor Sisters were born of the alternative New York scene and their arrival was genuinely championed by many in the music press. This was a real statement of intent – take perhaps Pink Floyd's most mind numbingly depressing song and turn it into a camp disco dancefloor number. The first thirty seconds at least are thrilling. I’ve often wanted to play this out but always lacked the guts!

18. Prince Charming – Adam and the Ants

Adam had a great image for a pop star. I remember getting a skull and crossbones earring free with Look In magazine and wanting to smear a white line across my nose. This was probably his finest moment.

17. Karma Chameleon – Culture Club

Another great 80’s star – Boy George had a voice to almost match the aforementioned Alyson Moyet. His voice had real soul and he was always too cool to fall into the sleazy soul singer trap which afflicted Mick Hucknall some years later. This was a genuinely subversive and ‘mature’ number 1. Church of the poisoned mind was another great track.

16. Move your feet – Junior Senior

So bad its good. Cheesy, camp and poppy but somehow infectious with a great chorus. Stamp-stamp-stamp-stamp-stamp your feet.....I remember one of these guys being pretty fat and the other very camp...

15. Sweet Dreams – Eurythmics

I overdosed on Eurythmics when I was a kid as my mother, like so many others, could relate to Annie as a ‘strong woman’ and played them to death. It was only when Coldcut played the opening synth riff at Bestival a few years ago that I realised that this was an absolute classic.

14. Toxic – Britney Spears

Catchy innit?! The rest of her career is pants though..(except Baby one more time). She went off the rails a bit once she met Justin...

13. Rock your body – Justin Timberlake

Talking of whom...His first album was probably the most exciting pop album since prime time Jacko. There were a number of highlights but I think this one edges it. The breakdown in the middle where he freestyles is great. Great beats too.

12. Holiday – Madonna

We had to have one from Madge. Hung Up was a recent highlight for sure but it’s essentially an ABBA song so instead I’ll go for this from the other end of her career. Great bassline (sampled by Avalanches). I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had an empty dancefloor early evening, played this and all the ladies hit the floor.

11. Stool Pigeon – Kid Creole and the Coconuts

Again, born from the New York underground but went global in 1982. Kid Creole and the Coconuts were from the Bronx and incorporated Caribbean sounds into their pop disco template. Pop perfection.

10. Don’t stop moving – S Club 7

Jo was my favourite. These guys had a good career at a time when pop had really lost its way (Westlife? Steps? Blue?). I’ve seen this one fill the dancefloor at many a wedding and seems to appeal across the generations.

9. Controversy – Prince

Another artist with many tunes which could be included. This is a personal favourite – I love its sense of urgency.

8. Freak like me – Sugarbabes

Essentially a mash up by Richard X who took Tubeway Army’s Are Friends Electric, put the babes over the top and took it to number 1. Who is in this band now?

7. Tally Ho – AR Rahman feat. Pussycat Dolls

Pussycat Dolls are rubbish really but this is an absolute killer. Essentially a bollywood tune and catchy as hell- a rare example of catchy pop music in the new millennium.

6. American Boy – Estelle feat. Kanye West

Another recent highlight. Oozes summer and perfectly illustrates the New York/London love in. Estelle is a real talent, I look forward to seeing where she goes next.

5. Bootylicious – Destiny’s Child

The obvious choice is Beyonce’s Crazy In Love but this is a bit of an overlooked gem. A great example of the introduction of Rn’B flavours being introduced to the pop mix. A top 5 hit in all the key ‘territories’ it sampled Stevie Nicks’ Edge of Seventeen. There was a great mash up of this with Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit.

4. Beat It – Michael Jackson

Thriller – too contrived. Billie Jean – Too clever and overplayed. I’ll plump for the Eddie Van Halen powered Beat It. I played this at a wedding the week Jacko died and the reaction almost ripped the roof off. A unique talent.

3. Groove is in the heart – Deelite

A real one hit wonder (in the UK at least). Maybe a bit too credible for this list but it is unashamedly pop. A mutli-national band (Croatia, Japan, US) drawn together in New York they sampled Donald Byrd’s Bring down the birds to create a wedding disco staple. Lyrics were written by Q-Tip and bass was provided by the mighty Bootsy Collins.

2. Sounds of the Underground – Girls Aloud

Pretty much everyone loves Girls Aloud and I’m no exception. In a world where pop music has become increasingly bland and ballad led Girls Aloud and their production team Xenomania are the masters of the up tempo dancefloor monster. This, the first of their 19 top 10 singles, has a spoonful of drum n bass, some dance guitars and five lovely voices – perfect pop indeed.

1. Can’t get you out of my head – Kylie Minogue

Just how good is this song? Brilliant- period. It manages to be cool and effortless yet catchy as hell. Co-written by Cathy Dennis it has hints of Kraftwerk lite and a wonderful video. Kylie is the perfect pop package. Confide in Me and Slow were great singles too but to not include this would be criminal. Disagree with this or any other choices? Leave your comments below...


  1. I'm down with most of this list, but Scissor Sisters - NO! Comfortably Numb isn't a pop song and it's a cover.

    High praise for your Justin and Britney choice (although I think she went off the rails after Justin left her!). And Deelite is an amazing song - could have been number 1!

    I'm glad Tally Ho didn't make it to number one, I can tolerate it at number 8.

    Beyonce is cool, but I love Edge of Seventeen and when I hear Bootlylicious I wish they were playing Stevie Nicks (I'm just too cool for school).

    I think your Kylie choice is too credible - this is more of a dance track than a pop number, and I would have voted for Better the Devil You Know or Shocked.

    My main disappointment is the lack of Gaga. But, I could be saying that because I've just watched a Gaga filled episode of Glee. She could be considered credible, but she is pure pop for sure. Gaga could inherit the pop world from Madonna.

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  3. A word to the ignorant (Zoo magazine, Daily Telegraph et alia): Girls Aloud covered Jump (For My Love) by The Pointer Sisters, NOT Jump by Van Halen, which btw charted 5 months before the other one in 1984 and was not an effing COVER of it!

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