[12] Coldplay, ‘Viva La Vida’

When the Pet Shop Boys covered this in their Pandemonium show – Neil Tennant in crown and gown, natch – it fostered the biggest singalong of the night. I’d swear, somewhat insultingly (for whoever), half the audience assumed the song was Tennant and Lowe’s – and wised up too late. Otherwise, I’m not sure there’s a natural overlap between the bands, but the point for me is ‘Viva La Vida’ has fast become an anthem and, I’ll wager, the Noughties hit that will last. At least in the sort of Absolute Radio pantheon that will forever rate Bohemian Rhapsody and Stairway To Heaven the standout peaks of our popular culture.

Obviously I think this is a great record, and while much of that is down to its immediacy and bursting pride, there’s also the question of its surprising birth. After all, X&Y had pretty much clawhammered the joy out of the soul of anyone who listened. It was a flatulent album, stretching its reserves of hot air over a dozen lifeless rhyming-dictionary clods of half-songs. They barely deserved their Brian Eno moment. However, he turned up anyway and has to take a hefty slice of credit for the alert Coldplay that emerged. But credit to Martin and co for actually bothering their arses this time.

Like Doctor Who, this is a family favourite. Actually, Doctor Who’s too scary for Junior. Let’s call this a mainstay of our automobile glee club.

Junior says: “WOAH-OH-OHH-OH-OHHH-OHHH. That’s the best bit.” And probably the only bit not pilfered from Joe Satriani, Cat Stevens, ‘Papa Don’t Preach’… – ah, we’re all the sum of our influences, aren’t we? Whatever cobbles this together, it gets Junior smiling every time. Maybe she’s got some publishing rights too.

Best bit: Well, what she said.

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[5] Scritti Politti, ‘The ‘Sweetest Girl’’

Scritti Politti

I imagine 1981 was an exciting time for a properly sentient pop being. For me, everything was new yet everything was normal, but for the seasoned listener the sands were shifting – punk was gone, disco was (almost) gone, new wave was evolving, everyone had a synth and they were gonna use it. Who knew how it would all turn out? There were atrocities to come as the ‘80s took wing, but New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Phil Oakey, Arthur Baker and other visionaries showed technology could be handled with care and flair.

We find Green Gartside on the cusp, edging away from the dubness of early Scritti Politti singles to find a polished white soul sound wedged somewhere between lovers rock and dreamy new romanticism. Later his music would become so polished you could barely stop it slipping off the turntable, but there are still rough edges here: Robert Wyatt’s creepy, shimmering keys; mild echo and fizz; loose structure. Ever the philosopher, Green sings about the ‘sweetest girl’ through the prism of political theory – too detached to be romantic, too sweet to be dry.

Although there are still shouts for The Beatles from the back of the car, Junior concedes she likes the song, eventually asking me to turn it up. “Scritti Lippy” as she calls them – combining her twin passions of chapstick and not listening properly – can be a bit sticky for some, but she’s got a sweet tooth.

Politics is prior to the vagaries of science:

[14] Blondie, ‘Sunday Girl’

Light as air, carefree and – what? – hard to get? Junior’s mum pointed out that Junior and Juniorer are both Sunday Girls (“You were born on a Sunday, J” “I was very born on a Sunday”) but perhaps not in the way Debbie Harry is hinting. We all love the song, know the words – even the French ones on this Best Of version – and Junior sways in front of her sister, hips in time to the gossamer rhythms.

Blondie were bang into their flow by this point, succeeding ABBA as the singles band du jour, knocking the classics out at a rate to make Paul Weller jealous; not that he was far behind. I’m always seduced by a band that respects the single, that can put so much care in for so sustained a period. You know the suspects: Wham!, Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, Girls Aloud… hmmm. I feel like I’m coming out.

I shared a bed with Debbie Harry last year. Well, she draped herself across it, while I perched at the end, asking questions she’d answered a thousand times before. In all the excitement, my tape recorder broke, but she let me have an extra five minutes once I’d taught myself shorthand. Lovely. Anyway, that’s one for the After Dinner circuit.

[16] Pet Shop Boys, ‘Where The Streets Have No Name (Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)’

Pet Shop Boys

I used to put this on the jukebox in the hall bar at university, just to antagonise the rockists. The Jimi Hendrix lookalike and his Led Zep pals would become particularly vexed, often because it tended to interrupt their ‘American Pie’ loop.

This record’s a thumb of the nose – it couldn’t be anything else with the merging of the Andy Williams camp classic – but there’s affection too. The Pet Shop Boys’ aural soundscapes (wow) are wide enough to do justice to the sweep of the song, and it’s all big and dramatic like Bono thinks he is. I’m sure they’re not JUST taking the piss. Ok, I’m not sure. It’s great, though; I hadn’t heard it for years until this morning, and I still love it.

I’ve banged on about this before, but it’s interesting (well, sorta) that the PSBs and Prince should own the ’80s but then lose the plot at about the same time as each other. Can’t think of any proper good PSBs singles after this – honourable mention, however, to the bit where it goes mad at the end of ‘Go West’.

Junior was rather smitten with this, the Hi-NRG beats bringing forth the cockateel moves. I’ve really brainwashed the poor kid. She’ll be writing her own version of ‘Being Boring’ in about 30 years:

“I came across a cache of digital photos,
And countless blog entries from my dull old father;
He played me records and voiced my opinions,
And Girls Aloud got him all in a lather,
In my 20-noughties…”

[10] Blur, ‘The Universal’

That clever-clever Clockwork Orange video, the voguish thought-control paranoia of the lyric, the clean lines and tuneless faffings of The Great Escape: Blur were a funny old mixed bag in 1995. Parklife – half a very good album – gave them too much fame and they didn’t know what to do with it. I don’t know if they intended to skewer it with half-baked songs, but it was a sterling effort.

‘The Universal’ is one of two exceptions, to these ears. It’s singalong (ooh, “ironic” karaoke), has some fine trumpet interludes, satisfying use of strings and it builds to a crescendo rather like the Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Jealousy’. 

Junior jumped when the strings came in, but soon relaxed as her dad did his near-legendary violin mime. She did the head-rock again, for a moment resembling a classical cellist, and rounded things off with a few of her favourite lip-smacks like an Albarn relishing his Gorillaz cash.

You can almost hear Graham Coxon sneering that he never liked hits anyway.

[4] Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield, ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This?’

This is the best single of 1987 by some distance, only I didn’t quite realise at the time. The “song with no chorus”, as Tennant and Lowe knew it, has drama, bitterness, regret and huge, warm hooks. It also has those synth horns on the second bridge that set you up for Dusty’s matchless second verse/bridge/kind-of-chorus. The catch in her voice here is not just the highlight of the record, it’s one of the pop highlights of the decade.

The kids like it as well. My brother was two when this was released and it’s the first of my records I remember him singing along with, in an early prototype of Jukebox Junior. Junior herself enjoyed this in a more stately manner, waltzing around the living room with her dad.

I haven’t paid much attention to the Pet Shop Boys in the last 10 years. I know they made a new soundtrack to Battleship Potemkin last year, and I’ve been dimly aware of the steady trickle of pale imitations of former glories. Nothing disguises the weakening grip on the mastery of pop. It would’ve been a tall order, anyway. In the ’80s they peered down on all except the pint-sized purple paisley poseur.