[4] Desmond Dekker & The Aces, ‘The Israelites’

Plenty of 1969’s biggest hits are hard-wired into the cultural hive-mind – whatever in Christ’s name that is, but it sounded good from brain to fingers – and ‘The Israelites’ is there as the first tick for reggae. Not the first reggae record, of course; that would take eons of tedious debate to pinpoint and here we like to fly by the seat of our pants (nappies were jettisoned back in March). So, by popular consensus (mine and Junior’s), we stand in awe at what, in a Top Of The Pops world, might fairly be judged Day One for reggae.

With that settled, we can bask in the record’s sunny misery. Desmond takes us by the hand – through an intro that almost threatens to break down before it begins –  then drags us down to a tough old existence, soundtracking it with the most cheery melody this side of bleedin’ B*witched. It’s the neatest trick in the book. Within bars you’re wailing his proud defiance and bewilderment with wretched glee.

To a child, ‘The Israelites’ has the reach of a novelty record. The tune clings like Velcro and the chorus is straight onto the tongue, accurate words or not (yes, thank you, Maxell). Junior hails it an instant classic – signified by hands clapping at an unusually early stage – and flexes her knees to the rhythm in passable imitation of our old favourite, the White Man’s Reggae Dance. She’s perhaps a little too bang on the beat for it to be a genuine WMRD, but it’s nice to see the effort.

[1] Neneh Cherry, ‘Buffalo Stance’

Gigolo. Huh. Sucker.

La Cherry burst on to the scene, all pregnant earth mother horsing around on Top Of The Pops. She was bold, beautiful and the hippest thing since sliced Furious Five. She invented Massive Attack, Sugababes and Betty Boo. She called the unborn girl Tyson, a green light to idiot Beckhams everywhere, and made Bomb The Bass rock the place. Yeah, you’ll remember I explicitly referenced this song right back at No.20. You should’ve known.

Difficult to call, this. I mean, does everyone realise it’s a stone cold genre-busting phat classic? It’s a cool pop record with a surprise around every corner and faultless cred, erm, credentials. Neneh annoyed the pants off people, sure, but that’s what comes of being an outré risqué locomotive.

As for Junior, it shut her up. She was bellowing along the South Circular after Catford, so her mum shoved in the Cherry and it silenced her in seconds. Awe. Or. Or it was so loud, Junior’s mum couldn’t hear the young lady anymore. Either way, result.

[20] Beth Orton, ‘Best Bit EP’

An acquired taste, Beth Orton’s voice, but Junior seemed to have some appetite. She swung jerkily from side to side, rather like a Go-Jo on an early Top Of The Pops, and clacked her castanets in time. I think we’ll introduce more accompanying instruments as this chart goes on.

We listened to ‘Best Bit’ itself (and a tiny bit of the lovely Terry Callier duet, ‘Lean On Me’). The lead track has the timbre and widescreen delta feel of Bobbie Gentry’s ‘Ode To Billie Jo’; it might also read like a sequel. Grand claims aside, it’s a fine piece of mood music that makes a decent fist of not going anywhere.

Two more things about our Beth before we go: she gave the most impressively drunk performance I’ve seen, at Glastonbury a few years ago; her name is a misplaced letter from greatness.

[13] Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, ‘The Message’

Let’s say hip hop began when Kool Herc took a couple of copies of the Incredible Bongo Band’s ‘Apache’ and played the same bit of breakbeat over and over again. That was around 1973 or something. So how come people still refer to ‘The Message’ as “early” hip hop? I reckon it’s because you’re NUFFINK until you’re on Top Of The Pops. And now TOTP is no longer, nothing will be anything ever again. Bands will be stuck on myspace until they’re yesterday’s news, mum and dad won’t be able to say “Is that a boy or a girl? You can’t even understand what they’re saying,” and Michael Parkinson will shape the mainstream, unchallenged. Is that what you want? IS THIS WHAT MADE BRITAIN GREAT?

The impending apocalypse hasn’t registered with Junior, who stares wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the immaculate black vinyl falling onto the turntable. She knows the medium of great tunes, and grips the coffee table, ready to dance. Seven minutes, this, and the proto-critic loves every second.

It was my first real brush with hip hop – ‘Wham! Rap’ was still a few months away – and I was impressed. Their clothes were madder than Kevin Rowland’s and we could all chant along at boarding school without indulging in girlie singing. That was important.

[17] Japan, ‘Ghosts’

At the time, I thought this went to Number One. To be honest, until I started taking a keen interest in the chart during the summer of ‘82,I thought everything that appeared on Top Of The Pops was a No.1 single. Happy, uncomplicated days, before my first Guinness Book of British Hit Singles destroyed these reveries. I felt crushed for Sylvian and the lads, and their No.5 hit.

They were probably ecstatic, or as ecstatic as a bunch of in-fighting, studiedly glacial, new romantic poseurs were ever going to get. Maybe they flared a nostril.

‘Ghosts’ is thuddingly pretentious, a glorious mood piece of mannered vocals and blandly eerie effects. It’s certainly no better than ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ and ‘Mirror Man’, but it thinks it is, and that’s half the battle. Like The Jam, Japan were gone by the end of the year, with a frontman indulging his whimsies. He plods along still, still able to bore you to death at a hundred paces, but at least he does it without Ocean Colour Scene.

I bloody loved Japan, really. Junior tried to look enthused herself, dancing with unsuitable vigour to the first few bars of tuneless electronic dabbling. After a couple of minutes she was thinking of forming the Style Council.

[17] Blur, ‘Tender’


Or Damon’s brave devotional country and western mantra folly. If nothing else, it makes babies rock slowly back and forth, wailing along here and there. Mind you, by the seventh minute, Junior was on her belly pulling herself over to the coffee table to upset all the Sunday papers. Whatever it takes to block out Graham Coxon’s whiny, reedy voice.

I loved this song for a week or two. Albarn’s singing was shocking on Top Of The Pops, but I thought we had a new Kumbaya hippy dippy campfire classic. Yes, of course we needed one. Its appeal waned all too quickly, and by the time everyone saw that cute little milk carton haring about it was completely forgotten. Aw, bless that little milk carton.

‘Tender’ sounds ok today. Moving off-topic, there are FIVE American female soloists to come in the next 16. A special, unspecified, possibly fictional prize to anyone who can guess them.

[16] U2, ‘Pride (In The Name Of Love)’

The high chair was today’s listening platform. Junior did her side to side move, as if she’s trying to dodge you on the basketball court, and was as enthused with the stadium rock power as ever.

‘New Year’s Day’ was the first U2 single I heard, and I hated them. I liked this song and ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ but hated them again in time for the next year’s arrogant, show-stopping Live Aid performance. Bono’s antics at Live Aid made me cringe. My mum was in hospital waiting to give birth to my brother, and my nonplussed dad let me sit in front of the TV all day. I remember him being rather taken with Madonna, able to identify her whenever she appeared on Top Of The Pops after that. Quite a feat when you consider that he usually thought that all pop stars were Cliff Richard.

He even let me sleep on the sofa that night so I could catch the Philadelphia concert, and particularly Duran Duran. I knew I wouldn’t make it so I set my alarm clock, but – portending my adult future – I slept right through it. I was gutted. Still haven’t seen Duran Duran’s bit. Was it any good?

Back to 1984. ‘Pride’ is one of those huge, undeniable records that will have you nodding your head, hate it or love it. Junior and I got into it, air drums on the tray, but we’ve probably heard it enough now.