The M M & M 1000 – part 54

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. On to T now.

BUFFALO TOM – Tail Lights Fade / Birdbrain (Situation 2 1992)
This was the song that rid the band of the Dinosaur Jr junior tag and marked them out as a band to be reckoned with in their own right. Call it a grunge ballad if you will, but “Tail Lights Fade” is a passionate and moving song with more than a hint of desperation about it. “Broken face and broken hands – I’m a broken man” has the ring of a man reaching the bottom rather than a self-pitying whinge.

DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET – Take Five / Blue Rondo a la Turk (Columbia 1961)
DUKE ELLINGTON ORCHESTRA – Take the A Train / The Sidewalks of New York (Victor 1941)

Post-war, jazz has always been an album oriented medium, with singles little more than promo tools. A genuine popular hit is something that happens so little as to be almost freakish in its occurrence. Let alone one that uses the distinctly un-pop 5/4 time signature. Twenty years earlier, when swing was still king, the Ellington Orchestra were arguably at their very peak. Billy Strayhorn’s elegy to the Manhattan-Harlem-Brooklyn subway line became the band’s signature tune, and still is a fantastic evocation of forties America.

WAILERS – Tool Call One / Road Runner (Golden Crest 1959)
By 1959, rock ‘n’ roll had largely given way to simpering teen pop. Only the denizens of the American north-west must have missed the memo, because they were still churning out blistering, primal rock. The Wailers were the forerunners of a scene that birthed the incomparable Sonics, and provided one of the few links between the fifties rock revolution and the sixties garage band phenomenon, proving that the charge that the Yanks had forgotten how to rock before the Limeys arrived to remind them to be a false one.

BOB DYLAN – Tangled Up In Blue / If You See Her Say Hello (Columbia 1975)
Blood on the Tracks is like a religious icon to the Rolling Stone generation of rock hacks. Which kinda makes you want to hate it! I’m solidly with the consensus on this album, though, and “Tangled Up in Blue” is one of several masterpieces that weave fiction and rare soul-bearing by the usually reticent Dylan – a spokesman for himself, not a generation.

CHAMELEONS – Tears / Paradiso (Geffen 1986)
Strange Times was supposed to be the album that made the Chameleons global stars. Instead they acrimoniously split after recording four songs for a follow up. In retrospect, it’s probably been at least as influential as that other Manc classic that came out the same year, The Queen Is Dead, only it’s rarely cited as such. “Tears”, the album’s token ballad, is completely different on the single release – more in tune with the grandiose wall-of-guitar sound of the band.

MIRACLES – Tears of a Clown / Promise Me (Tamla 1970)
One of the very rare instances when Motown missed something right in front of their noses. “Tears of a Clown” was only issued as a single following its UK success some three years after its initial appearance as an album track. The result, a number one and one of Smokey’s most famous songs.

SANDY NELSON – Teen Beat / Big Jump (Original Sound 1959)
Drummer makes instrumental record – like that’s going to be popular! Well it was, and the brilliant combination of gonzoid guitar riffs and tubthumping pretty much kick started the surf sound.

UNDERTONES – Teenage Kicks EP (Good Vibrations 1978)
You all know how this one goes.

HOLE – Teenage Whore / Drown Soda (City Slang 1991)
Mrs Cobain – everybody’s cartoon villainess. Still, you can’t knock records as exciting as this, even if early Hole owed more than a little to Babes in Toyland, with Courtney even screaming like her erstwhile bandmate Kat Bjelland.

DISPOSABLE HEROES OF HIPHOPRISY – Television / Winter of the Long Hot Summer (4th and Broadway 1992)
Michael Franti and Rono Tse were both former members of San Francisco’s punk Last Poets the Beatnigs, and “Television” was a song they’d already done on the band’s only album. And yes, it does owe a great deal to Gil Scott Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, but it’s still a classic of politicized, industrial-tinged hip hop.

TORNADOS – Telstar / Jungle Fever (Decca 1962)
As viewers of Mad Men will know, the early sixties seems light years away from even the end of the decade, let alone 2010. And yet it was a very forward looking time, with the space race leading other technological advances. Futurology painted a world where every conceivable problem would be overcome by progress, and we’d all have more whilst working far less. Looking back now, it was a naive period, hopelessly blinkered to all the social and environmental problems that were happening. “Telstar” struck a chord. It’s the archetypal piece of retro-futurism – a gleaming piece of cutting edge technology that now sounds resolutely of its time rather than ahead of it. It may have sounded like the future in 1962, but it doesn’t belong in any future that really occurred. That’s not to knock it, or Joe Meek’s fantastic production work. It’s a marvelous record, but one that screams 1962 as much as pill-box hats, Stingray and black and white dramas set in Salford.

NEW ORDER – Temptation / Hurt (Factory 1982)
“Everything’s Gone Green” was the first New Order track to really integrate electronics into the band’s sound, but “Temptation” was the track where they really hit their stride. It’s also the single where Barney emerged from the shadows of Ian Curtis as an instantly identifiable lead singer, albeit an idiosyncratic one, with his trademark whoops.

SWEET EXORCIST – Testone / Testtwo / Testthree (Warp 1990)
If everything’s ready here on the dark side of the moon, play the five tones“. And thus, children, bleep techno was born.

ISLEY BROTHERS – That Lady / part 2 (T-Neck 1973)
“That Lady” was actually an old Isleys tune that they’d recorded a decade before for United Artists, but this version was a reimagining rather than a re-recording, with Ernie’s guitar acrobatics absolutely the centrepiece of the record.

ELVIS PRESLEY – That’s All Right Mama / Blue Moon of Kentucky (Sun 1954)
His first record, a cover of a tune by bluesman Arthur Crudup. What makes the Sun singles sound so fantastic is the space and echo around what is a pretty basic instrumental line-up. It also gives Presley’s voice an alien-like quality, like he’s just emerged from the Mississippi swamps. RCA captured it on “Heartbreak Hotel”, but never managed to repeat that feat.

JAM – That’s Entertainment / Down in the Tube Station at Midnight (Polydor 1981)
At school, the Jam fans tended to be the squares into skinny tie pop, while I hung with the kids who were into the more idiosyncratic indie stuff on Factory, Rough Trade and bands like the Fall, the Birthday Party, Pop Group, the Bunnymen and Joy Division. So I was never a big fan, although I still knew a great tune when I heard one – and “That’s Entertainment” is undoubtedly that. It’s quite a bleak, humdrum thing. Famously, Weller didn’t want it released as a 45, but his fans went out and bought the German import instead in enough numbers that it was still a sizeable hit. The public gets what the public wants, Paul.

More soon

The M M & M 1000 – part 53

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Wrapping up the Ss.

VELVET UNDERGROUND – Sunday Morning / Femme Fatale (Verve 1966)
A deceptively bucolic way to begin The Velvet Underground and Nico. Anyone who bought the album back in ’67 simply on the back of this calm and optimistic little number must have got the shock of their lives by the time “Black Angel Death Song” and “European Son” came around!

DWIGHT PULLEN – Sunglasses After Dark / Teen Age Bug (Carlton 1958)
Classic bad boy rock & roll from Dwight Pullen that was never a hit in its day, but was immortalised years later by the Cramps. Sadly, Pullen never lived to see that, dying of prostate cancer in 1961.

CREAM – Sunshine of Your Love / SWLABR (Reaction 1968)
One of those immortal guitar riffs. For me, Hendrix totally owned it when he played it on the Lulu Show.

GANJA KRU – Super Sharp Shooter / Revolution (Parousia 1996)
BEASTIE BOYS – Sure Shot / Mullet Head (Capitol 1994)

Ganja Kru were a collective of three renowned drum & bass producers – Hype, Zinc and Pascal. “Super Sharp Shooter” was Zinc’s baby, a kind of gangsta jungle using samples of LL Cool J and Method Man. Still rolls like a bastard. “Timing Like A Clock When I Rock The Hip Hop / Top Notch Is My Stock On The Soap Box” says Ad Rock and who could disagree? What a banging tune “Sure Shot” is, with the trio at the top of their game.

CURTIS MAYFIELD – Superfly / Underground (Curtom 1972)
Along with Isaac Hayes’s Shaft, Superfly represents the cream of the early seventies blaxploitation soundtracks. While the movie portrayed the titular drug dealer as some kind of urban hero, the morally centred Mayfield provided a contrasting soundtrack that focused on the victims, and portrayed Superfly himself as an arrogant, urban menace.

CARPENTERS – Superstar / Bless the Beasts and Children (A&M 1971)
Sonic Youth teased a hidden darkness out of this song with Thurston Moore’s sinister half-whispered vocal. But that was perhaps coloured by the tragedy of Karen Carpenter’s death. Her own version is rich and honeyed, although not without a little melodrama.

STEVIE WONDER – Superstition / You’ve Got It Bad Girl (Tamla 1972)
One of the great intros, a bubbling funky keyboard pattern that gets the body moving even before the drums come in. The brass adds even more spice to the brew, and Stevie gives a wonderfully loose vocal performance. One of the best things from the beginning of his five year creative zenith.

BEACH BOYS – Surfer Girl / Little Deuce Coupe (Capitol 1963)
BEACH BOYS – Surf’s Up / Don’t Go Near the Water (Brother 1971)

Just the way they fell, but if I were to choose two songs to bookend the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson’s journey from youth to nostalgic adulthood it would be these. “Surfer Girl” may be a ballad, but it’s a joyful paean to first love that is as much a tribute to the great doowop groups of the fifties as it is to the Californian surfing scene. While the lyrics of “Surf’s Up” may border on the incomprehensible (“Columnated ruins domino” anyone?), there’s definitely a poetry about them, and an atmosphere of dusty nostalgia with some heart-wrenching moments. “The laughs come hard in Auld Lang Syne” is a particularly perceptive line that covers the march of time and loss of youth, and brings a sad resonance to a song that is always sung in a joyful spirit. The multiple melodies and the arrangement of the piece are both near perfect. A song to wallow in.

STIFF LITTLE FINGERS – Suspect Device / Wasted Life (Rigid Digits 1978)
While the English punks whined about being bored (get a hobby) or being on the dole (no, I’m not going to say it – I’m not Norman Tebbitt), across the water in Belfast, the kids had something to be genuinely angry about – especially those who hadn’t been brainwashed into sectarian hatred by those twin bastions of liberalism the puritanical, pope-bashing protestants and the guilt as control freakery of the Vatican. “Suspect Device” explodes with anger at the petty bigotry of the province. It’s an important record in that it gave people on the mainland a real glimpse that Northern Ireland wasn’t just a swirling sea of sectarian hatred, but that there were people as pissed off with the whole situation as anybody, but whose voices were seldom heard above all the posturing and the constant stream of atrocities.

ELVIS PRESLEY – Suspicious Minds / You’ll Think of Me (RCA 1969)
From his brief late sixties renaissance when the music began to matter again. A gloriously huge-sounding soup of paranoia, jealousy, suspicion and despair sung like it’s really meant.

CHAMELEONS – Swamp Thing / John I’m Only Dancing (Geffen 1986)
The endless intro probably didn’t endear this to commercial radio, but it’s integral to the song, a cavestomp that’s nothing to do with fifties sci-fi, but everything to do with disengagement from a world that would sell you your own blood if it could.

CHIFFONS – Sweet Talkin’ Guy / Did You Ever Go Steady (Laurie 1966)
By 1966, the girl meets boy froth of the early sixties had become an anachronism. Emotions ran deeper in popular song, reflecting a change in American teen-hood from the prom and soda fountain world to garage bands, drugs and an increased political awareness. “Sweet Talkin’ Guy” is one of the last classic songs from an age of innocence that had already passed.

LUSH – Sweetness and Light / Breeze (4AD 1990)
I might be wrong, but wasn’t the term shoegazers originally coined in a review of a Lush gig? It was unfair, if true, because the band always had a breeziness and lightness of touch absent from the plodding likes of Chapterhouse. The heavy handed, muffled production of their debut album Spooky by Robin Guthrie is one of the worst cases of production vandalism I’ve heard to be filed along side Spector’s desecration of Leonard Cohen’s Death of Ladies Man. Predating this, “Sweetness and Light” is airy and dreamy, particularly in its full incarnation on the twelve inch.

More soon

The M M & M 1000 – part 35

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. The last Load of Ms.

BIRTHDAY PARTY – Mr Clarinet / Happy Birthday (Missing Link 18 1980)
And indeed it is a link. Taking the quirky pop of the Boys Next Door and guiding it towards the einstürzende swamp-rock of the band’s 4AD period, “Mr Clarinet” has a squawky charm of its own. It may seem quite restrained compared to what was to come, but there’s menace ‘neath the surface.

LAST PARTY – Mr Hurst / Hubby’s Hobby (Harvey 2 1987)
I wrote about this forgotten gem here.

4 HERO – Mr Kirk’s Nightmare / Move Wid the House Groove / Combat Dance (Reinforced 1203 1990)
One of the defining tracks that bridged hardcore techno with what was to develop as jungle. As the BPMs turned up, the E-bliss began to turn into paranoia, and “Mr Kirk’s Nightmare” feeds on this and spits it right back out. The sampled voice dispassionately forming Mr Kirk that “your son is dead – he died of an overdose” being pumped out to bodies stretched to the edge on E, K and coke was fairly explicit in its message.

FALL – Mr Pharmacist / Lucifer Over Lancashire (Beggars Banquet 168 1986)
The last forty years have consistently seen waves of hopeful garage bands cranking out two and a half minute tunes, all the while wishing they were in Nowheresville, Oregon in 1965. The Fall have always had a garage sensibility in that polish is strictly for shoes and dinner tables. But they capture the spirit without ever sounding like imitators. Even when they’ve covered garage classics like “Mr Pharmacist”, originally done by a band called the Other Half, they’ve always made them sound like Fall songs, and the originals sound like weak imitations.

CHORDETTES – Mr Sandman / I Don’t Want to See You Cryin’ (Cadence 1247 1954)
There’s something deeply spooky about this song. The squeaky clean harmonies and lack of any sex or sensuality whatsoever, make it seem like the perfect soundtrack to that Stepford world of 1950s suburban America. Mr Sandman is, of course, a character of children’s nightmares, and there’s something really creepy about the unthreatening blandness about the Chordettes, three perfectly lovely white, Christian, Republican girls. It cropped up in Gary Ross’ 1998 film Pleasantville, and immediately evoked an environment of conformity and repression.

BYRDS – Mr Tambourine Man / I Knew I’d Want You (Columbia 43271 1965)
BYRDS – My Back Pages / Renaissance Fair (Columbia 44054 1967
)
I was at a funeral recently, and the deceased’s choice of tune to send the congregation out was Dylan’s original of “Mr Tambourine Man”. An off the wall choice, but obviously a deeply personal one. The Byrds’ excised large chunks of the song for their version. What makes it is that jangly guitar riff, an intro as recognisable as any in pop. Rickenbacker sunshine. “My Back Pages” follows the same formula of adapting a wordy Dylan song into a snappy piece full of glistening harmony.

WILSON PICKETT – Mustang Sally / Three Time Loser (Atlantic 2365 1966)
This is one of those car/girl metaphorical songs that were a staple in soul and r&b from the forties to the sixties. It allows for plenty of innuendo (“ride Sally ride” etc) lashed with southern grit.

ANGELS – My Boyfriend’s Back / (Love Me) Now (Smash 1834 1963)
It’s ironic that the girl groups of the sixties were all about boyfriend-worship, and yet they came across as sassy and in control. Modern girl groups often sing about control and dissing any unfortunate males who get in the way, and yet they sound like production line Barbie dolls. Of course that’s a ludicrous generalisation. There were sixties songs like Lesley Gore’s horribly twee “It’s My Party” that were just wet. The Angels certainly didn’t sound like they were the sort to burst into tears at the drop of a hat.

STEVIE WONDER – My Cherie Amour / Don’t Know Why I Love You (Tamla 54180 1969)
“My Cherie Amour” sounds a lot more sensual than ‘my dear love’, which sounds like the sort of thing that a particular camp actor would come out with.. By 1969 Stevie Wonder was leaving the Little Stevie schtick, and the bouncy Motown floorfillers behind, and moving into a more sophisticated type of soul music that he would nail in five stupendous albums recorded between 1972 and 1976.

WEDDING PRESENT – My Favourite Dress / Every Mother’s Son / Never Said (Reception 5 1987)
My favourite Gedge song. The first two Wedding Present albums seemed to be mostly mined from the same failing relationship. But “My Favourite Dress” is the one that really expresses the hurt with its long, almost spoken, second section: “Uneaten meals, a lonely star / A welcome ride in a neighbour’s car / A long walk home in the pouring rain / I fell asleep when you never came / Some rare delight in Manchester town / It took six hours before you let me down / To see it all in a drunken kiss / A stranger’s hand on my favourite dress / That was my favourite dress you know / That was my favourite dress“. That focus on something so banal as an item of clothing is so true to life. The big picture is often hard to take in, and it’s the little things that are often so upsetting. All the while, the song has an almost bouncy arrangement that’s underpinned by an underlying sadness. Still sounds magnificent.

WHO – My Generation / Shout and Shimmy (Brunswick 5944 1965)
When you cut through all the layers of irony, it’s still a great song. Back then (and indeed for MY generation which was the next lot along), the generation gap was real and cavernous. I’m not so sure such a thing exists at all any more.

TEMPTATIONS – My Girl / Nobody But My Baby (Gordy 7038 1964)
MARY WELLS – My Guy / Oh Little Boy (Motown 1056 1964)

Two Motown songs that everybody knows, probably to the point that they’ve become banal background noise piped out of nostalgia radio stations, supermarkets and every other damn public space. They’re so familiar that nobody ever really listens to them any more, which is such a shame. I could wax lyrical about the commodification of pop, but now is not the time to come over like a poor man’s Paul Morley.

LOVE – My Little Red Book / Message to Pretty (Elektra 45603 1966)
The first missive from the sixties most ironically named band was a piece of Bacharach and David cheese, punked up. Although it has the sort of lyric that Smokey Robinson would reject as being too twee, Arthur Lee actually makes it sound like an angry and bitter thing, full of pent-up resentment.

SIMON & GARFUNKEL – My Little Town / Rag Doll (Columbia 10230 1975)
The product of a very short reunion, “My Little Town” carries on from where the likes of “The Boxer” left off. Full of nostalgia, wall of sound production and fantastic harmonies.

10,000 MANIACS – My Mother, the War / Planned Obsolescence / National Education Week (Reflex 1 1984)
Natalie Merchant seems to get many people’s backs up. They see her as some kind of bossy school ma’am. Perhaps it’s because she never tried to hide her intelligence, or conform to the stereotype of sexy front for her band. The titles from 10,000 Maniacs’ first EP tell it all. She wasn’t going to sing about staple pop fare. What may shock anyone whose never heard these early tracks is how sonically adventurous they are. “My Mother, the War” sounds like a cross between the Young Marble Giants and the Jesus & Mary Chain at their noisiest. Natalie imparts a tale of an everywoman figure whose brood is out fighting, possibly never to return. She touches on both the mundane and the macabre – of gossiping neighbours, shiny parades, anxiety and bloodied carrion while surrounded by a maelstrom of feedback and quick-step drums.

DAVID RUFFIN – My Whole World Ended / I’ve Got to Find Myself a New Baby (Motown 1140 1969)
SUPREMES – My World is Empty Without You / Everything Is Good About You (Motown 1089 1965)

Two more Motown classics, and two that haven’t been jaded by over-exposure. Motown’s writers were never ones for understating an emotion. The boy meets girl songs are usually accompanied by over the top declarations of how damn wonderful he/she is. The boy loses girl (or vice versa) are usually apocalyptic catastrophes. Credit to the singers that they always made you believe. David Ruffin and Diana Ross were both lead singers of their respective groups, and both got a bit big for their boots, leaving the group format behind for a solo career. There the similarity ends. David Ruffin’s post-Temptations career started well enough, but as the group got bigger, he got left behind and ended up dead too young. Lady Di, of course, became showbiz royalty.

ELVIS PRESLEY – Mystery Train / I Forgot to Remember to Forget (Sun 223 1955)
Forget Graceland, rhinestones, cheeseburgers, leather jumpsuits, terrible films, “Do the Clam” and all the other monstrosities. This is why he mattered.

More soon.

The M M & M 1000 – part 26

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Yet more I’s.

RED SNAPPER – Image of You / mixes (Warp 111 1998)
Red Snapper have always been red hot live. For me the instrumental stuff has always worked better in a gig setting than the tracks with guest vocalists. One of the group’s most powerful pieces, though, is “Image of You” from the Making Bones album. It’s uncharacteristic of the band but nevertheless a brilliant song. Alison David’s vocals are pleading and soulful, and the use of a string trio to augment the rhythm section give it a dark melancholy.

BIG COUNTRY – In a Big Country / All of Us (Mercury COUNT3 1983)
The Celtic rock thing has become deeply unfashionable, inevitably associated with tartan, plaid and boozy males belching out the choruses at the top of their voices. Maybe it sparks a buried psychological fear of the northern hoards among Anglo-Saxons. Who knows? Granted Big Country were a bit of a one trick pony, but that trick was never more ably performed than on this rousing song.

RUTS – In a Rut / H-Eyes (People Unite 795 1979)
“In a Rut” was one of the greatest singles to come out of punk. Its blend of ferocious rock and dub was blisteringly direct, with the tension racked up by the middle section (that always reminded me somehow of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”). Flipside “H-Eyes” was sadly prescient. Malcolm Owen would be dead of a heroin overdose within two years.

DOBIE GRAY – The In Crowd / Be a Man (Charger 105 1964)
This was pretty much the National Anthem of the Northern Soul scene. It had the tempo and the swing, but just as importantly, the lyrics could have been written about the kids who crammed the all-nighters nearly a decade later.

ROY ORBISON – In Dreams / Shadarosa (Monument 806 1963)
While the man himself has become something of an icon, with the image of the black clothes, dark glasses and trembling tenor that always seemed on the edge of heartbreak an integral part of the culture, his songwriting genius sometimes gets forgotten. “In Dreams” breaks all the rules as far as pop singles go. There’s no chorus, for a start. There are parts that sound like a chorus, but they’re never repeated. In fact no part of the melody is ever repeated. The song builds from a near-spoken intro to something operatic without ever reprising any previous section. Sure, lots of music does that, but to do it in such a way that it’s still catchy as the best pop should be is a remarkable feat.

CHAMELEONS – In Shreds / Nostalgia (Epic 2210 1982)
A ludicrously underrated band. Something that, alas, has always been so. Even though they’ve had a huge influence on bands from Kitchens of Distinction right through to Interpol and the Editors. Indeed, the latter are such carbon copyists, it’s particularly galling that they’re forever accused of ripping off Joy Division. Wrong band, you numpties. “In Shreds” was where it all began, the only product of a brief fling with Epic Records. It’s one of the band’s harshest and angriest missives. B side “Nostalgia” is more typical of their later material.

ELVIS PRESLEY – In the Ghetto / Any Day Now (RCA 9741 1969)
After spending most of the sixties becoming more and more of a joke figure, with ever more embarrassing movies seeming to be his main field of endeavour, Elvis came back with a bang in December 1968 with the legendary NBC TV special. It wasn’t much more than a fleeting Indian summer, but he made a couple of great records during 1969. One of these was “In the Ghetto”, a mournful Gospel influenced piece about the interlinked cycle of poverty and crime. It’s more melodrama than protest song, to be honest, but it’s still a mighty fine record. Nick Cave’s version is pretty good, too – typically wrecked and grim, but with the heart of the song intact.

WILSON PICKETT – In the Midnight Hour / I’m Not Tired (Atlantic 2289 1965)
Karaoke favourite, theme of political talk shows – in fact it’s become such a cliché on TV and radio to wheel this on when anything happens or starts at midnight. Over-familiarity, then, has dulled the song somewhat, but Pickett’s vocal strut and the Memphis horns still maintain their raw appeal.

TOM WAITS – In the Neighbourhood / Frank’s Wild Years (Island 141 1983)
This song marked the clear line in the sand between Tom Waits mark one, the bawdy barfly balladeer, and Tom Waits mark two, the junkyard eccentric with his menagerie of misfits. “In the Neighbourhood” , with its Salvation Army style trombones, is a slow march that celebrates the oddballs that populate the vicinity in a way that’s weirdly moving.

FIVE SATINS – In the Still of the Night / The Jones Girl (Ember 1005 1956)
The Five Satins hailed from New Haven, CT – not a town really known for its rhythm and blues legacy. In many ways they were old fashioned and out of step with the times, their balladry more in tune with older acts like the Orioles and even the Ink Spots rather than the more beat-oriented doowop groups that were springing up in the mid fifties. “In the Still of the Night” is their best known song, a charming slow ballad.

MARVIN GAYE – Inner City Blues / Wholy Holy (Tamla 54209 1971)
GOLDIE PRESENTS METALHEADZ – Inner City Life / Jah (Ffrr 251 1994)

One of the centrepieces of What’s Going On, “Inner City Blues” is more infused with despair than rage. Like the title track, Marvin seems bewildered by the inequalities and social breakdown he sees around him. “Crime is increasing / Trigger happy policing / Panic is spreading / God know where we’re heading” when he says it “makes me wanna holler / And throw up both my hands” it’s more in frustration and resignation that there seems no way to change things. Fast forward nearly a quarter of a century, and the plight of the inner city seems little changed. For singer Diane Charlemagne, the place of refuge is in her lover’s arms. “Inner City Life” was the record, more than any other, that took drum and bass away from the dancefloor and into the mainstream, proving that the music had more to it than just high tempo breakbeats and dark bass, but could be the soul music of the 21st century. It didn’t quite happen, but the record remains a monumental achievement.

More soon

The M M & M 1000 – part 21

The Guardian nicked my idea! Well, kinda.

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. ‘Alf of the aitches..

LONNIE JOHNSON & BLIND WILLIE DUNN – Handful of Riffs / Bullfrog Moan (Okeh 8695 1929)
This dates back to a time when having a racial mix of artists on the same record was taboo. Thus white jazz guitarist Eddie Lang adopted a ‘blues name’ alias for the music that he recorded with Lonnie Johnson. Both players were adept in a variety of styles – Lang had played jazz with Joe Venuti and even recorded a Rachmaninov prelude for solo guitar while Johnson had played both jazz and blues. “Handful of Riffs” is typical of their guitar duets, both soulful and technically innovative. They influenced a long line of players from John Fahey to Richard Bishop.

JOHNNY BRISTOL – Hang On in There Baby / Take Care of You For Me (MGM 14715 1974)
Johnny Bristol was in his mid thirties by the time his singing career took off. His past decade and a half had been spent as a producer and songwriter at Motown and CBS. “Hang On in There Baby” is a passionate piece of Philly proto-disco.

JIMMY CLIFF – The Harder They Come / Many Rivers To Cross (Island 6139 1972)
24 year old Jimmy Cliff made his acting debut as Ivanhoe Martin, the hero of Perry Henzell’s 1972 film of Jamaican ghetto life, The Harder They Come. His self-penned title track has become one of the most covered reggae tunes over the years, but none matches the intensity of the original.

BOB & EARL – The Harlem Shuffle / I’ll Keep Running Back (Marc 104 1963)
The early sixties saw a plethora of dance crazes, each inspiring hundreds of records. “The Harlem Shuffle” was something altogether more gritty and real than the endless exhortations to do the twist / the monkey / the mashed potato etc etc. Bobby Byrd (aka Bobby Day) and Earl Nelson had both been members of doowop act the Hollywood Flames in the fifties, but by the time this came out, Nelson was working with a different Bob – Bobby Relf.

BUZZCOCKS – Harmony in My Head / Something’s Gone Wrong Again (United Artists 36541 1979)
This isn’t generally considered to be one of the band’s best singles, but it remains one of my favourites. It’s a rare lead vocal outing for Steve Diggle, whose gruff bark is in stark contrast to Pete Shelley’s romantic pleadings. It gives the song a darker, angrier, more urgent feel – but it still has a fantastic singalong chorus.

ISLEY BROTHERS – Harvest for the World / part 2 (T Neck 2261 1976)
In the mid seventies, the Isleys were usually more concerned with sex and dancing than politics, but “Harvest for the World” is a heartfelt plea for a redistribution of wealth and an end to hunger that could have come straight out of the Curtis Mayfield songbook.

CHI-LITES – Have You Seen Her? / Yes I’m Ready (Brunswick 55462 1971)
Bloke mooches around at the movies and the local park, swaps jokes with the neighbourhood kids, but inside he’s a broken man because the girl he loves has flown the coop. It’s the classic seventies soul heartbreak scenario, with talkie intro and outro. A “Tracks of My Tears” for the afro and flares generation – and an absolute beauty of a song.

BODINES – Heard It All / Clear (Creation 30 1986)
Glossop’s finest have long since faded into obscurity, which is a shame. They only made one album, and that’s long out of print, but they did a clutch of great singles. This is indie pop at its purest – urgent, melodic and with an upbeat melancholy. Most of the Creation acts of the time were obsessed with the sixties – the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Byrds – but the Bodines owed more to Postcard records. LTM or somebody should get on the case and do a proper anthology of the band. They don’t deserve to be forgotten.

TOM WAITS – The Heart of Saturday Night / Diamonds On My Windshield (Asylum 45262 1975)
“The Heart of Saturday Night” is typical of Tom Waits’ early days as a romantic barfly. It’s a bruised, but hopeful, song about the joy of the weekend – the anticipation, the pool halls, the waitresses. On the album, whose title it shares, it closes the first side. The second finishes with its companion piece, “The Ghosts of Saturday Night”, a reflective, glazed early morning peek at the aftermath which is even better.

ELVIS PRESLEY – Heartbreak Hotel / I Was the One (RCA 6420 1956)
This is one of those songs that is so familiar to everyone, that few probably really listen to it properly. What makes it so great is the empty space – the ghostly echoes that evoke a world of limbo between the living and the dead. It’s regularly cited as a key rock and roll tune, but it’s more a slice of American Gothic that owes as much to Edgar Allen Poe as it does to rhythm and blues.

MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS – Heat Wave / A Love Like Yours (Gordy 7022 1963)
Just one of the reasons why the Vandellas were always the greatest of Motown’s girl groups – and by extension, the greatest of the whole genre. It encapsulates the sweat and the joy of a carefree summer night.

DEEP BLUE – The Helicopter Tune / mixes (Moving Shadow 41 1993)
Deep Blue was Sean O’Keefe, a member of 2 Bad Mice and, more recently, Black Rain with Rob Haigh of Omni Trio. “The Helicopter Tune” was a landmark record in the history of jungle. It ditched the rude bwoy / ragga stylings of much of the early stuff in favour of a clinical, cyclical rhythm that had very little in the way of adornment. It’s one of the few records of the era that still sounds like it’s been beamed in from the future.

THEM – Here Comes the Night / All For Myself (Decca 12094 1965)
While it doesn’t have the same snotty urgency that “Gloria” has, “Here Comes the Night” still sounds more akin to the likes of the Sonics and the Standells than it does to any of Them’s mainland UK contemporaries.

DAVID BOWIE – Heroes / V2 Schneider (RCA 1121 1977)
Actually, the seven inch edit that mostly gets played on the radio is rubbish. It starts something like two minutes in. It’s like beginning a novel on page 80! The full six minute version is one of Bowie’s finest records – a dense, claustrophobic, almost desperate piece of self-delusion.

MEMPHIS JUG BAND – He’s in the Jailhouse Now / Round and Round (Victor 23256 1930)
“He’s in the Jailhouse Now” is one of those pre-war hillbilly tunes that exist in loads of different versions, credited to loads of different writers (Jimmie Rodgers being one). It probably dates back much further than the 1920s. This has always been my favourite take. I like the loose and rough raucousness of Will Shade’s mob.

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The M M & M 1000 – part 4

Here’s the fourth batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Nearly through the A’s.

VELVET UNDERGROUND – All Tomorrow’s Parties / I’ll Be Your Mirror (Verve 10427 1966)
If you’ve got a copy of the first Velvets single then the beers are on you – replete with picture sleeve, mint copies are worth in the region of five grand. Even the (most common) promo fetches a three figure sum. It’s not here because it’s rare, but because it’s a brilliant record – with Nico sounding like the most bored party-goer in history.

HASHIM – Al-Naafyish (The Soul) / mix / bonus beats (Cutting Records 200 1983)
This has been out loads of times on loads of labels. The reason being that it’s a timeless electro classic that, along with Cybotron’s “Clear”, helped pave the way for the Detroit techno explosion. Hashim is Jerry Calliste Jr. He’s made other records, but none had anything like the impact of his first.

LOVE – Alone Again Or / A House Is Not a Motel (Elektra 45629 1968)
Two classics from Forever Changes. Bryan Maclean’s upbeat, optimistic “Alone Again Or” with its mariachi horns is a blast of sunshine, in contrast to Arthur Lee’s paranoid visions on the flip.

DEODATO – Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001) / Spirit of Summer (CTI 12 1973)
Richard Strauss’s fanfare to Friedrich Nietzsche memorably featured in Kubrick’s 2001. Five years after the movie, it was turned in a jazz-fusion monster by Brazillian keyboard player Eumir Deodato.

STIFF LITTLE FINGERS – Alternative Ulster / 78 RPM (Rough Trade RT004 1978)
Recorded during the darkest days of the Troubles, “Alternative Ulster” is brim full of molten anger. With one of the greatest guitar intros to come out of punk, it positively seethes. The title was filched from a contemporary Belfast fanzine.

ELVIS PRESLEY – Always On My Mind / Separate Ways (RCA 740815 1972)
Probably the last decent record that Elvis made, closing a four year creative renaissance that followed a decade of tat.

SUBWAY SECT – Ambition / Different Story (Rough Trade RT007 1978)
“Ambition” was probably the first punk single to feature what sounds like a fairground pump organ. Vic Godard’s mob always were a little different, and he soon went into a kind of neo-jazz crooner direction. He never bettered this, though.

TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS – American Girl / Fooled Again (Shelter 62007 1977)
DON McLEAN – American Pie / part 2 (United Artists 50856 1971)

Hard to believe that Petty was initially lumped in with the likes of Television and Talking Heads as the US’s answer to UK punk. “American Girl” is so Roger McGuinn it hurts – good tune, though. “American Pie” survived a grisly assault by Madonna. I know many people who detest the original – quite why is beyond me. It’s clever and literate and is a lot of fun to deconstruct. But it also works as an emotional response to the death of McLean’s schoolboy hero, Buddy Holly.

MASSIVE ATTACK – Angel / Group Four (Wild Bunch 10 1998)
“Angel” is loosely based on an old Horace Andy Studio One tune, but here it’s both sensual and threatening. Andy’s honeyed tones contrast vividly with the brooding background. It’s amazing that Mezzanine is already a decade old. It still sounds as fresh as the day it came out to these ears.

ARTHUR ALEXANDER – Anna / I Hang My Head and Cry (Dot 16387 1962)
Despite having songs covered by the Beatles (this one) and the Stones (“You’d Better Move On”), Arthur Alexander is still an undeservedly obscure figure. Great tunes and a rich baritone sometimes aren’t enough. Alexander spent the seventies and eighties in obscurity, but looked set to capitalise on his growing cult status in 1993 when he signed a new recording and publishing deal. A month later he suffered a fatal heart attack.

DANCE CHAPTER – Anonymity / New Dance (4AD AD18 1980)
I think I’m one of the only people on the planet who rates this. Back from the days when most acts on 4AD were proto-gothic Bauhaus / Joy Division clones, Leeds band Dance Chapter were no different. Singer Cyrus Bruton was quite a charismatic character, and he gives his all to this song which somehow transcends its influences. Nothing else they recorded was anything like as good.

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