Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles.
FLAMING LIPS – She Don’t Use Jelly / Turn It On (Warner Brothers 18131 1994)
Simple and surreal, “She Don’t Use Jelly” was Coyne and cos first singalong song which, unlike many, never seems to pall with repeated listenings. It’s just gleefully absurd, simple fun.
POP GROUP – She Is Beyond Good and Evil / 3.38 (Radar 29 1979)
Perhaps the Pop Group’s most accessible song, this is still evil sounding Faustian funk that lies somewhere between Chic and free jazz. They were a band whose tension between deep dub-funk and stellar jazz was stretched to breaking point, and topped with the borderline madness of Mark Stewart’s paranoid vocals, created a distopian soundtrack to societal, political and personal breakdown. The tension that drove them inevitably destroyed them as the group was pulled in too many conflicting directions, but their small ouevre is a truly great legacy.
PJ HARVEY – Sheela-na-gig / Joe / Hair (Too Pure 8 1992)
Part Pixies part riot girl, Polly Harvey stripped out the fat and fancy from her music, but still sounded a world away from the basic rock template. She infuriated and thrilled people in equal measure for her steadfast refusal to be labelled, or dragged into ‘scenes’, and still does. Her secret is a paradoxical combination of self-doubt and self-confidence that leaves her restless and continually inventive, but at the same time, never capriciously flitting from style to style.
RAMONES – Sheena Is a Punk Rocker / Commando / I Don’t Care (Sire 746 1977)
They sounded dumb but were never stupid. The first three albums fire off crackers like this every couple of minutes without ever sounding weary. That they ultimately became a cliché was inevitable. They either progressed and lost the raw simplicity, or stayed the same and became a self-parody.
HALL & OATES – She’s Gone / I’m Just a Kid (Atlantic 3332 1974)
In the eighties they became pop giants, but their music became plastic and soulless. In the seventies they couldn’t get arrested, but came out with some amazing Philly soul-drenched pop. “She’s Gone” is a powerhouse of impassioned vocal interplay.
YELLO – She’s Got a Gun / The Evening’s Young (Do It 18 1982)
While a lot of Yello’s early music was fairly brash, electro-influenced synth pop, my favourite side to the duo was always the atmospheric noir-ish stories relayed in tracks like “Lost Again” and this one. Dieter Meyer’s image fits the world of darkened railway stations, femmes fatales with guns and the fading decadence of a Europe living under the burden of its own catastrophic history.
HOUSE OF LOVE – Shine On / Love / Flow (Creation 43 1987)
About as good as indie guitar music gets. The House of Love’s first single was emotional, exciting, crisp and concise. It sold diddly squat, despite being on a fashionable label. Some things are just unfathomable. Over the last two decades, they’re a band I’ve introduced to people more than any other I think, and the reaction is always glowing. And I’ve met other people who rate the band’s short tenure at Creation as highly as I do.
ROBERT WYATT – Shipbuilding / Memories of You (Rough Trade 115 1982)
Elvis Costello’s brilliant response to the Falklands War isn’t a angry polemic, but a confused reflection of a character whose livelihood has been secured by it, and feels guilty about that fact. I have no problem with Costello as a singer, but he has a rather sarcastic tone that really can’t carry off the emotional conflicts of the song. Robert Wyatt, however, has the right mixture of pathos, vulnerability and deep unease to convey it perfectly. A masterpiece.
BOYS NEXT DOOR – Shivers / Dive Position (Mushroom 7492 1979)
Before they discovered their true mettle as the Birthday Party, the band’s previous incarnation peddled a kind of jerky, spiky pop. This Rowland Howard song sounded nothing like either. It’s a brooding ballad that oddly has far more in common with some of Nick Cave’s later work even though it wasn’t his song. It’s appearance in the film Dogs in Space is a perfect cinematic moment.
MIRACLES – Shop Around / Who’s Loving You (Tamla 54030 1960)
Along with Barrett Strong’s “Money”, “Shop Around” is one of the two major hits of Motown’s first year that has one foot in doo wop and rock ‘n’ roll, and the other in the future, world-dominating Motown sound.
MAGAZINE – Shot By Both Sides / My Mind Ain’t So Open (Virgin 200 1978)
With a riff so good that former Buzzcocks partners Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley both used it (see “Lipstick” by the Buzzcocks), “Shot By Both Sides” introduced Magazine with a bang. It was a winning combination punk’s excitement and sharpness and the more expansive, almost prog, sound of bands like Roxy Music.
JUNIOR WALKER & THE ALL STARS – Shotgun / Hot Cha (Soul 35008 1965)
Motown anomalies in that they owed as much to Booker T & the MGs and James Brown as they did to the sound of the Motor City, Walker’s All Stars were a funky rhythm and blues outfit who were as much about the groove as they were about the song. “Shotgun” is a blast (sorry).
THE CARDINALS – Shouldn’t I Know / Please Don’t Leave Me (Atlantic 938 1951)
The Cardinals were one of the great proto-doo wop ballad groups, but one who seem to have fallen through the cracks of history. The only available compilation is a stingy 10 song collection that appeared on the Collectables label in 2006 and is only available on import from the US for a silly price.
STEELY DAN – Showbiz Kids / Razor Boy (ABC 11382 1973)
“Showbiz Kids” is another one of those great Steely Dan tunes that subverts the kind of smooth, self-regarding, nouveau riche types who probably listed the band as one of their favourites. Only this time they did it with a brazenness that only an idiot could fail to see: “They got the house on the corner, with the rug inside / They got the booze they need, all that money can buy / They got the shapely bodies, they got the Steely Dan T-shirts…” and as a final coup de grace: “Show bus’ness kids makin’ movies of themselves / You know they don’t give a fuck about anybody else“