The M M & M 1000 – part 59

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

FLAMING LIPS – Waiting For a Superman / mixes (Warner 1999)
Is this a metaphor for global warming? About how no one wants to act in the hope that someone else will sort the problem out for them. Some things are just too big for even the proverbial superman.

EVERLY BROTHERS – Wake Up Little Susie / Maybe Tomorrow (Cadence 1958)
And is this a veiled reference to teenage sex? – not something you could explicitly deal with in a pop song in 1958.

FOUR TOPS – Walk Away Renee / Your Love Is Wonderful (Motown 1967)
Of course it’s a song by psyche-popsters the Left Banke, but good as the original is, they didn’t have the mighty Levi Stubbs. And a song this full of hurt was just made for him.

CANNON’S JUG STOMPERS – Walk Right In / Whoa Mule! Get Up the Alley (Victor 1929)
Gus Cannon’s group and Will Shade’s Memphis Jug Band were probably the two biggest jug bands of the late twenties / early thirties. By 1962 when the Rooftop Singers covered Walk Right In and took the song to the top of the Billboard chart, Cannon was a largely forgotten figure. In fact, so forgotten, that the story goes that everybody assumed he was dead and never thought to check. It was only when he heard it on the radio that he had any idea that the song had been remade. It ended well for him, and although in his late seventies, he enjoyed an Indian summer of recording and acclaim.

EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL – Walking Wounded / mixes (Virgin 1996)
Many people sneered when Everything But the Girl ‘went drum & bass’, but they absolutely nailed the fusion of late night melancholy pop and quicksilver beats. In retrospect it’s not so surprising that it worked. Omni Trio (who provided a remix) and others had always had a sad, downbeat air to their tunes, and Tracey Thorn had proved with Massive Attack that she had the perfect voice for that late twentieth century urban loneliness.

HOWLIN’ WOLF – Wang Dang Doodle / Back Door Man (Chess 1960)
Two great slices of bad boy blues from the big man. What more can you add?

EDWIN STARR – War / He Who Picks a Rose (Gordy 1970)
It’s kind of ironic that Berry Gordy, one of the most reticent label bosses when it came to allowing real life and real issues to infect his feel-good pop factory, eventually issued a string of songs that were some of the most profoundly political pop of the era. Edwin Starr’s War is just one example – an angry blast that no Iraq or Afghanistan demo would feel complete without.

KILLING JOKE – Wardance / Pssyche (Malicious Damage 1980)
For me, Killing Joke never really delivered on the promise of their debut album’s furious, dense industrial punk. Wardance is a vicious, tribal yell, but it’s Pssyche that gets the blood flowing. Youth’s bass is like a battering ram and Jaz lets rip with some real fury, although the targets of his ire seem almost random. And there’s something uncomfortably Nietzschan about the line Dodge the bullets or carry the gun, the choice is yours.

ATLANTIC OCEAN – Waterfall / Mimosa (Eastern Bloc 1994)
Sometimes a melody can be so simple and yet so effective. This house / proto-trance track sounds like it could’ve been thrown together in five minutes, but still sounds terrific.

TLC – Waterfalls / mixes (LaFace 1995)
I’m not the biggest fan of modern R&B. Too much is just dreary. I always liked TLC, though. They had a bit of grit about them that was lacking in most of their contemporaries and acolytes. They also could harmonise effortlessly and turn in a ballad that actually felt like it came from the heart. Then tastes changed to the sub-Gospel wailing of Destiny’s Child and their ilk, and TLC got bumped to the sidelines as the cult of celebrity became the be all and end all. Pity.

KINKS – Waterloo Sunset / Act Nice and Gentle (Pye 1967)
A love letter to Swinging London that somehow captures its death throes, a year before Grosvenor Square bashed out the chippy innocence for good.

TEMPTATIONS – The Way You Do The Things You Do / Just Let Me Know (Gordy 1964)
One of the best songs from the group’s Smokey era, before they really found their own voice. That happened in the first twenty seconds of Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, two years later.

POP GROUP – We Are All Prostitutes / Amnesty Report (Rough Trade 1979)
A band that burned like a magnesium flare. A band that foretold the future with chilling accuracy, and one that still stands unique thirty years on. There are no Pop Group soundalikes.

We Are All Prostitutes
Everyone has their price
And you too will learn to live the lie
Aggression
Competition
Ambition
Consumer fascism

Capitalism is the most barbaric of all religions

Department stores are our new cathedrals
Our cars are martyrs to the cause

We are all prostitutes

Our children shall rise up against us
Because we are the ones to blame
We are the ones to blame
They will give us a new name
We shall be
Hypocrites hypocrites hypocrites

Now available as a ringtone (true). FFS!

SISTER SLEDGE – We Are Family / Easier to Love (Cotillion 1979)
By 1979, disco’s name was mud. It had become ubiquitous and ridiculous, a bandwagon jumped upon by every chancer from Rod Stewart to Barbra Streisand. And yet it was the year that produced the two greatest albums of the genre – Chic’s Risqué and the Chic produced We Are Family. Both are rhythm led, with songs as seductive as they are simple and as dancefloor friendly as you can possibly get. They are also chock full of optimism of the kind that is hard to do without coming across as twee or just plain gormless. Those two albums alone produced half a dozen great singles of which this is but one.

ANIMALS – We Gotta Get Out Of This Place / I Can’t Believe It (EMI Columbia 1965)
One recurring feature on this list is the classic bassline, and they don’t get much better than this. I admit to being sold on the bassline in some cases, even if the rest of the tune isn’t up to much. Not the case with this one, though. It’s like one of the great British kitchen sink dramas full of angry young men and downtrodden women. Or Our Friends In the North encapsulated in three minutes.

LOUIS ARMSTRONG – We Have All the Time in the World / Pretty Little Missy (United Artists 1969)
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was an odd Bond film. Firstly, it had George Lazeby in his only appearance as 007. Secondly, he got married in it (and became a widower). Thirdly, the official theme tune was the instrumental of the same name, with Louis Armstrong’s beautifully rendered ballad demoted to the end credits. My Bloody Valentine’s version is a swoonsome thing that’s well worth hearing too.

THE BAND – The Weight / I Shall Be Released (Capitol 1968)
Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed? / He just grinned and shook my hand, and “No!”, was all he said. That line always makes me laugh out loud. It’s just the mental picture it conjours up.

More soon

The M M & M 1000 – part 42

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. The rest of the Ps and Qs.

MAYTALS – Pressure Drop / Smoke Screen (Trojan 7709 1969)
I first came across this song as a Clash B side. Good though that version is, the original’s still the best – an urgent slice of late period ska.

JACKSON BROWNE – The Pretender / Daddy’s Tune (Asylum 45339 1976)
Browne gets lumped in with all the other seventies California confessional singer/songwriters, but he’s always had a bit more to him than most of his peers. “The Pretender” has all the soft rock harmonies and string arrangements present and correct, but has a vein of deep disillusion running through it, a theme common throughout its parent album. “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate” on that record has a real personal resonance with me.

FELT – Primitive Painters / Cathedral (Cherry Red 89 1985)
Lawrence Hayward’s mumbled baritone is something I can only put up with in small doses before its emotionless lethargy gets tiresome. But “Primitive Painters” is an epic classic with Elizabeth Fraser’s vocal cameo providing welcome contrast.

KITCHENS OF DISTINCTION – Prize / Concede / Innocent (One Little Indian 12 1988)
In a just world they would have been feted and all their recent clones dismissed as the poor facsimiles they are. “Prize” wasn’t the band’s first single, but it was their first great, perhaps defining, statement. It documents one of those pub nights when a couple still in the early stages of their relationship seem to accidentally hit each other’s sensitive spots, as the beer kicks in, emotions get raised and Patrick FitzGerald’s protagonist gets angrier and angrier at being quizzed about previous partners. The music follows the course of the night from gentle, slightly downbeat beginnings, to a foggy, bleary-eyed fury. Magnificent.

TRANSA – Prophase / Interphase (Hook 9 1996)
The Aberdeen based Webster brothers made trance without cheese. It’s probably the most maligned (save happy hardcore) and formulaic (ditto) genre of dance music, but they proved that there was room for artistry within its tightly defined parameters. Indeed, if they’d slowed the tempos and used less generic rhythms, they’d probably be a hugely respected electronica act. Their debut single “Prophase” had all the duo’s trademarks fully formed – the lush, sweeping, slightly melancholy melodies and the panoramic, epic scope of the music. “Prophase” is a huge dose of aural serotonin.

TEMPTATIONS – Psychedelic Shack / That’s the Way Love Is (Gordy 7096 1969)
“Psychedelic Shack” is one of the greatest of the Whitfield / Temptations collaborations. All the psychedelic funk mayhem and massive basslines were present and correct, but the singers were still fully integrated in the sound. One of the things often overlooked about this era of the band’s history is how the five Tempts swapped lead lines seamlessly with no individual standing out as the main lead. This was a technique in direct contrast to any of their peers’. It’ was a huge influence on a lot of rap collectives.

SONICS – Psycho / Maintaining My Cool (Jerden 811 1966)
TALKING HEADS – Psychokiller / acoustic version (Sire 1013 1977)
COUNT FIVE – Psychotic Reaction / They’re Gonna Get You (Double Shot 104 1966)

Maintaining my cool? Something that Jerry Roslie seldom did on record. Imagine Little Richard with anger management issues fronting a hyped up, over-enthusiastic rock and roll band and you might come close to the insane sound of Seattle’s Sonics. “Psycho” is raucous, dumb and effortlessly brilliant. Where Roslie’s psychopath is uncontrolled mayhem, David Byrne’s is all nervous twitching and sweaty menace. Tina Weymouth’s brilliantly simple bassline is like a pounding inside his head that won’t let go – pushing and pushing at Byrne’s self-control. Even though the final unravelling doesn’t happen, you’re left with a feeling that it’s only a matter of time before it does with horrific consequences. The Count Five’s psychosis is more chemically induced than the others. Like many of their contemporaries, the band were in thrall to the Yardbirds. “Psychotic Reaction” crosses a bludgeoning fuzz guitar and harmonica tune with a double speed middle eight that really does let loose into the realms of madness. One of the very best sixties punk tunes.

PUBLIC IMAGE LTD – Public Image / Cowboy Song (Virgin 228 1978)
When I first heard this it was jaw-on-floor time. The first 30 seconds are amazing. First Wobble’s bass booms out, and then the drums come in bathed in echo. Levene joins in with an eastern sounding buzz-saw guitar before Lydon enters with an almost operatic tenor, wobbly and almost unhinged, and a long way from the snotty sneer he used on the Pistols’ records. Two minutes 58 of vitriol and sonic adventure. In comparison, the Pistols’ records seemed lumpen and pedestrian. They were a bunch of combustible personalities and it couldn’t last long – but at least it lasted long enough to make Metal Box, one of the greatest, most adventurous albums ever issued.

DELGADOS – Pull the Wires From the Wall / Mauron Chanson (Chemikal Underground 23 1998)
A John Peel Festive Fifty number one if memory serves, and deservedly so. The song that lifted the Delgados above the ranks of twee indie also-rans and turned them into cult heroes. Sadly, mainstream success always eluded them. One of those baffling injustices in pop history.

M|A|R|R|S – Pump Up The Volume / Anitina (4AD 707 1987)
At the time 4AD seemed the least likely label to score an international number one with a relentless, sample-heavy bass groove. That’s just what happened with this one-off collaboration between Colourbox and AR Kane. It was the record that pushed dance culture overground and helped pave the way for the mainstream success of acid, house and techno and all of the genres that came later. Its massive sales seemed to have a strange effect on its makers. The Young brothers dissolved Colourbox and, as far as I know, never made another record.

ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN – The Puppet / Do It Clean (Korova 11 1980)
For some reason, the band (McCulloch in particular) loathe “The Puppet”. It was conspicuous by its absence when the band’s albums were reissued with bonus tracks. Quite why mystifies me. It’s a great song, with an immensely powerful vocal.

JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE – Purple Haze / 51st Anniversary (Track 604001 1967)
Single number two, and the one that proved that Hendrix’s talent stretched way beyond his guitar playing. The opening riff is one of the greatest in rock, and the song combines a liquid rhythm with a granite-hard wall of sound.

SEEDS – Pushin’ Too Hard / Try to Understand (GNP 372 1966)
Sadly Sky Saxon returned to his home planet this year, but he left behind some of the finest examples of sixties punk. “Pushin’ Too Hard” sounds like a snotty teenage whining about how everything’s SO UNFAIR, but drives along full of dirt and spunk. They kinda lost me when they started singing about flower children and the like, but the heads down rock primitive stuff still excites.

ASSOCIATES – Q Quarters / Kissed (Situation 2 4 1981)
I haven’t the foggiest what it’s about, but for once the Associates reined in their hyperactivity for a few minutes to do something dark and sinister. It was just one of a string of extraordinary singles that were released during 1981 and collected on the Fourth Drawer Down compilation.

MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS – Quicksand / Darling, I Hum Our Song (Gordy 7025 1963)
While I like “Dancing in the Street” as much as anyone with a functioning pair of ears, the Vandellas tunes that really blow me away are the ones where they turn up the tempo and the drama – especially “Heatwave”, “Nowhere to Run” and this one. And the bit I like most about “Quicksand” is that amazing, almost bird-like backing line that the Vandellas do. You know, the woo-woo-woo-woo-oooo bit.

ULTRAVOX! – Quiet Men / Cross Fade (Island 6459 1978)
I really wish they’d changed their name when John Foxx departed. OK, they did drop the exclamation mark. “Quiet Men” from the band’s third (and effectively, for me, final) album was typical of a record that had dropped the synth-punk for a more Kraftwerk / Neu! inspired Euromanticism.

More soon

The M M & M 1000 – part 39

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. As the little boy in the old Heinz vegetable soup ad used to say “some Ps”.

808 STATE – Pacific 707 / Pacific B (ZTT ZANG 1 1989)
A landmark release for British electronica. The second summer of love of 1988 was dominated primarily by house tunes imported from across the pond. What the scene lacked was homegrown anthems. “Pacific 707″ was one of the first. Not only that, its sampled sax melody and general tropical lushness made it a blueprint for a lot of the dream house and chill-out to follow.

ERIC B & RAKIM – Paid in Full (Seven Minutes Of Madness – The Coldcut Remix) / album mix / Eric B is on the Cut (4th and Broadway 12 BRW 78 1987)
Who remembers the Derek B mix? That was the one that came out first. The Coldcut treatment has become one of the all time legendary examples of the remixer’s art. Pretty much all of the original track is in there, but with old Tomorrow’s World samples and a groovy bass loop and all sorts of Steinski-inspired mayhem going on. Eric B apparently hated it. M|A|R|R|S paid deep homage to it. And it can still, to quote Rakim himself, “Move the Crowd”.

ROLLING STONES – Paint it Black / Long Long While (Decca 12395 1966)
Generally speaking, psychedelia and the Stones didn’t mix well. They spent much of 1967 trying, but generally making fools of themselves. The one indisputable masterpiece of the genre was “Paint it Black”. Significantly, it was a trip to the dark side. The deep echo on the bass and drums, and Brian Jones’ inspired sitar give it an air of intense psychotropic paranoia.

SMITHS – Panic / Vicar in a Tutu (Rough Trade 193 1986)
One of the many sticks used to beat Morrissey with (sometimes fairly) was the seeming attack on disco in this song and the call to “hang the blessed DJ”. It’s disingenuous in the extreme. This was two years before house went mainstream, remember – a time when club DJs were glorified hospital radio announcers whose interest in music varied between passing and non-existent. This was the era of the Hitman and Her, for God’s sake. I would’ve chipped in for the rope!

TEMPTATIONS – Papa Was a Rolling Stone / part 2 (Gordy 7121 1972)
By the time they recorded the 1973 album Masterpiece, there was rumbling in the Temptations ranks that they’d been reduced to bit part players on their own records, with Norman Whitfield’s grand visions taking central stage. They had a point. Personally, I think Masterpiece is a, um, masterpiece, but there are many who think it was an ego-trip too far. “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” may have set the ball rolling, so to speak – the full version runs to something like twelve minutes. But there is a real sense of drama, both in the music and in the way that the tale of a dissolute dad is told by the singers. And that bass intro has to be one of the most recognisable in popular music.

JAMES BROWN – Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag / part 2 (King 5999 1965)
PIGBAG – Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag / Backside (Y 10 1981)

If it wasn’t the record that invented funk, it was certainly the genre’s defining moment. Everything on “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” is about the groove. It’s tungsten hard and tighter than PJ Proby’s trousers. Pigbag used the title as a tribute, and their record is funky too, but in a different way. It’s looser, faster, somehow more tribal sounding – particularly with the brilliant drum break on the twelve inch. They were a damn fine outfit who deserve to be lauded more than they are.

FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON – Papua New Guinea / mixes (Jumpin’ & Pumpin’ 17 1991)
Constructed using samples of Circuit’s little known 1990 house track “Shelter Me” and, more famously, Lisa Gerrard’s vocal on Dead Can Dance’s “Host of Seraphim”, “Papua New Guinea” sounded like nothing else back in 1991. It still retains an aura of mystery to it that sounds both celebratory and spiritual. It could be argued that it laid the foundations for trance, and the ethnic house, for want a better description, of global appropriators like Banco de Gaia.

BLACK SABBATH – Paranoid / The Wizard (Vertigo 6059010 1970)
Tommy Iommi’s greatest riff? Maybe topped by “Black Sabbath”. But “Paranoid” has a rare punk-like urgency about it while retaining the sludgy bassiness that made Sabbath legends. If you don’t feel the urge to head-bang to this, you have no metal DNA in you at all.

RADIOHEAD – Paranoid Android / Polyethylene (Parlophone NODATA01 1997)
When people want to tar Radiohead with the prog-rock label, this is usually wheeled out as exhibit A. Progressive? Sure. But not prog. There’s no noodling here. It may be long and multi-sectioned, but “Paranoid Android” is direct and unshowy. It also marks out the band’s rare gift for taking the raw materials of rock, and being able to continually surprise us with new shapes. Some critics swimming in non-main streams like to sneer, but the band have the knack of creating intelligent and original music that still can appeal to a mass audience. If it were that easy, their furrow wouldn’t be such a lone one.

BUKKA WHITE – Parchman Farm Blues / District Attorney Blues (Okeh 5683 1940)
Even by 1940, Bukka White’s type of country blues seemed archaic. Blues, whilst not yet fully electrified, had become more concerned with rhythm, and the band had largely replaced the solo troubador. “Parchman Farm” seems to belong more to the twenties than to the age of an industrial megapower preparing for war. Having said that, it’s an example of country blues at its very best. Parchman Farm was a notorious Alabama prison, and White fully conveys the misery of the institution.

METAL URBAIN – Paris Maquis / Cle de Contact (Rough Trade 1 1977)
Rough Trade wasn’t launched by one of their more famous lefty, artschool, spiky post-punk types, but by a rabble of angry Parisian punks. “Paris Maquis” is a furious attack on the brutal, quasi-fascist Parisian police and whose anger was probably much more justified than many of the English punk bands’ general moans about being bored. Only Stiff Little Fingers probably had more good reasons to be this furious. You’d have thought that Paris would have been a hot-bed of punk, but it doesn’t seem to have been. Or maybe most of it just never travelled to the anglophone world.

TELEVISION PERSONALITIES – Part Time Punks / Where’s Bill Grundy Now (Kings Road 5976 1978)
Pinpoint accurate satire from Dan Treacey and co. Have to plead guilty on this, too. Although in my defence, I was too young to be a first wave punk. And young and naive as I was, I would never have bought a Lurkers single just because it was pressed on red vinyl. And I did use toothpaste, hence a full set of gnashers to this day!

ASSOCIATES – Party Fears Two / It’s Better This Way (Associates/WEA 1 1982)
After a series of dense, often quite brilliant singles for Situation 2, Alan Rankine and Billy MacKenzie were courted by Warners Brothers, given their own boutique imprint and the finances to fully fund their vision. The result was this rich, operatic, slightly mad piece of grand pop and the classic album Sulk. Like “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”, “Party Fears Two” has one of the most recognisable intros in pop – the theatrical piano melody that opens it with a joyous blast. I’m sure Liszt or Chopin would have killed for an intro like that!

SHANGRI-LAS – Past, Present Future / Paradise (Red Bird 68 1966)
Vast debates continue to rage about what exactly it was “that will never happen again” from a particularly unhappy break-up, through to an unwanted pregnancy or a rape. Whatever it was has left deep scars on Mary Weiss’s protagonist in this emotionally draining song. The light romance of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and Weiss’s recollections of an innocent childhood contrast brilliantly with the hidden depths of pain that are only really alluded to. She seems like a woman who can still enjoy the pleasures of moonlit walks and dancing, but underneath the surface is utterly bereft of hope. It cuts me to pieces every time I hear it. They called them the Myrmidons of Melodrama. “Past, Present, Future” is as tragic as King Lear.

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.

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The M M & M 1000 – part 28

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. All the Js today.

SCOTT WALKER – Jackie / The Plague (Philips 1628 1967)
For someone whose French is minimal, listening to Jacques Brel is a frustrating experience. His phlegmish melodramatics aside, the lyrics are key to his songs. Instead, you have to rely on the often bowdlerised English translations. Of all the English language singers who covered Brel, Scott Walker came the closest to nailing the drama and pathos of the originals. “Jackie” is almost a love song to Brel’s ego, albeit laced with plenty of irony, and such was a strange choice for a single – particularly for a first solo single following the demise of the Walker Brothers. But Walker was making a statement. This ain’t pop no more, but art. That may seem a bit precious, but he delivered on the promise with four of the greatest albums of the late sixties.

VAN MORRISON – Jackie Wilson Said / You’ve Got the Power (Warner bothers 7616 1972)
For someone legendarily grumpy, Van Morrison could spin some vibrant and gleeful tunes. “Jackie Wilson Said” is a generous tribute to the great singer that’s upbeat and soulful.

JOHN BARRY – The James Bond Theme / The Blacksmith Blues (Columbia 4898 1962)
This must be the most instantly recognisable movie theme of all time. Nearly fifty years on, it still oozes mystery and drama. More remarkably, it sounds resolutely contemporary. Beyond the iconic introduction, there’s a damn nifty jazz tune in there too.

TOM WAITS – Jersey Girl / Heart Attack and Vine (Asylum 47077 1980)
Tom Waits’ last album for Asylum, Heart Attack and Vine, was probably the closest he ever got (or is ever likely to get) to making a mainstream rock album. The guitar isn’t often to the fore in Waits’ music, but it was through much of this record. “Jersey Girl” is a yearning love song that’s so Springsteenesque that the man himself covered it.

BJÖRK – Joga / mixes (One Little Indian 202 1997)
I’m pretty sure “Joga” only came out in the UK as a triple CD box set with a VHS, and on promo. Elsewhere it got a standard release. I’ve always found One Little Indian’s bewildering. There seem to be a ridiculous numbers of limited editions, promos, white labels, mixes and live albums issued in every format imaginable. It seems a bit cynical to me. To the song, though: it’s one of the highlights of Homogenic, her most consistent album to date. The dramatic volatility of Iceland’s geology runs through this tune like a mineral seam.

CHUCK BERRY – Johnny B Goode / Around and Around (Chess 1691 1958)
Probably the ultimate rock and roll record. Not only that, “Johnny B Goode” lay down the blueprint for rock music from the Stones to punk and beyond.

DUKE ELLINGTON & HIS ORCHESTRA – Jungle Nights in Harlem / Old Man Blues (Victor 23022 1930)
It’s not generally considered A list Ellington, but “Jungle Nights in Harlem” has always been one of my favourites of his. My dad had a budget RCA Camden album of Ellington at the Cotton Club (something out of character from the usual easy listening stuff that he owned) which featured this among other better known sides. This was the tune I returned to most. I guess it’s a Charleston – it’s certainly red hot rhythmically, with an unforgettable horn melody.

AZTEC CAMERA – Just Like Gold / We Could Send Letters (Postcard 813 1981)
Roddy Frame was something daft like fourteen years old when he recorded his first Postcard 45. “Just Like Gold” is good, but the B side is awesome. It’s world weary and nostalgic and yet upbeat and bright at the same time, with some terrific acoustic guitar work. I don’t think he ever wrote a song that matched it.

JESUS & MARY CHAIN – Just Like Honey / Head (Blanco Y Negro 17 1985)
For about a year they were the most amazing group on the planet. The screeching feedback and Spector-ish echo of their songs was a marriage made in heaven. The tunes were straight out of the Beach Boys / girl group era that predated the more knowing and less innocent music that followed on from the British invasion. “Just Like Honey” was the band’s fourth single, and took the tempo down a few notches, replacing the squeal with a big beefy wall-of-sound production. In effect, it was the sign of things to come. The second LP Darklands was mostly in this vein, and lacked the noisy thrills of the debut. They never recaptured the magic.

TEMPTATIONS – Just My Imagination / You Make Your Own Heaven and Hell Right Here On Earth (Gordy 7105 1971)
Smack in the middle of their psychedelic soul period, the Temptations made a brief return to the lush balladry that they’d started out with. “Just My Imagination” has a smooth sweet soul sound, that is as dreamy as the protagonist’s fantasies about the girl who passes by his window every day.

PRISONAIRES – Just Walkin’ In The Rain / Baby Please (Sun 186 1953)
As their name suggests, the Prisonaires were a group of prisoners incarcerated in Nashville’s Tennessee State Penitentiary. Three of the five were lifers including lead singer Johnny Bragg who’d been indicted for six counts of rape in 1943 when aged 17. Radio producer Joe Calloway came across them when doing a news item from the prison, and alerted Sam Phillips at Sun. The reflective, haunting “Just Walkin’ in the Rain”, written by Bragg, was a moderate hit for the group. When covered by Johnny Ray it became one of the biggest selling records of the fifties.

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The M M & M 1000 – part 24

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

TEMPTATIONS – I Know I’m Losing You / I Couldn’t Cry If I Wanted To (Gordy 7057 1966)
TEMPTATIONS – I Wish It Would Rain / I Truly Truly Believe (Gordy 7068 1967)

These are two of the greatest Temptations’ songs of the David Ruffin era before he left in 1968 to pursue a solo career. “I Know I’m Losing You” is a desperate plea of a song. A relationship is crashing and Ruffin knows that it’s too late to save it, even though on the surface all appears deceptively normal. “I Wish It Would Rain” from the following year could be seen as the aftermath – the girl little more than a memory now. After his departure from the group, Dennis Edwards was drafted in. The group dynamic changed radically. Before it was essentially Ruffin plus chorus, but in the future the Temptations would be much more of an ensemble with each adding a distinctive voice to the mix.

TELEVISION PERSONALITIES – I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives / Arthur the Gardener (Rough Trade 63 1981)
Syd had been out of the public eye for a decade, living with his mother somewhere in Cambridge. The TVP’s fabulous little song is a fantasy about going round his house for Sunday tea of sausages and beans, all done in a wistful, childlike style that echoed Barrett’s own. The bucolic mood is enhanced by the twittering birdsong, but the reverie is brutally ended by Dan Treacy’s shout of “OH SHUT UP!” at the end. It’s funny, but also a jarring return to the grim reality of mental illness – something which Treacy has had problems with himself.

ERIC B & RAKIM – I Know You Got Soul / dub version (4th & Broadway 7438 1987)
It could be argued that Paid in Full was the first modern rap album. It marked a shift away from up tempo party music to more reflective beats, ultimately paving the way for bands like Massive Attack and the whole Ninja Tune / Mo Wax scene. Rakim’s style was more conversational than his forebears, and he’s still regarded as one of the finest exponents of his art. “I Know You Got Soul” was just one of a slew of seminal tracks on the record, and the one that kicked in the fashion of using James Brown samples – something done to death over the next few years by lesser acts.

ARETHA FRANKLIN – I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) / Do Right Woman – Do Right Man (Atlantic 2386 1967)
ARETHA FRANKLIN – I Say a Little Prayer / The House That Jack Built (Atlantic 2518 1968)

“I Never Loved a Man” is possibly the finest double A side in soul music. Franklin had been around for years, signed to a record label (Columbia) that didn’t really know what to do with her. Jerry Wexler knew, and when she signed to Atlantic, the marriage of Franklin’s Detroit upbringing and the Memphis musicians who backed her created something that brought together Gospel, country-soul and an urban sophistication. The recording of the songs was far from being a smooth process. Sessions in Memphis were fractious and produced little salvageable. The record ended up being finished in New York. When it eventually appeared, it was an immediate sensation, and for the next few years Franklin had an almost vice-like grip on the top of the Billboard R&B chart. Strangely, though, “I Say a Little Prayer” was one of her less successful singles in the US, even though it’s one of her best loved songs. This was mainly due to the fact that Dionne Warwick had just had a big hit with it. Warwick’s version was done in the smooth, urbane style that was expected of Burt Bacharach and Hal David numbers. Franklin stripped away the gloss, and poured her heart into it.

FLAMINGOS – I Only Have Eyes For You / At the Prom (End 1046 1959)
There’s something magical about 1950s doowop ballads that’s hard to pin down. It’s something about the space in the records coupled with the mono recording that makes them both intimate and yet somehow distant. It’s a weird paradox that I can’t really describe. Many old songs reflect the era that they emerged from, but doowop seems to do more than that – it preserves it like a fly in amber. “I Only Have Eyes For You” has a beautiful stillness about it. Nate Nelson’s lead is satin-smooth, and the harmonies are almost angelic. The Flamingos hailed from Baltimore and had been around for the best part of a decade before they recorded this, their defining moment.

MIRACLES – I Second That Emotion / You Must Be Love (Tamla 54159 1967)
The Miracles provided the bridge between doowop and the sophisticated sweet soul of the likes of the Delfonics and the Chi-lites. Smokey Robinson had an unparalleled gift for the use of metaphor and puns which seldom crossed the thin line between being witty and being cheesy. It’s funny how songs like this one don’t even register as puns any more, such have they become an established part of the culture.

BOB DYLAN – I Threw It All Away / Drifter’s Escape (Columbia 44826 1969)
After dipping his toe in the water with John Wesley Harding, Dylan dived head first into country music with Nashville Skyline, a brief collection of short, direct songs sung in a baritone croon very different to the snotty whine of a few years before. “I Threw it All Away” is 143 seconds of regret. Despite its concise simplicity, it stands up alongside his very best work.

JOHNNY CASH – I Walk The Line / Get Rhythm (Sun 241 1956)
With Cash’s rich baritone, and the walking bass, “I Walk the Line” is the very essence of outlaw country. This is Jack Palance not Alan Ladd.

STOOGES – I Wanna Be Your Dog / 1969 (Elektra 45664 1969)
Simplicity itself. A grinding, three note riff and an almost monotone vocal. It’s dirty, it’s mean and it is full of punk attitude in its purest, most nihilistic form. The Stooges took rock and roll to the gutter, a place where, for all their brilliance, you felt the Velvets only ever visited as tourists. Countless bands have followed in their footsteps in the forty years since, but none have bettered that dirty purity.

CAN – I Want More / And More (Virgin 153 1976)
CHIC – I Want Your Love / Funny Bone (Atlantic 3557 1979)

On the face of it, “I Want More” is a bit of a novelty record. Avant-garde art-rock band go disco? It’s a long way from Tago Mago. But then, Can always had a sense of fun about them. “I Want More” could be seen as an extension of their Ethnological Forgery Series, where they recorded lovingly rendered pastiches of everything from hot jazz to various world musics. And ultimately, it’s simply a great record with a shimmering keyboard motif and a lazy, shuffling four square rhythm. Can’s take on disco is a little scruffy compared to the gleaming uptown sounds of Chic.

RICHARD & LINDA THOMPSON – I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight / When I Get to the Border (Island 6186 1974)
Richard Thompson is many things, but a singles artist is not one of them. He’s released a few over the years, of course, including this – the title track to his first album with his then wife Linda. It’s the classic working class tale of living for the weekend. Going out, having fun, dancing, drinking, just forgetting the daily grind. Unusually for Thommo, it’s direct and simple with no dark psychological undercurrents, and Linda captures the spirit of a working girl out for a night of fun perfectly.

JACKSON FIVE – I Want You Back / Who’s Loving You (Motown 1157 1969)
STEVIE WONDER – I Was Made to Love Her / Hold Me (Tamla 54151 1967)

Motown’s two great child stars at differing periods in their careers. The Jacksons, led by Michael, were overnight sensations in 1969 when their debut single was released. It still sounds fresh and vibrant. They can be forgiven for paving the way for the Osmonds. Just. Stevie Wonder was 17 and his voice had broken. With five years experience already behind him, he sounded older. “I Was Made to Love Her” is a classic, upbeat Motown dancer.

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