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
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.