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.