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.