Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. We’re on to the Bs now.
COLOURBOX – Baby I Love You So / Looks Like We’re Shy One Horse (4AD BAD604 1986)
The Young brothers’ two 1986 singles were both their finest and final moments. “Baby I Love You So” was a reimagining of a Jacob Miller reggae tune, where as the flip was a cut-and-paste dub mash that would have done Steinski proud.
FOUR TOPS – Baby I Need Your Lovin’ / Call On Me (Motown 1062 1964)
The Four Tops were veterans of more than a decade, and had been at Motown for a couple of years by 1964. They’d made little impact. This song was the breakthrough, and marked the start of a four year period where the group and writers Holland, Dozier and Holland could do no wrong.
ELLA FITZGERALD & LOUIS JORDAN – Baby it’s Cold Outside / Don’t Cry, Cry Baby (Decca 24664 1949)
Different to Louis Jordan’s normal brand of good time jump blues. This is a ballad. Of sorts. Ella’s had a nice time, but wants to go home. Louis is trying to think of every reason he can why she should stay. It’s funny, and has a kind of innocent sexual tension to it.
BIG JOE WILLIAMS – Baby Please Don’t Go / Wild Cow Blues (Bluebird 6200 1935)
Joe Williams was billed as the “king of the nine string guitar” – not sure there was much competition for that particular throne. Legendarily eccentric and cantankerous, he nevertheless came up up with some enduring classics. “Baby Please Don’t Go” is probably better known in its incarnation by Them – led by another cantankerous eccentric, Van Morrison.
RUTS – Babylon’s Burning / Society (Virgin VS271 1979)
The Ruts were the first punk band that were really successful in fusing reggae and rock. The Clash didn’t really crack it until London Calling. “Babylon’s Burning” is probably their most famous song, and it still, erm, burns with a fierce energy.
BJÖRK – Bachelorette / My Snare / Scary (One Little Indian 212 1997)
One of the outstanding tracks from Homogenic, an album that she’s never come close to matching as far as I’m concerned.
KING BEE – Back By Dope Demand / Feel the Flow (First Bass 6 1990)
King Bee were, I think, Dutch. Which in 1990 was a strange place for a classic hip hop track to hail from. It’s all about the bass line which comes from a Herbie Hancock tune called “Wiggle Waggle”. It’s an absolute monster.
SUPREMES – Back In My Arms Again / Whisper You Love Me Boy (Motown 1075 1965)
A sort of sequel to “Stop! In the Name of Love” in which Diana Ross’s runaround boyfriend has sheepishly returned to the fold. Not as well known as “Baby Love” (which isn’t on this list), but I prefer my Motown with a bit of grit, a bit of drama – “Baby Love” is a little too sweet for me.
O’JAYS – The Back Stabbers / Sunshine (Philadelphia International 3517 1972)
“They’re smiling in your face, all the time they want to take your place”. It’s the universal tale of duplicitous, two-faced friends that applies to love, work, politics and diplomacy in equal measures. It was the first big hit for the O’Jays in their Philly period. They remain a criminally underrated band.
CREAM – Badge / White Room (Polydor 56315 1969)
Cream’s final single was a short and sweet pop tune with an edge, and a lot preferable to wading through fifteen minute versions of “Spoonful”.
TEMPTATIONS – Ball of Confusion / It’s Summer (Gordy 7099 1970)
Whitfield and Strong at their very best. The whole thing is an urgent, psychedelic funk maelstrom that encompasses lyrics that don’t scan, but pour out like a deranged spewing of grievances. Unlike most vocal groups, the Tempts were never a lead singer and a bunch of back-up guys. Everybody gets their place in the limelight – a tradition continued by rap crews like NWA and the Wu Tang Clan.
BYRDS – Ballad of Easy Rider / Wasn’t Born to Follow (Columbia 44990 1969)
Post ’68, the Byrds went into a creative nosedive, beginning with Sweetheart of the Rodeo, one of the most overrated albums in history. This two minute gem was one of the few good things they came up with. Known as the theme tune of the eponymous film, this version wasn’t actually used in it.
MARIANNE FAITHFULL – Ballad of Lucy Jordan / Brain Drain (Island 6491 1979)
The synth backing sounds horribly dated, but Faithfull’s fag and booze soaked growl is perfect for this song about thwarted ambition and mid life crises. The sound of dreams dashed.
FREDA PAYNE – Band of Gold / The Easiest Way to Fall (Invictus 9075 1970)
This was a UK number one in 1970, and has since become a karaoke standard for wannabe divas. Still a great song, though.