Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Continuing with the Bs.
PUBLIC ENEMY – Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos / Too Much Posse (Def Jam 68216 1989)
Playing like an action film, “Black Steel” tells the story of a draft resister who is imprisoned, and his ensuing break for freedom. The political double whammy highlights the disproportionate number of grunts in Vietnam who were black, fighting for “a land that never gave a damn about a brother like me”, and the institutiuonalised racism of the prison system. Tricky’s version was good too.
RICHARD HELL & THE VOIDOIDS – Blank Generation / Love Comes in Spurts (Sire 1003 1977)
RAMONES – Blitzkrieg Bop / Havana Affair (Sire 725 1976)
Two of the cornerstone singles of the New York punk scene. “Blank Generation” was originally written for, but rejected by, Television a couple of years earlier. It became the anthem for punk’s nihilism. Hell provided the ideology, the Ramones provided the musical blueprint – turbocharged, primitive garage pop.
ORANGE JUCE – Blue Boy / Love Sick (Postcard 802 1980)
Orange Juice’s Postcard singles are the holy book of indie pop. Replicated, ripped off but never equaled. Even the band themselves never regained the balance between sparkling tunes and gleeful enthusiasm in their later years at Polydor. “Blue Boy” has a zip to it, with its martial drum beat and wayward guitar riffs – not to mention a chorus to yelp along to as loudly as you can.
THE MARCELS – Blue Moon / Goodbye to Love (Colpix 186 1961)
Elvis’s reading of “Blue Moon” from six years before was a fragile, haunted thing. The Marcels turned it into a cartoon, albeit a gloriously uplifting one. It’s hard to believe that it’s the same song.
THE CLOVERS – Blue Velvet / If You Love Me (Atlantic 1052 1955)
Bobby Vinton’s version from 1963, as used in the David Lynch film, is the better known, and Tony Bennett’s from 1951 was the first. For me, though, the Clovers made it their own. They were one of the best-selling of all the doowop groups in the early to mid fifties but are not generally known these days. They were equally at home with rocking, humourous tunes as they were with ballads.
FATIMA MANSIONS – Blues for Ceaucescu / 13th Century Boy (Kitchenware 45 1990)
Romanian despot Nicolae Ceauşescu was publicly executed on Christmas Day 1989 by firing squad. His authoritarian dictatorship had long deviated from the rest of the Soviet bloc – being both more repressive but also more independent from Moscow. This independence resulted in a lot of fawning attention from the West who saw him as a wedge to prise open the Warsaw Pact, conveniently (as usual) ignoring the fact that the Romanian people were far more oppressed than any other in Eastern Europe (Albania aside, maybe). His passing was not lamented. Cathal Coughlan’s elegy is a grave-stomping of almost shocking vehemence – even by the spiky Cork man’s standards. A furious six minute blitz of bile.
COLEMAN HAWKINS – Body and Soul / Fine Dinner (Bluebird 10523 1939)
On October 11th 1939, something happened that changed jazz forever. The Coleman Hawkins Orchestra recorded their only session for RCA subsidiary Bluebird, and included this take of the jazz standard “Body and Soul”. Instead of following the tune, Hawkins’ improvised around the chord progression, leaving it almost unrecognisable, and yet mesmerising. Against the odds, it was a hit, and became the one record, more than any other, that helped kickstart the bebop revolution.
TWO BAD MICE – Bombscare / 2 Bad Mice / Hold it Down / Ware Mouse (Moving Shadow 14 (R) 1991 / 1992)
Its original release was as a B side, but “Bombscare” was issued as a lead track several times subsequently. The best version is probably the remix from ’92. It’s a dark, brutal track that took UK hardcore into a new direction that was to become jungle.
THE MONOTONES – The Book of Love / You Never Wanted Me (Argo 5290 1958)
Many doowop acts in the fifties had one smash and were never heard from again. The Monotones were typical of these. “The Book of Love” became a rock & roll classic, but the band who wrote and recorded it are largely forgotten.
THE HEPTONES – Book of Rules / Version (Island 6179 1973)
The Heptones’ classic period was during the cusp of the sixties and seventies, when the rocksteady era was at its peak (the bridge between ska and roots reggae). They were one of the top vocal acts in Jamaica at the time. “Book of Rules” post-dates their Studio One heyday, but is as fine a song as they ever recorded.
JOHN LEE HOOKER – Boom Boom / Drug Store Woman (Vee-Jay 438 1962)
John Lee Hooker was one of the few bluesmen who continued to flourish beyond the rock and roll era, which meant he was more readily heard by everyone during the British blues boom of the early sixties. Every band did a Hooker song. Unlike most of his peers, though, he actually had hits of his own during this time. “Boom Boom” is one of the best.