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 Cs now.
JONI MITCHELL – California / A Case of You (Reprise 1049 1971)
Blue isn’t Joni Mitchell’s most musically adventurous album, but it is her most emotionally true and pure. There isn’t a weak song on it. “California” is a paean, not so much to the titular state, but to her old days in Canada, whereas “A Case of You” is a beautifully evocative portrait of punch-drunk love.
DEAD KENNEDYS – California Uber Alles / The Man With the Dogs (Alternative Tentacles 95-41 1979)
Jello Biafra’s nightmarish vision of a kind of flower-child fascism seems almost twee when viewed against the nightmares of Reagan and Bush II. In some ways, though, it’s quite prescient considering Arnie’s dad’s dodgy past back in Austria.
FIRE ENGINES – Candyskin / Meat Whiplash (Pop Aural 10 1981)
Edinburgh’s finest the Fire Engines took time out from their breathless post-punk squawk-rock to deliver a (relatively) gentle singalong pop tune. Of course, it’s still as abrasive as anything, but you can whistle it.
THE BREEDERS – Cannonball / Cro-Aloha / Lord of the Thighs / 900 (4AD 3011 1993)
Undoubtedly the Deal twins finest three minutes, “Cannonball” has a Pixie-ish quiet/loud dynamic, but somehow manages to be both off-kilter and more-ish at the same time.
THE SUNDAYS – Can’t Be Sure / I Kicked a Boy (Rough Trade 218 1989)
COME – Car / Last Mistake / Submerge (Sub Pop 115 1991)
The Sundays arrived on a tidal wave of hype, hailed as the Smiths with a sweet girl-next-door singer. Nerdy adolescents swooned by the thousand. The band could never live up to such expectations, but “Can’t Be Sure” is a lovely song and Harriet Wheeler’s voice is like a spring flower in first blossom. Thalia Zedek is the anti-Wheeler. World-weary, battered, beaten but defiant. Come songs exist in a state of near emotional and physical collapse. Most sad songs have a wistful melancholy about them. Not Come’s. “Car” is the agony of loss writ real and writ ugly.
BESSIE SMITH – Careless Love / He’s Gone Blues (Columbia 14083 1925)
Bessie Smith had been recording for several years, but “Careless Love” was the record that made her name. Reputedly a million seller several times over, such statistics are hard to verify in the pre-chart era. It nevertheless deserves its reputation as one of the greatest blues recordings of any era.
BRIAN WILSON – Caroline, No / Summer Means New Love (Capitol 5610 1966)
Billed on 45 as a solo effort, Pet Sounds’ beautiful closing song was an odd choice for a single. Its sentiment – the disappointment of seeing a girl growing into a fully-functioning, independent woman – is more than a tad misogynist. But then Brian Wilson has never exactly been a fully-functioning, independent man, so it’s perhaps forgivable.
PREFAB SPROUT – Cars and Girls / Vendetta (Kitchenware 35 1988)
From Langley Park to Memphis is one of the most eighties-sounding records ever made. The production is all gloss and sheen with absolutely no depth. “Cars and Girls” survives relatively unscathed. A great song – about a million times less annoying than “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll”.
SLOWDIVE – Catch the Breeze / Shine (Creation 112 1991)
Generally pilloried in the press at the time – even their own record company didn’t appear to like them very much – Slowdive turned out to be one of the most influential acts of their era. The formula was simple enough. Guitar chords processed into long drones, funereal pace and sad tunes. The Wonderstuff they weren’t. For that much alone the world should be eternally grateful.
EVERLY BROTHERS – Cathy’s Clown / Always It’s You (Cadence 1348 1960)
Teenage cruelty is not a new phenomenon. “Here he comes – that’s Cathy’s clown”. Ouch! Poor sap.
GO-BETWEENS – Cattle and Cane / Heaven Says (Rough Trade 124 1983)
I grew up in the suburban home counties. Grant McLennan grew up in rural Queensland. There’s not a great deal that the two have in common, but “Cattle and Cane” transports me back to the bucolic summers of a childhood spent in eastern Australia as if it were my own. That is the mark of a powerful song.
NEW ORDER – Ceremony / In a Lonely Place (Factory 33 1981)
Both the last great Joy Division song and the first great New Order song. By rights, it really shouldn’t sound so damned uplifting, but there’s no denying that it is four and a half minutes of unfettered joy, even if Barney gives the impression that he hasn’t the faintest idea what Ian’s lyrics are about.