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 Cs.
SAM COOKE – Chain Gang / I Fall in Love Every Day (RCA 7783 1960)
“Chain Gang” stems from the tradition of field hollers and work songs that go back to the days of slavery. The parallels of the convict chain gang and the field slaves are obvious. Cooke’s sweet Gospel pipes are a long way from Lead Belly or Alger Alexander’s untutored moans, but the spirit is no different. Quite a radical thing to get into the charts in 1960.
BIG COUNTRY – Chance / Tracks of My Tears (Mercury COUNT4 1983)
Never has a band fallen out of fashion quite as quickly as Big Country, but their first album was a massive commercial and critical success. They resonated at a time when the industrial north of Britain was being dismantled. They somehow represented traditional working class values – the coal-face, the steel mill, the shipyard and the factory. “Chance” is a spare and simple, but moving ballad that plays like a 1960s Kitchen Sink drama.
JOSEF K – Chance Meeting / Pictures (Postcard 815 1981)
Despite their propensity to self-sabotage – the scrapping of Sorry For Laughing in favour of the much less penetrable The Only Fun in Town, for example – Josef K could still turn a mean tune. Despite Paul Haig’s flat-as-fenland vocals, and the guitars being all top end and no middle, “Chance Meeting” has a real anthemic quality to it – particularly when the horns blast in towards the end.
DAVID BOWIE – Changes / Andy Warhol (RCA 2160 1972)
Although pre-dating the Ziggy era, “Changes” feels like an intrinsic part of it.
THE COASTERS – Charlie Brown / Three Cool Cats (Atco 6132 1959)
THE CURE – Charlotte Sometimes / Splintered in Her Head (Fiction 14 1981)
Two songs about schooldays. They could hardly be more different. “Charlie Brown” is the class clown whose misdemeanours are minor, but who has an unerring capacity to get caught. Classic Leiber and Stoller. “Charlotte Sometimes” is a children’s book by Penelope Farmer. Its heroine gets caught up in a time travelling body-swap at her boarding school with a girl from the Edwardian era. It has a heartbreaking ending. The Cure more or less sketch the broad plot in their song, including chunks of lyrics that are directly lifted from the book. Sonically, it is the bridging point between the subdued misery of Faith and the outright psychosis of Pornography, and is, for me, the group’s best single.
PLANET PATROL – Cheap Thrills / instrumental (Tommy Boy 835 1983)
Planet Patrol were legendary producers John Robie and Arthur Baker. For this project, they took an electro template and applied a pop sensibility. “Cheap Thrills” sounds like a disco song, but the music behind it is pure underground. It’s one of the best feel-good dance floor fillers of the era.
ELVIS COSTELLO – (I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea / You Belong to Me (Radar 3 1978)
“Chelsea” runs on a bassline that is part ska, part post-punk and part dub. It’s a perfect chassis for one of Costello’s most sneeringly awkward, but nevertheless catchy songs.
THE BYRDS – Chestnut Mare / Just a Season (Columbia 45259 1970)
The Byrds were long past their best when “Chestnut Mare” came out. It sold squat in the US, but was a big hit over here – more as a novelty, than due to a solid fan base. The verses sound like those cheesy, talky country tunes that you’d get from the likes of Red Sovine, whereas the chorus is pure Rickenbacker jingly-jangly Byrds. It works, though, and you find yourself rooting for McGuinn as he struggles to tame the wild force of nature that is the horse of the title.
THE MISUNDERSTOOD – Children of the Sun / I Unseen (Fontana 998 1969)
The Misunderstood were a psychedelic garage band from Riverside, California. They moved to London in 1966, only to split up a few months later. They left very little recorded music, but “Children of the Sun” was eventually issued two years after their demise. And what a song. It has the energy of the 13th Floor Elevators, but bizarrely comes out sounding like the Stranglers.
ORBITAL – Chime / Deeper (Ffrr 135 1990)
Famously recorded for about £20 or something, “Chime” was the track that took UK techno to the masses. Simple, but hypnotic, it laid the foundation for all of what was to follow during the first half of the nineties. It still sounds brilliant, too.
THE HEARTBREAKERS – Chinese Rocks / Born to Lose (Track 2094135 1977)
Johnny Thunders’ life story encapsulated in two tunes. Both songs are the epitome of loose garage rock that had its roots in the New York Dolls, the Stones and the Ramones, but would influence countless bands from the Replacements to the Libertines.
IMPRESSIONS – Choice of Colors / Mighty Mighty, Spade and Whitey (Curtom 1943 1969)
Outside of Motown, the Impressions were the greatest vocal act of the sixties, with a peerless lead singer and songwriter in Curtis Mayfield. Where many acts tackled the civil rights issue with inoffensive “let’s all live in harmony” type platitudes, Mayfield got down to the nitty gritty, but never in a militant way. It was always about self-education, self-empowerment and self-respect with Curtis. “Choice of Colors” is such a call, and a mighty moving tune too.
THE HOUSE OF LOVE – Christine / Loneliness is a Gun (Creation 53 1988)
For about a year during 87/88, I thought the House of Love were the best guitar band in Britain. They took the jangly indiepop blueprint of Creation’s other acts and gave it depth, power and focus. The songs were tight and concise, but packed a real punch, both physically and emotionally. “Christine” was probably the third best of their first four singles, but still a masterpiece.
NEIL YOUNG – Cinammon Girl / Sugar Mountain (Reprise 911 1970)
After the psychedelic acoustics of his first solo album, Neil Young knuckled down to rock & roll basics on his second, accompanied for the first time by his stalwart sidekicks Crazy Horse. “Cinammon Girl” remains a live staple, and is his archetypal short and punchy rock song.
TINDERSTICKS – City Sickness / Untitled / The Bullring (This Way Up 1811 1993)
“City Sickness” was the first Tindersticks song I heard, and I was instantly smitten. In some ways, it remains their perfect song – lush, world-weary, downbeat, but with a zip of defiance and a glorious melody.
BETTY WRIGHT – Clean Up Woman / I’ll Love You Forever (Alston 4601 1971)
Betty Wright was just seventeen when she recorded this. She sounds twice that age, and I mean that in a good way. Her voice has a grit and wordliness that sounds like it has years of experience behind it. “Clean Up Woman” was her first single, and remains a prime slab of earthy funky soul.
CYBOTRON – Clear / Industrial Lies (Fantasy 216 1983)
Cybotron was Vietnam vet Richard Davis and a teenaged Juan Atkins. Their first couple of records were typical electro outings, but with “Clear” there was something new happening. The beats were crisper, harder and the pulse somehow more robotic. Many would argue that it was the first true techno record. I wouldn’t argue with them.