Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. This wraps up the Cs.
TEMPTATIONS – Cloud Nine / Why Did She Have to Leave Me (Gordy 7081 1968)
In which Norman Whitfield hears Sly & the Family Stone, thinks “I’m having some of that”, and lays down the blueprint for psychedelic soul. “Cloud Nine” was quite unlike anything that had gone before it – especially at Motown. Much has been made of the drug connotations of the lyrics, but “Cloud Nine” is more of a metaphor for social isolation – a blocking out of the horrors of riots, assassinations, Viet Nam etc etc that were ripping the fabric of American society, and in particular African American society, to pieces.
ASSOCIATES – Club Country / It’s You Again (Associates / WEA 2 1983)
Billy MacKenzie’s quasi-operatic vocals, and the lush production of Sulk both soundtracked and satirised early eighties excess. Unlike a lot of pop from the era, Associates records don’t sound dated, just splendidly grandiose.
CLUBBED TO DEATH – Clubbed to Death / mixes (Mo Wax 37 1995)
You may not think you know this, but you probably do since it’s been used as background music on zillions of TV documentaries over the last decade or so. Clubbed to Death was Rob Dougan, who was uncredited on the original release. It’s basically big hip hop beats welded on to symphonic samples to give something grandly cinematic. The method’s a cliché now, but was quite extraordinary when it appeared.
EDDIE COCHRAN – C’mon Everybody / Don’t Ever Let Me Go (Liberty 55166 1958)
Rock ‘n’ roll in its simplest, purest form. It rocks because it has rhythm, not because it has two thousand Marshall stacks turned up to eleven.
CHI-LITES – The Coldest Days of My Life / Part 2 (Brunswick 55478 1972)
This isn’t a very well known song, but should be. As a single, it has its shortcomings, since it’s an eight minute album track split in two. But it’s a truly heart-rending song about loss and loneliness with a violin figure that is just about the most lonesome sound since Hank’s whistle. The album A Lonely Man is the Chi-Lites masterpiece, a neglected classic that deserves to be venerated alongside What’s Going On, Innervisions etc – it really is that good.
MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS – Come and Get These Memories / Jealous Love (Gordy 7014 1963)
SUPREMES – Come See About Me / Always In My Heart (Motown 1068 1964)
Motown’s top two girl groups caught at a moment when they were just embarking on an era of chart domination. The Supremes were pure pop, while the Vandellas had a more soulful edge. Both of these tunes adhere pretty strictly to the central template of dancefloor and radio friendly mid-tempo pop, but are no less brilliant for that.
WEDDING PRESENT – Come Play With Me / Pleasant Valley Sunday (RCA 45313 1992)
The Wedding Present’s strategy of issuing a single a month through 1992 is remembered more than the actual records, most of which were Wedding Present-by-numbers. “Come Play With Me” is the exception. It has more drama and emotion about it. It’s quite a leery record, actually, which is not so surprising when the title was lifted from a ‘classic’ seventies Brit-porn movie. Nice rip through the Monkees’ classic on the flip, too.
APHEX TWIN – Come To Daddy / To Kill a Weakling Child (Warp 94 1997)
It’s impossible to hear this without visualising the nightmarish Chris Cunningham video that went with it. All those little children with deranged Richard D James faces and that poor grannie getting the fright of her life. Yikes. With its death metal vocal growl and skittish beats, it still sounds like nothing else. And it’s still well creepy.
FRANÇOISE HARDY – Comme / Je Changerais d’Avis (Vogue 1374 1966)
“Comme” isn’t one of Hardy’s better known songs. It’s more Brel or Orbison than most of the Yeh-Yeh genre – a short, but big-hearted, emotional climactic ballad.
PULP – Common People / Underwear (Island 613 1995)
I really hated Britpop – all that Union Jack, Spiceworld, Blairite, Beatly nonsense. The bands were almost all utterly awful. Pulp got lumped in with it which led to their commercial zenith, but also to their spectacular commercial demise when they were the unfortunate babies to be chucked out with the gallons of stagnant indie-bathwater. “Common People” is a great song, and is applicable to Cameron and Osborne and chums’ patronising fake-cool as it was to the Blairs and Mandelsons a decade earlier.
CLASH – Complete Control / The City of the Dead (CBS 5664 1977)
MONKS – Complication / Oh How to Do Now (Polydor 52952 1966)
Whining about your record label. How punk is that? Still, Joe was always at his best when he was angry, even if it was about something that nobody outside the band could be expected to give a toss about. The best single of ’77, no question. The Monks were punks too, albeit a decade to soon. They were a bunch of German-based GIs who dressed in robes, had the tonsures and played kindergarten-simple three minute rock songs. The only comparable band of the era were the equally bonkers Sonics from Seattle.
KRAFTWERK – Computer Love / The Model (EMI5207 1981)
The single got flipped, and “The Model” was a number one, but I prefer “Computer Love”. In KlingKlang world, this is the band’s slushy romantic ballad. A very perceptive prediction of internet dating, and even social networking, and a really lovely song to boot.
MAMIE SMITH & HER JAZZ HOUNDS – Crazy Blues / It’s Right Here For You (Okeh 4169 1920)
At the dawn of the roaring twenties, this early blues ballad crossed over spectacularly, and for a while was the most popular tune in America. It was also the song that alerted the recording industry that there was a whole market out there not being catered for, and led to the signing of artists like Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Victoria Spivey etc etc, and the birth of the ‘race’ label – companies, or divisions of companies, who produced records aimed at a black audience. Without “Crazy Blues”, it’s possible that very little of that would have happened, and the recorded legacy would be very much the poorer for it. There are better blues records, but few as important.
RADIOHEAD – Creep / Lurgee (Parlophone 6078 1992)
“Creep” was their Teen Spirit, and was stacks better than anything else on their debut album. A decade and a half on, it seems like juvenilia compared to some of the marvels that followed. Still a great piece of pop misery, though.
ROBERT JOHNSON – Cross Road Blues / Ramblin’ On My Mind (Vocalion 3519 1936)
The song that provoked the legend, and a staple part of any self-respecting blues band’s set more than seventy years later. He seems like some mythical figure of a dim and distant past, but was actually younger than Ronald Reagan. The music has had so much hyperbolic nonsense written about it, that it’s surprising how literate, fresh and sophisticated it is. Johnson was no primitive vessel disseminating his ancestor’s voices, but a proud and dapper showman and entertainer.
JEFFERSON AIRPLANE – Crown of Creation / Lather (RCA 9644 1968)
A great double this. “Crown of Creation” is the kind of big, confident call to arms that the Airplane did so well. “Lather”, on the other hand, is a spooky and sad treatise on the fight against getting old in spirit.
JULIE LONDON – Cry Me a River / S’Wonderful (Liberty 55006 1955)
We just don’t have the sultry-voiced, seductive singers like Julie London any more. In real life, she was a shy homebird, but on record she sounds like a cross between Rita Hayworth and Lauren Bacall – a mesmerising, but slightly dangerous femme fatale. When she sounds upset, you know you’ve got to watch out – she’ll get even, buddy.
SAM COOKE – Cupid / Farewell My Darling (RCA 7883 1961)
As light as air. A fine sweet song.