Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Onward, and in amongst the Ds.
NOMEANSNO – Dad / Revenge (Alternative Tentacles 60 1988)
“Dad” was remade by the band’s alter-egos the Hanson Brothers (with different words) as “Brad” (Wrong 4 1992). Both concern monstrous family members. “Dad” is the violent, sexually abusive, domineering patriarch whilst “Brad” is the über-annoying little brother who steals and squeals and generally causes no end of trouble. Both have the same punk-rock arrangement, but the protagonist on “Dad” sounds desperate, while on “Brad” he’s merely extremely exasperated. There is a difference. Unsurprisingly, it’s the Hansons I listen to most often. The Nomeansno original is too raw and disturbing.
GANG OF FOUR – Damaged Goods / Love Like Anthrax / Armalite Rifle (Fast Product 5 1978)
A brilliant three-tracker from Leeds University’s most famous Marxist alumni. Human being as consumer object, love as disease, weapons as freely traded commodities. Everything wrong with the world is pretty much encapsulated in this trio of brilliant, spiky post-punk tunes.
SOPHIE B HAWKINS – Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover / Don’t Stop Swaying (Columbia 657735 1992)
Unrequited love can foster many reactions. The one most usually observed in pop is the self-pitying adolescent mope (hi Mozzer). Ms Hawkins, though, is just really really frustrated. This is one of those worm-like songs that gets into your head and stays there. At least it does in my case. Great use of Bonzo Bonham’s drumming on “Kashmir” too, before the sample became as hackneyed as that James Brown one from “Funky Drummer”.
SLY & THE FAMILY STONE – Dance to the Music / Let Me Hear It From You (Epic 10256 1967)
The Family Stone’s breakthrough hit, and the first really successful melding of funk and rock. “Dance to the Music” is a great party track, but also pointed the way for many to follow from the P-Funksters to the Whitfield-era Temptations and rock groups like Blood, Sweat and Tears and Rare Earth.
MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS – Dancing in the Street / There He Is (Gordy 7033 1964)
According to Mojo Magazine, the greatest of all Motown 45s. Somehow an upbeat party record caught the mood, and became an anthem for sixties radicalism – from the Detroit Riots to the Paris uprising to the Prague Spring.
ABBA – Dancing Queen / That’s Me (Epic 4499 1976)
What wedding disco or office party would be complete without it? Essentially, any social function that mixes a disparate group of people of all generations with little in common, and needs something to give the group a little cohesion usually wheels this one on. If people are drunk enough, it’ll always work. Disco-pop about nothing other than the joy of dancing. What’s not to like?
JAMES CARR – The Dark End of the Street / Lovable Girl (Goldwax 317 1967)
If soul is the expression of inner pain, then James Carr was the finest soul singer ever. He battled with severe depression all his life, and without wishing to sound glib, you can hear it in his songs. “The Dark End of the Street” is actually about two adulterous lovers trying to keep their affair a secret, but in Carr’s hands that seems a far more heartbreaking situation than the poor sods that they are cuckolding are in. Is there a genre called soul-noir? If there isn’t, then I’ll just have to invent it and give this record pride of place.
POGUES – The Dark Streets of London / And the Band Played Waltzin’ Matilda (Stiff 207 1984)
Drunken rabble rousing of the highest order. The flip side is a spirited, but respectful reading of Eric Bogle’s epic Great War tale of an ANZAC veteran of the Gallipoli campaign. June Tabor’s spooky and solemn acapella version is probably the best known, but Shane MacGowan gives the protagonist an outraged anger as opposed to Tabor’s weary resignation.
STEELY DAN – Deacon Blues / Home at Last (ABC 12355 1978)
By the time Becker and Fagen made Aja, they’d ironed out all the rough spots leaving a glistening sheen of smooth jazz-pop. By rights, that should be truly awful, but “Deacon Blues” has a sophisticated charm that makes you fantasize about owning an opened top Beamer and your own cocktail bar. At least for five or six minutes.
LOU RAWLS – Dead End Street / Yes It Hurts Doesn’t It (Capitol 5869 1967)
Lou Rawls had a gorgeous baritone voice, but for much of his career, he was a singer of standards in the Sammy Davis Jr / Billy Eckstine mould. “Dead End Street” was an all-too rare excursion into darker, more soulful terrtory. Essentially, it’s a two part song – the opening minute and a half is a monologue about growing up on the cold and mean streets of Chicago, before the song proper gets underway. It’s a gripping tale of deprivation and escape. Hey, another for my soul-noir category!
JOY DIVISION – Dead Souls / Atmosphere (Sordide Sentimentale 2 1980)
Any other band with two songs this good would have issued them as singles or used them as showpiece album tracks. Joy Division licensed them to a French arthouse label who issued them under the title Licht und Blindheit in a limited run of 1578 copies. “Atmosphere” surfaced later in the year on a twelve inch, and “Dead Souls” in 1981 as part of the Still odds ‘n’ sods compilation. With its title taken from Gogol, “Dead Souls” is a rumination on internal conflicts where the dead seem to be summoning Curtis to join them. Seriously spooky. In its initial incarnation on a Piccadilly Radio session, “Atmosphere” had the equally spooky couplet “It may happen soon – then maybe you’d care” which was changed to “abandoned too soon – set down with due care” on the final version. Discuss.
PUBLIC IMAGE LTD – Death Disco / No Birds Do Sing (Virgin 274 1979)
Seriously brutal dub topped with Lydon’s wailing phantom. Can you imagine something this confrontational and extreme making the top ten today? It’s a pity that the Sex Pistols still get all the attention. They were a minor footnote compared to PIL if you use an artistic yardstick as opposed to a cultural one.
DAVE DAVIES – Death of a Clown / Love Me Till the Sun Shines (Pye 17356 1967)
Ray’s little brother proved he had the chops with this solo hit. The dark side of Swingin’ London.
WATERBOYS – December / Three Day Man (Ensign 506 1983)
Mike Scott had already begun to move towards self-consciously epic territory in his previous bands Another Pretty Face and Funhouse, but it was with the Waterboys he went the whole hog. Big subjects required big music, something grandly self-proclaimed on his second album. “December” is a cracking song, although I haven’t really got a clue what it’s about. But it does sound very important – Jesus gets a name check, so it must be.
PRETTY THINGS – Deflecting Grey / Mr Evasion (Columbia 8300 1967)
UK psychedelia is so polite. There’s no revolutionary calls to arms, or garage band punk in the ouevre. Or very little – most concerns itself with oddball characters, gentle satire and Edwardian children’s fiction. “Deflecting Grey” is more like the gritty US psyche punk of the likes of the Count Five or even the Red Krayola. But with far better musicianship. It rocks much harder than anything else to come out of the country before the Broughtons and the Deviants injected a bit of proto-punk zip.
HOUSE OF LOVE – Destroy the Heart / Blind / Mr Jo (Creation 57 1988)
The last of the House of Love’s four great Creation singles, “Destroy the Heart” fades in at a point where you feel you’ve just walked in and missed part of it, and precedes to zip along with no let up for two and a half minutes. Brilliant and exciting – not words that would be easily applied to UK indie these days.
SKIP JAMES – Devil Got My Woman / Cypress Grove Blues (Paramount 13088 1931)
Skip James was both an amazing guitarist and brilliant songwriter, but he had a lousy sense of timing. He arrived on the scene just as the record industry was going into meltdown, so his recorded output was small, and sold zilch. Interest was revived by a couple of albums he made for Vanguard in the sixties. Good as they were, they don’t really compare with his classic 1931 material.
CLOVERS – Devil or Angel / Hey Doll Baby (Atlantic 1083 1956)
“Devil or Angel” was one of the last classic Clovers records before Atlantic virtually destroyed the group by covering their tunes in orchestral and choral schmaltz in a misguided attempt to gain crossover appeal. None of that here, thankfully – just a pure, heartstring-yanking doowop ballad where he can’t decide whether she’s good or evil before having to admit that it makes no difference, ’cause he’s smitten anyway.