Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Today we briskly march through the second half of the Fs.
ARAB STRAP – The First Big Weekend / Gilded (Chemikal Underground 7 1996)
More or less the pilot episode of the ten year running Falkirk soap brought to the world by Moffat and Middleton. Booze, pills, relationships and friendships, clubs and pubs and Euro 96 – a long weekend when things go well, and life is relatively free of complication. Downbeat but upbeat at the same time, “The First Big Weekend” was a thin veneer over the maggoty world of dysfunction, misanthropy and infidelity that fueled the Strap soap over the coming years.
CONTOURS – First I Look at the Purse / Searching For a Girl (Gordy 7044 1965)
“Some fellas look at the way they walk / The way they swing and sway / Some fellas like the way they talk / And dig the things they say. / But I don’t care if she waddles like a duck / Or talks with a lisp / I still think I’m in good luck / If the dollar bills are crisp”. Always makes me smile.
LOTUS EATERS – The First Picture of You / The Lotus Eater (Arista 121 1983)
The Lotus Eaters existed for a brief period between the Wild Swans first split and their reformation just a few years later. “The First Picture of You” is a brilliantly bucolic piece of pop – you can almost smell the summer meadows.
ROBERTA FLACK – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face / Trade Winds (Atlantic 2864 1972)
The definitive version of Ewan MacColl’s exquisite love song penned for his wife Peggy Seeger. It’s tender and moving while managing to avoid hackneyed Hallmark card cliché – extremely personal, and yet universal too. Roberta Flack was more a jazz singer than a soul singer, and it’s the combination of passion and restraint that makes her performance so compelling.
BT – Flaming June / mixes (Perfecto 157 1997)
Trance is the populist and enduringly popular branch of dance music that is consistently derided by virtually every critic and muso going. Sure, it’s full of clichés and has barely progressed in over a decade. But the best tunes are as uplifting as anything you’ll find in pop. “Flaming June” has all the ingredients (the simple hook, the sweeping breakdown and the euphoric climax) firmly in place, and yet has that undefinable something that makes it stand head and shoulders above almost anything else from the genre.
EARL BOSTIC – Flamingo / I’m Getting Sentimental Over You (King 4475 1951)
Earl Bostic’s records had the intensity of contemporary Charlie Parker’s, but they were a completely different beast. You can hardly dance to “Ornithology”, but Bostic pinned his saxophone to crisp, rhythm and blues rhythms. Improvisation was always secondary to danceability. “Flamingo” is one of the definitive r&b honkers of the pre-rock era.
A CERTAIN RATIO – Flight / Blown Away / And Then Again (Factory FAC22 1980)
Simon Topping may have sung like Ian Curtis on quaaludes, but ACR were the punk-funk kings. “Flight” is downbeat and uneasy, but has a driving, hypnotic percussive force.
JOHNNY CASH – Folsom Prison Blues / So Doggone Lonesome (Sun 232 1955)
Sun Records gets its props for bringing the world rockabilly, but in Johnny Cash they also had a revolutionary country artist. He dumped the schmaltz, the steel guitars and the strings, and stripped it down to its roots – only darker. Even Hank W wouldn’t have contemplated writing lyrics like “When I was just a baby my mama told me. Son, / Always be a good boy, don’t ever play with guns. / But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”.
DRIFTERS – Fools Fall In Love / It Was A Tear (Atlantic 1123 1957)
“Fools Fall in Love” was one of the last records to be recorded by the original Drifters. Founding lead singer Clyde McPhatter had already left for a solo career, and within a year the whole group would be replaced by the Ben E King fronted second incarnation. It’s an uptempo doowopabilly tune penned by the masters Leiber and Stoller. Lead duties were taken by Johnny Moore who would return to the group in the sixties and would thus provide the one clear link between the pre- and post-’58 versions of the band.
STEVIE WONDER – For Once In My Life / Angie Girl (Tamla 54174 1968)
The song isn’t that far away from the supper-club standards inflicted on the world by the likes of Englebert Humperdinck and Jack Jones. Thankfully, Stevie gives it some grit and soul, and it turns out sounding just fine.
BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD – For What It’s Worth / Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It? (Atco 6459 1967)
Ping…ping. It must be one of the most instantly recognisable intros ever. In under three minutes, Stills’ tune about the Sunset Strip riots of 1966 manages to encapsulate the whole political / generational divide and total lack of understanding that characterized the second half of the sixties.
IMPRESSIONS – For Your Precious Love / Sweet Was The Wine (Vee-Jay 280 1958)
CURTIS MAYFIELD – Freddie’s Dead / Underground (Curtom 1975 1972)
Chicago trio the Impressions came to the fore in the late fifties with Jerry Butler on lead and Curtis Mayfield on second tenor. “For Your Precious Love” is fairly typical of the era, although one of the finest examples of doowop balladry there is. When Butler quit for a solo career, Mayfield stepped up to the plate and led the group for the rest of the decade before he too went solo. In 1972 he was asked to score Superfly, a movie whose ‘hero’ was a drug dealer on the verge of retirement. Mayfield was vehemently anti-drugs, and his soundtrack reflected this. Condemnatory, but never preachy, perhaps the most cutting song was “Freddie’s Dead”. In the movie, the character of Freddie was little more than a bit-part, but Curtis elevated him to the everyman figure – the one at the sharp end of the wheeler-dealers. They are unconcerned by his fate, but we should be – he could be any one of us. It’s a masterpiece of restrained anger.
CLOCK DVA – Four Hours / Sensorium (Fetish 8 1981)
The first incarnation of Clock DVA were a blisteringly original brew of free jazz, punk, funk and prog whose Thirst album is criminally out of print. “Four Hours” was its centrepiece, a brew of sinister walking bass, atonal woodwind and Adi Newton’s sonorous, film-noir vocal.
GALAXIE 500 – Fourth of July / Here She Comes Now (Rough Trade 249 1990)
The granddaddies (and grandmummy) of slowcore were never as one-dimensional and dreary as many of their acolytes. “Fourth of July” is relatively brisk, with Dean Wareham’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics about life’s mundanities illustrated with some absolutely gorgeous guitar work.
DINOSAUR JR – Freak Scene / Keep the Glove (SST 220 1988)
They could be as lumbering as their name suggests, but at their best, Dinosaur Jr had a sprightly pop heart to the flailing guitars. Mascis may sound like a man who’s never smiled in his life, but there’s something bright and life-affirming about “Freak Scene”. Even its most famous couplet “Don’t let me fuck up will you / ‘Cause when I need a friend it’s still you” is endearing and sweet rather than angsty.
BIRTHDAY PARTY – The Friend Catcher / Waving My Arms / Catman (4AD AD12 1980)
A storm of feedback screech, and then Tracy Pew’s dirty, churning bass riff comes in. It’s like being assaulted in slow motion. Everything about this record is nasty – Cave yelping and growling through a Grimm nightmare as the bass turns the screw like a medieval rack. Sweet dreams, children.
MADONNA – Frozen / Shanti-Ashtangi (Maverick 17244 1998)
Madge’s music has been locked in teen dance-pop hell since Ray of Light. Back then she managed to meld pop and dance with some experimental flourishes to help it stand out from the crowd. “Frozen” is lush and rich, with nods to Björk and Massive Attack. She was always a brilliant magpie – absorbing the cutting edge pop of the day, and using it to her own ends. Maybe that’s what’s missing in her recent work – decent contemporary influences to bounce off. I’d lock her in a studio with the latest Portishead, Burial and Animal Collective albums to see what she came up with.
DEEP DISH – The Future of the Future (Stay Gold) / mixes (Arista 13566 1998)
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