Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Today we wrap up the I’s.
FAITHLESS – Insomnia / mix (Cheeky 12010 1995)
“Insomnia” was Faithless’ first single and more or less set the template for most of the big progressive house tracks that were to come from the band. Dominated by its big keyboard motif, it remains a stirring club track that’s as popular now nearly fifteen years on. They’ve never exactly been critics darlings, but I don’t suppose they or their considerable fan base lose much sleep over that.
ARTERY – Into the Garden / Afterwards (Armageddon 26 1981)
Recently reformed, the Sheffield trio were one of the key acts of the post-punk era, although like another great band the Lines, their contribution is only now being acknowledged. “Into the Garden” was their third single, and both sides were actually recorded for Peel sessions. The song has a haunting bass and keyboard riff that, along with Mark Gouldthorpe’s detached vocal, give it a distracted and ghostly feel. Cherry Red released an excellent compilation in 2006 that has all of the band’s best work on. It’s called Into the Garden – An Artery Collection.
CICCONE YOUTH – Into the Groove / Burnin’ Up (Blast First 8 1986)
It sounds slower, even though they (Sonic Youth and Mike Watt of Minutemen / fIREHOSE) actually used Madonna’s original to play along to. You can still hear snatches of her coming through the guitar grunge. The Whitey Album was a bit disappointing after this. It could have been a brilliantly skewed collection of eighties pop covers, but they seemed to run out of enthusiasm for it part way through.
LOUIS JORDAN & HIS TYMPANI FIVE – Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby / GI Jive (Decca 8659 1944)
Back in the days when the BBC plugged five or ten minute gaps between programmes with classic Fred Quimby era Tom & Jerry cartoons, they were as ubiquitous as reruns of the Simpsons are now. I remember hearing this song when I was very young, sung, I believe, by Spike the dog. It wasn’t until many years later that I came across Louis Jordan’s hit recording. It’s a classic, bright, uptempo piece of jump blues that is full of Jordan’s hallmark vigour and humour. It’s easy to see why he was such a massive star during the war years and just after. This is feelgood music that speaks to the feet and the funnybone. He wasn’t afraid to broach the subject of the war (“GI Jive” and “You Can’t Get That No More” being just two examples), but he always did it in an uplifting way that bolstered morale without ever being preachy.
ICE CUBE – It Was a Good Day / Instrumental (Priority 53817 1992)
This came from around the time when Gangsta Rap was at its height – or at least the moral panic about it was. I never bought into the idea that it was going to turn the world’s youth into a bunch of misogynist, gun-crazy psychos. But I did find the gratuitous sexism, violence and bragging really tedious. “It Was a Good Day” is as macho and egotistical as most of the genre, but there’s a sweetness about it. That life in the projects isn’t always brutal, but can have a sunny side. It also has a lazy, summery groove that makes you wish you were chilling out on a front porch with a cool beer watching the world roll by.
KITTY WELLS – It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels / I Don’t Want Your Money (Decca 28232 1952)
This comes from a time when country music was still a young form, born from hillbilly, bluegrass, mountain folk and western swing traditions, but was as yet not mired in hokey showbiz and sentimentality. Kitty Wells had one of the definitive country voices, and this is probably her greatest song. It conjours up images of wooden roadhouses, with pick-ups out front serving dubious whiskey and providing entertainment with a well-stocked jukebox.
SPINNERS – It’s a Shame / Together We Can Make Such Sweet Music (VIP 25057 1970)
The Spinners were woefully served by Motown. In all their time there, they rarely released more than one single a year, and spent most of the time doing odd jobs, recording demos for other acts, and touring as support for some of their more illustrious label mates. When they did actually make a record, it was invariably magnificent. “It’s a Shame” is dominated by a wonderful guitar figure, played by Robert White, one of Funk Brothers. It also features a brilliant lead vocal by GC Cameron who elected to stay at Motown and try his hand at a solo career when the others decamped for Atlantic.
BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON – It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine / Dark Was the Night (Columbia 14303 1927)
More apocalyptic old time relijun from the slightly scary Blind Willie Johnson. The song goes further back than 1927, but Johnson’s was the first recording. It was ‘adapted’ by Led Zeppelin on their Presence album, with new lyrics that rid it of its Gospel past.
ROY ORBISON – It’s Over / Indian Wedding (Monument 837 1964)
A few summers ago I was down in England, sat outside a pub with some friends on a balmy evening. Inside they were doing a karaoke. This came on, and some wag decided to sing it in the style of Michael Caine, ending it with “It’s over…it’s bloody over”. It was pant-wettingly funny (beers had been consumed). Even now, I can’t hear the song without chuckling to myself at the memory. Not the reaction the big O had in mind, of course, with one of his most grandiose and lachrymose ballads.
REM – It’s the End of the World as We Know It / Last Date (IRS 53220 1988)
This breathless stream of consciousness from the Document album is inevitably wheeled on whenever a TV producer is attempting to make light of some apocalyptic news story or other. One of the things that Michael Stipe seems to have lost over the years is his sense of humour, but it was fully intact back then. Supposedly Lennie Bruce, Leonid Brezhnev, Lester Bangs and Leonard Bernstein all came from a dream that Stipe had where everybody had the initials LB. Hmmm. Legs were being pulled there, I think.
FOUR TOPS – It’s the Same Old Song / Your Love is Amazing (Motown 1081 1965)
Some wits have used this as a stick to beat Holland Dozier Holland with. Heathens. OK, they definitely had a formula, but it was one that worked brilliantly. Their songs always seemed to fit Levi Stubbs like a glove, giving him plenty of room to use that beautiful anguish in his voice.
CAROLE KING – It’s Too Late / I Feel the Earth Move (Ode 66105 1971)
Tapestry sold boatloads and suddenly everyone was doing the poor me singer/songwriter thing. What King had that the others didn’t was a grounding in the pure pop of the Brill Building era. So she could combine lyrical navel-gazing with wonderful melodies. “It’s Too Late” is a sad tale of a relationship at its end, simply having run its course.
ORIOLES – It’s Too Soon To Know / Barbra Lee (It’s a Natural 5000 1948)
The Orioles were one of the first ‘bird’ groups (alongside the Ravens), a naming fad that took in Flamingos, Penguins, Swallows, Robins and any number of other avians. The story goes that the group were approached in a bar by a young woman called Deborah Chessler who’d written the song. She went on to become their manager. “It’s Too Soon to Know” became a doowop standard even though it works better seen from the perspective of a young female, although it’s hard to imagine anyone being that naively lovestruck these days.
OTIS REDDING – I’ve Been Loving You Too Long / I’m Depending On You (Volt 126 1965)
Some of the southern soul men were happier with the downbeat material (Percy Sledge and James Carr, for instance) whilst others like Wilson Pickett suited more strident funk. Otis was equally home with both. Indeed, he could make even the saddest ballad like this one climax in the sweaty energy that you’d associated with shouters like “Respect”.