Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. K day.
RADIOHEAD – Karma Police / Meeting in the Aisles / Climbing Up the Wall (Parlophone NODATA03 1997)
The video, directed by Jonathan Glazer, is striking, with Thom Yorke sitting in the back of a driverless limo in pursuit of a running man who turns the tables in spectacularly fiery fashion. It’s a damn good song too.
DEUTSCH-AMERIKANISCHE FREUNDSCHAFT – Kebabträume / Gewalt (Mute 5 1980)
Before Robert Görl and Gabi Delgado-Lopez reinvented themselves as a sweaty techno duo, DAF were a fully-fledged post-punk band. Kebabträume is angry, strident and political. It’s roots lay in a track called Militürk by Delgado-Lopez’s previous band Mittagspause. The song is a tale of paranoia about the cold war and Turkish migrants. Some have called it anti-Turk, but it’s actually an attack on the West German mindset – fear of the DDR, the Soviet Union and Turkish guest workers. “Kebabträume in der Mauerstadt / Türk-Kültür hinter Stacheldraht / Neu-Izmir ist in der DDR / Atatürk der neue Herr. / Miliyet für die Sowjetunion, / In jeder Imbißstube ein Spion. / Im ZK Agent aus Türkei, / Deutschland, Deutschland, alles ist vorbei. / Kebabträume.. / Miliyet… / Kebabträume… / Miliyet… / Wir sind die Türken von morgen. / Wir sind die Türken von morgen.”
BIG BILL BROONZY – Key to the Highway / Green Grass Blues (Okeh 6242 1941)
“Key to the Highway” is one of the archetypal road songs, where the protagonist decides that he has to move on for some destination or other (usually St Louis or Chicago – here it’s West Texas). It’s unsurprising that it was such a common subject for blues singers, since most led an itinerant lifestyle, especially during the Depression. Along with “Chicago Bound”, “Key to the Highway” is one of the best known and most covered songs of the genre.
MC5 – Kick Out the Jams / Motor City Is Burning (Elektra 45684 1969)
The MC5’s studio records always seemed a bit thin and weedy compared to their live recordings. It was a good move to record their first album live, although it set a standard that the band could never hope to live up to. “Kick out the Jams” is probably their greatest moment, a frenetic piece that sounds like a call to arms but isn’t about anything more than getting up on stage and playing rock ‘n’ roll. The riff that holds the song together is as good and heavy as any in rock.
STEELY DAN – Kid Charlemagne / Green Earrings (ABC 12195 1976)
The anti-MC5. Smooth, sophisticated and mature as opposed to rough, primitive and delinquent. Whereas most music of this ilk makes me want to subscribe to Class War, Steely Dan always had a knowing and ironic side that flew over the heads of the yuppie wine bar set. They often satirised the very people who bought their records: “Son you were mistaken / You are obsolete“. As true now as it always was.
WIRE – Kidney Bingos / Pieta (Mute 67 1988)
What the fuck is a kidney bingo? Obtuse as ever, Wire have probably never recorded anything as lush and catchy as this song.
HOWLIN’ WOLF – Killin’ Floor / Louise (Chess 1923 1965)
While we’re at it, I’ve no idea what a “Killin’ Floor” is either. An abattoir? Who cares, this is one of Chester Burnett’s finest sides, with a simple but addictive guitar riff.
THE CURE – Killing an Arab / 10.15 Saturday Night (Small Wonder 11 1978)
Now all but disowned by the band (it’s absence from the recent, otherwise comprehensive, CD reissues was striking), “Killing an Arab” was controversial from day one. The song was based on Albert Camus’ The Outsider, and the point is the existential exploration of meaningless and motiveless murder. The band’s treatment was unsubtle and naive, but not racist. The double A sided single was completed by the desolate “10.15 Saturday Night”, a brilliant treatise on loneliness that borders on the nihilistic. The guitar solo is dissonant and psychotic, whilst the drip drip drip of the rhythm truly gets under the skin.
ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN – The Killing Moon / Do It Clean (Korova 32 1984)
What set the Bunnymen apart from most of their peers was the fact that they had a singer who could really sing. Ian McCulloch has a rich, expressive voice that had fallen half an octave by the time the group recorded their fourth album. He’s never sounded in finer fettle than on this song, the band’s masterpiece.
AUGUSTUS PABLO – King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown / Baby I Love You So (Island 6226 1975)
The melodica has never been a widely used instrument, in reggae or in any other field of music. It’s range is limited, although it is easier to play than the harmonica. Augustus Pablo made it sound ghostly and haunted, and it perfectly suited the echo-laden dub productions of King Tubby. This, the title track of what is widely regarded as the definitive dub album, helped to transform dub from a cost-cutting exercise (eliminating the need for two songs to be recorded for a single) into a major art form.
ASSOCIATES – Kitchen Person / An Even Whiter Car (Situation 2 7 1981)
SIMON DUPREE & THE BIG SOUND – Kites / Like the Sun Like the Fire (Parlophone 5646 1967)
The Associates debut album had its moments, and Billy Mackenzie’s voice was always extraordinary, but it was the series of singles that the band recorded for Situation 2 during 1981 (later collected on the Fourth Drawer Down LP) that truly set them apart. “Kitchen Person” was one of these. It’s absolutely manic, with a cluttered production that whooshes along in an amphetamine rush. It’s almost a wonder how the track doesn’t spiral out of control into total chaos, but somehow Mackenzie and Alan Rankine keep it together. Just. The same year that they did the Situation 2 singles, the duo recorded a typically over the top version of Simon Dupree and the Big Sound’s “Kites” under the name 39 Lyon Street. The original was a suitably soaring piece of psychedelic pop that was both grandiose and whimsical. The three Shulman brothers who were the core of the group apparently hated it, as they considered themselves a soul act. The band split in 1969, with several members going on to form jazz-prog act Gentle Giant.
BOB DYLAN – Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door / Turkey Chase (Columbia 45913 1973)
“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” was recorded for the soundtrack to the Sam Peckinpah western Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. It’s the lament of a dying gunfighter, obviously written for a character. Yet somehow it seems like one of Dylan’s most personal songs, a short, simple and deeply moving treatise on death and regret.
KRAFTWERK – Kometenmelodie 2 / Kristallo (Vertigo 6147015 1975)
After “Autobahn”, or at least a radically edited version of the original 22 minute track, became an unexpected worldwide hit, Vertigo issued “Kometenmelodie 2” as a follow up. Unfortunately, the group were considered as little more than novelty hit makers at the time by all but a few cognoscenti, and it was ignored by radio and record buyers alike. It took a few years before Kraftwerk were afforded the respect they deserved. Autobahn, the album, wasn’t exactly stuffed full of whistleable tunes, but “Kometenmelodie 2” has actually got a gorgeous, if simple, melody. Powered by a rubber-band bass, it has a sweeping, stellar analogue synth tune, not a million miles away from the Tornadoes’ “Telstar”.
STEEL PULSE – Ku Klux Klan / dub version (Island 6428 1978)
British reggae grew out of very different circumstances to its Jamaican counterpart. Its influences reflected both British and Caribbean culture. Birmingham’s Steel Pulse were one of the finest UK reggae acts, and their debut LP Handsworth Revolution is the first true classic album of the genre from this side of the Atlantic. “Ku Klux Klan” used the KKK as a metaphor for the very real menace of the National Front whose strength was at its height in the late seventies. It’s a chilling song, but the fear that comes across is mixed with pride and determination to resist. With the NF’s heirs, the odious BNP, poised to become a real electoral force, the song’s message is as relevant now as it was 30 years ago.