Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Another Load of Ms.
GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS – Midnight Train to Georgia / Window Raising Granny (Buddah 383 1973)
“I’d rather live in his world than without him in mine“. This is a song about a culture clash. She’s a sophisticated northern city bred girl. He’s from the rural south. Finding it impossible to adjust to the different pace of life, he yearns to return to his roots, and she has to decide whether she’s more attached to hers or to him. I remember seeing a skit on the Richard Pryor TV show some years back where he was convinced that they could save money having the Pips perform without Gladys. It was very funny seeing them do the backing vocals and dance routines without her lead, but it also highlighted how brilliantly tight they were both in terms of their singing and choreography.
HELEN HUMES – Million Dollar Secret / I’m Gonna Let Him Ride (Modern 779 1950)
Helen Humes was typical of the sassy female R&B singers of the forties and fifties who oozed sexuality, but in a funny, take-no-bullshit way. “Million Dollar Secret” was recorded live, and you can hear the audience cheering her on as she imparts her tale of shameless gold-digging. “Now I’ve got a man who’s seventy-eight / And I’m just thirty-three / Everybody thinks I’m crazy / But his will’s made out to me!”.
DELTA FIVE – Mind Your Own Business / Now That You’re Gone (Rough Trade 31 1979)
Part Gang of Four, part Raincoats, the Delta Five were typical of the wave of post-punk gobby feminist groups that seemed to cluster around Rough Trade. Both the singing and the production were flat and glamourless, but they had a rough-edged funk to them that talked to the feet. And if the choruses had a bit of the protest march sloganeering about them, they stuck in the head. It’s kind of depressing that thirty years on, women in pop are back to being manufactured teen puppets. Even self-proclaimed feminists like the Gossip are more image and packaging than content.
CAB CALLOWAY & HIS ORCHESTRA – Minnie the Moocher / Doin’ the Rhumba (Brunswick 6074 1931)
I’m sure virtually everybody knows this classic from the dawn of the Swing era, largely due to the “hi-de-hi” nonsense chorus. It almost sounds like it’s played for laughs, but away from that chorus it tells a sad tale of a girl who dreams of a fantasy life of untold riches, but who’s stuck with a no-good cokehead who “showed her how to kick the gong around“, or in other words, got her into opium smoking.
DICK DALE – Misirlou / Eight Till Midnight (Del-Tone 5019 1962)
This is a song with a long history that has crossed continents, styles and cultures since it was first penned in Greece as a rebetiko tune back in 1927 by a Greek exile from Turkey called Michalis Patrinos. It became a standard in both Greek and Arab cultures in the years before World War Two. In 1941, a Greek-American called Nick Roubanis did a commercial jazz version, and noticing that the tune had never been published in the US, credited himself as composer. It was soon given English lyrics which bore no relation whatsoever to the originals. Dick Dale, being of Lebanese-American stock, knew the tune in the form that had evolved in the Arab world. He picked out the basic melody on guitar, increased it to warp-speed, and a legendary surf tune was born. Thanks to Tarantino, it’s by far the best-known version in the west today, and a staple in any surf-garage band’s repertoire.
EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL – Missing / mixes (Blanco Y Negro NEG84T 1995)
Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn were contemporaries of mine at Hull University. But I was never much of a fan of their music, although I really liked the Marine Girls and a few other early tracks like “Plain Sailing” and their cover of “Night and Day”. Massive Attack brought Tracey on board for the Protection album, and she absolutely shone in that setting. The duo obviously thought so too, as they made a complete change in their sound for “Missing” in 1994. The Todd Terry remix that came out the following year is the one that everyone knows. It plays to the strengths of her voice, by giving the tune a late night, chilled tempo dripping with melancholy, and yet with enough oomph for the dancefloor.
DEL THA FUNKEE HOMOSAPIEN – Mistadobalina / Burnt (Elektra 142 1991)
It’s just one of those records that you hear once and can’t forget. As everyone probably knows, Del is Ice Cube’s cousin, and cuz produces here. It’s good time vibe really couldn’t be further away from NWA, and it still sounds fresh.
FRANÇOISE HARDY – Mon Amie la Rose / Je n’Attends plus Personne (Vogue 1252 1964)
Funny, I’ve just checked the history of this song and discovered that this was the original version. I’d always thought that it was already a standard when Françoise Hardy recorded it. It sounds timeless, with a sad and vulnerable but sultry feel that somehow only seems genuine when sung in French. Hardy’s voice is an aural aphrodisiac, as far as I’m concerned. Natacha Atlas’s version is brilliant too.
BO DIDDLEY – Mona / Hey Bo Diddley (Checker 860 1957)
For me, this is the song that encapsulates everything that was great about Bo Diddley. The riff and the groove never sounded better than on “Mona”.
CLYDE McPHATTER & THE DRIFTERS – Money Honey / The Way I Feel (Atlantic 1006 1953)
“Money Honey” is just one of a long tradition of songs that place the green folding stuff above love, life and happiness. Especially when you’ve got none. The 1953 original model Drifters shared no members with the 1958 Ben E King version, let alone the groups that continue to this day. But they’ve become an institution, and will probably still be around long after I’m worm food.
VALENTINE BROTHERS – Money’s Too Tight To Mention / instrumental (Bridge 1982 1982)
Forget Simply Red’s version if you can. John and William Valentine were one-hit wonders who didn’t even have a proper hit, if that makes sense. But this song (written by the pair) was an absolute belter. It sounded out of time in 1982 when soul music had split into post-disco electro stuff, and glossy bedroom crooners. This was a record that harked back to classic pre-disco seventies soul, but with elements of smooth jazz to it too. The only thing that pins it down to the early eighties is the mention of Reaganomics. They did an album called First Take which I’ve never seen, let alone heard.
PIXIES – Monkey Gone to Heaven / Manta Ray (4AD 904 1989)
I haven’t the foggiest idea what it’s about. It’s probably still a staple of indie discos – not that I go to indie discos. I think the bands of that era – Pixies, Throwing Muses, Sonic Youth, Hüsker Dü, Dinosaur Jr etc were the last generation of rock bands that took the simple guitar / bass / drums format and made something both original and exciting. All of the interesting bands since have fused rock with other stuff. OK, a massive generalisation, but I can’t think of anyone in the last 20 years who has taken the basic form further forward.
DAVE BARTHOLOMEW – The Monkey / Shufflin’ Time (Imperial 5438 1957)
New Orleans legend Dave Bartholomew provided an interesting twist to the theory of evolution with this witty little song. Two monkeys debate Darwin’s theory, but come to the conclusion that it’s flawed because they can’t believe that their ancestors evolved into something as crass and stupid as human beings.
COLOURBOX – The Moon is Blue / You Keep Me Hanging On (4AD 507 1985)
It must be one of the strangest disappearing acts ever. Colourbox blazed a trail that took elements of pop history and mixed them with contemporary electropop and ahead of their time sampling. The Young brothers then went on to have a massive worldwide hit as part of M/A/R/R/S and then promptly vanished. “The Moon is Blue” is a 1980s take on doowop, with Lorita Grahame’s powerful voice swinging through a ballad that sounds like it comes from a parallel universe’s version of a fifties Harlem street corner.
BOSTON – More Than a Feeling / Smokin’ (Epic 50266 1976)
Guilty pleasure time. Airbrushed harmonies and produced to within an inch of its life, there’s something extraordinarily uplifting about this track. It’s got guitar solos that it’s impossible to resist getting out the air guitar for. And of course, it’s got that bassline – the one that Kurt Cobain nicked wholesale for a certain tune that proved quite popular fifteen years later.
TIM BUCKLEY – Morning Glory / Once I Was (Elektra 45623 1967)
I know you’re supposed to prefer the more freeform, jazz-influenced albums that came later, but Goodbye and Hello is the Tim Buckley album I always return to. Its combination of psychedelic folk, baroque pop and grandiose suites seldom put a foot wrong. “Morning Glory” is an unassuming little ballad of exquisite beauty and one of the record’s many highlights.
SLOWDIVE – Morningrise / She Calls / Losing Today (Creation 98 1991)
Has there ever been a band so derided by the mainstream rock press and yet so influential? I was an early convert. Their albums (bar the swansong Pygmalion) always seemed a bit uneven, but the EPs showed them at their best. “Morningrise” has a couple of moments when the guitars go to places that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It’s impossible to describe how some music has a genuinely physical effect like that. One has to admire Neil Halstead for following his muse and plugging away at his countryish singer-songwriter stuff to a disinterested world when a reformed Slowdive could probably rake it in. They’d miss Rachel Goswell, though. I think she suffers from some ear condition that would make it impossible for her to return to playing stuff at Slowdive’s volume.
GUIDED BY VOICES – Motor Away / Color of My Blade (Matador 148 1995)
Guided By Voices at their most polished, most basic and least wayward. Simply an exciting and uplifting piece of punk-pop.
HANK WILLIAMS – Move It On Over / I Heard You Cryin’ In Your Sleep (MGM 1003 1947)
Hank’s in his missus’ bad books and has to share the kennel with the dog for the night. A witty piece of whimsy that is a rock ‘n’ roll tune in all but name.
CURTIS MAYFIELD – Move On Up / Give It Up (Buddah 2011080 1971)
For some odd reason, his American record company didn’t see this as a single. In Britain they knew better. If you want positive, life-affirming, spiritual soul music that makes you want to bounce around in unfettered joy, there can’t be many tunes better than this. Possibly the most irresistable horn riff in pop, too.