Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. The last Load of Ms.
BIRTHDAY PARTY – Mr Clarinet / Happy Birthday (Missing Link 18 1980)
And indeed it is a link. Taking the quirky pop of the Boys Next Door and guiding it towards the einstürzende swamp-rock of the band’s 4AD period, “Mr Clarinet” has a squawky charm of its own. It may seem quite restrained compared to what was to come, but there’s menace ‘neath the surface.
LAST PARTY – Mr Hurst / Hubby’s Hobby (Harvey 2 1987)
I wrote about this forgotten gem here.
4 HERO – Mr Kirk’s Nightmare / Move Wid the House Groove / Combat Dance (Reinforced 1203 1990)
One of the defining tracks that bridged hardcore techno with what was to develop as jungle. As the BPMs turned up, the E-bliss began to turn into paranoia, and “Mr Kirk’s Nightmare” feeds on this and spits it right back out. The sampled voice dispassionately forming Mr Kirk that “your son is dead – he died of an overdose” being pumped out to bodies stretched to the edge on E, K and coke was fairly explicit in its message.
FALL – Mr Pharmacist / Lucifer Over Lancashire (Beggars Banquet 168 1986)
The last forty years have consistently seen waves of hopeful garage bands cranking out two and a half minute tunes, all the while wishing they were in Nowheresville, Oregon in 1965. The Fall have always had a garage sensibility in that polish is strictly for shoes and dinner tables. But they capture the spirit without ever sounding like imitators. Even when they’ve covered garage classics like “Mr Pharmacist”, originally done by a band called the Other Half, they’ve always made them sound like Fall songs, and the originals sound like weak imitations.
CHORDETTES – Mr Sandman / I Don’t Want to See You Cryin’ (Cadence 1247 1954)
There’s something deeply spooky about this song. The squeaky clean harmonies and lack of any sex or sensuality whatsoever, make it seem like the perfect soundtrack to that Stepford world of 1950s suburban America. Mr Sandman is, of course, a character of children’s nightmares, and there’s something really creepy about the unthreatening blandness about the Chordettes, three perfectly lovely white, Christian, Republican girls. It cropped up in Gary Ross’ 1998 film Pleasantville, and immediately evoked an environment of conformity and repression.
BYRDS – Mr Tambourine Man / I Knew I’d Want You (Columbia 43271 1965)
BYRDS – My Back Pages / Renaissance Fair (Columbia 44054 1967)
I was at a funeral recently, and the deceased’s choice of tune to send the congregation out was Dylan’s original of “Mr Tambourine Man”. An off the wall choice, but obviously a deeply personal one. The Byrds’ excised large chunks of the song for their version. What makes it is that jangly guitar riff, an intro as recognisable as any in pop. Rickenbacker sunshine. “My Back Pages” follows the same formula of adapting a wordy Dylan song into a snappy piece full of glistening harmony.
WILSON PICKETT – Mustang Sally / Three Time Loser (Atlantic 2365 1966)
This is one of those car/girl metaphorical songs that were a staple in soul and r&b from the forties to the sixties. It allows for plenty of innuendo (“ride Sally ride” etc) lashed with southern grit.
ANGELS – My Boyfriend’s Back / (Love Me) Now (Smash 1834 1963)
It’s ironic that the girl groups of the sixties were all about boyfriend-worship, and yet they came across as sassy and in control. Modern girl groups often sing about control and dissing any unfortunate males who get in the way, and yet they sound like production line Barbie dolls. Of course that’s a ludicrous generalisation. There were sixties songs like Lesley Gore’s horribly twee “It’s My Party” that were just wet. The Angels certainly didn’t sound like they were the sort to burst into tears at the drop of a hat.
STEVIE WONDER – My Cherie Amour / Don’t Know Why I Love You (Tamla 54180 1969)
“My Cherie Amour” sounds a lot more sensual than ‘my dear love’, which sounds like the sort of thing that a particular camp actor would come out with.. By 1969 Stevie Wonder was leaving the Little Stevie schtick, and the bouncy Motown floorfillers behind, and moving into a more sophisticated type of soul music that he would nail in five stupendous albums recorded between 1972 and 1976.
WEDDING PRESENT – My Favourite Dress / Every Mother’s Son / Never Said (Reception 5 1987)
My favourite Gedge song. The first two Wedding Present albums seemed to be mostly mined from the same failing relationship. But “My Favourite Dress” is the one that really expresses the hurt with its long, almost spoken, second section: “Uneaten meals, a lonely star / A welcome ride in a neighbour’s car / A long walk home in the pouring rain / I fell asleep when you never came / Some rare delight in Manchester town / It took six hours before you let me down / To see it all in a drunken kiss / A stranger’s hand on my favourite dress / That was my favourite dress you know / That was my favourite dress“. That focus on something so banal as an item of clothing is so true to life. The big picture is often hard to take in, and it’s the little things that are often so upsetting. All the while, the song has an almost bouncy arrangement that’s underpinned by an underlying sadness. Still sounds magnificent.
WHO – My Generation / Shout and Shimmy (Brunswick 5944 1965)
When you cut through all the layers of irony, it’s still a great song. Back then (and indeed for MY generation which was the next lot along), the generation gap was real and cavernous. I’m not so sure such a thing exists at all any more.
TEMPTATIONS – My Girl / Nobody But My Baby (Gordy 7038 1964)
MARY WELLS – My Guy / Oh Little Boy (Motown 1056 1964)
Two Motown songs that everybody knows, probably to the point that they’ve become banal background noise piped out of nostalgia radio stations, supermarkets and every other damn public space. They’re so familiar that nobody ever really listens to them any more, which is such a shame. I could wax lyrical about the commodification of pop, but now is not the time to come over like a poor man’s Paul Morley.
LOVE – My Little Red Book / Message to Pretty (Elektra 45603 1966)
The first missive from the sixties most ironically named band was a piece of Bacharach and David cheese, punked up. Although it has the sort of lyric that Smokey Robinson would reject as being too twee, Arthur Lee actually makes it sound like an angry and bitter thing, full of pent-up resentment.
SIMON & GARFUNKEL – My Little Town / Rag Doll (Columbia 10230 1975)
The product of a very short reunion, “My Little Town” carries on from where the likes of “The Boxer” left off. Full of nostalgia, wall of sound production and fantastic harmonies.
10,000 MANIACS – My Mother, the War / Planned Obsolescence / National Education Week (Reflex 1 1984)
Natalie Merchant seems to get many people’s backs up. They see her as some kind of bossy school ma’am. Perhaps it’s because she never tried to hide her intelligence, or conform to the stereotype of sexy front for her band. The titles from 10,000 Maniacs’ first EP tell it all. She wasn’t going to sing about staple pop fare. What may shock anyone whose never heard these early tracks is how sonically adventurous they are. “My Mother, the War” sounds like a cross between the Young Marble Giants and the Jesus & Mary Chain at their noisiest. Natalie imparts a tale of an everywoman figure whose brood is out fighting, possibly never to return. She touches on both the mundane and the macabre – of gossiping neighbours, shiny parades, anxiety and bloodied carrion while surrounded by a maelstrom of feedback and quick-step drums.
DAVID RUFFIN – My Whole World Ended / I’ve Got to Find Myself a New Baby (Motown 1140 1969)
SUPREMES – My World is Empty Without You / Everything Is Good About You (Motown 1089 1965)
Two more Motown classics, and two that haven’t been jaded by over-exposure. Motown’s writers were never ones for understating an emotion. The boy meets girl songs are usually accompanied by over the top declarations of how damn wonderful he/she is. The boy loses girl (or vice versa) are usually apocalyptic catastrophes. Credit to the singers that they always made you believe. David Ruffin and Diana Ross were both lead singers of their respective groups, and both got a bit big for their boots, leaving the group format behind for a solo career. There the similarity ends. David Ruffin’s post-Temptations career started well enough, but as the group got bigger, he got left behind and ended up dead too young. Lady Di, of course, became showbiz royalty.
ELVIS PRESLEY – Mystery Train / I Forgot to Remember to Forget (Sun 223 1955)
Forget Graceland, rhinestones, cheeseburgers, leather jumpsuits, terrible films, “Do the Clam” and all the other monstrosities. This is why he mattered.