Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Some Ns.
CABARET VOLTAIRE – Nag, Nag, Nag / Is That Me? (Rough Trade 18 1979)
Take a primitive drum machine, a guitar feeding back through a broken amp, snarled, distorted vocals and you have an instant electro-punk classic that still sounds great thirty years on. Genius.
NAT KING COLE TRIO – Nature Boy / Lost April (Capitol 15054 1948)
My favourite version of this oft-recorded standard is Alex Chilton’s desolate reading on the third big Star album. Nat’s is good too. I’m a bit of an agnostic about him as a singer. His voice was velvet smooth, but never seemed emotionally attached to the songs.
ASIAN DUB FOUNDATION – Naxalite / Charge (Ffrr 320 1997)
Possibly my favourite song about Maoist insurgents ever. ADF were a ball of untamed energy when they emerged. As the name suggests, they took their rhythms from south Asia and added Jamaican dub and punked everything up, topping the brew with intelligent political commentary. It’s difficult to keep up that sort of intensity for long, and they did seem to burn out quite quickly.
DAMNED – Neat Neat Neat / Stab Your Back (Stiff 10 1977)
DAMNED – New Rose / Help (Stiff 6 1976)
The Damned were always perceived as UK punk’s first-wave misfits. First to release a record, first to record a album, first to tour the States, they were nevertheless often ridiculed. They were especially pilloried for their decision to carry on without the others when the Sex Pistols’ reputation caused the cancellation of most of the Anarchy Tour. In retrospect, the whole punk movement was birthed around a manufactured band accompanied by manufactured outrage, so the slightly cartoon nature of the Damned was hardly out of keeping. “Neat Neat Neat” and “New Rose” sound much more ‘punk’ now than the pub rock boogie of “Anarchy in the UK”. Fast, short and slightly ragged affairs, they carry no stodge.
LITTLE WILLIE JOHN – Need Your Love So Bad / Home At Last (King 4841 1955)
Little Willie John wrote and recorded this classic blues ballad when he was just 17. It’s better known these days through the late sixties hit recording by Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. He also wrote “Fever”, a hit for himself and Peggy Lee. In 1966, following an post-show altercation in Seattle, someone was knifed to death, and John was charged and convicted. He died in prison two years later of a heart attack, aged just 30.
VELVELETTES – Needle In a Haystack / Should I Tell Them (VIP 25007 1964)
The Velvelettes were underrated and overshadowed by the three biggest girl groups at Motown – the Supremes, the Vandellas and the Marvelettes. Still, they made some great records, not least this one.
MEKONS – Never Been In a Riot / 32 Weeks / Heart and Soul (Fast 1 1978)
It sounds like the band had only picked up their instruments for the first time about half an hour before recording. The drummer’s technique seems to involve bashing the snare as hard as he can in something vaguely resembling time. The singer sounds like a pissed Millwall fan. Yes, this is THE Mekons. “Never Been in a Riot” is one of those great late seventies DIY records in which the parts are all wrong, but the sum of them is terrific – raw and exciting and forever fresh
JESUS & MARY CHAIN – Never Understand / Suck (Blanco Y Negro 8 1985)
Everything they did in 1984/5 was magnificent (I’ll not pass comment on the legendarily combative live shows – I never saw them until much later). But if I had to choose one JAMC track above all the others, it would have to be “Never Understand”. It has a great melody, sung blankly in a blanket of echo (and with a dash of Elvis in there); a brisk rhythm; and, best of all, feedback screech that sounds like a sharply braking railway engine – the squeal of steel on steel.
SWANS – New Mind / I’ll Swallow You (Product Inc 16 1987)
I have to admit to finding a lot of early Swans material difficult to love. It’s not the power, the snail’s pace, or the sheer bloody-mindedness of it that puts me off, but the lack of colour. Albums like Cop, Filth and Holy Money operate in a monochrome world of relentless and intense monotony (in the sense of wearisome constancy, routine, and lack of variety). Children of God was almost a psychedelic experience in comparison. It felt fleshed out, more human. As “New Mind” proves, though, Swans lost none of their power. In fact, the onslaught felt even more intense. Great cathartic music.