Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. A start to the Rs.
FLAMING LIPS – Race For the Prize / Riding to Work in the Year 2025 / 3000 ft of Despair (Warner 494 1999)
Flaming Lips are an unusual rock band in that they never seem to moan about anything, never seem to be unduly negative about anything and yet also manage to avoid all the ‘up’ clichés of calls to party / rock / dance etc. It’s a rousing anthem about the dedication of scientists, praising the self-sacrifices of scientists working for the good of mankind, that makes science sound heroic and romantic in a way usually reserved for war heroes. Heart-warming.
GENE VINCENT – Race With the Devil / Gonna Back Up My Baby (Capitol 3530 1956)
It’s kinda like an update of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal for the rock and roll generation, with the game of chess replaced by a hot rod / drag race. Saying that, I’m now getting daft images in my head of Max von Sydow and Bengt Ekerot zooming down the track in souped-up Chevys!
PAST SEVEN DAYS – Raindance / So Many Others (4AD 102 1981)
Past Seven Days were one of the great what-ifs? of the post-punk era. From Sheffield, they combined the doomy atmospherics of the Joy Division generation with a spacious, ACR type punk-funk and staccato guitar lines straight out of the Andy Gill school. “Raindance” is a six minute, brooding and quite brilliant piece of music. Sadly, they didn’t last much more than seven days, and this remains their only recorded statement
BROOK BENTON – Rainy Night in Georgia / Where Do I Go From Here? (Cotillion 44057 1969)
Randy Crawford’s cover is probably better known, but Benton’s original is the definitive reading. Like Lou Rawls, Benton had a wonderfully smooth and pure baritone, and like Rawls too often wasted it on MOR standards. “Rainy Night in Georgia” is probably too lushly arranged to be considered a typical southern soul tune, but it has a beautiful, dreamy sadness about it.
PAVEMENT – Range Life / Raft / Coolin’ By Sound (Big Cat 77 1995)
Ignorant dismissals of Pavement as Fall clones seem to have become more widespread as time passes. It’s no more relevant than to dismiss the Fall as Monks clones. The band were one of the most consistently interesting of any nineties rock outfits. Their genius was to blend elements that all seemed ramshackle and off-key on their own (especially the vocals) and make them into something engaging. Like a portrait painter whose detailed central study is surrounded by broad strokes tailing off into blank canvas, Pavement left their edges rough, and that always made their songs sound more interesting. “Range Life” is actually quite smooth for them, although Malkmus’s cracked whine is hardly typical of your average ballad singer.
BUDDY HOLLY – Rave On / Take Your Time (Coral 61985 1958)
It’s interesting to speculate how Buddy Holly’s career would have panned out if events had allowed it. He wasn’t just a songwriting genius, but a bit of a technical wizard too. It would have been such a shame if he’d ended up on the easy-listening or bog-standard country treadmills. He definitely had the potential to take music into new directions and perhaps completely have changed the course of music history. We’ll never know, and will just have to be satisfied with the great records he left us.
FOUR TOPS – Reach Out (I’ll Be There) / Until You Love Someone (Motown 1098 1966)
Melodramatic perfection. Fave bit? The brief bass and percussion pause that allows Levi Stubbs to get his breath back between “Reach Out” and “I’ll Be There”. Magic.
SWELL MAPS – Read About Seymour / Ripped and Torn / Black Velvet (Rather 1 1978)
Must be the shortest song on this list. It starts out almost conventionally for a post-punk record with a verse-chorus structure, before disintegrating into a barrage of clatter and noise. Swell Maps were essentially English eccentric experimentalists in the Henry Cow tradition with a DIY ethos and an instinct for carving melody out of chaos.
DELFONICS – Ready Or Not Here I Come / Somebody Loves You (Philly Groove 154 1968)
The song’s better known in its revamped form by the Fugees, but they didn’t really add anything to the two minute marvel of the original with its unusual horn motif.
CRASS – Reality Asylum / Shaved Women Collaborators (Crass 5249841 1979)
Still shocking, still awesome, I wrote about this here.
PUBLIC ENEMY – Rebel Without a Pause / instrumental (Def Jam 651245 1987)
Yo! Bum Rush the Show is a great album, but the step up to It Takes a Million… is astonishing. “Rebel Without a Pause” was the first taster for the second LP, and was louder and more intense than anything before in hip hop history. This was a mere eight years after the genre’s first recorded statement. Things haven’t really moved on that much further in the following 22.
SEBADOH – Rebound (plus 9) (Domino 17 1994)
I’ve probably stretched the definition of a single well beyond breaking point here since “Rebound” was track two of a ten track EP called (with typical Sebadoh contrariness) 4 Song CD. Hell, though, everyone treated it like it was a single at the time. After their cynical “Gimme Indie Rock”, they did just that to perfection with “Rebound”, a fat free 132 seconds of alt-pop-punk.
McCARTHY – Red Sleeping Beauty / From the Damned (Pink 12 1986)
Witlessly lumped in with the C86 brigade, it seems to me that McCarthy became damned by association. Which is a shame. Like Easterhouse and Crass they came from the radical left (Crass would bristle at being branded lefties, but they shared the same distaste of the hierarchical establishment), but Malcolm Eden preferred satire to sloganeering, often voicing the establishment view with enough of a gentle twist to make it sound ludicrous. “Red Sleeping Beauty” is suitably dream-like musically, with a spare, subtle lyric that alludes to the lack of an effective socialist opposition during the height of Thatcherism. “Nothing Stirs Us, We’re Sound Asleep, We’re Sound Asleep”.
BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS – Redemption Song / version (Island 6653 1980)
The final track from the final album released during Bob Marley’s lifetime and astonishingly for such a well known song, never a hit. Unlike anything else he did, this was just Marley and guitar, and feels like a last will and testmanent. Even for the faithless, an undeniably moving song.
STEELY DAN – Reelin’ in the Years / Only a Fool Would Say That (ABC 11352 1973)
This early Dan tune stands out from their usual smooth west-coast jazz ouevre by being unashamedly rock, with some superb guitar playing by Elliott Randall. Randall was never officially a band member (in fact he turned them down when asked) but would play on many of their records.
JACKIE WILSON – Reet Petite / By the Light of the Silvery Moon (Brunswick 55024 1957)
Some classic songs are just there, and you forget how extraordinary they are simply through familiarity. Jackie Wilson’s singing on this record is nothing short of extraordinary – from the rolled r’s, always in rhythm, to the incredible range, he never misses a note or a beat, even by a hair’s breadth. It also has trombones, and there should be more trombones in pop.