Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Much delayed – apologies for that. Anyway, getting on with the Ps..
CLARENCE CARTER – Patches / Say It One More Time (Atlantic 2748 1970)
I wrote about this weepie here.
BAD BRAINS – Pay to Cum / Stay Close to Me (Bad Brains 1 1980)
Probably the most ferocious band of all of hardcore’s first wave. They probably had more to be pissed off about than the usual white suburban mall-brats. They also knew their instruments, but that didn’t stop them making an unholy racket.
STEELY DAN – Peg / I Got the News (ABC 12320 1977)
There’s probably nothing more snooze-inducing than tasteful, well-played, glossily produced pop-jazz. Steely Dan have always made records that tick all those boxes, but have a bit of bite to them. “Peg” has an unforgettable horn riff (if you don’t know it, you may know De La Soul’s “Eye Know” which samples freely from the track) and a great chorus, with Michael McDonald (a man with a great voice who always seems to make lousy records) contributing some superb backing vocals.
IMPRESSIONS – People Get Ready / I’ve Been Trying (ABC 10622 1965)
Effortless, timeless Gospel-soul that gives even die-hard heathens like me the goose bumps.
VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR – People You Were Going To / Firebrand (Polydor 56758 1968)
Van Der Graaf Generator had already split up when recording began on what was to be a Peter Hammill solo album – the Aerosol Grey Machine. Gradually they clumped back together, like a planet from spinning debris. “People You Were Going To” is kinda half way between the familiar Van Der Graaf sound and pastoral psychedelic pop. They would get denser, intenser and louder as time wore on, but this song is more than just curious juvenilia.
THE THE – Perfect / The Nature of Virtue (Epic 3119 1983)
Soul Mining was Matt Johnson’s second album, but the first under the resuscitated The The moniker. It took the lush, buoyant synth-pop of the day, and turned it into something darker and more introspective. “Perfect” was only added to cassette versions of the LP at the time, but it fitted seamlessly with the record’s mood. Musically sunny and rich, and on the surface optimistic, it had a dark heart of despair. It fitted the times when a primary coloured optimism glossed over a steel grey underbelly of trepidation.
NEW ORDER – The Perfect Kiss / Perfect Pit (Factory 123 1985)
It’s strange that “Blue Monday” remains New Order’s best selling single ever, when it was essentially a rhythm track and a fairly basic synth melody. It was no more than a prototype for much more fully realised and melodic tracks to come like “The Perfect Kiss”, but they never quite captured the world’s imagination in the same way.
JOHN BARRY – The Persuaders / The Girl With the Sun in Her Hair (Columbia 7569 1972)
DUANE EDDY – Peter Gunne Theme / Along the Navajo Trail (Jamie 1168 1960)
I must have been only eight or nine at the time, but The Persuaders was my favourite TV show bar none. It was the supercool repartee between Tony Curtis and Roger Moore, the exotic south of France locations and the brilliant cars that did it for me. Oh, and the title sequence where resumés of the pair’s rags-to-riches and riches-to-riches stories are played out in the form of newspaper clippings to the accompaniment of John Barry’s faultless theme tune. It had the mysterious air of a spy movie soundtrack played out on synthetic bass and what sounded like a harpsichord and was totally unlike any piece of music I’d ever heard in my short life. It remains my favourite TV theme ever. I wasn’t born when Peter Gunne was on our screens and have never seen an episode to this day. But what a dramatic theme tune! A dirty, rolling guitar riff full of menacing bass is overlaid by the alarmed squawks of the saxophone. It’s got film-noir written all over it.
ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN – Pictures On My Wall / Read It in Books (Zoo 4 1979)
This comes from the time when Echo the drum machine had its five minutes of fame before it was cruelly booted out in favour of the human Pete de Freitas. I’ve always preferred the Bunnymen’s stuff from the period where they had that raw post-punk rush to them, before production values were of too much concern.
THE IMPOSTER (ELVIS COSTELLO) – Pills and Soap / same (Imp 1 1983)
26th November 1981. Two and a half years into the Conservative regime, Britain was in chaos. A summer of some of the most serious social unrest in the twentieth century had burned itself out, but unemployment was climbing towards three million and inflation was 20+%. It was one of the most unpopular governments in British history. Meanwhile the Labour Party, rather than capitalizing on the woes of its rival, was engaged in a suicidal civil war. The results of the Crosby by-election were a political earthquake. In one of their erstwhile safest UK seats, the Tories were kicked out. Labour lost its deposit, and the SDP candidate Shirley Williams gained almost half the total vote. It seemed like politics were about to move into completely uncharted waters. Then General Galtieri stuck his oar in.
9th June 1983. Thatcher’s landslide victory would change the face of Britain forever. Where the radical right in the Tory party had largely been kept on a leash since 1979, the country was now about to see its entire fabric ripped apart in the name of Friedmanite monetarism, a doctrine of greed and sanctioned corruption dressed up as economics. For just that week, “Pills and Soap” was available in shops before being swiftly deleted. It was a fearful, downbeat and defeated dirge of a song that lamented the final passing of a nation’s values of community in favour of an imported culture of rapacious greed, rampant consumerism and selfish individualism. Everything that’s happened over the last eighteen months is a consequence of that philosophy, one shamefully continued by the so-called ‘people’s party’.
CHILLS – Pink Frost / Purple Girl (Flying Nun 2 1982)
New Zealand’s finest pop group with their finest three minutes. “Pink Frost” is a chilling tale of a man who appears to have killed his girlfriend whilst in a somnambulant state. “I thought I was dreaming, so I didn’t heed her screaming”. It’s a horrible scenario. No details are sketched – it’s up to the listener to draw his or her own conclusions. It does seem that Martyn Phillips’ protagonist is more concerned about what will happen to him than what he’s done to her, though.
JONNY L – Piper / Common Origin (XL 74 1997)
To get those last two pieces of downright misery out of our systems, what better than John Lisner’s Tonka-tough “Piper”, the tune that filtered two-step drum and bass into its minimalist conclusion. The rhythm has a jackhammer ferocity, coupled with little else other than a wispy echo and the short, disembodied female interjections of the track title every now and then. This is truly hardcore stuff, stripped down to its most primal elements. And yet once heard, never forgotten – a masterpiece of economical music making.