Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. The end of the Rs.
MODERN LOVERS – Roadrunner Once / Roadrunner Twice (Beserkley 1 1977)
The rhythm’s straight out of the Neu motorik! handbook. The bass line is equally hypnotic. On top of it, Jonathan Richman’s vocal is almost a chant, with the chorus a primitive response of “Radio On”. It gives the song the sense of the monotony of night time freeway driving, with just the radio to break the tedium.
LONNIE DONEGAN – Rock Island Line / John Henry (Decca 10647 1955)
The UK skiffle boom started with Lonnie Donegan, Beryl Bryden and Chris Barber doing short sets of American folk-blues songs such as this one by Leadbelly during the interval at gigs by Barber’s jazz band. With Donegan singing and playing guitar, Bryden providing a washboard rhythm and Barber the stand-up bass, the blueprint for hundreds of skiffle combos was set.
DAVID BOWIE – Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide / Quicksand (RCA 5021 1974)
Cabaret singer Camille O’Sullivan does a superb version of this at her live shows, with the accent on the Brel like melodrama of the song. Chuck in Mick Ronson’s sinister guitar climax and you have one of Bowie’s best songs of the Ziggy era.
BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD – Rock ‘n’ Roll Woman / A Child’s Claim to Fame (Atco 6519 1967)
Despite the rock cliché title, this is one of Stephen Stills’ best tunes, with the harmonies a kind of trial run for those that made CSN superstars.
JACKIE BRENSTON – Rocket 88 / Come Back Where You Belong (Chess 1458 1951)
A classic rock ‘n’ roll record. The first rock ‘n’ roll record? Many claim so, but it’s a pointless debate. No one record was beamed in from the future to provide a rock year zero. It’s a debate about something that has no answer.
HERBIE HANCOCK – Rockit / version (Columbia 4054 1983)
Jazz purists like to snort haughtily at Herbie Hancock’s excursions into the mainstream, but he’s always managed to incorporate things like funk, disco and in this case electro without coming across as a tourist or a bandwagon jumper. This isn’t jazz. Even so, Hancock’s playing still retains a definite jazz-like looseness even on something as stripped down and robotic as this.
REM – (Don’t Go Back to) Rockville / Catapult (IRS 9931 1984)
“Rockville” was REM’s most straightforward statement up to that point – a sixties soaked country-rock tune with a singalong chorus. It could almost have been a Monkees tune.
BARRY ANDREWS – Rossmore Road / Win a Night Out With a Well Known Paranoiac (Virgin 378 1980)
A genuine cult record. Not widely known at all, but generally loved by those who do know it. Andrews was the keyboard player with XTC, and “Rossmore Road” was a lush, melancholy hymn to the eponymous suburban street. The B side is a cracked, rambling semi-jazz thing along the lines of Joni’s “Twisted”
THELONIOUS MONK QUINTET – Round About Midnight / Well You Needn’t (Blue Note 543 1947)
In my mind, the finest tune to come out of the bop era, and much covered. The melody is fairly simple, romantic and wistfully nocturnal, despite some quite unusual chords. It’s been covered a zillion times (Robert Wyatt’s is the best), but nothing has the same evocative noir-ish atmosphere as this 1947 recording.
THE FALL – Rowche Rumble / In My Area (Step Forward 11 1979)
Amazing to think that thirty years on, the Fall are still making great records. Powered by a tinny organ riff and tribal drums, this invective against Big Pharma (as no one called it then) still sounds as fresh and exciting as the day it came out.
DR FEELGOOD – Roxette / Route 66 (United Artists 35760 1974)
THE SPINNERS – The Rubberband Man / Now That We’re Together (Atlantic 3355 1976)
LINK WRAY – Rumble / The Swag (Cadence 1347 1958)
So many songs on this list are built upon an outstanding, but simple bass line. These three very different tunes are all examples of that. “Roxette”, the Feelgoods’ finest three minutes, has a punishing three note bass riff over which Wilko Johnson provides a clipped guitar harmony. Add Lee Brilleaux’s growling, angry vocal, and you have a menacing tale of the adulterer caught red-handed. The Spinners didn’t enter the disco era with generic pap like so many of their peers, but came up with this beauty kept afloat by a boinging rubber bass that has the same in your face repetition as Giorgio Moroder’s synth riffs. On top, the harmonies were as lush as ever. Link Wray’s “Rumble” is a prowling beast that almost plods along on a slow walking bass line that gives the guitarist free reign to sketch the most primitive of melodies with a series of thrashed chords. It’s dirty, sullen and delinquent – the perfect rock record.
DEL SHANNON – Runaway / Jody (Big Top 3067 1961)
Conventional rock history will have you believe that pop music was all bland and sugary between 1958, when the original rock & roll era burned itself out and 1963 when the Beatles arrived on their white chargers to save it. Piffle. Link Wray, Johnny Kidd, the Wailers, Sandy Nelson and countless others kept the primitive rock flame alive during this period while Motown, Stax and southern soul were blossoming. Even mainstream pop acts like Del Shannon were coming up with records that were as sonically adventurous as they were catchy. “Runaway” has a great proto-synth break, a great chorus and a futuristic, effects-laden production. It’s far more forward-looking than anything the Beatles managed until 1965.
SLY & THE FAMILY STONE – Runnin’ Away / Brave and Strong (Epic 10829 1972)
I’ve said it before in these pages, but I find There’s a Riot Goin’ On close to unlistenable. The tunes are fine, but the production is muffled and worn with all the dynamics squeezed out of it. “Runnin’ Away” emerges more or less unscathed, mainly because it’s quite a downbeat, introspective tune to begin with.
ROY ORBISON – Running Scared / Love Hurts (Monument 438 1961)
The Big O’s bolero. Da-da-da-daah, da-da-da-daah goes the rhythm. Tango? Not sure, but it lays a dramatic foundation for Orbison to build on with one of his typically grandiose, emotionally raw melodramas.
KATE BUSH – Running Up That Hill / Under the Ivy (EMI KATE1 1985)
I’m not a huge Kate Bush fan. It’s not her voice, which many people find irritating, but her tendency to over-produce and over-complicate things. That said, there’s no getting away from the fact that this track is an absolute marvel. The production is as dense as they come, but it all fits together to give it a real sense of propulsion. And the song glides brilliantly over the top (in all senses of the phrase). A stunning achievement.