Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. More Rs. By the way, in case you’re wondering how long there is to go in this seemingly interminable series, there are just over 300 records left which will take another 20 parts.
SUPREMES – Reflections / Going Down for the Third Time (Motown 1111 1967)
By 1967 the Supremes still ruled, well, supreme as far as chart action went at Motown. The basic formula remained, but was tweaked to include hints of psychedelic pop both lyrically and sonically. The backbeat is little changed, but there is a new use of electronics, particular the oscillator in the introduction.
VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR – Refugees / The Boat of Millions of Years (Charisma 122 1970)
Van der Graaf were undoubtedly the fiercest, most punk of all the prog bands springing up at the start of the seventies. So, although they never achieved anything like the commercial success of some of their contemporaries (except, oddly, in Italy), their critical reputation remained untarnished during the punk year zero revisionism of 1976/7. “Refugees” sees Hammill and co in an unusually romantic (in the heroic sense) mood, as it swells with the hopes of people seeking a new life away from tyranny. You’d have to be hard hearted, or a Daily Mail reader, not to be moved.
NEW ORDER – Regret / mix (London NUO1 1993)
Republic was pretty lame by New Order’s standards, but it did open with this, the band’s finest guitar-oriented single since “Ceremony”.
BIRTHDAY PARTY – Release the Bats / Blast Off (4AD 111 1981)
For a while this became a bit of a millstone for the band as pig-shit thick hacks and DJs decided the band were Goths because they were singing about vampire bats and were all stick thin and pale (with the exception of the robust and well-muscled Tracy Pew). “Release the Bats” was more of an affectionate homage to the old fifties B movie inspired rock and roll stuff like Billy Lee Riley, Nervous Norvus and, of course, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
SHANGRI-LAS – Remember / It’s Easier to Cry (Red Bird 8 1964)
It’s amazing to think that the girls’ entire recorded career was more or less crammed into an intense 24 month period. “Remember” was the first, and saw the Shangri-las sound emerge fully formed, from the seagull laden, dreamily hypnotic chorus to the glorious melodrama of the verses where Mary Weiss seems constantly on the edge of a fully-fledged breakdown.
ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN – Rescue / Simple Stuff (Korova 1 1980)
They’ve been going for 30 years plus now which, when you think about it, is the same amount of time as that between the beginning of World War 1 and VE Day! All the good stuff had been recorded by the end of 1984. “Rescue” was one of the band’s first songs that didn’t rattle along at a high tempo, but was more measured. The thing that makes the song is the chiming guitar theme – both simple and instantly memorable.
ARETHA FRANKLIN – Respect / Dr Feelgood (Atlantic 2403 1967)
STAPLE SINGERS – Respect Yourself / You Gonna Make Me Cry (Stax 0104 1971)
“Respect” is one of those songs that has been analysed to death and had reams written about it. It’s an example of the unique effectiveness of a good song. In under three minutes it says more clearly and concisely what everybody analysing it can’t capture in all their pseudo-intellectual gibberings. The same is equally true of the Staple Singers’ classic.
E-Z ROLLERS – Retro / Subtropic (Moving Shadow 103 1997)
Few acts are as aptly named as E-Z Rollers. Their best records use rolling breakbeats and a kind of lounge jazz sensibility to create a relatively mellow and sophisticated drum and bass. “Retro” is one of their best and is topped with Derrick May’s ruminations on the fortunes of the electronic music pioneers.
THIRTEENTH FLOOR ELEVATORS – Reverberation / Fire Engine (International Artists 111 1966)
SPACEMEN 3 – Revolution / Che (Fire 29 1988)
What set the Thirteenth Floor Elevators apart from all of their peers was the real sense of a lysergic experience going on. They had great tunes, sure, but so did a whole host of other mid sixties garage bands. The sound, though, seemed to beam through from an altered reality, particularly with the use of drone, reverb and the very weird sounding electric jug. Their first two LPs are absolutely essential. “Reverberation” comes from the first and does exactly what it says in the title. Rugby’s Spacemen 3 were acolytes of Roky Erikson’s crew, and it certainly showed. “Revolution” takes a two note droning riff and turns it into a mantra that never varies in tempo or rhythm, but simply in intensity. It’s barely a song at all, with the words largely spoken like a super slo-mo rap, but it’s hypnotic.
WILD SWANS – Revolutionary Spirit / God Forbid (Zoo 9 1982)
The Wild Swans were among the first wave of Scouse post-punk acts that included the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes, Pink Military and Wah! They lasted long enough to do one Peel Session (which includes the brilliant “No Bleeding”) and this twelve inch single, although they’ve regrouped several times since. “Revolutionary Spirit” switches between a downbeat series of short verses, and a big, yearning chorus that is basically the same chords but in a higher key. Simple, but bewitching.
JOHNNY CASH – Ring of Fire / I’d Still Be There (Columbia 42788 1963)
Unlike nearly every other one of the artists who’d started out in the mid fifties’ rockabilly explosion and who rapidly switched to mainstream country, Cash never forgot how to rock. “Ring of Fire” was written by Merle Kilgour and Cash’s future wife June Carter, and is just as direct and basic as any of his classic Sun sides of the fifties.
ROBINS – Riot in Cell Block #9 / Wrap It Up (Spark 103 1954)
“Riot in Cell Block #9” was one of Leiber and Stoller’s earliest efforts, but it has all the trademark humour, drama and storytelling in place. It was also one of the first non-novelty records to use sound effects such as police sirens and machine gun fire. Bobby Nunn’s bass drawl recounts the story in something approaching a slow rap which is almost comically cool considering the mayhem going on all around. “The warden said ‘Come out with your hands up in the air / If you don’t stop this riot You’re all gonna get the chair’ / Scarface Jones said, ‘It’s too late to quit / And pass the dynamite, ’cause the fuse is lit’” The way he almost absent mindedly says that last line is priceless. Nunn and fellow Robin Carl Gardner went on to become one half of the Coasters who were one of the best loved acts during the second half of the decade.
MASSIVE ATTACK – Risingson / mixes (Wild Bunch 8 1997)
“Risingson” introduced the dark, paranoid rock sound that was explored on Mezzanine and famously disillusioned founding member Mushroom so much that he quit. 3D’s narcoleptic rap fits the atmosphere of stoned menace like a glove. The video was typically brilliant, featuring the band sitting around in a crumbling house, making tea and generally appearing bored, unconcerned and stoned whilst it’s under attack from a hoard of masked men like a Police SWAT team.