Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles.
COASTERS – Searchin’ / Young Blood (Atco 6087 1957)
Not the Coasters at their most comic, but a fine pair of catchy doo-wop / pop tunes nevertheless.
COCKNEY REBEL – Sebastian / Rock and Roll Parade (EMI 2051 1973)
I’ll be the first to admit that “Sebastian” borders on ludicrous pomposity with its quasi-operatic structure and full-on bombastic orchestration, not too mention Steve Harley at his most mannered in the vocal department. Still, there’s something deeply appealing in its guileless over-the-topness.
CABARET VOLTAIRE – Seconds Too Late / Control Addict (Rough Trade 60 1980)
“Seconds Too Late” is one of Cabaret Voltaire’s most chilling tracks, steeped in paranoia and foreboding. It also still sounds amazingly contemporary. Here’s the original video:
PINK FLOYD – See Emily Play / The Scarecrow (EMI Columbia 8214 1967)
English psychedelic pop at its very best.
BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON – See That My Grave Is Kept Clean / Electric Chair Blues (Paramount 12608 1928)
The early blues artists never shied away from topics not normally associated with popular song – disease, addiction, poverty, early death. All were only too real in the world around them. “See The My Grave Is Kept Clean” is a sombre song with the protagonist already dead asking for one last favour. The sad thing is, after Jefferson died the following year, he was buried in an unmarked grave. When a headstone was eventually erected in 1967, the precise whereabouts of his resting place was no longer known. In 1997 he finally got his wish with a proper granite headstone, and ten years later, the cemetery was renamed the Blind Lemon Jefferson Memorial Cemetery. As for the song, it’s been covered many times, most famously by Bob Dylan. My personal favourite version was by the Dream Syndicate.
JUDY COLLINS – Send in the Clowns / Houses (Elektra 45253 1975)
An opinion splitter. Many people find this Stephen Sondheim song almost comically mawkish. I’m not among them (obviously, otherwise it wouldn’t be here). Sinatra used to sing this a lot, but I think Judy Collins nails it. It’s weird that it feels so sad and resigned and yet I haven’t got a clue what it’s all about. But the “well, maybe next year” bit at the end is the epitome of crushed hope to me, and always brings a chill to the spine.
FIELD MICE – Sensitive / When Morning Comes To Town (Sarah 18 1989)
Sarah Records and the Field Mice – the kings of twee. Even many of their fans wear it like a badge – an infantile world of innocence and sweets. I never saw it. OK, they could be a bit wet at times, but “Sensitive” is actually a really angry song.. It’s fast and often furious as it rages against a callous world where aestheticism is perceived as a weakness. A big, meaty ‘fuck you’ to philistines.
BIG STAR – September Gurls / Mod Lang (Ardent 2912 1974)
I see Big Star as the precursors to the Replacements. Romanticism tinged with self-destructive tendencies. At times bright and sunny (as on this little gem), at others like an emotional car crash (most of the legendary Sister/Lovers). There were also times when they churned out some dreary dad-rock, but it was 1974.
LOVE – Seven and Seven Is / Number Fourteen (Elektra 45605 1966)
Surrealistic punk rock played out on acoustic guitars and featuring a (literally) explosive climax. What’s not to love?
MARVIN GAYE – Sexual Healing / instrumental (Columbia 3302 1982)
An Indian summer or a new beginning? After his Belgian exile, serious depression and final freedom from his fraught relationships with Motown and the Gordys, Marvin came back and showed the young pretenders like Alexander O’Neal and Luther Vandross who was the boss in the bedroom soul stakes. Murdered by his father two years later, the opening question can never be answered.
JOE TURNER – Shake, Rattle & Roll / You Know I Love You (Atlantic 1026 1954)
It’s all about sex, of course. Many people will only know the bowdlerized Bill Haley version. Most of the lyrics were changed or cut to protect the sensitive dispositions of white folk (and allow radio play). Including the cunnilingus references (“I get over the hill and way down underneath”). Inexplicably they left the “I’m like a one-eyed cat peepin’ in a seafood store” line unchanged. Too subtle for ’em I guess.
JOHNNY KIDD & THE PIRATES – Shakin’ All Over / Yes Sir, That’s My Baby (HMV 753 1960)
There was more to British rock & roll than Cliff Richard and the Larry Parnes school of clean-cut clones. Not much more, though. The frankly bonkers Vince Taylor and the great Johnny Kidd are the only ones who spring to mind who could hold their own with their American counterparts.
JIMMY REED – Shame, Shame, Shame / There’ll Be a Day (Vee-Jay 509 1963)
Jimmy Reed was one of only a few of the original electric blues artists whose career truly flourished in the wake of the British blues boom. Many of his songs have become pub back room standards including this one.
THE YARDBIRDS – The Shapes of Things / You’re a Better Man Than I (Columbia 7848 1966)
If Clapton had had his way, the Yardbirds would have remained a footnote in rock history, regurgitating electric blues standards for a white audience. Fortunately he gave way to Jeff Beck, and they turned in some some fantastic pieces of proto-psychedelic pop like this fuzz-drenched beaut. Arguably they were the prime influence for the nuggets generation of US garage bands alongside the Stones, and are still much more appreciated across the pond than they are here.
THE CHORDS – Sh’Boom / Little Maiden (Cat 104 1954)
What better way to end this installment than the sublime, uplifting sound of the luckless Chords. One hit wonders, as much to do with legal battles over the name than any failure to match the quality of their debut single, they did at least leave one song of joyous originality and feel-good vocal dexterity. Supposedly a response to the prevalent fears of nuclear annihilation, it shrugs off the threat and parties. And why not.