Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. The penultimate look at the S’s.
RADIOHEAD – Street Spirit (Fade Out) / Bishop’s Robes (Parlophone 1995)
Radiohead could have turned out to be a mere footnote in music history. With one gigantic hit (“Creep”) and a distinctly underwhelming debut album beneath their belt, The Bends had to be a great record, not merely a good one. It delivered, even though it has subsequently been eclipsed by much of what followed. “Street Spirit” is a great example of the kind of restrained, spectral balladry that shone on the album, given added impetus by a technically superb video by Jonathan Glazer that had eyebrows knotted with an expression of “how the hell they do that?”
GO-BETWEENS – Streets of Your Town / Wait Until June (Beggars Banquet 1988)
The late Grant McLennan was the romantic melodist of the duo, whereas Forster was more of a dark poet. But the sweetness and catchiness of his best tunes always carried a few hidden barbs, this song’s jaunty couplet “Watch the butcher shine his knives / And this town is full of battered wives” being a glaring example that things aren’t as sunny as they seem.
THE WHO – Substitute / Waltz for a Pig (Reaction 1966)
It may be an unfashionable view, but for my money the Who seriously lost their way when psychedelia kicked in, chasing up a blind alley of rock operas and the like. Only Live At Leeds, Who’s Next and Quadrophenia stand up to their legacy of classic sixties singles. “Substitute” is just one of these, full of vitriol.
PET SHOP BOYS – Suburbia / Paninaro (Parlophone 1986)
They still have it in them as the Battleship Potemkin soundtrack proved, but they seem content to wallow in ephemeral chart pop these days. Twenty odd years ago they were making chart pop too, but stuff that reflected the zeitgeist, with a satirical and relevant edge to it. Like Kraftwerk, they are a band that were ahead of their time, and when the times caught up, seemed to lose direction.
DEUS – Suds and Soda / Secret Hell (Island 1994)
Released in the middle of the retro-dayglo nightmare that was Britpop, this was a breath of fresh air. Screeching strings and loose production, but catchy as a cold. Deus have never been quite as iconoclastic as they were on their debut album, but they’ve consistently made playable records.
SUENO LATINO – Sueno Latino (DFC 1989)
This is one of those rare things – a dance record that sounds totally contemporary two decades after its release. Essentially, the record is a Latinised house mix by a quartet of Italians of a section from Manuel Göttsching’s magnum opus E2-E4. A simple idea, but one perfectly realised. Derrick May’s 1992 remix of a remix is just as good too.
PAVEMENT – Summer Babe / Mercy Snack / Baptiss Blacktick (Drag City 1991)
GRANDADDY – Summer Here Kids / Levitz / My Small Love (Big Cat 1998)
Pavement songs always seem on the brink of collapse, even when they’re as melodic as “Summer Babe”. Like Da Vinci’s sketchbooks, the presentation is shabby, but the content is always supreme. Grandaddy were fairly obviously acolytes and were a bit hit and miss, with their ZZ Top meets the Taliban image threatening to overshadow their music. But “Summer Here Kids” is a diary of a nightmarish camp trip in a paradoxically uplifting setting and remains a favourite.
ISLEY BROTHERS – Summer Breeze / part 2 (T-Neck 1974)
For me, the Isleys produced their best work in a career spanning nearly half a century when they were joined by Isley – The Next Generation of younger brothers and nephews. Working as a self-sufficient musical unit, rather than a vocal group with backing, allowed them to stretch themselves a bit. Their cover of Seals and Croft’s “Summer Breeze” eclipsed the original, and is the aural equivalent of a refreshing zephyr on a sticky summer day.
LOVIN’ SPOONFUL – Summer in the City / Fishing Blues (Kama Sutra 1966)
Essentially a folk blues jug band, “Summer in the City” was a totally uncharacteristic record for the Lovin’ Spoonful. Familiarity may have dulled its impact, but I don’t think any song in the last 40 or so years has bettered it in its portrayal of the contrast between the dirty, uncomfortable, hot tempered days of living through a city heatwave with the hedonistic release that the night brings. And even for someone without a word of English, the key change between the urban rush of the verses, and the partying of the chorus says it all.
BRYAN ADAMS – Summer of 69 / The Best Has Yet to Come (A&M 1985)
Sample conversation as some cheesy Adams dross comes on the radio: Grumpy person: “I fucking hate Bryan Adams”. Me: “Yeah, but “Summer of 69″ was good”. Grumpy person (suddenly looking less grumpy): “Aye, “Summer of 69″ was good”. Ryan Adams used to get pissed off by the wags who shouted for it at his concerts. It was probably because he knew he’d never write anything as good. Mind you, the title of the B side has to be one of the most untrue claims in music history.
DISCO INFERNO – Summer’s Last Sound / Love’s Stepping Out (Cheree 1992)
Have I mentioned before how underrated this band is/was? Only a dozen times? OK, then. The classic DI ingredients are all in this record. Joy Division bassline, über-extended intro, foggy sheets of self-sampled, almost atonal guitar and a half-buried declamatory vocal, on this occasion sung from the point of view of refugees, hunted in their homeland and abused and even killed in their supposed safe haven. The band’s political songs were always emotional and human rather than exercises in ideology. Like nearly all their EPs, the flip is no less a song than the A side.
EDDIE COCHRAN – Summertime Blues / Love Again (Liberty 1958)
A two minute teenage tantrum at the unfairness of authority. At least he didn’t sound like he was going to go into therapy over it unlike the emotionally illiterate emo bands that clog up a section of the teen press these days.
WALKER BROTHERS – The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More / After the Lights Go Out (Philips 1965)
A-HA – The Sun Always Shines on TV / Driftwood (Warner Brothers 1985)
BELOVED – The Sun Rising / mixes (East West 1989)
It’s been a summery, sunshiny selection today. Scott confuses his girlfriend walking out on him with a cosmological cataclysm. An easy mistake to make. He always makes misery sound like something almost luxurious to wallow in. Our Norwegian trio gaze wistfully from rain-sodden Scandinavia to Hollywood where the sky always seems as bright as everybody’s teeth. The bottom line of the song is that Morten needs a hug. But what a dramatic, joyous, neo-operatic way of demanding one! Finally, the ultimate post-rave chill-out anthem by reformed indie kids the Beloved.