Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. On to T now.
BUFFALO TOM – Tail Lights Fade / Birdbrain (Situation 2 1992)
This was the song that rid the band of the Dinosaur Jr junior tag and marked them out as a band to be reckoned with in their own right. Call it a grunge ballad if you will, but “Tail Lights Fade” is a passionate and moving song with more than a hint of desperation about it. “Broken face and broken hands – I’m a broken man” has the ring of a man reaching the bottom rather than a self-pitying whinge.
DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET – Take Five / Blue Rondo a la Turk (Columbia 1961)
DUKE ELLINGTON ORCHESTRA – Take the A Train / The Sidewalks of New York (Victor 1941)
Post-war, jazz has always been an album oriented medium, with singles little more than promo tools. A genuine popular hit is something that happens so little as to be almost freakish in its occurrence. Let alone one that uses the distinctly un-pop 5/4 time signature. Twenty years earlier, when swing was still king, the Ellington Orchestra were arguably at their very peak. Billy Strayhorn’s elegy to the Manhattan-Harlem-Brooklyn subway line became the band’s signature tune, and still is a fantastic evocation of forties America.
WAILERS – Tool Call One / Road Runner (Golden Crest 1959)
By 1959, rock ‘n’ roll had largely given way to simpering teen pop. Only the denizens of the American north-west must have missed the memo, because they were still churning out blistering, primal rock. The Wailers were the forerunners of a scene that birthed the incomparable Sonics, and provided one of the few links between the fifties rock revolution and the sixties garage band phenomenon, proving that the charge that the Yanks had forgotten how to rock before the Limeys arrived to remind them to be a false one.
BOB DYLAN – Tangled Up In Blue / If You See Her Say Hello (Columbia 1975)
Blood on the Tracks is like a religious icon to the Rolling Stone generation of rock hacks. Which kinda makes you want to hate it! I’m solidly with the consensus on this album, though, and “Tangled Up in Blue” is one of several masterpieces that weave fiction and rare soul-bearing by the usually reticent Dylan – a spokesman for himself, not a generation.
CHAMELEONS – Tears / Paradiso (Geffen 1986)
Strange Times was supposed to be the album that made the Chameleons global stars. Instead they acrimoniously split after recording four songs for a follow up. In retrospect, it’s probably been at least as influential as that other Manc classic that came out the same year, The Queen Is Dead, only it’s rarely cited as such. “Tears”, the album’s token ballad, is completely different on the single release – more in tune with the grandiose wall-of-guitar sound of the band.
MIRACLES – Tears of a Clown / Promise Me (Tamla 1970)
One of the very rare instances when Motown missed something right in front of their noses. “Tears of a Clown” was only issued as a single following its UK success some three years after its initial appearance as an album track. The result, a number one and one of Smokey’s most famous songs.
SANDY NELSON – Teen Beat / Big Jump (Original Sound 1959)
Drummer makes instrumental record – like that’s going to be popular! Well it was, and the brilliant combination of gonzoid guitar riffs and tubthumping pretty much kick started the surf sound.
UNDERTONES – Teenage Kicks EP (Good Vibrations 1978)
You all know how this one goes.
HOLE – Teenage Whore / Drown Soda (City Slang 1991)
Mrs Cobain – everybody’s cartoon villainess. Still, you can’t knock records as exciting as this, even if early Hole owed more than a little to Babes in Toyland, with Courtney even screaming like her erstwhile bandmate Kat Bjelland.
DISPOSABLE HEROES OF HIPHOPRISY – Television / Winter of the Long Hot Summer (4th and Broadway 1992)
Michael Franti and Rono Tse were both former members of San Francisco’s punk Last Poets the Beatnigs, and “Television” was a song they’d already done on the band’s only album. And yes, it does owe a great deal to Gil Scott Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, but it’s still a classic of politicized, industrial-tinged hip hop.
TORNADOS – Telstar / Jungle Fever (Decca 1962)
As viewers of Mad Men will know, the early sixties seems light years away from even the end of the decade, let alone 2010. And yet it was a very forward looking time, with the space race leading other technological advances. Futurology painted a world where every conceivable problem would be overcome by progress, and we’d all have more whilst working far less. Looking back now, it was a naive period, hopelessly blinkered to all the social and environmental problems that were happening. “Telstar” struck a chord. It’s the archetypal piece of retro-futurism – a gleaming piece of cutting edge technology that now sounds resolutely of its time rather than ahead of it. It may have sounded like the future in 1962, but it doesn’t belong in any future that really occurred. That’s not to knock it, or Joe Meek’s fantastic production work. It’s a marvelous record, but one that screams 1962 as much as pill-box hats, Stingray and black and white dramas set in Salford.
NEW ORDER – Temptation / Hurt (Factory 1982)
“Everything’s Gone Green” was the first New Order track to really integrate electronics into the band’s sound, but “Temptation” was the track where they really hit their stride. It’s also the single where Barney emerged from the shadows of Ian Curtis as an instantly identifiable lead singer, albeit an idiosyncratic one, with his trademark whoops.
SWEET EXORCIST – Testone / Testtwo / Testthree (Warp 1990)
“If everything’s ready here on the dark side of the moon, play the five tones“. And thus, children, bleep techno was born.
ISLEY BROTHERS – That Lady / part 2 (T-Neck 1973)
“That Lady” was actually an old Isleys tune that they’d recorded a decade before for United Artists, but this version was a reimagining rather than a re-recording, with Ernie’s guitar acrobatics absolutely the centrepiece of the record.
ELVIS PRESLEY – That’s All Right Mama / Blue Moon of Kentucky (Sun 1954)
His first record, a cover of a tune by bluesman Arthur Crudup. What makes the Sun singles sound so fantastic is the space and echo around what is a pretty basic instrumental line-up. It also gives Presley’s voice an alien-like quality, like he’s just emerged from the Mississippi swamps. RCA captured it on “Heartbreak Hotel”, but never managed to repeat that feat.
JAM – That’s Entertainment / Down in the Tube Station at Midnight (Polydor 1981)
At school, the Jam fans tended to be the squares into skinny tie pop, while I hung with the kids who were into the more idiosyncratic indie stuff on Factory, Rough Trade and bands like the Fall, the Birthday Party, Pop Group, the Bunnymen and Joy Division. So I was never a big fan, although I still knew a great tune when I heard one – and “That’s Entertainment” is undoubtedly that. It’s quite a bleak, humdrum thing. Famously, Weller didn’t want it released as a 45, but his fans went out and bought the German import instead in enough numbers that it was still a sizeable hit. The public gets what the public wants, Paul.