Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Today’s installment wraps up the Ds.
WAY OUT WEST – Domination / mixes (Deconstruction 34282 1996)
The single that followed this one, “The Gift”, was Way Out West’s first big hit, but “Domination” is the more exciting record – a big, punchy deep house monster with a scary fifties sci-fi voice over.
BLUE OYSTER CULT – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper / Tattoo Vampire (Columbia 10384 1976)
Even when metal was at its most unfashionable around the time of punk, BOC were one of the bands it was deemed OK to like – even though they sometimes sounded like any other airbrushed AOR band. “The Reaper” shows both sides of the group – the glossy vocal harmonies and the biker-rock rhythm. The seven inch edit issued over here a few years later does the track no favours – the brilliant centre-piece guitar solo was entirely cut to bring the song down to a radio-friendly length by some cloth-eared editor.
THE JAM – Down in a Tube Station at Midnight / So Sad About Us / The Night (Polydor 8 1978)
For the first year or so of their recording career, the Jam were little more than a Who tribute act on amphetamines. This song and its parent album All Mod Cons changed that for good. The mindless violence and racist thugs that it portrays were all too familiar in that era, and Weller brilliantly captures the fear and pointlessness of these kinds of unprovoked, random attacks.
PETULA CLARK – Downtown / You Better Love Me (Pye 15722 1964)
BLUE NILE – The Downtown Lights / The Wires Are Down (Linn 3 1989)
TOM WAITS – Downtown Train / Tango ‘Til They’re Sore (Island 260 1985)
In popular song, downtown is a semi-mythical place where the tribulations of the working week are cast aside in favour of bright lights, music and dancing. No song better encapsulates this carefree joy than Petula Clark’s “Downtown”. Tom Waits shares the sentiment, injecting a little rumpled melancholy for good measure. Paul Buchanan’s protagonist, though, is more of an observer than a reveller, and gives the feeling that the bright lights, music and dancing offer merely some temporary solace that helps to hold together a creaking relationship in the short term.
PROPAGANDA – Dr Mabuse / Femme Fatale (ZTT 2 1984)
Eighties audio excess really reached its zenith with Trevor Horn’s huge sounding productions for Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Propaganda. “Dr Mabuse” is a ten minute dramatic monster, telling tales of the evil deeds of Norbert Jacques’ villainous master of telepathy and hypnosis.
SUICIDE – Dream Baby Dream / Radiation (Island 6543 1979)
Suicide had more in common with acts like the Cramps and the Misfits than they did with the Human League or Cabaret Voltaire. Despite their use of keyboards and electronics instead of guitars, they were at heart a rockabilly band. “Dream Baby Dream” is like the soundtrack to some relentless, sexual nightmare.
PJ HARVEY – Dress / Water / Dry (Too Pure 5 1991)
“It’s hard to walk in the dress, it’s not easy / I’m spilling over like a heavy loaded fruit tree”. Genius.
RAY POLLARD – The Drifter / Let Him Go (United Artists 916 1965)
This is a fairly obscure one. Ray Pollard was a soul singer who was once a member of a group called the Wanderers. He didn’t exactly uproot many trees during his recording career, but “The Drifter” became a big favourite on the Northern Soul scene. It’s a big, bold ballad telling the tale of a character who wanders, purposeless, from town to town following the death of his beloved. Pollard had a pleading, soulful voice slightly redolent of the great Levi Stubbs. He deserved to be better known, and this song in particular should have been massive. Sadly, he died in 2005 aged 74.
BRAN VAN 3000 – Drinkin’ in LA / mixes (Capitol 811 1997)
Are they still going? This Canadian collective had a massive hit with this and then seemed to slip from the radar just as quickly, at least in this country. “Drinkin’ in LA” is a brilliant song about confusion, rootlessness and homesickness that owes a lot to Blue Lines era Massive Attack.
STICK McGHEE – Drinkin’ Wine Spo-dee-o-dee / Blues Mixture (Atlantic 873 1949)
Stick McGhee was blues legend Brownie’s little brother. The original recording of “Drinkin’ Wine…” was cut for the tiny Harlem label in 1946. Atlantic boss Ahmet Ertegun heard the track and tried to license it, but the masters could not be found. He had no idea who Stick was, so he phoned the only blues musician that he knew in New York – Brownie McGhee. It so happened that Brownie’s brother was with him, and Ertegun arranged for Stick to make a new recording of the tune for Atlantic. It went on to become one of the biggest rhythm and blues hits of the pre-rock era.
BABES IN TOYLAND – Dust Cake Boy / Spit to See the Shine (Treehouse 17 1989)
I saw Babes in Toyland live on several occasions, and it never ceased to amaze me how THAT voice came out of the slight figure of Kat Bjelland. In their prime, Babes in Toyland were one of the most exciting bands around. There was something slightly ramshackle about them, and yet they had a furious energy that few could match. Kat sounds a little peeved on “Dust Cake Boy”. Just a tad.
ELMORE JAMES – Dust My Broom / Catfish Blues (Trumpet 146 1952)
For me, Elmore was the champ of the electric blues artists. Howlin’ Wolf was wild, Hooker was dark, Muddy was boisterous; Elmore had a lazy elegance about him in both his singing and playing – unpolished and unhurried, but pure class.