The M M & M 1000 – part 53

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Wrapping up the Ss.

VELVET UNDERGROUND – Sunday Morning / Femme Fatale (Verve 1966)
A deceptively bucolic way to begin The Velvet Underground and Nico. Anyone who bought the album back in ’67 simply on the back of this calm and optimistic little number must have got the shock of their lives by the time “Black Angel Death Song” and “European Son” came around!

DWIGHT PULLEN – Sunglasses After Dark / Teen Age Bug (Carlton 1958)
Classic bad boy rock & roll from Dwight Pullen that was never a hit in its day, but was immortalised years later by the Cramps. Sadly, Pullen never lived to see that, dying of prostate cancer in 1961.

CREAM – Sunshine of Your Love / SWLABR (Reaction 1968)
One of those immortal guitar riffs. For me, Hendrix totally owned it when he played it on the Lulu Show.

GANJA KRU – Super Sharp Shooter / Revolution (Parousia 1996)
BEASTIE BOYS – Sure Shot / Mullet Head (Capitol 1994)

Ganja Kru were a collective of three renowned drum & bass producers – Hype, Zinc and Pascal. “Super Sharp Shooter” was Zinc’s baby, a kind of gangsta jungle using samples of LL Cool J and Method Man. Still rolls like a bastard. “Timing Like A Clock When I Rock The Hip Hop / Top Notch Is My Stock On The Soap Box” says Ad Rock and who could disagree? What a banging tune “Sure Shot” is, with the trio at the top of their game.

CURTIS MAYFIELD – Superfly / Underground (Curtom 1972)
Along with Isaac Hayes’s Shaft, Superfly represents the cream of the early seventies blaxploitation soundtracks. While the movie portrayed the titular drug dealer as some kind of urban hero, the morally centred Mayfield provided a contrasting soundtrack that focused on the victims, and portrayed Superfly himself as an arrogant, urban menace.

CARPENTERS – Superstar / Bless the Beasts and Children (A&M 1971)
Sonic Youth teased a hidden darkness out of this song with Thurston Moore’s sinister half-whispered vocal. But that was perhaps coloured by the tragedy of Karen Carpenter’s death. Her own version is rich and honeyed, although not without a little melodrama.

STEVIE WONDER – Superstition / You’ve Got It Bad Girl (Tamla 1972)
One of the great intros, a bubbling funky keyboard pattern that gets the body moving even before the drums come in. The brass adds even more spice to the brew, and Stevie gives a wonderfully loose vocal performance. One of the best things from the beginning of his five year creative zenith.

BEACH BOYS – Surfer Girl / Little Deuce Coupe (Capitol 1963)
BEACH BOYS – Surf’s Up / Don’t Go Near the Water (Brother 1971)

Just the way they fell, but if I were to choose two songs to bookend the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson’s journey from youth to nostalgic adulthood it would be these. “Surfer Girl” may be a ballad, but it’s a joyful paean to first love that is as much a tribute to the great doowop groups of the fifties as it is to the Californian surfing scene. While the lyrics of “Surf’s Up” may border on the incomprehensible (“Columnated ruins domino” anyone?), there’s definitely a poetry about them, and an atmosphere of dusty nostalgia with some heart-wrenching moments. “The laughs come hard in Auld Lang Syne” is a particularly perceptive line that covers the march of time and loss of youth, and brings a sad resonance to a song that is always sung in a joyful spirit. The multiple melodies and the arrangement of the piece are both near perfect. A song to wallow in.

STIFF LITTLE FINGERS – Suspect Device / Wasted Life (Rigid Digits 1978)
While the English punks whined about being bored (get a hobby) or being on the dole (no, I’m not going to say it – I’m not Norman Tebbitt), across the water in Belfast, the kids had something to be genuinely angry about – especially those who hadn’t been brainwashed into sectarian hatred by those twin bastions of liberalism the puritanical, pope-bashing protestants and the guilt as control freakery of the Vatican. “Suspect Device” explodes with anger at the petty bigotry of the province. It’s an important record in that it gave people on the mainland a real glimpse that Northern Ireland wasn’t just a swirling sea of sectarian hatred, but that there were people as pissed off with the whole situation as anybody, but whose voices were seldom heard above all the posturing and the constant stream of atrocities.

ELVIS PRESLEY – Suspicious Minds / You’ll Think of Me (RCA 1969)
From his brief late sixties renaissance when the music began to matter again. A gloriously huge-sounding soup of paranoia, jealousy, suspicion and despair sung like it’s really meant.

CHAMELEONS – Swamp Thing / John I’m Only Dancing (Geffen 1986)
The endless intro probably didn’t endear this to commercial radio, but it’s integral to the song, a cavestomp that’s nothing to do with fifties sci-fi, but everything to do with disengagement from a world that would sell you your own blood if it could.

CHIFFONS – Sweet Talkin’ Guy / Did You Ever Go Steady (Laurie 1966)
By 1966, the girl meets boy froth of the early sixties had become an anachronism. Emotions ran deeper in popular song, reflecting a change in American teen-hood from the prom and soda fountain world to garage bands, drugs and an increased political awareness. “Sweet Talkin’ Guy” is one of the last classic songs from an age of innocence that had already passed.

LUSH – Sweetness and Light / Breeze (4AD 1990)
I might be wrong, but wasn’t the term shoegazers originally coined in a review of a Lush gig? It was unfair, if true, because the band always had a breeziness and lightness of touch absent from the plodding likes of Chapterhouse. The heavy handed, muffled production of their debut album Spooky by Robin Guthrie is one of the worst cases of production vandalism I’ve heard to be filed along side Spector’s desecration of Leonard Cohen’s Death of Ladies Man. Predating this, “Sweetness and Light” is airy and dreamy, particularly in its full incarnation on the twelve inch.

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The M M & M 1000 – part 17

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. And here is the first half of the Fs.

OTIS REDDING – Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song) / Good To Me (Volt 138 1966)
MAZZY STAR – Fade Into You / Blue Flower (Capitol 794 1994)

Otis could belt them out when he was in the mood, but he was as good, if not better, at handling a slowy. “Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa” is all minor key contemplation, but actually sounds more sexy than sad. And talking of sexy, Hope Sandoval has the vocal equivalent of come-to-bed eyes. Mazzy Star melded alt-country with smoky jazz balladry to forge a languid, blue, modern day torch sound that was both exquisitely melancholy and suggestively steamy at the same time. “Fade Into You” is full of regret tinged with eroticism. It’s been ages since Hope made a record. What’s she up to?

RAINCOATS – Fairytale in the Supermarket / In Love / Adventures Close to Home (Rough Trade 13 1979)
RADIOHEAD – Fake Plastic Trees / India Rubber / How Can you Be Sure? (Parlophone 6411 1995)

The Raincoats’ name was about as dreary as you can get, which in itself was a statement. “Fairytale in the Supermarket” is a ramshackle, tone-deaf, anti-consumerist tract. And yet, despite its wonkiness, it’s as fresh and zestful as a bag of oranges. Radiohead’s defeated sounding “Fake Plastic Trees” covers similar ground, although it’s not so much about a life lived through shopping as life as an empty facade.

REM – Fall On Me / Rotary Ten (IRS 52883 1986)
REM may not just be the party guest who outstayed their welcome, but who was still there the following morning as you try to hoover up trodden in crisps and dog ends from the carpet beneath their feet. Early on, though, they were a fantastic band. “Fall on Me” might be the best song they ever did – a soaring, uplifting pop nugget of flair and feeling.

SLY & THE FAMILY STONE – Family Affair / Luv ‘n’ Haight (Epic 10805 1971)
It was a long way from the life-affirming bounce of “Dance to the Music” to this. “Family Affair” is a muffled, drug-hazed litany of dysfunction. Am I the only one who thinks that There’s A Riot Goin’ On is seriously overrated? It’s jumbled, messy and sounds like shit. Sure, there are some exceptional songs on it – this being one of them – but there’s a lot of tossed off crap too.

JIMMY RUFFIN – Farewell is a Lonely Sound / If You Will Let Me, I Know I Can (Soul 35060 1969)
It mines the same field of heartbreak as Jimmy Ruffin’s most famous song, but “Farewell is a Lonely Sound” is musically more high-spirited. It’s a typical example of just how good the Motown factory was at constructing pop records. It’s not a major work by any means, but it still has that ability to get inside your head and brighten your day.

PREFAB SPROUT – Faron Young / Silhouettes (Kitchenware 22 1985)
Many years ago I was kipping on a friend’s sofa after a night on the town, when in the early hours a neighbour decided to crank up Prefab Sprout’s Steve McQueen. The irony of being woken up at something like 4am by Paddy MacAloon singing “You give me Faron Young four in the morning” wasn’t one I appreciated at the time. It’s a great, rollicking song, though – almost punk by their standards.

TRACY CHAPMAN – Fast Car / For You (Elektra 69412 1988)
It’s a song whose impact has been dulled by familiarity, but “Fast Car” was a welcome relief on pop radio in an era of excess and consumerist cheese (this was the ‘golden age’ of SAW, remember). It was a brief glimpse behind the scenes of the illusory economic miracle of Reaganomics and Thatcherism. I’ve never been a huge fan of singer-songwriter confessionals, but there is real pain and anger in this song.

PEGGY LEE – Fever / You Don’t Know (Capitol 3998 1958)
Little Willie John’s rhythm and blues standard gained a new identity when Peggy Lee covered it. She sounds like one of those bad-news femmes fatale from the golden age of film noir – dangerous, but irresistable.

TRIFFIDS – Field of Glass / Bright Lights Big City / Monkey on My Back (Hot 7 1985)
The Triffids never lost that indefinable thing that made them great, even when they were making glossy, over-produced records for Island and soundtracking weddings in Oz soap Neighbours (Des and Jane’s wasn’t it? I should get out more). But their earlier records had a rawness about them that echoed the searing heat of the outback. “Field of Glass” is an eight minute long, hectic sprawl of a record that has a visceral thrill more reminiscent of the Birthday Party than their later material.

FALL – Fiery Jack / Second Dark Age / Psykick Dancehall (Step Forward 13 1980)
BEASTIE BOYS – Fight For Your Right to Party / Paul Revere (Def Jam 6595 1986)

It’s fascinating how MES has changed from snotty, spunky young man to curmudgeonly old goat over the years, the same time going from defiant outsider to national treasure. “Fiery Jack” is spit and bile with a thundering cod-rockabilly backing. They just don’t make ’em like this any more, mores the pity. The Beasties, too, have evolved from braying superbrats into noble elder statesmen. “Fight For Your Right to Party” can still bring out the immature little tosser buried deep down in all of us. But that’s OK – it’s fun. No one gets hurt.

YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS – Final Day / Radio Silents / Cakewalking (Rough Trade 43 1980)
A high pitched tone, a fidgety bass, and Alison Statton’s dispassionate everywoman vocal merely emphasise the horror of “Final Day” and its tale of imminent nuclear annihilation. It’s brief, almost mundane, and yet lingers on like the blasted radiation shadows of Hiroshima victims on ruined buildings.

PERE UBU – Final Solution / Cloud 149 (Hearthan 102 1976)
Pere Ubu somehow managed to be post-punk before punk had actually happened. All four of their singles recorded for the Hearthan label between 1975 and 1977 are masterpieces. “Final Solution” has little of the quirky squonk of later records, but is more an outpouring of bilious rage.

LITTLE STEVIE WONDER – Fingertips Part 2 / Part 1 (Tamla 54080 1963)
This has to be one of the oddest US number ones ever. “Fingertips” was recorded live and split over two sides of a 45, but it was the second half that became the hit. There’s actually very little of the song there. Instead, there’s a call-and-response section, a harmonica solo, a big ending that turns out to be a false one as twelve year old Stevie impishly decides to carry on (you can famously hear one of the musicians frantically asking “what key, what key?”), and it ends in a clumsy fade. But the sheer exuberance is what makes it special. It has incredible energy and that’s partly why it’s so infectious.

EAST RIVER PIPE – Firing Room / Hey Where’s Your Girl (Hell Gate 9301 1993)
There’s something exquisitely downtrodden about Fred Cornog. The guitars shimmer, and the drum machine clips along, but the songs always seem sad and lost. The “Firing Room” is a place that will be all too familiar to many, many people this year. Maybe they should reissue it.

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