Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Just 8 parts to go after this one – seven eighths through, fraction fans.
DISTRACTIONS – Time Goes By So Slow / Pillow Fight (Factory 1979)
After this, their only single for Factory, the band signed for a major – Island – and after one LP disbanded. A common story at the time. Time Goes By So Slow is high quality jangly indie pop that came out at a time when most indie releases were industrial gloom, proto-electronica or spiky and angular. This is simply a great pop song.
CHAMBERS BROTHERS – Time Has Come Today / Dinah (Columbia 1968)
The Chambers Brothers were one of the very first exponents of psychedelic soul and also one of the first multi-racial soul acts. They were eclipsed on both counts by Sly & the Family Stone, but deserve to be better known – especially for this, their classic signature tune.
BOOKER T & THE MGs – Time Is Tight / Johnny I Love You (Stax 1969)
Readers of a certain age will recognise this as the tune that heralded the chart run down on Radio One on Sunday evenings back in the seventies. Whatever happened to DJ Tom Brown? Like all the best MGs tunes, Time Is Tight hangs a stellar organ melody over a skin-tight funky rhythm.
BLUE NILE – Tinseltown In the Rain / Heatwave (Linn 1984)
The Blue Nile’s love song to Glasgow is still as heart wrenching a quarter of a decade on. Paul Buchanan’s voice might not have the depth of timbre that Sinatra’s has, but he is the best purveyor of that certain kind of inner turmoil and melancholy since the great man recorded his classic weepie concept albums for Capitol in the fifties.
KINKS – Tired of Waiting For You / Come On Now (Pye 1965)
After inventing heavy metal with their previous couple of releases, you could argue a case that the Kinks invented folk-rock with this one, although Dylan, the Byrds and particular the Searchers (Needles and Pins) would have as great a claim.
YO LA TENGO – Tom Courtney / The Biosexual Boogie (Matador 1995)
THE FAMILY CAT – Tom Verlaine / Gabriel’s Wings (Bad Girl 1989)
Two tributes to Toms by bands gazing wistfully across the Atlantic for inspiration. Yo La Tengo look to Swinging London and the world of the fashionable and famous artists who came to symbolise it such as Julie Christie. The Family Cat look to New York a decade later, and in particular to Television. Both pay musical tribute to their influences without slavishly trying to ape the sound of either sixties British pop or NYC art-punk.
LONNIE JOHNSON – Tomorrow Night / What a Woman (King 1948)
Of all the country blues artists who emerged during the recording boom of the mid twenties, Lonnie Johnson was totally unique. He could play the blues, he could play jazz (and did so with both Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington) and he also made some scintillating instrumental guitar discs, both solo and with Eddie Lang (who was billed as Blind Willie Dunn in order to placate a country that was totally adverse to racial mixing, even on records). Twenty years on and approaching his fifties, he recorded this beautiful piano ballad for King records that showed that he had a voice to match his guitar abilities. It was a hit too, selling a purported three million copies.
MARVIN GAYE – Too Busy Thinking About My Baby / Wherever I Lay My Hat (Tamla 1969)
Not a bad couple of songs to pair up. The B side is probably better known as an eighties Paul Young ballad. If you know that, but not the original, you might be surprised at the snappy tempo. But it’s much more in tune with the song’s sentiments of a restless, commitment-phobic wanderer.
FALL – Totally Wired / Putta Block (Rough Trade 1980)
Drug songs are probably not the first thing that spring to mind when thinking about the Fall, but they did a number in their early days (see also Rowche Rumble and No Xmas for John Quays). While the others rail at the sellers, manufacturers and users of downers, this is almost a celebration of uppers – twitchy and hyped up.
LORI & THE CHAMELEONS – Touch / Love on the Ganges (Zoo 1979)
They only made a couple of 45s, but the trio of Bill Drummond, David Balfe and Lori Lartey developed a theme of writing mini stories set in exotic locations (in this case Japan and India) with Lori playing the ingénue caught up in political intrigue or love affairs with mysterious and exciting strangers.
BETH ORTON – Touch Me With Your Love / Pedestal / Galaxy of Emptiness (Heavenly 1997)
For a while she was the singer of choice for dance acts wanting a touch of English folkiness as opposed to urban divas. Hence her work with William Orbit, the Chemical Brothers and Red Snapper. Her own career began by mixing dance influences with more straightforward singer-songwriter stuff. Touch Me With Your Love is a ballad that works as well in the chill-out room as it does as a beautiful folk-tinged song of reminiscence. For me, it’s one of very few songs whose video actually enhances it – a deliciously simple and evocative monochrome film of Beth’s journey from a cafe to home via bus and tube on a wet and atmospheric late night in London.
MUDHONEY – Touch Me I’m Sick / Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More (Sub Pop 1988)
Grunge as nature intended, before it became a byword for long haired types in plaid shirts incessantly moaning about their lot in life.
NEW ORDER – Touched by the Hand of God / Touched by the Hand of Dub (Factory 1988)
New Order’s parody of the pompous bluster of U2 or latter-day Simple Minds doesn’t really succeed musically as it sounds more like the Pet Shop Boys. Not that it matters, ’cause it’s a top tune. Its satirical nature is more evident in the video which sees the band dressed in leather adopting all sorts of clichéd rock poses.
KRAFTWERK – Tour de France / mixes (EMI 1983)
Now I don’t know if there’s an entry in the Guinness Book of Records for the most remixed and remodelled song, but this must be up there. There were the 1983 mixes and remixes, more appearing over the next 20 years and then the various single versions in 2003, not to mention four different takes on Tour de France Soundtracks. Even for a band renowned for retooling and modernising their back catalogue, it’s a bit obsessive.