The M M & M 1000 – part 54

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.

More soon

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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.

More soon

The M M & M 1000 – part 26

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Yet more I’s.

RED SNAPPER – Image of You / mixes (Warp 111 1998)
Red Snapper have always been red hot live. For me the instrumental stuff has always worked better in a gig setting than the tracks with guest vocalists. One of the group’s most powerful pieces, though, is “Image of You” from the Making Bones album. It’s uncharacteristic of the band but nevertheless a brilliant song. Alison David’s vocals are pleading and soulful, and the use of a string trio to augment the rhythm section give it a dark melancholy.

BIG COUNTRY – In a Big Country / All of Us (Mercury COUNT3 1983)
The Celtic rock thing has become deeply unfashionable, inevitably associated with tartan, plaid and boozy males belching out the choruses at the top of their voices. Maybe it sparks a buried psychological fear of the northern hoards among Anglo-Saxons. Who knows? Granted Big Country were a bit of a one trick pony, but that trick was never more ably performed than on this rousing song.

RUTS – In a Rut / H-Eyes (People Unite 795 1979)
“In a Rut” was one of the greatest singles to come out of punk. Its blend of ferocious rock and dub was blisteringly direct, with the tension racked up by the middle section (that always reminded me somehow of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”). Flipside “H-Eyes” was sadly prescient. Malcolm Owen would be dead of a heroin overdose within two years.

DOBIE GRAY – The In Crowd / Be a Man (Charger 105 1964)
This was pretty much the National Anthem of the Northern Soul scene. It had the tempo and the swing, but just as importantly, the lyrics could have been written about the kids who crammed the all-nighters nearly a decade later.

ROY ORBISON – In Dreams / Shadarosa (Monument 806 1963)
While the man himself has become something of an icon, with the image of the black clothes, dark glasses and trembling tenor that always seemed on the edge of heartbreak an integral part of the culture, his songwriting genius sometimes gets forgotten. “In Dreams” breaks all the rules as far as pop singles go. There’s no chorus, for a start. There are parts that sound like a chorus, but they’re never repeated. In fact no part of the melody is ever repeated. The song builds from a near-spoken intro to something operatic without ever reprising any previous section. Sure, lots of music does that, but to do it in such a way that it’s still catchy as the best pop should be is a remarkable feat.

CHAMELEONS – In Shreds / Nostalgia (Epic 2210 1982)
A ludicrously underrated band. Something that, alas, has always been so. Even though they’ve had a huge influence on bands from Kitchens of Distinction right through to Interpol and the Editors. Indeed, the latter are such carbon copyists, it’s particularly galling that they’re forever accused of ripping off Joy Division. Wrong band, you numpties. “In Shreds” was where it all began, the only product of a brief fling with Epic Records. It’s one of the band’s harshest and angriest missives. B side “Nostalgia” is more typical of their later material.

ELVIS PRESLEY – In the Ghetto / Any Day Now (RCA 9741 1969)
After spending most of the sixties becoming more and more of a joke figure, with ever more embarrassing movies seeming to be his main field of endeavour, Elvis came back with a bang in December 1968 with the legendary NBC TV special. It wasn’t much more than a fleeting Indian summer, but he made a couple of great records during 1969. One of these was “In the Ghetto”, a mournful Gospel influenced piece about the interlinked cycle of poverty and crime. It’s more melodrama than protest song, to be honest, but it’s still a mighty fine record. Nick Cave’s version is pretty good, too – typically wrecked and grim, but with the heart of the song intact.

WILSON PICKETT – In the Midnight Hour / I’m Not Tired (Atlantic 2289 1965)
Karaoke favourite, theme of political talk shows – in fact it’s become such a cliché on TV and radio to wheel this on when anything happens or starts at midnight. Over-familiarity, then, has dulled the song somewhat, but Pickett’s vocal strut and the Memphis horns still maintain their raw appeal.

TOM WAITS – In the Neighbourhood / Frank’s Wild Years (Island 141 1983)
This song marked the clear line in the sand between Tom Waits mark one, the bawdy barfly balladeer, and Tom Waits mark two, the junkyard eccentric with his menagerie of misfits. “In the Neighbourhood” , with its Salvation Army style trombones, is a slow march that celebrates the oddballs that populate the vicinity in a way that’s weirdly moving.

FIVE SATINS – In the Still of the Night / The Jones Girl (Ember 1005 1956)
The Five Satins hailed from New Haven, CT – not a town really known for its rhythm and blues legacy. In many ways they were old fashioned and out of step with the times, their balladry more in tune with older acts like the Orioles and even the Ink Spots rather than the more beat-oriented doowop groups that were springing up in the mid fifties. “In the Still of the Night” is their best known song, a charming slow ballad.

MARVIN GAYE – Inner City Blues / Wholy Holy (Tamla 54209 1971)
GOLDIE PRESENTS METALHEADZ – Inner City Life / Jah (Ffrr 251 1994)

One of the centrepieces of What’s Going On, “Inner City Blues” is more infused with despair than rage. Like the title track, Marvin seems bewildered by the inequalities and social breakdown he sees around him. “Crime is increasing / Trigger happy policing / Panic is spreading / God know where we’re heading” when he says it “makes me wanna holler / And throw up both my hands” it’s more in frustration and resignation that there seems no way to change things. Fast forward nearly a quarter of a century, and the plight of the inner city seems little changed. For singer Diane Charlemagne, the place of refuge is in her lover’s arms. “Inner City Life” was the record, more than any other, that took drum and bass away from the dancefloor and into the mainstream, proving that the music had more to it than just high tempo breakbeats and dark bass, but could be the soul music of the 21st century. It didn’t quite happen, but the record remains a monumental achievement.

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The M M & M 1000 – part 2

Twenty more of the Music Musings and Miscellany 1000.

CHAMELEONS – A Person Isn’t Safe Anywhere These Days / Thursday’s Child (Statik 6 1983)
The influence of the Chameleons is all over the place these days, from Interpol and Glasvegas to shameless carbon-copyists Editors. They seldom get due credit. “A Person Isn’t Safe…” is one of the stand-out tracks on A Script of the Bridge, an album frankly full of them. It’s an edgy and paranoid tale of urban threat with thumping riffs.

PREFAB SPROUT – A Prisoner of the Past / Where the Heart Is (Kitchenware 70 1997)
Few would make a claim that Andromeda Heights is one of Prefab Sprout’s best records, but this single taken from it juxtaposes sweeping, lush strings with a fairly creepy lyric about obsession. A long way from jumping frogs.

DISCO INFERNO – A Rock to Cling To / From the Devil to the Deep Blue Sky (Rough Trade R2983 1993)
Disco Inferno were a group out of time. When everything was baggy and Britpop, they were making dense, sample-heavy records that were way ahead of their contemporaries. They had a small, dedicated coterie of fans, but jacked it in when their (uninsured) van and equipment were stolen.

MAGAZINE – A Song from Under the Floorboards / 20 Years Ago (Virgin 321 1980)
Lyrically inspired by Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground, “A Song from Under the Floorboards” was typical of a time when intelligence in pop songs wasn’t derided as pretentious. Great McGeoch guitar riff, too.

CHARLEY PATTON – A Spoonful Blues / Shake It and Break It, But Don’t Let it Fall (Paramount 12869 1929)
Charley Patton’s untutored howl, combined with the primitive recording techniques of the time (and Paramount’s notoriously poor quality pressings) make his records seem almost primeval, even compared to contemporaries like Lonnie Johnson and Willie McTell. “A Spoonful Blues” is probably his best known song due to the cover recorded by Cream forty years later. A copy, battered and scratched, recently sold on eBay for $1400!

MISSION OF BURMA – Academy Fight Song / Max Ernst (Ace of Hearts 104 1980)
It could be argued that Mission of Burma were the grandfathers of US alt-rock. Combining US punk and British post-punk, their records had an amazing energy. “Academy Fight Song” was their first, and probably best, single.

PHUTURE – Acid Trax / Phuture Jacks / Your Only Friend (Trax 142 1987)
HARDFLOOR – Acperience / mixes (Eye Q 18 1991)

Two very long singles, but both incredibly influential. “Acid Trax” pioneered the use of a 303 sampler to give that sharp, flangeing sound that came to define acid house. As a track, it’s as basic as they come, stretching one idea over eleven minutes. But that’s part of its appeal. As dance music mutated into endless genres and sub genres, the nine minute “Acperience” brought it right back to that acid sound, but with brutally hard techno beats.

BOBBY WOMACK – Across 110th Street / Hang On In There (United Artists 196 1973)
Blaxploitation movie theme tunes don’t come any better than this. The film wasn’t much cop.

ALTERNATIVE TV – Action Time Vision / Another Coke (Deptford Fun City 7 1978)
From the man who brought you “Sniffin’ Glue”, a fab three minutes of sloppy, angular punk-pop.

GRANDMASTER FLASH – Adventures on the Wheels of Steel / The Birthday Party (Sugar Hill 557 1981)
Recorded live in one take, “Wheels of Steel” sounded nothing like anything I’d heard before. It seemed impossible to figure out how he’d done it – incorporating bits of familiar records from Queen and Chic, and yet making it sound like they belonged together. This and Steinski’s three lessons are the Old Testament of turntablism.

AGE OF LOVE – Age of Love / mixes (React 100 1992)
Bruno Sanchioni & Giuseppe Chierchia’s “Age of Love” had actually first appeared two years earlier, but it was the definitive Jam and Spoon mix from 1992 that more or less laid down the blueprint for Trance which was to become all too ubiquitous in the years to come. Seldom a year goes by without new mixes of the track being dumped on to a credulous market without holding a candle to Jam and Spoon’s.

DIANA ROSS – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough / Can’t It Wait Until Tomorrow (Motown 1169 1970)
Diana Ross’ solo career was hardly living up to expectations when this came out. It’s more than just a remake of the Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell hit – more a widescreen cinerama Cecil B DeMille production. Frankly, it’s ludicrous, but the melodrama and kitchen-sink production job are terribly seductive. In some ways it works precisely because it is so ostentatious.

LOUIS JORDAN & HIS TYMPANI FIVE – Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens / Let the Good Times Roll (Decca 23471 1946)
Farmer’s hassling his poultry, and the poultry are getting pissed off with his interruptions. I’ve never seen this record fail to bring a smile to anyone I’ve played it to. Brassy, bouncy and cheerful – I first heard it at a club in the eighties. Sandwiched between stuff like New Order and Heaven 17, the floor was shaking that night.

TEMPTATIONS – Ain’t Too Proud To Beg / You’ll Lose a Precious Love (Gordy 7054 1966)
With David Ruffin’s most soulful vocal, and possibly the sharpest backbeat on any Motown record, never has the desperate plea to a wayward lover sounded so uplifting.

KLEENEX – Ain’t You / Hedi’s Head (Rough Trade 9 1978)
More than just the Swiss Slits, Kleenex made ramshackle, strident records that had hooks as sharp as the best pop. They don’t make ’em like this any more – more’s the pity.

WAY OUT WEST – Ajare / Montana (Deconstruction 24380 1994)
Jody Wisternoff and Nick Warren’s Way Out West project has never been afforded the same kind of respect given to contemporaries like Orbital and Underworld. Which, to my mind, is a real pity. “Ajare” is a fantastic slice of urgent, crunching progressive house.

PRINCE BUSTER – Al Capone / One Step Beyond (Blue Beat 324 1965)
The record that, more than any other, was responsible for the Two Tone movement a decade and a half later. Two indisputable ska classics on one 45.

REPLACEMENTS – Alex Chilton / Election Day (Sire 8297 1987)
Paul Westerberg’s paean to his hero combined the big pop choruses of Big Star with the scrappy garage rock of his own band. Impossible to listen to without bouncing around with a big shit-eating grin on your face.

BESSIE SMITH – Alexander’s Ragtime Band / There’ll Be a Hot Time In Old Town Tonight (Columbia 14219 1927)
This was already a well-recorded standard by the time Bessie Smith laid her version down in 1927. But she made it her own with that big, bold, booming voice of hers.

More soon.