Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. When, Where, Who & Why?
ROY HARPER – When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease / Hallucinating Light (Harvest 1975)
One of the drawbacks of living in Scotland is the natives’ inability to grasp the joys of cricket. Mind you, considering the average Scottish summer, it’s no wonder it never really caught on here. For fans, though, there is something terribly poignant about the end of the season. Unlike football, where there’s a summer to look forward to, with perhaps a World Cup to add a bit of spice to it, the end of the cricket season is the portent for months of cold, gloom and darkness. There’s a poignancy about it – the last glimpses of old pros as they shuffle off into retirement, and in the rooms full of ancient members, the knowledge that some won’t be back in the spring. This mixture of nostalgia, the passing of time and the bleak reminder of mortality is captured nowhere better than on this doleful classic by Roy Harper, with the brass band sounding much like a funeral anthem for an old England.
PREFAB SPROUT – When Love Breaks Down / Diana (Kitchenware 1984)
If it’s not a hit, keep on re-releasing it until the cloth-eared public succumb. That seemed to be Kitchenware’s philosophy with this single, and the public did indeed succumb. Most of Prefab Sprout’s tunes are cloaked with that horrible glossy eighties production, but the songs shine through. And if the sound seems dated to contemporary ears, it does reinforce the sense of nostalgia that McAloon’s good at anyway.
SAM & DAVE – When Something Is Wrong With My Baby / Small Portion of Your Love (Stax 1967)
The antithesis of the plasticity of eighties production is the rough and ready sound of Stax, where the frayed edges just add to the authenticity of the performances. The records always sound like first takes – even that they just spontaneously happened as they went along. It’s the difference between the hand crafted and machine made. Sam Moore and Dave Prater are at the top of their game on this fierce ballad. Even the slow weepies at Stax had an electric energy about them.
THREE DEGREES – When Will I See You Again? / Year of Decision (Philadelphia International 1974)
Both of these songs were hits in their own right in Britain where the Three Degrees were far more popular than they were at home. Perhaps they were just a bit too pop for black radio, I’ve no idea. The Philly sound was the dominant commercial force in soul in the UK in the pre-disco days in a way that it never was in the States. And this is a fine example of its glorious sweet sound.
POP GROUP – Where There’s a Will There’s a Way / SLITS – In the Beginning There Was Rhythm (Y / Rough Trade 1979)
Where There’s a Will sees the mighty Pop Group at both their most anarchic and their most funky. The single was a double A side with the Slits whose offering is a dubby, rhythmic clatter in seacrh of a tune. Which, I guess, was the point.
SPIZZENERGI – Where’s Captain Kirk / Amnesia (Rough Trade 1979)
OK, it’s dumb but it’s fun.
THIN LIZZY – Whiskey In the Jar / Black Boys In the Corner (Decca 1972)
It’s odd to consider that for a few years Thin Lizzy looked destined to be one hit wonders. It was only with the 1976 Jailbreak record that they really established themselves. Whiskey In the Jar is folk-rock with the accent on rock, even though the song is a classic “trad: arr.”. Eric Bell’s brilliant guitar riff must be one of the best-loved and most recognisable in rock.
GRANDMASTER & MELLE MEL – White Lines (Don’t Do It) / mixes (Sugar Hill 1983)
Everybody calls it a Grandmaster Flash record, but he wasn’t actually on it. But it’s an understandable confusion since records featuring any, some or all of the Furious Five, Melvin Glover and Joseph Saddler were released under a bewildering variety of name variations. Many found the record a bit preachy, even though the sentiment was difficult to argue with. The thing that makes the tune, though, is the bass riff. And that was sampled from The Cavern by punk-funkers Liquid Liquid.
CLASH – White Man In Hammersmith Palais / The Prisoner (CBS 1978)
One of the first records I ever bought, and one of the most played. And probably still my favourite Clash 45. The Prisoner was good enough to be a classic A side in its own right.
MO-DETTES – White Mice / Masochistic Opposite (Mode 1980)
It was re-recorded in 1981 for a major and given a bit of a polish, but the Mo-Dettes’ original recording of White Mice is a much better indication of where the group was coming from – a kind of pop-friendly Raincoats. (note to self: whatever happened to them after they split in ’81?)
JEFFERSON AIRPLANE – White Rabbit / Plastic Fantastic Lover (RCA 1967)
Two and a half minutes long and the perfect acid song. Makes you wonder why no one questioned what Lewis Caroll was taking at the time! Brilliant lyrical imagery and a structure that takes you from the first tweaks of unreality to the full head trip in an unwavering crescendo.
CREAM – White Room / Those Were the Days (Polydor 1969)
I like Cream when they do the concise, moody songs. The endless blues jams bore the pants off me. Yes, you’re good musicians – we get it, no need to drone on for fifteen bloody minutes. White Room is heavy as fuck, but with a pop touch that keeps it in check.
BO DIDDLEY – Who Do You Love? / I’m Bad (Checker 1956)
To contradict the above comments on Cream entirely, I have to admit that I love Quicksilver Messenger Service’s twenty-odd minute take on Bo Diddley’s song. But, of course, Bo’s is best. Mean and lean.
TIMMY THOMAS – Why Can’t We Live Together / Funky Me (Glades 1972)
For years, I was under the impression that Timmy Thomas was Jamaican. He isn’t. But there’s definitely a reggae vibe to this song. The rhythm is unusual, a kind of salsa setting straight off a Bontempi organ. But it works perfectly alongside the slightly shrill organ licks and Thomas’s soulful vocal. I have to confess I’ve never heard anything else by him, something I really need to address.
TEENAGERS – Why Do Fools Fall In Love? / Please Be Mine (Gee 1956)
The original issue was credited to the Teenagers featuring Frankie Lymon rather than Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers. A pedantic point. Terrific song, of course, and what a performance by 13 year old Lymon. His life went into a downward spiral thereafter. He left the group for a solo career that never worked out, was in rehab at 19 and dead of a heroin overdose at 25, already a washed-up has-been.
MOBY – Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? / mixes (Mute 1999)
Play is a really good album. But by 2000, all the tracks seemed to be everywhere – in adverts, in movies, as incidental music in TV documentaries, in shops. People just got sick of it. I got my copy a couple of months before it came out in Vinyl Exchange in Manchester. Animal Rights had flopped, and even a couple of months before Play was officially out, the shop was struggling to give them away. Think I got it for £2.99 or something. I loved it though, as all 18 tracks were completely new to me. Doubt I’ve played it for ten years now. This song still gets played quite a lot on the radio, and it still sounds good. And I’ve always loved the cartoon video with the Little Idiot and his goofy dog.
Three to go!