The M M & M 1000 – part 61

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!


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 6

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. We’re on to the Bs now.

COLOURBOX – Baby I Love You So / Looks Like We’re Shy One Horse (4AD BAD604 1986)
The Young brothers’ two 1986 singles were both their finest and final moments. “Baby I Love You So” was a reimagining of a Jacob Miller reggae tune, where as the flip was a cut-and-paste dub mash that would have done Steinski proud.

FOUR TOPS – Baby I Need Your Lovin’ / Call On Me (Motown 1062 1964)
The Four Tops were veterans of more than a decade, and had been at Motown for a couple of years by 1964. They’d made little impact. This song was the breakthrough, and marked the start of a four year period where the group and writers Holland, Dozier and Holland could do no wrong.

ELLA FITZGERALD & LOUIS JORDAN – Baby it’s Cold Outside / Don’t Cry, Cry Baby (Decca 24664 1949)
Different to Louis Jordan’s normal brand of good time jump blues. This is a ballad. Of sorts. Ella’s had a nice time, but wants to go home. Louis is trying to think of every reason he can why she should stay. It’s funny, and has a kind of innocent sexual tension to it.

BIG JOE WILLIAMS – Baby Please Don’t Go / Wild Cow Blues (Bluebird 6200 1935)
Joe Williams was billed as the “king of the nine string guitar” – not sure there was much competition for that particular throne. Legendarily eccentric and cantankerous, he nevertheless came up up with some enduring classics. “Baby Please Don’t Go” is probably better known in its incarnation by Them – led by another cantankerous eccentric, Van Morrison.

RUTS – Babylon’s Burning / Society (Virgin VS271 1979)
The Ruts were the first punk band that were really successful in fusing reggae and rock. The Clash didn’t really crack it until London Calling. “Babylon’s Burning” is probably their most famous song, and it still, erm, burns with a fierce energy.

BJÖRK – Bachelorette / My Snare / Scary (One Little Indian 212 1997)
One of the outstanding tracks from Homogenic, an album that she’s never come close to matching as far as I’m concerned.

KING BEE – Back By Dope Demand / Feel the Flow (First Bass 6 1990)
King Bee were, I think, Dutch. Which in 1990 was a strange place for a classic hip hop track to hail from. It’s all about the bass line which comes from a Herbie Hancock tune called “Wiggle Waggle”. It’s an absolute monster.

SUPREMES – Back In My Arms Again / Whisper You Love Me Boy (Motown 1075 1965)
A sort of sequel to “Stop! In the Name of Love” in which Diana Ross’s runaround boyfriend has sheepishly returned to the fold. Not as well known as “Baby Love” (which isn’t on this list), but I prefer my Motown with a bit of grit, a bit of drama – “Baby Love” is a little too sweet for me.

O’JAYS – The Back Stabbers / Sunshine (Philadelphia International 3517 1972)
“They’re smiling in your face, all the time they want to take your place”. It’s the universal tale of duplicitous, two-faced friends that applies to love, work, politics and diplomacy in equal measures. It was the first big hit for the O’Jays in their Philly period. They remain a criminally underrated band.

CREAM – Badge / White Room (Polydor 56315 1969)
Cream’s final single was a short and sweet pop tune with an edge, and a lot preferable to wading through fifteen minute versions of “Spoonful”.

TEMPTATIONS – Ball of Confusion / It’s Summer (Gordy 7099 1970)
Whitfield and Strong at their very best. The whole thing is an urgent, psychedelic funk maelstrom that encompasses lyrics that don’t scan, but pour out like a deranged spewing of grievances. Unlike most vocal groups, the Tempts were never a lead singer and a bunch of back-up guys. Everybody gets their place in the limelight – a tradition continued by rap crews like NWA and the Wu Tang Clan.

BYRDS – Ballad of Easy Rider / Wasn’t Born to Follow (Columbia 44990 1969)
Post ’68, the Byrds went into a creative nosedive, beginning with Sweetheart of the Rodeo, one of the most overrated albums in history. This two minute gem was one of the few good things they came up with. Known as the theme tune of the eponymous film, this version wasn’t actually used in it.

MARIANNE FAITHFULL – Ballad of Lucy Jordan / Brain Drain (Island 6491 1979)
The synth backing sounds horribly dated, but Faithfull’s fag and booze soaked growl is perfect for this song about thwarted ambition and mid life crises. The sound of dreams dashed.

FREDA PAYNE – Band of Gold / The Easiest Way to Fall (Invictus 9075 1970)
This was a UK number one in 1970, and has since become a karaoke standard for wannabe divas. Still a great song, though.

More soon