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 34

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Another Load of Ms.

GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS – Midnight Train to Georgia / Window Raising Granny (Buddah 383 1973)
I’d rather live in his world than without him in mine“. This is a song about a culture clash. She’s a sophisticated northern city bred girl. He’s from the rural south. Finding it impossible to adjust to the different pace of life, he yearns to return to his roots, and she has to decide whether she’s more attached to hers or to him. I remember seeing a skit on the Richard Pryor TV show some years back where he was convinced that they could save money having the Pips perform without Gladys. It was very funny seeing them do the backing vocals and dance routines without her lead, but it also highlighted how brilliantly tight they were both in terms of their singing and choreography.

HELEN HUMES – Million Dollar Secret / I’m Gonna Let Him Ride (Modern 779 1950)
Helen Humes was typical of the sassy female R&B singers of the forties and fifties who oozed sexuality, but in a funny, take-no-bullshit way. “Million Dollar Secret” was recorded live, and you can hear the audience cheering her on as she imparts her tale of shameless gold-digging. “Now I’ve got a man who’s seventy-eight / And I’m just thirty-three / Everybody thinks I’m crazy / But his will’s made out to me!”.

DELTA FIVE – Mind Your Own Business / Now That You’re Gone (Rough Trade 31 1979)
Part Gang of Four, part Raincoats, the Delta Five were typical of the wave of post-punk gobby feminist groups that seemed to cluster around Rough Trade. Both the singing and the production were flat and glamourless, but they had a rough-edged funk to them that talked to the feet. And if the choruses had a bit of the protest march sloganeering about them, they stuck in the head. It’s kind of depressing that thirty years on, women in pop are back to being manufactured teen puppets. Even self-proclaimed feminists like the Gossip are more image and packaging than content.

CAB CALLOWAY & HIS ORCHESTRA – Minnie the Moocher / Doin’ the Rhumba (Brunswick 6074 1931)
I’m sure virtually everybody knows this classic from the dawn of the Swing era, largely due to the “hi-de-hi” nonsense chorus. It almost sounds like it’s played for laughs, but away from that chorus it tells a sad tale of a girl who dreams of a fantasy life of untold riches, but who’s stuck with a no-good cokehead who “showed her how to kick the gong around“, or in other words, got her into opium smoking.

DICK DALE – Misirlou / Eight Till Midnight (Del-Tone 5019 1962)
This is a song with a long history that has crossed continents, styles and cultures since it was first penned in Greece as a rebetiko tune back in 1927 by a Greek exile from Turkey called Michalis Patrinos. It became a standard in both Greek and Arab cultures in the years before World War Two. In 1941, a Greek-American called Nick Roubanis did a commercial jazz version, and noticing that the tune had never been published in the US, credited himself as composer. It was soon given English lyrics which bore no relation whatsoever to the originals. Dick Dale, being of Lebanese-American stock, knew the tune in the form that had evolved in the Arab world. He picked out the basic melody on guitar, increased it to warp-speed, and a legendary surf tune was born. Thanks to Tarantino, it’s by far the best-known version in the west today, and a staple in any surf-garage band’s repertoire.

EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL – Missing / mixes (Blanco Y Negro NEG84T 1995)
Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn were contemporaries of mine at Hull University. But I was never much of a fan of their music, although I really liked the Marine Girls and a few other early tracks like “Plain Sailing” and their cover of “Night and Day”. Massive Attack brought Tracey on board for the Protection album, and she absolutely shone in that setting. The duo obviously thought so too, as they made a complete change in their sound for “Missing” in 1994. The Todd Terry remix that came out the following year is the one that everyone knows. It plays to the strengths of her voice, by giving the tune a late night, chilled tempo dripping with melancholy, and yet with enough oomph for the dancefloor.

DEL THA FUNKEE HOMOSAPIEN – Mistadobalina / Burnt (Elektra 142 1991)
It’s just one of those records that you hear once and can’t forget. As everyone probably knows, Del is Ice Cube’s cousin, and cuz produces here. It’s good time vibe really couldn’t be further away from NWA, and it still sounds fresh.

FRANÇOISE HARDY – Mon Amie la Rose / Je n’Attends plus Personne (Vogue 1252 1964)
Funny, I’ve just checked the history of this song and discovered that this was the original version. I’d always thought that it was already a standard when Françoise Hardy recorded it. It sounds timeless, with a sad and vulnerable but sultry feel that somehow only seems genuine when sung in French. Hardy’s voice is an aural aphrodisiac, as far as I’m concerned. Natacha Atlas’s version is brilliant too.

BO DIDDLEY – Mona / Hey Bo Diddley (Checker 860 1957)
For me, this is the song that encapsulates everything that was great about Bo Diddley. The riff and the groove never sounded better than on “Mona”.

CLYDE McPHATTER & THE DRIFTERS – Money Honey / The Way I Feel (Atlantic 1006 1953)
“Money Honey” is just one of a long tradition of songs that place the green folding stuff above love, life and happiness. Especially when you’ve got none. The 1953 original model Drifters shared no members with the 1958 Ben E King version, let alone the groups that continue to this day. But they’ve become an institution, and will probably still be around long after I’m worm food.

VALENTINE BROTHERS – Money’s Too Tight To Mention / instrumental (Bridge 1982 1982)
Forget Simply Red’s version if you can. John and William Valentine were one-hit wonders who didn’t even have a proper hit, if that makes sense. But this song (written by the pair) was an absolute belter. It sounded out of time in 1982 when soul music had split into post-disco electro stuff, and glossy bedroom crooners. This was a record that harked back to classic pre-disco seventies soul, but with elements of smooth jazz to it too. The only thing that pins it down to the early eighties is the mention of Reaganomics. They did an album called First Take which I’ve never seen, let alone heard.

PIXIES – Monkey Gone to Heaven / Manta Ray (4AD 904 1989)
I haven’t the foggiest idea what it’s about. It’s probably still a staple of indie discos – not that I go to indie discos. I think the bands of that era – Pixies, Throwing Muses, Sonic Youth, Hüsker Dü, Dinosaur Jr etc were the last generation of rock bands that took the simple guitar / bass / drums format and made something both original and exciting. All of the interesting bands since have fused rock with other stuff. OK, a massive generalisation, but I can’t think of anyone in the last 20 years who has taken the basic form further forward.

DAVE BARTHOLOMEW – The Monkey / Shufflin’ Time (Imperial 5438 1957)
New Orleans legend Dave Bartholomew provided an interesting twist to the theory of evolution with this witty little song. Two monkeys debate Darwin’s theory, but come to the conclusion that it’s flawed because they can’t believe that their ancestors evolved into something as crass and stupid as human beings.

COLOURBOX – The Moon is Blue / You Keep Me Hanging On (4AD 507 1985)
It must be one of the strangest disappearing acts ever. Colourbox blazed a trail that took elements of pop history and mixed them with contemporary electropop and ahead of their time sampling. The Young brothers then went on to have a massive worldwide hit as part of M/A/R/R/S and then promptly vanished. “The Moon is Blue” is a 1980s take on doowop, with Lorita Grahame’s powerful voice swinging through a ballad that sounds like it comes from a parallel universe’s version of a fifties Harlem street corner.

BOSTON – More Than a Feeling / Smokin’ (Epic 50266 1976)
Guilty pleasure time. Airbrushed harmonies and produced to within an inch of its life, there’s something extraordinarily uplifting about this track. It’s got guitar solos that it’s impossible to resist getting out the air guitar for. And of course, it’s got that bassline – the one that Kurt Cobain nicked wholesale for a certain tune that proved quite popular fifteen years later.

TIM BUCKLEY – Morning Glory / Once I Was (Elektra 45623 1967)
I know you’re supposed to prefer the more freeform, jazz-influenced albums that came later, but Goodbye and Hello is the Tim Buckley album I always return to. Its combination of psychedelic folk, baroque pop and grandiose suites seldom put a foot wrong. “Morning Glory” is an unassuming little ballad of exquisite beauty and one of the record’s many highlights.

SLOWDIVE – Morningrise / She Calls / Losing Today (Creation 98 1991)
Has there ever been a band so derided by the mainstream rock press and yet so influential? I was an early convert. Their albums (bar the swansong Pygmalion) always seemed a bit uneven, but the EPs showed them at their best. “Morningrise” has a couple of moments when the guitars go to places that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It’s impossible to describe how some music has a genuinely physical effect like that. One has to admire Neil Halstead for following his muse and plugging away at his countryish singer-songwriter stuff to a disinterested world when a reformed Slowdive could probably rake it in. They’d miss Rachel Goswell, though. I think she suffers from some ear condition that would make it impossible for her to return to playing stuff at Slowdive’s volume.

GUIDED BY VOICES – Motor Away / Color of My Blade (Matador 148 1995)
Guided By Voices at their most polished, most basic and least wayward. Simply an exciting and uplifting piece of punk-pop.

HANK WILLIAMS – Move It On Over / I Heard You Cryin’ In Your Sleep (MGM 1003 1947)
Hank’s in his missus’ bad books and has to share the kennel with the dog for the night. A witty piece of whimsy that is a rock ‘n’ roll tune in all but name.

CURTIS MAYFIELD – Move On Up / Give It Up (Buddah 2011080 1971)
For some odd reason, his American record company didn’t see this as a single. In Britain they knew better. If you want positive, life-affirming, spiritual soul music that makes you want to bounce around in unfettered joy, there can’t be many tunes better than this. Possibly the most irresistable horn riff in pop, too.

More soon.

The M M & M 1000 – part 25

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.

YVONNE ELLIMAN – If I Can’t Have You / Good Sign (RSO 884 1978)
The Bee Gees jumped on the disco bandwagon with Saturday Night Fever, and in their wake, virtually every desperate pop star did a disco record. It’s little wonder, then, that the genre provoked such hostility when there was so much pap being released. Despite loathing pretty much everything to do with the film and its soundtrack, I’ve always had a soft spot for this song. Perhaps it’s because it’s got a heart. It isn’t cheesy and shiny and plastic. Elliman sings it like she means it – with soul.

GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS – If I Were Your Woman / The Tracks of My Tears (Soul 35078 1970)
MILLIE JACKSON – If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right / The Rap (Spring 155 1975)

In popular love song, the woman’s point of view tended to be either doe-eyed worshipper or wronged victim. Often both. Deeper, more complex emotions were rarely aired. That simplified view of the world began to change rapidly as the sixties became the seventies. “If I Were Your Woman” sees Gladys Knight yearning for a man who’s unobtainable. Millie Jackson has got him anyway, despite the fact that he’s married. Neither is apologetic about their situation, although both recognise that it’s far from ideal.

CURTIS MAYFIELD – If There’s a Hell Below (We’re All Gonna Go) / The Makings of You (Curtom 1955 1970)
Amidst an uneasy hubbub, Curtis spits the opening lines of a song that is a frustrated reaction to racial polarisation, political inaction and corruption, social breakdown and the general descent of society into violence – a long way from the ideals of the Civil Rights movement. There is a deep anger about the general complacency of everyone. The repeated refrain of “Don’t Worry” is sarcastic, not reassuring. Coming from a natural optimist, the despair that oozes from every word is shocking. It remains one of Curtis Mayfield’s darkest, but greatest songs, with an arrangement of uneasy funk that builds a fragile surface of joy over a dark turmoil underneath.

HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES – If You Don’t Know Me By Now / Let Me Into Your World (Philadelphia International 3520 1972)
One of the finest soul ballads of the seventies, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” is lush and sad, but at the same time somehow uplifting. Teddy Pendergrass gives one of his finest vocal performances as a frustrated man who can see that the suspicion and jealousy of his partner is threatening their relationship. He’s beginning to wonder if it can ever change, and whether it would be for the best to end it. It’s another example of how soul music had moved from simple boy meets girl, boy loses girl (or vice versa) stuff towards a reflection of the emotional complexities of real relationships.

SPINNERS – I’ll Be Around / How Could I Let You Get Away? (Atlantic 2904 1972)
JACKSON FIVE – I’ll Be There / One More Chance (Motown 1171 1970)

I wrote about the Spinners’ masterpiece here. Both songs cover similar ground – the noble dumpee selflessly reassuring his ex that he’ll always be there for emotional support. Whether she finds that touching or creepily akin to stalking is not recorded. What both also share is an air of steadfast melancholy that is really touching. I don’t think the Jacksons’ ever bettered “I’ll Be There”, even though the sentiments are a little odd coming from a boy yet to reach his teens.

NEW YORK CITY – I’m Doing Fine Now / Ain’t It So (Chelsea 113 1973)
It’s just the way things fell, but here is yet another seventies soul classic. Pretty much one hit wonders, New York City gave a Big Apple take on the Philadelphia sound. Indeed, it sounds more Philly than a lot of Philly records. Despite the suspicions of bandwagon jumping, “I’m Doing Fine Now” is a great song that does the ‘I’m alright even though you’ve gone’ thing refreshingly straight, without the undercurrent of pretence that someone like Smokey Robinson would thread through the subject. They really do sound like they’re doing absolutely fine.

TAMI LYNN – I’m Gonna Run Away From You / The Boy Next Door (Atco 6342 1966)
A Northern Soul favourite, this was reissued in the UK in the seventies and became a hit half a dozen or so years after it was recorded. It’s not difficult to see why it beguiled them at the Casino and the Twisted Wheel. The rhythm is urgent, and there is repeated hook by the backing singers that ensnares the listener immediately.

BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON – I’m Gonna Run to the City of Refuge / Jesus Is Coming Soon (Columbia 14391 1928)
Nick Cave used the song as the basis for his “City Of Refuge” on Tender Prey. It’s not hard to see why he was so drawn to Blind Willie Johnson. Johnson was, on the surface, a bluesman. He sang blues-like tunes accompanied by guitar. But his subject matter was exclusively religious, and he came across like a true apocalyptic fire-and-brimstone type. His earthy growl served only to give him added gravitas. His God was the Old Testament one of judgement and vengeance, not some fluffy happy-clappy type.

FOUR TOPS – I’m In a Different World / Remember When (Motown 1132 1968)
Not generally considered an A list Tops’ song, “I’m in a Different World” ticks all the same boxes for me that their better known songs do. Levi Stubbs sounds emotionally distraught as usual, even if the subject matter is ostensibly upbeat!

PASSIONS – I’m In Love With a German Film Star / Don’t Talk To Me I’m Shy (Polydor 222 1981)
Largely forgotten now, the Passions were a band who never fulfilled their promise. The dreamy, reverb-heavy “German Film Star” is one of the cornerstones of so-called dream-pop (a genre name that I’ve always loathed), with a debt owed by acts as diverse as the Cocteau Twins and Galaxie 500. “Don’t Talk to Me I’m Shy” is faster, more Lush-like.

SKIP JAMES – I’m So Glad / Special Rider Blues (Paramount 13098 1931)
The song’s best known these days through the cover by Cream. Skip James’ original has an atmosphere all of its own that serves the song much better than the over-excited pseudo-metal of Clapton’s group. Country blues fans will attest that he was one of the finest and most original practitioners of the form, but he was stymied by appearing on the scene just as the music industry (and everything else) was disappearing down the black hole of the Depression.

HANK WILLIAMS – I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry / My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It (MGM 10560 1949)
Hear the lonesome whiperwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I’m so lonesome I could cry

I’ve never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind a cloud
To hide its face and cry

Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves begin to die
That means he’s lost the will to live
I’m so lonesome I could cry

The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I’m so lonesome I could cry

Has ever a more perfect paean to loneliness been written? I don’t think so.

More soon

The M M & M 1000 – part 18

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Today we briskly march through the second half of the Fs.

ARAB STRAP – The First Big Weekend / Gilded (Chemikal Underground 7 1996)
More or less the pilot episode of the ten year running Falkirk soap brought to the world by Moffat and Middleton. Booze, pills, relationships and friendships, clubs and pubs and Euro 96 – a long weekend when things go well, and life is relatively free of complication. Downbeat but upbeat at the same time, “The First Big Weekend” was a thin veneer over the maggoty world of dysfunction, misanthropy and infidelity that fueled the Strap soap over the coming years.

CONTOURS – First I Look at the Purse / Searching For a Girl (Gordy 7044 1965)
Some fellas look at the way they walk / The way they swing and sway / Some fellas like the way they talk / And dig the things they say. / But I don’t care if she waddles like a duck / Or talks with a lisp / I still think I’m in good luck / If the dollar bills are crisp”. Always makes me smile.

LOTUS EATERS – The First Picture of You / The Lotus Eater (Arista 121 1983)
The Lotus Eaters existed for a brief period between the Wild Swans first split and their reformation just a few years later. “The First Picture of You” is a brilliantly bucolic piece of pop – you can almost smell the summer meadows.

ROBERTA FLACK – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face / Trade Winds (Atlantic 2864 1972)
The definitive version of Ewan MacColl’s exquisite love song penned for his wife Peggy Seeger. It’s tender and moving while managing to avoid hackneyed Hallmark card cliché – extremely personal, and yet universal too. Roberta Flack was more a jazz singer than a soul singer, and it’s the combination of passion and restraint that makes her performance so compelling.

BT – Flaming June / mixes (Perfecto 157 1997)
Trance is the populist and enduringly popular branch of dance music that is consistently derided by virtually every critic and muso going. Sure, it’s full of clichés and has barely progressed in over a decade. But the best tunes are as uplifting as anything you’ll find in pop. “Flaming June” has all the ingredients (the simple hook, the sweeping breakdown and the euphoric climax) firmly in place, and yet has that undefinable something that makes it stand head and shoulders above almost anything else from the genre.

EARL BOSTIC – Flamingo / I’m Getting Sentimental Over You (King 4475 1951)
Earl Bostic’s records had the intensity of contemporary Charlie Parker’s, but they were a completely different beast. You can hardly dance to “Ornithology”, but Bostic pinned his saxophone to crisp, rhythm and blues rhythms. Improvisation was always secondary to danceability. “Flamingo” is one of the definitive r&b honkers of the pre-rock era.

A CERTAIN RATIO – Flight / Blown Away / And Then Again (Factory FAC22 1980)
Simon Topping may have sung like Ian Curtis on quaaludes, but ACR were the punk-funk kings. “Flight” is downbeat and uneasy, but has a driving, hypnotic percussive force.

JOHNNY CASH – Folsom Prison Blues / So Doggone Lonesome (Sun 232 1955)
Sun Records gets its props for bringing the world rockabilly, but in Johnny Cash they also had a revolutionary country artist. He dumped the schmaltz, the steel guitars and the strings, and stripped it down to its roots – only darker. Even Hank W wouldn’t have contemplated writing lyrics like “When I was just a baby my mama told me. Son, / Always be a good boy, don’t ever play with guns. / But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”.

DRIFTERS – Fools Fall In Love / It Was A Tear (Atlantic 1123 1957)
“Fools Fall in Love” was one of the last records to be recorded by the original Drifters. Founding lead singer Clyde McPhatter had already left for a solo career, and within a year the whole group would be replaced by the Ben E King fronted second incarnation. It’s an uptempo doowopabilly tune penned by the masters Leiber and Stoller. Lead duties were taken by Johnny Moore who would return to the group in the sixties and would thus provide the one clear link between the pre- and post-’58 versions of the band.

STEVIE WONDER – For Once In My Life / Angie Girl (Tamla 54174 1968)
The song isn’t that far away from the supper-club standards inflicted on the world by the likes of Englebert Humperdinck and Jack Jones. Thankfully, Stevie gives it some grit and soul, and it turns out sounding just fine.

BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD – For What It’s Worth / Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It? (Atco 6459 1967)
Ping…ping. It must be one of the most instantly recognisable intros ever. In under three minutes, Stills’ tune about the Sunset Strip riots of 1966 manages to encapsulate the whole political / generational divide and total lack of understanding that characterized the second half of the sixties.

IMPRESSIONS – For Your Precious Love / Sweet Was The Wine (Vee-Jay 280 1958)
CURTIS MAYFIELD – Freddie’s Dead / Underground (Curtom 1975 1972)

Chicago trio the Impressions came to the fore in the late fifties with Jerry Butler on lead and Curtis Mayfield on second tenor. “For Your Precious Love” is fairly typical of the era, although one of the finest examples of doowop balladry there is. When Butler quit for a solo career, Mayfield stepped up to the plate and led the group for the rest of the decade before he too went solo. In 1972 he was asked to score Superfly, a movie whose ‘hero’ was a drug dealer on the verge of retirement. Mayfield was vehemently anti-drugs, and his soundtrack reflected this. Condemnatory, but never preachy, perhaps the most cutting song was “Freddie’s Dead”. In the movie, the character of Freddie was little more than a bit-part, but Curtis elevated him to the everyman figure – the one at the sharp end of the wheeler-dealers. They are unconcerned by his fate, but we should be – he could be any one of us. It’s a masterpiece of restrained anger.

CLOCK DVA – Four Hours / Sensorium (Fetish 8 1981)
The first incarnation of Clock DVA were a blisteringly original brew of free jazz, punk, funk and prog whose Thirst album is criminally out of print. “Four Hours” was its centrepiece, a brew of sinister walking bass, atonal woodwind and Adi Newton’s sonorous, film-noir vocal.

GALAXIE 500 – Fourth of July / Here She Comes Now (Rough Trade 249 1990)
The granddaddies (and grandmummy) of slowcore were never as one-dimensional and dreary as many of their acolytes. “Fourth of July” is relatively brisk, with Dean Wareham’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics about life’s mundanities illustrated with some absolutely gorgeous guitar work.

DINOSAUR JR – Freak Scene / Keep the Glove (SST 220 1988)
They could be as lumbering as their name suggests, but at their best, Dinosaur Jr had a sprightly pop heart to the flailing guitars. Mascis may sound like a man who’s never smiled in his life, but there’s something bright and life-affirming about “Freak Scene”. Even its most famous couplet “Don’t let me fuck up will you / ‘Cause when I need a friend it’s still you” is endearing and sweet rather than angsty.

BIRTHDAY PARTY – The Friend Catcher / Waving My Arms / Catman (4AD AD12 1980)
A storm of feedback screech, and then Tracy Pew’s dirty, churning bass riff comes in. It’s like being assaulted in slow motion. Everything about this record is nasty – Cave yelping and growling through a Grimm nightmare as the bass turns the screw like a medieval rack. Sweet dreams, children.

MADONNA – Frozen / Shanti-Ashtangi (Maverick 17244 1998)
Madge’s music has been locked in teen dance-pop hell since Ray of Light. Back then she managed to meld pop and dance with some experimental flourishes to help it stand out from the crowd. “Frozen” is lush and rich, with nods to Björk and Massive Attack. She was always a brilliant magpie – absorbing the cutting edge pop of the day, and using it to her own ends. Maybe that’s what’s missing in her recent work – decent contemporary influences to bounce off. I’d lock her in a studio with the latest Portishead, Burial and Animal Collective albums to see what she came up with.

DEEP DISH – The Future of the Future (Stay Gold) / mixes (Arista 13566 1998)
Did this here

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