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.

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The M M & M 1000 – part 30

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

FLYING SAUCER ATTACK – Land Beyond the Sun / Everywhere Was Everything (Domino 23 1994)
Flying Saucer Attack took the feedback distortion of the Jesus & Mary Chain and the sonic soup of My Bloody Valentine and ran with it – creating records that were swathed in guitar noise that resembled jet engines. Beneath it all, there was often a wistful, almost pastoral melody, like the echoes of summer meadows buried beneath the smog and grit of industrialisation. “Land Beyond the Sun” has a beautiful, gentle melody that exudes a kind of bruised hope, fighting through the screech.

WILSON PICKETT – Land of 1000 Dances / You’re So Fine (Atlantic 2348 1966)
Chris Kenner’s original version was almost a rap – a litany of various dance crazes laid over a sweaty funk beat. The “na na-na-na na” chorus bit was nowhere to be heard. That was introduced by garage band Cannibal & the Headhunters. Wilson Pickett took the best of both – the funk, and the new chorus – to craft what it one of the definitive party anthems.

TONY CLARKE – Landslide / You Made Me VIP (Chess 1979 1967)
It’s truly astonishing how many great soul records that came out in the sixties sold bugger all, even those released on (relatively) major labels like Chess. They led to a new breed of (mainly British) record collector who hoovered this stuff up, often paying pennies for 45s that were as rare as Glasgow heatwaves. Many of these collectors were DJs on the nascent Northern Soul scene, and there developed a kind of one-upmanship in a competition to have great tunes that nobody else had. “Landslide” was one of those, that quickly became an anthem on the scene. It’s been repressed and turned up on loads of compilations since, but an original copy will still set you back a small fortune.

DISPOSABLE HEROES OF HIPHOPRISY – The Language of Violence / Famous and Dandy (4th & Broadway 551 1992)
Michael Franti and Rono Tse only made one LP in between the end of the Beatnigs, and Franti forming Spearhead. But it was a classic of Gil Scott-Heron influenced political rap. “Language of Violence” is one of the centrepieces of the album. It’s dark and troubled, detailing the endless cycle of violence in the criminal justice system – by crims, cops and screws alike.

MAR-KEYS – Last Night / Night Before (Satellite 107 1961)
“Last Night” was one of Stax’s earliest singles – before the label was even known as Stax. It also defined, more than any other record, the gritty southern soul-funk sound that would come to epitomise the label. The horns hark back to the glory days of fifties rhythm and blues, but the rhythm looks forward to the clipped funk that both James Brown and the Stax acts would develop through the decade.

ROLLING STONES – The Last Time / Play With Fire (Decca 12104 1965)
“The Last Time” is a great record, with a fantastic driving riff, and was possibly the first Stones record to really showcase Keith Richards’ rhythm guitar playing. For me, though, “Play With Fire” is even better. Short and brooding, it has Jagger doing his best to outdo Dylan in the sneering cruelty stakes, as he almost revels in the misfortunes of a down-at-heel heiress.

CHIC – Le Freak / Savoir Faire (Atlantic 3518 1978)
Chic came too late to save disco from its excesses and its increasing silliness. But they did prove that the form wasn’t artistically worthless as many argued. Even in 1978 when disco-bashing was at its height, Chic were afforded a grudging respect. Nowadays, of course, they’re legends. Few would argue that they possessed the finest rhythm section outside of jazz. You could argue – but you’d be wrong!

AIR – Le Soleil est Pres de Moi / J’ai Dormi Sous L’Eau (Source 944262 1997)
My first taste of Air was their track on Etienne de Crécy’s marvelous Super Discount album. My second was this – to my mind a track they’ve never bettered. Languid and dreamy, “Le Soleil est Pres de Moi” is the aural equivalent of lying sleepily in a summer meadow after a spiffing picnic without a care in the world. Bliss.

SHANGRI-LAS – Leader of the Pack / What is Love? (Red Bird 14 1964)
Look out! Look out! Look out! Scrrrreeeeeeeech, bang. I blame the parents. Bloody snobs.

OTIS LEAVILL – Let Her Love Me / When the Music Grooves (Blue Rock 4002)
Otis Leavill was from Chicago, like Curtis Mayfield. And he sang with a light, high tenor voice, again like Curtis Mayfield. Maybe those were the things that prevented him from being better known, or maybe it was just rotten luck. One thing it certainly wasn’t down to was the quality of the records. “Let Her Love Me” is a beautiful, yearning ballad, with Leavill resorting to praying for the girl he loves to love him back, he’s that desperate. OK, it sounds a lot like an Impressions record, but one that they would have been proud of, without doubt.

SHANNON – Let The Music Play / dub (Emergency 6540 1983)
Brilliant, evergreen, joyous – I wrote about this here.

THE NEED – Let Them Eat Valium / Seduction (Vitriol 1 1980)
Obscure Kentish post-punk, again a tune I’ve written about previously. Good news is that it may be surfacing on a Messthetics compilation in the not too distant future.

SANDY NELSON – Let There Be Drums / Quite a Beat (Imperial 5775 1961)
They must have given funny looks to the guy at Original Sound Records who thought that a drummer who played instrumentals could have big pop hits. But Sandy Nelson struck the big time in 1959 with “Teen Beat” and Imperial snapped him up. It looked for a while like they’d signed a one-hit wonder, but “Let There Be Drums” changed that. Partly it’s the Link Wray influence in the rumbling guitar riff, but mainly it’s the rhythm, essentially stripping down a dancefloor record into its most basic component. It works, though, and sounds as vital nearly forty years on as it did when it hit the presses.

SWELL MAPS – Let’s Build a Car / Big Maz in the Country / Then Poland (Rough Trade 36 1980)
Swell Maps probably owed more to Faust than they did to punk which they predated by several years, albeit largely confined to their bedrooms. From being experimental misfits, they found themselves at the centre of the post-punk scene, and landed a contract with Rough Trade, the label at the heart of the entire British DIY movement. “Let’s Build a Car” is ramshackle and noisy, but tuneful and vibrant.

PHILADELPHIA INTERNATIONAL ALL STARS – Let’s Clean Up The Ghetto / instrumental (Philadelphia International 3627 1977)
By 1977, socially conscious and political soul music was out of fashion, with getting down and partyin’ the primary concern of most acts. Ironically, Philly, a label that had never been particularly known for political music, chose this moment to stick a load of their brightest stars into the studio to record this brilliant call-to-arms. It was inspired by the near-bankruptcy of New York City under Mayor Beame, when even basic services like rubbish collection were not being performed. The story is told eloquently in a spoken prologue by the honeyed baritone of Lou Rawls. In many ways, this record was a direct forerunner for the likes of Band Aid and USA for Africa.

AL GREEN – Let’s Stay Together / Tomorrow’s Dream (Hi 2202 1971)
The good reverend’s masterpiece, a brilliant plea for healing sung with the passion of a preacher and the sensuality of a lover.

BOX TOPS – The Letter / Happy times (Mala 565 1967)
The record that introduced Alex Chilton to the world – a precocious teenager with the voice of a grizzled veteran. It’s all over in well under two minutes.

BILLY BRAGG – Levi Stubbs’ Tears / Think Again / Walk Away Renée (Go Discs 12 1986)
Somewhere along the line, Billy Bragg lost his Barking bark and developed an anonymous mid Atlantic style of singing. He also seemed to lose his ability to bring a lump to the throat. “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” is one of his most powerful songs. It’s about a woman in an abusive relationship and a dead end life whose consolation comes in the form of the Four Tops, and in particular Levi Stubbs’ heart-rending vocals. In a sense it’s an uplifting song in that it shows that there is always something positive to hold on to, even in the direst circumstances. “Walk Away Renée ” is worth mentioning. It features Johnny Marr giving a soulful reading of the old Left Banke / Four Tops tune, whilst Bragg recounts a comic tale of first love gone bad. It’s a charming little add on.

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