The M M & M 1000 – part 62

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

TRIFFIDS – Wide Open Road / Time of Weakness (Hot 1986)
Being the most geographically isolated city in the world, there are a lot of wide open roads heading out of Perth in Western Australia, hometown of the Triffids. The nearest major city, Adelaide is 2100km away. That’s not far short of the distance between London and Athens (or New York and Houston). Driving such a distance gives you a hell of a long time for reflection, and this song captures that perfectly.

JOE VENUTI & EDDIE LANG – Wild Cat / Sunshine (Okeh 1927)
Before Grappelli and Reinhardt there was Venuti and Lang, two Italian-Americans who made the violin and guitar jazz instruments. Their best work together was as a duo. In the pre-amplification days, both instruments struggled to make themselves heard over horns and drums, so they work best without those distractions. Wild Cat is dynamite – frightening fast exremely hard to play. It sits somewhere between an old time country hoedown, hot jazz and show-off virtuosity of the Paganini kind.

TROGGS – Wild Thing / From Home (Fontana 1966)
The song’s ridiculous. The riff is mega. Hendrix concentrated on the latter, the Goodies on the former on covers that were both true to the original in their own way. British garage rock at its finest.

CARTER FAMILY – Wildwood Flower / Forsaken Love (Victor 1928)
One of the best loved Carter Family songs, and with good reason. I think its Sara who sings lead with a heavily accented but beautiful tone, but it’s Maybelle’s guitar that steals the show. It was credited as an AP song, but it’s really an arrangement of something much older. More than 80 years on, it sounds absolutely fresh.

SHIRELLES – Will You Love Me Tomorrow? / Boys (Scepter 1960)
Teen girl songs of fifty years ago tended to disguise the pubescent hormonal rush in something sickly sweet. Think Born Too Late or 16 Candles. Carole King took the formula and gave it some much needed grit, although she was obviously bound by the strict censorship and conventions of the day. On the surface, Will You Love Me Tomorrow? is a classic teen weepie that sticks to the template. But the underlying message of teenage sex (gasp) and the real fears of a girl worrying whether she lost her virginity in a one night stand or if the boy was serious about her is much more realistic, caged as it had to be by a heavy disguise.

SABRES OF PARADISE – Wilmot / mixes (Warp 1994)
A looped horn sample paired with a stuttering dub beat, this Sabres’ tune has a slightly nightmarish quality about it, like some hallucinogenic voodoo.

JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE – The Wind Cries Mary / Highway Chile (Track 1967)
A kind of psychedelic blues ballad that’s slightly disorientating. A world away from the heavy blues of Hey Joe or the trip-rock of Purple Haze. But just as great.

APHEX TWIN – Windowlicker / Formula / Nannou (Warp 1999)
The video was so outrageous and unforgettable, that the actual track was almost relegated to its soundtrack. A cheeky demolition of the clichéd hip hop video with the bootylicious babes turning into scary RJD-a-likes. The tune also warps convention, twisting Timbaland type beats and plastic R&B keyboards into something monstrous. A total mind-fuck on every level.

BOMB THE BASS – Winter In July / mixes (Rhythm King 1991)
Unfairly derided as the poor man’s Coldcut, whizzkid Tim Simenon made some startlingly good tracks. Winter In July is a ballad that would sit quite comfortably on Blue Lines and predated the trip hop clone army of the likes of Morcheeba, Sneaker Pimps, Mono (not the Japanese band) by some time. Singer Loretta Heywood is still active, but has never really made it beyond being guest vocalist on other folk’s records. It’s a shame, because she has a great voice.

SAM COOKE – Wonderful World / Along the Navajo Trail (Keen 1960)
Pop-soul at its finest

WHO – Won’t Get Fooled Again / I Don’t Even Know Myself (Track 1971)
WAR – The World Is a Ghetto / Four Cornered Room (United Artists 1972)

Neither of these songs are best represented by their single edits, especially Won’t Get Fooled Again which was cruelly butchered to sit on the side of a 45. The World Is a Ghetto, too, works much better when its full ten minutes are allowed to slowly unfurl.

KATE BUSH – Wow / Fullhouse (EMI 1979)
Wow is like a stage musical about the life of an ageing, failing actor crammed into three minutes. Magnificently dramatic.

Two to go!

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The M M & M 1000 – part 21

The Guardian nicked my idea! Well, kinda.

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

LONNIE JOHNSON & BLIND WILLIE DUNN – Handful of Riffs / Bullfrog Moan (Okeh 8695 1929)
This dates back to a time when having a racial mix of artists on the same record was taboo. Thus white jazz guitarist Eddie Lang adopted a ‘blues name’ alias for the music that he recorded with Lonnie Johnson. Both players were adept in a variety of styles – Lang had played jazz with Joe Venuti and even recorded a Rachmaninov prelude for solo guitar while Johnson had played both jazz and blues. “Handful of Riffs” is typical of their guitar duets, both soulful and technically innovative. They influenced a long line of players from John Fahey to Richard Bishop.

JOHNNY BRISTOL – Hang On in There Baby / Take Care of You For Me (MGM 14715 1974)
Johnny Bristol was in his mid thirties by the time his singing career took off. His past decade and a half had been spent as a producer and songwriter at Motown and CBS. “Hang On in There Baby” is a passionate piece of Philly proto-disco.

JIMMY CLIFF – The Harder They Come / Many Rivers To Cross (Island 6139 1972)
24 year old Jimmy Cliff made his acting debut as Ivanhoe Martin, the hero of Perry Henzell’s 1972 film of Jamaican ghetto life, The Harder They Come. His self-penned title track has become one of the most covered reggae tunes over the years, but none matches the intensity of the original.

BOB & EARL – The Harlem Shuffle / I’ll Keep Running Back (Marc 104 1963)
The early sixties saw a plethora of dance crazes, each inspiring hundreds of records. “The Harlem Shuffle” was something altogether more gritty and real than the endless exhortations to do the twist / the monkey / the mashed potato etc etc. Bobby Byrd (aka Bobby Day) and Earl Nelson had both been members of doowop act the Hollywood Flames in the fifties, but by the time this came out, Nelson was working with a different Bob – Bobby Relf.

BUZZCOCKS – Harmony in My Head / Something’s Gone Wrong Again (United Artists 36541 1979)
This isn’t generally considered to be one of the band’s best singles, but it remains one of my favourites. It’s a rare lead vocal outing for Steve Diggle, whose gruff bark is in stark contrast to Pete Shelley’s romantic pleadings. It gives the song a darker, angrier, more urgent feel – but it still has a fantastic singalong chorus.

ISLEY BROTHERS – Harvest for the World / part 2 (T Neck 2261 1976)
In the mid seventies, the Isleys were usually more concerned with sex and dancing than politics, but “Harvest for the World” is a heartfelt plea for a redistribution of wealth and an end to hunger that could have come straight out of the Curtis Mayfield songbook.

CHI-LITES – Have You Seen Her? / Yes I’m Ready (Brunswick 55462 1971)
Bloke mooches around at the movies and the local park, swaps jokes with the neighbourhood kids, but inside he’s a broken man because the girl he loves has flown the coop. It’s the classic seventies soul heartbreak scenario, with talkie intro and outro. A “Tracks of My Tears” for the afro and flares generation – and an absolute beauty of a song.

BODINES – Heard It All / Clear (Creation 30 1986)
Glossop’s finest have long since faded into obscurity, which is a shame. They only made one album, and that’s long out of print, but they did a clutch of great singles. This is indie pop at its purest – urgent, melodic and with an upbeat melancholy. Most of the Creation acts of the time were obsessed with the sixties – the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Byrds – but the Bodines owed more to Postcard records. LTM or somebody should get on the case and do a proper anthology of the band. They don’t deserve to be forgotten.

TOM WAITS – The Heart of Saturday Night / Diamonds On My Windshield (Asylum 45262 1975)
“The Heart of Saturday Night” is typical of Tom Waits’ early days as a romantic barfly. It’s a bruised, but hopeful, song about the joy of the weekend – the anticipation, the pool halls, the waitresses. On the album, whose title it shares, it closes the first side. The second finishes with its companion piece, “The Ghosts of Saturday Night”, a reflective, glazed early morning peek at the aftermath which is even better.

ELVIS PRESLEY – Heartbreak Hotel / I Was the One (RCA 6420 1956)
This is one of those songs that is so familiar to everyone, that few probably really listen to it properly. What makes it so great is the empty space – the ghostly echoes that evoke a world of limbo between the living and the dead. It’s regularly cited as a key rock and roll tune, but it’s more a slice of American Gothic that owes as much to Edgar Allen Poe as it does to rhythm and blues.

MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS – Heat Wave / A Love Like Yours (Gordy 7022 1963)
Just one of the reasons why the Vandellas were always the greatest of Motown’s girl groups – and by extension, the greatest of the whole genre. It encapsulates the sweat and the joy of a carefree summer night.

DEEP BLUE – The Helicopter Tune / mixes (Moving Shadow 41 1993)
Deep Blue was Sean O’Keefe, a member of 2 Bad Mice and, more recently, Black Rain with Rob Haigh of Omni Trio. “The Helicopter Tune” was a landmark record in the history of jungle. It ditched the rude bwoy / ragga stylings of much of the early stuff in favour of a clinical, cyclical rhythm that had very little in the way of adornment. It’s one of the few records of the era that still sounds like it’s been beamed in from the future.

THEM – Here Comes the Night / All For Myself (Decca 12094 1965)
While it doesn’t have the same snotty urgency that “Gloria” has, “Here Comes the Night” still sounds more akin to the likes of the Sonics and the Standells than it does to any of Them’s mainland UK contemporaries.

DAVID BOWIE – Heroes / V2 Schneider (RCA 1121 1977)
Actually, the seven inch edit that mostly gets played on the radio is rubbish. It starts something like two minutes in. It’s like beginning a novel on page 80! The full six minute version is one of Bowie’s finest records – a dense, claustrophobic, almost desperate piece of self-delusion.

MEMPHIS JUG BAND – He’s in the Jailhouse Now / Round and Round (Victor 23256 1930)
“He’s in the Jailhouse Now” is one of those pre-war hillbilly tunes that exist in loads of different versions, credited to loads of different writers (Jimmie Rodgers being one). It probably dates back much further than the 1920s. This has always been my favourite take. I like the loose and rough raucousness of Will Shade’s mob.

More soon

Eddie Lang

Eddie Lang was probably the finest white guitarist in his field in the 1920s. He was born Salvatore Massaro in Philadelphia on October 25th 1902. His first instrument was the violin, and it was while taking lessons as a boy that he became friends with Joe Venuti, another second generation Italian American. As well as violin, Lang also played banjo and guitar, and it was the latter instrument that he began to concentrate on after he turned professional in 1918. He worked as a guitar for hire all over the North East states during the first half of the twenties, and even had a stint in London during the winter of 1925/6. On his return to the States, he settled in New York, and it was there that he was reunited with Venuti in Joe Venuti’s Big Four, a successful and prolific small band with a then revolutionary lead instrumentation of violin and guitar.

In May 1927, Lang recorded his first solo guitar session which included a technically brilliant version of the Prelude from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Op. 3 No. 2. In September the following year he became one of the first white musicians to play with a black band when he joined Clarence Williams’ Blue Five for a New York date accompanying blues legend Victoria Spivey. Through working with Spivey, Lang met her then husband Lonnie Johnson, and over a period of around twelve months, the pair laid down some of the finest acoustic guitar instrumentals of that era, or indeed any since. Their first studio date together on November 15th 1928 was spent backing blues shouter Alger ‘Texas’ Alexander, but two days later they were back recording the first of their guitar duets – “Two Tone Stomp” and “Have To Change Keys To Play These Blues”. Despite the obvious allusions of the title of “Two Tone Stomp”, Lang was billed as Blind Willie Dunn on the record when it was issued by Okeh. The record industry was as deeply segregated as the rest of American society in the twenties, and it was deemed unacceptable to issue a record where a white man and a black man were clearly playing together as friends and equals.

Lang and Johnson cut further tracks in May 1929, both guitar duets and as part of a quartet called Blind Willie Dunn’s Gin Bottle Four (which included future bandleader Tommy Dorsey on trumpet). The pair’s final session together took place on October 29th. By this time Lang had joined Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra – just about the biggest gig you could get back then. He continued working with Venuti, but there was no more masquerading in the studio as Blind Willie Dunn. The depression was beginning to bite, and as is always the case, the poorest suffered first and hardest. The first sector of the recording industry to be hit hard was the so-called “race” market – blues singers, jug bands, string bands and the like – and so there were no further opportunities for Lang and Johnson to record together.

Eddie Lang made a final studio appearance with Joe Venuti on February 28th 1933, just a few days before he was to go into hospital for a routine tonsillectomy. The operation was botched, and he suffered a massive haemorrhage. He died on March 26th 1933, aged just 30.

There are a number of solid budget compilations of Lang’s work available. Some provide a general overview of his career, whilst others concentrate on his work with Joe Venuti. In August this year, BGO issued a 32 track double CD which concentrates on the work that Lang did with Lonnie Johnson. It’s called Blue Guitars Volumes 1 and 2 and is a straight reissue of a couple of earlier vinyl albums. It’s recommended stuff – not just for blues and hot jazz fans, but for anyone who is interested in tracing back to the influences of modern masters like John Fahey, Loren Connors and Richard Bishop.

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