The M M & M 1000 – part 55

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. More T vicar?

ISAAC HAYES – Theme From Shaft / Cafe Regio’s (Enterprise 1971)
It wasn’t the first (Melvin van Peebles has that honour), but it’s still the track and movie that triggered a barrel-load of Blaxploitation films and soundtracks. In 95% of cases, the music was way better than the films – Shaft was one of the few that still stand up (I’d add Cleopatra Jones and Foxy Brown to that pretty short list – Across 110th Street doesn’t really count).

VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR – Theme One / W (Charisma 1972)
A prog-rock fugue that’s best known for its use by Tommy Vance on the Friday Rock Show back in the seventies and early eighties. Unusual for the era in that it was a stand-alone 45, and an instrumental to boot.

THE DRIFTERS – There Goes My Baby / Oh My Love (Atlantic 1959)
The Drifters that recorded this were a completely different group to the one that had loads of hits for Atlantic through the fifties. They’d all been fired by svengali George Treadwell. So it was a new beginning – and an extraordinary one. The production was way over the top by any contemporary standards, involving Leiber, Stoller and Phil Spector (who learned a trick or two). Scarcely anything is in tune with anything else, and Jerry Wexler thought it unreleasable. But Ben E King’s vocals somehow held the track together, and it ended up as just about the biggest hit the label had in its first decade.

R DEAN TAYLOR – There’s a Ghost In My House / Don’t Fool Around (VIP 1967)
White Canadian singer-songwriter was something of an odd job man at Motown, but a few of his rock/soul crossover tracks are absolute belters. Ghost is garage-rock meets Motown, and ripped up more than a few Lancashire dancefloors in the Northern Soul era.

SANDIE SHAW – (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me / Don’t You Know (Pye 1964)
While Dionne Warwick gave the Bacharach and David songbook a sophisticated sheen, the Brit girls just belted them out. In an era of big hair, bouffants and beehives, the barefoot mod girl look that Sandie brought is still one of the most iconic of the sixties.

BODINES – Therèse / I Feel (Creation 1986)
Unfairly lumped in with the C86ers, the Bodines were really just a pop group albeit one with all the panache of a sixties garage band. They’ve fallen through the cracks of history somewhat, but their meagre body of work (an album and a fistful of 45s) deserves reappraisal.

OTIS REDDING – These Arms of Mine / Hey Baby (Volt 1962)
The legend has it that Otis, occasional singer for Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers, was only at the 1962 Memphis session because he was driving the band’s van. The session was heading for a complete wash out, when he asked if he could do a couple of his own songs. Both sides were knocked out in less than half an hour, and a soul superstar was born.

(DETROIT) SPINNERS – They Just Can’t Stop It The (Games People Play) / I Don’t Want to Lose You (Atlantic 1975)
PERSUADERS – Thin Line Between Love and Hate / Thigh Spy (Atco 1971)

Yeah, the brackets are in a strange place. It’s not the only thing odd about this single. One of Pervis Jackson’s bass parts needed rerecording, but the band were on tour. Producer Thom Bell’s off the wall solution was to get in singer Barbara Ingram to do the part because she just happened to be around, even though it was way below her range. And yet it works. The Persuaders were a minor seventies vocal group, best known for this one song – the tale of a neglected woman who has her revenge, all told by the apologetic victim.

ARETHA FRANKLIN – Think / You Send Me (Atlantic 1968)
Could you imagine any of today’s soporific R&B stars doing anything at even half this tempo? This is Aretha with her Gospel chops set to full speed on a civil rights anthem that’s both joyous and a little intimidating.

ANTON KARAS – Third Man Theme / The Cafe Mozart Waltz (Decca 1950)
Anyone who’s seen Carol Reed’s superb thriller set in post-war Vienna will always be immediately be taken back to the bombed out streets and impishly monstrous Harry Lime when they hear Hungarian Anton Karas’s zither tune. It’s disarmingly bright, almost jolly, but it manages to enhance the mood of the movie rather than clash with it. It’s one of the iconic pieces of cinema music.

SMITHS – This Charming Man / Jeane (Rough Trade 1983)
Strange as it may seem now, but in 1983 traditional singer/guitar/bass/drums combos were about as fashionable as morris dancing. The Smiths managed to change that simply by sounding totally different to any group that had preceded them. Morrissey and Marr’s telepathic understanding combined Mozzer’s moaning miserablism with guitar melodies that were sharp and bright and made the two elements sound inseparable. Their best tunes haven’t dated a day in over a quarter of a century.

PULP – This Is Hardcore / Ladies Man (Island 1998)
In the end, Pulp were just too wilful and experimental to maintain the megastar status thrust upon them around the time of Different Class. The follow-up album didn’t sell anything like as well, perhaps because of this title song being made the first single. It’s certainly the best thing on the record (in my mind, the best thing they ever did), but a slow burning six and a half minute cinematic epic was probably not what the average Britpop fan wanted. The whole movement was pretty much dead in the water by then, anyway, and Pulp seemed to be the major act that suffered the most even though their alignment with the scene was dubious to begin with. Fate can be cruel.

IMPRESSIONS – This Is My Country / My Woman’s Love (Curtom 1968)
When the BBC made their landmark TV series Soul Deep a few years back, there was a huge Curtis Mayfield sized hole in it. To me, it was like making a history of the second world war and forgetting to mention Churchill. Mayfield was there from doowop through to disco and beyond, proving himself more than adept at harmonic soul, Gospel, psychedelic soul, funk, sweet soul, disco and all areas between. No one else can compare when it came to the sheer breadth of music he made. This Is My Country is a song from the latter days of the Impressions, a deceptively sweet but defiant and angry ballad that’s one of the anthems of the Civil Rights era.

THE THE – This Is The Day / Mental Healing (Epic 1983)
THE SAINTS – This Perfect Day / Lies (Harvest 1977)

Musically, the track simply oozes freshness and optimism. It sounds like summer and the chorus is defiant and determined. And yet the verses hold a heard-it-all before cynicism that undermines the sunshine, but instead makes it sound as empty as the “I’m never gonna drink another drop” claims of a hungover alcoholic. “You could’ve done anything If you’d wanted / And all your friends and family think that you’re lucky / But the side of you they’ll never see / Is when you’re left alone with the memories / That hold your life together … like glue“. I’ve been in that place, and it’s not pleasant. In contrast, This Perfect Day is angry as hell, and is as good an in-your-face rock tune as they come. In the end, it seems a much more positive place to be than the self-deluded optimism of Matt Johnson’s tune.

ISLEY BROTHERS – This Old Heart of Mine / There’s No One Left (Tamla 1966)
The Isleys stay at Motown was a short and unhappy one. This was a group who were used to being in control, now reduced to members of the (in)famous Detroit production line, with no control of the songs or the production. They didn’t really fit in to Berry Gordy’s philosophy. Still, they made some pretty hot records while they were there.

More soon


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 52

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. The penultimate look at the S’s.

RADIOHEAD – Street Spirit (Fade Out) / Bishop’s Robes (Parlophone 1995)
Radiohead could have turned out to be a mere footnote in music history. With one gigantic hit (“Creep”) and a distinctly underwhelming debut album beneath their belt, The Bends had to be a great record, not merely a good one. It delivered, even though it has subsequently been eclipsed by much of what followed. “Street Spirit” is a great example of the kind of restrained, spectral balladry that shone on the album, given added impetus by a technically superb video by Jonathan Glazer that had eyebrows knotted with an expression of “how the hell they do that?”

GO-BETWEENS – Streets of Your Town / Wait Until June (Beggars Banquet 1988)
The late Grant McLennan was the romantic melodist of the duo, whereas Forster was more of a dark poet. But the sweetness and catchiness of his best tunes always carried a few hidden barbs, this song’s jaunty couplet “Watch the butcher shine his knives / And this town is full of battered wives” being a glaring example that things aren’t as sunny as they seem.

THE WHO – Substitute / Waltz for a Pig (Reaction 1966)
It may be an unfashionable view, but for my money the Who seriously lost their way when psychedelia kicked in, chasing up a blind alley of rock operas and the like. Only Live At Leeds, Who’s Next and Quadrophenia stand up to their legacy of classic sixties singles. “Substitute” is just one of these, full of vitriol.

PET SHOP BOYS – Suburbia / Paninaro (Parlophone 1986)
They still have it in them as the Battleship Potemkin soundtrack proved, but they seem content to wallow in ephemeral chart pop these days. Twenty odd years ago they were making chart pop too, but stuff that reflected the zeitgeist, with a satirical and relevant edge to it. Like Kraftwerk, they are a band that were ahead of their time, and when the times caught up, seemed to lose direction.

DEUS – Suds and Soda / Secret Hell (Island 1994)
Released in the middle of the retro-dayglo nightmare that was Britpop, this was a breath of fresh air. Screeching strings and loose production, but catchy as a cold. Deus have never been quite as iconoclastic as they were on their debut album, but they’ve consistently made playable records.

SUENO LATINO – Sueno Latino (DFC 1989)
This is one of those rare things – a dance record that sounds totally contemporary two decades after its release. Essentially, the record is a Latinised house mix by a quartet of Italians of a section from Manuel Göttsching’s magnum opus E2-E4. A simple idea, but one perfectly realised. Derrick May’s 1992 remix of a remix is just as good too.

PAVEMENT – Summer Babe / Mercy Snack / Baptiss Blacktick (Drag City 1991)
GRANDADDY – Summer Here Kids / Levitz / My Small Love (Big Cat 1998)
Pavement songs always seem on the brink of collapse, even when they’re as melodic as “Summer Babe”. Like Da Vinci’s sketchbooks, the presentation is shabby, but the content is always supreme. Grandaddy were fairly obviously acolytes and were a bit hit and miss, with their ZZ Top meets the Taliban image threatening to overshadow their music. But “Summer Here Kids” is a diary of a nightmarish camp trip in a paradoxically uplifting setting and remains a favourite.

ISLEY BROTHERS – Summer Breeze / part 2 (T-Neck 1974)
For me, the Isleys produced their best work in a career spanning nearly half a century when they were joined by Isley – The Next Generation of younger brothers and nephews. Working as a self-sufficient musical unit, rather than a vocal group with backing, allowed them to stretch themselves a bit. Their cover of Seals and Croft’s “Summer Breeze” eclipsed the original, and is the aural equivalent of a refreshing zephyr on a sticky summer day.

LOVIN’ SPOONFUL – Summer in the City / Fishing Blues (Kama Sutra 1966)
Essentially a folk blues jug band, “Summer in the City” was a totally uncharacteristic record for the Lovin’ Spoonful. Familiarity may have dulled its impact, but I don’t think any song in the last 40 or so years has bettered it in its portrayal of the contrast between the dirty, uncomfortable, hot tempered days of living through a city heatwave with the hedonistic release that the night brings. And even for someone without a word of English, the key change between the urban rush of the verses, and the partying of the chorus says it all.

BRYAN ADAMS – Summer of 69 / The Best Has Yet to Come (A&M 1985)
Sample conversation as some cheesy Adams dross comes on the radio: Grumpy person: “I fucking hate Bryan Adams”. Me: “Yeah, but “Summer of 69″ was good”. Grumpy person (suddenly looking less grumpy): “Aye, “Summer of 69″ was good”. Ryan Adams used to get pissed off by the wags who shouted for it at his concerts. It was probably because he knew he’d never write anything as good. Mind you, the title of the B side has to be one of the most untrue claims in music history.

DISCO INFERNO – Summer’s Last Sound / Love’s Stepping Out (Cheree 1992)
Have I mentioned before how underrated this band is/was? Only a dozen times? OK, then. The classic DI ingredients are all in this record. Joy Division bassline, über-extended intro, foggy sheets of self-sampled, almost atonal guitar and a half-buried declamatory vocal, on this occasion sung from the point of view of refugees, hunted in their homeland and abused and even killed in their supposed safe haven. The band’s political songs were always emotional and human rather than exercises in ideology. Like nearly all their EPs, the flip is no less a song than the A side.

EDDIE COCHRAN – Summertime Blues / Love Again (Liberty 1958)
A two minute teenage tantrum at the unfairness of authority. At least he didn’t sound like he was going to go into therapy over it unlike the emotionally illiterate emo bands that clog up a section of the teen press these days.

WALKER BROTHERS – The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More / After the Lights Go Out (Philips 1965)
A-HA – The Sun Always Shines on TV / Driftwood (Warner Brothers 1985)
BELOVED – The Sun Rising / mixes (East West 1989)

It’s been a summery, sunshiny selection today. Scott confuses his girlfriend walking out on him with a cosmological cataclysm. An easy mistake to make. He always makes misery sound like something almost luxurious to wallow in. Our Norwegian trio gaze wistfully from rain-sodden Scandinavia to Hollywood where the sky always seems as bright as everybody’s teeth. The bottom line of the song is that Morten needs a hug. But what a dramatic, joyous, neo-operatic way of demanding one! Finally, the ultimate post-rave chill-out anthem by reformed indie kids the Beloved.

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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.

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The M M & M 1000 – part 7

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

WILLIAM DEVAUGHN – Be Thankful For What You’ve Got / part 2 (Roxbury 236 1974)
William DeVaughn was a one-hit wonder whose main career was as a draughtsman designing, of all things, sewers. “Be Thankful For What You’ve Got” has become something of an R&B standard – it was covered by Massive Attack on Blue Lines, and was a hit all over again for them.

BOMB THE BASS – Beat Dis / Dub (Mister-Ron 1 1987)
COLDCUT – Beats and Pieces / That Greedy Beat (Ahead of Our Time 1 1987)
Two cut-up and mashed house classics from the Steinski school that were both big hits in 87/88. Both were debut singles too. Tim Simenon aka Bomb the Bass and Coldcut’s careers ran parallel paths for a while. Both signed to major labels and moved into a more chilled out R&B direction. Coldcut proved the more durable act in the end, although they are better known for their production work, DJing, radio shows and record label (Ninja Tune) than they are for their music these days.

GENE VINCENT – Be-Bop-a-Lula / Woman in love (Capitol 3450 1956)
Although he’s enshrined as a rock and roll legend, most people would be hard pressed to name more than two or three Gene Vincent tunes – and his best work was all done in a twelve month period around 1956/57. “Be-Bop-a-Lula” opens itself to parody, but it remains one of the best singles of the era.

ARCON 2 – The Beckoning / Skyland (Reinforced 101 1996)
Arcon 2 was the less than prolific drum and bass producer Noel Ram who’s also issued tracks as Leon Mar, Oil and Torus over the years. “The Beckoning” was one of the very best jungle tracks of the era, eschewing the harder, darker side for something more akin to jazz fusion. The eponymous album comes highly recommended too.

MARVELETTES – Beechwood 4-5789 / Someday Some Way (Tamla 54065 1962)
ISLEY BROTHERS – Behind a Painted Smile / All Because I Love You (Tamla 54175 1968)
No apologies for the number of Tamla-Motown tunes that appear on this list. If anyone perfected the art of the pop single, it was them. “Beechwood 4-5789” comes from a time when the Marvelettes were unquestionably the label’s top girl group, before they were eclipsed by the Supremes and the Vandellas. The Isleys were a bit of an awkward fit at Tamla. They were used to writing and producing their own material, and only hung around for a couple of years. They left a handful of classics. “Behind a Painted Smile” was far more popular in the UK where its high tempo suited the emerging Northern Soul scene.

HUMAN LEAGUE – Being Boiled / Circus of Death (Fast 4 1978)
I was never much of fan of the Human League when they went mainstream. “Being Boiled” had more in common with Cabaret Voltaire and Suicide than it did with the Smash Hits friendly hits of the eighties – a kind of steampunk synth pop.

BAUHAUS – Bela Lugosi’s Dead / Boys (Small Wonder 2 1979)
The track that launched a million Goths. At the time there was nothing quite like it. A nine minute debut single, with a three note bassline, dubby rimshots as beats, scratchy, atonal guitar and Peter Murphy’s ominous Boris Karloff impression. It got a new lease of life when it was featured in the dodgy Catherine Deneuve / David Bowie movie “The Hunger”.

FOUR TOPS – Bernadette / I Got a Feeling (Motown 1104 1967)
If you actually listen closely to the lyrics, this is quite a creepy song of obsession and possessive jealousy. It doesn’t come across that way, of course, ’cause it’s Levi Stubbs – a man who seemed permanently on the edge of heartbreak. There’s a bit near the end where there’s a single note fade before Stubbs kicks in with “Bernadette!”. It’s almost impossible to come in at the right time if you’re singing along – it seems to follow no time signature known to humans.

WAH! HEAT – Better Scream / Joe (Inevitable 1 1980)
The best song ever written about the CIA’s plot to overthrow Fidel Castro by staging the second coming of Christ. Wylie was good in those days – he had the tunes to match his mouth. For a while Wah! Heat were the best band to come out of Liverpool. Ever. Didn’t last too long though – maybe three singles.

BILLY BRAGG – Between the Wars EP (Go Discs EP1 1985)
I said I wasn’t counting EPs, but this was a seven inch, and was more an A side with three B sides than an EP. “Between the Wars” is one of the finest tunes that Billy Bragg has ever written. Like Costello’s “Shipbuilding”, it deals with the fact that a war economy brings full employment. The factories, shipyards and mines have full order books, and prosperity abounds for all, but there is always a price to pay.

BULL MOOSE JACKSON – Big Ten Inch Record / I Needed You (King 4580 1952)
Philip Larkin may have thought that sex started in 1963, but old Bull Moose disproves that. This is a masterpiece of double entendre – he’s talking about a ten inch shellac blues record. What did you think he meant when he sings “I cover her with kisses / and when we’re in a lover’s clinch / she gets all excited /when she begs for my big 10 inch…”?

JONI MITCHELL – Big Yellow Taxi / Woodstock (Reprise 906 1970)
As jaunty a tune about impending environmental catastrophe as you’re ever likely to hear – with a verse about getting dumped at the end for good measure.

SMITHS – Bigmouth Strikes Again / Money Changes Everything (Rough Trade 192 1986)
Sometimes Morrissey’s endless self-loathing can get tiresome. It’s better when there’s a chipper self-deprecatory humour to it, as on this track.

PETER GABRIEL – Biko / Shosholoza (Charisma 370 1980)
In 1977, anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, 30, died as the result of head injuries he received whilst in a police station in Pretoria. The regime tried to argue that they were self inflicted as part of a suicide attempt. It was this institutionalised brutality as much as the racism of the Apartheid regime that provoked such moral outrage around the world. Peter Gabriel’s lament for the man was dark, but unsentimental and trod the fine line between preachiness and liberal handwringing superbly.

SUGARCUBES – Birthday / Icelandic version (One Little Indian 7 1987)
This still sounds extraordinary more than twenty years later. A surreal tale of the friendship between an old man and a little girl (in a time when people wouldn’t immediately jump to the wrong conclusion), it introduced the world to Björk, and in some ways, it introduced the world to Iceland. Certainly, little attention had been paid to the country’s arts since the great Viking sagas of nearly 1000 years ago.

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