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 15

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Today’s installment wraps up the Ds.

WAY OUT WEST – Domination / mixes (Deconstruction 34282 1996)
The single that followed this one, “The Gift”, was Way Out West’s first big hit, but “Domination” is the more exciting record – a big, punchy deep house monster with a scary fifties sci-fi voice over.

BLUE OYSTER CULT – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper / Tattoo Vampire (Columbia 10384 1976)
Even when metal was at its most unfashionable around the time of punk, BOC were one of the bands it was deemed OK to like – even though they sometimes sounded like any other airbrushed AOR band. “The Reaper” shows both sides of the group – the glossy vocal harmonies and the biker-rock rhythm. The seven inch edit issued over here a few years later does the track no favours – the brilliant centre-piece guitar solo was entirely cut to bring the song down to a radio-friendly length by some cloth-eared editor.

THE JAM – Down in a Tube Station at Midnight / So Sad About Us / The Night (Polydor 8 1978)
For the first year or so of their recording career, the Jam were little more than a Who tribute act on amphetamines. This song and its parent album All Mod Cons changed that for good. The mindless violence and racist thugs that it portrays were all too familiar in that era, and Weller brilliantly captures the fear and pointlessness of these kinds of unprovoked, random attacks.

PETULA CLARK – Downtown / You Better Love Me (Pye 15722 1964)
BLUE NILE – The Downtown Lights / The Wires Are Down (Linn 3 1989)
TOM WAITS – Downtown Train / Tango ‘Til They’re Sore (Island 260 1985)

In popular song, downtown is a semi-mythical place where the tribulations of the working week are cast aside in favour of bright lights, music and dancing. No song better encapsulates this carefree joy than Petula Clark’s “Downtown”. Tom Waits shares the sentiment, injecting a little rumpled melancholy for good measure. Paul Buchanan’s protagonist, though, is more of an observer than a reveller, and gives the feeling that the bright lights, music and dancing offer merely some temporary solace that helps to hold together a creaking relationship in the short term.

PROPAGANDA – Dr Mabuse / Femme Fatale (ZTT 2 1984)
Eighties audio excess really reached its zenith with Trevor Horn’s huge sounding productions for Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Propaganda. “Dr Mabuse” is a ten minute dramatic monster, telling tales of the evil deeds of Norbert Jacques’ villainous master of telepathy and hypnosis.

SUICIDE – Dream Baby Dream / Radiation (Island 6543 1979)
Suicide had more in common with acts like the Cramps and the Misfits than they did with the Human League or Cabaret Voltaire. Despite their use of keyboards and electronics instead of guitars, they were at heart a rockabilly band. “Dream Baby Dream” is like the soundtrack to some relentless, sexual nightmare.

PJ HARVEY – Dress / Water / Dry (Too Pure 5 1991)
It’s hard to walk in the dress, it’s not easy / I’m spilling over like a heavy loaded fruit tree”. Genius.

RAY POLLARD – The Drifter / Let Him Go (United Artists 916 1965)
This is a fairly obscure one. Ray Pollard was a soul singer who was once a member of a group called the Wanderers. He didn’t exactly uproot many trees during his recording career, but “The Drifter” became a big favourite on the Northern Soul scene. It’s a big, bold ballad telling the tale of a character who wanders, purposeless, from town to town following the death of his beloved. Pollard had a pleading, soulful voice slightly redolent of the great Levi Stubbs. He deserved to be better known, and this song in particular should have been massive. Sadly, he died in 2005 aged 74.

BRAN VAN 3000 – Drinkin’ in LA / mixes (Capitol 811 1997)
Are they still going? This Canadian collective had a massive hit with this and then seemed to slip from the radar just as quickly, at least in this country. “Drinkin’ in LA” is a brilliant song about confusion, rootlessness and homesickness that owes a lot to Blue Lines era Massive Attack.

STICK McGHEE – Drinkin’ Wine Spo-dee-o-dee / Blues Mixture (Atlantic 873 1949)
Stick McGhee was blues legend Brownie’s little brother. The original recording of “Drinkin’ Wine…” was cut for the tiny Harlem label in 1946. Atlantic boss Ahmet Ertegun heard the track and tried to license it, but the masters could not be found. He had no idea who Stick was, so he phoned the only blues musician that he knew in New York – Brownie McGhee. It so happened that Brownie’s brother was with him, and Ertegun arranged for Stick to make a new recording of the tune for Atlantic. It went on to become one of the biggest rhythm and blues hits of the pre-rock era.

BABES IN TOYLAND – Dust Cake Boy / Spit to See the Shine (Treehouse 17 1989)
I saw Babes in Toyland live on several occasions, and it never ceased to amaze me how THAT voice came out of the slight figure of Kat Bjelland. In their prime, Babes in Toyland were one of the most exciting bands around. There was something slightly ramshackle about them, and yet they had a furious energy that few could match. Kat sounds a little peeved on “Dust Cake Boy”. Just a tad.

ELMORE JAMES – Dust My Broom / Catfish Blues (Trumpet 146 1952)
For me, Elmore was the champ of the electric blues artists. Howlin’ Wolf was wild, Hooker was dark, Muddy was boisterous; Elmore had a lazy elegance about him in both his singing and playing – unpolished and unhurried, but pure class.

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