The M M & M 1000 – part 64

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

CANDI STATON – Young Hearts Run Free / I Know (Warner 1976)
Looking back at their careers, I would hazard a guess that most of the great soul singers would probably look at their disco period and cringe a bit. You can count on the fingers of one hand how many of the best disco singles were made by established soul stars. Young Hearts Run Free is a glorious exception to that rule, a tale of ‘don’t do what I did’ that sounds euphoric rather than full of regret. Soulful and cheese-free.

BOB & MARCIA – Young, Gifted and Black / version (Harry J 1970)
It was common practice in the late sixties and early seventies in Jamaica to take the latest hot new soul and R&B tunes and cover them in a reggae style. Very occasionally, the cover struck a chord more neatly than the original. That was the case with Bob Andy and Marcia Griffiths’ Harry Johnson produced version of the Nina Simone anthem, certainly in the UK. Possibly because it sounds purely celebratory and untinged with the weight of history, or perhaps because it just fits with the island rhythms.

CLOVERS – Your Cash Ain’t Nothin’ But Trash / I’ve Got My Eyes On You (Atlantic 1954)
A funny song about the come-uppance of a blameless fellow who thinks he’s going to enjoy his new roll. Wrong. Even the mugger sees him as pitiful. It sounds like classic Lieber & Stoller, but in fact was written by Atlantic veteran, the multi-talented Jesse Stone. The Clovers saw themselves primarily as a ballad group, but with one or two exceptions, it’s their uptempo and humorous numbers that still resonate more than half a century later.

KRISTIN HERSH – Your Ghost / The Key / Uncle June And Aunt Kiyoti / When The Levee Breaks (4AD 1994)
I think Hips and Makers is a neglected masterpiece, every bit as good as any Throwing Muses album (bar the first). With Michael Stipe aboard (and remember, REM were just about the biggest band on the planet in 1994), this was definitely a calculated push towards the mainstream. It didn’t quite happen. Stellar guest aside, it’s simply a great song.

LOVE – Your Mind and We Belong Together / Laughing Stock (Elektra 1968)
Forever Changes bombed in the US when it came out. It didn’t in Blighty, but even so, it’s one of those weird quirks of history that a record so venerated down the years was a commercial failure on its release. The band were falling apart, and by the time Four Sail came out in 1969, Arthur Lee had gotten rid of the lot of them. This 45 was a last hurrah by the classic line-up, and although it’s probably owned by hundreds of thousands of people in the form of bonus cuts on their CD copies of Forever Changes, it’s still obscure. But they’re great songs – a little ragged, perhaps, but certainly deserving more than postscript status.

THIRTEENTH FLOOR ELEVATORS – You’re Gonna Miss Me / Tried To Hide (International Artists 1966)
That weird burbling noise is the electric jug, a sound pretty much unique to history’s greatest acid-drenched garage band. Lysergic punk of the highest order.

ESG – You’re No Good / UFO / Moody (Factory 1981)
These three songs originally comprised the first side of ESG’s debut mini LP for 99 Records. Factory took them, and put them out as a seven inch in the UK. Sparse and airy, and dominated by Leroy Glover’s walking bass line, the Scroggins sisters sounded like nothing else around before or since. Absolutely hypnotic music. I saw them nearly a quarter of a century on at ATP, and live they were just incredible.

JAMES CARR – You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up / That’s What I Want To Know (Goldwax 1966)
An apt title for a singer who struggled with severe depression all his life. When it comes to the southern soul ballad, nobody can touch Carr – not even Otis. He should have been a huge star, but it never really happened for him, partly because of his mental health problems.

RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ / There’s a Woman (Philles 1964)
I’m not a huge fan of Spector’s Wall of Sound productions. Granted they were tailored for AM radio, but too often they sound like they were recorded at the bottom of a well. This one works, though. Serious melodrama on an epic scale. The birth of the power ballad?

MIRACLES – You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me / Happy Landing (Tamla 1962)
Nearly ten per cent of this list is accounted for by the Motown group of labels, so it’s fitting to end with one of the songs that really put them on the map.

And that, my friends, is that. This list started in October 2008, and the whys, whats and wherefores were all dealt with here. I hope that I’ve inspired a few people to dig out old tunes they’d forgotten, or to seek out stuff they’d not heard.

My disclaimer at the beginning of each part that it’s a purely subjective list is important. Nobody’s trying to be definitive here. And if I did it again, I’m sure there’d be plenty of changes. No Beatles – well that probably seems absurd to most people. I’m not being deliberately iconoclastic. I just don’t like any of their singles as much as I like these ones. If Tomorrow Never Knows, Within You Without You, Helter Skelter or A Day in the Life had been 45s, they’d have been in – no question.

A few stats. My favourite year appears to be 1966 with 55 entries. By decade, they break down as follows:

1900s – 0
1910s – 1
1920s – 25
1930s – 12
1940s – 23
1950s – 81
1960s – 274
1970s – 222
1980s – 218
1990s – 144

Top act is the Temptations with 11.

Finally, the honoury 1001st 45 goes to Limmie & the Family Cooking’s You Can Do Magic (Avco 1973). A breezy pop soul tune, and the first single I ever bought.


The M M & M 1000 – part 47

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

COASTERS – Searchin’ / Young Blood (Atco 6087 1957)
Not the Coasters at their most comic, but a fine pair of catchy doo-wop / pop tunes nevertheless.

COCKNEY REBEL – Sebastian / Rock and Roll Parade (EMI 2051 1973)
I’ll be the first to admit that “Sebastian” borders on ludicrous pomposity with its quasi-operatic structure and full-on bombastic orchestration, not too mention Steve Harley at his most mannered in the vocal department. Still, there’s something deeply appealing in its guileless over-the-topness.

CABARET VOLTAIRE – Seconds Too Late / Control Addict (Rough Trade 60 1980)
“Seconds Too Late” is one of Cabaret Voltaire’s most chilling tracks, steeped in paranoia and foreboding. It also still sounds amazingly contemporary. Here’s the original video:

PINK FLOYD – See Emily Play / The Scarecrow (EMI Columbia 8214 1967)
English psychedelic pop at its very best.

BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON – See That My Grave Is Kept Clean / Electric Chair Blues (Paramount 12608 1928)
The early blues artists never shied away from topics not normally associated with popular song – disease, addiction, poverty, early death. All were only too real in the world around them. “See The My Grave Is Kept Clean” is a sombre song with the protagonist already dead asking for one last favour. The sad thing is, after Jefferson died the following year, he was buried in an unmarked grave. When a headstone was eventually erected in 1967, the precise whereabouts of his resting place was no longer known. In 1997 he finally got his wish with a proper granite headstone, and ten years later, the cemetery was renamed the Blind Lemon Jefferson Memorial Cemetery. As for the song, it’s been covered many times, most famously by Bob Dylan. My personal favourite version was by the Dream Syndicate.

JUDY COLLINS – Send in the Clowns / Houses (Elektra 45253 1975)
An opinion splitter. Many people find this Stephen Sondheim song almost comically mawkish. I’m not among them (obviously, otherwise it wouldn’t be here). Sinatra used to sing this a lot, but I think Judy Collins nails it. It’s weird that it feels so sad and resigned and yet I haven’t got a clue what it’s all about. But the “well, maybe next year” bit at the end is the epitome of crushed hope to me, and always brings a chill to the spine.

FIELD MICE – Sensitive / When Morning Comes To Town (Sarah 18 1989)
Sarah Records and the Field Mice – the kings of twee. Even many of their fans wear it like a badge – an infantile world of innocence and sweets. I never saw it. OK, they could be a bit wet at times, but “Sensitive” is actually a really angry song.. It’s fast and often furious as it rages against a callous world where aestheticism is perceived as a weakness. A big, meaty ‘fuck you’ to philistines.

BIG STAR – September Gurls / Mod Lang (Ardent 2912 1974)
I see Big Star as the precursors to the Replacements. Romanticism tinged with self-destructive tendencies. At times bright and sunny (as on this little gem), at others like an emotional car crash (most of the legendary Sister/Lovers). There were also times when they churned out some dreary dad-rock, but it was 1974.

LOVE – Seven and Seven Is / Number Fourteen (Elektra 45605 1966)
Surrealistic punk rock played out on acoustic guitars and featuring a (literally) explosive climax. What’s not to love?

MARVIN GAYE – Sexual Healing / instrumental (Columbia 3302 1982)
An Indian summer or a new beginning? After his Belgian exile, serious depression and final freedom from his fraught relationships with Motown and the Gordys, Marvin came back and showed the young pretenders like Alexander O’Neal and Luther Vandross who was the boss in the bedroom soul stakes. Murdered by his father two years later, the opening question can never be answered.

JOE TURNER – Shake, Rattle & Roll / You Know I Love You (Atlantic 1026 1954)
It’s all about sex, of course. Many people will only know the bowdlerized Bill Haley version. Most of the lyrics were changed or cut to protect the sensitive dispositions of white folk (and allow radio play). Including the cunnilingus references (“I get over the hill and way down underneath”). Inexplicably they left the “I’m like a one-eyed cat peepin’ in a seafood store” line unchanged. Too subtle for ’em I guess.

JOHNNY KIDD & THE PIRATES – Shakin’ All Over / Yes Sir, That’s My Baby (HMV 753 1960)
There was more to British rock & roll than Cliff Richard and the Larry Parnes school of clean-cut clones. Not much more, though. The frankly bonkers Vince Taylor and the great Johnny Kidd are the only ones who spring to mind who could hold their own with their American counterparts.

JIMMY REED – Shame, Shame, Shame / There’ll Be a Day (Vee-Jay 509 1963)
Jimmy Reed was one of only a few of the original electric blues artists whose career truly flourished in the wake of the British blues boom. Many of his songs have become pub back room standards including this one.

THE YARDBIRDS – The Shapes of Things / You’re a Better Man Than I (Columbia 7848 1966)
If Clapton had had his way, the Yardbirds would have remained a footnote in rock history, regurgitating electric blues standards for a white audience. Fortunately he gave way to Jeff Beck, and they turned in some some fantastic pieces of proto-psychedelic pop like this fuzz-drenched beaut. Arguably they were the prime influence for the nuggets generation of US garage bands alongside the Stones, and are still much more appreciated across the pond than they are here.

THE CHORDS – Sh’Boom / Little Maiden (Cat 104 1954)
What better way to end this installment than the sublime, uplifting sound of the luckless Chords. One hit wonders, as much to do with legal battles over the name than any failure to match the quality of their debut single, they did at least leave one song of joyous originality and feel-good vocal dexterity. Supposedly a response to the prevalent fears of nuclear annihilation, it shrugs off the threat and parties. And why not.

More soon

The M M & M 1000 – part 35

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

BIRTHDAY PARTY – Mr Clarinet / Happy Birthday (Missing Link 18 1980)
And indeed it is a link. Taking the quirky pop of the Boys Next Door and guiding it towards the einstürzende swamp-rock of the band’s 4AD period, “Mr Clarinet” has a squawky charm of its own. It may seem quite restrained compared to what was to come, but there’s menace ‘neath the surface.

LAST PARTY – Mr Hurst / Hubby’s Hobby (Harvey 2 1987)
I wrote about this forgotten gem here.

4 HERO – Mr Kirk’s Nightmare / Move Wid the House Groove / Combat Dance (Reinforced 1203 1990)
One of the defining tracks that bridged hardcore techno with what was to develop as jungle. As the BPMs turned up, the E-bliss began to turn into paranoia, and “Mr Kirk’s Nightmare” feeds on this and spits it right back out. The sampled voice dispassionately forming Mr Kirk that “your son is dead – he died of an overdose” being pumped out to bodies stretched to the edge on E, K and coke was fairly explicit in its message.

FALL – Mr Pharmacist / Lucifer Over Lancashire (Beggars Banquet 168 1986)
The last forty years have consistently seen waves of hopeful garage bands cranking out two and a half minute tunes, all the while wishing they were in Nowheresville, Oregon in 1965. The Fall have always had a garage sensibility in that polish is strictly for shoes and dinner tables. But they capture the spirit without ever sounding like imitators. Even when they’ve covered garage classics like “Mr Pharmacist”, originally done by a band called the Other Half, they’ve always made them sound like Fall songs, and the originals sound like weak imitations.

CHORDETTES – Mr Sandman / I Don’t Want to See You Cryin’ (Cadence 1247 1954)
There’s something deeply spooky about this song. The squeaky clean harmonies and lack of any sex or sensuality whatsoever, make it seem like the perfect soundtrack to that Stepford world of 1950s suburban America. Mr Sandman is, of course, a character of children’s nightmares, and there’s something really creepy about the unthreatening blandness about the Chordettes, three perfectly lovely white, Christian, Republican girls. It cropped up in Gary Ross’ 1998 film Pleasantville, and immediately evoked an environment of conformity and repression.

BYRDS – Mr Tambourine Man / I Knew I’d Want You (Columbia 43271 1965)
BYRDS – My Back Pages / Renaissance Fair (Columbia 44054 1967
I was at a funeral recently, and the deceased’s choice of tune to send the congregation out was Dylan’s original of “Mr Tambourine Man”. An off the wall choice, but obviously a deeply personal one. The Byrds’ excised large chunks of the song for their version. What makes it is that jangly guitar riff, an intro as recognisable as any in pop. Rickenbacker sunshine. “My Back Pages” follows the same formula of adapting a wordy Dylan song into a snappy piece full of glistening harmony.

WILSON PICKETT – Mustang Sally / Three Time Loser (Atlantic 2365 1966)
This is one of those car/girl metaphorical songs that were a staple in soul and r&b from the forties to the sixties. It allows for plenty of innuendo (“ride Sally ride” etc) lashed with southern grit.

ANGELS – My Boyfriend’s Back / (Love Me) Now (Smash 1834 1963)
It’s ironic that the girl groups of the sixties were all about boyfriend-worship, and yet they came across as sassy and in control. Modern girl groups often sing about control and dissing any unfortunate males who get in the way, and yet they sound like production line Barbie dolls. Of course that’s a ludicrous generalisation. There were sixties songs like Lesley Gore’s horribly twee “It’s My Party” that were just wet. The Angels certainly didn’t sound like they were the sort to burst into tears at the drop of a hat.

STEVIE WONDER – My Cherie Amour / Don’t Know Why I Love You (Tamla 54180 1969)
“My Cherie Amour” sounds a lot more sensual than ‘my dear love’, which sounds like the sort of thing that a particular camp actor would come out with.. By 1969 Stevie Wonder was leaving the Little Stevie schtick, and the bouncy Motown floorfillers behind, and moving into a more sophisticated type of soul music that he would nail in five stupendous albums recorded between 1972 and 1976.

WEDDING PRESENT – My Favourite Dress / Every Mother’s Son / Never Said (Reception 5 1987)
My favourite Gedge song. The first two Wedding Present albums seemed to be mostly mined from the same failing relationship. But “My Favourite Dress” is the one that really expresses the hurt with its long, almost spoken, second section: “Uneaten meals, a lonely star / A welcome ride in a neighbour’s car / A long walk home in the pouring rain / I fell asleep when you never came / Some rare delight in Manchester town / It took six hours before you let me down / To see it all in a drunken kiss / A stranger’s hand on my favourite dress / That was my favourite dress you know / That was my favourite dress“. That focus on something so banal as an item of clothing is so true to life. The big picture is often hard to take in, and it’s the little things that are often so upsetting. All the while, the song has an almost bouncy arrangement that’s underpinned by an underlying sadness. Still sounds magnificent.

WHO – My Generation / Shout and Shimmy (Brunswick 5944 1965)
When you cut through all the layers of irony, it’s still a great song. Back then (and indeed for MY generation which was the next lot along), the generation gap was real and cavernous. I’m not so sure such a thing exists at all any more.

TEMPTATIONS – My Girl / Nobody But My Baby (Gordy 7038 1964)
MARY WELLS – My Guy / Oh Little Boy (Motown 1056 1964)

Two Motown songs that everybody knows, probably to the point that they’ve become banal background noise piped out of nostalgia radio stations, supermarkets and every other damn public space. They’re so familiar that nobody ever really listens to them any more, which is such a shame. I could wax lyrical about the commodification of pop, but now is not the time to come over like a poor man’s Paul Morley.

LOVE – My Little Red Book / Message to Pretty (Elektra 45603 1966)
The first missive from the sixties most ironically named band was a piece of Bacharach and David cheese, punked up. Although it has the sort of lyric that Smokey Robinson would reject as being too twee, Arthur Lee actually makes it sound like an angry and bitter thing, full of pent-up resentment.

SIMON & GARFUNKEL – My Little Town / Rag Doll (Columbia 10230 1975)
The product of a very short reunion, “My Little Town” carries on from where the likes of “The Boxer” left off. Full of nostalgia, wall of sound production and fantastic harmonies.

10,000 MANIACS – My Mother, the War / Planned Obsolescence / National Education Week (Reflex 1 1984)
Natalie Merchant seems to get many people’s backs up. They see her as some kind of bossy school ma’am. Perhaps it’s because she never tried to hide her intelligence, or conform to the stereotype of sexy front for her band. The titles from 10,000 Maniacs’ first EP tell it all. She wasn’t going to sing about staple pop fare. What may shock anyone whose never heard these early tracks is how sonically adventurous they are. “My Mother, the War” sounds like a cross between the Young Marble Giants and the Jesus & Mary Chain at their noisiest. Natalie imparts a tale of an everywoman figure whose brood is out fighting, possibly never to return. She touches on both the mundane and the macabre – of gossiping neighbours, shiny parades, anxiety and bloodied carrion while surrounded by a maelstrom of feedback and quick-step drums.

DAVID RUFFIN – My Whole World Ended / I’ve Got to Find Myself a New Baby (Motown 1140 1969)
SUPREMES – My World is Empty Without You / Everything Is Good About You (Motown 1089 1965)

Two more Motown classics, and two that haven’t been jaded by over-exposure. Motown’s writers were never ones for understating an emotion. The boy meets girl songs are usually accompanied by over the top declarations of how damn wonderful he/she is. The boy loses girl (or vice versa) are usually apocalyptic catastrophes. Credit to the singers that they always made you believe. David Ruffin and Diana Ross were both lead singers of their respective groups, and both got a bit big for their boots, leaving the group format behind for a solo career. There the similarity ends. David Ruffin’s post-Temptations career started well enough, but as the group got bigger, he got left behind and ended up dead too young. Lady Di, of course, became showbiz royalty.

ELVIS PRESLEY – Mystery Train / I Forgot to Remember to Forget (Sun 223 1955)
Forget Graceland, rhinestones, cheeseburgers, leather jumpsuits, terrible films, “Do the Clam” and all the other monstrosities. This is why he mattered.

More soon.

The M M & M 1000 – part 4

Here’s the fourth batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Nearly through the A’s.

VELVET UNDERGROUND – All Tomorrow’s Parties / I’ll Be Your Mirror (Verve 10427 1966)
If you’ve got a copy of the first Velvets single then the beers are on you – replete with picture sleeve, mint copies are worth in the region of five grand. Even the (most common) promo fetches a three figure sum. It’s not here because it’s rare, but because it’s a brilliant record – with Nico sounding like the most bored party-goer in history.

HASHIM – Al-Naafyish (The Soul) / mix / bonus beats (Cutting Records 200 1983)
This has been out loads of times on loads of labels. The reason being that it’s a timeless electro classic that, along with Cybotron’s “Clear”, helped pave the way for the Detroit techno explosion. Hashim is Jerry Calliste Jr. He’s made other records, but none had anything like the impact of his first.

LOVE – Alone Again Or / A House Is Not a Motel (Elektra 45629 1968)
Two classics from Forever Changes. Bryan Maclean’s upbeat, optimistic “Alone Again Or” with its mariachi horns is a blast of sunshine, in contrast to Arthur Lee’s paranoid visions on the flip.

DEODATO – Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001) / Spirit of Summer (CTI 12 1973)
Richard Strauss’s fanfare to Friedrich Nietzsche memorably featured in Kubrick’s 2001. Five years after the movie, it was turned in a jazz-fusion monster by Brazillian keyboard player Eumir Deodato.

STIFF LITTLE FINGERS – Alternative Ulster / 78 RPM (Rough Trade RT004 1978)
Recorded during the darkest days of the Troubles, “Alternative Ulster” is brim full of molten anger. With one of the greatest guitar intros to come out of punk, it positively seethes. The title was filched from a contemporary Belfast fanzine.

ELVIS PRESLEY – Always On My Mind / Separate Ways (RCA 740815 1972)
Probably the last decent record that Elvis made, closing a four year creative renaissance that followed a decade of tat.

SUBWAY SECT – Ambition / Different Story (Rough Trade RT007 1978)
“Ambition” was probably the first punk single to feature what sounds like a fairground pump organ. Vic Godard’s mob always were a little different, and he soon went into a kind of neo-jazz crooner direction. He never bettered this, though.

TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS – American Girl / Fooled Again (Shelter 62007 1977)
DON McLEAN – American Pie / part 2 (United Artists 50856 1971)

Hard to believe that Petty was initially lumped in with the likes of Television and Talking Heads as the US’s answer to UK punk. “American Girl” is so Roger McGuinn it hurts – good tune, though. “American Pie” survived a grisly assault by Madonna. I know many people who detest the original – quite why is beyond me. It’s clever and literate and is a lot of fun to deconstruct. But it also works as an emotional response to the death of McLean’s schoolboy hero, Buddy Holly.

MASSIVE ATTACK – Angel / Group Four (Wild Bunch 10 1998)
“Angel” is loosely based on an old Horace Andy Studio One tune, but here it’s both sensual and threatening. Andy’s honeyed tones contrast vividly with the brooding background. It’s amazing that Mezzanine is already a decade old. It still sounds as fresh as the day it came out to these ears.

ARTHUR ALEXANDER – Anna / I Hang My Head and Cry (Dot 16387 1962)
Despite having songs covered by the Beatles (this one) and the Stones (“You’d Better Move On”), Arthur Alexander is still an undeservedly obscure figure. Great tunes and a rich baritone sometimes aren’t enough. Alexander spent the seventies and eighties in obscurity, but looked set to capitalise on his growing cult status in 1993 when he signed a new recording and publishing deal. A month later he suffered a fatal heart attack.

DANCE CHAPTER – Anonymity / New Dance (4AD AD18 1980)
I think I’m one of the only people on the planet who rates this. Back from the days when most acts on 4AD were proto-gothic Bauhaus / Joy Division clones, Leeds band Dance Chapter were no different. Singer Cyrus Bruton was quite a charismatic character, and he gives his all to this song which somehow transcends its influences. Nothing else they recorded was anything like as good.

More soon