The M M & M 1000 – part 60

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

PUBLIC ENEMY – Welcome to the Terrordrome / version (Def Jam 1990)
Not just an intense rush of sonic warfare, but a masterclass in rapping from Chuck D. The rhythms and rhymes in the verses are incredible, and the lyrics themselves are both an astute political scattergun attack on modern society and also a joyful barrage of wordplay almost for the hell of it.

McCARTHY – Well of Loneliness / Antimamericancretin / Unfortunately (September 1987)
Jangly agitpropers McCarthy also had a gifted lyricist in Malcolm Eden. Well of Loneliness has nothing much to do with the Radclyffe Hall novel of the same name. Instead it’s a world-weary piece of defeatist cynicism. Nothing’ll change, so what’s the point? A view, I might add, that Eden the optimist is satirising.

LOUIS ARMSTRONG & HIS HOT FIVE – West End Blues / Fireworks (Okeh 1928)
PET SHOP BOYS – West End Girls / A Man Could Get Arrested (Parlophone 1985)

One of the very best tunes from a three year period during which Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens rolled out classic after classic, West End Blues is a mournful piece, swaying almost drunkenly. Perhaps the tune that fits the prohibition era more than any other in its air of melancholy and moonshine. Sixty years on, there is an air of sadness to West End Girls, too, that also reflects the age of rampant greed and an ever-widening gap between the haves and the have nots. The east end boys are the Flash ‘Arry brokers of the Loadsamoney generation, and the west end girls the ‘class’ that they aspire to. Consume, consume, consume – but as Tennant says in the second verse – “How much do you need?

RUTS – West One (Shine On Me) / The Crack (Virgin 1980)
Malcolm Owen’s final statement before his death from a heroin overdose is another song that fits the vague theme of the last few of being cut adrift and lost in a society that never turns back to pick up stragglers. A lot of punk bands did reggae, usually badly, but the Ruts were the only ones who managed to fit driving rock and dub together like they were natural bedfellows. West One’s final two minutes is essentially ‘versioned’ from the first three, and just adds to the feeling of disconnection.

PFM – The Western / Hypnotising (Good Looking 1995)
Not the Italian proggers of the same name, PFM were originally junglists Mike Bolton and Jamie Saker. The Western is possibly the finest example of the ambient/electronica side of drum & bass pioneered by LTJ Bukem’s Good Looking Records. Some muppet labelled the sound ‘Intelligent Drum & Bass’, a patronising epiphet that fortunately didn’t stick. The track is an eight minute gallop through the grandeur of Monument Valley – John Ford does jungle.

JIMMY RUFFIN – What Becomes of the Broken Hearted / Baby I’ve Got It (Soul 1966)
JR. WALKER – What Does It Take? / Brainwasher (Soul 1969)

Two belting Motown tunes that everybody is probably familiar with. Walker’s was the more surprising, as he’d never done much in the way of conventional pop-soul before – the All Stars forté was groove-based, brass-led and tight as a gnat’s anus.

SMITHS – What Difference Does It Make? / Back to the Old House (Rough Trade 1984)
For those who weren’t around at the time, it’s hard to stress enough what difference they actually did make. At the time, the NME (then pretty much the official arbiter of what was cool and what wasn’t) had virtually sidelined guitar rock in favour of white-boy funk, Latin disco, jazz-lite and (more understandably) hip hop, electro and go-go. Guitar rock was there to be sneered at, in the main. The Smiths gave the genre a new lease of life (as, in a different way, did the likes of the Minutemen, Husker Du, the Replacements and their ilk across the pond). Unfortunately, 25 years on, their legacy seems more a curse than a blessing.

BUZZCOCKS – What Do I Get? / Oh Shit (United Artists 1978)
The grandfathers of emo? Discuss.

DJ SHADOW – What Does Your Soul Look Like? parts 1-4 (Mo Wax 1995)
OK, stretching my own definition of what is a single here. You could argue it’s not even an EP, but a short album. Whatever. This is Shadow at his best, something, sadly, that he hasn’t begun to approach in recent years. Four pieces of sample based instrumental hip hop that are chilled and expansive. Near as dammit perfect.

PET SHOP BOYS – What Have I Done to Deserve This? / A New Life (Parlophone 1987)
Tennant and Lowe again, this time helping to give Dusty Springfield’s career a deserved Indian Summer. One of the finest singers these islands have ever produced, she was always unfairly put in the box marked ‘middle of the road entertainers’ with the likes of the vastly inferior Cilla and Lulu. Even her (now recognised) masterpiece Dusty In Memphis bombed when it was first issued. She only sings the chorus on this song, but can’t help stealing the show.

GANG OF FOUR – What We All Want / History’s Bunk (EMI 1981)
They never recaptured the glory of their first album, and Solid Gold was (unfairly) seen as a massive disappointment when it came out. The real dross came later. What We All Want is an anti-consumerist anthem built on a crushing bass and drums rhythm.

RAY CHARLES – What’d I Say / part 2 (Atlantic 1959)
Pretty much Ray’s parting shot for Atlantic before he joined ABC and achieved full crossover stardom with the, frankly, ghastly Modern Sounds in Country and Western albums. This is his true legacy. Furious call and response Gospel-soul.

MARVIN GAYE – What’s Going On? / God Is Love (Tamla 1971)
Not a lot I can say about this that hasn’t been said by others. A canonical song from a canonical album.

INVITATIONS – What’s Wrong With Me Baby? / Why Did My Baby Turn Bad (Dynovoice 1965)
Even though I always head this series with a disclaimer that it is totally subjective, one of the major problems of attempting something like this is that there is just so much music that I’ve never heard and never will. Obviously, you get to hear major hits as you go through life and then you get a feel for the artists you like and it all snowballs from there. A lot of songs you hear totally by accident. I hadn’t a clue who the Invitations were, but this song appeared on a Northern Soul comp I bought. It just stood out for me. To be honest, it could be by anybody. The band don’t have anything that marks them out from a thousand other soul vocal groups, and the sound is strictly copycat Motown. But the song’s just great. There’s probably thousands of things out there this good which could have made it on this list if not for pure chance.

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The M M & M 1000 – part 26

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

RED SNAPPER – Image of You / mixes (Warp 111 1998)
Red Snapper have always been red hot live. For me the instrumental stuff has always worked better in a gig setting than the tracks with guest vocalists. One of the group’s most powerful pieces, though, is “Image of You” from the Making Bones album. It’s uncharacteristic of the band but nevertheless a brilliant song. Alison David’s vocals are pleading and soulful, and the use of a string trio to augment the rhythm section give it a dark melancholy.

BIG COUNTRY – In a Big Country / All of Us (Mercury COUNT3 1983)
The Celtic rock thing has become deeply unfashionable, inevitably associated with tartan, plaid and boozy males belching out the choruses at the top of their voices. Maybe it sparks a buried psychological fear of the northern hoards among Anglo-Saxons. Who knows? Granted Big Country were a bit of a one trick pony, but that trick was never more ably performed than on this rousing song.

RUTS – In a Rut / H-Eyes (People Unite 795 1979)
“In a Rut” was one of the greatest singles to come out of punk. Its blend of ferocious rock and dub was blisteringly direct, with the tension racked up by the middle section (that always reminded me somehow of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”). Flipside “H-Eyes” was sadly prescient. Malcolm Owen would be dead of a heroin overdose within two years.

DOBIE GRAY – The In Crowd / Be a Man (Charger 105 1964)
This was pretty much the National Anthem of the Northern Soul scene. It had the tempo and the swing, but just as importantly, the lyrics could have been written about the kids who crammed the all-nighters nearly a decade later.

ROY ORBISON – In Dreams / Shadarosa (Monument 806 1963)
While the man himself has become something of an icon, with the image of the black clothes, dark glasses and trembling tenor that always seemed on the edge of heartbreak an integral part of the culture, his songwriting genius sometimes gets forgotten. “In Dreams” breaks all the rules as far as pop singles go. There’s no chorus, for a start. There are parts that sound like a chorus, but they’re never repeated. In fact no part of the melody is ever repeated. The song builds from a near-spoken intro to something operatic without ever reprising any previous section. Sure, lots of music does that, but to do it in such a way that it’s still catchy as the best pop should be is a remarkable feat.

CHAMELEONS – In Shreds / Nostalgia (Epic 2210 1982)
A ludicrously underrated band. Something that, alas, has always been so. Even though they’ve had a huge influence on bands from Kitchens of Distinction right through to Interpol and the Editors. Indeed, the latter are such carbon copyists, it’s particularly galling that they’re forever accused of ripping off Joy Division. Wrong band, you numpties. “In Shreds” was where it all began, the only product of a brief fling with Epic Records. It’s one of the band’s harshest and angriest missives. B side “Nostalgia” is more typical of their later material.

ELVIS PRESLEY – In the Ghetto / Any Day Now (RCA 9741 1969)
After spending most of the sixties becoming more and more of a joke figure, with ever more embarrassing movies seeming to be his main field of endeavour, Elvis came back with a bang in December 1968 with the legendary NBC TV special. It wasn’t much more than a fleeting Indian summer, but he made a couple of great records during 1969. One of these was “In the Ghetto”, a mournful Gospel influenced piece about the interlinked cycle of poverty and crime. It’s more melodrama than protest song, to be honest, but it’s still a mighty fine record. Nick Cave’s version is pretty good, too – typically wrecked and grim, but with the heart of the song intact.

WILSON PICKETT – In the Midnight Hour / I’m Not Tired (Atlantic 2289 1965)
Karaoke favourite, theme of political talk shows – in fact it’s become such a cliché on TV and radio to wheel this on when anything happens or starts at midnight. Over-familiarity, then, has dulled the song somewhat, but Pickett’s vocal strut and the Memphis horns still maintain their raw appeal.

TOM WAITS – In the Neighbourhood / Frank’s Wild Years (Island 141 1983)
This song marked the clear line in the sand between Tom Waits mark one, the bawdy barfly balladeer, and Tom Waits mark two, the junkyard eccentric with his menagerie of misfits. “In the Neighbourhood” , with its Salvation Army style trombones, is a slow march that celebrates the oddballs that populate the vicinity in a way that’s weirdly moving.

FIVE SATINS – In the Still of the Night / The Jones Girl (Ember 1005 1956)
The Five Satins hailed from New Haven, CT – not a town really known for its rhythm and blues legacy. In many ways they were old fashioned and out of step with the times, their balladry more in tune with older acts like the Orioles and even the Ink Spots rather than the more beat-oriented doowop groups that were springing up in the mid fifties. “In the Still of the Night” is their best known song, a charming slow ballad.

MARVIN GAYE – Inner City Blues / Wholy Holy (Tamla 54209 1971)
GOLDIE PRESENTS METALHEADZ – Inner City Life / Jah (Ffrr 251 1994)

One of the centrepieces of What’s Going On, “Inner City Blues” is more infused with despair than rage. Like the title track, Marvin seems bewildered by the inequalities and social breakdown he sees around him. “Crime is increasing / Trigger happy policing / Panic is spreading / God know where we’re heading” when he says it “makes me wanna holler / And throw up both my hands” it’s more in frustration and resignation that there seems no way to change things. Fast forward nearly a quarter of a century, and the plight of the inner city seems little changed. For singer Diane Charlemagne, the place of refuge is in her lover’s arms. “Inner City Life” was the record, more than any other, that took drum and bass away from the dancefloor and into the mainstream, proving that the music had more to it than just high tempo breakbeats and dark bass, but could be the soul music of the 21st century. It didn’t quite happen, but the record remains a monumental achievement.

More soon

The M M & M 1000 – part 6

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. We’re on to the Bs now.

COLOURBOX – Baby I Love You So / Looks Like We’re Shy One Horse (4AD BAD604 1986)
The Young brothers’ two 1986 singles were both their finest and final moments. “Baby I Love You So” was a reimagining of a Jacob Miller reggae tune, where as the flip was a cut-and-paste dub mash that would have done Steinski proud.

FOUR TOPS – Baby I Need Your Lovin’ / Call On Me (Motown 1062 1964)
The Four Tops were veterans of more than a decade, and had been at Motown for a couple of years by 1964. They’d made little impact. This song was the breakthrough, and marked the start of a four year period where the group and writers Holland, Dozier and Holland could do no wrong.

ELLA FITZGERALD & LOUIS JORDAN – Baby it’s Cold Outside / Don’t Cry, Cry Baby (Decca 24664 1949)
Different to Louis Jordan’s normal brand of good time jump blues. This is a ballad. Of sorts. Ella’s had a nice time, but wants to go home. Louis is trying to think of every reason he can why she should stay. It’s funny, and has a kind of innocent sexual tension to it.

BIG JOE WILLIAMS – Baby Please Don’t Go / Wild Cow Blues (Bluebird 6200 1935)
Joe Williams was billed as the “king of the nine string guitar” – not sure there was much competition for that particular throne. Legendarily eccentric and cantankerous, he nevertheless came up up with some enduring classics. “Baby Please Don’t Go” is probably better known in its incarnation by Them – led by another cantankerous eccentric, Van Morrison.

RUTS – Babylon’s Burning / Society (Virgin VS271 1979)
The Ruts were the first punk band that were really successful in fusing reggae and rock. The Clash didn’t really crack it until London Calling. “Babylon’s Burning” is probably their most famous song, and it still, erm, burns with a fierce energy.

BJÖRK – Bachelorette / My Snare / Scary (One Little Indian 212 1997)
One of the outstanding tracks from Homogenic, an album that she’s never come close to matching as far as I’m concerned.

KING BEE – Back By Dope Demand / Feel the Flow (First Bass 6 1990)
King Bee were, I think, Dutch. Which in 1990 was a strange place for a classic hip hop track to hail from. It’s all about the bass line which comes from a Herbie Hancock tune called “Wiggle Waggle”. It’s an absolute monster.

SUPREMES – Back In My Arms Again / Whisper You Love Me Boy (Motown 1075 1965)
A sort of sequel to “Stop! In the Name of Love” in which Diana Ross’s runaround boyfriend has sheepishly returned to the fold. Not as well known as “Baby Love” (which isn’t on this list), but I prefer my Motown with a bit of grit, a bit of drama – “Baby Love” is a little too sweet for me.

O’JAYS – The Back Stabbers / Sunshine (Philadelphia International 3517 1972)
“They’re smiling in your face, all the time they want to take your place”. It’s the universal tale of duplicitous, two-faced friends that applies to love, work, politics and diplomacy in equal measures. It was the first big hit for the O’Jays in their Philly period. They remain a criminally underrated band.

CREAM – Badge / White Room (Polydor 56315 1969)
Cream’s final single was a short and sweet pop tune with an edge, and a lot preferable to wading through fifteen minute versions of “Spoonful”.

TEMPTATIONS – Ball of Confusion / It’s Summer (Gordy 7099 1970)
Whitfield and Strong at their very best. The whole thing is an urgent, psychedelic funk maelstrom that encompasses lyrics that don’t scan, but pour out like a deranged spewing of grievances. Unlike most vocal groups, the Tempts were never a lead singer and a bunch of back-up guys. Everybody gets their place in the limelight – a tradition continued by rap crews like NWA and the Wu Tang Clan.

BYRDS – Ballad of Easy Rider / Wasn’t Born to Follow (Columbia 44990 1969)
Post ’68, the Byrds went into a creative nosedive, beginning with Sweetheart of the Rodeo, one of the most overrated albums in history. This two minute gem was one of the few good things they came up with. Known as the theme tune of the eponymous film, this version wasn’t actually used in it.

MARIANNE FAITHFULL – Ballad of Lucy Jordan / Brain Drain (Island 6491 1979)
The synth backing sounds horribly dated, but Faithfull’s fag and booze soaked growl is perfect for this song about thwarted ambition and mid life crises. The sound of dreams dashed.

FREDA PAYNE – Band of Gold / The Easiest Way to Fall (Invictus 9075 1970)
This was a UK number one in 1970, and has since become a karaoke standard for wannabe divas. Still a great song, though.

More soon

Paul Fox (1951-2007)

Paul Fox, guitarist and songwriter with the Ruts, died yesterday (October 21st) from cancer, aged 56. A full obituary can be found here. The Ruts were one of the best second-wave punk acts. Their combination of high octane rock and dub reggae was much more convincing than the skanking efforts of contemporaries like the Clash, and they attracted a unique cross-cultural audience, largely due to their roots in the People Unite collective based in multi-ethnic Southall, and their unstinting support for Rock Against Racism. Where other bands talked the talk, and were happy to pose in revolutionary garb and issue appropriate soundbites, the Ruts were a frontline, people’s band. Tragically, the group’s charismatic front man Malcolm Owen died from an overdose of heroin in July 1980. The final single “West One (Shine On Me)” was among the group’s very best efforts. Fox took over as singer as the band reconvened as Ruts DC (Da Capo – from the beginning). The new dub-jazz direction was critically successful, but failed to convert many of the band’s previous fans, and they split up in 1983.