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.