The M M & M 1000 – part 57

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

MIRACLES – Tracks of My Tears / Fork in the Road (Tamla 1965)
SPINNERS – Truly Yours / Where Is That Girl (Motown 1966)

Two classic Motown break-up ballads by two of the finest soul vocal groups of all time. But where everybody must know Tracks of My Tears, Truly Yours is unfairly obscure. Both have glorious angst-ridden choruses. It goes to show that sometimes the difference between being a well-loved classic and a relatively unknown tune is often simply down to luck. Ivy Hunter and Micky Stevenson’s song concerns the receipt of a ‘dear John’ letter, with Bobby Smith bitterly noting that “there’s one thing that I don’t understand / how you had the nerve to take a pen in your hand / and sign the letter ‘truly yours’ when you know that you were never truly mine“. Ouch.

KRAFTWERK – Trans Europe Express / Franz Schubert (Capitol 1977)
There were loads of different versions of this issued at the time. Most had Franz Schubert as the B side, although the UK issue had Europe Endless. On the album, TEE / Metal on Metal / Franz Schubert are a long, uninterrupted suite and a sub four minute edit does rob the track of a lot of its impact. Still, it’s here because it’s brilliant.

JOY DIVISION – Transmission / Novelty (Factory 1979)
On the face of it “Dance, dance, dance to the radio” isn’t Ian Curtis’s most profound lyric, but there’s an agitation to this record that suggests more epileptic fit than homely waltz. It was written before Curtis’s epilepsy was diagnosed, of course. Hooky’s bass intro is one of the greatest you’ll ever hear.

TINDERSTICKS – Travelling Light / Waiting ‘Round You / I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (This Way Up 1995)
While Stuart Staples protests he’s OK and free of any emotional baggage, Carla Torgerson (the Walkabouts) plays the voice of reason, pointing out his self-delusion. Their voices gel perfectly on this country-tinged weepie. Staples’ reading of Otis’s I’ve Been Loving You Too Long is an attractively morose one – all English introspection as opposed to the original’s obvious emotional pain.

OMNI TRIO – Trippin’ On Broken Beats / Soul of Darkness (Moving Shadow 1996)
CAPONE – Tudor Rose / Submerge (Hard Leaders 1999)

Two all time classic drum and bass cuts, but of a very different tone. Rob Haigh’s Trippin’ has a lightness of touch about it that makes the beats seem as airy as the water kiss of a skimming stone. A sample of Richard Burton from the film Anne of a Thousand Days leads off Tudor Rose, an intense stew of fat beats and thumping bass. Dark stuff.

NEW ORDER – True Faith / 1963 (Factory 1987)
The video was one of the weirdest things I’d ever seen – it still looks brilliant. I love the trio of fat-suited dancers, but my favourite bit is exactly three minutes in. Laugh out loud funny.

JOHN LEE HOOKER – Tupelo / Dusty Road (Vee-Jay 1960)
The inspiration for Nick Cave’s song of the same name, Hooker’s Tupelo is a dark rumination of a 1930s flood that inundated the Mississippi town. It’s part reportage and part a haunting and creepy walk among the ghosts of the past.

BYRDS – Turn, Turn, Turn / She Don’t Care About Time (Columbia 1965)
Here’s one for the pub quiz. Which US number one single has the oldest lyrics? Answer – this one (of course), with all the words taken verbatim from the Book of Ecclesiastes (traditionally attributed to King Solomon) except the last six (“I swear it’s not too late”) which were added by Pete Seeger when he adapted the passage to song form.

LITTLE RICHARD – Tutti Frutti / I’m Just a Lonely Guy (Speciality 1955)
Supposedly the finished article was a cleaned up version of a song that was a humorous ode to anal sex. What’s left is lyrical nonsense, but whatever it’s about sounds like a blast. And it gave the world the phrase “A-wop bop-a loo-bop, a-wop bam-boom!”.

THE NORMAL – TVOD / Warm Leatherette (Mute 1978)
The 45 that launched Mute Records consists of two punk-primitive slabs of dystopian electronica recorded by label head honcho Daniel Miller. Warm Leatherette in particular has a disturbing, dispassionate fetishization of car smashes inspired by JG Ballard’s Crash.

CULTURE – Two Sevens Clash / Version (Joe Gibbs 1977)
According to some Rastafarians, 1977 was the year of the coming apocalypse, with 7/7/77 (when the four sevens clash) the most feared date of all. Well, 1978 rolled around without much fuss, but the year did leave the world with one of the finest roots reggae albums of all time, and this majestic single, the LP’s title track.

And talking of apocalypses, seven years later (another 7 – spooky) the UK was gripped by Frankie-mania as the second of the group’s trio of tracts on sex, war and religion dropped, and sold and sold and sold. With its sampled passages from the government’s notoriously silly Protect and Survive pamphlet, this was partying in the face of nuclear armageddon. It also ushered in a new era of marketing, with a seemingly endless stream of remixes, and Paul Morley’s Katharine Hamnett inspired T shirts with slogans such as “Frankie Say Arm the Unemployed” and the like present on every high street during that summer. It was a very Thatcherite type of protest – tied in with commerce, music and fashion and saying more about the individual rather than actually attempting any concrete political change.

SLITS – Typical Girls / I Heard it Through the Grapevine (Island 1979)
The Slits were not your typical girls at all when it came to the post-77 crowd. Posh, public school educated and female in a scene dominated by white working class boys, they were also more interested in reggae and soul music than any 1-2-3-4 buzz-rock. That they couldn’t really play gave their tunes a ramshackle feel that contrasted with the usual tight rhythms of the dub they loved. Their covers (like Grapevine) were saved from being bad karaoke by a questing spirit and sense of mischief that made them great in a way that’s almost impossible to define.

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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.

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The M M & M 1000 – part 45

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

MODERN LOVERS – Roadrunner Once / Roadrunner Twice (Beserkley 1 1977)
The rhythm’s straight out of the Neu motorik! handbook. The bass line is equally hypnotic. On top of it, Jonathan Richman’s vocal is almost a chant, with the chorus a primitive response of “Radio On”. It gives the song the sense of the monotony of night time freeway driving, with just the radio to break the tedium.

LONNIE DONEGAN – Rock Island Line / John Henry (Decca 10647 1955)
The UK skiffle boom started with Lonnie Donegan, Beryl Bryden and Chris Barber doing short sets of American folk-blues songs such as this one by Leadbelly during the interval at gigs by Barber’s jazz band. With Donegan singing and playing guitar, Bryden providing a washboard rhythm and Barber the stand-up bass, the blueprint for hundreds of skiffle combos was set.

DAVID BOWIE – Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide / Quicksand (RCA 5021 1974)
Cabaret singer Camille O’Sullivan does a superb version of this at her live shows, with the accent on the Brel like melodrama of the song. Chuck in Mick Ronson’s sinister guitar climax and you have one of Bowie’s best songs of the Ziggy era.

BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD – Rock ‘n’ Roll Woman / A Child’s Claim to Fame (Atco 6519 1967)
Despite the rock cliché title, this is one of Stephen Stills’ best tunes, with the harmonies a kind of trial run for those that made CSN superstars.

JACKIE BRENSTON – Rocket 88 / Come Back Where You Belong (Chess 1458 1951)
A classic rock ‘n’ roll record. The first rock ‘n’ roll record? Many claim so, but it’s a pointless debate. No one record was beamed in from the future to provide a rock year zero. It’s a debate about something that has no answer.

HERBIE HANCOCK – Rockit / version (Columbia 4054 1983)
Jazz purists like to snort haughtily at Herbie Hancock’s excursions into the mainstream, but he’s always managed to incorporate things like funk, disco and in this case electro without coming across as a tourist or a bandwagon jumper. This isn’t jazz. Even so, Hancock’s playing still retains a definite jazz-like looseness even on something as stripped down and robotic as this.

REM – (Don’t Go Back to) Rockville / Catapult (IRS 9931 1984)
“Rockville” was REM’s most straightforward statement up to that point – a sixties soaked country-rock tune with a singalong chorus. It could almost have been a Monkees tune.

BARRY ANDREWS – Rossmore Road / Win a Night Out With a Well Known Paranoiac (Virgin 378 1980)
A genuine cult record. Not widely known at all, but generally loved by those who do know it. Andrews was the keyboard player with XTC, and “Rossmore Road” was a lush, melancholy hymn to the eponymous suburban street. The B side is a cracked, rambling semi-jazz thing along the lines of Joni’s “Twisted”

THELONIOUS MONK QUINTET – Round About Midnight / Well You Needn’t (Blue Note 543 1947)
In my mind, the finest tune to come out of the bop era, and much covered. The melody is fairly simple, romantic and wistfully nocturnal, despite some quite unusual chords. It’s been covered a zillion times (Robert Wyatt’s is the best), but nothing has the same evocative noir-ish atmosphere as this 1947 recording.

THE FALL – Rowche Rumble / In My Area (Step Forward 11 1979)
Amazing to think that thirty years on, the Fall are still making great records. Powered by a tinny organ riff and tribal drums, this invective against Big Pharma (as no one called it then) still sounds as fresh and exciting as the day it came out.

DR FEELGOOD – Roxette / Route 66 (United Artists 35760 1974)
THE SPINNERS – The Rubberband Man / Now That We’re Together (Atlantic 3355 1976)
LINK WRAY – Rumble / The Swag (Cadence 1347 1958)

So many songs on this list are built upon an outstanding, but simple bass line. These three very different tunes are all examples of that. “Roxette”, the Feelgoods’ finest three minutes, has a punishing three note bass riff over which Wilko Johnson provides a clipped guitar harmony. Add Lee Brilleaux’s growling, angry vocal, and you have a menacing tale of the adulterer caught red-handed. The Spinners didn’t enter the disco era with generic pap like so many of their peers, but came up with this beauty kept afloat by a boinging rubber bass that has the same in your face repetition as Giorgio Moroder’s synth riffs. On top, the harmonies were as lush as ever. Link Wray’s “Rumble” is a prowling beast that almost plods along on a slow walking bass line that gives the guitarist free reign to sketch the most primitive of melodies with a series of thrashed chords. It’s dirty, sullen and delinquent – the perfect rock record.

DEL SHANNON – Runaway / Jody (Big Top 3067 1961)
Conventional rock history will have you believe that pop music was all bland and sugary between 1958, when the original rock & roll era burned itself out and 1963 when the Beatles arrived on their white chargers to save it. Piffle. Link Wray, Johnny Kidd, the Wailers, Sandy Nelson and countless others kept the primitive rock flame alive during this period while Motown, Stax and southern soul were blossoming. Even mainstream pop acts like Del Shannon were coming up with records that were as sonically adventurous as they were catchy. “Runaway” has a great proto-synth break, a great chorus and a futuristic, effects-laden production. It’s far more forward-looking than anything the Beatles managed until 1965.

SLY & THE FAMILY STONE – Runnin’ Away / Brave and Strong (Epic 10829 1972)
I’ve said it before in these pages, but I find There’s a Riot Goin’ On close to unlistenable. The tunes are fine, but the production is muffled and worn with all the dynamics squeezed out of it. “Runnin’ Away” emerges more or less unscathed, mainly because it’s quite a downbeat, introspective tune to begin with.

ROY ORBISON – Running Scared / Love Hurts (Monument 438 1961)
The Big O’s bolero. Da-da-da-daah, da-da-da-daah goes the rhythm. Tango? Not sure, but it lays a dramatic foundation for Orbison to build on with one of his typically grandiose, emotionally raw melodramas.

KATE BUSH – Running Up That Hill / Under the Ivy (EMI KATE1 1985)
I’m not a huge Kate Bush fan. It’s not her voice, which many people find irritating, but her tendency to over-produce and over-complicate things. That said, there’s no getting away from the fact that this track is an absolute marvel. The production is as dense as they come, but it all fits together to give it a real sense of propulsion. And the song glides brilliantly over the top (in all senses of the phrase). A stunning achievement.

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The M M & M 1000 – part 27

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

FAITHLESS – Insomnia / mix (Cheeky 12010 1995)
“Insomnia” was Faithless’ first single and more or less set the template for most of the big progressive house tracks that were to come from the band. Dominated by its big keyboard motif, it remains a stirring club track that’s as popular now nearly fifteen years on. They’ve never exactly been critics darlings, but I don’t suppose they or their considerable fan base lose much sleep over that.

ARTERY – Into the Garden / Afterwards (Armageddon 26 1981)
Recently reformed, the Sheffield trio were one of the key acts of the post-punk era, although like another great band the Lines, their contribution is only now being acknowledged. “Into the Garden” was their third single, and both sides were actually recorded for Peel sessions. The song has a haunting bass and keyboard riff that, along with Mark Gouldthorpe’s detached vocal, give it a distracted and ghostly feel. Cherry Red released an excellent compilation in 2006 that has all of the band’s best work on. It’s called Into the Garden – An Artery Collection.

CICCONE YOUTH – Into the Groove / Burnin’ Up (Blast First 8 1986)
It sounds slower, even though they (Sonic Youth and Mike Watt of Minutemen / fIREHOSE) actually used Madonna’s original to play along to. You can still hear snatches of her coming through the guitar grunge. The Whitey Album was a bit disappointing after this. It could have been a brilliantly skewed collection of eighties pop covers, but they seemed to run out of enthusiasm for it part way through.

LOUIS JORDAN & HIS TYMPANI FIVE – Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby / GI Jive (Decca 8659 1944)
Back in the days when the BBC plugged five or ten minute gaps between programmes with classic Fred Quimby era Tom & Jerry cartoons, they were as ubiquitous as reruns of the Simpsons are now. I remember hearing this song when I was very young, sung, I believe, by Spike the dog. It wasn’t until many years later that I came across Louis Jordan’s hit recording. It’s a classic, bright, uptempo piece of jump blues that is full of Jordan’s hallmark vigour and humour. It’s easy to see why he was such a massive star during the war years and just after. This is feelgood music that speaks to the feet and the funnybone. He wasn’t afraid to broach the subject of the war (“GI Jive” and “You Can’t Get That No More” being just two examples), but he always did it in an uplifting way that bolstered morale without ever being preachy.

ICE CUBE – It Was a Good Day / Instrumental (Priority 53817 1992)
This came from around the time when Gangsta Rap was at its height – or at least the moral panic about it was. I never bought into the idea that it was going to turn the world’s youth into a bunch of misogynist, gun-crazy psychos. But I did find the gratuitous sexism, violence and bragging really tedious. “It Was a Good Day” is as macho and egotistical as most of the genre, but there’s a sweetness about it. That life in the projects isn’t always brutal, but can have a sunny side. It also has a lazy, summery groove that makes you wish you were chilling out on a front porch with a cool beer watching the world roll by.

KITTY WELLS – It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels / I Don’t Want Your Money (Decca 28232 1952)
This comes from a time when country music was still a young form, born from hillbilly, bluegrass, mountain folk and western swing traditions, but was as yet not mired in hokey showbiz and sentimentality. Kitty Wells had one of the definitive country voices, and this is probably her greatest song. It conjours up images of wooden roadhouses, with pick-ups out front serving dubious whiskey and providing entertainment with a well-stocked jukebox.

SPINNERS – It’s a Shame / Together We Can Make Such Sweet Music (VIP 25057 1970)
The Spinners were woefully served by Motown. In all their time there, they rarely released more than one single a year, and spent most of the time doing odd jobs, recording demos for other acts, and touring as support for some of their more illustrious label mates. When they did actually make a record, it was invariably magnificent. “It’s a Shame” is dominated by a wonderful guitar figure, played by Robert White, one of Funk Brothers. It also features a brilliant lead vocal by GC Cameron who elected to stay at Motown and try his hand at a solo career when the others decamped for Atlantic.

BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON – It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine / Dark Was the Night (Columbia 14303 1927)
More apocalyptic old time relijun from the slightly scary Blind Willie Johnson. The song goes further back than 1927, but Johnson’s was the first recording. It was ‘adapted’ by Led Zeppelin on their Presence album, with new lyrics that rid it of its Gospel past.

ROY ORBISON – It’s Over / Indian Wedding (Monument 837 1964)
A few summers ago I was down in England, sat outside a pub with some friends on a balmy evening. Inside they were doing a karaoke. This came on, and some wag decided to sing it in the style of Michael Caine, ending it with “It’s over…it’s bloody over”. It was pant-wettingly funny (beers had been consumed). Even now, I can’t hear the song without chuckling to myself at the memory. Not the reaction the big O had in mind, of course, with one of his most grandiose and lachrymose ballads.

REM – It’s the End of the World as We Know It / Last Date (IRS 53220 1988)
This breathless stream of consciousness from the Document album is inevitably wheeled on whenever a TV producer is attempting to make light of some apocalyptic news story or other. One of the things that Michael Stipe seems to have lost over the years is his sense of humour, but it was fully intact back then. Supposedly Lennie Bruce, Leonid Brezhnev, Lester Bangs and Leonard Bernstein all came from a dream that Stipe had where everybody had the initials LB. Hmmm. Legs were being pulled there, I think.

FOUR TOPS – It’s the Same Old Song / Your Love is Amazing (Motown 1081 1965)
Some wits have used this as a stick to beat Holland Dozier Holland with. Heathens. OK, they definitely had a formula, but it was one that worked brilliantly. Their songs always seemed to fit Levi Stubbs like a glove, giving him plenty of room to use that beautiful anguish in his voice.

CAROLE KING – It’s Too Late / I Feel the Earth Move (Ode 66105 1971)
Tapestry sold boatloads and suddenly everyone was doing the poor me singer/songwriter thing. What King had that the others didn’t was a grounding in the pure pop of the Brill Building era. So she could combine lyrical navel-gazing with wonderful melodies. “It’s Too Late” is a sad tale of a relationship at its end, simply having run its course.

ORIOLES – It’s Too Soon To Know / Barbra Lee (It’s a Natural 5000 1948)
The Orioles were one of the first ‘bird’ groups (alongside the Ravens), a naming fad that took in Flamingos, Penguins, Swallows, Robins and any number of other avians. The story goes that the group were approached in a bar by a young woman called Deborah Chessler who’d written the song. She went on to become their manager. “It’s Too Soon to Know” became a doowop standard even though it works better seen from the perspective of a young female, although it’s hard to imagine anyone being that naively lovestruck these days.

OTIS REDDING – I’ve Been Loving You Too Long / I’m Depending On You (Volt 126 1965)
Some of the southern soul men were happier with the downbeat material (Percy Sledge and James Carr, for instance) whilst others like Wilson Pickett suited more strident funk. Otis was equally home with both. Indeed, he could make even the saddest ballad like this one climax in the sweaty energy that you’d associated with shouters like “Respect”.

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The M M & M 1000 – part 25

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.

YVONNE ELLIMAN – If I Can’t Have You / Good Sign (RSO 884 1978)
The Bee Gees jumped on the disco bandwagon with Saturday Night Fever, and in their wake, virtually every desperate pop star did a disco record. It’s little wonder, then, that the genre provoked such hostility when there was so much pap being released. Despite loathing pretty much everything to do with the film and its soundtrack, I’ve always had a soft spot for this song. Perhaps it’s because it’s got a heart. It isn’t cheesy and shiny and plastic. Elliman sings it like she means it – with soul.

GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS – If I Were Your Woman / The Tracks of My Tears (Soul 35078 1970)
MILLIE JACKSON – If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right / The Rap (Spring 155 1975)

In popular love song, the woman’s point of view tended to be either doe-eyed worshipper or wronged victim. Often both. Deeper, more complex emotions were rarely aired. That simplified view of the world began to change rapidly as the sixties became the seventies. “If I Were Your Woman” sees Gladys Knight yearning for a man who’s unobtainable. Millie Jackson has got him anyway, despite the fact that he’s married. Neither is apologetic about their situation, although both recognise that it’s far from ideal.

CURTIS MAYFIELD – If There’s a Hell Below (We’re All Gonna Go) / The Makings of You (Curtom 1955 1970)
Amidst an uneasy hubbub, Curtis spits the opening lines of a song that is a frustrated reaction to racial polarisation, political inaction and corruption, social breakdown and the general descent of society into violence – a long way from the ideals of the Civil Rights movement. There is a deep anger about the general complacency of everyone. The repeated refrain of “Don’t Worry” is sarcastic, not reassuring. Coming from a natural optimist, the despair that oozes from every word is shocking. It remains one of Curtis Mayfield’s darkest, but greatest songs, with an arrangement of uneasy funk that builds a fragile surface of joy over a dark turmoil underneath.

HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES – If You Don’t Know Me By Now / Let Me Into Your World (Philadelphia International 3520 1972)
One of the finest soul ballads of the seventies, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” is lush and sad, but at the same time somehow uplifting. Teddy Pendergrass gives one of his finest vocal performances as a frustrated man who can see that the suspicion and jealousy of his partner is threatening their relationship. He’s beginning to wonder if it can ever change, and whether it would be for the best to end it. It’s another example of how soul music had moved from simple boy meets girl, boy loses girl (or vice versa) stuff towards a reflection of the emotional complexities of real relationships.

SPINNERS – I’ll Be Around / How Could I Let You Get Away? (Atlantic 2904 1972)
JACKSON FIVE – I’ll Be There / One More Chance (Motown 1171 1970)

I wrote about the Spinners’ masterpiece here. Both songs cover similar ground – the noble dumpee selflessly reassuring his ex that he’ll always be there for emotional support. Whether she finds that touching or creepily akin to stalking is not recorded. What both also share is an air of steadfast melancholy that is really touching. I don’t think the Jacksons’ ever bettered “I’ll Be There”, even though the sentiments are a little odd coming from a boy yet to reach his teens.

NEW YORK CITY – I’m Doing Fine Now / Ain’t It So (Chelsea 113 1973)
It’s just the way things fell, but here is yet another seventies soul classic. Pretty much one hit wonders, New York City gave a Big Apple take on the Philadelphia sound. Indeed, it sounds more Philly than a lot of Philly records. Despite the suspicions of bandwagon jumping, “I’m Doing Fine Now” is a great song that does the ‘I’m alright even though you’ve gone’ thing refreshingly straight, without the undercurrent of pretence that someone like Smokey Robinson would thread through the subject. They really do sound like they’re doing absolutely fine.

TAMI LYNN – I’m Gonna Run Away From You / The Boy Next Door (Atco 6342 1966)
A Northern Soul favourite, this was reissued in the UK in the seventies and became a hit half a dozen or so years after it was recorded. It’s not difficult to see why it beguiled them at the Casino and the Twisted Wheel. The rhythm is urgent, and there is repeated hook by the backing singers that ensnares the listener immediately.

BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON – I’m Gonna Run to the City of Refuge / Jesus Is Coming Soon (Columbia 14391 1928)
Nick Cave used the song as the basis for his “City Of Refuge” on Tender Prey. It’s not hard to see why he was so drawn to Blind Willie Johnson. Johnson was, on the surface, a bluesman. He sang blues-like tunes accompanied by guitar. But his subject matter was exclusively religious, and he came across like a true apocalyptic fire-and-brimstone type. His earthy growl served only to give him added gravitas. His God was the Old Testament one of judgement and vengeance, not some fluffy happy-clappy type.

FOUR TOPS – I’m In a Different World / Remember When (Motown 1132 1968)
Not generally considered an A list Tops’ song, “I’m in a Different World” ticks all the same boxes for me that their better known songs do. Levi Stubbs sounds emotionally distraught as usual, even if the subject matter is ostensibly upbeat!

PASSIONS – I’m In Love With a German Film Star / Don’t Talk To Me I’m Shy (Polydor 222 1981)
Largely forgotten now, the Passions were a band who never fulfilled their promise. The dreamy, reverb-heavy “German Film Star” is one of the cornerstones of so-called dream-pop (a genre name that I’ve always loathed), with a debt owed by acts as diverse as the Cocteau Twins and Galaxie 500. “Don’t Talk to Me I’m Shy” is faster, more Lush-like.

SKIP JAMES – I’m So Glad / Special Rider Blues (Paramount 13098 1931)
The song’s best known these days through the cover by Cream. Skip James’ original has an atmosphere all of its own that serves the song much better than the over-excited pseudo-metal of Clapton’s group. Country blues fans will attest that he was one of the finest and most original practitioners of the form, but he was stymied by appearing on the scene just as the music industry (and everything else) was disappearing down the black hole of the Depression.

HANK WILLIAMS – I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry / My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It (MGM 10560 1949)
Hear the lonesome whiperwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I’m so lonesome I could cry

I’ve never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind a cloud
To hide its face and cry

Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves begin to die
That means he’s lost the will to live
I’m so lonesome I could cry

The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I’m so lonesome I could cry

Has ever a more perfect paean to loneliness been written? I don’t think so.

More soon

The M M & M 1000 part 19

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

SPECIALS – Gangsters / The Selecter (Two Tone 1 1979)
SPECIALS – Ghost Town / Why / Friday Night, Saturday Morning (Two Tone 17 1981)

These two songs bookend an extraordinary period for the Specials whose recorded career lasted barely two years. “Gangsters” was the archetypal ska revival record, a reworked version of Prince Buster’s “Al Capone”. “Ghost Town” was something different entirely – a gloomy and depressed tour through the ravages of Thatcherism. That they’ve chosen now as the time to reform is quite fitting.

CRAMPS – Garbageman / Fever (IRS 9014 1980)
The Cramps were an odd amalgamation of the Munsters, Link Wray and garage rock. Their obvious love of both classic Universal horror movies and vintage rock & roll inspired both the rockabilly revivalists and the nascent Goth movement. “Garbageman” rolls along on a dirty bass riff, with Lux Interior’s vocals sounding like a cross between Boris Karloff and Gerry Roslie of the Sonics. They’ll be missed.

ADVERTS – Gary Gilmour’s Eyes / Bored Teenagers (Anchor 1043 1977)
Out of all the first wave UK punk bands (with the exception of the Clash), I’d say that the Adverts had the best lyricist in TV Smith. Musically, they weren’t ahead of the pack, but the words were always worth listening to. Gary Gilmour was executed in Utah by firing squad in January 1977 after being found guilty of committing two murders. He requested beforehand that his eyes be used for transplant purposes, and within hours of his death, two people received his corneas. The Adverts’ protagonist is someone who wakes up from his operation having received said corneas. There’s a degree of poetic license involved, of course, but it’s a great song.

MODERN ENGLISH – Gathering Dust / Tranquility of a Summer Moment (4AD 15 1980)
Before they evolved into US college rock favourites, Modern English were two chord merchants with an obvious debt to Joy Division and Wire. They also used samples of radio, TV and cinema to give their tunes an air of impending apocalypse. “Gathering Dust” hurtles along into a maelstrom of thrashing guitars, machine gun bass, and screeching synth.

CROWS – Gee / I Love You So (Rama 6 1953)
SILHOUETTES – Get A Job / I Am Lonely (Junior 391 1958)

“Gee” was a million seller and the first authentic rock & roll song to chart on the Billboard pop listings in the US. Up until that time, the only black vocal groups to cross into the mainstream were balladeers like the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots and the Orioles. “Gee” was uptempo rhythm and blues. None of the follow up records sold, and the group disbanded in 1954. The Silhouettes were another one-hit wonder doo wop group. “Get a Job” is a humorous song about unemployment that owes a lot to the Coasters.

BANG BANG MACHINE – Geek Love / Flower Horse / Fuck Machine (Jimmie Kidd 1 1991)
Self-released on their own label, the nine minute “Geek Love” went on to become a cult favourite, topping that year’s John Peel Festive Fifty. The song is based on the novel of the same name by Katherine Dunn which was set in a travelling carnival. It liberally uses dialogue from Tod Browning’s classic horror Freaks. In a just world, they would have been feted. Perhaps they will be venerated by the crate diggers of the future.

TOM TOM CLUB – Genius of Love / Lorelei (Sire 49882 1981)
Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth moonlighted from Talking Heads with their side project Tom Tom Club, a kind of post-disco electro-funk act. “Genius of Love” was a massive club hit, and went on to become one of the most sampled tunes ever.

ELECTRIC PRUNES – Get Me to the World On Time / Are You Loving Me More? (But Enjoying It Less) (Reprise 564 1967)
The Prunes’ follow-up hit to the immortal “Too Much To Dream” is a lesser beast, but only just. It follows the same fuzzed up garage formula, but with a speeded up Bo Diddley rhythm.

BOB SEGER – Get Out of Denver / Long Song Comin’ (Reprise 1205 1974)
Not everyone in mid seventies America was doing the laid back harmony thing. “Get Out of Denver” is a breathless bar room rock & roll tune that sounds like Chuck Berry on amphetamines. If he wasn’t a bearded long hair, you could almost call it punk. Eddie & the Hot Rods obviously thought so when they covered it a couple of years later.

LEE DORSEY – Get Out of My Life Woman / So Long (Amy 945 1966)
Ex-boxer was pushing 40 when he signed his first record deal in 1961. “Get Out of My Life Woman” was written by Allen Toussaint, and is a mid tempo funky soul tune. It’s an excellent record in itself, but is remembered more for the opening boom-chak-kerboom-boom-chak drum rhythm which became almost ubiquitous in hip hop, both sampled and copied.

TEMPTATIONS – Get Ready / Fading Away (Gordy 7049 1966)
“Get Ready” marked the end of one era of the Temptations, although not because of one of their frequent line-up changes. It was the last Smokey Robinson penned hit before the group were brought under the wing of Norman Whitfield. Unlike most of the tunes they did with Smokey, “Get Ready” isn’t a ballad. It’s upbeat and dance floor friendly. Rare Earth turned it into a twenty minute showstopper a couple of years later.

FIRE ENGINES – Get Up and Use Me / Everything’s Roses (Codex 1 1980)
“Get Up and Use Me” was the quintessential Fire Engines track – frantic and tinny, with scratchy guitars and curiously clipped rhythms. They were funky, but not in a way you could dance to without having a seizure.

ELECTRONIC – Getting Away With It / Lucky Bag (Factory 257 1989)
In which Barney Sumner and Johnny Marr teamed up with the Pet Shop Boys and ended up sounding like…the Pet Shop Boys. A great feel good pop tune.

SPINNERS – Ghetto Child / We Belong Together (Atlantic 2973 1973)
DONNY HATHAWAY – The Ghetto / part 2 (Atco 6719 1970)

There were a spate of songs in the late sixties and early seventies that aimed to paint a picture of contemporary inner city life. Some were more politically astute than others. To be honest, the Spinners’ smooth soul is a bit too slick to be carry a convincing portrait of want. It’s an excellent song taken on its own merits, but lacks rage. Donny Hathaway’s itchy funk groove is sweatier and grittier, and the chant and crying baby gives the track the feel of a sticky summer in the Projects.

JAPAN – Ghosts / The Art of Parties (Virgin 472 1982)
This must be one of the most avant-garde tunes ever to reach the UK top ten. David Sylvian sings the song almost acapella, the backing being largely sparse, synthetic chimes and almost random notes. Stranger still, it’s probably the group’s best known song.

MEKONS – Ghosts of American Astronauts / Robin Hood (Sin 9 1988)
The old Capricorn One conspiracy theory that informs this song is even more discredited today than it was twenty years ago. Even so, there’s some lovely lyrical imagery (“John Glenn drinks cocktails with God / In a cafe in downtown Saigon”), and the record has a dreamy, otherworldly feel to it.

PIXIES – Gigantic / River Euphrates (4AD 805 1988)
A big big love!

More soon

Song of the day: (DETROIT) SPINNERS – I’ll Be Around (1972)

The Spinners were the best-selling male vocal group of the seventies and the biggest, bar the Drifters, in Atlantic’s history. They were also one of the greatest, particularly during their five year golden period at the label between 1972 and 1977. During that time, the Spinners were the very essence of Philly soul, churning out one classic after another. All the more remarkable when it’s considered that the group were eleven years into a recording career at the time and were, to all intents and purposes, considered washed up by their previous label.

Four High School students in Ferndale, a suburb of Detroit, started a group called the Domingoes in 1955. The quartet of tenor Crafman “CP” Spencer, baritone Henry Fambrough, tenor Billy Henderson and bass Pervis Jackson were joined by tenor Bobbie Smith a couple of years later. Smith took over the lion’s share of the lead vocal duties from Spencer and the group redubbed themselves the Spinners after the kind of custom hubcaps that rotate independently from the wheels they are attached to. Spencer left the group shortly after to join the Five Jets, another local vocal act. He would eventually join his former colleagues at Motown in 1966 as a member of the Originals. Spencer was replaced by George Dixon, and it was this quintet that eventually secured a record deal with Harvey Fuqua and Gwen Gordy’s Tri-Phi label in 1961. “That’s What Girls Are Made For” was the first of half a dozen singles that the Spinners recorded for the label and was an immediate success, reaching #27 on the Hot 100 and the top five of the R&B listings. The follow-up recordings fared less well, and the Spinners were still one-hit wonders by the time that Gwen Gordy sold Tri-Phi to her younger brother Berry in 1963.

Berry Gordy retained the services of the group, but for the first year they were little more than odd jobs men around the studios acting as chaperones, drivers, road managers, backing singers and going out on the road as a warm-up act to whichever stars were being pushed that month. Dixon soon tired of this and quit to become a preacher. His replacement was Edgar “Chico” Edwards. The Spinners finally had the opportunity to make a record in the late summer of 1964, and the result was the Micky Stevenson and Ivy Hunter tune “Sweet Thing”. The record didn’t chart, undeservedly so, and the group were back twiddling their thumbs for another six months before the same writers’ “I’ll Always Love You” hit the top forty in the summer of 1965.

“Truly Yours”, the follow-up, took another ten months to appear and, although it made the R&B top twenty, its lack of pop chart success did little to give the group any momentum. Edwards quit the Spinners in 1967 to be replaced by GC Cameron who added a new dimension to the group by giving them an alternate lead vocalist to Smith. The quartet limped along in the background with just three singles issued by Motown between 1967 and 1969, all to little public interest. They were shunted on to the VIP subsidiary in late 1969, but finally got the big hit that they deserved when the Stevie Wonder penned, and GC Cameron led “It’s A Shame” reached #14 on the pop chart in 1970. If they thought that they would have become more of a priority for the company after that, they would have been disappointed when a follow-up single took six months to appear. “We’ll Have It Made”, another Stevie Wonder tune, did make the Hot 100, but the group’s patience had finally snapped. They were all well into their thirties by now, and yet their career seemed to be happening in slow motion. They decided to try their luck elsewhere – all except Cameron who elected to stay with Motown. The wisdom of that decision would soon be called into question as he watched his erstwhile colleagues score hit after hit whilst his solo career left him with a mere five R&B hits between 1971 and 1977, none of which made the pop chart.

The remaining Spinners replaced Cameron with his cousin, Philippe Wynne, who had previously sung with Bootsy Collins’ and James Brown’s groups. The Spinners sealed a deal with Atlantic and found themselves packed off to Thom Bell’s studios in Philadelphia to record some tunes. The Thom Bell and Phil Hurtt composition “I’ll Be Around” was the first to emerge. Bell was clever enough to adopt elements from the sound of their only big hit, namely the insistent guitar hook that was a large part of what made “It’s A Shame” such a memorable song. But rather than simply making a poor copy, he slowed the tempo to a mournful two-chord chime that echoed the vocal lines in the chorus. The song was bathed in the lush but melancholy production that Bell had perfected with his previous work with the Delfonics. With a great chorus and a very moving lyric where Bobbie Smith devotedly and unselfishly offers unconditional friendship to a lover who has left him, the whole thing added up to one of the greatest three minutes in the history of Philly soul. Atlantic, in their infinite wisdom, decided it should be the B side. Fortunately, the nation’s radio stations had other ideas. On the 14th October 1972, “I’ll Be Around” hit the top of the R&B chart and proceeded to stay there for five weeks. It reached #3 on the pop listings and even the flipside, “How Could I Let You Get Away”, made both charts. The Spinners had finally arrived in style, eighteen years after getting together on the back streets of Detroit. Berry Gordy must have been kicking himself.

(This is an edited extract from the forthcoming book Atlantic Singles 1947-77)