The M M & M 1000 – part 63

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

COASTERS – Yakety Yak / Zing Went the Strings of My Heart (Atco 1958)
Teenage rebellion and the generation gap were big themes in the fifties. Sure, the young had always rebelled – the jazz age flappers, the bright young things, the zoot suiters and the like. But this was the first generation where there was a clear divide between the young and their parents across the whole class and race spectrum. Lieber and Stoller, as usual, took a humorous look at the issue with the put upon teen getting the usual grief that anyone who’s been fifteen can identify with. King Curtis’s saxophone work is a sublime mix of comedy and jazz-chops.

MARVIN GAYE – You / Change What You Can (Tamla 1968)
STEVIE WONDER – You Are The Sunshine of My Life / Tuesday Heartbreak (Tamla 1973)
MARY WELLS – You Beat Me to the Punch / Old Love (Motown 1962)
SUPREMES – You Keep Me Hanging On / Remove This Doubt (Motown 1966)

A quartet of classic Motown. You sees Marvin Gaye in rare uptempo mode with a pleading vocal performance that has echoes of Levi Stubbs. Back in the early seventies when Stevie Wonder was at his creative zenith, he could pitch warm, celebratory love songs without coming over all sentimental and cloying. Mary Wells, Motown’s first superstar, is seemingly only remembered in the mainstream for My Guy, but there was so much more to her than that. You Beat Me to the Punch is one of those lyrically clever Smokey Robinson compositions that you just know was built from title downwards. My favourite of the four, You Keep Me Hanging On has a brilliant morse code single chord that almost physically holds the song up before the rush to the chorus, adding real drama to the piece. I could have opted for Vanilla Fudge’s sublime cover, too. It’s a sludge tempoed prog beast that builds the song up to some kind of sub-apocalyptic epic.

ARTHUR ALEXANDER – You Better Move On / A Shot of Rhythm & Blues (Dot 1962)
WILLIAM BELL – You Don’t Miss Your Water / Formula of Love (Stax 1962)

It could be argued (too mealy mouthed? – OK, I would argue) that 1962 was a pivotal year for soul music, when it fully emerged from its rhythm and blues roots as a new and completely separate genre. These two songs have become soul staples over the years. Arthur Alexander is a neglected figure these days, best known for two songs, Anna (covered by the Beatles) and this one (covered by the Stones), that epitomised the way that the new generation of British groups were drawing not just from the blues, but from a new generation of African American music. William Bell’s You Don’t Miss Your Water is the foundation stone of country soul, with Booker T Jones’ churchy organ underpinning a ballad full of regret.

THE SOURCE FEATURING CANDI STATON – You Got the Love / mixes (Truelove 1991)
You can judge the impact of a dance track by the number of times it’s been reissued and remixed. This has been out in various forms any number of times in the last twenty years. The recipe is simplicity itself. Take an acapella version of an eighties Gospel tune sung by the inimitable Candi Staton. Take an instrumental mix of a Jamie Principle / Frankie Knuckles house tune (Your Love). Mix thoroughly and allow to settle. The result is a timeless upbeat anthem that has survived countless remixes and remakes (Joss Stone anyone? Thought not).

MY BLOODY VALENTINE – You Made Me Realise / Slow (Creation 1988)
More infamous now for the mid section full on noise burst (known as the holocaust in MBV circles) than for the song itself which has become merely a vehicle for the centrepiece. Without it, though, it would still stand up as a rare uptempo tune by the band that still has the melody and muffled mystery intact.

NANCY SINATRA – You Only Live Twice / Jackson (Reprise 1967)
If Robbie Williams deserves our hatred for just one thing, it’s his lifting of the classic string intro of You Only Live Twice and basing his own pisspoor song around it, leaving it the only memorable bit. Nancy S had a decent song to go with it, and a great, dramatic one too.

KINKS – You Really Got Me / It’s Alright (Pye 1964)
Punk rock year zero? Maybe. Heavy metal year zero? Maybe? One of the most exciting and influential tunes of the twentieth century? Without a doubt. Everything about is perfect. The riff, Dave Davies’s ripped speaker cone fuzztone, brother Ray’s snotty vocal delivery and the boldly basic tune.

SAM COOKE – You Send Me / Summertime (Keen 1957)
Cooke’s first hit, post Soul Stirrers, and a song that effortlessly fused rock, doowop and R&B styles into something smooth and new. Listen to this and then listen to the Miracles and the Impressions to see how influential it was.

JESUS & MARY CHAIN – You Trip Me Up / Just Out of Reach (Blanco Y Negro 1985)
OK, here’s something to ponder. Who in rock music history has produced the best treble of opening singles?. Elvis? That’s Alright and Mystery Train are a given but the third one – I couldn’t say what it was without looking it up. Chuck Berry? Again, brilliant first two (Maybellene and Thirty Days) but a relatively anonymous third. The Pistols? Definitely up there, as are the Clash (but only if you discount CBS’s bizarre and disowned decision to release Remote Control as a 45). The Smiths and Frankie Goes to Hollywood – definite contenders. For me, though, Upside Down, Never Understand and You Trip Me Up are the unbeatable trio. Raw energy, screeching feedback and underplayed but memorable melodies are the cornerstones of all three. As a unit – immense.

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The M M & M 1000 – part 51

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Back after the Christmas / New Year hiatus with the first of the final 14 parts.

JOHNNY ‘GUITAR’ WATSON – Space Guitar / Half Pint-a-Whiskey (Federal 1954)
Amazing before-its-time instrumental rock. I wrote about it here

DAVID BOWIE – Space Oddity / Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud (Philips 1969)
DAVID BOWIE – Starman / Sufragette City (RCA 1972)

In which Major Tom gets his mind blown cosmically by the sight of the blue planet from far above to the consternation of the ground control crew. Filled with Meek-ish guitar effects and spacey mellotron, this was and remains a work of genius. By 1972, Bowie had more or less invented glam rock, but was still indulging in his space opera fantasies. The hero of “Starman”, is an alien who fears that his presence might seriously freak out us feeble-minded earthings. In some ways, that’s more or less the plot for The Man Who Fell to Earth.

BEN E KING – Spanish Harlem / First Taste of Love (Atco 1960)
BEN E KING – Stand By Me / On the Horizon (Atco 1961)

Both King and his former group the Drifters had a top notch team behind them at the turn of the sixties with Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, Jerry Lieber, Mike Stoller, Gerry Goffin, Carole King and Phil Spector all involved at some point. “Spanish Harlem” is a Latin-tinged vehicle for Ben’s extraordinarily pure tenor. “Stand By Me” can be taken as a simple stand-by-your-man song, or more widely, a civil rights’ call for unity. Both songs are undisputed classics.

ELASTIK BAND – Spazz / Paper Mache (Atco 1967)
Almost certainly the most politically incorrect record on this list. Its lyrics basically consist of playground level bullying taunts: “You wanna sit down when you know some clown’s gonna try and pull away your chair / So you stand and stand, stand and stand till, man, you can’t stand any longer / Hey! You know you shouldn’t have never sat down! / That’s right, Uh huh / I said get off of the floor, Get off of the floor, boy / People gonna think, yes they’re gonna think, People gonna, people gonna think you’re SPAZZ!“. It’s not big or clever or even particularly funny. But musically it’s raw as fuck, and makes the Sex Pistols look like well-mannered mummies’ boys in comparison.

CADILLACS – Speedo / Let Me Explain (Josie 1957)
Lyrically, boastful nonsense. Musically a joyous whip around the world of tailfins, soda fountains and poodle skirts.

LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND HIS HOT FIVE – St. James’ Infirmary / Save It Pretty Mama (Okeh 1928)
A jolly song about finding your girl laid out on a mortuary slab. Armstrong was instrumental in making the song the familiar standard that it is today, and it’s still the definitive version, with the mournful Crescent City brass giving it that distinctly eerie tone. The song’s origins go way back, though, with the title supposedly derived from a 16th century London hospital for lepers.

MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT – Stack O’Lee Blues / Candy Man (Okeh 1928)
The 1895 murder of labourer Billy Lyons by the pimp Stagger Lee Shelton in St Louis was just another pointless killing that barely achieved much attention at the time. And yet, somehow, this particular murder became the basis of one of the most widely recorded songs of all time, one that exists in almost as many different versions as there are recordings of it. Of all the versions, Hurt’s is probably the best. It has all the basic elements of the story, but doesn’t ham it up, or go into histrionics. It’s more like a straight piece of reportage, with his stunning twelve string playing providing all the backing that’s needed. The flip, “Candy Man”, is probably Hurt’s second most famous song, full of quiet swagger. Not bad for a first record.

SLY & THE FAMILY STONE – Stand / I Want to Take You Higher (Epic 1969)
While the Family Stone were more renowned for mixing psychedelic rock with soul, “Stand” is effectively a simple Gospel-influenced invocation to stand up and be counted.

FOUR TOPS – Standing in the Shadows of Love / Since You’ve Been Gone (Motown 1966)
FOUR TOPS – Still Water (Love) / Still Water (Peace) (Motown 1970)

It was apt that the film about the Motown backing musicians the Funk Brothers was called Standing in the Shadows of Motown. Not only does it perfectly sum up their place as the company’s unsung heroes, but the song it puns on is a fine example of their art. Levi Stubbs had the most amazing vocal ability to express heartbreak in such a dramatic way that it sounded paradoxically uplifting, but without the music providing the perfect foil, it could have either come across as flat or overblown. But they always got it just right. “Still Water” is much more laid back, with guest Marv Tarplin of the Miracles providing a guitar line as distinctive as the vocal hook.

DISCHARGE – State Violence, State Control / Doom’s Day (Clay 1982)
At the time, the 2nd gen punk movement was derided by nearly everyone except its adherents. Crass were accepted, more for their ideology than their music, even though they were much more than just noisy 1234 merchants. Discharge had a huge cult following, but were pretty much ignored outside of it. And yet they are now rightly lauded as one of the most influential British bands of the last thirty years, having a huge impact on the US hardcore movement, and then even more so on the likes of Slayer, Metallica and everyone else that followed. I always liked them – the politics may have been a little simplistic, but were by and large spot on. And the records were just so bloody exciting.

LORRAINE ELLISON – Stay With Me / I Got My Baby Back (Warner Brothers 1966)
Who? You may ask. How that question should ever be asked is a mystery to me – with a voice like hers, Ellison should be a household name. But she’s only really known for this one record. Once heard, though, never forgotten. This is soul music at an almost Wagnerian scale, with Ellison’s gritty soprano running the gamut of emotions from quiet reflection, to screaming despair. If I was forced to choose my favourite single of all time, it would most likely be this.

SPOOKY – Stereo / Can’t Remember / Do Not Adjust Your Set / Mono (Generic 1995)
It’s an EP – I’m cheating again. But sod it, this is wonderful. Link.

BETH ORTON – Stolen Car / I Love How You Love Me / Precious Maybe (Heavenly 1999)
Since her first two albums, Beth’s gone more down the singer-songwriter with acoustic guitar route. I prefer her early post-club epics. “Stolen Car” is kind of halfway between the two. Just a great song that showcases her warm, but slightly rough-edged voice at its best.

SUPREMES – Stoned Love / Shine on Me (Motown 1970)
SUPREMES – Stop in the Name of Love / I’m in Love Again (Motown 1965)

I don’t think there was much dip in quality after Diana Ross left the Supremes, it’s just that times had changed and the era of the all-conquering Motown girl group was drawing to a close by then. “Stop in the Name of Love” has all the classic mid sixties ingredients of a dramatic chorus, infectious backbeat and the rest, but that kind of thing simply wasn’t in vogue in the following decade. “Stoned Love” showed that the formula was still capable of producing brilliant results despite the fact that Mary Wilson was the sole survivor of the classic trio.

BILLIE HOLIDAY – Strange Fruit / Fine and Mellow (Commodore 1939)
Her regular label Columbia wouldn’t touch this with a bargepole, but Billie Holiday was allowed to record this for the tiny Commodore imprint. Written by a Jewish, socialist northerner, the lyrics couldn’t have been more touching even if they came from the pen of a victim’s relative. This is a song about the aftermath of a lynching, and as such it is full of anger and despair. But Holiday gives it a great dignity. This is not unchanneled rage, but a fiercely proud performance. The haunting imagery, once with you, never goes away, though.

The M M & M 1000 – part 44

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. More Rs. By the way, in case you’re wondering how long there is to go in this seemingly interminable series, there are just over 300 records left which will take another 20 parts.

SUPREMES – Reflections / Going Down for the Third Time (Motown 1111 1967)
By 1967 the Supremes still ruled, well, supreme as far as chart action went at Motown. The basic formula remained, but was tweaked to include hints of psychedelic pop both lyrically and sonically. The backbeat is little changed, but there is a new use of electronics, particular the oscillator in the introduction.

VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR – Refugees / The Boat of Millions of Years (Charisma 122 1970)
Van der Graaf were undoubtedly the fiercest, most punk of all the prog bands springing up at the start of the seventies. So, although they never achieved anything like the commercial success of some of their contemporaries (except, oddly, in Italy), their critical reputation remained untarnished during the punk year zero revisionism of 1976/7. “Refugees” sees Hammill and co in an unusually romantic (in the heroic sense) mood, as it swells with the hopes of people seeking a new life away from tyranny. You’d have to be hard hearted, or a Daily Mail reader, not to be moved.

NEW ORDER – Regret / mix (London NUO1 1993)
Republic was pretty lame by New Order’s standards, but it did open with this, the band’s finest guitar-oriented single since “Ceremony”.

BIRTHDAY PARTY – Release the Bats / Blast Off (4AD 111 1981)
For a while this became a bit of a millstone for the band as pig-shit thick hacks and DJs decided the band were Goths because they were singing about vampire bats and were all stick thin and pale (with the exception of the robust and well-muscled Tracy Pew). “Release the Bats” was more of an affectionate homage to the old fifties B movie inspired rock and roll stuff like Billy Lee Riley, Nervous Norvus and, of course, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

SHANGRI-LAS – Remember / It’s Easier to Cry (Red Bird 8 1964)
It’s amazing to think that the girls’ entire recorded career was more or less crammed into an intense 24 month period. “Remember” was the first, and saw the Shangri-las sound emerge fully formed, from the seagull laden, dreamily hypnotic chorus to the glorious melodrama of the verses where Mary Weiss seems constantly on the edge of a fully-fledged breakdown.

ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN – Rescue / Simple Stuff (Korova 1 1980)
They’ve been going for 30 years plus now which, when you think about it, is the same amount of time as that between the beginning of World War 1 and VE Day! All the good stuff had been recorded by the end of 1984. “Rescue” was one of the band’s first songs that didn’t rattle along at a high tempo, but was more measured. The thing that makes the song is the chiming guitar theme – both simple and instantly memorable.

ARETHA FRANKLIN – Respect / Dr Feelgood (Atlantic 2403 1967)
STAPLE SINGERS – Respect Yourself / You Gonna Make Me Cry (Stax 0104 1971)
“Respect” is one of those songs that has been analysed to death and had reams written about it. It’s an example of the unique effectiveness of a good song. In under three minutes it says more clearly and concisely what everybody analysing it can’t capture in all their pseudo-intellectual gibberings. The same is equally true of the Staple Singers’ classic.

E-Z ROLLERS – Retro / Subtropic (Moving Shadow 103 1997)
Few acts are as aptly named as E-Z Rollers. Their best records use rolling breakbeats and a kind of lounge jazz sensibility to create a relatively mellow and sophisticated drum and bass. “Retro” is one of their best and is topped with Derrick May’s ruminations on the fortunes of the electronic music pioneers.

THIRTEENTH FLOOR ELEVATORS – Reverberation / Fire Engine (International Artists 111 1966)
SPACEMEN 3 – Revolution / Che (Fire 29 1988)

What set the Thirteenth Floor Elevators apart from all of their peers was the real sense of a lysergic experience going on. They had great tunes, sure, but so did a whole host of other mid sixties garage bands. The sound, though, seemed to beam through from an altered reality, particularly with the use of drone, reverb and the very weird sounding electric jug. Their first two LPs are absolutely essential. “Reverberation” comes from the first and does exactly what it says in the title. Rugby’s Spacemen 3 were acolytes of Roky Erikson’s crew, and it certainly showed. “Revolution” takes a two note droning riff and turns it into a mantra that never varies in tempo or rhythm, but simply in intensity. It’s barely a song at all, with the words largely spoken like a super slo-mo rap, but it’s hypnotic.

WILD SWANS – Revolutionary Spirit / God Forbid (Zoo 9 1982)
The Wild Swans were among the first wave of Scouse post-punk acts that included the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes, Pink Military and Wah! They lasted long enough to do one Peel Session (which includes the brilliant “No Bleeding”) and this twelve inch single, although they’ve regrouped several times since. “Revolutionary Spirit” switches between a downbeat series of short verses, and a big, yearning chorus that is basically the same chords but in a higher key. Simple, but bewitching.

JOHNNY CASH – Ring of Fire / I’d Still Be There (Columbia 42788 1963)
Unlike nearly every other one of the artists who’d started out in the mid fifties’ rockabilly explosion and who rapidly switched to mainstream country, Cash never forgot how to rock. “Ring of Fire” was written by Merle Kilgour and Cash’s future wife June Carter, and is just as direct and basic as any of his classic Sun sides of the fifties.

ROBINS – Riot in Cell Block #9 / Wrap It Up (Spark 103 1954)
“Riot in Cell Block #9” was one of Leiber and Stoller’s earliest efforts, but it has all the trademark humour, drama and storytelling in place. It was also one of the first non-novelty records to use sound effects such as police sirens and machine gun fire. Bobby Nunn’s bass drawl recounts the story in something approaching a slow rap which is almost comically cool considering the mayhem going on all around. “The warden said ‘Come out with your hands up in the air / If you don’t stop this riot You’re all gonna get the chair’ / Scarface Jones said, ‘It’s too late to quit / And pass the dynamite, ’cause the fuse is lit’” The way he almost absent mindedly says that last line is priceless. Nunn and fellow Robin Carl Gardner went on to become one half of the Coasters who were one of the best loved acts during the second half of the decade.

MASSIVE ATTACK – Risingson / mixes (Wild Bunch 8 1997)
“Risingson” introduced the dark, paranoid rock sound that was explored on Mezzanine and famously disillusioned founding member Mushroom so much that he quit. 3D’s narcoleptic rap fits the atmosphere of stoned menace like a glove. The video was typically brilliant, featuring the band sitting around in a crumbling house, making tea and generally appearing bored, unconcerned and stoned whilst it’s under attack from a hoard of masked men like a Police SWAT team.

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 32

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

Halfway through now. 500 down, 500 to go. As I mentioned in the first part, this little undertaking stemmed from a response I compiled to a similar list by Dave Marsh getting on for ten years ago. I rediscovered it, tweaked it, and began to unleash it on the world. As far as my mini sketches about each record go, I do a little background checking, but I deliberately don’t reacquaint myself with the tunes before I scribble my nonsense. I figure that if I can’t remember a piece of music that clearly, then it can’t be that great in the first place. Of course, the opposite is definitely not true, as anyone who gets really annoying tunes stuck in their head will know! But after pressing the publish button, I often rush straight to the collection to dig out some of the tunes that I’ve written about. I hope that some of you do too.

PRIMAL SCREAM – Loaded / I’m Losing More Than I Ever Had (Creation 70 1990)
In which Andy Weatherall took an average jangly indie band by the scruff of the neck, shook out the tweeness and stripped them down to their underpants.. “Loaded” still has a lazy, narcotic charm. Unfortunately the band thought that this made them the next Stones, and have proceeded to churn out mountains of guff since, with the occasional unpolished gem sometimes turning up.

LORI & THE CHAMELEONS – The Lonely Spy / Peru (Korova 5 1980)
One of the great could-have-been bands. It was a project by Dave Balfe and Bill Drummond that only ever produced four songs spread over two singles. Each was a little belter. All were mini stories (exotic romances or Le Carré like thrillers, set in places like Japan or India) crammed into three minute pop tunes, all with a noir-ish atmosphere. Think Goldfrapp’s first album for a rough comparison. The Moscow set “The Lonely Spy” has more than a bit of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold about its ultimately tragic plot.

LEFTY FRIZZELL – Long Black Veil / Knock Again True Love (Columbia 41384 1959)
This is one of a few songs that I first heard on Nick Cave’s Kicking Against the Pricks album. I think his cover is equally good, but wasn’t a single. Lefty’s was. It’s a country weepie with all the essential ingredients – murder, adultery and honour. The protagonist sings from beyond the grave about how he was tried and executed for a murder he didn’t commit – his alibi being that he was sleeping with his best friend’s wife at the time. But he feels that to use it would be to betray her, so he silently accepts his fate.

HANK WILLIAMS – The Lost Highway / You’re Gonna Change (MGM 10506 1949)
Why do people who don’t generally like country music revere Hank Williams? I think it’s down to the poetic simplicity of his songs. There’s no gloss, no veneer, no melodramatics. He could be funny (“Move It On Over”), but he could also express existential despair succinctly and simply. “Lost Highway” is beyond grief and bereft of self-pity. It is a man detached from life, so weighed down by regrets, that he just drifts along, a lost soul with no thoughts for the future. It comes across as a warning to others not to be led astray, although his sins are never spelled out. It sounds that it was written as thinly disguised autobiography – especially in the light of the fate that awaited him.

SISTER SLEDGE – Lost in Music / Thinking of You (Cotillion 45001 1979)
I was in my mid teens, a huge fan of Joy Division, Magazine, the Pop Group etc. But I also had a (then) pretty unfashionable love of soul music. “Lost in Music” was pretty unique in the disco canon in that it was the lyrics that spoke to me more than the tune or the rhythm. I totally understood Kathy Sledge and how it was to be obsessed with music, to be able to relate to it more than with any other art form – or person. You get more grounded as you grow older, and fortunately more socially proficient! But my love of music is still a massive part of who I am, and I still regard this as a kind of personal theme tune.

KINGSMEN – Louie Louie / Haunted Castle (Wand 143 1963)
One of the things that’s so great about pop music in particular, is that sometimes a record that is so wrong on every level can end up as a masterpiece. The Kingsmen were an early garage band, dominated by their organ. This rough and ready live recording of an old Richard Berry song features a mumbling singer who seems to have forgotten most of the words, sounds drunk and is utterly unintelligible. The band can barely play either. But its appeal lies in that raw, primitive ineptitude. The riff is dumb and repetitive, but irresistible.

SUPREMES – Love Child / Will This Be The Day (Motown 1135 1968)
DIANA ROSS – Love Hangover / Kiss Me Now (Motown 1392 1976)

Early Supremes songs had simple themes, even if they were poetic and lyrically clever – girl meets boy, girl loses boy or girl gets boy back. “Love Child” moved into the realms of corny melodrama. Beneath that, there is a pretty conservative moral message. What shames the protagonist isn’t her past of extreme poverty, but the fact that she was born out of wedlock, and the song is essentially a plea to her lover to do the decent thing before they do anything that could make her baby suffer the same immoral fate. It’s all a bit Moral Majority. Eight years on, Diana the diva is fully formed. “Love Hangover” starts off seductive and slow but then breaks into a breathless, funky disco. It’s just about the sexiest disco tune this side of Donna Summer.

PET SHOP BOYS – Love Comes Quickly / That’s My Impression (Parlophone 6116 1986)
There was an almost Roman decadence about the eighties. While the outposts of the Empire (ie the north) were suffering grinding poverty, unemployment, and the destruction of their entire industrial and social fabric, the imperial capital was a sea of excess – yuppies, cocktail bars, sports cars and wads of cash being flashed around. It’s ironic that bands the Pet Shop Boys who came to soundtrack this orgy of consumption, were from the north and politically the antithesis of everything that was going on. They were fully aware of their odd position, and both celebrated and satirised the ‘me decade’. Ultimately, they just had a knack for producing lush, slightly melancholy but classic pop songs. Like this one.

ROBERT JOHNSON – Love in Vain Blues / Preachin’ Blues (Vocalion 4630 1937)
In the officially authorised version of the history of rock ‘n’ roll, Robert Johnson is cast unquestionably as the ‘greatest blues artist of all time’. I hate these sort of sweeping statements that make subjective opinions on art stand on par with unarguable facts such as water is wet. Johnson’s total output of 29 songs aren’t all classics by any stretch of the imagination. Some, like “Terraplane Blues” and “Phonograph Blues” are exactly the same tune with different words. You could argue that the reason that he was raised above all others was a) because he was dead, and his life was mysterious, short and came to a dramatic end and b) John Hammond issued loads of his tunes in 1961 on album, making them available to hungry blues fans. I’m not saying he wasn’t great, just that sweeping statements need to be tempered by a bit of perspective. “Love in Vain” (to come back to the subject) is one of his most beautiful songs. It’s weary, mournful and sad – I guess the essence of the blues.

RUTH ETTING – Love Me or Leave Me / I’m Bringing a Red Red Rose (Columbia 1680 1928)
There was an HBO mini series a few years back called Carnivale that I stumbled upon quite by accident on DVD. Set in the height of the great Depression, it followed the progress of a travelling carny, but was focused on the eternal battle between good and evil, represented by a young carnival worker with healing powers and a demonic preacher. Definitely worth watching if you get the chance. To the point. One record that was a recurring motif was this song by Ruth Etting. It was often heard playing on a scratchy 78. Ghostly, and sad, the words “I’d rather be lonely than happy with somebody else” seemed particularly haunting. I downloaded the tune when I’d tracked down who it was by (it’s out of copyright, so I wasn’t being naughty). It’s captivating. Ruth Etting was a stage musical actress and sang the song in the play Makin’ Whoopee. When released in 1928, it was a huge hit. Many people will know the song through Nina Simone’s version. I’ll have to confess I’ve never heard that one. Can’t imagine it’s better than the original.

CLOVERS – Love Potion #9 / Stay Awhile (United Artists 180 1959)
After three hitless years, Atlantic dropped the Clovers, only for the group to bounce back one final time with this little comic gem. With his sex life little more than a memory, our hero goes to see a gypsy who gives him the titular love potion. The effects are a little stronger than he expected, and he lands in trouble when he grabs a cop and kisses him. It’s silly but sprightly. Something the Clovers had done well in their earlier Atlantic days before they were given ever more gloopy and embarrassing ballads to sing. I was to be a brief coda to their career, unfortunately.

TEDDY PENDERGRASS – Love TKO / I Just Called to Say (Philadelphia International 93116 1980)
Once the voice of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Teddy Pendergrass went solo and became the Godfather of eighties soul crooners like Alexander O’Neal and Luther Vandross. I never really liked that stuff – too glossy for me. But “Love TKO” is both sumptuous and soulful. Oh, and miserable too. It’s a typical song about being dumped, but Pendergrass conveys the pain, and the production has an almost noir-ish late night feel. It has more in common with Sinatra’s classic Capitol collections of unadulterated gloom than it does with synthetic eighties soul.

O’JAYS – Love Train / Who Am I? (Philadelphia International 3524 1973)
Trains play a big role in soul music, and also in Gospel. I guess it stems from the great migrations of African Americans from the plantations of the south to northern cities like St Louis, Chicago and Detroit in the first half of the twentieth century. “People Get Ready” by the Impressions uses the train as a metaphor for the favourite old Gospel topic of the Israelites exodus, something that stikes a very obvious chord of recognition. “Love Train” is a secular take on the same concept, and a fabulous uplifting track to boot.

JOY DIVISION – Love Will Tear Us Apart / These Days (Factory 23 1980)
Some songs just are. To try and explain them, is to somehow drain them of their power. I don’t think it’s Joy Division’s greatest song. It also crops up frequently in all sorts of parts of the media. I rarely play it, but then I don’t need to – I know it note for note.

EMMETT MILLER – Lovesick Blues / Big Bad Bill (Okeh 40465 1925)
Nick Tosches’ book Where the Dead Voices Gather is a superb piece of music archaeology, biography and polemic rolled into one. The central figure is a vaudevillian and blackface comedian called Emmett Miller who recorded a couple of dozen 78s over a fifteen year period. They range from seriously unfunny skits on black characters that are quite shocking in their racism, to prehistoric country croons. Tosches makes strong, often controversial, arguments about the role of minstrelsy in the half century or so following the American Civil War, but also strong arguments for Miller’s role in the evolution of country music. On that latter score, “Lovesick Blues” is exhibit A, a bruised yodel that clearly predates Jimmie Rodgers. It’s a gateway to a past that we can never truly comprehend.

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The M M & M 1000 – part 23

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. There are a lot beginning with I. Here’s the first batch.

EMRY ARTHUR – I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow / Down in the Tennessee Valley (Vocalion 5208 1928)
The song is probably best known these days from the soundtrack of the Coen brothers’ film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? Emry Arthur’s version is my favourite. He was a Kentuckyian bluegrass singer, songwriter and guitarist who lost a finger in a hunting accident. Like many musicians of the era, he faded into obscurity during the Depression and made his last recordings for Decca in 1935.

SIMON & GARFUNKEL – I Am a Rock / Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall (Columbia 43617 1966)
“I Am a Rock” is a great song about emotional self-containment. “I have my books and my poetry to protect me; / I am shielded in my armour, / Hiding in my room, safe within my womb. / I touch no one and no one touches me”. Of course, it is merely the delusional self-protection of a man hurt in love, and now recoiling to a place of emotional safety. How tempting, though, to avoid the pain that love can bring.

GUIDED BY VOICES – I Am a Scientist / The Curse of the Black Ass Buffalo (Scat 38 1994)
I think most people agree that Bee Thousand was Robert Pollard’s masterpiece. “I Am a Scientist” is one of the album’s stand-out songs. It’s a ditty that uses the metaphors of scientist, journalist and pharmacist to explore Pollard’s need to communicate his feelings through the medium of music: “I am a pharmacist / Prescriptions I will fill you / Potions, pills and medicines / To ease your painful lives / I am a lost soul / I shoot myself with rock & roll / The hole I dig is bottomless / But nothing else can set me free

SHANGRI-LAS – I Can Never Go Home Anymore / Bull Dog (Red Bird 43 1965)
Girl falls for boy. Mum disapproves. Girl runs away from home. Mum dies of a broken heart. Girl is distraught. Nobody could articulate teenage heartbreak quite as crushingly as the Shangri-las. Listen to this with dry eyes, and you’ve got no heart.

THE WHO – I Can See For Miles / Someone’s Coming (Track 604011 1967)
Townshend’s predilection for song cycles, rock operas and the like never convinced me (Quadrophenia aside). When he concentrated his craft into standalone songs, the results could be quite magnificent. “I Can See For Miles” is an acid rock masterpiece, albeit with slightly messianic overtones (the seeds for Tommy, perhaps). Keith Moon never sounded better, either.

THE MISUNDERSTOOD – I Can Take You To The Sun / Who Do You Love? (Fontana 777 1966)
The Misunderstood’s recorded legacy is tiny. It’s a pity, because “I Can Take You to the Sun” is probably the greatest advocation of mind expansion from an era full of coded references to hallucinogens. Running from soaring, highly amplified slide guitar to a gentle flamenco-like coda, the song crams a lot into three minutes. The final stanza is full of pity and disappointment felt by the acid prosletyzer aimed at those who mock the creed. “Well I speak of love but you do not see / cause words are words and they mean nothing more / with half a mind you laugh at me / cause I speak of colours you’ve never seen before / You’ve existed in a lie, that will some day show / I can take you to the Sun, to the Sun, / but you don’t want to go”. The last two lines fade into echo, as if the singer is disappearing into his own consciousness. It’s a song that is boldly effervescent, but also psychologically fragile. Very much like the acid experience.

TEMPTATIONS – I Can’t Get Next To You / Running Away (Gordy 7093 1969)
Between 1968 and 1973, the Temptations couldn’t put a foot wrong. “I Can’t Get Next To You” is a typically brazen and funky Norman Whitfield production. The protagonist boasts of his superhuman prowess, whilst lamenting the one thing he can’t do – win the woman he loves’ affection. It’s a brilliantly executed conceit, and uses all five voices of the band like a Greek chorus.

FOUR TOPS – I Can’t Help Myself / Sad Souvenirs (Motown 1076 1965)
Even when he was upbeat and relatively lucky in love, Levi Stubbs couldn’t help sounding like heartbreak was just a heartbeat away. Classic Motown from the Four Tops’ golden era.

WILLIE MABON – I Don’t Know / Worry Blues (Chess 1531 1952)
“She said, ‘You shouldn’t say that’ / I say, ‘What did I say to make you mad this time, baby?‘”. It’s the way Mabon sarcastically puts across that last line that always makes me smile. You can hear him rolling his eyes in frustration at his woman’s irrationality. She may have a point, of course, since he’s threatened to chuck her out or even poison her! But that makes his incredulity all the more funny. And yes, I know that’s wicked, but the song isn’t meant to be taken seriously.

GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS – I Don’t Want to Do Wrong / Is There a Place? (Soul 35083 1971)
One of the universal fears of the soldier away from home has always been the arrival of the dreaded “Dear John” letter. Even though her man’s absence isn’t explicitly explained, this was the era of the Vietnam war and thousands of young wives and girlfriends were left at home, not knowing whether they’d ever see their loved ones again. Inevitably, many yielded to temptation. Gladys Knight articulates this brilliantly. She’s emotionally torn between a new lover, and the guilt of abandoning a man who’s far from home. You can see it from her point of view, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

MARY WELLS – I Don’t Want to Take a Chance / I’m So Sorry (Motown 1011 1961)
Mary Wells was Motown’s first superstar. She was also the first singer to jump ship, a move that proved disastrous for her career. She died of cancer aged just 49. “I Don’t Want to Take A Chance” was one of her first hits for the label, a sweet and slightly coy song about being reluctant to jump into a new love affair, having been burned by the last one.

WILLIAM BELL – I Forgot To Be Your Lover / Bring the Curtain Down (Stax 15 1968)
This is a beautiful and tender love song. In soul, it’s so often the case that the singer only sees the lack of attention he or she gave to their lover when it’s too late and they’ve gone. Things haven’t gone that far yet for Bell, but he realises that he’s been a lot less than perfect and wants to make amends. You can’t help believing that he really is genuinely sorry. It would be a hard hearted woman who couldn’t forgive him.

UNCLE TUPELO – I Got Drunk / Sin City (Rockville 6055 1990)
The first single from Belleville’s finest sons is a song about drinking that is refreshingly free from maudlin self-pity and sentimentally. The town is boring. Life is boring. What else is there to do but sit in a bar all night? “I got drunk and I fell down”. That’s pretty direct and matter-of-fact.

ELECTRIC PRUNES – I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night / Luvin’ (Reprise 532 1966)
Everybody assumed it was about a bad acid trip, of course. But just because of those spooky psych guitars (and one of the most amazing intros ever committed to vinyl), and the obvious hallucinogenic allusions, it’s simply about being haunted by the (imagined) ghost of a former lover. But what a beautiful piece of twisted, mind-squelching music it is.

SUPREMES – I Hear a Symphony / Who Could Ever Doubt My Love (Motown 1083 1965)
This is one of those songs whose key changes keep on taking it up to higher and higher levels of euphoria. It’s pop at its most carefree and joyous.

GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS – I Heard It Through the Grapevine / It’s Time to Go Now (Soul 35039 1967)
MARVIN GAYE – I Heard It Through the Grapevine / You’re What’s Happening (Tamla 54176 1968)

The first version of “Grapevine” was recorded by the Miracles but wasn’t deemed fit for release. Gaye’s was the second, orchestrated and produced by Norman Whitfield. Again, Berry Gordy thought it wasn’t worth issuing. The third version by Gladys Knight and the Pips was issued, and was a big hit in 1967. It’s much more direct and uptempo than Gaye’s reading, almost sounding like a different song. Marvin’s take was finally issued on the 1968 album In the Groove. DJs noticed it, and started playing it to death – much more, in fact, than the album’s first single “You” which barely made the top 40. Eventually, Gordy bowed to the inevitable, and the result was a number one at the end of 1968. Dave Marsh (who provided the inspiration to do this series) rated it as the best single of all time. That’s maybe a little over the top. But there is no question that it was one of Gaye’s finest vocal performances, and the arrangement added a near perfect air of suspicion and fear to proceedings.

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The M M & M 1000 – part 12

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

TEMPTATIONS – Cloud Nine / Why Did She Have to Leave Me (Gordy 7081 1968)
In which Norman Whitfield hears Sly & the Family Stone, thinks “I’m having some of that”, and lays down the blueprint for psychedelic soul. “Cloud Nine” was quite unlike anything that had gone before it – especially at Motown. Much has been made of the drug connotations of the lyrics, but “Cloud Nine” is more of a metaphor for social isolation – a blocking out of the horrors of riots, assassinations, Viet Nam etc etc that were ripping the fabric of American society, and in particular African American society, to pieces.

ASSOCIATES – Club Country / It’s You Again (Associates / WEA 2 1983)
Billy MacKenzie’s quasi-operatic vocals, and the lush production of Sulk both soundtracked and satirised early eighties excess. Unlike a lot of pop from the era, Associates records don’t sound dated, just splendidly grandiose.

CLUBBED TO DEATH – Clubbed to Death / mixes (Mo Wax 37 1995)
You may not think you know this, but you probably do since it’s been used as background music on zillions of TV documentaries over the last decade or so. Clubbed to Death was Rob Dougan, who was uncredited on the original release. It’s basically big hip hop beats welded on to symphonic samples to give something grandly cinematic. The method’s a cliché now, but was quite extraordinary when it appeared.

EDDIE COCHRAN – C’mon Everybody / Don’t Ever Let Me Go (Liberty 55166 1958)
Rock ‘n’ roll in its simplest, purest form. It rocks because it has rhythm, not because it has two thousand Marshall stacks turned up to eleven.

CHI-LITES – The Coldest Days of My Life / Part 2 (Brunswick 55478 1972)
This isn’t a very well known song, but should be. As a single, it has its shortcomings, since it’s an eight minute album track split in two. But it’s a truly heart-rending song about loss and loneliness with a violin figure that is just about the most lonesome sound since Hank’s whistle. The album A Lonely Man is the Chi-Lites masterpiece, a neglected classic that deserves to be venerated alongside What’s Going On, Innervisions etc – it really is that good.

MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS – Come and Get These Memories / Jealous Love (Gordy 7014 1963)
SUPREMES – Come See About Me / Always In My Heart (Motown 1068 1964)

Motown’s top two girl groups caught at a moment when they were just embarking on an era of chart domination. The Supremes were pure pop, while the Vandellas had a more soulful edge. Both of these tunes adhere pretty strictly to the central template of dancefloor and radio friendly mid-tempo pop, but are no less brilliant for that.

WEDDING PRESENT – Come Play With Me / Pleasant Valley Sunday (RCA 45313 1992)
The Wedding Present’s strategy of issuing a single a month through 1992 is remembered more than the actual records, most of which were Wedding Present-by-numbers. “Come Play With Me” is the exception. It has more drama and emotion about it. It’s quite a leery record, actually, which is not so surprising when the title was lifted from a ‘classic’ seventies Brit-porn movie. Nice rip through the Monkees’ classic on the flip, too.

APHEX TWIN – Come To Daddy / To Kill a Weakling Child (Warp 94 1997)
It’s impossible to hear this without visualising the nightmarish Chris Cunningham video that went with it. All those little children with deranged Richard D James faces and that poor grannie getting the fright of her life. Yikes. With its death metal vocal growl and skittish beats, it still sounds like nothing else. And it’s still well creepy.

FRANÇOISE HARDY – Comme / Je Changerais d’Avis (Vogue 1374 1966)
“Comme” isn’t one of Hardy’s better known songs. It’s more Brel or Orbison than most of the Yeh-Yeh genre – a short, but big-hearted, emotional climactic ballad.

PULP – Common People / Underwear (Island 613 1995)
I really hated Britpop – all that Union Jack, Spiceworld, Blairite, Beatly nonsense. The bands were almost all utterly awful. Pulp got lumped in with it which led to their commercial zenith, but also to their spectacular commercial demise when they were the unfortunate babies to be chucked out with the gallons of stagnant indie-bathwater. “Common People” is a great song, and is applicable to Cameron and Osborne and chums’ patronising fake-cool as it was to the Blairs and Mandelsons a decade earlier.

CLASH – Complete Control / The City of the Dead (CBS 5664 1977)
MONKS – Complication / Oh How to Do Now (Polydor 52952 1966)

Whining about your record label. How punk is that? Still, Joe was always at his best when he was angry, even if it was about something that nobody outside the band could be expected to give a toss about. The best single of ’77, no question. The Monks were punks too, albeit a decade to soon. They were a bunch of German-based GIs who dressed in robes, had the tonsures and played kindergarten-simple three minute rock songs. The only comparable band of the era were the equally bonkers Sonics from Seattle.

KRAFTWERK – Computer Love / The Model (EMI5207 1981)
The single got flipped, and “The Model” was a number one, but I prefer “Computer Love”. In KlingKlang world, this is the band’s slushy romantic ballad. A very perceptive prediction of internet dating, and even social networking, and a really lovely song to boot.

MAMIE SMITH & HER JAZZ HOUNDS – Crazy Blues / It’s Right Here For You (Okeh 4169 1920)
At the dawn of the roaring twenties, this early blues ballad crossed over spectacularly, and for a while was the most popular tune in America. It was also the song that alerted the recording industry that there was a whole market out there not being catered for, and led to the signing of artists like Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Victoria Spivey etc etc, and the birth of the ‘race’ label – companies, or divisions of companies, who produced records aimed at a black audience. Without “Crazy Blues”, it’s possible that very little of that would have happened, and the recorded legacy would be very much the poorer for it. There are better blues records, but few as important.

RADIOHEAD – Creep / Lurgee (Parlophone 6078 1992)
“Creep” was their Teen Spirit, and was stacks better than anything else on their debut album. A decade and a half on, it seems like juvenilia compared to some of the marvels that followed. Still a great piece of pop misery, though.

ROBERT JOHNSON – Cross Road Blues / Ramblin’ On My Mind (Vocalion 3519 1936)
The song that provoked the legend, and a staple part of any self-respecting blues band’s set more than seventy years later. He seems like some mythical figure of a dim and distant past, but was actually younger than Ronald Reagan. The music has had so much hyperbolic nonsense written about it, that it’s surprising how literate, fresh and sophisticated it is. Johnson was no primitive vessel disseminating his ancestor’s voices, but a proud and dapper showman and entertainer.

JEFFERSON AIRPLANE – Crown of Creation / Lather (RCA 9644 1968)
A great double this. “Crown of Creation” is the kind of big, confident call to arms that the Airplane did so well. “Lather”, on the other hand, is a spooky and sad treatise on the fight against getting old in spirit.

JULIE LONDON – Cry Me a River / S’Wonderful (Liberty 55006 1955)
We just don’t have the sultry-voiced, seductive singers like Julie London any more. In real life, she was a shy homebird, but on record she sounds like a cross between Rita Hayworth and Lauren Bacall – a mesmerising, but slightly dangerous femme fatale. When she sounds upset, you know you’ve got to watch out – she’ll get even, buddy.

SAM COOKE – Cupid / Farewell My Darling (RCA 7883 1961)
As light as air. A fine sweet song.

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