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.

More soon

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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.

Some old stuff I picked up recently

I haven’t bought very much music in a while now – a fact that will please my bank manager, but doesn’t really make for a lot of stuff to blog about. A few old things that I have picked up in the last few months include Live From Rome (Anticon 48), Sole‘s wordy politically charged hip hop album from 2005. In parts brilliant, in parts messy and slapdash with too many skits and interludes for its own good.

Neuropolitique‘s Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been? (New Electronica 22 1995) is OK. Very much of its time – a sort of ambient-tribal-dub techno existing somewhere between the Orb, the Advent and Global Communication. Enjoyable, but not essential.

From Fopp’s bargain bin I got copies of the remastered, expanded reissues of the first two Fall albums. Live at the Witch Trials (Castle 847) is a double CD with a adequately recorded live set as well as singles as bonuses. Dragnet (Castle 848) just has the Fiery Jack and Rowche Rumble 45s as well as loads of rejected takes (four of Rowche Rumble) which are fun to listen to once – at most. Dragnet is probably the better album, although both are crackers.

Finally, for a measly quid I snaffled a copy of Preston Reed‘s Metal (Outer Bridge 1002 2002). With cover blurbs acclaiming it as “one of the most unique and challenging guitar albums ever” and “a conspicuous guitar genius”, I couldn’t pass it over at that price. What you get is thirteen tracks of incredibly dextrous, and often mind-poppingly fast acoustic guitar. Eschewing the atmospheres of Loren Connors and the folksy atonalities of John Fahey, Reed pitches up somewhere between John McLaughlin and Ry Cooder, covering blistering bluegrass, jazz-picking and (as the title suggests) metal riffing – all on unaccompanied acoustic. Great stuff. It doesn’t seem to be in print any more, alas.

Mark E Smith – cantankerous old sod

The Guardian is serialising Mark E Smith’s forthcoming autobiography. It’s a predictably eccentric, grumpy and funny read. Ostensibly a chronological tale of the years from his youth up to the start of the Fall, it’s littered with surreal asides and barbed comments, and continually wanders off on tangents. His editor at Viking probably aged ten years trying to shape it in to a form that makes any sense whatsoever. It might come across as back-of-fag-packet musings, but is an entertaining read.

The first extract can be found here.