M M & M’s 100 from the noughties – 2006

If I were choose any of the top tens as the best, then 2006 would have to be the one.

BARDO POND – Ticket Crystals (ATP)
Probably the best yet by the psychedelic sludge rockers with four of the eight tracks exceeding ten minutes, and none the worse for it. I’ll even forgive the Beatle tune.

BOXCUTTER – Oneiric (Planet Mu)
One of the two bright new dubstep artists who appeared in 2006, Barry Lynn’s take on the music was relatively sharp and clean with definite nods to Artificial Intelligence era Warp as well as the grime scene.

CARLA BOZULICH – Evangelista (Constellation)
The title of her first solo album for Constellation morphed into the name of her band for the next two. Bozulich’s bruised, harrowing album featured a number of the usual Hotel2Tango suspects, but it’s the astonishing emotional range of her voice that dominates the record. Not one for dinner parties.

BURIAL – Burial (Hyperdub)
As you get older, there’s less and less new music that genuinely takes you aback. It’s not that music becomes less important, it’s just that you’ve heard so much that it’s hard for something to be genuinely startling. Burial’s first album completely got me on the first listen. Unquestionably my artist of the decade.

CLOGS – Lantern (Talitres)
Violinist Padma Newsome has been increasingly busy as the National’s unofficial sixth member and guitarist Bryce Dessner is also a member of both bands. But Clogs are the equal of their more illustrious associates, although operating in a very different field. The violin, guitar, bassoon, drums format is an unusual one, but there’s nothing gimmicky about the music. Although mainly neo-classical instrumental pieces, the highlight is a vocal track, the beautiful, folky nocturne “Lantern”.

JÓHANN JÓHANNSSON – IBM 1401 A User’s Manual (4AD)
An elegaic suite to an obsolete mainframe computer, with the giant beast contributing its own ghostly melodies. It’s a modern symphony of epic melancholy. As a bonus, there’s also a moving rendition of a Dorothy Parker poem, “The Sun’s Gone Dim And The Sky’s Turned Black”.

JOANNA NEWSOM – Ys (Drag City)
It took a long time for this to melt my heart even though I could recognise it objectively as something of a masterpiece. Newsom’s voice is not something many people feel neutral about. Her Grimm-like fairy tales eventually weave their spell. A beguiling and unique record.

I can count the number of non-music CDs in my collection on the fingers of, erm, one finger. As a child, I was always absolutely fascinated by the sea. Living in the suburban Thames Valley, I didn’t get to see it that often. When I did, I used to weird out my parents by sitting on a breakwater and just watching the waves. Storm is simply two tracks of field recordings made by Watson and Nilsen of a single storm system that passed across the UK and on to Scandinavia. Wind, waves and wildlife – nothing added.

SCOTT WALKER – The Drift (4AD)
TOM WAITS – Orphans (Anti)

Two albums I still haven’t completely got to grips with for different reasons. Sometimes I wish everyone would stop making new stuff for a year to allow me time to give some older records the attention they deserve. Waits’s album is a bulging triple helping of old songs, new songs and other stuff he’d not got around to putting out before. Unlike anything else of this kind of provenance, it’s definitely not something you could whittle down to a single disc without losing some real quality. Walker’s set is dense and difficult. It’s like going through a computer game with tons of levels. Each listen reveals a bit more, but I’m not sure I completely get it yet.

Just to highlight how good 2006 was, no room here for some brilliant stuff by Clark, Pan American, My Latest Novel, Ali Farka Touré, Prince Valium, Camera Obscura, Bob Dylan or the London Sinfonietta’s Warp release.


M M & M’s 100 from the noughties – 2004

ARCADE FIRE – Funeral (Rough Trade)
It built a following slowly, largely by word of mouth, before the journo hype machine jumped on the bandwagon. A prime target for the hipster “I never really liked them anyway” brigade, but it still sounds terrific to me. Less said about the follow up the better, though.

BLUE NILE – High (Sanctuary)
They pop up every decade, stick out an album that still uses a palette of sound that could come from their eighties heyday and promptly burrow away back into hibernation. As a fully paid up fan, I guess we wouldn’t have it any other way. High is far from perfect, but when it does hit the spot, it does so in a way that no other band can. And I could listen to Mr Buchanan singing his grocery list quite happily. Time for a follow up Paul?

FENNESZ – Venice (Touch)
My personal favourite of Christian Fennesz’s records. The ten minute section of “Transit”, with David Sylvian, and “The Point Of It All” is about as close to perfection as any music I’ve heard.

It sounds like a requiem suite, with nods to Arvo Pärt and Gorecki. Slow, stately and stunningly beautiful.

MURCOF – Utopia (Leaf)
On paper, a slightly ragbag collection of remixes and three new tracks. But it hangs together as well as any of Corona’s studio albums and gets played round these parts as often.

PAN AMERICAN – Quiet City (Kranky)
Another missive from Mark Nelson of quiet wonder with David Max Crawford’s trumpet and flugelhorn adding a yearning element that reminds me of Miles’s Ascenseur Pour L’Échafaud.

PAN SONIC – Kesto (Blast First)
Nearly four hours of music that ranges from the ear-splitting to the ambient (the uncharacteristically reflective hour-long drone piece “Säteily”). It covers all bases of the duo’s sound, and some new ones too.

MAX RICHTER – The Blue Notebooks (130701)
The notebooks in question were written by Franz Kafka and the recording is peppered with extracts read by actress Tilda Swinton. Pianist Richter is accompanied by a string quartet on an album whose mood is as reflective and yet slightly disturbing as Kafka’s writings.

TOM WAITS – Real Gone (Anti)
Real Gone is unusual in ol’ Tom’s canon in that it’s largely an album recorded with a standard guitar, bass, drums rock ‘n’ roll line-up. The absence of pump organs and the like doesn’t make the music any more conventional. The surrealism is intact, but there is also a harsher side, with an uncharacteristically angry side of the laconic Waits coming through.

WILCO – A Ghost is Born (Nonesuch)
Just as good as its predecessor, with pop, country and experimental wig outs rubbing shoulders perfectly happily.

M M & M’s 100 from the noughties – 2002

The year I migrated north to Glasgow from the relatively tropical climes of Manchester. Jeez, was it that long ago.

BOLA – Fyuti (Skam)
Rumours have been heard that Darrell Fitton is reconsidering his retirement from music making, which is a good thing. Fyuti was his second Bola album, and maintained the momentum set by his debut Soup, expanding his sound into ever more lush introspection.

DEADLY AVENGER – Deep Red (Illicit)
Another case for the missing persons file. Damon Baxter released this excellent collection of filmic breakbeat electronica. Then the label went belly up, and a 2007 follow up called Blossoms and Blood never seemed to materialise. The fabulous “Lopez” was one of my tracks of the decade.

JÓHANN JÓHANNSSON – Englaborn (Touch)
Rereleased a couple of years back by 4AD, Englaborn introduced a composer who deals with a romantic minimalism that’s deeply emotional. The opening setting of a poem by the Roman Catullus is simply stunning.

MURCOF – Martres (Leaf)
The first of five albums released during the decade by Mexican laptop wizard Fernando Corona, and they’re all in my 100. Self-indulgent? Perhaps. But the man just makes brilliant records.

MAX RICHTER – Memoryhouse (BBC Late Junction)
Dusted off and reissued on Fat Cat’s 130701 imprint just last month, Memoryhouse is the perfect introduction to pianist and composer Max Richter. Wistful, nostalgic – like postcards sent from the old Europe that was torn to pieces by two world wars. A world of Kafka, Webern, Berg and expressionist cinema.

RJD2 – Deadringer (Definitive Jux)
He might have emerged from the, um, shadow of Shadow, but Ramble Jon Krohn’s debut is chock full of great moments. Sampledelic hip hop at its finest.

THE STREETS – Original Pirate Material (Locked On 679)
The Observer newspaper made this the album of the decade. I wouldn’t go that far, but I can see their point. It’s certainly one of the most influential. And it still sounds surprisingly fresh and unforced.

UNDERWORLD – A Hundred Days Off (JBO)
They took a lot more than 100 days off following this album. In many ways it looked back to Dubnobasswithmyheadman, combining energetic beats with a kind of nocturnal world-weariness.

TOM WAITS – Alice / Blood Money (Anti)
OK, they were two separate releases, but they came out the same day and as such always seemed to me as being of a pair. So, are Waits and Brennan our age’s Weill and Brecht? Discuss.

WILCO – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch)
I saw the band live around the time Summerteeth came up and thought they stank. I was a huge Uncle Tupelo fan and to see Wilco piss away their legacy as a kind of pseudo Black Crowes pissed me off big time. The records were OK, but not that inspiring. Then they delivered a record that Warners refused to release, were picked up by Nonesuch, and, crucially, replaced Jay Bennett with Nels Cline. The results are there to be heard. When I saw them live again in 2004 they were awesome!


The M M & M 1000 – part 28

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

SCOTT WALKER – Jackie / The Plague (Philips 1628 1967)
For someone whose French is minimal, listening to Jacques Brel is a frustrating experience. His phlegmish melodramatics aside, the lyrics are key to his songs. Instead, you have to rely on the often bowdlerised English translations. Of all the English language singers who covered Brel, Scott Walker came the closest to nailing the drama and pathos of the originals. “Jackie” is almost a love song to Brel’s ego, albeit laced with plenty of irony, and such was a strange choice for a single – particularly for a first solo single following the demise of the Walker Brothers. But Walker was making a statement. This ain’t pop no more, but art. That may seem a bit precious, but he delivered on the promise with four of the greatest albums of the late sixties.

VAN MORRISON – Jackie Wilson Said / You’ve Got the Power (Warner bothers 7616 1972)
For someone legendarily grumpy, Van Morrison could spin some vibrant and gleeful tunes. “Jackie Wilson Said” is a generous tribute to the great singer that’s upbeat and soulful.

JOHN BARRY – The James Bond Theme / The Blacksmith Blues (Columbia 4898 1962)
This must be the most instantly recognisable movie theme of all time. Nearly fifty years on, it still oozes mystery and drama. More remarkably, it sounds resolutely contemporary. Beyond the iconic introduction, there’s a damn nifty jazz tune in there too.

TOM WAITS – Jersey Girl / Heart Attack and Vine (Asylum 47077 1980)
Tom Waits’ last album for Asylum, Heart Attack and Vine, was probably the closest he ever got (or is ever likely to get) to making a mainstream rock album. The guitar isn’t often to the fore in Waits’ music, but it was through much of this record. “Jersey Girl” is a yearning love song that’s so Springsteenesque that the man himself covered it.

BJÖRK – Joga / mixes (One Little Indian 202 1997)
I’m pretty sure “Joga” only came out in the UK as a triple CD box set with a VHS, and on promo. Elsewhere it got a standard release. I’ve always found One Little Indian’s bewildering. There seem to be a ridiculous numbers of limited editions, promos, white labels, mixes and live albums issued in every format imaginable. It seems a bit cynical to me. To the song, though: it’s one of the highlights of Homogenic, her most consistent album to date. The dramatic volatility of Iceland’s geology runs through this tune like a mineral seam.

CHUCK BERRY – Johnny B Goode / Around and Around (Chess 1691 1958)
Probably the ultimate rock and roll record. Not only that, “Johnny B Goode” lay down the blueprint for rock music from the Stones to punk and beyond.

DUKE ELLINGTON & HIS ORCHESTRA – Jungle Nights in Harlem / Old Man Blues (Victor 23022 1930)
It’s not generally considered A list Ellington, but “Jungle Nights in Harlem” has always been one of my favourites of his. My dad had a budget RCA Camden album of Ellington at the Cotton Club (something out of character from the usual easy listening stuff that he owned) which featured this among other better known sides. This was the tune I returned to most. I guess it’s a Charleston – it’s certainly red hot rhythmically, with an unforgettable horn melody.

AZTEC CAMERA – Just Like Gold / We Could Send Letters (Postcard 813 1981)
Roddy Frame was something daft like fourteen years old when he recorded his first Postcard 45. “Just Like Gold” is good, but the B side is awesome. It’s world weary and nostalgic and yet upbeat and bright at the same time, with some terrific acoustic guitar work. I don’t think he ever wrote a song that matched it.

JESUS & MARY CHAIN – Just Like Honey / Head (Blanco Y Negro 17 1985)
For about a year they were the most amazing group on the planet. The screeching feedback and Spector-ish echo of their songs was a marriage made in heaven. The tunes were straight out of the Beach Boys / girl group era that predated the more knowing and less innocent music that followed on from the British invasion. “Just Like Honey” was the band’s fourth single, and took the tempo down a few notches, replacing the squeal with a big beefy wall-of-sound production. In effect, it was the sign of things to come. The second LP Darklands was mostly in this vein, and lacked the noisy thrills of the debut. They never recaptured the magic.

TEMPTATIONS – Just My Imagination / You Make Your Own Heaven and Hell Right Here On Earth (Gordy 7105 1971)
Smack in the middle of their psychedelic soul period, the Temptations made a brief return to the lush balladry that they’d started out with. “Just My Imagination” has a smooth sweet soul sound, that is as dreamy as the protagonist’s fantasies about the girl who passes by his window every day.

PRISONAIRES – Just Walkin’ In The Rain / Baby Please (Sun 186 1953)
As their name suggests, the Prisonaires were a group of prisoners incarcerated in Nashville’s Tennessee State Penitentiary. Three of the five were lifers including lead singer Johnny Bragg who’d been indicted for six counts of rape in 1943 when aged 17. Radio producer Joe Calloway came across them when doing a news item from the prison, and alerted Sam Phillips at Sun. The reflective, haunting “Just Walkin’ in the Rain”, written by Bragg, was a moderate hit for the group. When covered by Johnny Ray it became one of the biggest selling records of the fifties.

More soon


The M M & M 1000 – part 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More soon


The M M & M 1000 – part 21

The Guardian nicked my idea! Well, kinda.

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

LONNIE JOHNSON & BLIND WILLIE DUNN – Handful of Riffs / Bullfrog Moan (Okeh 8695 1929)
This dates back to a time when having a racial mix of artists on the same record was taboo. Thus white jazz guitarist Eddie Lang adopted a ‘blues name’ alias for the music that he recorded with Lonnie Johnson. Both players were adept in a variety of styles – Lang had played jazz with Joe Venuti and even recorded a Rachmaninov prelude for solo guitar while Johnson had played both jazz and blues. “Handful of Riffs” is typical of their guitar duets, both soulful and technically innovative. They influenced a long line of players from John Fahey to Richard Bishop.

JOHNNY BRISTOL – Hang On in There Baby / Take Care of You For Me (MGM 14715 1974)
Johnny Bristol was in his mid thirties by the time his singing career took off. His past decade and a half had been spent as a producer and songwriter at Motown and CBS. “Hang On in There Baby” is a passionate piece of Philly proto-disco.

JIMMY CLIFF – The Harder They Come / Many Rivers To Cross (Island 6139 1972)
24 year old Jimmy Cliff made his acting debut as Ivanhoe Martin, the hero of Perry Henzell’s 1972 film of Jamaican ghetto life, The Harder They Come. His self-penned title track has become one of the most covered reggae tunes over the years, but none matches the intensity of the original.

BOB & EARL – The Harlem Shuffle / I’ll Keep Running Back (Marc 104 1963)
The early sixties saw a plethora of dance crazes, each inspiring hundreds of records. “The Harlem Shuffle” was something altogether more gritty and real than the endless exhortations to do the twist / the monkey / the mashed potato etc etc. Bobby Byrd (aka Bobby Day) and Earl Nelson had both been members of doowop act the Hollywood Flames in the fifties, but by the time this came out, Nelson was working with a different Bob – Bobby Relf.

BUZZCOCKS – Harmony in My Head / Something’s Gone Wrong Again (United Artists 36541 1979)
This isn’t generally considered to be one of the band’s best singles, but it remains one of my favourites. It’s a rare lead vocal outing for Steve Diggle, whose gruff bark is in stark contrast to Pete Shelley’s romantic pleadings. It gives the song a darker, angrier, more urgent feel – but it still has a fantastic singalong chorus.

ISLEY BROTHERS – Harvest for the World / part 2 (T Neck 2261 1976)
In the mid seventies, the Isleys were usually more concerned with sex and dancing than politics, but “Harvest for the World” is a heartfelt plea for a redistribution of wealth and an end to hunger that could have come straight out of the Curtis Mayfield songbook.

CHI-LITES – Have You Seen Her? / Yes I’m Ready (Brunswick 55462 1971)
Bloke mooches around at the movies and the local park, swaps jokes with the neighbourhood kids, but inside he’s a broken man because the girl he loves has flown the coop. It’s the classic seventies soul heartbreak scenario, with talkie intro and outro. A “Tracks of My Tears” for the afro and flares generation – and an absolute beauty of a song.

BODINES – Heard It All / Clear (Creation 30 1986)
Glossop’s finest have long since faded into obscurity, which is a shame. They only made one album, and that’s long out of print, but they did a clutch of great singles. This is indie pop at its purest – urgent, melodic and with an upbeat melancholy. Most of the Creation acts of the time were obsessed with the sixties – the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Byrds – but the Bodines owed more to Postcard records. LTM or somebody should get on the case and do a proper anthology of the band. They don’t deserve to be forgotten.

TOM WAITS – The Heart of Saturday Night / Diamonds On My Windshield (Asylum 45262 1975)
“The Heart of Saturday Night” is typical of Tom Waits’ early days as a romantic barfly. It’s a bruised, but hopeful, song about the joy of the weekend – the anticipation, the pool halls, the waitresses. On the album, whose title it shares, it closes the first side. The second finishes with its companion piece, “The Ghosts of Saturday Night”, a reflective, glazed early morning peek at the aftermath which is even better.

ELVIS PRESLEY – Heartbreak Hotel / I Was the One (RCA 6420 1956)
This is one of those songs that is so familiar to everyone, that few probably really listen to it properly. What makes it so great is the empty space – the ghostly echoes that evoke a world of limbo between the living and the dead. It’s regularly cited as a key rock and roll tune, but it’s more a slice of American Gothic that owes as much to Edgar Allen Poe as it does to rhythm and blues.

MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS – Heat Wave / A Love Like Yours (Gordy 7022 1963)
Just one of the reasons why the Vandellas were always the greatest of Motown’s girl groups – and by extension, the greatest of the whole genre. It encapsulates the sweat and the joy of a carefree summer night.

DEEP BLUE – The Helicopter Tune / mixes (Moving Shadow 41 1993)
Deep Blue was Sean O’Keefe, a member of 2 Bad Mice and, more recently, Black Rain with Rob Haigh of Omni Trio. “The Helicopter Tune” was a landmark record in the history of jungle. It ditched the rude bwoy / ragga stylings of much of the early stuff in favour of a clinical, cyclical rhythm that had very little in the way of adornment. It’s one of the few records of the era that still sounds like it’s been beamed in from the future.

THEM – Here Comes the Night / All For Myself (Decca 12094 1965)
While it doesn’t have the same snotty urgency that “Gloria” has, “Here Comes the Night” still sounds more akin to the likes of the Sonics and the Standells than it does to any of Them’s mainland UK contemporaries.

DAVID BOWIE – Heroes / V2 Schneider (RCA 1121 1977)
Actually, the seven inch edit that mostly gets played on the radio is rubbish. It starts something like two minutes in. It’s like beginning a novel on page 80! The full six minute version is one of Bowie’s finest records – a dense, claustrophobic, almost desperate piece of self-delusion.

MEMPHIS JUG BAND – He’s in the Jailhouse Now / Round and Round (Victor 23256 1930)
“He’s in the Jailhouse Now” is one of those pre-war hillbilly tunes that exist in loads of different versions, credited to loads of different writers (Jimmie Rodgers being one). It probably dates back much further than the 1920s. This has always been my favourite take. I like the loose and rough raucousness of Will Shade’s mob.

More soon


The M M & M 1000 – part 15

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

WAY OUT WEST – Domination / mixes (Deconstruction 34282 1996)
The single that followed this one, “The Gift”, was Way Out West’s first big hit, but “Domination” is the more exciting record – a big, punchy deep house monster with a scary fifties sci-fi voice over.

BLUE OYSTER CULT – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper / Tattoo Vampire (Columbia 10384 1976)
Even when metal was at its most unfashionable around the time of punk, BOC were one of the bands it was deemed OK to like – even though they sometimes sounded like any other airbrushed AOR band. “The Reaper” shows both sides of the group – the glossy vocal harmonies and the biker-rock rhythm. The seven inch edit issued over here a few years later does the track no favours – the brilliant centre-piece guitar solo was entirely cut to bring the song down to a radio-friendly length by some cloth-eared editor.

THE JAM – Down in a Tube Station at Midnight / So Sad About Us / The Night (Polydor 8 1978)
For the first year or so of their recording career, the Jam were little more than a Who tribute act on amphetamines. This song and its parent album All Mod Cons changed that for good. The mindless violence and racist thugs that it portrays were all too familiar in that era, and Weller brilliantly captures the fear and pointlessness of these kinds of unprovoked, random attacks.

PETULA CLARK – Downtown / You Better Love Me (Pye 15722 1964)
BLUE NILE – The Downtown Lights / The Wires Are Down (Linn 3 1989)
TOM WAITS – Downtown Train / Tango ‘Til They’re Sore (Island 260 1985)

In popular song, downtown is a semi-mythical place where the tribulations of the working week are cast aside in favour of bright lights, music and dancing. No song better encapsulates this carefree joy than Petula Clark’s “Downtown”. Tom Waits shares the sentiment, injecting a little rumpled melancholy for good measure. Paul Buchanan’s protagonist, though, is more of an observer than a reveller, and gives the feeling that the bright lights, music and dancing offer merely some temporary solace that helps to hold together a creaking relationship in the short term.

PROPAGANDA – Dr Mabuse / Femme Fatale (ZTT 2 1984)
Eighties audio excess really reached its zenith with Trevor Horn’s huge sounding productions for Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Propaganda. “Dr Mabuse” is a ten minute dramatic monster, telling tales of the evil deeds of Norbert Jacques’ villainous master of telepathy and hypnosis.

SUICIDE – Dream Baby Dream / Radiation (Island 6543 1979)
Suicide had more in common with acts like the Cramps and the Misfits than they did with the Human League or Cabaret Voltaire. Despite their use of keyboards and electronics instead of guitars, they were at heart a rockabilly band. “Dream Baby Dream” is like the soundtrack to some relentless, sexual nightmare.

PJ HARVEY – Dress / Water / Dry (Too Pure 5 1991)
It’s hard to walk in the dress, it’s not easy / I’m spilling over like a heavy loaded fruit tree”. Genius.

RAY POLLARD – The Drifter / Let Him Go (United Artists 916 1965)
This is a fairly obscure one. Ray Pollard was a soul singer who was once a member of a group called the Wanderers. He didn’t exactly uproot many trees during his recording career, but “The Drifter” became a big favourite on the Northern Soul scene. It’s a big, bold ballad telling the tale of a character who wanders, purposeless, from town to town following the death of his beloved. Pollard had a pleading, soulful voice slightly redolent of the great Levi Stubbs. He deserved to be better known, and this song in particular should have been massive. Sadly, he died in 2005 aged 74.

BRAN VAN 3000 – Drinkin’ in LA / mixes (Capitol 811 1997)
Are they still going? This Canadian collective had a massive hit with this and then seemed to slip from the radar just as quickly, at least in this country. “Drinkin’ in LA” is a brilliant song about confusion, rootlessness and homesickness that owes a lot to Blue Lines era Massive Attack.

STICK McGHEE – Drinkin’ Wine Spo-dee-o-dee / Blues Mixture (Atlantic 873 1949)
Stick McGhee was blues legend Brownie’s little brother. The original recording of “Drinkin’ Wine…” was cut for the tiny Harlem label in 1946. Atlantic boss Ahmet Ertegun heard the track and tried to license it, but the masters could not be found. He had no idea who Stick was, so he phoned the only blues musician that he knew in New York – Brownie McGhee. It so happened that Brownie’s brother was with him, and Ertegun arranged for Stick to make a new recording of the tune for Atlantic. It went on to become one of the biggest rhythm and blues hits of the pre-rock era.

BABES IN TOYLAND – Dust Cake Boy / Spit to See the Shine (Treehouse 17 1989)
I saw Babes in Toyland live on several occasions, and it never ceased to amaze me how THAT voice came out of the slight figure of Kat Bjelland. In their prime, Babes in Toyland were one of the most exciting bands around. There was something slightly ramshackle about them, and yet they had a furious energy that few could match. Kat sounds a little peeved on “Dust Cake Boy”. Just a tad.

ELMORE JAMES – Dust My Broom / Catfish Blues (Trumpet 146 1952)
For me, Elmore was the champ of the electric blues artists. Howlin’ Wolf was wild, Hooker was dark, Muddy was boisterous; Elmore had a lazy elegance about him in both his singing and playing – unpolished and unhurried, but pure class.

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