The M M & M 1000 – part 55

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. More T vicar?

ISAAC HAYES – Theme From Shaft / Cafe Regio’s (Enterprise 1971)
It wasn’t the first (Melvin van Peebles has that honour), but it’s still the track and movie that triggered a barrel-load of Blaxploitation films and soundtracks. In 95% of cases, the music was way better than the films – Shaft was one of the few that still stand up (I’d add Cleopatra Jones and Foxy Brown to that pretty short list – Across 110th Street doesn’t really count).

VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR – Theme One / W (Charisma 1972)
A prog-rock fugue that’s best known for its use by Tommy Vance on the Friday Rock Show back in the seventies and early eighties. Unusual for the era in that it was a stand-alone 45, and an instrumental to boot.

THE DRIFTERS – There Goes My Baby / Oh My Love (Atlantic 1959)
The Drifters that recorded this were a completely different group to the one that had loads of hits for Atlantic through the fifties. They’d all been fired by svengali George Treadwell. So it was a new beginning – and an extraordinary one. The production was way over the top by any contemporary standards, involving Leiber, Stoller and Phil Spector (who learned a trick or two). Scarcely anything is in tune with anything else, and Jerry Wexler thought it unreleasable. But Ben E King’s vocals somehow held the track together, and it ended up as just about the biggest hit the label had in its first decade.

R DEAN TAYLOR – There’s a Ghost In My House / Don’t Fool Around (VIP 1967)
White Canadian singer-songwriter was something of an odd job man at Motown, but a few of his rock/soul crossover tracks are absolute belters. Ghost is garage-rock meets Motown, and ripped up more than a few Lancashire dancefloors in the Northern Soul era.

SANDIE SHAW – (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me / Don’t You Know (Pye 1964)
While Dionne Warwick gave the Bacharach and David songbook a sophisticated sheen, the Brit girls just belted them out. In an era of big hair, bouffants and beehives, the barefoot mod girl look that Sandie brought is still one of the most iconic of the sixties.

BODINES – Therèse / I Feel (Creation 1986)
Unfairly lumped in with the C86ers, the Bodines were really just a pop group albeit one with all the panache of a sixties garage band. They’ve fallen through the cracks of history somewhat, but their meagre body of work (an album and a fistful of 45s) deserves reappraisal.

OTIS REDDING – These Arms of Mine / Hey Baby (Volt 1962)
The legend has it that Otis, occasional singer for Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers, was only at the 1962 Memphis session because he was driving the band’s van. The session was heading for a complete wash out, when he asked if he could do a couple of his own songs. Both sides were knocked out in less than half an hour, and a soul superstar was born.

(DETROIT) SPINNERS – They Just Can’t Stop It The (Games People Play) / I Don’t Want to Lose You (Atlantic 1975)
PERSUADERS – Thin Line Between Love and Hate / Thigh Spy (Atco 1971)

Yeah, the brackets are in a strange place. It’s not the only thing odd about this single. One of Pervis Jackson’s bass parts needed rerecording, but the band were on tour. Producer Thom Bell’s off the wall solution was to get in singer Barbara Ingram to do the part because she just happened to be around, even though it was way below her range. And yet it works. The Persuaders were a minor seventies vocal group, best known for this one song – the tale of a neglected woman who has her revenge, all told by the apologetic victim.

ARETHA FRANKLIN – Think / You Send Me (Atlantic 1968)
Could you imagine any of today’s soporific R&B stars doing anything at even half this tempo? This is Aretha with her Gospel chops set to full speed on a civil rights anthem that’s both joyous and a little intimidating.

ANTON KARAS – Third Man Theme / The Cafe Mozart Waltz (Decca 1950)
Anyone who’s seen Carol Reed’s superb thriller set in post-war Vienna will always be immediately be taken back to the bombed out streets and impishly monstrous Harry Lime when they hear Hungarian Anton Karas’s zither tune. It’s disarmingly bright, almost jolly, but it manages to enhance the mood of the movie rather than clash with it. It’s one of the iconic pieces of cinema music.

SMITHS – This Charming Man / Jeane (Rough Trade 1983)
Strange as it may seem now, but in 1983 traditional singer/guitar/bass/drums combos were about as fashionable as morris dancing. The Smiths managed to change that simply by sounding totally different to any group that had preceded them. Morrissey and Marr’s telepathic understanding combined Mozzer’s moaning miserablism with guitar melodies that were sharp and bright and made the two elements sound inseparable. Their best tunes haven’t dated a day in over a quarter of a century.

PULP – This Is Hardcore / Ladies Man (Island 1998)
In the end, Pulp were just too wilful and experimental to maintain the megastar status thrust upon them around the time of Different Class. The follow-up album didn’t sell anything like as well, perhaps because of this title song being made the first single. It’s certainly the best thing on the record (in my mind, the best thing they ever did), but a slow burning six and a half minute cinematic epic was probably not what the average Britpop fan wanted. The whole movement was pretty much dead in the water by then, anyway, and Pulp seemed to be the major act that suffered the most even though their alignment with the scene was dubious to begin with. Fate can be cruel.

IMPRESSIONS – This Is My Country / My Woman’s Love (Curtom 1968)
When the BBC made their landmark TV series Soul Deep a few years back, there was a huge Curtis Mayfield sized hole in it. To me, it was like making a history of the second world war and forgetting to mention Churchill. Mayfield was there from doowop through to disco and beyond, proving himself more than adept at harmonic soul, Gospel, psychedelic soul, funk, sweet soul, disco and all areas between. No one else can compare when it came to the sheer breadth of music he made. This Is My Country is a song from the latter days of the Impressions, a deceptively sweet but defiant and angry ballad that’s one of the anthems of the Civil Rights era.

THE THE – This Is The Day / Mental Healing (Epic 1983)
THE SAINTS – This Perfect Day / Lies (Harvest 1977)

Musically, the track simply oozes freshness and optimism. It sounds like summer and the chorus is defiant and determined. And yet the verses hold a heard-it-all before cynicism that undermines the sunshine, but instead makes it sound as empty as the “I’m never gonna drink another drop” claims of a hungover alcoholic. “You could’ve done anything If you’d wanted / And all your friends and family think that you’re lucky / But the side of you they’ll never see / Is when you’re left alone with the memories / That hold your life together … like glue“. I’ve been in that place, and it’s not pleasant. In contrast, This Perfect Day is angry as hell, and is as good an in-your-face rock tune as they come. In the end, it seems a much more positive place to be than the self-deluded optimism of Matt Johnson’s tune.

ISLEY BROTHERS – This Old Heart of Mine / There’s No One Left (Tamla 1966)
The Isleys stay at Motown was a short and unhappy one. This was a group who were used to being in control, now reduced to members of the (in)famous Detroit production line, with no control of the songs or the production. They didn’t really fit in to Berry Gordy’s philosophy. Still, they made some pretty hot records while they were there.

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The M M & M 1000 – part 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.

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The M M & M 1000 – part 40

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Much delayed – apologies for that. Anyway, getting on with the Ps..

CLARENCE CARTER – Patches / Say It One More Time (Atlantic 2748 1970)
I wrote about this weepie here.

BAD BRAINS – Pay to Cum / Stay Close to Me (Bad Brains 1 1980)
Probably the most ferocious band of all of hardcore’s first wave. They probably had more to be pissed off about than the usual white suburban mall-brats. They also knew their instruments, but that didn’t stop them making an unholy racket.

STEELY DAN – Peg / I Got the News (ABC 12320 1977)
There’s probably nothing more snooze-inducing than tasteful, well-played, glossily produced pop-jazz. Steely Dan have always made records that tick all those boxes, but have a bit of bite to them. “Peg” has an unforgettable horn riff (if you don’t know it, you may know De La Soul’s “Eye Know” which samples freely from the track) and a great chorus, with Michael McDonald (a man with a great voice who always seems to make lousy records) contributing some superb backing vocals.

IMPRESSIONS – People Get Ready / I’ve Been Trying (ABC 10622 1965)
Effortless, timeless Gospel-soul that gives even die-hard heathens like me the goose bumps.

VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR – People You Were Going To / Firebrand (Polydor 56758 1968)
Van Der Graaf Generator had already split up when recording began on what was to be a Peter Hammill solo album – the Aerosol Grey Machine. Gradually they clumped back together, like a planet from spinning debris. “People You Were Going To” is kinda half way between the familiar Van Der Graaf sound and pastoral psychedelic pop. They would get denser, intenser and louder as time wore on, but this song is more than just curious juvenilia.

THE THE – Perfect / The Nature of Virtue (Epic 3119 1983)
Soul Mining was Matt Johnson’s second album, but the first under the resuscitated The The moniker. It took the lush, buoyant synth-pop of the day, and turned it into something darker and more introspective. “Perfect” was only added to cassette versions of the LP at the time, but it fitted seamlessly with the record’s mood. Musically sunny and rich, and on the surface optimistic, it had a dark heart of despair. It fitted the times when a primary coloured optimism glossed over a steel grey underbelly of trepidation.

NEW ORDER – The Perfect Kiss / Perfect Pit (Factory 123 1985)
It’s strange that “Blue Monday” remains New Order’s best selling single ever, when it was essentially a rhythm track and a fairly basic synth melody. It was no more than a prototype for much more fully realised and melodic tracks to come like “The Perfect Kiss”, but they never quite captured the world’s imagination in the same way.

JOHN BARRY – The Persuaders / The Girl With the Sun in Her Hair (Columbia 7569 1972)
DUANE EDDY – Peter Gunne Theme / Along the Navajo Trail (Jamie 1168 1960)
I must have been only eight or nine at the time, but The Persuaders was my favourite TV show bar none. It was the supercool repartee between Tony Curtis and Roger Moore, the exotic south of France locations and the brilliant cars that did it for me. Oh, and the title sequence where resumés of the pair’s rags-to-riches and riches-to-riches stories are played out in the form of newspaper clippings to the accompaniment of John Barry’s faultless theme tune. It had the mysterious air of a spy movie soundtrack played out on synthetic bass and what sounded like a harpsichord and was totally unlike any piece of music I’d ever heard in my short life. It remains my favourite TV theme ever. I wasn’t born when Peter Gunne was on our screens and have never seen an episode to this day. But what a dramatic theme tune! A dirty, rolling guitar riff full of menacing bass is overlaid by the alarmed squawks of the saxophone. It’s got film-noir written all over it.

ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN – Pictures On My Wall / Read It in Books (Zoo 4 1979)
This comes from the time when Echo the drum machine had its five minutes of fame before it was cruelly booted out in favour of the human Pete de Freitas. I’ve always preferred the Bunnymen’s stuff from the period where they had that raw post-punk rush to them, before production values were of too much concern.

THE IMPOSTER (ELVIS COSTELLO) – Pills and Soap / same (Imp 1 1983)
26th November 1981. Two and a half years into the Conservative regime, Britain was in chaos. A summer of some of the most serious social unrest in the twentieth century had burned itself out, but unemployment was climbing towards three million and inflation was 20+%. It was one of the most unpopular governments in British history. Meanwhile the Labour Party, rather than capitalizing on the woes of its rival, was engaged in a suicidal civil war. The results of the Crosby by-election were a political earthquake. In one of their erstwhile safest UK seats, the Tories were kicked out. Labour lost its deposit, and the SDP candidate Shirley Williams gained almost half the total vote. It seemed like politics were about to move into completely uncharted waters. Then General Galtieri stuck his oar in.
9th June 1983. Thatcher’s landslide victory would change the face of Britain forever. Where the radical right in the Tory party had largely been kept on a leash since 1979, the country was now about to see its entire fabric ripped apart in the name of Friedmanite monetarism, a doctrine of greed and sanctioned corruption dressed up as economics. For just that week, “Pills and Soap” was available in shops before being swiftly deleted. It was a fearful, downbeat and defeated dirge of a song that lamented the final passing of a nation’s values of community in favour of an imported culture of rapacious greed, rampant consumerism and selfish individualism. Everything that’s happened over the last eighteen months is a consequence of that philosophy, one shamefully continued by the so-called ‘people’s party’.

CHILLS – Pink Frost / Purple Girl (Flying Nun 2 1982)
New Zealand’s finest pop group with their finest three minutes. “Pink Frost” is a chilling tale of a man who appears to have killed his girlfriend whilst in a somnambulant state. “I thought I was dreaming, so I didn’t heed her screaming”. It’s a horrible scenario. No details are sketched – it’s up to the listener to draw his or her own conclusions. It does seem that Martyn Phillips’ protagonist is more concerned about what will happen to him than what he’s done to her, though.

JONNY L – Piper / Common Origin (XL 74 1997)
To get those last two pieces of downright misery out of our systems, what better than John Lisner’s Tonka-tough “Piper”, the tune that filtered two-step drum and bass into its minimalist conclusion. The rhythm has a jackhammer ferocity, coupled with little else other than a wispy echo and the short, disembodied female interjections of the track title every now and then. This is truly hardcore stuff, stripped down to its most primal elements. And yet once heard, never forgotten – a masterpiece of economical music making.

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