The M M & M 1000 – part 53

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

VELVET UNDERGROUND – Sunday Morning / Femme Fatale (Verve 1966)
A deceptively bucolic way to begin The Velvet Underground and Nico. Anyone who bought the album back in ’67 simply on the back of this calm and optimistic little number must have got the shock of their lives by the time “Black Angel Death Song” and “European Son” came around!

DWIGHT PULLEN – Sunglasses After Dark / Teen Age Bug (Carlton 1958)
Classic bad boy rock & roll from Dwight Pullen that was never a hit in its day, but was immortalised years later by the Cramps. Sadly, Pullen never lived to see that, dying of prostate cancer in 1961.

CREAM – Sunshine of Your Love / SWLABR (Reaction 1968)
One of those immortal guitar riffs. For me, Hendrix totally owned it when he played it on the Lulu Show.

GANJA KRU – Super Sharp Shooter / Revolution (Parousia 1996)
BEASTIE BOYS – Sure Shot / Mullet Head (Capitol 1994)

Ganja Kru were a collective of three renowned drum & bass producers – Hype, Zinc and Pascal. “Super Sharp Shooter” was Zinc’s baby, a kind of gangsta jungle using samples of LL Cool J and Method Man. Still rolls like a bastard. “Timing Like A Clock When I Rock The Hip Hop / Top Notch Is My Stock On The Soap Box” says Ad Rock and who could disagree? What a banging tune “Sure Shot” is, with the trio at the top of their game.

CURTIS MAYFIELD – Superfly / Underground (Curtom 1972)
Along with Isaac Hayes’s Shaft, Superfly represents the cream of the early seventies blaxploitation soundtracks. While the movie portrayed the titular drug dealer as some kind of urban hero, the morally centred Mayfield provided a contrasting soundtrack that focused on the victims, and portrayed Superfly himself as an arrogant, urban menace.

CARPENTERS – Superstar / Bless the Beasts and Children (A&M 1971)
Sonic Youth teased a hidden darkness out of this song with Thurston Moore’s sinister half-whispered vocal. But that was perhaps coloured by the tragedy of Karen Carpenter’s death. Her own version is rich and honeyed, although not without a little melodrama.

STEVIE WONDER – Superstition / You’ve Got It Bad Girl (Tamla 1972)
One of the great intros, a bubbling funky keyboard pattern that gets the body moving even before the drums come in. The brass adds even more spice to the brew, and Stevie gives a wonderfully loose vocal performance. One of the best things from the beginning of his five year creative zenith.

BEACH BOYS – Surfer Girl / Little Deuce Coupe (Capitol 1963)
BEACH BOYS – Surf’s Up / Don’t Go Near the Water (Brother 1971)

Just the way they fell, but if I were to choose two songs to bookend the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson’s journey from youth to nostalgic adulthood it would be these. “Surfer Girl” may be a ballad, but it’s a joyful paean to first love that is as much a tribute to the great doowop groups of the fifties as it is to the Californian surfing scene. While the lyrics of “Surf’s Up” may border on the incomprehensible (“Columnated ruins domino” anyone?), there’s definitely a poetry about them, and an atmosphere of dusty nostalgia with some heart-wrenching moments. “The laughs come hard in Auld Lang Syne” is a particularly perceptive line that covers the march of time and loss of youth, and brings a sad resonance to a song that is always sung in a joyful spirit. The multiple melodies and the arrangement of the piece are both near perfect. A song to wallow in.

STIFF LITTLE FINGERS – Suspect Device / Wasted Life (Rigid Digits 1978)
While the English punks whined about being bored (get a hobby) or being on the dole (no, I’m not going to say it – I’m not Norman Tebbitt), across the water in Belfast, the kids had something to be genuinely angry about – especially those who hadn’t been brainwashed into sectarian hatred by those twin bastions of liberalism the puritanical, pope-bashing protestants and the guilt as control freakery of the Vatican. “Suspect Device” explodes with anger at the petty bigotry of the province. It’s an important record in that it gave people on the mainland a real glimpse that Northern Ireland wasn’t just a swirling sea of sectarian hatred, but that there were people as pissed off with the whole situation as anybody, but whose voices were seldom heard above all the posturing and the constant stream of atrocities.

ELVIS PRESLEY – Suspicious Minds / You’ll Think of Me (RCA 1969)
From his brief late sixties renaissance when the music began to matter again. A gloriously huge-sounding soup of paranoia, jealousy, suspicion and despair sung like it’s really meant.

CHAMELEONS – Swamp Thing / John I’m Only Dancing (Geffen 1986)
The endless intro probably didn’t endear this to commercial radio, but it’s integral to the song, a cavestomp that’s nothing to do with fifties sci-fi, but everything to do with disengagement from a world that would sell you your own blood if it could.

CHIFFONS – Sweet Talkin’ Guy / Did You Ever Go Steady (Laurie 1966)
By 1966, the girl meets boy froth of the early sixties had become an anachronism. Emotions ran deeper in popular song, reflecting a change in American teen-hood from the prom and soda fountain world to garage bands, drugs and an increased political awareness. “Sweet Talkin’ Guy” is one of the last classic songs from an age of innocence that had already passed.

LUSH – Sweetness and Light / Breeze (4AD 1990)
I might be wrong, but wasn’t the term shoegazers originally coined in a review of a Lush gig? It was unfair, if true, because the band always had a breeziness and lightness of touch absent from the plodding likes of Chapterhouse. The heavy handed, muffled production of their debut album Spooky by Robin Guthrie is one of the worst cases of production vandalism I’ve heard to be filed along side Spector’s desecration of Leonard Cohen’s Death of Ladies Man. Predating this, “Sweetness and Light” is airy and dreamy, particularly in its full incarnation on the twelve inch.

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The M M & M 1000 – part 4

Here’s the fourth batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Nearly through the A’s.

VELVET UNDERGROUND – All Tomorrow’s Parties / I’ll Be Your Mirror (Verve 10427 1966)
If you’ve got a copy of the first Velvets single then the beers are on you – replete with picture sleeve, mint copies are worth in the region of five grand. Even the (most common) promo fetches a three figure sum. It’s not here because it’s rare, but because it’s a brilliant record – with Nico sounding like the most bored party-goer in history.

HASHIM – Al-Naafyish (The Soul) / mix / bonus beats (Cutting Records 200 1983)
This has been out loads of times on loads of labels. The reason being that it’s a timeless electro classic that, along with Cybotron’s “Clear”, helped pave the way for the Detroit techno explosion. Hashim is Jerry Calliste Jr. He’s made other records, but none had anything like the impact of his first.

LOVE – Alone Again Or / A House Is Not a Motel (Elektra 45629 1968)
Two classics from Forever Changes. Bryan Maclean’s upbeat, optimistic “Alone Again Or” with its mariachi horns is a blast of sunshine, in contrast to Arthur Lee’s paranoid visions on the flip.

DEODATO – Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001) / Spirit of Summer (CTI 12 1973)
Richard Strauss’s fanfare to Friedrich Nietzsche memorably featured in Kubrick’s 2001. Five years after the movie, it was turned in a jazz-fusion monster by Brazillian keyboard player Eumir Deodato.

STIFF LITTLE FINGERS – Alternative Ulster / 78 RPM (Rough Trade RT004 1978)
Recorded during the darkest days of the Troubles, “Alternative Ulster” is brim full of molten anger. With one of the greatest guitar intros to come out of punk, it positively seethes. The title was filched from a contemporary Belfast fanzine.

ELVIS PRESLEY – Always On My Mind / Separate Ways (RCA 740815 1972)
Probably the last decent record that Elvis made, closing a four year creative renaissance that followed a decade of tat.

SUBWAY SECT – Ambition / Different Story (Rough Trade RT007 1978)
“Ambition” was probably the first punk single to feature what sounds like a fairground pump organ. Vic Godard’s mob always were a little different, and he soon went into a kind of neo-jazz crooner direction. He never bettered this, though.

TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS – American Girl / Fooled Again (Shelter 62007 1977)
DON McLEAN – American Pie / part 2 (United Artists 50856 1971)

Hard to believe that Petty was initially lumped in with the likes of Television and Talking Heads as the US’s answer to UK punk. “American Girl” is so Roger McGuinn it hurts – good tune, though. “American Pie” survived a grisly assault by Madonna. I know many people who detest the original – quite why is beyond me. It’s clever and literate and is a lot of fun to deconstruct. But it also works as an emotional response to the death of McLean’s schoolboy hero, Buddy Holly.

MASSIVE ATTACK – Angel / Group Four (Wild Bunch 10 1998)
“Angel” is loosely based on an old Horace Andy Studio One tune, but here it’s both sensual and threatening. Andy’s honeyed tones contrast vividly with the brooding background. It’s amazing that Mezzanine is already a decade old. It still sounds as fresh as the day it came out to these ears.

ARTHUR ALEXANDER – Anna / I Hang My Head and Cry (Dot 16387 1962)
Despite having songs covered by the Beatles (this one) and the Stones (“You’d Better Move On”), Arthur Alexander is still an undeservedly obscure figure. Great tunes and a rich baritone sometimes aren’t enough. Alexander spent the seventies and eighties in obscurity, but looked set to capitalise on his growing cult status in 1993 when he signed a new recording and publishing deal. A month later he suffered a fatal heart attack.

DANCE CHAPTER – Anonymity / New Dance (4AD AD18 1980)
I think I’m one of the only people on the planet who rates this. Back from the days when most acts on 4AD were proto-gothic Bauhaus / Joy Division clones, Leeds band Dance Chapter were no different. Singer Cyrus Bruton was quite a charismatic character, and he gives his all to this song which somehow transcends its influences. Nothing else they recorded was anything like as good.

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