Original post - Tuesday, March 14, 2006
SOME FAVORITE SINGLES
Here are some of my favorite singles - just the tip of the iceberg.
Billy Bragg Levi Stubbs Tears
Here is the ultimate white boy paean to sweet soul music, hiding Bragg's social commentary in a bittersweet tale of a girl who 'was married before she was entitled to vote' and who finds her only comfort in a Four Tops tape. The first words 'With the money from her accident she bought herself a mobile home' drew me in like the words of a Raymond Carver short story. When I first heard this I was ignorant of the names of the people who had written and recorded classics such as the obliquely referenced 'Tears of a Clown'and wondered if 'Barrat Strong', 'Holland and Holland' and 'Lamont Dozier' were the names of Caravan manufacturers. However this song led me to make many discoveries about music and the fact that an earnest white ex punk folk protest singer could write so beautifully about the shimmer of Motown's greats seemed a lot less strange after I had made connections between Bragg and proto soul singers such as John Lee Hooker. If the song and the performance are right , one man can make as much music as an orchestra. And those opening slowly strummed guitar chords still send shivers of anticipation down my spine. In Leonard Cohen's great Redemption he says 'there is a crack in everything, that's where the light gets in'. This is a song about how songs can be that light and it shines brightly. One of the most neglected masterpieces of the last 25 years.
The Beat Mirror in the Bathroom
A song about a self love even more consuming than that in The Buzzcock's Orgasm Addict this could always be relied to get the crowd smiling. Whether they were smiling knowingly at how it represented their friend(s) or ruefully at this exposition of their own vanity didn't matter when the chorus was this infectious.
Steinski and the Mass Media And the Motorcade Sped On
Sampling at its best as news broadcasts, speeches, gunshots, sirens, beats and scratches build up into a hypnotic sound picture of the Kennedy Assassination. This made the familiar seem new and the new seem familiar. Public Enemy heard this record.
Momus Morality is Vanity
Apart from his influence on The Pet Shop Boys and some success as a songwriter in Japan, Momus (Nick Currie) has had very little fame or fortune. However his twisted vignettes of sexual deviancy have never been bettered. Reminiscent more of Brel and Gainsborough than any obvious Anglo antecedents, Curries' sense of mischief brings a music hall quality to this trawl through history, exhorting us that morality is vanity because 'All the heroes of Valhalla weigh less than a virus'.
Einstuerzende Neubaten Zerstoerte Zelle
A five man earthquake of noise, Neubaten took the raw materials of the modern world and as well as writing frightening cacophonies of collapse created a strange folk aesthetic through their use of found objects as instruments. Drills, corrugated iron drums, a record player, switching off the studio anything could end up on their records. Like the darkest blues being stretched on a rack while a chorus of inquisition monks chant in the background the song ebbs and flows like a tidal Styx. And while being one of the only bands to really frighten the listener there is also a fragile beauty in the scrap yard. Very few bands have taken up the challenge of this music, even fewer could remotely match it. THIS is the modern world!
Television See No Evil
There is no dark side to the Marquee Moon, just as long as you just embrace of the beauty of the guitar and avoid looking elsewhere.
Big Black Kerosene
Perhaps more famous for his production work with The Pixies and Nirvana Steve Albini led these sonic assaults on the uglier margins of society. This is the ultimate statement of the nihilism of boredom. 'Kerosene around, nothing to do'
Stiff Little Fingers AlternativeUlster
At the anthemic end of punk, the rigid digits expressed the anger of the youth inNorthern Irelandrailing against their legacy. Songs like Suspect Device and Alternative Ulster seemed a perfect way to pogo the past into oblivion. Unfortunately it wasn't that easy and you still have the opportunity to shoot photos like the singles cover, where a soldier crouches with his rifle beneath a wall, oblivious of the young boy smiling above him. But when my tired limbs are drawn to pogo again I can't help thinking that protest is such fun.
The Pogues Fairytale of New York
'It was Christmas Eve, in the drunk tank' One of the most recognised opening lines in any pub singalong at Christmas makes it clear that we are not walking in a Winter Wonderland, even if the pub is full of sweaty men in Celtic T-Shirts. Shane McGowan always seemed like an easy target for detractors but nobody wrote such timeless songs as he did. This one, A Pair of Brown Eyes and some others will be sung in the best pubs in Hell, and Heaven.
The Radiators Ballad of the Faithful Departed
Pop music doesn't have to be sung in an American accent, punks can be poetic, love and hate aren't the only subject matters. The greatest moment from a great band, and this single has provided far more fertile ground for Irish music than anything springing from near contemporaries U2. Philip Chevron may have had more success in The Pogues but it is clear from this why they were happy to take him on board.
That Petrol Emotion Big Decision or Genius Move
The creative team of the O'Neill brothers had been at the heart of the ever changing Undertones and it felt like the second coming when I first went to see them play over the chorus of diehards chanting for Teenage Kicks. This time they weren't inviting us into a poptopia, they were crunching up the blues and inhabiting a darker musical landscape adapting the influence of Wire and Pere Ubu more successfully than anyone else. They could be fun too and this one was, big beats, loops and samples welded to a killer rock riff. And they did it many times - listen to Chester Burnette beside Firestarter. Eats it up, doesn't it.
Fatima Mansions Blues for Ceaucescu
With the voice of an avenging angel having a bad day and guitar chords like a firing squad this record was the only one big and angry enough to play at Nicolai's funeral. If the Mansions had released more selectively they might have made the definitive album of their time. However that would have meant reining in Cathal Coughlans rivers of anger. This is what The The might have sounded like if they weren't faking it.
Praise had rained down on many acts who will never wear Neil Young's clothes as comfortably as they are worn here. This is an achingly beautiful song, stately and heartbreaking. It sounds American and that's not an insult in this case.
Boomtown Rats Banana Republic
Saint Bob's musical legacy has been overshadowed by his charity work and celebrity marriage. However the Rats were once essential and this intelligent slice of cod reggae was one of the most prescient pictures of an Ireland emerging from tradition into what? His appropriation of Police and Thieves as Police and Priests still makes me laugh and this is drenched with enough fake saccharine to disguise the bile from the inattentive listener. A great sucker punch to the establishment from a man who wasn't always so subtle.
The Blades Downmarket
It still beggars belief that these three minutes of perfect pop didn't storm the charts anywhere outsideIreland. With its pumping brass and supremely catchy chorus this song belies any of the cheap comparisons with The Jam which have often been thrown at me when I extol the virtues of this band. A perfect slice of pre Celtic Tiger rock.
They were alt. Country before it was popular or profitable. A bunch of gentle men living 'in a suburb of hell''on the dole and on the fiddle'. Like a cabaret band at a country wedding the song seems to barely hold together but its simplicity remains a strangely wonderful sound.
The Birthday Party Mutiny in Heaven. TheParadiseLost of the JUNKyard. The apotheosis of Cave's overwrought biblical gothic. Here is King Ink as Lucifer howling that there are 'rats in paradise', leading the titular mutiny, wings bursting from his back like cutting teeth. This muscular blues is truly anguished and few have painted pictures of such highs and lows before and since. You almost need a narcotic to sleep after listening to this.
The Subway Sect Ambition Wry, oblique and somewhat perfect, this is the single whose cover is the background picture on my computer because it never fails to give me a lift & to remind me that vile evil is vile evil.