Singles Going Steady

March 7, 2009 at 2:30 pm (Uncategorized)

The title of the post, nicked from the Buzzcocks album, sums it up for me. I agree with Ray Davies when he said

You can say everything in three minutes…it’s the ultimate song structure, I hope it will never die.

The March 2009 issue of Mojo features an article on former Smiths’ guitar player Johnny Marr picking some of his favourite singles (and one album track). I like these kinds of articles because I can usually discover a great song or two. Along with the list, Mojoposted downloadable artwork, so people could make their own CDs or play lists, which brings me to my first digression.

I’ve yet to buy an MP3 player (although I suppose it’s inevitable). There’s just something about the format, I’m not quite ready for yet. However, I can see one advantage: the potential re-emergence of the single. When I first started collecting music it was around the dawn of the punk era. I had missed the initial wave (too young, lived in the sticks), but I did try to catch up. I read the New Musical Express and Sounds every week (sometime Melody Maker, and if occasionally Record Mirror), and listened to John Peel every night.

The first records I bought with my own money were albums, but very soon, I began to collect singles. A couple of factors were responsible for the change. 

Punk was a very democratic movement. It cleared away a lot of the elitism. Like Johnny Rotten said, it wasn’t about learning a million chord; rock and roll was supposed to be fun! This meant a lot of groups who would likely never have been heard got their moment. Not all of them though had much more than a couple of singes in them, before they ran out of ideas. But for that one shining moment….

And while punk was a tremendously creative explosion, it wasn’t always flush with cash. A band that wasn’t signed couldn’t always afford to record an album, but two songs on a single was doable. And singles were cheaper for us too. A pound for a single brought you two smashing songs. Little three minute bursts of excellence.

The advent of the CD shifted the focus back to the album. (and I confess, on a lot of CD’s, there are probably songs I’ve never listened to because they are over an hour into the disc. On the record, it was only twenty minutes per side. The MP3 with its emphasis on the song provides the possibility of the resurrection of the single.

That said, the parallel is not perfect: There’s just something about owning that little 7 inch slab of plastic with a picture sleeve. It’s hard to imagine getting excited by an MP3 release party.

Oh, here’s Johnny’s list with my comments interspersed. 


Del Shannon – Keep Searching (We’ll Follow the Sun)
My mum had this single. everyone remembers Del Shannon for Runaway, which is his finest moment. The vocal arrangements, the cheesy organ, the build-up; how could it fail? But he had other hits: Hats off to Larry, Little Town Flirt, and many more including this one. I remember as a kid trying to sing along to Del’s falsetto, and failing.

T-Rex – Metal Guru

Another record I listened to as a kid. I can remember seeing Marc Bolan shaking his bum on Top of the Pops. It was my dad’s birthday, and we were on holiday in Scotland when we heard on the radio he had died in a car accident.

The Rolling Stones – Get off of my Cloud

Another single in my parents record collection. It’s sad when you think that for a thirty year old Stones fan, the band’s last great album was released the year before they were born. Forget that though. This record, and its contemporaries are amazing. Completely irresistible.

The Isley Brothers – Behind a Painted Smile                                                        

Sure, everyone remembers Twist and Shout and Shout, but there were many others.  A lovely little song.

 Iggy and the Stooges – Gimmie Danger (track from Raw Power)

The Stooges were the first original punks I was into. I was 13 in the summer of 1977, too young to get into the Stooges when they were around. The first Iggy song, I heard was five foot One from New Values (1979). I wondered what the fuss was about. Catchy, but hardly revolutionary, and yet so many raved about him. (There was also the self-destructive character Wiggy Pulp in Alan Moore’s strip in Sounds, but I really do digress too much here) . I bought Raw Power in a shop in Oxford.  I remember taking it home and listening to it, then I understood.

Blondie – Hanging on the Telephone

When I was about 15, my parents bought me a Blondie poster (well, a Debbie Harry poster) for Christmas. I can’t remember if I ever put it up. I didn’t like Blondie’s later experiments in disco-pop, but for a while there… This track, from Parallel Lines,  grabs you.

The Crystals – There’s no other like my Baby

Close your eyes. Dream of a time that never was. It’s slow, it’s sexy, it’s the Crystals, it’s Phil Spector.

Bob and Marcia – Young Gifted and Black

And here’s that discovery. I knew the Nina Simone version, but this was new to me. I can’t describe it; it’s much better just to experience it.

The Equals – Black Skin, Blue Eyed Boys

I learned about the Equals through Eddie Grant’s solo records, and worked backwards. Do you remember the days when skinheads loved Jamaican music? I always thought Britain was a musical island because music just seemed so ingrained in the national consciousness, but maybe Jamaica is even more so. A great record.  

The Cribs – Hey Scenesters

Marr is playing with this band now, but that’s OK.  A terrific  soaring record. Everything the single is about. Great video too

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