Thursday, June 24, 2010

My 100 Favorite Singles (1993)

(In the pre-Internet early '90s, Phil Dellio solicited favorite-100-singles lists with accompanying annotations for his fanzine Radio On. By the time I was invited to submit mine, Dellio had already published many others and Plume Books had already published Dave Marsh's The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1,001 Greatest Singles Ever Made [which I allude to below], so I went as far out of my way as I could to avoid over-selected classics and to spotlight glorious but seldom-if-ever-acknowledged bursts of sonic greatness. [A few of them may not even have been singles.] Of course, eighteen years later, much of it feels dated. [The "dancing queen" would be fifty-two by now.] And in retrospect at least ten percent of it is completely indefensible. In many places, though, it still constitutes one bazooka of a mix-tape [er, playlist.])

Have we room in the sane house for a little madness? With my list I too have asked myself, "If I were to flip on a radio right now, what songs would I most like to hear?" But I've also avoided choosing songs that my fellow Radio On contributors and Dave Marsh have picked clean. Any exceptions indicate either extreme enthusiasm (Nos. 8, 22, and 23, for instance) or extreme carelessness on my part.

My decision not to duplicate Marsh accounts for the slender amount of black pop (approximately nineteen songs) and the abundance of bubblegum, since his book only included every song by Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, and Little Richard while ignoring glam and its offshoot genres almost completely. (Special thanks to Marc Weisblott for choosing Chicago's "Old Days" and thereby relieving me of the responsibility.)

1. "Bohemian Rhapsody," Queen ('76, '92). Tired of waiting for rock's multi-segmented epics to include everything, Freddie M. took it upon himself to include everything in such a way that no one would ever want to do it again simply because it would mean too much work. Some of those epics: "Good Vibrations," "River Deep, Mountain High," "Beach Baby," "Stairway to Heaven," "Go All the Way," and "Layla," most if not all of which have endured remakes because they left themselves open to the possibility. "Bohemian Rhapsody" didn't. Not that the middle-school girls who've occasionally burst into renditions of the "operatic section" during my homeroom will ever care about that.

2. "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep," Mac and Katie Kissoon ('70). Nothing makes sense here--not Mac, not how Katie went from this to background chickdom with Van Morrison, or why a song about the abandonment of a "little baby boy" by his parents packs the hardest-rocking, most cheerful bubblegum ever grooved into seven inches of vinyl.

3. "Leave a Light On," Belinda Carlisle ('90). The latest pretender to the Fifth Beatle throne (for getting the best guitar solo in decades out of George Harrison in the bridge) detonates a heart-and-history-stopping bomb comprising the most combustible elements of girl groups past, present, and future.

4. "Dancing Queen," Abba ('77). Steve Nieve must've learned his "Oliver's Army" riffs here. And by now the "teaser" of whom Agnetha and Frida sing must have celebrated her thirty-fourth birthday at least.

5. "Rubberband Man," the Spinners ('76).

6. "Modern Love," David Bowie ('83).

7. "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock 'n' Roll)," Nick Lowe ('85).

8. "Jump," Van Halen ('84).

9. "Panama," Van Halen ('84).

10. "Fox on the Run," Sweet ('75). The best rock-and-roll haiku ever: "You think you've got a / pretty face, but the rest of / you is out of place."

11. "Love Really Hurts Without You," Billy Ocean ('76). And the 1987 PWL remix available on Next Plateau's Turn It Up multiple-performer compilation is even better.

12. "Rock and Roll Love Letter," Bay City Rollers ('75). In which Les McKeown sees a "nation's [nascent?] rhythm in a man's genetic code" then vows to "keep on rock and rolling till [his] genes [jeans?] explode."

13. "So Tell Me Why," Poison ('92).

14. "Tonight It's You," Cheap Trick ('85).

15. "Swingtown," Steve Miller Band ('77). Miller's version of Prince's "Delirious," though more bubblegum-bluesy in direct proportion to the ratio of Miller's body fat to Prince's.

16. "Regret," New Order ('93).

17. "Good Girls Don't," the Knack ('79). I knew girls just like this in high school, and hearing this song always gets me as misty as "Moon River" gets Audrey Hepburn fans.

18. "Sticky Sweet Girls," the Zeros ('92). A "Good Girls Don't" for the '90s. Time: 1:58.

19. "Do Ya," Electric Light Orchestra ('76).

20. "Can't Cry Hard Enough," the Williams Brothers ('92). The perfect acoustic shimmer.

21. "I Don't Mind at All," Bourgeois Tagg ('87). More perfect acoustic shimmer.

22. "The Boys Are Back in Town," Thin Lizzy ('76).

23. "Getting Away with It," Electronic ('90).

24. "The Message Is Love," Arthur Baker and the Backbeat Disciples Featuring Al Green ('89). The "Featuring Al Green" means a lot.

25. "Can't Do Nuttin' for Ya Man," Public Enemy ('90). My favorite political song.

26. "Daydream Believer," Anne Murray ('79). In which she changes "Jean" into "Gene"--or does she?

27. "Miss You Nights," Cliff Richard ('76). More perfect acoustic shimmer, assuming orchestras qualify as acoustic.

28. "Little Black Book," Belinda Carlisle ('91).

29. "Church of Your Heart," Roxette ('92).

30. "Waiting for a Star to Fall," Boy Meets Girl ('88). Do you raise or dock a song for a line like "Carry your heart into your arms"?

31. "Hot Line," the Sylvers ('77). My second-favorite political song because of the haiku "I asked the C.I./A. if it was O.K. to / use their private phone."

32. "Dead End Job," the Police ('79). On a chilly afternoon in the fall of 1983, a friend of mine and I stopped into Nick's Canteen on the West Virginia University campus for what was supposed to be a quick lunch between classes. As we waited for our orders to arrive, we examined the song selections contained by our table's jukebox unit, eventually noticing "Roxanne" by the Police. I convinced my buddy to let me play the record's B-side, the then-rare "Dead End Job." I would not have normally felt comfortable subjecting my fellow diners to the song, a noisy punk rant that hardly qualifies as dinner music, but given the recording's brief duration, I figured no harm would be done. What I didn't know was that Nick's copy of the record was scratched. So instead of singing "Don't wanna be no number, don't want no dead-end job" and getting on with the song, Sting ended up singing "Don't wanna be no number, don't want no dead-end job" over and over. Because the skip did not interrupt the song's natural rhythm, no one noticed. Although it meant missing our next class, we decided to stay put and see how long it would take for anyone to complain. Eventually, someone sat down adjacent to us, made his own jukebox selection, and ordered and ate his lunch without getting to hear the song he'd paid for. Miffed, he brought the situation to the attention of Nick himself, who immediately stopped what he was doing and disappeared through a door, reappearing only after he'd brought "Dead End Job" to an end—forty-three minutes after we'd started it.

33. "Rock and Roll Part Two," Gary Glitter ('72).

34. "Rainy Day Bells," the Globetrotters ('70). Bubblegum doo-wop.

35. "Cheer Me Up," the Globetrotters ('70). Bubblegum James Brown.

36. "Robert DeNiro's Waiting," Bananarama ('84). My favorite song "about rape."

37. "Break Every Rule," Tina Turner ('87).

38. "I Don't Think I'm Ready for You," Anne Murray ('85). The melody skirts schmaltz, the words come as close to real romantic life as the words of the non-poets who buy her records do, and her voice cracks just enough to let the light in (as the poets who buy her records might say).

39. "Justified and Ancient (Stand by the Jams)," the KLF ('92).

40. "Everywhere," Fleetwood Mac ('87).

41. "The Things We Do for Love," 10cc ('77).

42. "I'm Too Sexy," Right Said Fred ('92).

43. "Yesterday's Heroes," Bay City Rollers ('77). Once on the Mike Douglas Show, these chronic lip-synchers had this song begin while they were walking toward their instruments! (My favorite fantasy album: Milli Vanilli Unplugged.)

44. "Beware My Love," Wings ('76). The B-side of "Let 'Em In."

45. "Daddy Cool," Boney M ('76).

46. "Love U More," Sunscreem ('93). Do you raise or dock a song for a line like "My sex hung, torn and quartered"?

47. "2 x 1," Arthur Baker and the Backbeat Disciples ('89).

48. "I Don't Know Why You Don't Want Me," Roseanne Cash ('85).

49. "Half the World," Belinda Carlisle ('91). In which heaven is a place on earth.

50. "Right Back Where We Started From," Maxine Nightengale ('76).

51. "If She Knew What She Wants," Bangles ('86).

52. "Hot Legs," Rod Stewart ('77). The expectorations beat Steve Miller's in "Take the Money and Run," the slaverings come in second only to Ted Nugent's in "Wango Tango," and we get the second-best rock-and-roll haiku ever: "You've got legs right up / to your neck, you're making me / a physical wreck."

53. "Living in Oblivion," Anything Box ('90). Best if heard immediately before or after "Personal Jesus."

54. "A Fool for You Anyway," Average White Band and Ben E. King ('77). The "and Ben E. King" means a lot.

55. "Didi," Khaled ('92).

56. "I Touch Myself," Divinyls ('91). The further you get from the video, the less literal the words "touch" and "myself" seem.

57. "I Hate Myself for Loving You," Joan Jett and the Blackhearts ('88). Her "myself" seems more literal than her "hate," "loving," or "you."

58. "Action," Sweet ('76).

59. "Be Aggressive," Faith No More ('93). The British B-side of "Easy."

60. "Wild Thing," Tone Lōc ('89).

61. "God Don't Never Change," Blind Willie Johnson ('30). Acoustic punk gospel from the days when every record was a single.

62. "Cruel to Be Kind," Nick Lowe ('79).

63. "When All Is Said and Done," Abba ('81). Do you raise or dock a song for a line like "Slightly worn / but dignified / and not too old for sex"?

64. "I Just Can't Help Believing," B.J. Thomas ('70). You don't notice the altitude Thomas achieves here until the bottom falls out just past the mid-point and for a second you cling for dear life to a feeling you didn't realize until then you were hooked on.

65. "Dance Away," Roxy Music ('79).

66. "Good for Me," Amy Grant ('92).

67. "I Got a Man," Positive K ('93).

68. "Don't Go Breakin' My Heart," Elton John and Kiki Dee ('76).

69. "Your Baby Never Looked Good in Blue," Exposé ('90).

70. "Long Long Time," Linda Ronstadt ('70).

71. "I Can't Help It," Three Dog Night ('83).

72. "Time Bomb," Lake ('77). In the tradition of German singers who sing embarrassing lyrics in English because they don't know any better, Lake's James Hopkins-Harrison cheerfully lets loose with "I feel like I'm sittin' on a time bomb, baby, / and it's going to explode" as if no one would ever think to accuse him of eating too much sauerkraut.

73. "I Won't Forget You," Poison ('87).

74. "Hello Old Friend," Eric Clapton ('76).

75. "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself," Dusty Springfield ('62). Her "myself" seems extremely literal.

76. "When You Wish upon a Star," Cliff Edwards ('40).

77. "Little Willy," Sweet ('73).

78. "Armageddon It," Def Leppard ('88).

79. "New Kid in Town," Eagles ('76). You can live in this song.

80. "Tangled Up in Blue," Bob Dylan ('74). I have lived in this song--the first three verses anyway.

81. "The Joker," Steve Miller Band ('74). When my two-year-old son asks me to sing "Batman's song," I sing him the TV-show theme. When he asks for the "Joker's song," I sing him this.

82. "Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie," Jay and the Techniques ('66).

83. "Mixed Emotions," Rolling Stones ('89).

84. "Part Time Love," Elton John ('78).

85. "Dreamin'," Cliff Richard ('80).

86. "A Little in Love," Cliff Richard ('81). Represents, along with No. 85, the best of Richard's crisp, Europop, Alan Tarney-and-Terry Britten phase.

87. "All I Want," Toad the Wet Sprocket ('92).

88. "Giving Yourself Away," Ratt ('90). Thanks, Desmond Child and Diane Warren.

89. "I'm Your Boogie Man," KC & the Sunshine Band ('77).

90. "Keep It Comin' Love," KC & the Sunshine Band ('77).

91. "Passionate Kisses," Mary-Chapin Carpenter ('93).

92. "Saturday Night," Bay City Rollers ('75). For those of us who could only afford to Rock and Roll All Nite one night of the week and who could never afford to party everyday.

93. "Girls' School," Wings ('77). The flip side of "Mull of Kintyre."

94. "Cherish," Madonna ('89).

95. "Golden Years," David Bowie ('76).

96. "Chop Chop," Cutty Ranks ('93). Not a cover of the Sweet song.

97. "If You Know What I Mean," Neil Diamond ('76). The melody skirts schmaltz, and the words come as close to real romantic life as the words of the non-poets who buy his records do. Poets don't buy his records.

98. "Call Me," Spagna ('87). Not a cover of the Blondie song or the Al Green song.

99. "Spending My Time," Roxette ('92). Do you raise or dock a singer who can "fall asleep to the 'Tears of a Clown'"?

100. "Shala-Shala Twist," the Dark City Sisters (somewhere between '50 and '62). "Led by Joyce Mogatusi, the Dark City Sisters ... were by far one of the most prolific [South African vocal groups] on record. A 'simanje-manje/jive group, the Sisters were ... produced by [Aaron] LeRole ... and later by Rupert Bopape" (from the liner notes to Flying Rock: South African Rock 'n Roll 1950-1962 [Global Village Music, P.O. Box 2051 Cathedral Station, New York, NY 10025).

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