MY TOP 10 SINGLES
From an era when 7” and 45rpm were part of the modern language.
Following on from my earlier blog featuring my top 10 albums I thought I’d have a go at compiling my list of top 10 singles. In reality this was a much easier task. I actually stopped buying singles around the late 70’s/ early 80’s and as such my single collection is much easier to navigate than my ever-growing album collection. Once in a position to buy albums on a regular basis the desire for 7” vinyl was no longer there. As for CD singles? I don’t own any and the modern day ‘downloading’ of songs really does nothing for me. Ergo, the once eagerly awaited ‘singles chart’ has little meaning any more. Consequently, the record deck has only been on its 45rpm setting on just a handful of occasions in recent years.
So, as you’ll see, my top 10 singles are from a certain era. In no particular order they are:
Elvis Presley – I Just Can’t Help Believing
Taken from my earlier blog ‘Put the Needle on the record’… I think we can all remember the first record we ever bought. I certainly can – it was ‘I Just Can’t Help Believing’ by Elvis Presley. My first ever 45rpm 7” single bought with my own pocket money. It was April 1971, I was eight and I was shopping with my family in Harpenden. It remains one of my all-time favourite songs to this day. Whether it’s a favourite because it was my first ever record purchase or because it’s a great song (it ticks both of those boxes) who will ever know, but whenever I hear it an emotional chord is well and truly struck.
T.Rex – Telegram Sam
Of the many, many T.Rex singles I own I’ve chosen this as my favourite. For me, this is Marc at the height of his career - produced by Tony Visconti he could do no wrong. This was also the first of his singles on the distinctive red and blue T.Rex EMI label. Released in January 1972 Telegram Sam would reach number one in the charts and remain there for two weeks. The single would also feature on The Slider album released later that year. Perhaps what makes this single so good is the strength of the two-track B-side (many of Marc’s B-sides were stronger than many other band’s A-sides!). Cadilac and Baby Strange are just perfect in every way and are among my favourite T.Rex tracks.
Alice Cooper – School’s Out
I remember this single specifically for being at number one for many weeks of the school holidays during the summer of 1972. Childhood memories make it feel like it was the whole of the holidays but it was actually only three weeks. Alice appeared on Top of the Pops and for me it was like ‘wow! who is this guy?’ His name was Alice, he wore extreme make up, his band looked like a bunch of tough glam gang members - man this was the coolest thing ever! And the B-side, Gutter Cat, cool title, cool song! I’d soon be acquainting myself with the more from Alice when my brother purchased the Schools Out album (a copy of which I now also have in my vinyl collection). These were indeed exciting times!
Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side
This is my favourite record of all time. I want it played at my funeral. It’s not a self-confession of a fascination with transvestism or anything like that - I had no idea what the song was about when it was first released. I was approaching 10 years old. When ‘Holly shaved her legs and then he was a she’ was just a cool lyric as far as I was concerned!
And that bass line from ace session man Herbie Flowers (who’d later play with T.Rex during Marc’s final year). Allegedly it took him just 20 minutes to record. He famously dubbed an electric bass over his first double bass track to give it that distinctive and instantly recognisable sound – which also meant a double £12 session fee! That’s £24 for one of the most iconic bass lines ever. Both a bargain and perfection!
The B-side is the beautiful Perfect Day which would later become a massive Children in Need charity single in 1997 performed by a starry cast of musicians and singers.
Golden Earring – Radar Love
Ask anyone of a certain age to name a song by Golden Earring and they’ll say Radar Love. I doubt many will be able to name anything else from this Dutch band. I can name one other track from them and that’s the B-side Just Like Vince Taylor. Apparently, they’ve had around 30 top-ten singles on the Dutch Charts but never really cracked the UK scene beyond Radar Love. I loved and purchased this single at the time of release (1973) – it was probably that iconic bass line; I was, perhaps unknowingly at the time, suckered in by a cool bass line. Maybe that (and the aforementioned Walk on the Wild Side) would be my induction to becoming a bass player. Who knows? I’d later master that bass line and play it many times (rather well if I say so myself) in a rock covers band.
Sex Pistols – Pretty Vacant
What can I say that hasn’t already been said about the impact of punk, and in particular the Sex Pistols, on the UK music scene c1977. As an impressionable youth you couldn’t help but get sucked in by the excitement of it all. Seeing the band on their now infamous appearance on Granada TV’s Bill Grundy show was one thing. Seeing them later appear on Top of the Pops was something else. I had to have a copy of this single. It’s part of music history and its impact was far greater than the sum of its parts.
I’d later (much later) get to perform on stage with a Sex Pistol – you can read about that in my blog piece Hanging with a Pistol…
The Jam – Down in the Tube Station at Midnight
I couldn’t do a Top 10 without including something from The Jam. Not an easy one to choose. I bought all of their singles from 1977-80 (from In the City to Start!) and to single one out (excuse the pun!) was no easy task but I’ve settled for Down in the Tube Station at Midnight. 1978 was the first year I saw The Jam live (more about that in my earlier blog In the City there’s a thousand things I wanna say to you) and this single, from that year, captures the band on their ascendancy. It’s classic Foxton on bass and some of the most evocative wordsmithing from Weller. The simple yet powerful line “I glance back on my life and think about my wife ‘cos they took the keys and she’ll thinks it’s me” still sends a shudder down my spine to this day. It’s a lyric that paints an all too realistic picture of a violent and troubled society.
The back of the sleeve features a pic of a young Keith Moon and the flipside of the record features a cover of the beautiful So Sad About Us by Pete Townshend along with the Foxton penned The Night. Tube Station is a powerful song and was always a big hit with the fans when played live. Bloody love this track!
David Bowie – Starman
Top of the Pops July 1972 – that’s when I first heard Starman. For me it’s the single that kick-started that epic Bowie era. Whenever I hear that song, or see that clip from TOTP, it conjures up memories of that moment in time. The string of Bowie hits from 72/73; John I’m Only Dancing, Jean Genie, Drive in Saturday, Time, Life on Mars etc. really secured his place in music history. The single Starman also appeared on the seminal ‘Ziggy’ album - apparently as a late addition on the insistence of RCA's Dennis Katz.
Barry Andrews – Rossmore Road
Who the hell is Barry Andrews? You may well ask. He was the ‘clapped out organ’ man from XTC. After playing on their first two albums he left the band in 1979 to be replaced by guitarist Dave Gregory. It was my love of XTC that made me aware of Barry's somewhat limited solo career. Rossmore Road was released in 1980 on the Virgin label and was, to my knowledge, his only single and is perhaps better known for the B-side Win a night out with a well-known paranoiac – it’s certainly my preferred track and the track that has propelled it into my top 10. If you haven't heard it check it out here.
Barry went on to work with Robert Fripp in the band The League of Gentleman, collaborated with Brian Eno and also played on Iggy Pop’s Soldier album alongside Glen Matlock. Apparently he’s also a pretty good sculptor and furniture maker.
The Stone Roses – Fools Gold
Stalwarts of the late 80’s ‘Madchester’ scene The Stone Roses had a certain something that, for me, put them ahead of the rest of the ‘baggy’ bands. Their album Second Coming was a close contender for my Top Ten Albums, choc full of infectious grooves and edgy guitar. Fools Gold is one of only a handful of 12” singles I own. It’s the perfect example of why this band, despite their quite limited output, became icons of the Manchester scene. The musicianship from messrs Squire, Mani and Reni is flawless and while Ian Brown will never be credited as being one of the UK’s finest vocalists his laid-back delivery perfectly complements. For me to buy this at a time when I’d given up buying singles speaks volumes for how I feel about this track. It is also, quite possibly, the last single I ever bought.
So, there you have it. My top 10 singles. There is however one other song which ranks alongside my favourites. It’s not actually a single that I own but is one of my all-time fave tunes. I was just three years old when it was released in 1965 and growing up watching the Tom Jones TV show on a Saturday night with my parents was probably the catalyst for this song firmly lodging itself in my consciousness. That particular song is the one and only It's Not Unusual - a classic then, a classic now and a song that will live in my favourite song bank forever. Great dance moves too Tom!