Friday, 14 October 2011

News, Views and Music Issue 116 (Top Five): AAA debut singles that sum up their whole ouevre first go!

Some groups spend years of apprenticeship, following a completely different path to the one that will eventually see them utilise their talents (The Moody Blues, originally an R and B combo rather than a psychedelic splendourasaurus, are the best AAA example, but did anyone else see the hard rocking Status Quo’s first flower power single on Sounds of the 60s the other week?!) Others know exactly what they want to say from the very beginning and spend the rest of their career developing the song that made them superstars. Others – like the Airplane – overwhelmed the ship that created them and made everything they did sound typical, but from their second single onwards. So this week here are our five biggest examples of dedbut singles that make perfect sense given what we know is to come in an artists’s canon:

1)    The Who ‘I Can’t Explain’ (single, 1965): Every single Who song is about struggling to communicate something – be it love, anger, annoyance or just general frustration. Relevant enough to stay in the band’s sets right up to the present day – usually as  the opening number for the band’s shows – ‘I Can’t Explain’ somehow manages to sound very 1965 (all power chords, riffs, angles and heavily based on The Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’) and very in keeping with other periods in the band’s life (‘Quadrophenia’s sulky mod teenager clearly loves the song in the film of the same name, whilst even the deeper numbers on ‘Who’s Next’ and ‘Who By Numbers’ are about struggling to get your thoughts together coherently and express your identity). Perhaps the biggest example of ‘developing’ this theme is ‘Tommy’: a deaf, dumb and blind kid who experiences life as a series of ‘vibrations’, not a million miles away from the overwhelmed, inarticulate narrator of this song. 


2)    The Monkees ‘Last Train To Clarksville’ (single, 1966): Why were writers Boyce and Hart never given full carte blanche to record ‘their’ band when their first two songs are The Monkees theme (which summed up the TV series superbly, long before any of it was written) and this first single, which saw the band make #1 on the American charts two whole months before the series aired (so much for The Monkees only getting by thanks to publicity!) ‘Clarksville’, based on the writer’s memory of Beatles single ‘Paperback Writer’ having heard the fade of the single on radio, is everything The Monkees were at the start of the project: wild-eyed, exciting, happy and upbeat with an edge. No wonder they used it so many times in the TV series: it just has the zany Monkees quality in spades. Needless to say, the band still do it in concert to this day and it was one of their biggest hits, outsold only by ‘I’m A Believer’.   

3)    Grateful Dead ‘The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)’ (single, 1966): Not a hit single so much as a message of intent, this was a terribly daring song for the day. A musical fusion of blues and psychedelia, it’s lyrics implore the audience to give up their ‘straight’ lives in favour of running off and ‘joining the circus, every day’. The way ahead for the hippie is bright, hopeful, peaceful and yet still quite ominous the way the Dead deliver it here. Another reason that makes this such a typical Dead song, despite the early vintage with lyrics by Jerry Gracia in the pre-Robert Hunter era, is the way the lyrics reference the band’s audience, talking about the different girls they see at concerts. If only all circuses had been like this one!

4)    Oasis ‘Supersonic’ (single, 1994): Angry, passionate and already adept at making social statements, ‘Supersonic’ sounds like every other Oasis song in their early period. In fact, it arrived at the ‘Definitely Maybe’ sessions comparatively late but was seized on by the band as being a good choice for a debut single that they could then ‘develop’. A song about feeling high and elated and wanting to share the feeling with the world, it fitted many of the band’s bright and breezy early songs which caught the mood of the day in the post-Thatcher, post-recession days better than most artists around at the time. The gap between this debut single’s innocent flair and last single ‘Falling Down’s hopeless helplessness couldn’t be more pronounced.

5)    Small Faces ‘What’cha Gonna Do ‘Bout It?’(single, 1966): Actually, I was struggling to find a fifth record for this list. After all, what Beatles fan would rate ‘Love Me Do’ as a summation of their pop career (good as it was for 1962), The Beach Boys’ ‘Surfin’ Safari’ (ditto 1961) or The Rolling Stones’ pale attack on Chuck Berry’s ‘Cmon’. Most fans would probably stick The Kinks in this list – but no, ‘You Really Got Me’ is actually the third single (the first was a raw and mangled cover of ‘Long Tall Sally, much against Ray Davies’ wishes). The closest I can manage is this raw and primitive Small faces single, one that’s short on the subtlety they bring to their later songs but still nevertheless features a distinctive and very Small faces-y power riff and their usual trick of featuring happy go lucky verses with gruff and angry choruses. Not as distinguished as later Small Faces songs, but every bit as reflective of its era and with Steve Marriott already the most charismatic singer in pop and rock, this single still manages to sum up the band’s mix of irreverent humour and deadly serious earnestness pretty darn well.

That’s it for another week. Remember, keep sending in your comments – we now have a ‘blog’ page so you can comment on individual posts – and remember, just because the Coalition try to take things away from you that doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to them. Let’s show them eh, my fellow rock and rollers?

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