Friday, September 15, 2006

The top 26 Scottish singles of all-time, Part 5

No. 6: "Sorry For Laughing"
Josef K
The Only Fun In Town, 1981
As the story goes, Josef K had committed its debut album to tape, only to have the whole project nixed by Postcard Records head Alan Horne, who wasn't fond of the record's slick sound. Down in Brussels for a New Year's Eve gig, Josef K decided to re-recorded the album's title track; four months later, the single "Sorry For Laughing" hit shops in April of 1981, released by the Belgian independent label Les Disques Du Crepuscule.

Horne was enthralled with the single -- with its jangly rhythms, bursts of scabrous guitars, and grooving, shake-your-ass beat -- and terrribly incensed as well. A single this good should have been on his label. Eventually (and with Horne's backing) Josef K re-recorded its entire debut over a six-day span at the same Belgian studio. It was released by Postcard in July of 1981.

No. 5: "Adult/ery"
Scars were just a flyspeck on the U.K. punk and post-punk map. The group released a handful of singles, did the requisite John Peel sessions, and cut one LP. However, the band needed only one single, its debut "Adult/ery," to leave a lasting impression.

For many, the song was an utter revelation, as the band, during live performances, had never sounded so sharp and self-assured. "Adult/ery" kicks, stomps, and grooves, only there's no way it works as a dance number. As I've written before, this wasn't a track to boogie to; it was an anthem for an insurrection.

No. 4: "18 Carat Love Affair"
Sulk, 1982
Some day, I'll compile my top 10 favorite Billy Mackenzie moments. The list will no doubt feature a number from "18 Carat Love Affair": the way Mackenzie dramatically opens the song on the lyric "I told you not to meet me here"; the double vocals during the line, "It's not the done thing 'round here, baby"; how the urgency in his voice gives way to contentment in the couplet, "I don't know which side I'm on/But my friend John said not to care."

Associates was known for its textured, lush landscapes, but what's always brought me back is Mackenzie's voice. "A voice like that in the same room as you," said Saul Gaspern of Nude Records. "It could melt an iceberg."

No. 3: "Loaded"
Primal Scream
Screamadelica, 1990
Here's what I've previously said about "Loaded":

With E, Andrew Innes realized, your inhibitions melted away, anything was possible as evident by the growing indie-meets-dance esthetic, and so it was his idea to approach new chum Andrew Weatherall -- a former bricklayer, current DJ, and one-time re-mixer for Happy Mondays' ("Hallelujah") -- to rework a track from Primal Scream, "I'm Losing More Than I'll Ever Have."

Weatherall kept the song's bassline, piano, horn sections, and some of the percussion. The new drum loop was culled from an Italian bootleg mix of Edie Brickell's "What I Am." He also added Gillespie singing a line from Robert Johnson's "Terraplane Blues" before crafting the now-famous opening by dropping in some Peter Fonda dialogue from the biker flick The Wild Angels. (Which was nicked, in a way -- the lines had been used by Richard Norris and Genesis P-Orridge two years earlier on their Jack The Tab LP.)

In December, Weatherall played the recently completed remix, now dubbed "Loaded," at London's Subterania. According to legend, the DJ phoned a bleary Gillespie at 4 o'clock in the morning to elatedly tell him about the crowd's incredible reaction. The landmark dance-rock hybrid was eventually released in February of 1990.

The rest, of course, is history.

No. 2: "Upside Down"
The Jesus And Mary Chain
"Upside Down" is the perfect crystallization of The Jesus And Mary Chain's early sound and sensibilities.

The band's stickling brashness and lurking paranoia -- honed during those alcohol-soaked, feedback-drenched, equipment-smashed gigs (the North London Polytechnic one being the most famous; or infamous) -- is captured brilliantly in the track's seemingly simple lyrics: "You live with so much carelessness/'Cause no one takes you serious/And now you think you're dangerous/You never was but you can't see," and "And if you feel there's no one else/That you're all alone, you're by yourself/Your life is like a broken shell."

And of course, there's the "music" itself, a violent, unrelenting deluge of distortion and feedback (during recording, the Reid brothers filled six tracks with it!) that lingers in your speakers long after the song has been silenced. Upon learning they would be visiting Alaska Studios to record a debut, critics said it was doubtful JAMC would be able to accurately capture its corybantic live sound. But the band did just that -- even if the perfectionist Reids were a tad dissatisfied with the finished product.

Few pop singles have ever been more abrasive and affecting.

No. 1: "Blue Boy"
Orange Juice
Long regarded by many as the tartan version of "Anarchy In The U.K." thanks to the way it inspired and invigorated countless of aspiring Scottish musicians, "Blue Boy" burst onto the post-punk scene like a rush of amphetamine. Bold, breakneck, earnest, urgent -- this soulful punk epic resonates throughout the indie world even today.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The top 26 Scottish singles of all-time, Part 4

No. 11: "Higher Than The Sun"
Primal Scream
Screamadelica, 1991
Alan McGee (no stranger to hyperbole, right?) said it was the greatest single since "Anarchy In The U.K. Bobby Gilespie said it was all part of Primal Scream's effort to eradicate the traditional ways pop music was crafted. "Instead of having two guitars, bass, vocal, drums, we destroyed that. It was . . . anything goes," he told journalist David Cavanagh.

We say it's fucking brilliant.

With The Orb on board to produce, the song opens with almost two minutes of pendulous ambient hypnosis -- then jostles the listener with an orgasmic lift-off before settling into blissful, horn-driven orbit.

No. 10: "Someone, Somewhere In Summertime"
Simple Minds
New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84), 1982
"Someone, Somewhere In Summertime" absolutely shimmers -- from its glowing guitar lines to its sunny drum beats to its luminescent lyrics: "Moments burn, slow burning golden nights/Once more see city lights, holding candles to the flame."

The track, which was the opener to New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84), showed that Simple Minds -- after a string of subpar releases following the acclaimed Reel to Real Cacophony -- was ready to re-position itself as one of the U.K.'s biggest pop acts.

No. 9: "Get Up And Use Me"
Fire Engines
The first 10 seconds of "Get Up And Use Me" gives listeners an idea of just how little playing ability Fire Engines possessed, as well as how uncompromsing the group could be. Roughly six seconds in, the song comes to a sloppy halt. Rather then begin anew, singer Davey Henderson simply commands, "Just keep going!"

The song's guitars sound like the sirens affixed to the act's namesake. They stab the ears, yet at the same time, are strangely melodic. Henderson yawps and yelps his way through the lyrics, the highlight being the chorus: A hollered "Get up and -- !" leads to a heartbeat of silence before Henderson deadpans, "Use me."

Fire Engines were rank amateurs -- and didn't give a shit about it.

No. 8: "Million Tears"
The Pastels
Released in October of '84, "Million Tears" was Creation Records' 11th single and helped firmly establish the label's burgeoning guitar pop sound.

The track opens with a catchy bassline, followed by strumming guitars and a snare-driven beat. It's classic Stephen Pastel: sonically, it's child's play, but that's designed to hide the song's emotional heaviness.

No. 7: "Lazy Line Painter Jane"
Belle And Sebastian
Lazy Line Painter Jane, 1997
This is where Belle And Sebastian's sound developed a bit of a bite. Coming on the heels of the landmark If You're Feeling Sinister, a sobering voice in the Britpop wilderness, "Lazy Line Painter Jane" expanded upon the group's folk-pop tendencies: adding echoey guitar, garage rock organ, handclaps, the raspy voice of Monica Queen.

Of course, some of the trademark Belle And Sebastian attributes remain, like Stuart Murdoch's adolescence-evoking lyrics: "But you read in a book/That you got free in Boots/There are lotions, there are potions/You can take to hide your shame from all those prying eyes."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The top 26 Scottish singles of all-time, Part 3

No. 16: "Murderers, The Hope Of Women"
The Poison Boyfriend, 1987
If I had my way, songs such as this would be banned from all wedding receptions and playing tracks such as "Murderers, The Hope Of Women" would be the norm. The haunting acoustic number is Momus' take on the sacrament of marriage -- and his take is sacrilegious, to say the least.

"But I poisoned you with every kiss/Smothered you with domestic bliss," go the words, touching upon the general ennui that can arise among those in holy matrimony. "This is where your misery starts/This is where your mystery stops" -- for this wedlocked couple, there's no more secrets to share, the new car smell is gone, the flame has been snuffed.

"I make a metaphor for the way being married can kind of kill your potential," Momus once said when discussing the song. (And yes, he took the plunge himself once: in 1994, marrying a 17-year-old Bangladeshi girl.)

No. 15: "Top Of The Pops"
The Rezillos
Can't Stand The Rezillos, 1978
In 1978, The Rezillos lampooned the long-running music program Top Of The Pops, poking fun at its penchant for showcasing hackneyed, soulless artists miming to pre-recorded dross. Naturally, the guitar-accelerated number soared to No. 17 on the U.K. charts -- and earned the group an invitation to "play" on the show.

The Rezillos agreed. Wonder if the TOTP producers knew the joke was on them upon hearing couplets like, "There's one -- born every day/Sing song -- then fade away," or, "What is selling, what to buy/The stock market for your hi-fi."

No. 14: "Falling And Laughing"
Orange Juice
Steven Daly's thoughts on the single (from The Glasgow School liner notes):

"'Falling And Laughing' was a fairly ambitious choice for Orange Juice's 1979 debut single. As a recent addition to the Orange Juice repertoire, the song offered clear and early evidence that Edwyn's songwriting was developing at a pace that his youthful band would be hard pressed to match. Since we neither a publicist nor a single contact in the London media, we had to just send out review copies of 'Falling And Laughing' and hope someone out there would understand a record that used the word 'consequently.'"

They did -- and so did countless of inspired artists in the decades to follow.

No. 13: "To You Alone"
The Beta Band
Don't be fooled by the crude cover art, as there is nothing amateurish about this rich and complex release.

"To You Alone" came on the heels of the group's eponymous debut, which received its share of sour press, mainly after the band distanced itself from the release (citing tight deadlines and a lack of money as two factors prohibiting them from crafting the LP they wished). The single earned The Beta Band berths on a number of 2000 "best-of" lists and helped establish the act as one of the most influential of the last decade.

No. 12: "Iceblink Luck"
Cocteau Twins
Heaven Or Las Vegas, 1990

"Iceblink Luck" -- and much of Heaven Or Las Vegas, for that matter -- is where Cocteau Twins finally drift down from the substratosphere like a golden eagle feather and land delicately upon solid ground.

Guitars so incandescent you feel the need to squint, pulsing and brazen basslines, burnished vocals from Elisabeth Fraser -- but it's all toned down enough to allow the song to pass as standard pop fare. Cocteau Twins produced more inspiring, seminal works earlier in its career, but nothing as engaging as "Iceblink Luck."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The top 26 Scottish singles of all-time, Part 2

No. 21: "All You Need Is Hate"
The Delgados
Hate, 2002
Here's what I recently wrote about the single "Hate":

Of course, much like The Beatles' number, this little pastiche is done with a smidge of humor (an element of the song oblivious to most Beatles zealots, methinks). With "All You Need Is Hate," lines such as "I believe it's better to inflict than to attempt relief" and Hate is everywhere/Inside your mother's heart and you will find it there" are particularly dispiriting, sure, hinting at a dystopia that perfectly contrasts The Beatles' utopia, but the track's sunny backdrops burn away a fair bit of the grey clouds.

With Dave Fridmann (known for his production work with The Flaming Lips) on board to produce, the music is grandiose, soaring, flippantly pompous. "All You Need Is Hate" manages to achieve the same sweeping anthem status as The Beatles' number, only with far more thorny subject matter -- a feat more impressive, to say the least.

No. 20: "What You Do To Me"
Teenage Fanclub
Bandwagonesque, 1991
"Keep it simple, stupid." It was an oft-repeated maxim by my high school algebra teacher. And Teenage Fanclub takes it to heart on its '91 single "What You Do To Me."

Checking in at less than two minutes long, and featuring simple power chords and just 20 words -- The couplet "I know, I can't believe/There's something about you got me down on my knees" and the chorus of "What you do to me" -- the Norman Blake-penned ditty spits in the eye of overindulgent rock balladry. Mr. Corey would have been proud.

No. 19: "Take Me Out"
Franz Ferdinand
Franz Ferdinand, 2004
Franz Ferdinand took the jittery, angular riffing of Josef K and Fire Engines, and smoothed it over for mainstream rock radio. The result? An unbridled smash, as Franz achieved what neither of those aforementioned bands ever dreamed of: Top 40 success in both the U.K. and America.

"Take Me Out" is not as challenging as anything, say . . . Paul Haig ever wrote, but it's fun and frisky, nonetheless.

No. 18: "Happy Birthday"
Altered Images
Happy Birthday, 1981
If you've been paying any attention the last 7 months or so, then you already know how I feel about Ms. Clare Grogan, who, for my money, was one of the U.K.'s most compelling pop frontwomen in the 1980s.

On "Happy Birthday" her vocals shine, alternating between seductively playful on lyrics like "Happy, happy birthday in a hot bath/To those nice nice nights," and coyishly domineering on lines like "If they were me and I was you/Would you have liked a present too?"

She must have made the teen boys swoon in '81.

No. 17: "Cold Heart"
The Jasmine Minks
The Jasmine Minks, 1985
"Timeless" is the immediate word that comes to mind when discussing "Cold Heart," the finest track The Jasmine Minks ever wrote. Vocalists Jim Shepherd and Adam Sanderson exchanging playful couplets ("They took the chain and they broke the link/The revenge of the Jasmine Minks") over '60s-style melodies that call to mind a breezy, summery Scottish day.

Eighties guitar pop was never more soulful and infectious than here.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The top 26 Scottish singles of all-time, Part 1

So . . . . Why 26? I'd like to say the number owes to my needling desire to be creatively deviant, but really, I'm only adding one more selection to the standard 25, right? Not exactly revolutionary. Besides, I just couldn't find any reason to omit any track from the list I had painstakingly poured over (not really) and thus decided to keep it at 26. No further BS from me; here's the list:

No. 26: "Chocolate Girl"
Deacon Blue
Raintown, 1987
Ricky Ross entered the pantheon of great Scottish songwriters when he penned the chorus to this track: "He calls her the Chocolate Girl/'Cause he thinks she melts when he touches her/She knows she's the Chocolate Girl/'Cause she's broken up and swallowed/And wrapped in bits of silver."

Sickly sweet? A tad, but also grinningly clever and touching.

No. 25: "Why Does It Always Rain On Me?"
The Man Who, 1999
Finally! The Merry Muses tackles Travis. All snide jokes aside, "Why Does It Always Rain On Me?" could have been a bonus track on the anniversary re-release of the aforementioned Raintown. Simple, contemplative lyrics complemented by a mournful sound. You'd like to say that if dreary, dreich Glasgow had an anthem, this would be it. Until you learn that Fran Healy wrote the ditty while holidaying in Israel. Ah well . . . .

No. 24: "Eternity Road"
Swirl, It Swings EP, 1987
I've long championed for Orange Juice and its deserved status as indie pop deities, but have cut back my eye-glazing rhetoric as of late on account of this long overdue 2005 release and the fact that the uninitiated will always have the still-popular 22nd track on this list (see below) as their in when stumbling upon the band. So with that in mind, I've begun touting Lowlife. Prepare for future diatribes.

Swirl, It Swings could be used to describe the band's brilliant sound, which was equally bleak and bouncey, a little of Joy Division, a dab of New Order. Truly one of Scotland's most underappreciated acts.

No. 23: "Into The Valley"
The Skids
Scared To Dance, 1979
A massive hit for The Skids in '79, the single is still popular with Charlton Athletic supporters. Fitting, I suppose, since the writer of the song, singer Ricky Jobson, was said to have a bit of "terrace lout" in him. Sing along to the lyrics, and you want to both sneer and smile.

No. 22: "A Girl Like You"
Edwyn Collins
Gorgeous George, 1994
Countless folks unfamiliar with Collins heard the couplet, "You've made me acknowledge the devil in me/I hope to God I'm talkin' metaphorically," and thought to themselves, "Good golly, there's no way a man who penned that could only have one hit." And those folks were right.

"A Girl Like You" -- with all its worldwide acclaim, which was payback for the years Collins spent struggling to secure a recording contract -- was just another feather in the cap of one of Scotland's most gifted songwriters. Seductive melodies mixed with clever turns of phrase (a Collins staple) and some of his best vocal work.