The Zaw Towers Top 10 Singles of All Time
Well, sometimes three minutes of excellent songwriting can be a cataclysm for showing what a great band really were about. Also it can show the masterwork of producing a song which people like, sticks in the head far longer than its shelf life and also is one even now that is well revered. I guess everyone will have their own favourites of course, but after much deliberation and such like, here's my own top 10 singles at this moment in time:
1 - Love Will Tear Us Apart - Joy Division (Factory FACT23, 1980)
Forget the fact Ian Curtis' death was a few weeks before the record's release. Even if he was alive at the time of release, this song works on so many levels that there's something to be got out of it. From the slightly gothic tombstone on the cover to the fact there's two versions on the 12" (the band spend time and effort trying to get the right sound) the mystique is there to see. Some may say it was autobiographical about his affair, some also think it's laden with desparation. It's a fine line between the two but written with such emotion. The hooklines of the bass draw you in along with the shimmering vivacity of Stephan Morris' drums, along with the synthesizers belting out the lead in the background, almost delivered in perfect pop sense (verse chorus verse chorus middle eight verse chorus end) yet having an air of darkness throughout. Wonderful.
2 - Monkey Gone To Heaven - Pixies (4AD CAD909CD, 1989)
Many Pixies singles were great, but this was the one that maybe got a lot of people into the band. Shining throughout with gentle use of strings appended to the grinding guitars and melody, this was the alternative green environmental anthem, delivered duly by the final verse that is man was five, the devil was six and God is seven (clearly the view that everyone is at sixes and sevens playing with the ozone layer and the like), he screams. Images throughout of a sea god being killed by sludge from New York and New Jersey, and if the ground's not cold, everything is gonna burn. Simplistic it may seem but underneath is a clever paradox, this was a band whose trademark was Black Francis' scream, yet only when he proclaims God was seven does he reach those limits, the rest being infectiously put together to hum again and again.
3 - Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me - The Smiths (Rough Trade ROUGH200, 1987)
Although other Smiths singles could be equally classic, for me this has more meaning than others. It's often helped me get over the loss of a loved one in a relationship and in many ways also features lyrical wordplay. The opening two minutes of intro sound desparate, almost like everything is lost and gone, then in comes the dramatic punch and Morrissey's lyrics. No hope, no harm, just another false alarm, he proclaims. The whole drama of the piece sounds half hopeful, half desparate and half almost non-caring, and therein lies its beauty really, do you wish for love, or do you wish for none in case you get hurt? Although the last released Smiths single when they were still together, in many ways this was a fitting epitath to their career and one you can almost feel the raw emotion to when you listen. David Bowie's favourite Smiths song too.
4 - Blue Monday - New Order (Factory FACT73, 1983)
It took a while for New Order's former Joy Division member to shake off their old band, but in many ways this was a defining moment. Only released on 12" single to begin with, in a mock computer floppy disk type package, the beauty was it wasn't just a dance song with beats. Oh no. It had good lyrics. It had a killer Peter Hook bassline which still sounds his trademark now as it did back then. The synth lines positively held sway as they cut in, making the whole thing more than listenable, it held the tune together and collaged the whole thing. Although the vocals are almost robot-like in delivery, this adds to the anonymosity of the whole thing and just allows the instruments to be as one together. Cohesion is the key, and you never feel bored during the seven and a half minutes. Quite simply the finest dance single ever written.
5 - Crash - Primitives (RCA PB41761, 1988)
The finest song to come out of the so-called C-86 indie period this was. It comes at you at one hundred miles an hour and leaves pretty much the same way, with crunching guitars melodically driven along by the gentile vocals of singer Tracy. The pure beauty is that the melody and the vocals (and especially the simple but effective chorus too) stick in your mind for ages, and no doubt you'll be humming that chorus line for days to come after you've listened to it. It drives on with harmony and melody and almost feels like a song you should be playing really loud on a long journey somewhere, especially if you're going on holiday or something. All together now: na na na nana, na na na nana naaaaaaaaa, we're gonna craaaaaaaash. You get the idea!
6 - Sit Down - James (Rough Trade RTT225CD, 1989)
A crying shame that it took a 1991 re-release of this song to realise the true genius that James were at that time. Part almost folk-song, but at the same time cleverly worked with chords, melody and one of those choruses that stick in the mind for a long time. The original version had spikiness and edge which was a little toned down by its re-release, but nonetheless had all the qualities intact to be a true hit of its time. Lyrically it worked a treat as it definitely inspired feelings of warmth and togetherness indicating you can always sit down next to someone and they'll be there for you. At its peak, you just weren't hip unless you were in an indie club night and did exactly as the song title suggests, resulting in many a camp-fire like singalong. Surreal, yet brilliant, especially when Manchester G-Mex was full of people doing that in 1991.
7 - Jilted John - Jilted John (Rabid TOSH105, 1978)
This is a true punk classic, and the guy who was Jilted John (Graham Fellows) later became the comedian John Shuttleworth. What about that then? This utterly brilliant infectious three minutes of catchy tune with a very simple three chord guitar drum and hookline all the way through was simplicity itself, but really well done, with the story of how John gets jilted by Julie for Gordon, and he was so upset he "cried all the way to the chiiiiip shop" and how can anyone not remember the absolutely classic line of "Gordon is a moron" (many a punk fan had that saying on a badge, you know!)? One of those tunes that really have stood the test of time well and you can happily sing along to, and you can learn the guitar part in about five seconds flat. Sometimes it doesn't take lyrical genius, it just takes spontaneity, and this has bucketloads.
8 - Love Crime - The Cygnet Ring (Protocol PTCL2, 1991)
Sometimes songwriting genius goes unnoticed. This is a perfect example. Rus Harrison, the man behind the band, used to live in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester. Top bloke all round who wrote good tunes full stop. And this was probably his best. All the elements of a classic are there, thoughful intelligent lyrics almost paradoxical at times but delivered with the right amount of wit, abounded by a good use of tabla and real drums added to a beautiful melodic guitar and a crystal clear voice. The beauty is that the lyrics are occasional happenings weaved together magically. Add one of those wonderfully simple but joyous choruses and there you have it in a prize nutshell. Even a reissue and remix of the single (and Radio 1 airplay - shock!) when Warner signed the band up in 1992 did nothing for it. An absolute shame. Rus, if you're reading this, get in touch!
9 - Nothing Less Than Brilliant - Sandie Shaw (Rough Trade RTT230CD, 1988)
Hang on you say, what about sixties Sandie? No. The difference between that era and her eighties defiant comeback, with songs penned by herself along with her indie friends like the Jesus and Mary Chain and The Smiths are much better, much more.. well, her. This song is so uplifting and so special, it makes me happy every time I listen to it. From the nice touch of Chrissie Hynde's opening harmonica to the almost Smiths-like background guitars that give this song texture and flow, to Sandie's matured, elegant, poised voice presenting a song giving you back all the self-esteem you may have lost. "I know just how rare you are", she sings, "and you're nothing less than brilliant in my eyes". Sixties pop icon reinvented into eighties indie queen? Believe it.
10 - Kung Fu - Ash (Infectious Infect21CD, 1995)
After a lull in the mid 1990s, guitar based crunching came back into vogue somewhat, and how with this record. Simply the finest pop-punk song ever written about liking kung-fu movies, Chinese takeaways and Jackie Chan. It almost seems like the band just got in the studio, wrote the thing in about five minutes and recorded it in one take (actually the inlay says it on the back and I believe it!), and therein lies both its immediacy and its punk qualities. Starting off with samples from kung-fu and crunching in at a frenzied pace, and having an intermission bit of just building into crescendo of loudness and amplification, even now this is the song that Ash fans go absolutely mental to at concerts. This is a band at their peak, and what a peak to reach. Oh, and what a clever idea having Cantona's kung fu kick on the cover, hehehe.