I started collecting 45s around the time vinyl was on the way out, in the 1980s – back when the cassette was going to ‘kill the industry.’ The little records with the big holes were still ubiquitous but prices were dropping with demand; who needs Frank Sinatra when there’s Frankie Goes To Hollywood? I scooped up a bunch and kept my eyes on tag sales and K-Mart … until the grunge days when cute, colored 45s sold by mail-order provided the last hurrah for the 7 inch.
My goal was (and remains) the perfect custom jukebox featuring pop tunes from 1950 (the year of the 45 debut) ’til the end of history (circa 1990) – limited to one disc per year (more or less).
There’s a lot to be said for the single. On a 45, it’s the song, not the singer; in this medium, even a band as slight as The Vapors can compete with a band as substantive as XTC. On a 45, the filler is limited to 50%; often a B-side is pointedly filler and a certain negative audacity is achieved – although often enough, owing to the fickle tastes of the buying public (and the vagaries of publishing royalties), truly great tracks are issued only as B sides. There’s also a reductionist joy in pinpointing a certain artist’s – or a certain genre’s – essential moment under the sun.
Here are some of my most treasured 45s. They are all original and all-American issue (no reissue double A’s or small holes). I have appended, below, corresponding LPs (whenever possible). This is NOT a ‘top 10 list’ – these are simply random cool tunes that have particular value to me.
1. ‘It’s Been A Long, Long Time’ – Les Paul & Mary Ford – Columbia 41994 – 1956. This dude needs little introduction – he invented the electric guitar – but, with a discography deeper than the Old Testament and a fatal predilection for schlock, it’s a rare recording in which the guitar playing genius harmonizes with the engineering genius. Here’s the goods – Paul and Ford slow down and jazz up this 1945 chestnut and the result is heavenly. The eight-measure guitar solo is hammer of the gods.
2. ‘Rebel Rouser’ – Duane Eddy – Jamie 1104 – 1958. Here’s the perfect anthem for every side-burned juvenile delinquent craving a six-pack, a hot rod and a doll who puts out. Lee Hazlewood – ‘These Boots are Made for Walking’ – co-wrote and produced this ‘Johnny Cash-goes-to-Hell’ trash masterpiece.
3. ‘Absent Minded Me’ – Barbra Streisand – Columbia 43127 – 1964. Contrary to revisionist history, not every American female was screaming for the Beatles in 1964. Those over the age of 18 weren’t screaming at all, and many were listening to traditional female fare – such as Streisand’s first entry into pop immortality, the leadoff cut to the zillion-selling People LP. The whole tune – custom-crafted for the singer – is structured to build suspense and hit the highest peak, the bignote. In the rock world, only Freddie Mercury could approach this level of belting.
4. ‘On The Rolling Sea When Jesus Speak To Me’ – Van Dyke Parks – Warner Bros 7409 – 1971. Here comes the triumphantly snob occasion you rightfully apprehended: the utterly unavailable-on-CD, unavailable-on-LP, ultra-rare single. Who better to represent my good fortune (and taste) than Mr Esoteric himself? This lovely 45 sounds like an out-take from the delusional Song Cycle although, as a collection of covers from the Edison era, it anticipates the more modest vision of Discover America. This B-side, a Caribbean spiritual, is dipped pretty far in the psychedelic palette, though.
5. ‘Quiet Village’ – Martin Denny – Liberty 55162 – 1957. Here’s the first – perhaps best – showing of the ‘exotica’ sound. It’s 100% kitsch – with Tiki Hut jungle sounds, faux-world beats and a real gone broad on the sleeve, it’s Brubeck under the influence of a Mai Tai. Discernibly under-rehearsed, this track nevertheless topped the charts, spawned bachelor-pad ‘mood music’ and even served as progenitor to New Age. Recorded in Hawaii.
6. ‘Generation Landslide’ – Alice Cooper – Warner Bros 7673 – 1973. Calling all nihilists, anarchists and fruitcakes: here’s the last edifying slab of petroleum from the Alice Cooper group. Forget the lame-ass A-side (‘Hello Hooray’), this folk spoof retains the original spark of weirdness that brought the band to their prime point of fame and fortune in the cynical Watergate era. ‘They looked just like humans at Kresge’s and Woolworth’s but decadent brains were at work to destroy.’ Indeed.
7. ‘Strangers In The Night’ – Frank Sinatra – Reprise 0470 – 1966. Defintely not Sinatra’s best, this is degenerated Sinatra – and that’s why it’s a keeper. Only The Lonely, his uncontested pinnacle, was, amongst other things, drinking music. I have simply followed that logic to its ultimate conclusion. Here, then, is Frank’s most alcoholic song. Or was that ‘My Way’? ‘Something Stupid’? Never mind, it’s Frank’s first #1 for the 1960s – an ominous indication that the ‘silent majority’ was down, but not gone.
8. ‘Midsummer New York’ – Yoko Ono / Plastic Ono Band – Apple 1839 – 1971. Here’s a little ditty to get your lazy ass right outta bed: Yoko Ono’s screeching take on Blue Suede Shoes. Horripilating stuff – she cannot hit the right notes nor can she even stay within the beat (simple as it is) – yet, with what’s-his-name bashing out the changes, it nonetheless rocks out hard. Who needs PiL when you got this noise?
9. ‘You and the Night and the Music / Reverie’ [EP on 45] – Stan Kenton – Capitol 462 – 1955. Man, this is sweet: jazz, big band, classical, easy listening – all in one well-prepared wall of sound. Kenton smashed WWII-era dancehalls with his ‘loudest band on earth,’ but here, he’s relaxing the tempos and tempering the volume all the better to add denser chords. Dig his piano break in DeBussy’s ‘Reverie,’ it’s positively post-bebop.
10. ‘Soul Experience’ – Iron Butterfly – Atco 6647 – 1969. The ‘failed’ follow-up to their monster hit, but a far more durable tune. Loads of flower-power sentiments and psychedelic cheap effects, of course, but the dynamics here are superior to most other groups mining this terrain. More trippy than heavy, the real star on this one is guitarist Eric Brann who consolidates the echoplex abandon of Syd Barrett and the volume control mastery of Steve Howe.
11. ‘Here’s To the State of Richard Nixon’ – Phil Ochs – A&M 1509 – 1974. This was the end of the line, Ochs’ final session and final release. Nothing but a easy lyrical re-write of his bold civil rights protest classic, this crude live recording nonetheless has loads of verve – and his flag-burnin’ audience of 50 know it. Grim as it was true, this is the essential Nixionian document from someone who was there.
12. Bobby Darin – ‘Beyond the Sea’ / ‘That’s the Way Love Is’ – Atco 6158 – 1959. Everyone knows the amazing chart topping A-side, at least from the movies. Full of aggressive, inventive drumming, this one swings a lot harder – and far more earnestly – than anything by those jaded boozers in the Rat Pack. Check also the flip, written by Darin himself. Hotcha!
13. ‘Calling Occupants’ – Klaatu – Capitol 4412 – 1976. Sometimes less is better. On the LP version, ‘Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft’ is an imposing eight minutes; here on the chart-topping version, even the title gets a tidy trim. Actually, Klaatu didn’t chart this acid-casualty, space-age ode to God; that task was left to the superior marketing abilities of … the Carpenters. If that wasn’t bad enough for the band’s reputation with its presumably pothead constituency, Capitol decided to promote Klaatu as… the Beatles. Ouch. Nice, eccentric tune nevertheless.
14. ‘Kill The Poor’ – Dead Kennedys – Alternative Tentacles 12953 – 1980. For a brief moment, this was the punkest band around. The music was evil, the stance was delicious and the politics were a dizzying mix of commie and anarchist. In truth, the DKs, like the MC5 before them, were garden-variety liberals, but they were initially so loud and distorted it sounded like muthafukkin’ revolution. Here it all comes together in one 3-minute assault: passion, sarcasm, guts, hooks, speed, treble – and graffiti ideology. A Reagonomics K-Tel classic.
15. ‘Raspberry Beret’ / ‘She’s Always In My Hair’- Prince – Paisley Park [Warners Bros] 28972 – 1985. It’s hard to believe this was a hit (there’s almost no bass frequency whatsoever), and a lot of people were skeptical, but Prince was on a roll and his ‘psychedelic’ phase was embraced along with his earlier triumphs. The first of three 45s from Around the World in a Day, all of them feature quality non-LP B-sides (which Warners fails to include on the CD) and snappy label artwork.
16. ‘The Wagon’ – Dinosaur – Sub Pop 68A – 1990. This one is by is ‘Dinosaur,’ not ‘Dinosaur Jr’ – and, on Sub Pop’s ‘record-of-the-month’ (with trendy white vinyl), it’s a real find. Mascis is a pretty limited artist, annoying to anyone with a low tolerance for the ‘rocking’ Neil Young, but this tune is certainly inspired enough. Brisk drums, roaring guitars, murmured catch phrases; it may sound like ‘grunge,’ but it’s just a boy’s plea for a girl’s attention – the basic building block of rock ‘n roll, in other words, and timeless stuff.
OK, there’s some of them. I’m still looking for certain ones, too. A guy can spend a lifetime on eBay just scanning the Beach Boys.Powered by Sidelines