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Sunday Singles! #3

In 45 r.p.m., 45s@45, Beatles, record collecting, records, singles on February 13, 2011 at 3:34 am

Each Sunday we have a 45 r.p.m. record hop here at Rich’s House of Vinyl. Here is this week’s installment:

Before I begin, I should acknowledge Mr. Joel Whitburn, compiler of the various Billboard chart books, including The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits that is a veritable treasure chest of trivia, like how to spell Basia’s last name, for example.

O.K., let’s get it started.

“It Takes Two”/”It Takes Two (instrumental)-Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock (1988/peaked at #36).
“Joy and Pain”/”Times Are Gettin’ Ill”-Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock (1989/did not make Top 40).
“Get On The Dance Floor”/”Keep It Going Now”-Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock (1989/did not make Top 40). Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock had a great run in 1988 and ’89, thanks to the A-sides of these three singles, which still sound pretty good today (my favorite is the very electronic-sounding “Get On The Dance Floor”). Checking my Billboard Top 40 Hits book though, I’m surprised to discover that only “It Takes Two” cracked the Top 40, and it only peaked at #36. However, I don’t think chart performance in this case is a total measure of success, as all three of these songs have received extensive play on dance floors ever since their release. Plus, Earl’s brother Randy on My Name Is Earl was a big Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock fan.

“Time and Tide”/”Run for Cover”-Basia (1988/peaked at #26). Don’t tell anyone, but I’m actually a big fan of “Time and Tide,” though I do not think I can articulate exactly why, since it would fit nicely on anybody’s “Smoooove Jazz” playlist and anyone who knows me well ought to know that I prefer my jazz classic and somewhat unsmooth. This thing even has a snippet of late ’80s saxomaphone solo on it, which ought to be enough for me to relegate to one of the deepest circles of musical hell and, yet, still I like it and, yes, maybe that was me driving to work through King of Prussia today with this song blaring from my stereo, smooth sax solo and all.

Incidentally Basia’s last name is Trzetrzelewska and she was born in Poland. And her only other foray into the Top 40 was a 1990 song called “Cruising for Bruising,” which I’ve never heard but I’m intrigued that the songwriter(s) did not include the letter “a” between “for” and “Bruising” in the title. I wonder who Basia felt was cruising for bruising?

“Shoppin’ From A to Z”-Toni Basil (1983/did not make Top 40). Basil is most well-known for “Mickey,”  the huge hit single from her <i>Word of Mouth</i> album, but her resume beyond that bit of Top 40 fame is wide-ranging and generally pretty awesome. The T.A.M.I. Show, Easy Rider, the Talking Heads’ “Once In a Lifetime” video and way more–Basil was involved in all of them. Plus, she hung out with Devo.

“Shoppin’ From A to Z” was the second follow-up attempt to “Mickey” from Word of Mouth, but it sadly stalled at #77 on the Hot 100. 

“I Only Want To Be With You”/”Write a Letter”-Bay City Rollers (1976/peaked at #12). This is an OK cover of the Dusty Springfield hit by the Scottish lads who briefly ignited “Rollermania” in the mid-1970s. Still though, I think the greatest achievement of the Bay City Rollers is providing the inspiration for Nick Lowe’s “Rollers Show.”

“Trust”/”Save Me”-The Bears (1987/did not chart). The Bears was apparently guitarist Adrian Belew’s vehicle for creating catchy pop songs with weird guitar parts. As such, these are a nice pair of catchy pop songs with weird guitar parts.

“Shadrach”/”And What You Get Is What You Give”-Beastie Boys (1989/did not make Top 40). “Shadrach” was a non-charting single from the Beastie’s seriously brilliant Paul’s Boutique album. I was pretty excited a few years back when I first heard the Sly and the Family Stone song that provides the main sample for the song. Both “Shadrach” and its b-side, “And What You Get Is What You Give,” are a huge stews of samples from all over the place, just like the rest of Paul’s Boutique. If you’re interested in all the various samples that are used on the Paul’s Boutique album, check out http://www.paulsboutique.info.

“I Want To Hold Your Hand”/”I Saw Her Standing There-The Beatles (1964/a-side peaked at #1, b-side peaked at #14). While this single has the signature swirly orange and yellow Capitol Records label, as well as a picture sleeve, the fine print at the bottom of the sleeve indicates that is not an original copy of the single, but a reissue from 1984, presumably released to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first Beatle’s hits to chart in the United States. Of course now the reissue itself is 26 years old. Original issue or not, the songs sound great coming out of a vinyl record.

“Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever”-the Beatles (1967/a-side peaked at #1, b-side peaked at #8). In his liner notes to the R.E.M. b-sides compilation, Dead Letter Office, R.E.M. guitarist and record collector Peter Buck, explains his love for 45 r.p.m. singles:

I’ve always liked singles much more than albums. A single has to be short, concise and catchy, all values that seem to go out the window as far as albums are concerned. But the thing that I like best about singles is their ultimate shoddiness. No matter how lavish that packaging, no matter what attention to detail, a 45 is still essentially a piece of crap usually purchased by teenagers. This is why musicians feel free to put just about anything on the b-side; nobody will listen to it anyway, so why not have some fun. You can clear the closet of failed experiments, baldy written songs, drunken jokes, and occasionally, a worthwhile song that doesn’t fit the feel of an album.

While I appreciate Buck’s assessment of what a 45 is often all about, I think the greatest argument that can be made for a 45 being art (as opposed to “crap”) would be the Beatles’ “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” single. It’s not merely that both sides of this particular single are absolutely brilliant songs. It’s how the songs interact with each other.

Both songs are based on memories that McCartney and Lennon had of growing up in Liverpool but McCartney’s a-side is like a short story, with a whole set of interesting characters and McCartney’s presence mostly being that of an observer to the street scene around him. Lennon’s b-side is far more introspective and “weird,” and the only “character” to be found is Lennon himself.

This single is the original way that both “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” were introduced to the world (which was almost literally clamoring for new Beatles’ music at the moment of the single’s release). Despite the eventual inclusion of both songs on the Magical Mystery Tour album and on other compilations (“Penny Lane,” at least, can be found other places), I think that listening to these songs back-to-back on an original copy of the single is still the optimum way to experience the songs and the interconnections between them (and, by extension, the interconnections between Lennon and McCartney).

There are many classic albums (including a few by the Beatles themselves) that don’t provide the complete aesthetic experience that the “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” single does. Not bad for a “piece of crap.”

So where does a listener of 45s go after experiencing what is quite likely the greatest single ever released? He moves on to the next Beatles single that he owns, but not in this particular entry. That would just be anticlimactic.

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