Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The A-Z Of All-Time Great Pop Singles: "G"

G is for 'Green Onions' by Booker T & The MGs

Simply because it never gets old, which is remarkable, because it's, like, really old. 1962, man, and those Onions sound just as fresh today as they did when Booker T first cooked 'em up.

While lacking the lyrical themes, vocal stylings and Flute Solo that California Dreamin' has somehow managed to overcome in it's avoidance of not being an irritating Babyboomer nostalgia yawnfest, this Hammond Organ instrumental (surely the most famous organ instrumental of all-time) is still Typically 60s enough, and recycled as a 60s Soundtrack Shortcut often enough, to make it astounding in itself that it hasn't become a tiresome relic. But is Absloutley Hasn't. It falls into the same category as Louie Louie - put Green Onions on in a club, any club, anywhere, and People Will Dance. I DJ'd at a Sixties Night for 5 years, and played all sortsa obscure nonsense - but not playing this was simply never an option. It has The Vibe. It creates a whole scene. It's Three Dimensional - it transports you. Smoky, slinky, COOL.

Green Onions is an example of the Good Will Out, of The Cream Rising To The Top. Of popular culture Getting It Right. Why is this the most famous Organ Instro? Because it's the best one. There are loads of other great organ instros, thousands of 'em infact, but if we gotta pick one, let's all just agree on this one. I like Jimmy Smith's Root Down pretty much more than any record on earth, but it doesn't have the whole package like Green Onions does. This is a pop record. It has hooks. You can sing along. It hits the ground...well, not hits the ground grooving. And that guitar...Steve Cropper's guitar...might just be my favourite guitar part ever. SHRAK! SHRUK! He play's next to nothing, and get's it absolutely right.

Finally, Booker T. He was like 17 years old when he played on this record. How insane is that? 17 years old, and you're on a record that people will still be digging for centuries to come. The video above is simply one of my all-time fave pieces of video. Booker T's expression at 2.52 makes me laugh every time; mugging to the crowd, grinning his ass off as he plays the most insane, juddering, outrageous organ solo, like "I KNOW, RIGHT? I'M AWESOME! THIS SONG IS AWESOME! Check out what I'm doing on this organ! It's RIDICULOUS!"

Saturday, 14 May 2011

The A-Z Of All-Time Great Pop Singles: "F"

F is for: Frontier Psychiatrist by The Avalanches

John Lennon said of Revolution #9, the cut & paste sound collage piece regarded by many proponants of "Proper Music" as Not Being Proper Music, that he had expended more time and energy on the creation of that White Album epic than he had on much of his back catalogue, the inference being: 'I can knock out tunes on my acoustic guitar all day. It's stuff like that which is throw-away and lazy and inconsequential, not this. This took real effort. This was the challenge. And it's valid.'

But as much as I like Revolution #9, and could spend all day defending sure ain't funky. It took hip-hop, maybe 7 or 8 years later, to marry the avant-garde cut-ups of postmodernist art as exemplified by Revolution #9, and the dancefloor filling RnB sensibilities of James Brown. Revolution #9 was self-conciously anti-pop - it was designed to shock and disturb and shake the squares from their bourgeois slumber. Grandmaster Flash's The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel was super-pop, designed to amuse and move and get the squares to shake their tail feathers.

And as far as bone fide hit records go, few have ever taken the model of imaginative collage + humour + grooviness and done anything with it nearly as joyfully, danceably, delightfully brilliant as Australia's The Avalanches did on their 2000 Top 20 sampledelic smasheroo, Frontier Psychiatrist. I Love This Record. I probably wouldn't have even bothered doing this list if I hadn't wanted a reason to write about Frontier Psychiatrist. Alphabet Of Pop aside, I'd still put this in my all-time Top 50 singles. Wikipedia states that it contains 37 samples; I'm gonna say I think it's higher than that, but even if it's just 37, I'm pretty sure this must be a record for a Top 20 UK single. Best of all, one of those samples is from The 'Burbs, one of my all-time favourite movies - and I'm damn certain that Frontier Psychiatrist is the only Top 20 UK hit single with a 'Burbs sample in it.

I dig the Wild West, spaghetti-western, Morricone sorta vibe; I dig how daft it all's really a comedy record, and certainly The Avalanches spoke in interviews around the time that they feared being percieved as a novelty act. Now, there's nothing wrong with novelty songs - I like Doctorin' The Tardis as much as the next man - but this isn't a novelty song. It's funny, sure, and fun, and definately unusual - but nothing this artfully constructed can be called a novelty. I'm a real sucker this sort of sample-heavy fare; it appeals to the record-geek in me, the crate-digger mentality that has you thinking "Ohh - where'd they nick this bit from, and where can I find it?" As a pop-culture junkie, a song composed entirely of pop-culture junk is just right it my street.

Oh, and the video is potentially my favourite video of all time.