Words: Matt ‘Woebot’ Ingram
The seven-inch single has recently celebrated its 60th Anniversary [this article was originally published in 2008]. While to some collectors Reggae, Funk or Pop are the ultimate genres for the format, my own choice would have to be Post-Punk as manifested in the great singles which came out at the tail-end of the seventies and dawn of the eighties.
As a sophomore collector I used to look at the back wall of the Rough Trade shop in Ladbroke Grove with vacant longing, but these days, with somewhat jaded eyes, the selection there seems slightly less impressive. There are masterpieces pinned up by Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, The Raincoats, The Slits, Wire and Scritti, but The Lurkers, The Alarm, The Rezillos and Echo & The Bunnymen and The Redskins? Not so cool, but such is the benefit of hindsight.
This 20 Best for FACT focuses on singles from that era which not only seem more relevant than ever before but which make a case for the importance of the single in and of itself. I have tried to select records which, though they have in some instances been mopped up on subsequent album collections, were not released as tasters for an LP. They are not fragments of a “greater work” but function as works of art in their own right. The immaculate sleeve design they all feature underscores this idea of them each being minute aesthetic universes. Their brevity of purpose is very refreshing, and I have always found buying singles to be a welcome antidote to always amassing LPs and twelve-inches.
01: THE RESIDENTS
Conceived as pop satire and all but disowned by The Residents upon its adoption by NME, Sounds and Melody Maker who proclaimed it as evidence that the band were finally making “worthwhile” material. There’s a special place in my heart for 7″ singles which play at 33rpm, and this, like The Minutemen’s ‘Paranoid Time’, is essentially a 7-track miniscule album. Every song is a masterpiece of illogical pop; ‘Sinister Exaggerator’ in particular sounds alarmingly fresh 32 years later, and would sit comfortably beside the works of Shackleton and Mordant Music. These tunes, of course, can be found on the Duck Stab/Buster & Glen LP, but sadly the other tracks compiled with that release can’t hold a candle to them.
‘YOU & YOU’ / ‘LITTLE ANTS’
‘You and You’ is Lower East Side Minimalism. Built upon an insistent synth vamp, the drums here practically carry the melody while Arto’s guitar sprays convoluted racket over the whole assemblage. ‘Little Ants’, the B-side, is stop-frame urban hoodoo. DNA, like the other No Wave bands, put out a slew of singles; thanks to Michael Zilka’s efforts at ZE, many of them ended up on 12″ rather than 7″.
03: IAN DURY AND THE BLOCKHEADS
‘HIT ME WITH YOUR RHYTHM STICK’
Ian Dury’s work has been ignored in the recent post-punk gold-rush. Was Dury really a pub-rocker? I don’t think so. Pub-rock is better represented by the R’n'B-flavoured work of Nick Lowe, Rockpile, Dr Feelgood, John Otway, Graham Parker and (yes, sorry) Elvis Costello. Pub-rock tends to be a) Americanised b) all about the Rock, as opposed to dance, dynamic. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just less interesting! Dury and Jankel on the other hand made the kind of punky disco that (would they had the chops) Rip, Rig and Panic would love to have been able to conjure up. With it’s exquisite Barney Bubbles sleeve and glorious #1 chart placement, years before New Pop graced the charts this was definitely post-punk. Eventually all the Dury singles were wrapped up, along with their excellent B-sides, on the Juke Box Dury LP.
04: THE HUMAN LEAGUE
‘BEING BOILED’ / ‘CIRCUS OF DEATH’
The inspiration for Richard X‘s ‘Being Scrubbed’ bootleg, ‘Being Boiled’ still stuns with its walk-in freezer bass-line. To this day it’s hard to reconcile this Human League with THAT Human League atop the Christmas Charts of 1981. However, the 7″ single format is quintessentially one geared towards pop, so in a sense even the most skronky 7″ is a trojan horse.
05: CABARET VOLTAIRE
EXTENDED PLAY EP
(ROUGH TRADE, 1978)
In his book Rip It Up and Start Again, Simon Reynolds pares this EP with epochal seven-inch releases by Thomas Leer, Robert Rental, Throbbing Gristle and The Normal. I make no apologies for including all five releases here. All of these pioneering monochrome slabs of electro-rock were seemingly influenced by nothing at all. This, the Cabs’ first release, is steam-piston-powered Clockwork Orange funk.
06: THE NORMAL
Surely one of the most anthologised, utterly unavoidable post-punk tracks there is? Though for good reason. Daniel Miller’s received pronunciation here always made me wonder, half seriously, whether this was a context which could weather class refugees. RIP JG Ballard.
07: ROBERT RENTAL
‘PARALYSIS’ / ‘A.C.C.’
(COMPANY REGULAR, 1978)
While the Cabs/Throbbs/Miller Electronic singles grew like mutant fungi hidden from one another in the debris of a post-industrial wasteland, Robert Rental and Thomas Leer were Scottish buddies who moved south together. The cute argument that these singles (f*** guitars!) were the true punk rock falls down rather with these two tracks which veteran blogger Gutterbreakz accurately compared to the moth-eaten psychedelia of Skip Spence and Syd Barrett.
08: THROBBING GRISTLE
Their best track? This is effortlessly creepy in stark contrast to the heavy-handed shock tactics of their later work. In a way the Throbbs pick up from where the Gang of Four left off, but settle not on the politics of the inter-personal but the inherently bizarre nature of intimate relationships.
09: THOMAS LEER
‘PRIVATE PLANE’ / ‘INTERNATIONAL’
(COMPANY / OBLIQUE, 1978)
Allegedly recorded under his blankets at night, almost whispered so as not to wake his girlfriend from sleep. Very little outside the krautrock canon – Gang Gang Dance’s debut LP immediately springs to mind – manages so effectively to convey the expansiveness of inner-space.
10: DELTA 5
‘MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS’ / ‘NOW THAT YOU’VE GONE’
(ROUGH TRADE, 1979)
Forget Tommy the opera or Christian Marclay’s Record Without A Cover, as a disc this double A-side is one of the most perfect conceptual statements ever released. Over a nagging locked bass and drum pattern ‘Mind Your Own Business’ documents the arguments in a relationship; then on its flipside ‘Now That You’ve Gone’ takes the same groove, hollows it out and describes the aftermath. Where once repetitively oppressive, rhythm becomes grippingly tedious.