Purbeck Island Discs
Curtis Mayfield –
Move On Up
Simply put, Move On Up is the most uplifting, life-affirming and damned right music of all time. Instantly infectious, there’s some high-grade alchemy at work in the way Curtis’ irresistible falsetto hooks your mind while his gentle guitar figures tickle your ears, the brass rushes over your head and the bass, drums and percussion grab your feet and loins all at the same time. Literally mind blowing and one of the few records whose allure is undimmed by familiarity. I had the pleasure of spending a few brief moments in the company of Curtis Mayfield at Ronnie Scott’s in the late 1980s and a more beatific presence I have never felt before or since.
The Clash –
So many Clash cuts could have featured here. Unlike the earlier White Man In the Hammersmith Palais this stand alone 45 never grabbed the spotlight despite it being the band’s highest UK chart placing at the time hitting number 11 in 1980. It doesn’t often feature in these lists, maybe that’s because structurally it’s all over the show, lyrically too, its leaden pace and brooding delivery are hardly out of the Chinnichap school of hitmaking either. Yet it’s a gem, an unsung classic, a romantic representation of outlaw bravado and with Mikey Dread at the controls, it rode in on the back of the London Calling album, presaging the artistic excesses of Sandinista. Cool.
Nice Cave & the Bad Seeds –
Again, how do you represent a giant of contemporary song in just one tune? I’ve been playing this 2004 track again lately and still find new slants at work in his lyrics, while the Bad Seeds – never was a better bunch of badasses enslaved to the beat – cook up a tune that seizes you by the lapel and smashes you up against the wall. A deep sea diver’s suit, pink and purple wisteria, Sappho in the original Greek are all visited in the words, but what emerges from the whole is a purposeful, optimistic, enlivening romp. Literate, challenging, enriching, sexy, funny, incisive, has anyone remained as routinely on the money as Cave over the last couple of decades?
The Superimposers –
Would It Be Impossible?
A good ten years have lapsed since this best song you’ve never heard came out as vinyl-only single and subsequently a track on the band’s first album. The Superimposers are Miles Copeland and Dan Solo, sometimes augmented by video game producer and musical polymath Shawn Lee of Ping Pong Orchestra (among many others) note. Would It Be Impossible is archetypal Superimposers – every note sounds like a lightly stoned summer sigh, even on their festive single Christmas Again. It’s music that makes you want to smile, wear shades and put your arm around the one you love – in short, music to make the people happy. And there’s no greater praise than that.
Smokey Robinson & the Miracles –
The Love I Saw In You Was Just a Mirage
From the opening riff picked out on a 12-string Rickenbacker by the god-like Marv Tarplin, to the final fade of Smokey testifying to the girl he thought was special, this 1967 45 is the perfect aggregation of everything that made Bob Dylan no less describe Smokey as America’s greatest living poet. A super strength melody, Smokey’s elegantly yearning vocal, lyrics that never take the obvious route, the Miracles’ multi-layered harmonies, a story that breaks your heart, lushly orchestrated strings, the Funk Brothers kicking up a storm and a beat that demands a finger click – and yet it’s still somuch more than the sum of its parts. Pure Motown magic. Just play the 45!
The Jam –
‘No matter where I roam/I will come back to my English Rose/For no bonds can ever tempt me from she’. Paul Weller wasn’t even 20 years old when he wrote that for The Jam’s career-rescuing 1978 album All Mod Cons. In love and not giving a shit who knew it, the snot-nosed suburbanite Weller was cocking a snook at London’s posing punk cognoscenti, reconnecting with a romantic fascination that owed as much to Shelley as it did to Townshend and it was a massive lesson to my only-just teenage ears in the late 70s. He’s written better songs since, lots of them, but few as heartfelt, charming and unflinchingly beautiful as this. I never did get round to doing it, but English Rose was always going to be the theme for my custom Lambretta.
Booker T & the MGs –
Like a call to arms, Booker T Jones’ ludicrously simple riff has been a byword for cool ever since it fell out of his Hammond B3 more than 50 years ago. When he placed it in the hands of the MGs they delivered a masterclass in soulful less is more. Every note, every beat, every inflection, every breath on this record earns its place. Unquestionably the most economical, restrained and unspeakably hip recording in history, it’s defined as much by what isn’t played as what is. Al Jackson doesn’t waste a single beat on the drums, (original MGs’ bassist) Lewie Steinberg holds a rock steady line throughout and the gentlemanly Steve Cropper cuts across the beat with possibly the classiest performance of his career.
The Beatles –
Can’t believe there’s no room for The Small Faces, The Smiths, Aretha Franklin, Denzil, Stone Roses, Elvis Costello, Mable John, Tim Rose or Damon Albarn on this list, but there had to be a Beatles track. Last week it was If I Fell, the week before Strawberry Fields and before that In My Life, but for now it’s Rain, the b-side to Paperback Writer and released a week after I was born in 1966 (thanks, Beatles!). Backwards vocals, acidic suggestions, one of Lennon’s best vocals just behind the beat, Paul and Ringo in perfect sympatico and George lacing it all with a series of top drawer licks – plus a genuinely fab promo film – and it all adds up to a moment of mid-60s magic. That’s some b-side, eh? Uncut promo.
It has to be the customised English Rose Lambretta SX200 that has lived in my mind’s eye for half a lifetime. That way I could get around my Purbeck playground, see the sea, gorge myself on the scenery and still get home in time for tea.
We thank Nick Churchill for his Purbeck Island Discs.