The 45 RPM single turns 60 today. On March 31, 1949, RCA Victor released "Texarkana Baby" b/w "Bouquet of Roses" by Eddy Arnold. I figure this is as good a time as any to talk 45s, singles or 7-inches or whatever you call them. Something tells me Maloney has an Archers of Loaf single he really likes. How 'bout y'all?
Personally, I've had the misfortune of losing my entire collection of 45s on two different occasions (once to theft and once to mysterious disappearance) so I'm kind of gun shy about them. Not that I've ever been a huge collector, but still. At any rate, I present five notable 45s of mine.
5. Captain Zoom - "Happy Birthday, [Your Name Here]!"
This only makes the list because it's a birthday. (OK, fine, I totally listened to this as a kid.) It's a flexi-disc of a totally goofy birthday song (just for me!) that was sold at Toys "R" Us, among other places, in the late '70s and early '80s. "My name is Zoom / And I live on the moon / But I came down to Earth / Just to sing you this tune / 'Cause Ste-eve / It's your birthday / Today!" Yes, you can get these on CD now, but who wants that? Here's how it sounds when Zoom sings to Matthew. (Hey, gimme a break. If this were about LPs, I'd be talking about E.T. right now.)
4. Metallica - "Eye of the Beholder" b/w "Breadfan" (Elektra)
I was a young lad when this one came out, and it had a number of things going for it. One, it was the new Metallica single, and I was a big Metallica fan, even if the new album as a whole wasn't really doing it for me. Two, cover art by Pushead, which, as a skater kid, I took as "cred," though I had no concept of that term at the time. Beyond that, what held my attention was the B-side: a cover of the Budgie tune "Breadfan." Not that I ever really became a huge Budgie fan, but something about the arrangement of that song fascinated me—as did the fact that Metallica did an obscure (at least to me) cover as their B-side. (Yeah, it took me a while to figure out that "Crash Course in Brain Surgery" was by Budgie, too.) This record was lost in the "mysterious disappearance" and I've never really thought to seek out another copy.
3. The Shins - "Nature Bears a Vacuum" (Omnibus)
So, I'm new to Nashville, have no job, and need some cash. The Shins are "blowing up," in the parlance of our time (this really happened, I swear), so I decide that for once I will make some money off knowing about a band before most other people knew about them. I check eBay every day to see if anyone's got the same idea. Eventually, some jerk puts his copy of "Nature Bears a Vacuum" up for auction and gets $135 for it. (!) I don't waste any time. I've got dollar signs instead of pupils. I've got two copies of this thing! Well, look who glutted the market: I wound up "only" getting $110. Of course, you can just download the thing now, but that's not the same, silly. This is a post about how awesome 45s are—and I still have the other copy. (And if you're a real Shins geek, I've got an incredibly rare CD-R from the band's first tour—before they changed the title of the song "New Slang"—and an even rarer Omnibus cassette with The Shins on one side and the Flake Music song "The Shins" on the other. EXTREMELY RARE NM+++)
2. The Champs - "Second 7" " (Wantage USA)
A friend whose taste I trusted said, "You should check out this band called The Champs." So I did—by buying a 7-inch, not doing a search on YouTube. Go figure. Anyway, I was blown away. "Lee Tom"—are you kidding? All my favorite things about '80s metal (the real stuff) plus a bunch of math-y technical stop-and-start awesomeness courtesy of all the "featuring members of Slint" music I loved at the time. Baby blue vinyl. Sweetness. This band changed their name to The Fucking Champs, since they figured out that the song "Tequila" was by The Champs, and being associated, however obliquely, with Pee Wee Herman is totally not metal.
1. Neutral Milk Hotel - "Everything Is" b/w "Snow Song Pt. 1" (Cher Doll)
Yes, the very first Neural Milk Hotel single is still a prized possession, inasmuch as 45s are prized possessions for me. I probably paid too much for it, back when we all thought Jeff Mangum was, y'know, going to make another album someday. (This was my first eBay purchase. Therefore, I didn't realize that the seller would be a little weirded out when I said, "Hey, since we both live in the same city, why don't I just pick it up from you?") Makes me smile any time I put it on.
Here's a few from Jim Ridley:
"Be My Baby," The Ronettes
For the duration of a great single, I mean a lifetime-achievement heart-stopping single, no other world exists except the one inside the song. Time stands still for the two-plus minutes of this marvel: it's like riding a Tilt-a-Whirl at night on Coney Island with your girlfriend's hair whipping in the summer wind. All of city life is compressed into that wall of sound, which gets bigger and deeper the more you listen. (Only in the single format could a handheld percussionist emerge as the MVP—this is like a symphony for shakers.) The excitement's all in the dynamics—like the tension between the pleading of the verses and the abandon of the chorus, or the way you forget how epic that arrangement really is until it cuts out near the end, leaving just that cannon-fire drumbeat and the surrounding void. The principle of duration starts with a moment; as soon as the moment is recognized, the moment's over. This manages to keep a moment suspended for two-plus minutes, until that last titanic drum fill—and that's pretty much when I breathe again.
"Right Back Where We Started From," Maxine Nightingale
A single that hurls itself up against a seemingly insurmountable challenge: Can a great song not have one unhappy thought in its head? (See also: "Walking on Sunshine.") Raising the possibility of doubt only to banish it, this is pop euphoria: handclaps, a cheerleader-camp beat, a sugar rush of a chorus, and one of the greatest string arrangements ever—the skittering sound of a heart going haywire at getting everything it wants.
"Stand by Me," Ben E. King
And here's its opposite: a majestically despondent song that uses "Psycho" strings, a steadfast bass line and the singer's heroic voice holding a torch in a cave of ambient space to dramatize the dark night of the soul, thereby showing a way out. I have no doubt that this song has saved lives.
"Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't Have Fallen in Love With?)," Buzzcocks
A lot of my favorite singles are ticking bombs that explode and reload with every chorus. The verses here light the fuse; the detonating chorus lights up the sky. Deny this single and deny the evidence of your beating heart.
"Uptown Girl," Billy Joel
Seriously—does anybody even wanna challenge the hook-a-bar brilliance of its melody, its dozen or so climaxes, its deployment of the underestimated "ay-yi-yi" extended syllable, or the perfection of its pastiche of front-stoop 1960s Jersey Boys-era pop? I limited myself to just one Billy Joel song, but for about five years the dude's offhand mastery of pop songcraft (especially on the wall-to-wall excellent AN INNOCENT MAN) was close to untoppable. Here, the pleasure per second ratio is something like 1.85:1.
And from Jack Silverman:
Ides of March, "Vehicle"
The Foundations, "Build Me Up Buttercup"
Zager and Evans, "In the Year 2525"
Shocking Blue, "Venus"
Strawberry Alarm Clock, "Incense and Peppermints"
Royal Guardsmen, "Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron"