From the Archives: Simon Frith’s Top 50 (Fall ’92)

[Note: this was a bonus beat included with the Simon Frith Online Exchange. Some YouTube links have been added.]

Souvenirs From a History of Popular Music, Part 1:
Simon Frith’s Top 50 (Originally published in Radio On, Fall ’92.)

I never usually get far with record lists. It’s like reading the dictionary: I start off down the right trail but hours later find I’m thinking about something altogether different. But for the last couple of years I’ve been trying to get rid of my record collection. This has meant cataloguing, and it’s meant deciding what, if anything, I have to keep. I’m about half done now (I won’t try to explain the logic of my halves) and my pile has, by an appropriate coincidence, just reached 50. This, then, is a found list. It isn’t a list of the best or even of my favourite records–many of which are etched so clearly into the soundscape (of my memory) that I feel no need to keep them. The only explanation I can give is that these are the records I feel the need to have by me to play to people. They are a source of explanation…

The order is as randomly chosen as the list:

1. Bob Dylan: “Positively 4th Street” (1965) — The aesthetic of the sneer I–the definitive boy’s bedroom song.
2. Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon: “(Blame It) On the Pony Express” (1970) — Now that intellectuals like Frank Kogan and Chuck Eddy have discovered Boney M they should check out an earlier root of Euro-pop: black GIs meet Denmark Street hacks to make the pop dance sound from which, eventually, came Pete Waterman (in whose shop I probably bought this).
3. Stephen Duffy: “I Love You” EP (1985) — Four perfect mod-pop songs written and recorded twenty years after the event.
4. Fatal Microbes: “Violence Grows” (1979) — Female singer who captured better than anyone else punk’s peculiar self-pitying glee.
5. Spoonie Gee: “Street Girl” and Toddy Tee: “Batter Ram” (nd) — Tracks from a tape Andy Schwartz once made for me–the obsession of language.
6. Bunny Wailer: Struggle (1979) — The singer who more than anyone else (except perhaps Burning Spear live) performs reggae as a religious rite.
7. Bunny Wailer: “Redemption Song” (from Tribute, 1981) — I’d never listened to the words before.
8. King Tubby Meets the Upsetter at the Grass Roots of Dub (nd) — With a pin-up of the mixing desks.
9. Don Williams: Greatest Hits Volume 1 (1975) — How to sing without opening your mouth.
10. David Allen Coe: Just Divorced (1984) — Puzzle time. What’s real and what’s fake? What’s touching and what’s tacky? What’s the difference?
11. A Billie Holiday Memorial (nd) — Has the advantage over later tributes in including those late tracks when she couldn’t, um, sing.
12. David Bowie: Low (1977) — The Sound of the Seventies (though see 41 below).
13. Associates: “PartyFearsTwo” (1982) — Further adventures of the ballad.
14. Misty in Roots: Live at the Counter-Eurovision (1979) — The most perfect reggae record ever made.
15. Bobby Vinton: Blue Velvet (1963) — Previous adventures of the ballad.
16. Cocteau Twins: “Aikea-Guinea” EP (1985) — New age music for people who pretend they don’t like new age music.
17. Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens: Thokozile (1988) — Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes eat your hearts out.
18. Bobby Bare: (Margie’s at) the Lincoln Park Inn and Other Controversial Country Songs (1969) — When it comes right down to it country music is essentially a comic form.
19. Temptations: Puzzle People (1969) — Those voices in pursuit of pure pop.
20. “Past, Present and Future” on the Golden Hits of the Shangri-Las (1966) — Excerpt from a teenage ballet.
21. The Jive 5’s Greatest Hits (nd) — Doo-wop at its most exhilarating and most weird.
22. The Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys: The Columbia Sessions 1949-56 (1980) — Shut your eyes and belieeeeeve.
23. Eagles: “Lyin’ Eyes” on Their Greatest Hits (1976) — The most perfect pop single ever made.
24. Michel Legrand: Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (nd) — Life reduced to a song, part 1.
25. Djeli Moussa Diawara: 1st LP (nd) — What is meant, I assume, by “the music of the spheres.”
26. Otis Redding: Live in Europe (1972 Japanese reissue) — Complete with transcribed grunts and groans.
27. Culturcide: “Bruce” from Tacky Souvenirs of Pre-Revolutionary America (nd) — Uniquely effective rock criticism.
28. Dolly Parton: Dolly at Her Best (1972) — Just for the segue from “How Great Thou Art” to “Just the Way I Am.”
29. Tom T. Hall: In Search of a Song (1971) — Life reduced to a song, part 2.
30. Carol Jianni: “Hit ‘n’ Run Lover” (1981) — The Montreal disco sound–the girl group comes out of the closet.
31. Patti Smith: Horses (1975) — The sexiest record ever made.
32. Tabou Combo: 8th Sacrament (1974) — Tumbling percussion.
33. Kool and the Gang: “Get Down On It” (1974) — American minimalism–on the (low) dance floor.
34. Philip Glass: Dance Pieces (1987) — American minimalism–on the (high) dance floor.
35. Sharon Redd: “Never Give You Up” (1982) — The excitement of sexual dependency.
36. Mathilde Santing (10-inch promotional LP, 1982) — The coolest of cover versions.
37. Creation Rebel: Starship Africa (1980) — Space music.
38. Sona Diabate and M’mah Sylha: Sahel (1988) – Women’s talk.
39. Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Umthombo Wamanzi (1988) — Men’s talk.
40. Johnny Taylor: Just Ain’t Good Enough (1982) — For three tracks–“I’m So Proud,” “Don’t Wait,” “Just Ain’t Good Enough”–the most perfect soul record ever made.
41. Culture: Two Sevens Clash (1977) — The record from which the Clash took their name.
42. Butch Hancock: The Wind’s Dominion (1979) — Texan intellectuals at play.
43. Public Enemy: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988) — The aesthetic of the sneer II–the definitive boys’ street sound.
44. Various Artists: Serious Beats Vol 3 (1991) — Or why Belgians don’t want to dance.
45. Paolo Conti: Concerti (nd) — An Italian chansonnier.
46. Kraftwerk: The Mix (1991) — All those glossy tunes in a single glossy packet.
47. Laurie Anderson: Strange Angels (1989) — I could listen to her for hours.
48. Sinead O’Connor: “Nothing Compares 2 U” (1990)
49. Carlos D’Alessio et Marguerite Duras: India Song et Autres Musique des Films (1984) — Euro-pop.
50. The John Barry Seven and Orchestra: Hit and Miss (1979) — Hits from 1958-1962–the last great instrumental era.

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