My first single was “Martian Hop,” by the Ran-Dells.
I heard it on my transistor. Probably WABC. I needed to own it. I begged my mother to take me to the store to buy it. You didn’t have access to shops in the suburbs, you were reliant on the transportation of your parents. But I do remember riding my bike miles to Topps’ discount store to buy the Beach Boys’ “Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)” a few years later, I needed it just that bad, I had to walk my Raleigh up the steep hill of Kings Highway on the way back.
But that was an album. After I realized singles were a raw deal. For the cost of a couple I could own LPs. Stuff like Gary Lewis & The Playboys’ “She’s Just My Style.” I remember being infatuated with the title track, and the album included covers of “Lies” and “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” which I first discovered on Jan & Dean’s “Command Performance.”
But I started with singles. “Martian Hop” had a pink label. And as much as I remember buying it, what I remember more is dropping the needle on it. That moment of anticipation, removing the disc from the paper sleeve, placing it on the heavy platter, and then lifting the tonearm with the ceramic needle and dropping it on the entry groove and hearing that static and then…THE MUSIC!
I’d like to say this BBC Four production is perfect. Alas, it’s not. But it gets so much so right that you’ve got to stop what you’re doing right now and watch it.
Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, showing how you hold a record. How you reach into the sleeve and put your third and fourth fingers on the label and your thumb on the outside. Because THE GROOVES ARE SACRED!
There were never any fingerprints on my records. That would be sacrilegious. Like mistreating the Torah, leaving my baseball glove out in the rain. Records were to be respected. They were gifts from above. Limited in quantity. And never disposable. I’ve still got “Martian Hop,” so many of us still have our first single.
And then there’s Jimmy Webb. Testifying about hearing Glen Campbell’s “Turn Around Look At Me” in Oklahoma and praying to God that he can one day write a song for him. And years later, achieving his goal, proving that God truly does exist. When you hear “Wichita Lineman” come out of the speakers you’ll swoon. That’s what’s amazing about a great single. It doesn’t have to be your kind of music, you can’t explain why you like it, but you love it!
Kind of like “MacArthur Park.” I remember wincing every time it came on the radio, pushing the buttons frantically to find something else. And then, decades later, coming to love it. That’s what we adore about music, the way it’s set in amber, finalized, waiting for us to discover it.
Which brings me to Graham Gouldman’s quote about “I’m Not In Love.” 10cc knew it was great, but they didn’t know it would be this big. It was all about the voices. And then Graham says:
“Part of the art is in saying ‘It’s done, walk away from the tape machine sir.’”
Eureka! How do you capture perfection? How do you get the sound in your head down on wax? How do you not screw it up? Because if you do, you can miss the target. How many songs have been remixed from stiffs to hits? Listen to “Help Me Rhonda” on “Beach Boys Today!” and then spin the hit version. Same song, with completely different impact.
Gouldman is the highlight of this show.
Because we didn’t really believe these people existed. Oh, we listened and saw their names on the records but they lived far away, they were gods, they were untouchable. And then there they are, talking on the screen, delineating the experience. It’s like opening the Bible and having it come alive, in 3-D, as if Moses stepped from the pages and started explaining how he parted the Red Sea.
And you’ve got Neil Sedaka referencing the “diamond needle.” That was the goal, something exotic and expensive that extracted all the juice from the vinyl.
And I still remember going to my one and only manufacturing plant, Rainbo Records in the industrial section of Santa Monica. The workers were distracted as the black goo was stamped into a single. For me it was like going to the Wailing Wall. I finally made it to the destination, the epicenter, the place where it all began.
We’re never going back to what once was. Because music is now unlimited, it doesn’t drive the culture. Kids today don’t get their driver’s license at sixteen, they’re not interested in cars, the manufacturers are freaking out, trying to find out how to entrance them. Automobiles are now transportation, whereas once they were more than that, art, objects of fascination, just like smartphones.
But smartphones will be utilitarian and taken for granted soon.
But if you want to have an impact in the music business, you’re best off making a single. Not something that gets played on the radio so much as something that makes people turn their heads, that they need to hear again and again and again.
That’s one thing I hate about Spotify, the inability to click a button and hear the same track ad infinitum. iTunes has this button, although it’s less prominent and clickable in iTunes 11 than in all the previous iterations. You see when I find something great, I can play it for hours straight. I learned that from 45s. It’s an extended orgasm. You don’t want to let the feeling pass. And eventually it does. Suddenly, after twenty or two hundred plays the novelty wears off, you don’t get the same rush, and you’ve got just one option.
Go out and buy another.
And I think that’s one reason the older generation has given up on music. Because of the disappointment, the bends you go through after discovering something incredible and being unable to replace it. When they were kids, they only had to turn on the radio to hear something new, something they’d save their money to be able to buy. Today, radio is last and they play the same songs forever. They’re not performing a service, but making money. Whereas in the sixties, radio was the leading edge of the zeitgeist, where risk was taken, where the manna was exposed.
Albums are great.
Then again, people are still making them even though space is unlimited, form has left the building.
But a single song, however long, when done right, is the height of human experience. A trip on the roller coaster, a stroll down memory lane, an experience enhancer that you cannot forget.
The public has spoken, they only want singles. Are you ready to deliver them?