Saturday, November 10, 2007

Top Ten Most Important Singles in Detroit History...

Let the arguing begin. But please, keep it classy. Please feel free to reply with your own lists in the "Comments" section. First person who successfully states the importance of today's date wins a CD-r of the as-yet unreleased Dirtbombs song "Race to the Bottom."

  1. MC5 “Looking at You” b/w “Borderline” (A-Square)
Easily one of the best singles in ALL of history. The cacophonous roar unleashed on “Looking at You” is the stuff legends are made of. Recorded at United Sound and supposedly the amps were rigged with mic’s behind their speakers because it was so fucking loud. “Borderline” (at least for me) holds some weight as a precursory allusion to what 8 Mile Road would become, but is really just a basic carnal ode. Honestly, if shit like this didn’t bring about legitimate change at the Democratic Convention of ’68, NOTHING COULD! What tends to get forgotten about this release is that the band did it on their own vis a vis Trans Love. It was only after-the-fact that they added the A-Square tag to lend it some legitimacy. So while propers are due for the uncompromising squalor they recorded in January 1968, even more credit is necessary for the fact that they did this DIY-style. And can you top Michael Davis’ two-note bass monster? There was nothing remotely close to this going on in Detroit at the same time. Grimshaw’s spacey rare-as-all-get-out pic sleeve festooned with Coltrane and pot leaves? Leni Sinclair’s sparsely scenic live pic taken at the Masonic Temple? The brilliantly simple embryonic yet symmetrical label art? Rob Tyner’s deceptively alluring lyrics and self-aware vocals the way he gutturally and grittily screams “ALL I EVER WANT TO DO NOW GIRL!” Everything here gets the highest marks possible. THIS SINGLE IS PURE PERFECTION.

See also:
The Up “Just Like an Aborigine” (Sundance)
The Stooges “I Got a Right” (Siamese)

  1. Cybotron “Alleys of Your Mind” b/w “Cosmic Raindance” (Deep Space)
I’m not even a technohead, but with this single is basically the genesis of a genre. While Detroit can’t legitimately claim soul, rock or white-boy rap as its own, I think we’ve got an honest claim in techno. I’ve been so gay for this single over the past year it’s not even funny. The unassumingly paranoid lyrics coupled with the frustratingly danceable bass groove click on a moment that transcends both its predecessors and it’s antecedents as if it exists in a vacuum.

See also:
Rhythim is Rhythim “Strings of Life” (Metroplex)
Model 500 “No UFO’s” (Metroplex)

  1. Negative Approach 7” EP (Touch & Go)
I guess Minor Threat came first, but NA is equally responsible for the widespread dissemination of hardcore worldwide. As one of the Grosse Pointe Greats (along with the Pleasure Seekers, the Index and the Decks) their influence far exceeds their recorded output.

See also:
Various Artists Process of Elimination (Touch & Go)
Necros "IQ 32" (Touch & Go)

  1. Martha and the Vandellas “Dancing in the Street” b/w “There He Is” (Gordy)
“Can’t forget the Motor City” still rings in my ears as an excerpted soundclip from some local oldies station stringing together the more famous mentions of Detroit (or it’s nicknames) in pop culture verse. It was only with my recent delving into Afro-American scholarship with which I learned of the heavy societal and political weight placed onto the lyrics. H. Rap Brown played it while organizing rallies and many point to it as a loose inspiration or rally cry behind urban rioting in the US in the 1960’s. That still doesn’t change the fact that I saw Martha Reeves eating at the Clique on Jefferson a few years ago. It’s taken me awhile, but I cannot begin to explain how cool I think it is to see a living legend (and city council member to boot!) eating at a shitty little breakfast dive.

See also:
Aretha Franklin “Respect” (Atlantic)
Marvin Gaye “What’s Goin On?” (Motown)

  1. Parliament “Flash Light” b/w “Swing Down Sweet Chariot” (Casablanca)
P-Funk’s first #1 and, for me, their quintessential track, but could just as easily be “I Wanna Testify” or “Maggot Brain” or “Atomic Dog” here as they all have a timeless quality. Laid the groundwork for electro, gangsta rap (the G-funk era), Electrifyin’ Mojo and all kinds of Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication jams.

See also:
MC Breed “Ain’t No Future in Your Frontin” (Power Artist)
DJ Assualt “Ass’n’Titties” (Assault Rifle)

  1. ? and the Mysterians “96 Tears” b/w “Midnight Hour” (Pa-Go-Go/Cameo)
The quintessential one-hit-wonder American garage band. A more poignant and memorable track than “96 Tears” you will not find. Its dinky Vox organ line is more recognizable than the Coca-Cola logo and Q’s impassioned and emphatic delivery is purely indefinable as it’s equal parts camp, soul, disillusioned teen angst and plotted revenge. Inspired Dave Marsh to popularize the term “punk rock” and plays an important role in Lester Bangs’ screed “Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung”, an unparalleled masterwork itself that paved the way for self-important rock journalism and the future rampant championing of forgotten or “lost” classics that would later manifest itself as Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets compilation and still exists today as MOJO magazine’s raison d’etre, among other things. On top of ALL that bullshit I just mentioned, “96 Tears” still managed to hit #1 on the Billboard charts.

See also:
Tommy James and the Shondells “Hanky Panky” (Snap)
The Amboy Dukes “Journey to the Center of the Mind” (Mainstream)

  1. The White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” b/w “Good To Me” (XL/V2)
The importance of this one is still yet to be completely felt. What “Seven Nation Army” did accomplish was lending a bit of credence to the (at the time) still-being-hyped Detroit garage rock scene. If this (or whatever they’d chosen for lead single off Elephant) had tanked, the whole thing would’ve gone kaput and I’d personally be asking if you’d like fries with your value meal. The immediacy and frequency with which this song was covered by relevant and modern bands was something special, recalling the hit-happy 60’s when you could find several versions of bona-fide hits lurking in the charts. Like the fact that the Count Five covered two songs by the Who on their first album, how cool is that? Why doesn’t that happen today? I’d love to see Arctic Monkeys covering Queens of the Stoneage or however you want to frame it. The emergence of “7NA” as a worldwide stadium chant (the unofficial theme for the 2006 World Cup winning Italian national team) proves that this song still has lots of life left in it, as it managed to re-enter the British singles charts over four years after it’s initial release. Certainly the Von Bondies, Electric Six, Brendan Benson and Detroit Cobras owe their own (however brief) UK chart entries in some small part to the path the Stripes and this single cleared.

See also:
Electric Six “Danger! High Voltage” (XL)
The Von Bondies “C’mon, C’mon” (Sire)

  1. Eminem “Lose Yourself” (Shady/Interscope)
From the soundtrack to the movie 8 Mile, it’s hard to imagine that this polarizing, signifying white boy from Warren won an Oscar. The uproar surrounding Mathers at this point in his career was at a fever pitch and it’s the only Detroit song in recent memory to top the Billboard singles chart.

See also:
Kid Rock “Bawitdaba” (Atlantic)
D12 “My Band” (Shady/Interscope)

  1. Bob Seger and the Last Heard “Heavy Music Pts. 1 and 2” (Cameo)
The reason this single, and not any of his other Last Heard waxings, is because of the incredibly bad luck it had. While it peaked locally with over 70k copies sold, it had the unfortunate timing that coincided with the collapse of the record label Cameo-Parkway. This is endemic of other Hideout-grown artists who would go one to widespread success in the Seventies under wholly different musical guise. So whereas Suzy Quatro was badass with the Pleasure Seekers “What a Way To Die”, they would peter out on Mercury thereafter and Suzy herself wouldn’t see success until “48 Crash” years later. Same with Glen Fry and his oft-forgotten Hideout gem “Burned” with the Mushrooms, as he’d later go on to a modicum of success with some act called the Eagles(?). The list of local artists in this exact same situation (killer garage bands that went nowhere, lesser quality 70’s rock that was huge) continues with Ted Nugent (Lourds, Amboy Dukes), Alice Cooper (the Spiders, though not really local) and across the country we witness this phenomenon with John Fogerty (the Golliwogs before Creedence Clearwater Revival), Steven Tyler (the Chain Reaction before Aerosmith) and Bruce Springsteen (the Castiles before his E Street Band). But it seems from all of these artists, Seger was the closest to actually crossing-over with his garage band. And it’s that “totally-got-screwed” aspect that is so rampant in local music, experienced in different aspects by Esham, the Gories and the Romantics, that’s crucial to the Detroit music experience.

See also:
The Rationals “Respect” (Cameo)
Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels “Devil With the Blue Dress On” (DynoVoice)

  1. John Lee Hooker “Boogie Chillen” b/w “Sally Mae” (Modern)
Single-handedly legitimized the Black Bottom and the Hastings Street scene as it hit #1 on the R&B charts in 1948. Hooker, a transplanted Southerner who traveled up North for work in the factories weaves the simple story about the boogie being in him and needing to let it out. Oh to have been at Henry’s Swing Club and absorbed the atmosphere that inspired this monument of Western culture.

See also:
York Brothers “Hamtramck Mama” (Fortune)
The Gories "Telepathic" (In the Red)

Honorable Mentions:
Rocket 455 "Go to Hell" (Human Fly)
Kid Rock "I Am the Bullgod" (Continium)
The Miracles "Shop Around" (Tamla)
Little Stevie Wonder "Fingertips Pt. 2" (Tamla)
Clone Defects "Scissors Chop" (Italy)
Sonic's Rendezvous Band "City Slang" (Orchide)
Nathaniel Mayer "Village of Love" (Fortune)
Little Willie John "Fever" (King)
Madonna "Lucky Star" (Sire)
The Keggs "To Find Out" (Orbit)


x said...

2002 - Funk Brothers keyboardist Johnny Griffith dies in Detroit. He is 66.


x said...

^mine as well^

1940 - Screaming Lord Sutch is born.

Something? Anything?

x said...

im never doing this ever again.

Anonymous said...

Dostoyevsky's birthday?


NYstreetrat said...

the 1st anniversary of your blog?

Anonymous said...

The wreck of the Edmund FItzgerald on Lake Superior.


Anonymous said...

i thought this was the releance of the date was music related.

cassdetroit said...

nystreetrat gets it! yesterday was the one-year anniversary of Tremble Under Boom Lights. Email me your address and your CD-r will be mailed ASAP.

But do any of you have your own lists ? Criticisms of mine?


Anonymous said...

Your dead on with the MC5s "Looking At You / Borderline ", cant stop playing my copy since I got it , with sleeve $230 bargin. The whole list is really good , good job ben.

Henry Lea

BlackJack- said...

less than two months and wee Henry Lee is reading, writing and collecting records- definitly in the right family

Anonymous said...

Madonna, an important Detroit single? I guess it's important like other important events that have gutted Detroit.

Although Detroit's 70s punk and early 80s post-punk didn't amount to much on the national scene, it did happen. For this time, I would put Cinecyde's "Gutless Radio" up there as a snapshot of all the things that were conspiring then that rock bands now had deal with-corporate radio, corporate labels, and even corporate booking agents--all who were just a couple of years old at that time of the single's release.

Anonymous said...

Can't agree more re "Looking at You" - amazing. "7NA" is not my favorite WS single, but I get what you're saying about its importance.

Great list!


slavehand said...

What about Tin Knocker's 7" (w/ bonus CDr) on Cass, feat. Tired of You b/w Power Me Up? Or ANYTHING w/ Brian Muldoon, for that matter? The Muldoons 7" on Cass, feat. Red & Black, Drivers License b/w Destruction Boy, 70's Punk Rocker. There's A LOT of potential w/ those two youngins. I'll keep driving to Detroit for these guys. Don't forget The Upholsterers 7" on SFTRI, Makers of high grade suites, w/ Mr. Muldoon & Mr. White, very nice, wish I had one.

LMCA, their self-tittled 7" on Cass, is a remarkable piece as well. Another group of young guys w/ a whole lot of potential. Very loud & a nice one to shake your head to.

the Dirtbombs 7" feat. Possession b/w Refried Dreams on In The Red. I know that both of these are covers but dammit, it really takes some character or whatever you want to call it, to reward the listener w/ the passion that is reflected in them. Again, I'll keep making road trips for y'all as well.

The GO, on Italy (BUY ITALY RECORDS), man I would love to buy that chair from the Magic Stick.... feat. You Go Bangin' On b/w Maribel. Just got turned onto these guys, should have done so sooner. I really like what they are doing. Also has Dave Buick showcasing his talents on bass.

Anonymous said...

#1, 6, 9, 10 I agree fully. The MC5single will strip the paint off of your house and make you high at the same time. It's that good, and that loud. However, I'd also toss in the Algebra Monthers' "Strawberry Cheesecake" 45 and a whole bunch of others, mostly '60s.

Anonymous said...

sorry for the typo.