Rich Wilhelm

Singles Night

In pop music, record collecting, records, Uncategorized on April 10, 2016 at 1:06 pm

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Last night was Singles Night at our house. It was kind of a big deal.

The occasion? My friend, singer/songwriter Cliff Hillis, released a brand new 45 r.p.m. single, “Love Not War” b/w “The Buddha’s Belly,” this week. Both excellent tunes and well worth hearing (go to Cliff’s website to learn more).

Cliff had a big to-do at a local café on Friday night to introduce the single. Sadly, I was too busy falling asleep to attend the show, which by all accounts was fantastic. However, I did drop by Cliff and his wife Beth’s place yesterday and picked up the single. And, while the idea of a 45 in this millennium might seem retro (speaking of which, check out Beth’s excellent website!), Cliff is, in his way, a thoroughly modern guy, since he’s including a download of his complete seven-song Love Not War e.p. with the 45. It’s the best of both worlds.

I played both sides of Cliff’s single a few times yesterday, then declared that we’d be having a Singles Night. I rustled up a cool stack o’ wax from my vinyl collection and we listened to ’em one-by-one.

And that’s the beauty of the 45 r.p.m. single, which I seriously consider to be one of the most important cultural inventions of the 20th century. Introduced in 1949, singles became of the bedrock of popular music, allowing fans of many musical genres to grab their favorite songs in a convenient format, at a reasonable price. It’s no accident that rock’n’roll exploded within 10 years of the invention of the 45. Rock music, and all permutations thereof, owe their existence to the humble 45.

In addition to Cliff’s new tunes, we reached back to 1987 to hear “Radio Americana” by Johnny Rhythm and the Dimestore 45s (see: you could buy 45s in a dimestore. How cool was that?). This is one of my friend Ed Masley’s — aka Johnny Rhythm — great early tunes (and believe me, he’s been writing great tunes ever since, with his previous band, The Frampton Brothers, and his current combo, The Breakup Society). “Radio Americana” is a song about how corporate radio stifles the musical variety heard on the airwaves. While satellite radio may have alleviated that problem to a degree, a spin through terrestrial commercial radio — I (Heart) Radio, anyone? — will point to the notion that Ed’s song is as relevant as ever.

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Singles Night was great, but it was while drinking coffee this morning that I listened to what I believe is still the crowning achievement of the 45 as an artistic medium: “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” by the Beatles.

Artistically, of course, this Beatles single is a triumph: we are talking about artistic breakthroughs for both Lennon and McCartney. But, what is so thrilling to me about “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” is the conceptual beauty of the record. Two songs, both delving deeply into the childhood memories of the composer.

“Penny Lane”: stately, almost baroque, filled with physical detail, a catalogue of precise memories, Paul’s memories of the external world surrounding him a child. Above all, McCartneyesque.

“Strawberry Fields Forever”: swirling, psychedelic, almost no physical detail, a catalogue of internal feelings, John’s impressionistic reflections on the internal world of his childhood. Above all, Lennonesque.

Two songs, seemingly worlds apart from each other, brought together on the lowly 45 r.p.m. single, and making perfect, profound sense together. Pop music as art and memoir and, yes, as pop music, all at once.

Here’s our playlist from Singles Night. Hopefully we’ll do it again sometime soon.

“Radio Americana”/”Doin’ Time” — Johnny Rhythm and the Dimestore 45s

“Love Not War”/”The Buddha’s Belly” — Cliff Hillis

“Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” — The Beatles

“Narrator” — Hindu Love Gods

“Perdido” — Three Suns

“Cool Places” — Sparks and Jane Wiedlin

“Friends” — Whodini

“I Gotta Hole in My Heart That Goes All the Way to China” — Cyndi Lauper

“She’s Always in My Hair” — Prince

“The Big Hurt” — Miss Tony Fisher

“Kiss Me Deadly” — Lita Ford

“Rock the Boat” — The Hues Corporation

“Elenore” — The Turtles

“Eight Miles High” — Hüsker Dü

“Let The Music Play” — Shannon

“Make a Circuit with Me” — Polecats

“Harlem Nocturne” — Earl Bostic

 

 

 

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  1. Real good article.
    I haven’t bought any 45s in ages. One that I always thought was great was by the Stones: We Love You/Dandelion. Two fantastic songs.

  2. Thanks for reading! I’m looking forward to reading some of yours as well. I love those Stones songs, particularly “Dandelion.”

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Patrick F. O'Donnell

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