24 Nov 12 | Re: The poor old unloved, overlooked CD single | Link-U-Post
Documentary on BBC4 this week about singles. (It is on the iPlayer but I won’t link to it because it’ll be gone in a week.) Now it is quite good, but it’s all about the 7 inches. There isn’t anything wrong with 7 inches, but why overlook the CD single?
There’s no denying that the CD single is somewhat unloved. The 7 inch has plenty of cheerleaders who are all dying to go on the TV and bang on about the ritual and the shortness of it and the crackle and how evocative the sleeves were, but where are the CD single supporters?
I refuse to believe that I am the only one, because CD singles were great. When I was buying them from the mid-90s onwards, they were a clear advance on the 7 inch. Even leaving aside the convenience, clarity and reliability of CDs over vinyl, the huge advantage was the extra length. You didn’t just get a B-side, but a C and D side as well – until the grouches at the chart company put a limit of three tracks on them all, but even then, you almost always got your three tracks.
And not just any tracks. The B-sides were variable, sure, but in an effort to bulk out the listing, you often got:
- live tracks
- iffy bashed out B-sides in the traditional style
- unbelievably good songs mystifyingly chucked on as a D-side (hello, Mr Gallagher)
- experimental weirdness
- previous hits by the same group.
At its best, a good CD single was like a mini-album. In fact it was better, because if all four tracks were killer, there was no filler at all. Admittedly not every D, C, B or even A-side was any good, but the fact that you had very likely never heard the three extras before when you bought the disc, and they might be awful, made it all the better when they were off the hook.
So, in the spirit of partially redressing the vinyl-worshipping imbalance of the above-mentioned documentary, and all other media, here’s a look at five gems from my personal CD single collection:
- The Cardigans - Lovefool. An outstanding example of the form. The kitsch-but-not-really lead track is great, and then you have three live versions of previous Cardigans singles (Carnival, Rise and Shine and Sick and Tired). I got this the first week of release so it only cost me £1.99 for four unarguable tracks – much cheaper than iTunes would be today. And in the iTunes era, the live tracks wouldn’t exist anyway, because they were clearly only recorded to bulk out the CD single. This was also the first CD I got that came in a cardboard case instead of plastic, instilling a love of cardboard CD cases that endures to this day.
- Kenickie - I Would Fix You. Heartbreakingly lovely lead track, an excellent shouty B-side called Packed In which preserves the connection to first-album punky Kenickie, and perhaps the greatest ever example of the indie remix. This is the mighty Mint Royale remix of I Would Fix You, which chucks all the big beat fun stuff in behind Lauren’s vocal to an effect so good that it sparked off an afterthought, Lauren’s guest vocal on Don’t Falter, that was itself one of the best pop-dance tracks of the time. I can tell you without looking it up what number this single got to - 36. That’s because I was convinced it was going to fly straight in at number 1, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so puzzled and angry as I was when I had to go through to the fourth page of the chart on Ceefax to find I Would Fix you’s desultory chart position (and this was the late 90s, so of course it dropped out the next week).
- Cornershop - Brimful of Asha. Now this one did get to number 1. The CD single is interesting because the version that everybody knows is actually track 2 - you get the original, acoustic guitar version at track 1 and only then the era-defining Fatboy Slim mix. Track 3 is some kind of weird, low-key electronic experiment called U-57 or some such, which provides a nice break before track 4, the extended Fatboy Slim version when Norman Cook really cuts loose with all the tricks that were about to show up on You’ve Come A Long Way Baby. I got this the first week it came out (in fact, the first day), so directly contributed to its shooting to number 1.
- TLC - Unpretty. Only three tracks here, but what tracks they are. You get Unpretty itself, a classic in its own right, then the previous hit No Scrubs, which is even better, and then the older hit Digging the Scene, which is pretty slinky too. Effectively this is a little Best of TLC EP. I bought it years after the fact from a charity shop, I think for 50p, so again, cheaper than iTunes. Don’t ask me what No Scrubs was doing on there. You might have been a bit annoyed if you’d bought the No Scrubs single.
- The Ordinary Boys - Week In Week Out. This is a release from some time after the golden age and only has two tracks, but I’m including it to show that there were still gems to be had well into the 2000s. The B-side is Hand In Hand, a lovely little unabashed love song that, towards the end, starts sounding weirdly like a children’s TV theme that I can’t quite place. (Ha! I’ve just found it on YouTube. Good, eh?)
OK, I hope you’ve enjoyed my little tribute to the joys of the CD single, and if you know anyone else who likes them as much as I do, please put them in touch. You’ll be lucky to find an advocate for cassette singles, though. I only ever bought two, both early 90s ragga, and one of them I saw on CD for cheaper in another shop later that day.
Posted by MERCUTIO at 11:33
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