Standing in the living room earlier, eating some pizza, listening to the 90s playlist on the Zeppelin (Madonna to Supergrass to LFO to Skee-Lo), and on comes King Biscuit Time’s I Walk The Earth, a stand-alone solo single by Steve Mason who, at the time, was much better known as the singer in The Beta Band. In fact I think it was his debut solo material; it felt much of a kind to The Beta Band’s own music and so seemed strange that Mason released it solo, but he never did quite follow the rules.
But anyway, the song’s status as Mason’s solo debut isn’t what interested me enough to sit down and type; its status as a stand-alone-song did.
What I mean by stand-alone-song is that it never featured on an album. Nor was it really part of an EP, even though it was accompanied by a handful of (not too shabby) b-sides. It’s contextless. Isolated. Anyone who’s aware of my faint obsession with b-sides knows that I feel a strange compulsion to look after songs that have no home, the ones that are in danger of being forgotten, that I want to celebrate them. So that’s what I’m going to do in this post. I keep a playlist of stand-alone-songs on the iPod that sits in the Zeppelin’s dock. These are my top ten. In no particular order.
Orbital – Satan
Originally released in 1991, this got to stand-alone again when a re-recorded version came out on New Years Eve 1996. Only this time it was a 3CD set (remember those days) composed (bar one studio version of Satan itself) of live tracks. Consider the length of Orbital songs; it’s a live album by the backdoor for the princely sum of £6. The title track, Butthole Surfers sample and all, delights me every time. Sandwiched between Firestarter in 1996 and Come To Daddy in 1997, it made a lot of sense.
The Beatles – Paperback Writer
Of course The Beatles did loads of stand-alone-songs, as did almost every artist in the 60s; it was a different time. This Revolver-era slice of enormous bass, timeless riff, and cheeky backing vocals is probably my favourite, bar We Can Work It Out, which doesn’t qualify because of its double-A status.
The Stone Roses – Fools Gold
Of course Silvertone have done their damndest over the years to relinquish Fools Gold of its stand-alone status, sticking it on a billion compilations and appending it to every rerelease possible, but in my mind this is always the strange, beamed-in-from-another-planet moment that came significantly, decisively after the debut album.
Electrelane – I Want To Be The President
A single that fell between debut and sophomore album, this marked an important turning point in Electrelane’s career. Because it’s where they started to sing. Produced by Echoboy (him from The Hybirds), it also propels them into markedly different sonic territory, escaping postrock instrumentalism for electronic discopostpunk. The final third is irresistible. And oh that analogue burping to open…
Bark Psychosis – Blue
The swansong of Bark Psychosis mk1, even though they’d actually already become Bark Psychosis mk2 (by dint of just being Graham Sutton on his own), this is how I always wanted New Order to sound. It’s a slice of surreal dancepop, existing at the edges. There’s a glockenspiel or xylophone or maybe just a plain old keyboard chiming single notes at the end while tiny glistens of sound trip up and down on either side. It’s beautiful. I found the 12” white label of this in the corner of my office after working in the room for 2 years. Strange.
Spoon – My First Time Volume 3
So stand-alone that there’s no physical version at all, this 2005-download-only single is cut from the same cloth as Gimme Fiction and just as good as any cut actually on that record. But barely anyone’s heard it.
Blur – Music Is My Radar
Damon Albarn said before each new Blur record that it was inspired by Pavement and CAN. This single, released to coincide with their Best Of, is the only time they ever actually have sounded even remotely like CAN. But of course, ‘inspired by’ and ‘sounds like’ are massively different concepts. The mumbled vocals, the scratchy guitar, the weird sideways drumbeat; whenever I think of this, I want to play it. But I don’t think of it often enough.
LCD Soundsystem – Losing My Edge
I feel vaguely like a cheat for including this, given that a bonus disc with LCD’s debut means that pretty much everyone has it on what might as well be an album, but in spirit this is most definitely one of a kind.
King Biscuit Time – I Walk The Earth
Enormous bass drum, hi-hats that jerk you upwards; until the vocal comes in this could almost be Got Your Money by ODB and Kelis; it’s certainly Mason’s most overtly hip-hop moment, I think. It’s also blessed with some fuzzing, buzzing guitars (are they guitars?), an irresistible but understated chorus, and Mason’s voice. No matter what he sings, with whatever backing, when he layers over himself, sings harmony lines with lyrics you can’t quite make out, it breaks my heart every single time.
Aphex Twin – Windowlicker
This is 12 years old and still absolutely, completely, utterly insane. I think it’s going to destroy either my speakers or my brain every time I hear it. And yet, basically, it’s a really catchy piece of r’n’b. But twisted. So twisted. An album of stuff like this would be impossible to negotiate.