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Pete Paphides

Pete Paphides is a lifelong record collector, music journalist (writing for Mojo, Q, The Times, The Guardian, among others), broadcaster (with two series of Lost Albums, one series of Follow-Up albums, two series of Vinyl Revival and now the weekly Soho Radio show 12pm-2pm).

About a year ago, Liz Buckley at Ace asked me if I would be up for compiling a list of my favourite songs from the Ace catalogue. It was hard to know where to begin. After a while, I figured that a good way to narrow down the infinite choices available to me might be to go through my own collection and put together a continuous vinyl mix of songs that can be found in Ace’s vast inventory. So that’s exactly what I did. Twenty-eight years have elapsed since I bought the first record on this playlist (3 Mustaphas 3, Birmingham HMV, 99p). The most recent purchase happened two days ago in a Crouch End record shop. With its scarcely-seen red-and-white Brit label, The Anglos’ ‘Incense’ looked intriguing enough to play on the shop turntable. Then, not for the first time and probably not the last, I smashed through the budget I had set for myself. Hopefully, when you hear it, you’ll see why leaving it behind was not an option. And if you want to own a copy too, then hats off to the good folk at Ace, who have ensured you won’t have to shell out silly record collector money for it.


Pete's Ace Playlist by Pete Paphides on Mixcloud


Selected releases

  • 3 Mustaphas 3 ‘Si Vous Passez Par La’

    Aged 17, I picked this up from the HMV sale, purely because of the cover which showed members of the band holding a selection of instruments which included a violin and a bouzouki. The combination of violin and bouzouki had to be a promising one. And so it came to be. A succession of lilting minor chords are the co-ordinates which map out this tale of unrequited longing. Though I would have to wait several years to find this out, the song is a French chanson, also known as ‘Sérénade Argentine.’ Other versions are great too, but you’ll have to go to this one for the killer bouzouki solo.

  • Johnny Jenkins ‘I Walk On Gilded Splinters’

    Since the original appeared on Dr John’s “Gris-Gris” album in 1968, several people have attempted to harness this song’s dark swampy power. Versions by Marsha Hunt, Paul Weller, Cher and Humble Pie are worthy of note, but it’s hard to imagine any version topping the one which heads up Johnny Jenkins’ 1970 album “Ton-Ton Macoute” and – by virtue of that sample – helped Beck score his breakthrough worldwide hit with ‘Loser’. 

  • Martha & The Vandellas ‘Easily Persuaded’

    It’s impossible to pick up any Martha & The Vandellas album and not find a handful of songs that justify whatever you spent on them. This barnstorming declaration of regret over the a lover spurned – taken from 1970’s “Natural Resources” – is a case in point. “If you want to change my mind/I can be easily persuaded,” sings Martha, who sounds pretty persuasive herself. 

  • Betty Wright ‘Clean Up Woman’

    Another song about a letting a good man go and rueing the consequences, although it should be added that Betty Wright was much more savvy than the protagonist of the song. She was 12 when she released her first single on Alston Records in 1966 and, by the end of the 60s, was helping to find other artists for the label. ‘Clean Up Woman’ gave Betty her biggest hit in 1972, reaching the Billboard top ten that year. The ensuing decades have done nothing to diminish the song’s magnificence. Her performance of the song on Jools’s Hootenanny in 2012 (featuring – who knew? – Jools on GUITAR) is an absolute joy.

  • Arthur Prysock 'Only A Fool Breaks His Own Heart'

    It’s complicated. ‘Only A Fool Breaks His Own Heart’ was written in 1964 by an American duo Norman Bergen and Shelly Coburn, in response to a request by United Artists who were looking for a hit for British duo Chad & Jeremy. In the end, they decided to give it to Long John Baldry, who failed to secure a hit with it. Then, back in the States, someone had the idea of giving the song to jazz crooner Arthur Prysock. On the 1964 album Prysock recorded with Count Basie, the liner notes suggest that Arthur is “one of the great poets of song”. With material like this at his disposal, he justified the billing. And yet Arthur’s version fared no better than Long John’s version or, for that matter, renditions by the Mighty Sparrow, Tom Jones or Jackie Edwards. 

  • Ofra Haza 'Lefelach Harimon'

    Ofra Haza was a superstar in her native Israel and desperately wanted to be one elsewhere. She didn’t imagine that her breakthrough record would be an album of traditional songs that Yemenite Jews such as herself would have grown up singing. As Wally Brill, who later produced her, said: “It’s on a par with Cheryl Cole deciding that her next album will be comprised of Northumbrian fishing shanties.” The hit which made it all happen was the first track on “Yemenite Songs”, ‘Im Nin’Alu’. First, it was sampled by Coldcut on Eric B & Rakim’s ‘Paid In Full’, then Ofra signed a deal with Warners. In between, however, it was GlobeStyle who put out “Yemenite Songs” and finally gave Ofra Haza the profile she so desired outside of Israel. Given that you probably already know ‘Im Nin’Alu’, I’ve plumped for another song from this wonderful record. 

  • Keiko Mari 'Tsukikage No Rendezvous'

    It’s hard to think of anyone who could have put together an album like “Nippon Girls: Japanese Pop, Beat & Bossa Nova” other than Sheila Burgel. The editor of www.chachacharming.com, Sheila has devoted all of her adult life to gathering the definitive collection of records by girl groups and female pop singers. Her expertise extends well beyond her native New York, in this case, as far asJapan. I could have chosen any track from “Nippon Girls”, but this one from Keiko Mari – a pleasingly ersatz lounge pop confection, given period sparkle from nonsensical spoken English interjections from a gentleman friend – is a once-heard, never-forgotten treat.

  • Jacqueline Taïeb 'Le Coeur Au Bout Des Doigts'

    An avowed Anglophile, Tunisian-born French singer Jacqueline Taïeb’s first hit ‘7 Heures Du Matin’ was about a girl who fantasises about Paul McCartney. The scintillatingly funky ‘Le Coeur Au Bout Des Doigts’ appeared less than a year later, on her third EP, and ensures that Ace International’s indispensable 2013 comp “C’Est Chic” hits the ground running without subsequently pausing for breath.

  • Brigitte Bardot 'Harley Davidson'

    The emphasis of ‘Harley Davidson’ changes dramatically when transferred from its author (Serge Gainsbourg) to the person singing it. Written down, Gainsbourg’s words read like the wish-fulfilment of an outsider willing his inner Brando to burst forth. But by the time Brigitte Bardot recorded and performed it for a 1967 TV variety show, it seemed to mean something very different. Writhing all over her Harley Davidson she seemed to want for nothing or no-one else. Why yearn after a man when you have one of these? 

  • Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames 'Music Talk'

    Like Sinead O’Connor and Prince’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ or Nilsson and Badfinger’s ‘Without You’, Georgie Fame clearly saw something in this track from Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight” album that had even eluded its author. Clearing away any extraneous instrumentation, Georgie’s version has you onside right at the very beginning with John Mitchell’s magnificent drum intro. From thereon in, it’s a three-way battle for supremacy between that rhythm, the cocksure gurgle of Georgie’s Hammond and the thermal upswell of the brass section. Dancing isn’t so much an option as a long lovely reflex action.

  • Neil MacArthur 'She’s Not There'

    After The Zombies’ “Odessey & Oracle” failed to make a commercial impact, the typically undemonstantive Colin Blunstone cut his losses and got a job in the burglary department at Sun Alliance Insurance. That would have been that, were it not for the fact that producer Mike Hurst had a bizarre plan for him. He was to record a solo version of ‘She’s Not There’ under the nom de plume Neil McAndrew. “I can’t tell you why because I don’t understand myself,” Blunstone told me a few years ago, “It was going to be James McArthur, but there’s a James McArthur in Hawaii Five-O, so we thought that would be confusing.” For viewers who tuned in to Top Of The Pops only to see the lead singer of The Zombies singing The Zombies’ best-known song under a pseudonym, this was confusing enough. But never mind – Mike Hurst’s arrangement is a revelatory blend of zippy drums, autumnal flute and ominous strings all building up to rattling climax. Blunstone, as ever, sounds like he always does, like a quintessentially English lost soul trying not to draw undue attention to his predicament. 

  • Scott Walker 'Angelica'

    From one lost soul to another, Scott Walker spent most of his time as a Walker Brother complaining about the existential torment that being a pin-up seemed to confer upon him. His grumbling was almost as constant as the letters to Disc and Record Mirror from readers suggesting that he should put up or shut up. He wanted to be taken more seriously and the release of his 1967 solo debut showed that he certainly deserved to be. His version of Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann’s ‘Angelica’ achieved the almost impossible feat of surpassing the version that Gene Pitney had recorded the previous year. And, as you almost certainly know, the rest of the album is no less breathtaking.

  • Terry Callier 'Dancing Girl'

    The opening song from Callier’s third album occupies the same place in his canon as, say, ‘Astral Weeks’ on Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” or ‘Emily’ on Joanna Newsom’s “Ys”: an opening shot so audaciously brilliant that you wonder if the rest of the album can maintain the standard. And, like, those songs, ‘Dancing Girl’ takes leave of its apparent subject matter into a rapturous fever dream that holds you in its spell for every ensuing moment. Credit here must also go to Charles Stepney, who animates Callier’s words with a string arrangement as iridescently cosmic as one might expect from the man who created the Rotary Connection.

  • The Dramatics 'The Devil Is Dope'

    Detroitsoul vocal group the Dramatics are probably best known for ‘In The Rain’ and ‘Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get’ but their indisputable sky-high masterpiece is this paean to the dangers of hard drugs. Other compilations feature the abridged single version, but Ace’s “Superbreaks Presents: Stax Breaks” has the full 5:23 version with the majestic string-laden outro that follows the warning, “Don’t you help your pusherman!”. Factor into the equation a rhythm that defies you not to move and you’ve got a valuable addition to any DJ box.

  • Raw Spitt 'Songs To Sing'

    It’s hard to think of a more celebrated soul anthology to have emerged in the past 30 years than “Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures”, and selections like this are the reason why. Released four years before the end of the Vietnam war, Spitt’s address “strikes a perfect balance between compassion for those who suffer, and anger at the perpetrators.” (Godin’s liner notes) 

  • Rita & The Tiaras 'Gone With The Wind Is My Love'

    Original copies of this 1967 single, featuring former Ray Charles backing vocalist Rita Graham, have changed hands for upwards of $2000. And, really, if I had no other way of hearing ‘Gone With The Wind Is My Love’, I think I’d be moved to part with a similar sum. All the components that made it a Wigan Casino floor-filler are in place: the restive unrelenting quality of the arrangement and a vocal perfectly suspended between desolation and dignity. There are a billion ways to fall short of perfection when recording a song but only one way to achieve it. ‘Gone With The Wind Is My Love’ reminds you what a miracle it is when the latter happens.

  • Marie ‘Queenie’ Lyons 'See And Don’t See'

    Another record that soul collectors dream about finding. Marie ‘Queenie’ Lyons performed extensively on the Southern chitlin’ circuit with the likes of King Curtis and Jackie Wilson before releasing a succession of singles and, in 1970, a similarly sought-after album, “Soul Fever”. There seem to be a few songs on this playlist by women desperately coming to terms with the end of a relationship. ‘See And Don’t See’ is another one – a forlorn resolution to pretend that life is exactly the same as it was before, because “if I ever, if I ever face reality/I know, yes I know, that’s gonna be the end of me.” But the real genius in ‘See And Don’t See’ lies in its divine marriage of incongruent parts: on one hand, that hair-raising vocal; and on the other a funk guitar lick which acts as an impassive, unchanging Greek chorus to the protagonist’s slow disintegration. That’s some ground to cover in three minutes. Only The Smiths’ ‘The Queen Is Dead’ can rival ‘See And Don’t See’ for the title of most unwelcome fade in pop history.

  • Garnet Mimms 'A Quiet Place'

    On paper, a song about having noisy neighbours doesn’t sound overly promising, but Garnet Mimms’ 1964 single strains for something a little deeper. Over a gentle rolling tempo, we hear about the couple in the apartment who won’t stop arguing; the man next door who plays the radio all night and the miaowing cat under his window, but Garnet itemises them with the sorrowful air of a man who may have greater trouble silencing the noises in his head.

  • The Drifters 'Aretha'

    The 1966 B-side of ‘Baby What I Mean’ gained some popularity at Manchester’s legendary Twisted Wheel club two or three years after its release. It isn’t hard to see why. What’s slightly harder to explain, however, is how it came to be a B-side in the first place. The mariachi-flecked arrangement is an absolute joy. And the Top 10 credentials of that chorus are evidenced by the fact that Unit 4+2 scored a hit with an almost identical one (‘Concrete and Clay’) a year previously.

  • The Anglos 'Incense'

    Threads on various message boards attest to the fact that just one listen was enough to hook anyone who heard this 1965 single on its first release. Rumours circulated at the time that the vocalist might be a pseudonymous Steve Winwood. In fact, The Anglos were based across the Atlantic in Virginia, but when Chris Blackwell of the fledgling Island label heard it, he issued it on Brit, the confusingly named label he set aside for US-licensed releases. The writer and co-producer of Incense is Jimmy Miller – and the atmosphere he helps to capture on this jittery R&B barnstormer, not least as the “dancing… dancing” refrain gives way to a succession of increasingly unhinged trumpet embellishments. Though it never scraped the top 50, interest in the record remained sufficient enough to prompt two more reissues. If it sounds this thrilling now, imagine how it must have sounded 50 years ago.

  • Troy & The T-Birds 'Twistle'

    It’s 54 years since this American collar-upturned rock’n’stroll instrumental gained a British release, but its mood-enhancing qualities remain undiminished. If there’s any production to speak of, it consists of allowing the needle to stay in the red all the way through. Everything comes in a Ready Brek glow of distortion, from the guitars to the lead vocal – which actually isn’t a vocal but some whistling, presumably from the pursed kissers of Troy himself.

  • The Persuaders 'Thin Line Between Love & Hate'

    There are few more underrated harmony-vocal 70s R&B ensembles than the Persuaders. A case in point is their eponymous 1973 album – a masterclass in vocal poise which for approximately 40 minutes hovers exquisitely between melancholy and ecstasy. They set the bar, however, a year previously, opening their account with this chilling tale of karmic comeuppance in an abusive relationship, in the process scoring their biggest US hit.

  • Louis Armstrong 'Give Peace A Chance'

    Recorded as part of his penultimate recording session in 1970 (he died a year later), Louis was already to ill to contribute trumpet – and he doesn’t need to do much here other than sing the song’s main hook – but the combination of a pleasingly percolating funk bassline and New Orleans piano interjections reward repeated listens.