The 10 best 7" singles of all time, by Steve Lamacq

Portrait of BBC Radio DJ Steve Lamacq photographed in London. 23rd October 2007
(Image: © Getty Images)

“If I was being brutally honest, I'm a bit hungover,” Steve Lamacq admits sheepishly as he joins Louder via telephone from his London home. It’s the morning after he’s received news that his BBC 6 Music radio show has made the shortlist for the Broadcasting Press Guild Awards, and he’s rightfully spent the evening celebrating. “It's the most unlikely nomination – we're up against Hilary Mantel's The Reith Lectures from Radio 4 and a series made by the guy who used to run The British Museum. It's a load of really highbrow Radio 4 programmes, and then a show that plays pop records. It's really odd.”

It’s not that odd, though. Much like his spiritual predecessor and BBC Radio contemporary John Peel before him, Lamacq’s show has transformed the voyage of musical discovery into an art form in its own right. With his infectious enthusiasm and taste for experimentation, Lamacq has often used his show to prove that the most rewarding discoveries are the ones you make when you allow yourself to step outside your comfort zone, especially when it comes to his specialist interest in 7” singles. With a collection which has been almost 40 years in the making, we were curious to find out which 10 had made the biggest impression on him over the years.  

So, after some debate, Lamacq takes us through them one by one: the 10 7” singles that changed his life.

The Lurkers - Ain't Got A Clue (Beggars Banquet, 1978)

"This wasn't my introduction to punk rock – that would have been about a year earlier, when I heard Do Anything You Want To Do by Eddie And The Hot Rods and Something Better Change by The Stranglers in the same week – but The Lurkers ended up being, I suppose, my favourite band of that latter end of the punk era – so '77 going into '78. I heard it on the most unlikely of radio programmes, which was Kid Jensen's drive time programme on Radio 1. Radio 1 was really quite commercial and staid at the time, but Jensen moved into the drive time slot and actually played some quite good stuff. 

"This record is two minutes 15 seconds long and it's everything that a teenage boy feels when he feels a little bit on the outside of everything. It just seemed to sum up that confusion and isolation that you go through when you're 13 years old, and yeah, 'ain't got a clue'. It's brilliant. So I bought the single – the single comes with a gold flexi disc which features some outtakes from the album – and about three months later I went to see The Lurkers. It was the first gig I ever went to see: The Lurkers in September '78 at the Chancellor Hall in Chelmsford, which was obviously mind-blowing for a kid of my age. 

"It's very much a single which epitomised hearing something on the radio, falling in love with a song which you can't wait to go out and buy, and then it becomes more than just a single; it becomes the opening to what has been a fanboy relationship I've had with them ever since. They celebrated 40 years since they put out their first single last year, so three of The Lurkers came on the programme and it was embarrassing the amount of fawning I was doing. 

"This got to something like 45 I think on the charts, and legend has it that they were due to appear on Top Of The Pops, but it was the week of the technicians' strike so there was no Top Of The Pops that week. The next next week, the record had gone down, so they missed their chance."

The Clash – (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais (CBS, 1978)

"Have you seen a copy of White Man In Hammersmith Palais? It doesn't come in a picture sleeve, but it does have this amazing pop art picture logo. I don't even know who the artist is – I should, really – but it's a gun pointing at you. 

"When I was trying to sign Elastica to my record label which I'd just started, obviously there was quite a lot of competition and we had no money or anything. The only thing we had on our side was that we were going to put out a record, because at the time, in the 90s, a lot of people were just putting out CDs. But I'd been on the road with a rep from Rough Trade distribution, and a few shops around the Midlands still had little racks of 7" singles. So that's when I thought, 'We should do the first Elastica single on 7" only, because I think that would be a really cool thing to do'. Plus – and this is what I said to Justine [Frischmann, Elastica frontwoman] – 'I want it to sound like Teenage Kicks, but I want it to look like White Man In Hammersmith Palais'. That's why the first four Elastica singles all have colour picture labels. They're all paintings exactly like The Clash's White Man In Hammersmith Palais was. 

"White Man In Hammersmith Palais is still one of the greatest – not just 7" singles, it's one of my favourite songs of all time. It's just so powerful. John Peel and The Clash introduced me to reggae as well, so this was partly my gateway into that. But it's such a brilliant song, and like I say, it looks terrific."

Terminal - Hold On (Cargo Records, 1980)

"I've got, still now, about 30-odd cassettes of stuff that I recorded off the John Peel programme in the late '70s and very early '80s. Obviously if you didn't get a single when it came out at the time, you just never saw it again – particularly some of the limited run, little bedroom labels who were putting out records all over the country. There were records that even if you tried to order them, record shops where I grew up around Essex just never got hold of them. Years later now you occasionally see them popping up on the internet – in some cases for ridiculous sums of money. 

"Hold On by Terminal is one of the tensest songs. You know when some people say 'Oh, it's a slow burner' – it sort of builds up, and it builds up, and it builds up – it's the absolute epitome of that. It's like someone wrestling with their emotions until they just let it all go. I guess it's a new-wave record, a sort of post punk-record in a way, but it's a really, really tense record, and it just goes mad. Again, in my head it was a way of unleashing teenage angst, but it's a great record. 

"So, I had it on cassette for years and years and years, and about three years ago I saw a copy come up online and yeah, it's the most I've paid for a 7" single. Which is about £75, I think."

Innocent Vicars – She's Here (No Brain Records, 1980)

"The Innocent Vicars were a band from around St Albans, and this is one of those records that they probably only pressed about 1000 copies of, I guess. It was on their own label, No Brain Records, and again I heard it on the radio, bought it at Parrot Records in Ipswich, and thought no one else in the world probably had any idea who The Innocent Vicars were, or had heard this record, until I went to journalism college. On the Thursday of the first week, obviously you're all strangers to each other, but a few of us in our class decided that we'd go out for a drink. I set next to this guy. It seemed like he was a pretty nice fella – even though his main obsession was Bob Dylan, and my main obsession at the time was a punk band called The Partisans – but we were chatting away; you know, when you're trying to find some mutual ground musically. He comes from Harpenden or something, and he mentioned some local bands, and mentioned The Innocent Vicars. And I was, 'What, The Innocent Vicars? She's Here, by The Innocent Vicars?!' 'Yeah, The Innocent Vicars, yeah...' And they were older boys from a similar neck of the woods to where he'd grown up. But he'd heard this record and it just seemed so unlikely that somebody else had heard this, I just never conceived that anyone else would have remembered this record. 

"We bonded over this record and we were best mates all through college and beyond. It was only years later when I looked at the sleeve [that I realised] rhythm guitar and vocals in The Innocent Vicars is by Richard Norris – that's Richard Norris who later went on to be The Grid and had those hits with them."

The Prisoners - Electric Fit EP (Big Beat Records, 1984)

"When I was writing a fanzine which was called Pack Of Lies, I got to know a band called The Price who came from Uxbridge, and Lee from this band The Price started doing bits and pieces for the fanzine. Lee at the time, he had a slightly different musical taste in terms of where he'd initially come from, because although we liked the same sort of punk/new-wave records, he was really into The Who. But, this other band he was dead into were The Prisoners. I'd not really come across The Prisoners, but then they did a thing on Channel Four where they recorded some bands at the Clarendon in London and The Prisoners were on that, all dressed in Star Trek gear. I thought, 'This is really quite interesting – I better go out and buy a record'. 

The Prisoners were one of the angriest, grumpiest, bunch of fellas you will ever come across, but we ended up going to see them quite a lot, all over the place. I remember The Price supported The Prisoners at Brunel, the Uxbridge University, so I got in to watch them sound check. We were sitting around and The Prisoners walked in as we were sitting about post-sound check. We sort of waved at them, and you could see them thinking 'Oh, god, it's those lads again'. But I've met a couple of them since and they're really good. 

"It's a slightly more moddish, psychedelic sound, which was something a bit new for me at the time. They write broken-hearted love songs really well. They do it in a really – not in a mean way, but in a way that does unrequited love with hammer and nails. I saw their last ever gig at The 100 Club, when they were just passing a bottle of whiskey around all through the gig. At the end of the gig, the keyboard player came off stage, arranged four chairs in a row, lay down and fell asleep as everyone was walking out."

Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine - Christmas Shopper's Paradise (No label, 1990)

"There was a time around the end of the '80s, start of the '90s, where people started giving away 7" singles at gigs. Which was obviously terrific, apart from you were so desperate not to leave it on the bus – it's really hard if you've not got a bag, just carrying a 7" single home, but I managed to preserve the Carter one. Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine – it's got a picture of a snowman on the front with the words 'Christmas as fuck' and a kid pointing at it saying 'You fat bastard'. On the back it says 'Well, it should be 14th December 1990, you're probably wondering where the night bus is and wishing you didn't drink so much, but what the fuck, it's nearly Christmas. Hope you enjoyed the gig, happy Christmas, Jim Bob and Fruitbat.' 

"One of the reasons for picking it, Shopper's Paradise is on their second album, but the version on the 7" single is called Christmas Shopper's Paradise and they've dropped in loads of little samples from news reports talking about [Christmas]. It starts off with 'Oxford Street, the Christmas Shopping Rush has begun' and it's always the first Christmas record we play on the 6 Music show every year."

The Evolution Control Committee - Rebel Without A Pause (Whipped Cream Mix) (Eerie Materials, 1996)

"[Excitedly] Have you heard this? Aww, man – so it's Public Enemy sampled over Herb Alpert... Hang on one second, I can probably try and play you a bit down the phone, just to give you a little idea, if I can find it... Yeah, okay, right, check this out. [Plays about 30 seconds worth of Rebel Without A Pause] How about that?! 

"This was a latter day discovery from the John Peel programme. He played a lot of stuff on this label, I think it's on Picked Egg Records or something like that [it was reissued by Pickled Egg Records in 1999] and it's a great tune. Always if I ever do one of the 7" DJ sets, or sometimes we do the final hour of Friday's programme and I'll do it all off vinyl, that's always in."

Elastica – Stutter (Deceptive Records, 1993)

"So I met Justine and eventually persuaded her to come to us [by telling her] 'We'll do a decent job for you – you don't have to sign to a major label. Sign to an independent label, sign to somebody who actually gets it and believes in you and understands where you want to go'. Then I met the rest of the band and basically did a handshake deal on doing a couple of 7" singles. But then the thing was, well, what are you going to start with? And at the time, I suppose there were people looking towards maybe doing Line Up as the first single, Vaseline was a possibility, but in the end I thought 'Well, let's go somewhere in between; we'll do Stutter first and then we'll do Line Up second'. It was a great introduction. 

"Ridiculously, we were only going to press 1000 copies – that was the original plan, because we wanted to make sure that there was some genuine excitement around it. In the end I think we pressed initially 1500 and they were all gone in a day. Even the band, I remember Annie the bassist phoning up from Brighton saying even she couldn't get a copy because they'd sold out. There was not a copy to be had in Brighton or anywhere. We didn't do it for this reason, but the knock on effect after we did that was that loads of people started putting out 7" singles again. In some ways it was a return to making something quite special, and people were doing little limited runs of good-looking 7" singles; singles that sounded really good that were pressed really well. 

"There's something amazingly sexy about it. There was a point during meeting with Justine where a couple of majors were already in for her and she was still looking just a little bit unconvinced, so I had to tell her what I call 'The Monkey Story'. Fred and Judy Vermorel – who were journalists who wrote one of the first ever books about the Sex Pistols – they later on set themselves up as social scientists. They wanted to find out if we have any primal reactions to certain things that people sell us –consumer items, things around the house. So they hired a monkey for a day, put the monkey on a stool and then showed it various items from around the house. They gave it a Post-It to see what its reaction would be and things like that. They gave the monkey a CD. The monkey took the CD, held it, looked at itself in the CD and then threw the CD away. Then they gave it a 12" piece of vinyl, and the monkey got a hard on. That is why vinyl will never die, and that's how I signed Elastica."

White Stripes – Lord Send Me An Angel (Sympathy For The Record Industry, 2000)

"I didn't know anything about this band White Stripes; I didn't know who they were. I was in America for CMJ or one of those festivals that they have in New York, and a couple of people mentioned the White Stripes to us. Some actually said to us 'Do you want to come and see the White Stripes play in Hoboken?' but I didn't want to travel out of town that far and I think I had a gig that night anyway. But the following day I went to – there was a record shop in New York which was quite close to the Tower Records on 4th and Broadway... Other Music, that's what it was called. Other Music was like Manhattan's version of Rough Trade, so I always used to go in there. I went in there the day after and was just flicking through 7" singles and came across this White Stripes 7" single and thought 'Well, I better buy one of these if people say they're good'. I went back home to the UK with it and we started playing it on Radio 1 around the same time John Peel was starting to champion the White Stripes. Little did we know, of course, that within the course of about nine months the White Stripes blew up fantastically. 

"It's a great little single. Obviously it's an old blues cover version, but it's a really good record, and it was my introduction to the White Stripes, who I knew nothing about until hearing this one 7" single. I wanted to put something in where you buy a record out of curiosity, or without knowing it or what it's going to be like, and it more than lives up to expectation. This is one of those."

Bim One Production Ft Miss Red – Nah Bwoy (Scotch Bonnet Records, 2015)

"This is a great reggae record. It came out not last year but the year before, I think. Obviously having been introduced to reggae in the '70s I'm a big fan of new reggae records that have an old-school sound or flavour to them, and this is one of those. 

"It's a great old-school sounding reggae record, brilliant vocals over the top, fantastically delivered. It's just got a terrific bass line, and it's on Scotch Bonnet Records, which is the label run by Mungo's Hi Fi, who are a Glaswegian reggae collective who do a night in Glasgow, but also go out and DJ and make records themselves. They've got a really good thing going up there – they've got a little warehouse space where they can drive their van into it, rehearse in it, it's got all the stock of their records in it and it houses their sound system as well. I've got a lot of time for Mungo's Hi Fi and this is one of the best records they've put out over the last two years. "

Tune into Steve Lamacq's radio show on BBC 6 Music on weekdays from 4-7. He's heading out on the road with his new show, Going Deaf For A Living, in May. Catch him at one of the dates below:

09 May: Jerico Arts Centre, Oxford, UK
09 May: Jerico Arts Centre, Oxford, UK
10 May: MacDevitts, Reading, UK
11 May: The Brudenell, Leeds, UK
12 May: The Cookie, Leicester, UK
15 May: 100 Club, London, UK