Top 100 singles of all time: 100 – Tricky – Black Steel

A little over a year ago, I posted my top 100 singles of all time, but without the context of an introduction to each song, the general wonderfulness of each track will have been lost. So I’m going to repost the list – one by one – explaining exactly why I think each song is so excellent.

We’ll start with number 100: Black Steel by Tricky.
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That live clip doesn’t do it justice, but I can’t find footage of the recorded version, which is about a billion times better. This is a great cover, because we have a British woman (Martina Topley-Bird) singing a cover of a rap by American men. Here’s the original by Public Enemy.

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Tricky takes a specific experience and expresses that rage and frustration in a frame where a wider audience (fans of trip-hop and alternative rock) can more easily appreciate it – and all without changing a word.

Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos originally appeared on Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, and was in turn built around a piano sample by Isaac Hayes (which doesn’t feature on this cover). It’s a whole little story about a prison break. A man refuses to be drafted into the army and is locked up, but steals a gun (the eponymous “black steel”) from a guard and escapes. There’s a shootout, and a corrections officer is shot. The ending is ambiguous: in the song, it’s implied the escape is successful, though the video ends with Chuck D being hanged.

Here’s Sepultura’s version.

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