List Item: Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die
Hammond Song – The Roches
It’s nice to be back in the 1001 songs list. Weird how with the coronavirus lock-down we have somehow not been having time to do these – then again this is only the second weekend of what might be a long time. Anyway, let’s go back to 1979 as a bit of a temporary escape and wrap ourselves in the stunning harmonies of the Roche sisters. Not since doing the Mamas and the Papas have I heard such incredible harmonies in a folk song in this songs list.
Hammond is a place and not, as I thought, a reference to a Hammond organ. The production is minimal with the volume of the harmonies occasionally overwhelming my speakers and, probably, the causing the recording equipment to peak. With them, a guitar and another backing instrument I am not sure of, the voices of the sisters truly shine. It’s a stunning piece of folk that has a beautiful simplicity that you just don’t see nowadays.
Heaven – Talking Heads
I liked Remain in Light and have liked a number of other things that David Byrne has done before or since this song. However, I am at odds as to why this song would be included. It makes sense if you are making a list of David Byrne songs you must hear in order to hear his different facets, but there are any number of produced secular visions out there so I am not sure why this was chosen for the list. It’s fine and might make more sense in the context of the parent album, but not so much as a standalone.
The Eton Rifles – The Jam
I didn’t know this song by name, but the moment the chant of ‘Eton Rifles’ came in I had this big moment of recognition. As a genre work, ‘The Eton Rifles’ has definite punk leanings but feels very sixties. Guess that this is the sort of music that was another off-shoot of the punk implosion and a song that, given the lack of testing for coronavirus for those unable to pay for it, feels relevant once again as a poke at the upper classes playing pretend. I can see how Paul Weller would be apoplectic that an Etonian like David Cameron would love the song he wrote – but then again it’s a good shout song no matter your politics.
London Calling – The Clash
Man, it’s been years since I wrote up the parent album as part of my Acclaimed Albums list. This is an actual apocalyptic song and I am listening to it at a time when people are using that word rather cavalierly. Good grief, so many of these songs are making me think of the coronavirus pandemic happening in the world outside the apartment. The apocalypse in here is more about nuclear apocalypse because of this being written during the Cold War – not being devastated by some sort of awful virus.
Like ‘The Eton Rifles’, ‘London Calling’ is another song whose genre is a concoction made in the wake of punk. This time, it’s a punk feeling with a reggae beat in the back – which I guess as a genre would soon start to crystalise into ska. I would hope that the next song would help take me away from coronavirus, but it’s Joy Division.
Transmission – Joy Division
Ah yes transmission, like the transmission of coronavirus. Sorry, I’ll be good. This has absolutely nothing that can make me think of the pandemic other than the need to sometimes just accept and dance like no one’s watching until we all fall down.
‘Transmission’ is amazing. Like a proper amazing post-punk song that is so cavernous in it’s sound that it makes me think of the xx if they ever decided to go punk. There is a truth in this song that sometimes ignorance is bliss, so just dance to the radio and what you are being fed. In modern times, where we are more and more inundated with all the information available on the internet, a song like this can still apply to the echo chambers we create online that have helped create flat-earth and anti-vaxx movements. For me, it might become a good song to make me stop checking news constantly through the lock-down and just dance.
Voulez-Vous – ABBA
Okay, I am always happy to see ABBA on a list like this. I adore them as a band to the point of having gone to the ABBA museum in Stockholm and will play their albums every now and then. Maybe it’s because I love them that I am interested as to why ‘Voulez-Vous’ is one of the three songs to end up on the 1001 list. Like, I really get ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘The Winner Takes It All’, but this feels like a more normal song of theirs.
Then again, this is a song that marks the end of disco. It’s the only song of theirs that I can think of that has a prolonged dance break – let alone a disco dance break. And, unlike the disco breaks elsewhere, ABBA knew how to pitch the timing perfectly so you didn’t get too bored or too tired. Sure, there is a mix out there with a longer break for the clubs but thank you ABBA for making a good at home version.
Beat the Clock – Sparks
Right, so I adored ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us’ because of the glam and gun shot ridiculousness. I don’t know why, but I never went outside of that song to explore more of their discography. With ‘Beat the Clock’ that is going to change. Listening to this I had two main thoughts – firstly how amazing is it that synthpop is finally here in the 1001 list. Also, holy hell this is exactly what you consider 1980s music and the Sparks managed to pre-date thanks to this collaboration with Giorgio Moroder. It never ceases to amaze me when this list throws up a song like this which pre-dates what you expect, but this one in particular has given me so much joy.
Oliver’s Army – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
A new wave song with ABBA keyboards and a catchy chorus that is in fact a comment on The Troubles in Northern Ireland – the titular Oliver being a reference to Oliver Cromwell and his army who invaded Ireland in the 1600s. I am always a fan of a song that sounds cheerful but, under the surface, is a darker side – so ‘Oliver’s Army’ is right up my street. The melody is upbeat and so well written as a counter-point to the lyrics which reference The Troubles as well as the Berlin Wall and acts of British imperialism. It’s radio-friendly almost pop, that slam you when you read the lyrics – plus the cover of the parent album is glorious to look at.
Tusk – Fleetwood Mac
Ending the first third of 1979 with the first single released by Fleetwood Mac after the cultural juggernaut of Rumours. This is something that is utterly different and you have to appreciate the risk that a song like this would have been for a band who were having to make a follow-up to one of the biggest albums of all times.
It’s pretty much all drums and the occasional brass interruption. Sure there are some lyrics in here, but they’re secondary to the relentless drumbeat – based on the music that was used when they would come out on stage when on tour. The change in direction is interesting and I would like to see where this more avant-pop leads them on an album, as a standalone song I am yet to be convinced.