List Item: Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die
Riot in Cell Block No. 9 – The Robins (1954)
Okay, so the subject matter is pretty self-explanatory. There’s a riot in the prison and things escalate pretty damned quickly. Thing is, no matter how bleak this riot became I kept expecting a shirtless man to appear drinking Diet Coke and for Etta James to chime in about how she wants to be made love to. I might have missed the point with this one…
Love for Sale – Billie Holiday (1954)
Another song from Billie Holiday, her voice has clearly started to deterioate by this 1954 recording. The song, told from the point of view of a prostitute, hits close when you know that Holiday herself was forced into prostuition when she was in her early teen. There are few artists out there who able to trump Holiday on demonstrating the sadder side of life.
The Wind – Nolan Strong & The Diablos (1954)
Listen to this and you will wonder how a man can have such a voice of Nolan Strong. He sounds like a woman, possibly even higher a contralto. This is in stark comparison to the deep voices of the Diablos who have the deep bullfrog style voices. There is something rather creepy and disconcerting about this recording, mainly due to the otherwordlyness of Strong’s voice and the large about of vibrations generated by the lower tones.
My Funny Valentine – Chet Baker (1954)
What lets this song down for me is the fact that it is so deeply embedded in pop culture that I have probably heard it a lot of times, such as during a montage scene in The Vicar of Dibley. As such I am unable to take this as seriously as I could. It is interesting to me that this is considered the standard of the song considering that Chet Baker’s voice is not as powerful as other singers who later attempted this song. He is able, therefore, to cut to the tender heart of this song much more easily than others who have turned it into a powerballad.
Shake, Rattle and Roll – Big Joe Turner & His Blues Kings (1954)
This year is considered by many as the one where rock and roll music was truly born. The next song on the list will attest to that. ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ also fits the bill as being one of the early rock and roll tracks, although this leans a lot more heavily on the traditional rhytym and blues.
(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock – Bill Haley & His Comets (1954)
And so rock and roll entered the public consciousness. I don’t think there are a lot people who have not heard this standard. Even if you are passing a 50’s style diner, it is likely that you will hear this song. Seeing how we are nearly 60 songs in, I can see how this was not the first rock and roll song, but this the song where the final shoe dropped. The line has been crossed and this is now a new genre.
I Get Along Without You Very Well – Chet Baker (1954)
Effortless is the word that comes to mind with Chet Baker. He doesn’t seem to try when he is singing, it is cool and it is relaxed. This song did not exactly hit me to be honest.
In the We Small Hours of the Morning – Frank Sinatra (1955)
If I am being completely honest, I am looking forward to the time where we are going to get to something a bit more punchy and a bit less croony. It’s coming, but I am not sure how many years away this is going to be. Don’t get me wrong, Sinatra has a remarkably smooth voice and, as traditional pop goes, this is a nice song. But that’s it. Unlike Chet Baker’s two offerings this feels toothless and without any real emotion attached (and then there is the whole other league of Billie Holiday, but let’s not go there).
Tutti Frutti – Little Richard (1955)
Ever noticed how repetitive this song is? When someone mentioned this to me it is all I can think of when I hear this song. It’s a brilliant example of rock and roll and one of the many directions it was going to take. Also, what a single to announce your solo career to the world with. You can’t not smile when this song is on. Side note: this may be the first singer who we have encountered that is still alive.
Only You (and You Alone) – The Platters (1955)
This is a really well executed song of it’s genre. It’s something I can imagine Elvis later covering and changing the instruments to make it sound a bit more rock and roll. The problem is, doo wop music has become outdated (in 2016) and, considering the songs picked for 1955, looks like it was on its way out even then.
Cry Me a River – Julie London (1955)
Ah, a classic torch song. There is something comforting about something that is skirting the line of sentimentality. Interesting how this was one of those songs that was passed between artists before being given to Julie London. She gives a smooth and restrained version with an undercurrent of anger, something that a lot of other artists might have missed. This is not a song to be overdone.
Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford (1955)
I only know this song thanks to The Simpsons and South Park. It has become one of those in pop culture that is associated with back-breaking labour for no reward (usually to a comic effect). Like with ‘My Funny Valentine’ it is not a song I can take seriously because of how it has been used comedically. Then again, I am not sure we are entirely meant to take it at face value.
I’m a Man – Bo Diddly (1955)
Again I am waiting for Etta James to step in and sing about how she wants to be made love to. Makes for a nice piece of symmetry I guess. Listening to this and Riot in Cell Block No. 9 so close together really does show up how a lot of rhythm and blues music of this era sounded similar. I think I am beginning to understand what people mean when they say everything on the charts sounds the same.