List Item: Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die
3 months of real time since last doing this. Man, these wrist injuries have really done a number on me. Anyway here goes:
It’s Only Make Believe – Conway Twitty
Conway Twitty means two things to me: a brilliantly done running joke in a Family Guy episode and a game of Trivial Pursuit being played by the stranded cast of One Foot In The Grave.
These thoughts clouded my first listen of the song. So I listened to a Fiona Apple cover of it to clear my head. By this time it is amazing to think how many people came out of the woodword with similar voices to Elvis Presley. I prefer the Fiona version (and she needs to release it), but maybe that’s just me.
Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry
Marty McFly ❤ How can anyone hear this without thinking of Back to the Future? This song symbolises to me that moment that rock and roll really got its wings and began to fly. A lot of the elements come together here so much more effectively than in the songs that lead up to it.
That guitar riff is just immortal nowadays and the whole thing just makes you want to get up and dance… oh God I’ve seen what’s next.
Move It! – Cliff Richard & The Drifters
It’s better than any of his Christmas songs I’ll have to give him that.
Cliff Richard was always meant to be Britain’s answer to Elvis Presley (a terrifying idea). When you hear this song directly after ‘Johnny B. Goode’ he is just outclassed. It is interesting, however, to see what music was doing on this side of the pond though. Next!
La Bamba – Ritchie Valens
First thing to note is how much slower this song is compared to some of the covers that came later. What this and Cliff have gone to show is how that sweet rock and roll song was just starting to permeate between borders and find live everywhere.
‘La Bamba’ straddles that line between rock and roll and tejano with a really interesting result. Ritchie Valens released this just 5 months before the famous plane crash where he died alongside Buddy Holly. Only 17. Jesus.
Yakety Yak – The Coasters
Oh my god, I just one of those moments where I completely forgot I knew this song. Now that I listen to it ‘Yakety Yak’ is a funny song of a teenager getting annoyed at having to do all the household chores.
I have no idea where I’ll know this song from, probably an advert of some sort. This is just another example of how rock and roll was branching out – this time with a bit more doo-wop thrown in.
At the Hop – Danny & The Juniors
I want something other than rock and roll! Jesus other than the Conway Twitty song this is just a unbroken run of rock and roll songs.
We are still in doo-wop territory with that piano in the background, but this time this is a song about a place where teenagers would go to dance. That’s it. I mean sure sometimes kids would take their shoes off for a ‘sock hop’, but that’s it. Imagine going to a club and being okay enough with the state of the floors to be dancing around in your socks. Simpler times.
Stagger Lee – Lloyd Price
Here we have a song with a bit more substance. Based on a folk song about a man murdering his friend. The lyrics are dark with a man begging to have his life spared for the sake of his sick wife. The description of the bullet breaking his bones as if they were glass… just wow I was expecting it to be a bit more sanitized.
I’m enjoying the repeated refrain of ‘Oh Stagger Lee’ in the background. This song might go down as the happiest suprise of this year.
Summertime Blues – Eddie Cochran
Still rocky, but this feels a bit more country. Like old style rockabilly Elvis. Where ‘Yakkity Yak’ is about a teenager pouting at chores and ‘At The Hop’ is about teenagers dancing with their socks off (still weird), ‘Summertime Blues’ is very much in that ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ vein.
He’s seen as protopunk and, considering the times, I can see how ‘Summertime Blues’ can be seen that way. He died only two years later in a car crash at the age of 21. His last action? Shielding his girlfriend from the crash. Who knows what more Eddie Cochran could have achieved.
What’s with all these young dead singers!?
Dans mon île – Henry Salvador
‘Dans mon île’ is dreamy. It’s like the ultimate antidote to all the rock and roll songs. It feels like a song you would have in a dream sequence of a stuffy office worker imagining themselves on their own private island.
This song is not quite chanson, it’s close though. It’s actually proto-bossa nova. You can hear shades of ‘Girl of Ipanema’ and the future work of the Gilberto family in ‘Dans mon île’.
Lonesome Town – Ricky Nelson
You might know this song from Pulp Fiction, it’s not one of the more explicit cuts from that film’s soundtrack but it is there.
He’s a good looking man and I just want to take him away from the Lonesome Town if you know what I mean. If you look at the album cover you’ll see what I mean.
This is rockish, but it’s more Chet Baker style vocals in tone.
Fever – Peggy Lee
Edna Krabappel bursting a balloon suit with a lit cigarette. Enough said.
Okay maybe not. ‘Fever’ was not a new song, but Peggy Lee made it what it was. It’s an incredibly sexy lounge song with new lyrics and arrangement by Peggy Lee herself (and with no credit given… damn patriarchy) that have since become the standard.
She is this song. That sultry voice, those finger clicks, that sexual charisma. Weird to think that three years earlier she wrote and sung most of the songs in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp. What a woman!
One for My Baby (and One More for the Road) – Frank Sinatra
This is one where myself and hub disagree on (then again it’s more his sort of music). I wasn’t exactly moved by this song. It was okay and it’s interesting at how this song meanders around in a torch song fashion.
Maybe I’ve missed the point?
Le poinconneur des Lilas – Serge Gainsbourg
A nice bit of chanson here combined with jazz. So different to anything we have heard so far in this batch of 1958 songs. It’s a song about a ticket punch at Lilas station (the percussion giving us the illusion of the trains).
I really enjoyed this song and the chorus where the phrase ‘des petit trous’ or ‘little holes’ is repeated. It’s a fun song and one of two songs he has on the 1001 song list (you can guess the other). This is a lot of fun!
Nel blu dipinto di blu- Domenico Modugno
This song is better known as ‘Volare’ and was actually the Italian entry at the Eurovision Song Contest back in 1958 where it came third.
Where we have had songs that are almost chanson ‘Volare’ is absolutely a chanson song, it’s just delivered in Italian instead of the more typical French.
This song is massive. Not only did it sell 20+ million copies worldwide, but it was the first winner of Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the inaugaural Grammy awards. Not bad for third place at Eurovision.
All I Have to Do Is Dream – The Everly Brothers
Another one of those “oh my God” moments where I finally have a title of a song. I know it’s uncool, but I really do feel happy whenever a song by The Everly Brothers is featured in a TV show or film.
Finally we have a song where I can start to see the elements of pop start to take shape. Sure it’s a long way before we go from ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’ to some of the trash on the radio… but it will take us via The Beach Boys and The Mamas and the Papas. That’s a journey worth taking.
To Know Him Is to Love Him – The Teddy Bears
Wall of Sound? Is that you I can hear in this Phil Spector produced song? I know he’s turned out to be modern day Phil Spector, but you have to just listen to some of that swelling production in the background and know that he is coming. It’s subtler than what you have later in his career, but it’s exciting to know this is where it starts.