List Item: Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die
Spanish Harlem – Ben E. King
Okay so here we are in 1961 and we have a another proto-Wall of Sound production rich with echoes and (because why not) a rather prominent marimba line.
This comes under the soul label, but because of the percussion in this there is more than a hint of Latin influence here. I want to say something along the lines of a soul samba song. We’ll be back with Ben E. King very soon.
Mad About the Boy – Dinah Washington
You might know this song from a Levi advert with a hot swimmer in it. I think I knew this from a number of adverts for television programmes that have used this version.
This is not your typical musical song as many of the verses are done using speak-singing. It’s what helps to make it so distinctive through her sultry delivery. Obviously she does sing in this, but her inflection as she says the word ‘boy’ makes this very sexual.
The writer, Noel Coward, had a version of this where a male character would chime in. So yes, not your typical song from the 1932.
Lazy River – Bobby Darin
Okay I was just waiting for ‘Lazy River’ to change into ‘Be Bop A Lula’. By 1961 we are reaching the end of the big band songs and, to be honest, I would have been happier if we had just Bobby Darin behind with ‘Mack The Knife’.
The production may be bigger, but this just feels like yet another big band number that no longer impresses as the world changes around it. Not sure how many of this ilk we have left, possibly just Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ and that’s it.
Back Door Man – Howlin’ Wolf
Not about anal sex. Get your mind out of the gutter.
This the first of a Howlin’ Wolf double (and I think the last time we have a double bill) and is about a man who uses the backdoor to escape after engaging in an affair with a married woman. So you have a black singer playing into every racist white man’s fear. Fair enough.
Just his voice makes this feel like a grittier and more sexual blues than we have been used to so far. Only Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ delivery back in 1956 seems to have this similar sort of delivery. Unsettling and interesting.
The Red Rooster – Howlin’ Wolf
Again we have the same gravelly delivery in a rather different kind of blues song. Still sexually charged… but this might just be him.
The occasional interupption by Howlin’ Wolf using the slide guitar makes this blues song rather discordant. Yet it doesn’t feel too intrusive. Just one of those things that make this song different. I did, however, prefer ‘Back Door Man’.
Johnny Remember Me – Johnny Leyton
Oooh ghostly. With production by Joe ‘Telstar’ Meek this is really unlike anything that we have heard before.
The whole thing feels like something that should have been featured on the High Plains Drifter soundtrack. Love it.
It’s that excessive amount of echo in the vocals of Johnny Leyton and the spooky female back vocals that just make this stand out from anything we have heard so far. It appears this is the only song produced by Joe Meek to feature on the list… which is a real pity.
I Fall to Pieces – Patsy Cline
From the otherworldly spookiness of ‘Johnny Remember Me’ we find ourselves slammed back to Earth with a mournful country song. The first of two Patsy Cline songs in this run of songs.
It’s one of those typical country torch songs delivered in a beautiful contralto. The fact that she was one of the first female country singers to have a crossover hit.
Of course, as we have found we a number of singers in the early parts of the list, she died incredibly young in a plane crash. Even though she died at 30 she has really left her mark in the nurturing of other female country singers; most notably Loretta Lynn.
Stand by Me – Ben E. King
This is the song that Ben E. King is most remembered for – and the only reason he recorded it was because he had time left over from his recording session for ‘Spanish Harlem’.
We have yet another distinctive production by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, but this time it does not distract as much from King’s vocals as it did with ‘Spanish Harlem’. He feels a lot more central, which is something you need for a song like this.
Blue Moon – The Marcels
It’s been a while since we had a good piece of doo-wop and The Marcels do not disappoint with this fast-paced version of ‘Blue Moon’.
This is a well known slow song, but it’s not the lyrics about the titular blue moon that sticks out. No it’s the scat singing (at least I think that’s what it’s called) that frames the song which sticks with you. Who needs a genre label, right!
Crazy – Patsy Cline
We are back with Patsy Cline to finish out 1961 and we have a traditional pop song (Wikipedia says it’s country… but I would dispute that unless this is based solely on the type of guitar being used).
‘Crazy’ is substantially more complex than ‘I Fall To Pieces’ when it comes to the melody. It allows Patsy Cline to show off a lot more of her range and just dominate the song.
It feels more like something that Nat ‘King’ Cole might have sung at the time. I guess that Patsy Cline being this crossover singer actually makes more sense now that I have heard this.