List Item: Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die
Is It Because I’m Black? – Syl Johnson
It’s weird to think that if I’d split the songs a different way we could have had this following straight after after ‘Je t’aime…moi non plus’. From a song banned for its explosion of sexuality to this slow funk lamenting the injustice of racism.
The thing is, at least for me, this isn’t a song, it’s a poem put to music. It’s a powerful poem about civil rights (and there are powerful lines in this) put to a slow funk backing. This music is on a loop, which means that there is little to no variation in the seven and a half minute run of the song.
It sounds harsh to say this, but this song is dull and would have been better with an impassioned reading and no music.
I Want to Take You Higher – Sly & The Family Stone
I have yet to listen to the Sly & The Family Stone album that this song came from, but I am going to venture that this song is a bit of a joyful explosion in an otherwise political album. It’s more than likely that I am going to be proven wrong on this one.
As with the previous song, there is that repetition in the backing music. I mean this is what I have come to expect from funk, that backing that doesn’t change too much between song parts (even modern songs with funk roots, such as Janelle Monae’s ‘Tightrope’ does this). However, there is enough riffing and energy in the music to keep this song moving forward.
The band themselves are an interesting part of music history since it contained a mix of race and gender – something that I don’t think I’ve seen so far on the song list. Did it really take until 1969 before we had such an integrated band? That, in itself, is shocking.
The Court of the Crimson King – King Crimson
Oh hi progressive rock, how good it is to see you again. I signalled in a previous post that we were seeing the morphing of psychedelic rock into progressive rock and I think ‘The Court of the Crimson King’ helps to provide a look at that jumping off point.
This is a song that could not have existed without The Beatles having previously experimented with songs like ‘A Day in the Life’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’. Similarly you have the trailblazing done by Brian Wilson and Frank Zappa which lead to bands being able to have that much more creative control in the studio. I cannot imagine King Crimson even dreaming of putting together this grandiose piece without those three artists coming before them.
As with a lot of the jazz and classical music that prog rock likes to emulate, ‘The Court of the Crimson King’ has parts/movements. It never stays too long on one section and yet everything is tied together by that Mellotron. Hearing this in proper context, this song is groundbreaking. I need to listen to this album again.
Whole Lotta Love – Led Zeppelin
It’s says a lot about Led Zeppelin II where two songs off the album appear in the 1001 songs list. It speaks for the album’s variation and importance as even the Beatles didn’t manage that feat.
I find it hard to get past the fact that the main riff of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ was the theme music to Top of the Pops… especially since this song is on the list because of that guitar riff and not the stolen lyrics.
As a song on Led Zeppelin II it stands out, but after ‘The Court of the Crimson King’ it starts to pale.
I Wanna Be Your Dog – The Stooges
When I listened to The Stooges’ eponymous album I thought of ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ as being one of the standout tracks. Now that I listen to it again I marvel at my missing the sleigh bells that are constantly being played in the background.
It’s nice to be back to a shorter rock song again and get back to the world of proto-punk. ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ feels so different to the music around it and, when you look at the massive list of cover versions on Wikipedia, really appears to have been a song that grabbed people. That distortion throughout also signposts the start of noise rock/pop… and considering that means the eventual path to Loveless it’s pretty exciting.
Kick Out the Jams – The MC5
The ‘motherfucker’ in the songs opening line might be the first swear word I have heard on the song list. It’s fairly normal to swear in songs now, but wow this instance must have courted controversy at the time. Then again this is from one of the most influential proto-punk albums of all time… so it was always going to be controversial.
One thing that’s interesting to note is that with this and ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ we are moving away from bands just trying to make loud music. We’ve had a lot of that loud music as garage rock, but that was loud for the sake of loudness. These tracks are now moving towards loud and with power. We’re not quite at Panthera level, but it won’t be soon before long.
I Want You Back – The Jackson 5
In the words of my husband, “are you ready for mood whiplash”. A 11-year old Michael Jackson and already he has all that charisma. Knowing what we know now about the goings on with the Jackson 5… well it just makes you wonder.
On the more pleasant side of things, ‘I Want You Back’ is an unusual example of soul crossing over into pop. With later releases by the Jacksons this line isn’t just crossed repeatedly, but is erased entirely.
Also worth noting is that, at least on the recording, none of the instruments were played by the Jacksons. The label would only allow session musicians on the recordings – so the only thing Jackson about this song are the vocals. So this song is pretty much a Michael Jackson song…
The Thrill Is Gone – B.B. King
And here we are, the final song of the 1960s. It has been a long time coming (and means we are nearly a third into this list) and we end with B.B. King whose last song on the list was from 1953. Talk about a long career.
As a song ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ feels like a throwback to some of the earlier blues songs, which has made me feel nostalgic for two years ago. Why? Because that’s when I started with the very first songs of 1960. It’ll probably end up taking me as long to get through the seventies… so I probably should get on that.
It’s a bit of an anti-climax to end on as it’s not too dissimilar to blues songs that went before it. At least that’s how I feel… I probably don’t know enough about the blues to comment.