Time to start on a new year. Hopefully I’ll be able to complete this one in less than six months. I don’t know why, but these 1001 songs posts are getting harder and harder to find time for to set up.
Life on Mars? – David Bowie
I don’t know how the order of songs within a year are decided, because it is not chronological, but it makes sense to start off 1971 with one of the regular contenders for best song of the 1970s.
For an artist as ever-changing as David Bowie it makes sense for one of his signature songs to sound like nothing else that came out at the same time. Part Rachmaninoff, part cabaret and all crescendo, ‘Life on Mars?’ goes well beyond in a parody of the Frank Sinatra version of ‘My Way’.
It’s a song that is able to stir up emotions that aren’t quite easy to pin down. You just feel… moved.
Get It On – T.Rex
Well that’s it, I guess that between the first two songs from 1971 we have the signal that glam rock has arrived. We had rumblings of this with The Velvet Underground in previous years, it’s just that the message has reached the UK.
Where ‘Life on Mars?’ feels very much a European-influenced creation, ‘Get It On’ takes on the Hammond organ and some funk elements from across the pond to create a glam rock sound that is almost American.
Blackwater Side – Anne Briggs
A bit of a folk break now (with one of my favourite 1970s folk songs coming up soon) as we stay in the UK for something rather traditional. Compared to the previous two songs ‘Blackwater Side’ is incredibly stripped back with just Anne Briggs and her guitar and does make you wonder if a song really does need all the window dressing we give it.
If you look at Anne Briggs’ discography it would be fair to assue that she’d died or went through some sort of accident. Quite the contrary, she is still very much alive and just decided to stop singing because of nerves. It’s a pity.
I Don’t Want to Talk About It – Crazy Horse
Something a bit more country here, but in a depressing dirge-like way. This song is like that annoying friend who clearly wants to talk to you about their ex-boyfriend, but won’t unless you’ve asked them 3 or 4 times. By the end of it you feel like you’ve watched someone flagellate themselves repeatedly and is ready to go off for a good wallow.
A Case of You – Joni Mitchell
Where Anne Briggs was singing a traditional song that told a story of someone that died a long time ago, here we have Joni Mitchell singing something a lot more personal.
Compared to ‘Blackwater Side’, ‘A Case Of You’ has so many layers of emotional nuance because of Joni Mitchell’s proximity to her own feelings. It’s a song about being so drunk in love with someone, but written after that particular relationship has ended (much like the rest of Blue). The song itself is in the past, but the delivery is in the present and so there is a mix of sadness and joyousness in her voice. It’s like what Butters once said in South Park about break-ups, it’s a beautiful sadness.
Crayon Angels – Judee Sill
This is the first year where we’re starting to see a swell in the number of female singer-songwriters, although they are almost exclusively in the folk genre. I guess that would make sense as folk was part of the counter-culture and a female singer-songwriter is somewhat against the norm.
‘Crayon Angels’ is the first track on Judee Sill’s eponymous album, the first of two that she released before she died from a drug overdose. Short career and yet her legacy persists with Laura Viers, one of my favourite singer-songwriters, writing ‘Song for Judee’ for the excellent case/lang/veirs album.
Famous Blue Raincoat – Leonard Cohen
The final from the folk world in this batch of songs. It’s a song about a man distancing himself from a love-triangle, but for me the most interesting thing about this song was a reference to Scientology. It’s subtle, but it’s there.
I don’t have much to say on this song, it didn’t work for me.
Chalte Chalte – Lata Mangeshkar
And now for something completely different. I love it when songs like this appear on the list as it’s this whole horizon broadening that I’m hoping will happen as a result of finishing this list. I also quite liked the song, with her voice being a real treat.
Lata Mangeshkar is listed as one of the most recorded singers of all time, with her sister currently holding the record. Lata did hold the record before it was called into a dispute… as no one really knows how many songs she’s actually sung.
From such a large back catalogue the book chose ‘Chalte Chalte’ because it’s one of the singer’s favourites of the songs she sang. It’s also one of her more known ones because of the film it forms part of the soundtrack for is critically acclaimed in her native India and amongst some Western critics.
Maggie May – Rod Stewart
From the smooth the lovely voice of Lata Mangeshkar to the rasp of Rod Stewart. ‘Maggie May’ is one of those songs that I have always heard of, but had never actually heard. In fact, I’m not sure if I’ve really heard a Rod Stewart song before the 1001 songs list, but that’s another matter.
I went into this song expecting something completely different (maybe because of the many young models Rod Stewart has found himself married to). Instead I found a rather interesting song about first love between a boy and an older woman – which is a bit of a reversal of his later relationships.
Whilst this is a rockier song the use of the mandolin at the end does tie this song to the abundance of folk that has been seen in this batch of songs. And hey, a song that ends with a mandolin is good by me.