Tag Archives: 1001 songs

1001 Songs – 1972: Part Two

Silver Machine – Hawkwind

Starting off today’s batch of songs with a bit of space rock that helped to introduce the world to Lemmy (who, obviously, later goes on to found and front Motörhead). It’s the meshing of harder rock guitars and sci-fi bleeps and bloops that make this space rock and, therefore, an interesting addition to the list. I guess this is what happens when a prog rock and psychedelic rock are given access to electronic instruments – which means we are one step closer to the world of shoegaze… which I am looking forward to see being born.

I like a long intro in a song, but it was a bit long for something that never opened up an album. By the time Lemmy properly got into it, the song was over and it was a few bleeps and bloops left before the end. Still, it’s another one of those signposts for what was beginning to happen in 1972.

Tumbling Dice – The Rolling Stones

Listening to this reminds me just how much I need to listen to and cross off Exile from Main St. from my albums list. This is an album that is ranked within the top 10 of all albums ever released and ‘Tumbling Dice’ is the track chosen to represent this album on the songs list.

With ‘Tumbling Dice’ the Rolling Stones are still doing their blues rock thing, as they had been doing for nearly a decade by this point, but it’s such an interesting labyrinth of a song whose runtime is under 4 minutes. On the surface it feels it would be a bit piecemeal – there are so many changes along the way that it keeps your ear out for what is coming next. I can’t even begin to imagine how you would put a song like this together. Maybe I should listen to this album soon…

Thirteen – Big Star

I thought this song sounded familiar – Elliot Smith did a cover of this which was later released on his posthumous New Moon collection.

‘Thirteen’ is a sweet folk song about adolescence, but the earlier part of adolescence where things are still a bit more innocent. It’s interesting to hear him name check ‘Paint it Black’ by the Rolling Stones because that feels so honest to what a teenager at that time would have started to get into. On the whole it’s simple, effective and emotionally honest.

Big Eyed Beans from Venus – Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band

God, how long has it been since I listened to Trout Mask Replica. A long time, and I had forgotten how surreal Captain Beefheart could be. However, unlike anything I’ve heard of his before, ‘Big Eyed Beans from Venus’ was part of a body of work created as an attempt to create a more commercial album. This, in effect, was a leftover track from another album which then got included in their second of two albums of 1972.

It’s sticking very much with his idea of a surreal avant garde blues rock with lyrics that I can’t exactly make heads nor tails of. However, this does feel more in line with other songs I’ve heard so far in the 1972 section of the 1001 songs list. It still has the chaotic threads of a Captain Beefheart song, but it’s tempered down to the point where this feels like a mainstream compromise on his own terms.

Rocket Man – Elton John

Hands up – I cannot hear this song without thinking of the William Shatner spoken word version. Try as I might, I just close my eyes and I see Shatner delivering this as a weird trio performance.

Expelling the image of Shatner from my brain – ‘Rocket Man’ feels like a song that could have been produced if The Beatles hadn’t split up and were then finding influence from David Bowie. It’s a cool idea to write a song about the future of space travel to the point where being an astronaut is an everyday job, kind of en par with being a space trucker.

Speaking of space, this is another song from this year where space age sounds are being used to supplement rock compositions – and this is 10 years after ‘Telstar’ did a lot of the intial leg work.

Mama Weer All Crazee Now – Slade

Looking at the album cover of Slayed? I swear that Noddy Holder has always looked like he was at least in his 40s. Also, like people, the main thing I know Slade from is ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’, so any other songs of theirs can feel a bit jarring.

With ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’ it’s clear that metal and glam rock is about to explode from it’s confines within the wider genre of hard rock, but the time isn’t uite yet. It’ll only be a year before this songs list sees that spillover and temporarily take over the air waves before punk and disco become firmly established. It’s a full body adrenaline rush of a song that must have killed when played live. I guess we’ll see how this develops further when ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ arrives in 1973.

Rocky Mountain High – John Denver

Well at least I won’t be having to sit through ‘Annie’s Song’ as part of the songs list. I know it’s famous and well loved, but it’s really been overdone (as the choir episode of The Vicar of Dibley would tell you).

Like how ‘City of New Orleans’ was a love letter to the railways of America that were under threat, ‘Rocky Mountain High’ is John Denver singing about his love of the Colorado mountains. It’s full of beautiful images of the mountains and watching the sunset whilst enjoying the countryside. Towards the end of the song, he turns on the tourists who are ruining his beloved Rockies which does wack you in the face… in a good way.

The Night – Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons

This shows my ignorance, but I didn’t realise that Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons lasted past the end of the 1960s. Let alone move towards the Motown family of record labels and craft something quite like ‘The Night’.

Not mincing words, but I thought that ‘The Night’ was extraordinary. This is a piece of blue-eyed soul with Phil Spector style of production. I mean, this hits so many things that would make me love a song. A dark song with beautiful harmonies and a massive production that just gives off hints of menace. This is such an about turn from ‘Working My Way Back To You’ that to call it a maturation in their sound is underselling it. Just such a pity that it never really took off in the US.

Reelin’ in the Years – Steely Dan

I guess it was the name that gave me this idea, but I always figured Steely Dan would be a metal act. So here I am girding my loins for something more in the realm of Slade, but instead I’m getting what would have happened if The Beach Boys had decided to make their music move towards the hard rock sub genre.

This is described as jazz rock in the book (which means yet another sub-genre of rock that I need to keep track of) and I am keen to see how this genre develops as I really liked the softer rock, the harmonies and the more upbeat blues structure. They have a few albums in the Acclaimed Albums Top 1000… which further illustrates the need with me to speed the hell up.

Always on My Mind – Elvis Presley

The timing of this song feels like something from a Hollywood biopic. Elvis separates from his wife Priscilla and within weeks is recording a song about how he should have been a better husband. The problem that I have is that despite the situation, Elvis’s version feels somewhat detached. Other artists would have been able to use this as an opportunity to unburden their feelings – but Elvis is a singer, not an artist, and there is a fundamental difference there.

I can see why, for the narrative, this version of the song is on the list – but better versions have since been done by Willie Nelson, the Pet Shop Boys and Loretta Lynn.

Progress: 363/1021

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1001 Songs – 1972: Part One

Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone – The Temptations

Well, that was a long introduction. I believe that ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone’ is the first entry (or at least one of the first entires) in the 1001 songs list that could be classified as psychadelic soul – a genre that still stays alive thanks to the likes of Janelle Monae.

For the list I listened to the 7 minute single edit – which did just feel like they removed a segment from the main mix and faded it out towards the end. At the beginning it was hard to not liken a lot of the instrumentation to ‘Theme From Shaft’. The lyrical content is interesting as rather than being joyful or political it focuses a tone of anger towards a deadbeat father.

However this psychedelic soul song suffers from the same issue that I have with most funk songs – it just goes nowhere and keeps riffing on the same thing time and time again. Still, interesting.

I’ll Take You There – The Staple Singers

Another song in the camp of ‘oh so that’s what that song is called’. Similarly, I never knew that Mavis Staples started out in a family band. The more you know, right?

So ‘I’ll Take You There’ is another song in the funk/soul genre that rotates around the same idea for 3 minutes. It’s another call and response song that camps out in the chorus until it’s time to fade out. I can see how this works in a live setting, but it loses something when recorded.

Soul Makossa – Manu Dibangu

Holy crap disco has started. Something has shifted and we’re heading off on the starship disco and it’s going to be here for a good few years.

I guess technology has caught up to the point where sampling and layering is at the point where the lush effects and echoes are able to be created in studio. It’s also interesting to see how this still has one foot in funk, but is also being in jazz and other genres from Africa.

Also, this song is the origin of the “Mama-say mama-sah ma-ma-coo-sah” that we all know from ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Something‘ and ‘Don’t Stop The Music’.

It’s going to be interesting to see how disco develops from here on out.

Superstition – Stevie Wonder

‘Superstition’ is a classic for a reason, it’s one of those timeless songs that could be released now and still have been successful.

Sure this is still very much a soul song, the drums, horns and style of singing show that. However this song is elevated by its use of a rock guitar and a better verse-chorus structure. Yes, there is still that repetition but it doesn’t matter as there is enough deviation in content to keep it interesting.

This is the first of a few Stevie Wonder songs on the list and it’s really hard to believe that it took him 15 albums to get to this point… then again he was 22 when this song was released and who on Earth has 15 albums under their belt by the time they hit their twenties.

Elected – Alice Cooper

It’s been too long since I’ve listened to a song from this list that could be given the label of “satirical”. There’s a wit to this song which really works for the song.

By most other artists this would be an angry song protesting the dirty dealings required to be a politian. With ‘Elected’ there’s more of an anarchic wink to the listener which ends up with an almost fanfare at the end (reminiscent of election parties).

I mean how perfect a song is this to release at the time of Watergate!

Sam Stone – John Prine

Okay so when this started I immediately turned off because of the vocal delivery… and then the goosebumps started. This song is rough to the point that it actually made me cry around the halfway mark.

‘Sam Stone’ is a song about a decorated soldier coming back home after a conflict having become addicted to morphine. The song is calm and yet it relentless in piling on how this addiction escalates to the point where the titular Sam Stone is eventually killed by his habit.

Many songs have been written about drug addition, but this has to be up there as one of the most affecting. Really feels like the absolute antithesis to ‘Heroin’ by The Velvet Underground.

Willin’- Little Feat

From a folk song detailing the downward spiral of drug addition to a Southern rock song that has become an anthem for truckers. Proof if proof were needed that this book is not one to be played in order.

This is an enchanting song (which might be the first Southern rock song that I’ve encountered) reflecting positively on a life lived on the road. Weird to think that this band was started by a member of Frank Zappa’s group as the style couldn’t by any more different.

I think I might need to Spotify this album later as it feels like perfect music for this warm May Bank Holiday weekend.

It’s a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl – Faust

Another genre first here, the first krautrock song on this list which came from the album that would popularize this genre outside of Germany (where it was known as cosmic music).

I guess that this is what happens when progressive rock is filtered through an organised German lens. I mean this song is so German, I’m not even sure why but it just is. The book says that this is about as bubblegum pop as krautrock gets. I don’t know why, but the jaunty saxophone at the end just made me giggle.

It’s odd. In a good way, but still very odd.

Sail Away – Randy Newman

Oh. My. God. Like with ‘Sam Stone’ this song completely took me by surprise, but for a very different reason. The Randy Newman that I have come to know is the one that writes upbeat songs for Pixar movies and won his first Oscar for a pretty blank track from the Monsters, Inc. soundtrack.

And then, wow, there’s ‘Sail Away’ which is a song from the point of view of a slaver trying to convince Africans to get on his boat and travel with him to America. He promises them the American dream knowing full well what awful fate awaits them.

Honestly this came out of left field for me, I never realised just how canny a songwriter Randy Newman is. I may need to re-evaluate…

Progress: 353/1021

1001 Songs – 1971: Part Three

Tired of Being Alone – Al Green

Having spent the last few months listening to modern music or classical music, it’s weird to be back in the songs list where this type of soul music is on the menu. This is very much not Kacey Musgraves or tune-yards.

I know we have some Marvin Gaye coming up to finish 1971 out and that is going to be a more edged soul that I would expect from the 1970s. This feels like a song that belongs in the 1960s and is very much something I can imagine on one of those bargain bin Valentine’s Day compilations.

Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who

Right, so THIS is what I am expecting from a song from 1971. This is a year where we haven’t quite reached metal, punk or the hard rock that we know nowadays, but this is a light on the path towards it.

The old psychedelic are still there with the organ in the background, but this isn’t just any organ – it’s a sythesised organ. So here we have an 8 and a half minute long song with thrashing guitars, a synthesiser and a heavy metal scream.

It’s songs like these that make me happy to be back doing the songs list.

Vincent – Don McLean

‘Vincent’ is on this list, but ‘American Pie’ is not. Let’s let that sink in for a little bit and move on. I mean, I have always preferred ‘Vincent’ as a song but that isn’t the popular opinion.

As the title suggests, ‘Vincent’ is a folk song about the end of Vincent Van Gogh’s live. It manages to be a beautiful tribute to a troubled man whilst not delving into being overly sentimental. It does this with a sparse arrangement, which makes an interesting use of the marimba.

It’s clear that, in writing this, Don McLean is influenced by Nick Drake and Simon & Garfunkel. However, we have a bit of world music seeping in through that marimba, which moves it forward.

City of New Orleans – Steve Goodman

In Ireland you have Don McLean creating a thing of folk-beauty in ‘Vincent’, on the other side of the Atlantic you have ‘City of New Orleans’ for folk music.

To call this traditional would be an understatement, but it’s meant to be. This song was made to harken back as it highlights the disappearing rail services across America, which was starting to affect people living in rural areas.

An interesting history, but not really a song for me.

Peace Train – Cat Stevens

Talkin’ of trains and songs that we inspired by a train journey. We have the images of trains being evoked for an anti-war song. It’s worth remembering that, in 1971, we are still 4 years away from the Vietnam War from ending.

It’s a nice message, but it feels a bit limp. Maybe, because of how it sounds compared to the likes of ‘Ohio’ and ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, it just feels a bit complacent and lacking in urgency. I mean it’s nice to know about the Peace Train, but I’m not convinced by this song to buy a ticket.

Superstar – The Carpenters

Okay, now here’s a song I absolutely adore. The Carpenters have always had a reputation for being a bit twee at times, but there is no denying how fantastic the production and instrumental arrangements are on this song. Same goes for the always faultless and crystal-like vocals of Karen Carpenter, which are all from the first take.

There is an underlying darkess to this song that her vocals pierce through, which makes this a dark pop song unlike anything we have yet heard on this list. It’s a song that you can see being in the back of ABBA’s minds as they later created their darker tracks like ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’.

A Nickel and a Nail – O.V. Wright

O.V. Wright really had a fantastic set of pipes. We’re in a blues-style soul song, where his gospel roots are showing. It’s just a pity that the recording equipment is having trouble capturing the full range of his vocals as he really starts belting.

I could probably do without all the funk-style horns and, instead, up the ante on the bass guitar and the backing vocals. I know this isn’t in the style of Southern soul to do so, but I would have been interested to hear this sung as a straight blues recording.

Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) – Marvin Gaye

We’re finally finishing 1971! Man, it’s taken months and we’re ending with one of the greats and with a song that still feels relevant to this day.

This is a song about black pain, anger and protest that chooses to speak through it’s lyrics and a low hum of a then-modern take on blues backing. Later on, songs like this would become grouped under the name of ‘quiet storm’, but because of the politcal nature of this song – ‘Inner City Blues’ would just about be inelegible for this classification.

Listening to this, I do wonder about how much more music we would have gotten out of Marvin Gaye if he had not been murder by his father. How would he react to the politics of his country right now. Guess we’ll never know.

Progress: 344/1021

1001 Songs – 1971: Part Two

Imagine – John Lennon

Starting off this post with, arguably, the most beloved song to come from 1971… as well as one that I actively cannot stand. Whilst I appreciate the idealism here of a multi-millionaire playing a song about having no possessions whilst he is sitting in a mansion, it still comes across to me as being something vague that a high school student might write and think that they’re being very deep.

I can also appreciate what Phil Spector was trying to do with the production here, but it just comes across as overwhelmingly sentimental when it could have stood to be a little subtler.

Laughing – David Crosby

Usually when I listen to a song for this list I tend to write some notes as I go along and then fluff them a bit out later. With ‘Laughing’ I found myself a bit bewitched at trying to work out all the individual parts of the song that I didn’t manage to get a single word written down.

It’s what tends to happen when I am presented with a song with this many layers and sections. My brain tries to work out everything rather than trying to feel. A second listen really helped. This song is beautifully layered and complex to the point that I still find myself swept up in it rather than finding a way to actually talk about it… so let’s move on.

When The Levee Breaks – Led Zeppelin

Well, this is a real flashback to about two years ago where I last heard this track as part of its parent album. Back then I wasn’t too impressed with the album, to the point that I barely wrote anything about it and instead focused more on Led Zeppelin.

As with ‘Eleanor Rigby’, this is a song that I was better able to appreciate in isolation. I am still not the biggest fan of this type of heavy blues rock, but at least I can better appreciate the number of different things going on here. The weird sounding harmonica, for example, makes this track unique.

It’s just that, as with most things Zeppelin, I would not have minded a few minutes being shaven off.

Surf’s Up – The Beach Boys

Feels like forever since I last heard something by The Beach Boys. It’s been even longer since I listened to the Brian Wilson’s Smile, where this song finally found it’s proper home.

Songs like this are why I will always prefer the Beach Boys to the Beatles. The level of complexity present puts it on par with a lot of what prog rock was starting to do and continues to do so to this day. However, this is still very much planted in the chamber pop landscape. It’s a lovely song and it makes me want to listen to the album again.

Theme from Shaft – Isaac Hayes

This must be one of the most quoted and pastiched themes of all time. The Simpsons, Father Ted, Scrubs and even the video game LEGO City Undercover have all borrowed from it. Yet this is actually the first time I have heard the whole song.

How is it that such a famous film theme contains no lyrics until over halfway through? Well, maybe because Issac Hayes’ vocals are mixed right down to the point of being nearly completely drowned.

Interesting to see another song where funk and soul are beginning to morph into disco. I wonder how long it will be before that onslaught truly begins.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – Gil Scott-Heron

In the context of this list, ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ feels a lot like a sequel to ‘When The Revolution Comes’ by the Last Poets. Both songs are spoken word poems referencing ‘the Revolution’ and are set to some sort of funk music.

The key difference is Gil Scott-Heron is able to better articulate his message. His choice of words is more careful, the music better supports his voice and he, at no point, has a random backing singer come onto the track.

Seeing how this sort of spoken-word funk has developed between these two songs, it’s only a matter of time before rap starts.

It’s Too Late – Carole King

Tapestry is an excellent album. It would have been easy to choose a large section of songs to be prospective entries on the list – so they went for one of the two that managed to snag a Grammy.

It isn’t just the Grammy win for Record of the Year that gave ‘It’s Too Late’ a place on this list. Carole King is one of those great workhorses of this era of American music with her penning hit songs for the likes of Aretha Franklin and The Shirelles.

With this song you see the RnB influence mixed with some soft rock to make a track about a break-up that is mature, honest and mutual.

Dum Maro Dum – Asha Bhosle

Okay, so we’re ending on a drastically different song here. I guess it’s only fair to have a song by Lata Mangeshkar‘s younger sister seeing how they are both Bollywood playback singer royalty.

You start a song from a Bollywood film with a certain preconception and ‘Dum Maro Dum’ walks in a shatters them. Sure, you have the backing singers singing so loud that they end up distorted (which is something I really cannot abide) as well as the almost lilting vocal delivery by the lead, but something is really different.

This is, basically, a Bollywood rock song that takes notes from what was happening in the West at the time. There are electric instruments like synthesisers and guitars that really drive this song. Looking back on the other Bollywood song for this list, ‘Dum Maro Dum’ must have felt like a huge shift in what could make for a successful Bollywood song.

It would be utterly brilliant if it wasn’t for that hideous distortion.

Progress: 337/1021

1001 Songs – 1971: Part One

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.

Progress: 328/1021

1001 Songs – 1970: Part Three

This is it, the final batch of songs from 1970. This year has taken a weirdly long time to make my way through, but at least we’re here now.

Into the Mystic – Van Morrison

It’s been two and a half years since I listened to Moondance for the first time, and it’s a downright shame that I haven’t played it anytime since. With ‘Into the Mystic’ I felt myself being immediately being transported back to that sunny day when I listened to this album on my commute.

It’s a great example of folk done right. It tells of a mystical journey and uses the guitar and the horns to unfurl the feeling. It’s weirdly soothing and helps remind me why I liked the parent album so mucn.

Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine – James Brown

“You just don’t like him, do you?” That’s what my husband said to me as I was losing patience with this song as we reached the three minute mark. He’s right.

Whilst I can appreciate that in person James Brown had charisma, on a recording I find a 5 minute song that is just so repetitive to be pretty much unforgiveable. If this song was released now I would wager it would be seen as not even worthy of radioplay.

I know, I know, historical context. James Brown was a big influence and a pusher of his genre. However, when I think back to the work done by Sly and the Family Stone done back in 1969 on their album Stand!… well there’s no comparison.

Ohio – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

“Four dead in Ohio” is the refrain at the end of this powerful song about the Kent State shootings; where four students were gunned down by police during a protest against the Vietnam War.

This song was on the radio within a few weeks of the shooting, the lyrics really demonstrating the sense of anger and loss over what happened. At the end you can hear David Crosby breaking.

There are a number of protest and counter-culture songs on the 1001 list, but none so far have felt as raw as this one.

The Only Living Boy in New York – Simon & Garfunkel

It’s interesting that of all the songs on the iconic Bridge over Troubled Water album it is ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ that appears on the 1001 songs list. I mean, there’s the obvious choice from that album… maybe even two. Then again, this is one of the great classic albums so you are spoilt for choice.

One thing that this list does well is find the songs that act as bridges between eras. You have ‘The Boxer’ and ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ which are very much Simon & Garfunkel songs; then there’s ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ which is where Simon & Garfunkel becomes Paul Simon.

It’s a beautiful song to end such an iconic duo on. Looking back is nice to see this bridge, but at the time the idea of going solo must have been terrifying for both of them. At least it worked out for both of them.

In a Broken Dream – Python Lee Jackson

Why is this on the list? Well, it’s an example of an early song with the vocals of Rod Stewart in a song that is a soft metal. Interesting to note that despite being first released in 1970, ‘In a Broken Dream’ didn’t chart until a re-release in 1972 due to the success of Rod Stewart’s later singles like ‘Maggie May’.

Rock at this time was in an awkward phase. It was still trying to cling on to the organs of the 1960s whilst bring in the guitar solos that would become a staple in the years to come. Makes for an interesting listen when doing this chronologically.

Oh Lonesome Me – Neil Young

After the Gold Rush is such a well received album that it perplexes me that they pick the only cover to appear in this list. The book itself says that this is the standout track from the album. They’re wrong. That song is ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ and that’s all there is to it.

54-46 Was My Number – Toots & The Maytals

The moment I heard the ska beat starting I was ready to pack in any attempt to write about this song. But something weird happened, I actually started to like this song.

It’s about the wrongful imprisonment of the lead singer, who was framed by a promoter who didn’t want the tour to go ahead. The song tells this in a traditional call-and-response with the ska beats playing underneath. I don’t know why, but this song actually did this for me.

Working Class Hero – John Lennon

When I first heard ‘Working Class Hero’ last year, it struck me that he’s not a man who I could imagine swearing. Now I listen to this again… it’s fairly dull.

The emotions don’t work because he’s so far removed from who he is trying to connect with. He’s a man of priveledge who, whilst growing up in a working class family, has not been part of that demographic for most of his life. It’s like a Christian writing a song about the Holocaust – it all just rings false.

Box of Rain – The Grateful Dead

Here I am at the end of 1970. It’s a song that I would not have expected from a band whose name feels like it would make for an amazing metal band. Book, cover and all that jazz.

For such a well known band it is interesting to note that this album track is their only entry on the list. A song that is sung by their regular bassist Phil Lesh rather than lead singer Jerry Garcia.

‘Box of Rain’ is a touching folk song that feels like where Neil Young meets Simon & Garfunkel. It’s about Lesh’s father who was dying of terminal cancer and contains lyrics intrpreted from Lesh’s scat singing.

I wish I could say that this song had some profound effect on me… but it didn’t. Nice enough and it does make the connection, but that’s pretty much where this ends.

Progress: 319/1021

1001 Songs – 1970: Part Two

It’s been a while, nearly two months, since I was last in 1970. Hopefully it won’t take as long next time…

Black Night – Deep Purple

It’s weird to go back in musical time when the last two albums I listened to for the blog were influential for punk (Suicide and Horses). We’re still in 1970 where hard rock was beginning it’s transformation into metal, with the guitar solos being a key ingredient falling into place.

Listening to this I got a strange mix of an Easy Rider style road-trip and ‘Play That Funky Music’. I probably should be hearing more Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, but you can’t help where the brain goes.

War – Edwin Starr

I should have got what the song was from the title and the year. The chanting chorus is such a simple protest against war, but it is hard to deny the effectiveness of it. As a song ‘War’ has become such a part of the culture that it is easy to forget its roots as an anti-Vietnam funk piece.

Probably didn’t help that a lot of people my age may know this song best as being part of the Rush Hour soundtrack. Whilst that helped to keep the song alive it has cheapened it somewhat.

Interesting to think how this was a song originally meant for the Temptations (see two songs down the page) but it was seen as career suicide. At least Edwin Starr was able to get his hands on a classic.

To Be Young, Gifted, and Black – Bob and Marcia

From the off, the Nina Simone version of this song is so much better. ‘To Be Young, Gifted and Black’ is a great song from the Civil Rights movement and both Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin have given powerful renditions of this as strong black women. Then you have this… the song which typifies what happens to something fed through trends to be chart-friendly.

I mean, this version is like turning ‘Strange Fruit’ into an upbeat pop song by Rihanna as remixed by David Guetta. Just no.

Ball of Confusion – The Temptations

So the Temptations had to pass on ‘War’ and this is their equivalent, a great bit of psychedelic soul. We’ve been skirting around this sub-genre for a while and I think we have a first good example of this. I know that funk is meant to come from psychedelic soul… but it feels like the choice of songs from this book managed to leap frog over that transition.

The distortion effects, the disjointed song structure and the rapid switching between the different voices of the band members all helps to compound this idea of the titular ball of confusion. As a song this is as relevant now as it was back when it was first released, which is a bit hisheartening when you think about it too much.

Avec le temps – Léo Ferré

Within 30 seconds I can feel tears in my eyes. A minute goes by and the goosebumps start. I don’t speak French, but I understand exactly what he’s singing about because it’s there in his intonation, his timbre and in the circular piano playing the scales. I am having a visceral reaction.

‘Avec le temps’ (With time, in English) is a song about loss. About the death of love that can happen with the passing of time. The piano plays an excellent part in the illusion of time passing around you (the playing of scales, which feels like a spiral staircase) whilst you remain in place (because you only play the same set of notes in sequence).

That was an interesting reaction… then again I just have one of those brains I guess.

The Man Who Sold the World – David Bowie

Here we are in 1970 and we have our first of a fair number of David Bowie songs. I guess that it was this album that was where what we understand to be Bowie actually started, so it makes sense for this song to be included as some sort of timestamp.

It feels slightly off-kilter when compared to the other psychedelic song of the time, with Bowie’s echoey vocals being used to great effect towards the end. There are some interesting parts here, but I think we’ll here something more groundbreaking from him later on.

Awaiting on You All – George Harrison

I knew this was Phil Spector the moment it started playing. That ‘Wall of Sound’ is such an obvious fingerprint that, when listening to this, I can’t help but think back on ‘River Deep – Mountain High’ or the Phil Spector Christmas album.

So you take the ‘Wall of Sound’ mix it with a pinch of Love’s psychedelia (see: ‘Alone Again Or’) and this is the song you get.

I’m a sucker for a big production number, so ‘Awaiting on You All’ got an immediate thumbs up from me. Just wish it was a bit longer.

Northern Sky – Nick Drake

Oh Nick Drake. I wish I knew that you were going to be okay.

‘Northern Sky’ feels like a different direction from Five Leaves Left, mainly because this feels a bit more upbeat. The spacious world created on the previous album is still there, but gone are the strings and the bongos and instead there’s a celeste and a light piano.

Listening to ‘Northern Sky’ makes me want to expand my albums list out from 250 because then I will have the agency to listen to it’s parent album Bryter Layter. I just need to listen to those albums faster!

Maybe I’m Amazed – Paul McCartney

Growing up in the time that I did, the formative memories that I have of Paul McCartney was the business surrounding his marriage to Heather Mills. With that and the deification of John Lennon in pop culture, I began to form a negative view of McCartney based on nothing but hearsay.

I think with ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ I need to make a re-evaluation. This not a song that you could have had from the Beatles. As classic as many of their songs are, there is always a distance between the listener and the Beatles themselves. Their stories are about other people, not them.

With ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ it feels like the first time that I have been allowed to see something personal from McCartney – and it’s great. The love that he had for Linda is so obvious in this song that you cannot but help feel uplifted.

Progress: 310/1021

1001 Songs – 1970: Part One

Holy hell, a new decade. It feels like it’s been an awful long time since I first entered the 1960s. How long will it be until I start on songs from the 1980s? Who knows, but I hope to start syncing up the songs and albums lists by the time I get there.

Up Around The Bend – Creedence Clearwater Revival

When I think of Creedence Clearwater Revival my mind goes to a line from “Him” by Lily Allen where she postulates that they’re God’s favourite band. From this I took it that the music would be rather tame. Compared to what I am expecting in two songs time, yes, this is going to seem a bit middle of the road.

I don’t know if it is me just looking back on how this contrasts with The Rolling Stones and The Who, but this feels a bit softer and more wholesome. I know I only listened to the eponymous album by The Band yesterday, but Creedence Clearwater Revival is in the same genre camp. It’s just that… compared to what follows it’s a bit blah.

Layla – Derek & The Dominos

I remember waiting through most of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs; that entire album just rests in the shadow of this seven minute behemoth of a song. A song that only appears at the end of an extremely long beginning sequence.

At the time of listening to that album I think I was so annoyed about the amount of time it took to get to ‘Layla’ that I wasn’t able to appreciate it. I also hadn’t expected the second half to be this long instrumental piece. Needless to say that I probably didn’t give that song a good enough go the first time around.

‘Layla’ is a song about unrequited heartbreak using a Persian fairytale as a touchstone for names and certain themes. That alone speaks to some of the grandiosity of the song. Add to that the fierce guitar riff, vocals that break with emotion and a long outro to give something truly special. We’ll gloss over the fact that their relationship did happen and ended in divorce…

War Pigs – Black Sabbath

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you the arrival of metal. We previously had Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ almost reaching the point of metal (close, but I think that’s still hard rock rather than metal), but ‘War Pigs’ is probably the first song from this line that crosses the line. It is still very hard rock in places, which means the development into a completely separate genre hasn’t happened yet… but we’re basically there now.

This is also the first song on this list that has anyone singing about a subject that is vaguely Satanic. The real name of this song, ‘Warpurgis’, is in reference to Walpurgis Night – which is pretty much Halloween in Spring. This is a harder anti-establishment message than the ‘Flower Power’ of the 1960s and I’m starting to see how punk will be starting to brew in the background.

When the Revolution Comes – The Last Poets

I thought I needed some time away from rock. I thought I needed a bit of a palate cleanser. What I got was a good laugh and I had to restart this song because I couldn’t hear it over my own snorting. This was not the song that I expected.

‘When the Revolution Comes’ is under the genre of jazz poetry, which is one of the precursors to rap. From the sentiment and the forcefulness of the lyrics you can see where the likes of Public Enemy will have spun off from. At this very moment, however, this is a poetry slam set to some very basic music.

What made me laugh so much? The backing vocalists. Everytime they chimed in I just lost it. As a piece it would have worked better as a solo.

Band of Gold – Freda Payne

It feels like a long time since I last listened to a good piece of female driven music on this 1001 songs list. I believe the last one was Peggy Lee’s ‘Is That All There Is?’, but that’s not uplifting at all. Well, this song isn’t truly uplifting because it’s talking about a marriage breaking down… but it feels upbeat.

As a song ‘Band of Gold’ feels like a nice reaching back to the golden days of the Motown songstresses. After all the rock and… whatever that jazz poetry was, ‘Band of Gold’ feels comfortable and more in-keeping with what I’d enjoy hearing.

Love the One You’re With – Stephen Stills

At last, we have a feel good song! A guitar driven upbeat folk song about loving. After songs of heartbreak, revolution and the devil it’s a nice change to have something so positive. Positive without being too cloying.

Not much else to say. The lush backing vocals was a nice surprise. Made me think of the closing song from A Mighty Wind.

Fire and Rain – James Taylor

Hands up if you’ve only heard of James Taylor because of his guest spot on the episode of The Simpsons where Homer goes to space. I thought I recognised the voice and then he got to the line about ‘sweet dreams and flying machines’ which clinched it for me.

As a folk rock song ‘Fire and Rain’ is the ultimate comedown from ‘Love the One You’re With’. It’s a song that deals with death, depression, drug addiction and failure. So far in 1970 there have been songs about heartbreak, but this is the first song that breaks your heart.

I just love that Carole King partially wrote ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ as a response to this. I love that woman.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Diana Ross

Let’s end on an empowering high, shall we? At this point Diana Ross needed to prove that a woman could strike out on her own after being part of a successful girl group – ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ formed part of the solo debut that catapulted her to iconic status.

The song mixes elements of soul, gospel and spoken word to create Diana Ross’ first solo hit. When you think of the song you are likely to only bring to mind that massive final minute. I had no idea that there was this huge build up to the gospel explosion that accompanies Bridget Jones running through the snow.

This won’t be the last we hear from Diana Ross, but it will be another six years.

Progress: 301/1021

1001 Songs – 1969: Part Three

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.

Progress: 293/1021

1001 Songs – 1969: Part Two

Wow that was a long break between songs. I guess that live and a re-emerging love of cinema got in the way… also RuPaul’s Drag Race. Man, I love those girls. So let’s continue on and finally get out of the 1960s!

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

Sister Morphine – Marianne Faithfull

I am probably in the minority of people in my generation to have listened to a Marianne Faithfull album (Broken English) at some point. I’d forgotten just how haunting her vocals can be, that is until ‘Sister Morphine’ starts. I don’t know if I have ever heard such a frank song about drug addiction – granted we’ve had ‘Heroin’ by the Velvet Underground – where the singer is exposing her own dark dependencies… and at the time of recording her drug habits were just on the precipice of an even deeper addiction. In part, because the money she made from this song helped her to afford more drugs, like the titular morphine.

The huskiness in Faithfull’s voice is haunting and the history of this song make it one of those weird relics that won’t soon be forgotten.

Okie from Muskogee – Merle Haggard

Okay, so this is how I would imagine Hank Hill as a country singer. On the surface this is a song about a man in Middle America looking at the youth culture (the then hippies and the drugs that they took) and being glad to be the sort of man he is. It’s hard to go beyond the surface because Merle Haggard himself keeps changing his story as to what this song means i.e. is it a satire or is he playing it straight. He basically veers between those depending on the company.

Personally I didn’t read it as satire – it feels just like someone rolling their eyes, shrugging their shoulders and going “kids these days”.

Heartbreaker – Led Zeppelin

I said previously that with Led Zeppelin II I finally found a Led Zeppelin album that I enjoyed. I wrote that two years ago and the moment ‘Heartbreaker’ started it took me right back to that sunny day when I was listening to this on the train.

With ‘Heartbreaker’ in a better context I can really appreciate how this fit into music at the time. Hard rock is becoming harder and you can see that metal is just around the corner. In fact, you might even call this and ‘Whole Lotta Love’ (which will be in the next batch of songs) metal – just not heavy metal.

Is That All There Is? – Peggy Lee

Turning the dial right down from 11 here as we go for something completely different. Something utterly depressing. I’ve heard this song before, but never listened to this song before. I think that the character in the song is depressed and displaying some flat affect.

This is a woman who knows that despite being able to find any joy in love or the circus there is no point in ending it all… because death is it’s own type of disappointment. I mean, good God! Also, good on Peggy Lee for actually taking on a song like this in the twilight of her career. Her voice is sultry enough to pull this of despite the weirdly upbeat banjo in the background.

And wouldn’t you know, this helped Peggy Lee stage a comeback. Uttlerly brilliant.

Sweetness – Yes

Ladies and gentlemen, progressive rock has just arrived. If I hadn’t been so focused on the interplay between hard and soft rock in previous songs I probably would have noticed that prog-rock was quietly developing in the background – thanks in no small part to the Beatles and the Beach Boys. In the next post we’ll have a King Crimson song, which also signals the point where psychedelia is coming to an end and is mixing with the baroque rock/chamber pop of the Beach Boys to make prog-rock.

‘Sweetness’ is a song you could imagine the Beatles singing in their Sgt Pepper days, but I think it is better that this song belongs to Yes. Even if just for the sweeter vocals that the Beatles couldn’t really do.

Suspicious Minds – Elvis Presley

You have to hand it to Elvis, he had a long career. He managed to jump genres and change with the times. Granted that this will have been a lot down to the management knowing what they are doing, but credit where credit is due.

It’s still very much an Elvis song though and it could belong on his Memphis album if it had been recorded earlier. He sounds so good on this song and it’s just a pity that it has that weird fade out-fade in thing going on around the 3.5 minute mark. I guess that’s the producer wanting to put his mark on the song or something like that… but that’s probably just when the song should have ended.

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes – Crosby, Stills, & Nash

Bonus marks for this song for doing something very different. Structured more like a classical piece ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ is formed of four distinct parts to make one contiguous piece of music. It’s always an upbeat song, but it goes through variations in harmony, orchestration and (for the final section) language.

I think most people would find themselves recognising the final part of ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ and not being sure exactly how – but it’s pretty recognisable for its unintelligability.

Pinball Wizard – The Who

We close this group of songs with two incredibly famous entries. Whilst I have not seen Tommy the movie, I have listened to the rock opera. Within the story of Tommy ‘Pinball Wizard’ is a song about the deaf-blind protagonist becoming a world class pinball player (is player the word for pinball) just through sensing the vibrations.

I mean this is drug-fuelled rock we’re talking about so it doesn’t have to make that much sense as it veers between rock and pop.

Je t’aime… moi non plus – Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg

So the story goes that there is a generation of people that have been conceived to this song. I love this idea. It’s bizarre, but I’m going to run with it. The other story goes that the heavy breathing is because of Birkin and Gainsbourg having sex during the recording. Again I love this idea if just for the logistics that would need to be involved.

Okay so both of those stories are baloney, but isn’t it great when a 4 and a half minute song can develop such a rich mythology. Especially a breathy erotic song like this one. I was about to go into how stupid it is that a song like this was banned from radio in a number of countries… but now that I’ve listened to it all the way it makes sense. There is a lot of heavy breathing in this and I can just imagine the kids in the playground mimicing this without knowing why.

Got to say that this is a weird song to end the post on…

Progress: 285/1021