List Item: Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die
The Winner Takes It All – ABBA
‘The Winner Takes It All’ is one of the greatest pop songs made – one of the greatest pop acts of all time. It’s difficult to take the band members at their word that this song about the destruction of a marriage is not about them. If not about them directly, it was clearly shaded – their own experiences and was a massively cathartic song to both be written and sung.
The lyrics brilliantly mix the metaphor of life as a game versus the stark reality of having judges and lawyers decide the outcomes of a divorce. Then there is is Agnetha’s solo vocals from the point of view of a woman who apologizes to her ex-husband for having won everything in the divorce settlement. It’s such a different perspective, the guilt of a winner, compared to a normal break-up song about someone who has ostensibly lost everything. She’s still lost so much, but in the eyes of others she has won. It’s here on the list because of this wonderful song production and who else has made a song that breaks your heart from the point of view of someone who just won their divorce settlement. It’s genius that makes me cry.
Rapture – Blondie
‘Rapture’ is in all the quiz trivia books to be the first song to top the US Billboard Charts with a rap element. Listening to it now, this fusion of disco and hip-hop – a new wave group, is like nothing else that I’ve heard on the list. It’s not really like anything else that I’ve really heard released since. Debbie Harry’s rap skills aren’t great, as she has said since, but let’s also appreciate that the first song with rap elements to top the charts was fronted – a woman.
At this point in musical history, rap had yet to become as big as it was – let alone have a whole song constructed around a rap rather than using an existing backing track. It helped raise awareness of a then more underground genre as well as contribute to paths later pursued – hip hop artists. So yes, an interesting part of music history right here.
While You See A Chance – Steve Winwood
Something has clearly changed in 1980. This is a song that I can’t imagine really existing in 1979 – a rock song with synths and an ABBA-inspired piano line. There’s also part of this song that screams Paul Simon and Randy Newman to me about elements of it too. This… this is early electro-pop. Not the kind of moodiness you get in Gary Numan, but a lighter mood to it. Like this is the sort of song where I can see the beginnings of a branch of pop music that would eventually lead to the work that Xenomania did in the 2000s and 2010s.
With the rise of the New Romantics and more electronic instruments coming in, this is going to be such a cool decade to be listening to. Especially since punk has exploded and we’re left with the remnants fighting it out for innovation.
Heartattack and Vine – Tom Waits
Compared to his last song of his on the list, ‘Heartattack and Vine’ is closer to the Tom Waits that I was enjoying in swordfishtrombones. That voice is the song equivalent of a whisky on the rocks. Literal rocks. Driveway gravel kind of rocks. This is still not as experimental as I have later seen him, but it’s very much him setting up his own cabaret stage and waiting for us to settle in to whatever he is going to deliver.
Kings of the Wild Frontier – Adam and the Ants
So, rather than ‘Prince Charming’ or ‘Stand and Deliver’, the book has decided to go for this earlier single. Now that I’ve heard it, yes the book made the right choice. After all, this isn’t meant to be the 1001 best songs, but down to other factors including their influence.
All the elements that I know from other Adam and the Ants songs are here. The powerful Burundi drum line. The flamboyance of the vocal delivery. The cheers and response vocals from the rest of the group. Sure, it is not as catchy as the later singles that have become staples on Best of 1980s collections – but it’s weirdly powerful. This has yet to veer off into the new wave and pop direction, instead this is one of the many routes that post-punk chose to go down. It makes for a very interesting song.
Redemption Song – Bob Marley & The Wailers
This is not like any Bob Marley song I have ever heard. This isn’t even reggae at this point. It’s an acoustic ballad where the only thing that is remotely reggae is Marley’s delivery. Other than that, this is a folk song. A type of folk song whose background I have heard in folk artists like Bob Dylan and in some country music (the one that immediately came to mind being the title track of ‘All American Made’ by Margo Price, who name checks Tom Petty).
It’s a song of quiet power which is given more power – how close to death he was when writing and recording it. Makes me a bit glad that I still have one Bob Marley album to listen to for the albums list – now I can have this in mind when giving it a go.
Dead Souls – Joy Division
‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is coming up in a future 1001 songs post, but before that it’s a song that got right under my skin.
‘Dead Souls’ as a piece of goth rock is unsettling. Hearing Ian Curtis sing this song about past lives and being ripped apart as they call you is even more unsettling when you know that he will have killed himself within a few months of recording this. There is an intense eeriness when you mix these odd lyrics with his tortured delivery and the dark drive of the guitars and bass. It’s a weird one to end the section of songs on, but I think I need a break after this.