List Item: Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die
Evie – Stevie Wright
At just over 11 minutes long, ‘Evie’ is one of the longest songs on this list. But, to call this one song is deceptive because it is formed of three very distinct parts. The first a bluesy Rolling Stones style rock song wooing Evie, the second a more piano-driven soft rock depicting the comfort of the relationship with Evie and the concluding third part a more disco-driven rock (think Santa Esmeralda’s version of ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’) about his emotions having lost her.
This song is epic in all the right ways. The roller-coaster of emotions at the birth, life and death of a relationship with such contrasting musical styles. All three parts would work separately, but together the three parts put most album length rock operas to shame. Bravo.
Free Man in Paris – Joni Mitchell
To think that Joni Mitchell wrote this song about her friend on holiday in Paris. A friend who happens to be David Geffen, the founder of the music label Geffen Records who released one of my albums of 2018.
I love this era of Joni Mitchell and how she fuses folk and jazz music to make something so earnest and so enjoyable. Listening to this had also reminded me that I really need to get around to writing up Court and Spark. I listened to it ages ago and never got around to writing it up. It’s things like this that is making the completion of the albums list drag on a bit.
I Will Always Love You – Dolly Parton
Right, so I know I’m in the minority here but I really do prefer Dolly Parton’s original version of this song to the 1991 Whitney Houston version. There’s no denying the power of the vocals in Houston’s version, I mean come on it’s astonishing, but you can not beat the raw unfettered emotions in Parton’s original. Although, to be fair, Houston’s version suffers a lot from the arrangement… and by that I mean the saxophone solo.
The spoken-word section leading into the final chorus, leaves me misty eyed pretty much every time and goes to show that a beautiful voice showing weakness can do more than a powerful voicing showing strength. I still love the Whitney Houston version though, even if the arrangement is dated.
The Grand Tour – George Jones
Another country song about a parting. However, where Dolly Parton’s song is from the point of view of the leaver – ‘The Grand Tour’ sees George Jones cast as the man left behind. Where Parton’s song left me misty eyed, Jones’ tipped me over the edge. The titular grand tour is Jones taking us around the house to show all the places he and his wife used to find enjoyment before they had to part (most sources say because of a divorce, but some think it’s referencing her dying in childbirth).
To put these two songs next to each other is a genius move by the editors of the book as it helps to provide such an amazing contrast between the two viewpoints of leaver and left behind within the world of country music. Sure, Parton was singing about a musical partner, but the emotion was there just the same.
With the exception of ‘Free Man in Paris’ this has been such a sad run of songs… and by the looks of the next one it won’t be getting cheerier any time soon.
Withered and Died – Richard and Linda Thompson
Was there a shortage of mood stabilisers in 1974 or something? This half of 1974’s songs is so much of a downer that I’ve had to wrap a blanket around me.
‘Withered and Died’ is such a haunting and sombre song about, what I am assuming, depression. It’s a song about being left behind physically and emotionally and giving in to the dark part of the soul. As someone who has been through depression there’s a lot of this song I can identify with and so listening to it just once has left me feeling, for lack of a better word, hurt.
Beautifully sung and arranged, but still. Ouch.
Louisiana 1927 – Randy Newman
And the depression keeps on coming with Randy Newman’s lament about hundreds of thousands of people left homeless in Louisiana after the floods of 1927. He talks of the the lack of help they received from President Coolidge and has the repeated refrain of ‘they’re trying to wash us away’. Sounds oddly familiar doesn’t it? It’s little wonder that this song gained further notice after Hurricane Katrina hit which lead to Newman re-recording it as part of a benefit album.
I still cannot fathom that this is the man that wrote the Toy Story soundtrack. I mean, he used to write music that felt so important and so political in his youth and now we all know him for ‘You Got A Friend In Me’.
You Haven’t Done Nothin’ – Stevie Wonder
Finally a break in the clouds of depressive music, even if it is an angry protest song at the presidency of Richard Nixon (seriously, between this and ‘Louisiana 1927, it goes to show just how little has changed since the 1970s). It feels good to have some good funk music with a heavy clavinet track and the first appearance on the list of the Jackson family (the Jackson 5 provided the backing vocals, which is more a footnote than them making this song extra special).
I like how this is the good side of funk. There’s repetition but, unlike James Brown, there’s enough variation to keep you interesting and the repetition isn’t done ad nauseum.
This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us – Sparks
I don’t know if it’s because this is the ultimate antidote for the rest of the songs in this post, but I absolutely adored this song. Another glam rock song that I am loving, if you had told me this a few months ago I would not have believed you.
Why do I like this? I cannot tell you other than that it’s a bit nuts with it being completely sung in falsetto with fake gun shots and the use of the film cliches. This song feels like the moment where glam rock has started to mutate into power pop – and I really love good power pop. What a great way to finish off 1974!