List Item: Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die
I Say a Little Prayer – Aretha Franklin
I had never understood that this song is about a woman living her life whilst her boyfriend/husband is off fighting in Vietnam. When viewed through this lens ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ becomes a lot less of a throwaway song.
It’s hard to deny the great vocalist and a force of musical nature that Aretha Franklin was. In the late 1960s it feels like she was almost untouchable… and a work horse considering she was releasing 2-3 albums a year by this point.
The Snake – Al Wilson
Staying with the theme of soul music we have ‘The Snake’, which is basically a musical fable.
I only heard of this song because of Donald Trump using it to back his views on immigration. Because, well, the kind-hearted woman takes in and saves a snake that was near death for it to turn around and kill her because, after all, he’s a snake.
It’s a brilliantly entertaining song that’s now been coloured by modern usage.
Oh Happy Day – The Edwin Hawkins Singers
From soul we segue into one of the most famous pieces of gospel music. Whilst I haven’t heard this particular version of ‘Oh Happy Day’, I have heard this in a large number of American versions whenever they go into a gospel church.
At over 5 minutes long this song is just LONG. I mean I get that this would be in a church and there would be other things going on… but this doesn’t translate to a set of earphones as you are making a stir-fry.
Israelites – Desmond Dekker & The Aces
Oh god. It looks like reggae is starting to come into this list. I have mentioned this many a time before, but not only do I not get reggae – I find it annoying.
Especially ‘Israelites’. It’s a big piece of musical history since it was the first reggae song to get to #1 in the UK and one of the first to get a high placement in American charts.
It’s a piece of musical history, but can we move on now.
Wichita Lineman – Glen Campbell
A bit of a different song here as we head into the world of country music. It tells the story of a man’s loneliness as he works on the telephone lines and misses his lover.
It’s actually a rather sweet song that feels like an early attempt at country-pop. The production makes the whole song feel ethereal and otherworldly. I am not sure how they managed to get some of the effects in (to make it sound like Morse code), but it really made for a great song.
I Heard it Through the Grapevine – Marvin Gaye
We’re back with soul and in the presence of one of the biggest soul songs of all time by one of the biggest soul singers of all time.
In the Marvin Gaye timeline we are still before he went political with What’s Going On and before he went full sex with Let’s Get It On.
Speaks to the longevity of his career that he had where this song is comparatively early and has become such a classic. His voice, the slow tempo and the charisma sells it utterly.
America – Simon & Garfunkel
‘America’ is not the first Simon and Garfunkel song I would think of for this list (that would be ‘The Boxer’, ‘The Sound of Silence’ or ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’… none of which are on this list).
It’s a beautiful song, don’t get me wrong, about a road-trip undertaken by a man and his girlfriend. The storytelling in the song is on the extreme when you consider the short runtime. Then again, that was always Paul Simon’s strong-suits.
I guess I can see how this song signifies what the Bridge Over Troubled Water album was going to become. And it did give that lovely seen in Almost Famous.
Still, would have loved to have had ‘The Boxer’
Ain’t Got No/I Got Life – Nina Simone
I forgot there was another Nina Simone song on here after ‘Sinnerman’. I have been listening to Nina Simone for years, she was a huge part of the soundtrack of my summer of 2009.
And yet, I had no idea that this was neither a song of her creation nor that is was a medley of songs from the musical ‘Hair’. I just figured that this was a song dedicated to the civil rights movement.
Guess that’s the beauty of a good song (and the true genius of Nina Simone). Multiple ways to listen to it and to enjoy it.
Piece of My Heart – Big Brother & The Holding Company
It took me ridiculously long to get that this was Janis Joplin. That’s an amazing set of very distinctive pipes on her.
As covers go it is nearly indistinguishable from the soul original. Instead it is a loud psychedelic rock song with shredding vocals by Joplin. It’s not a sweet song about longing anymore the “take a piece of my heart” is a defiant dare to those who would hurt her. That, unlike in real life, she would bounce back and remain invincible and undeterred.
I really need to listen to Pearl at some point…