List Item: Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die
White Rabbit – Jefferson Airplane
Necessity is the mother of invention and Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane is one of those mothers. ‘White Rabbit’ is one of the first songs that managed to sneak drug references onto mainstream radio.
How? The entire thing is disguised by references to Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland which, to be honest, feels like it was one long drug fuelled piece of prose anyway.
The way that this song is just one big build up to the conclusion reminds me of how ‘Heroin’ tried to do a similar thing with how they paced their music.
Also, a female lead singer on a rock song. About bloody time!
Purple Haze – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
It’s been a while since I did my Jimi Hendrix album posts. It sounds like another drugs song, even though Hendrix describes this as a love song. You can write a love song about cars so why not about drugs right?
‘Purple Haze’ is a song where a lot of the impact has been lost to normalisation. We are used to a more metal sounding guitar and the chords that made Hendrix famous. This doesn’t sound like much that came before it so there is a lot to appreciate there.
I’m a Man – The Spencer Davis Group
Ah the Hammond organ, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard one of these for the songs list. Began to think that we had moved through this weird period of music. Nope, but soon!
I think that this is the first time in this list where I am completely colourblind with a song. The assimilation of blues and RnB into white music is now complete with songs like ‘I’m a Man’.
Venus in Furs – The Velvet Underground
It feels like a lot has happened in my musical development since I did The Velvet Underground & Nico for the albums list. The more I listen to tracks from this album, the more I see how exceptional they are.
‘Venus in Furs’ feels like a sexy song (I mean it does contain references to bondage, so it’s meant to be fairly sensual). Like you are walking into one of those sex parties from The Great Gatsby or Eyes Wide Shut.
Interesting blend of instruments in this too. You have that viola constantly screeching and then Lou Reed on a guitar where all the strings have been tuned to the same note. Weird.
Fire – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Speaking of interesting blends, here is a song that is just a mishmash of all the big musical trends at the same time. You have rock, psychedelia, some soul and a whole lotta funk.
I guess that’s what Hendrix was good at. A song that sounds like a lot of fun to perform, even if it started out over a comment of an actual dog wanting to be warm by the fire.
Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks
Okay this is actually a beautiful song. I’ve heard this song a few times before, but this is the first time I have properly listened to it.
It’s hard to get romance right in lyrics. You can be too schmaltzy, too overt or just get things wrong. This gets the balance perfect with its wistful lyrics.
What I love most is how this wasn’t about him in love, it’s about someone looking out of a window and seeing the same couple walking around Waterloo and romanticising them to the point of giving them names.
It’s the song that encapsulates the joys of people watching.
Ode to Billie Joe – Bobbie Gentry
Well this song took a turn. I had to pause the moment she sang the lyrics “Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”.
Yes, this is a country song that tells of a family who are sat around the dinner table discussing the suicide of Billie Joe. Well most of it anyway. We end the song a year later where the narrator (Billie Joe’s sister) recaps the events after the suicide.
This is not the song I was expecting; a Southern Gothic tale of a family dealing with suicide. The throaty by Gentry is ideal for this yarn of a song. Wow.
The Dark End of the Street – James Carr
A song about a couple who are having to hide their love. Maybe they’re cheating on their spouses. Maybe they’re from families that wouldn’t approve of the match. The song is never explicit about this, but I would go for the former (I’d like to throw in a gay romantic interpretation of this… but I think that’s stretching it a bit).
You feel sorry for this couple who are clearly in love but are not allowed to be together. They may be cheaters or they may not be. In any case there is a lot of pain in this song and that’s what makes it good.
Suzanne – Leonard Cohen
I mentioned with ‘Waterloo Sunset’ about how hard it is to do a romantic song right. ‘Suzanne’ is another example, but this case it’s an unrequited love.
Suzanne was a real person that Cohen had a platonic relationship with. You listen to the lyrics and it sounds so much that he was in love with her, but could never act upon those feelings.
Something about her really touched him. Beautiful and sad.
Respect – Aretha Franklin
Ending on one of the most recognisable songs from the 1960s here. This has seriously been one of the best sets of songs that I have so far done from the 1001 list.
The fact that this song of female empowerment started out as a song about a desperate man wanting some respect from his wife just floors me.
Aretha Franklin truly made this song her own and the rest, as they say, is history.