List Item: Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die
Gloomy Sunday – Billie Holiday (1941)
Watchers of QI will know this song as being associated with radio listeners committing suicide. I know it’s dumb, but I did gird my loins in case of severe depression. It is always great when a song has such a dark urban myth attached to it. The song itself, whilst it is undoubtedly melancholy, did not make me want to slit my wrists. Her delivery is, as always, emotionally evocative. Much more so due to the lyrics shading suicide.
Guantanamera – Joseito Fernandez (1941)
A nice respite in the Billie Holiday sandwich of depression. ‘Guantanamera’ feels a lot more cheerful for two reasons. Cuban melodies are fairly upbeat even when dealing with tragedy. Also, I have no idea what he is singing. I just know that he keeps using a feminine verison of Guantanamo which feels weird considering what Gitmo is.
God Bless The Child – Billie Holiday (1941)
Oh god, this has been ruined for me by the Simpsons Sing The Blues album. Nowhere near as mournful as ‘Strange Fruit’ or ‘Gloomy Sunday’ – maybe because this is a song that Billie Holiday wrote herself. One thing I am very aware of is how clear her voice is. As someone who listens to Lady In Satin every now and then (‘Violet for Your Furs’ being a favourite’) it is great to be able to hear how her voice was before the drugs and the drink got to it. Like a mournful siren.
Stormy Weather – Lena Horne (1943)
Where Billie Holiday is mournful in her songs that address dissapointment, Lena Horne is petulant. ‘Stormy Weather’ is about how life (and men) have dissapointed the singer. Lena is angry at her disspointment and at the world that has caused her to feel this way. The sweeping strings in the background perfectly lift her soaring vocal delivery. It’s a very simply arranged song, but Lena Horne is able to easily carry it off with a whole lot of confidence.
Rum and Coca-Cola – Lord Invader (1943)
Just noticed that we have skipped over 1942. This is a very dark song, not that you would know it until you look at the lyrics. It’s a song about how the US soldiers went over to Triniad and the writer feels that they were invading the society (the title referring to the drinks that US soldiers were drinking). It also makes a lot of references to the US soldiers sleeping with local women. On the shallow level, the song is all over the place and can be difficult to follow. On a deeper level, it’s a historical document.
This Land Is Your Land – Woody Guthrie (1944)
A very patriotic and a very American song here. I have never really liked this song for the way some people have been able to re-appropriate it against immigration along the US-Mexico border. In a more innocent world it would be nice enough, it’s just some people have been able to ruin it.
Lili Marleen – Marlene Dietrich (1945)
I love Marlene Dietrich in films – her deep and smoky delivery makes for interesting listening. It’s a very German cabaret type of voice (like Ute Lemper in the modern day). I don’t know German – but I know it is a rather beautiful sounding German love song. The fact that this version was used by the Allies in World War Two as a way to demoralise German soldiers (Marlene Dietrich apparently being very on board with this) makes this song a weird stroke of genius.
(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66 – The Nat King Cole Trio (1946)
I am so used to Nat King Cole being a voice of Christmas songs, so it is weird to hear him sounding so youthful. It’s a crossover song between pop and rhythym and blues – and if it was released after Bill Haley came onto the scene this would have sounded VERY different.
Al gurugu – La Nina de los peines (1946)
A good example of why I went for this list instead of Acclaimed Music. This is a flamenco song that would not have appeared on a critics top list, but is interesting to listen to because it is a very different type of song. Yes, this is a latin off shoot, but the foot stomping in the background keeping the beat in the place of drums makes a lot more sense. She was very important in the flamenco scene – just not many people are aware of that scene.
La vie en rose – Edith Piaf (1946)
One of the most famous songs ever to come out of France. It’s a beautiful song where you can just phase out of whatever you are doing and take you along a journey with it. I just love it. Hard to know what else to say.
La mer – Charles Trenet (1946)
I had no idea that ‘Beyond The Sea’ was based on a French song! Well, you learn something new everyday. I quite like the English version and, because it is what I am used to, I do prefer it. There is something about listening to the melody with the original (and unrelated) French lyrics. My one issue? When the backing singers join at the end of ‘La Mer’, it detracts from the simplicity of it.