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1001 Songs – 1968: Part Two

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud) – James Brown

Compared to the previous James Brown I listened to – where I was unable to get SNL’s Kenan Thompson out of my head – this song actually had a bit more meat to it. I mean we are talking about a time where racism was more prevalent (it’s still pretty prevalent, but you know what I mean) and the Black Power movement was still gaining traction. So a song like this about black Americans being abused by the police became a powerful song to use.

My main problem is still this: this song is incredibly repetitive. It works a bit more here as a protest song, but he does this in other songs so I am not sure how much of a point there was to that as it feels generally improvised.

Hard to Handle – Otis Redding

Here is a song that something more to it. I know this is more soul and James Brown is funk, but this actually has a changing structure and recognisable parts. It’s actually been a while since I last listened to an Otis Redding album and I was reminded of why I enjoyed it.

I think it goes to show that, at this point in time, I like soul a lot more than funk.

A minha menina – Os Mutantes

Okay now for something unlike anything I have heard on this songs list. I enjoy it when random acts of fusion begin to happen as the next round of musicians start to take on the work of other cultures. Here we have the more traditional Brazilian bossa nova music combined with the psychedelic rock that was coming out of the US and the UK.

What you have when these are mixed is something completely new and would form significant part of Brazilian cultural identity in the late 1960s and beyond: Tropicália. It’s fresh, it’s different and it’s something that could only come out of a country of such contrasting cultures as those found in Brazil. I hope a few more of these songs turn up along the way.

Sympathy for the Devil – The Rolling Stones

Okay so we have two songs in a row that have fused rock music with Latin American influences – in this instance the samba. I mentioned two years ago about how much Beggar’s Banquet (the album where this song acts as an opener) left me cold. I even signalled out ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ as a song that did nothing for me.

Here we are two years later and I am able to enjoy this song more. I love how the upbeat samba forms a strange contrast with the satanic lyrics. The thing that gets me is just how highly this is rated on best song lists. It’s fine, it’s fun and it’s very repetitive. Listening to it makes me wonder just how many times they are going ‘woo woo’ in the background. I feel like I am in the minority when it comes to rock music, but that’s okay.

Pressure Drop – Toots & The Maytals

You know that scene in Spongebob where Patrick dreams of riding a coin-operated horse and he is moving up and down in the same repeated fashion? That’s reggae music to me.

I have to admit that ‘Pressure Drop’ is better than most of the reggae music I have heard. The upped tempo instantly makes this better than ‘Israelites‘ and any of the Bob Marley that I’ve listened to so far. The song itself is about weather pressure as a metaphor for karma, which I did not get but can appreciate the poetic choice of.

Cyprus Avenue – Van Morrison

Wow it has been years since I listened to Astral Weeks for my album list. It’s one of those albums where it’s difficult to choose a specific cut because it’s all meant to be listened to together as a song cycle. Still, if a song had to be picked it makes sense that it’s ‘Cyprus Avenue’.

There is an awful lot going on in this song. You have Van Morrison singing about his younger years in Belfast (where Cyprus Avenue is a street) with strings, a guitar and a harpsichord playing over and underneath him. It is whistful, sentimental and dreamy all at the same time – but should not be listened to by itself. This song belongs in the heard of Astral Weeks and just gets cut off at the end as it starts to pick up the pace.

Hey Jude – The Beatles

So here we are at the end of an era – the final Beatles song on the 1001 list and it’s arguably one of their biggest ones. The genesis of this song is a actually quite weird (but sweet). Paul McCartney writing this to comfort John Lennon’s son in the wake of John Lennon’s divorce from his first wive as caused by his affair with Yoko Ono.

Pretty much everyone in the UK will know this song and have quite possibly sung to the fade out. I have talked about repetition a lot in this section of 1968 (or at least it feels like I have) and here we have an example that works. For the final 4 minutes the lyrics and the basic instrumentation are the same, but they play with it every now and then. Also, the reason behind it as a song to cheer up Julian Lennon just brings a smile to your face. I have to hand it to Paul McCartney here – he done good.

Voodoo Child (Slight Return) – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Okay so I was expecting to find out that the Rogue Traders song had taken a sample from this or something. Not the case sadly as that would have been this little except written up for me right away.

‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ acts as the closing song of Electric Ladyland – the final album that Jimi Hendrix released when he was alive. It revisits and expands on some of the musical themes that came up in ‘Voodoo Chile’, which was a track on the same album.

For me this track continues to support the image of how amazing a guitarist Jimi Hendrix was. He is lauded for a reason and this song just shows why. The waste. The sheer unadulterated waste.

The Pusher – Steppenwolf

The single that Steppenwolf released before this was biker themed anthem ‘Born to be Wild’, so it’s interesting that the list instead went for this one about a drug dealer. Taking the subject matter onboard I cannot say I disagree with that decision. I mean, sure, this isn’t the more famous song, but the way that this song chooses to tackle the war on drugs is interesting.

It takes the stance that a lot have people still take nowadays – that there is a difference between hard drugs like heroin (sold by the pusher) and softer drugs like grass (sold by the dealer). Of course we’re only now getting into the position where this separation is being reflected in politics, but it’s interesting to see that 50+ years ago we were already having this conversation.

The Weight – The Band

Okay so this is where the folk-country part of my music taste wants to come out and make itself known. I really enjoyed this song goes honky-tonk as it hits the chorus line with it’s chunky piani line and singalong lyrics.

Speaking of honky-tonk, I can see this as being one of those great drinking songs that can get a rise out of many a drunk as they start to slip into unconciousness. It feels like one of those comfortable songs that we all know even if we’ve never heard it before.

Days – The Kinks

How do I know this song? Seriously, can someone please tell me as this song was immediately recognisable to me and I have no idea from where. I don’t think it’s like ‘The Weight’ where I feel like I have gotten to know this as part of the collective subconscious, I know I have heard this somewhere and it is really bugging me. Yes, this is a bit of a weird note to end on. It’s a really nice song, but I wish we’d ended with The Band.

Progress: 268/1021

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1001 Songs – 1967: Part Three

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

And so we finish out another year with this third and final look at the songs from 1967 that feature in the 1001 book.

Montague Terrace (In Blue) – Scott Walker

Right, so a minute in and this song just explodes. This song is a bit heavy on the tingly chimes (in a weird way) and thick on the strings (in a good way), which just builds up to the big overblown chorus.

He doesn’t quite have the voice that would work for this. Now Jacques Brel, an influence of both this song and Scott Walker in general, probably would have.

So essentially we have a song that is seeing the chanson tradition through the lens of blues and pop. Interesting.

A Day in the Life – The Beatles

Okay so this is my mum’s favourite Beatles song. It’s yet another one of those songs that shows just how far ahead of their time The Beatles actually were.

There is a reason that I listen to these songs again even if I have done the album before – listening to a song in isolation is a different experience than as part of an album. I mean, I completely missed ‘Eleanor Rigby’ as it just got swallowed up by the rest of the album. Same goes for ‘A Day In The Life’.

It’s the closer for Sgt Pepper and so is the closing track on what is widely seen as one of the best albums of all time.

Is it a good song? In isolation it is and it means I am going to have to listen to the album properly again. It’s a prime example of Lennon-McCartney working well together and actually just how they were beginning to properly diverge.

Alone Again Or – Love

I still maintain that I know this song from somewhere else and I can not put my finger on it.

Listening to this properly outside of the rest of the album that follows it I really do appreciate that weird mariachi sound that they incorperated into this song.

It’s one of those songs that is the coming together of the 1960s musical trends of folk rock and baroque pop. My husband thinks it pales in comparison to the previous song… but I prefer this.

Tin Solder – The Small Faces

Interesting vocals on this song. Not only are they overpowered by the rock, but the mix of the voices sound like they had been poorly filtered.

I guess it makes sense in the way since this is a song that is experimenting with, what would become, heavy rock. Still though, sounded like there was somg gurling going on.

It’s a sweet song from the idea that it was written to impress a girl (who the writer would later marry), but on the whole it was a bit off.

See Emily Play – Pink Floyd

Beatles? Is that you? Seriously though, this sounds a lot like a song that the Beatles would have made.

This was released in the UK as a single, but in the US they got this on a re-issue of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

It’s an okay song, but right now it doesn’t feel like anything we haven’t heard before. It’s a well done example of a Beatle’s influenced song, but I think this is on here to signal the beginnings of, what would become, one of the big UK acts.

A Whiter Shade of Pale – Procol Harum

Yet another one of the extremely famous songs from 1967. Maybe, not anymore, as widely known as ‘Respect’, but still a most famous song from this year.

I mean how many songs can have a title that has entered common parlence than this one? It’s one of those nice phrases (like Watergate) that journalists cannot resist taking for a subheader.

When this is not the best and most recognised song in a year, you know it’s a good one.

The Tears of a Clown – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

Okay so the opening of this song is one that should be recognised by anyone who has listened to Heart FM. It’s like circus music and I think that’s the point.

It’s a great example of where pop and soul could meet in the world of Motown, even if it did take too long for me to cotton on that, yes, this was a man singing.

Sunshine of Your Love – Cream

There are many times where my album and song lists cross paths. This is, however, one of the first times that I have listened to the song without first crossing off the album. The other being Jefferson Airplane’s album Surrealistic Pillow.

When compared to ‘Tin Soldier’ this is a better executed example of an early hard rock song.

That guitar riff is so recognisable and very much like the sort you would have heard from Jimi Hendrix at the time.

Makes me wonder what the rest of the album is like.

Cold Sweat – James Brown & The Famous Flames

Thanks to many years of watching Saturday Night Live I cannot start listening to a funk song without Kenan Thompson strolling into my brain and doing his ‘What’s Up With That’ sketch.

This is one of the first example of funk songs and it’s profoundly dull. Just listening to it whilst sat on a sofa there isn’t that much to it. There is only one change and we just have James Brown grunting as he signals each member of his band to do a solo.

Seriously, Kenan and the rest of Saturday Night Live got this spot on.

The First Cut Is the Deepest – P.P. Arnold

There are many cover versions of this song. The first version I heard of this was by Sheryl Crow. I have also heard versions by both Cat Stevens and Rod Stewart.

This is my least favourite version. With the harp and the higher register occupied by P.P. Arnold it just feels a little bit twee.

I get that she had been through things with her husband that would make this song resonate with her, but at 21 (in 1967) she feels a bit young to be singing a song like this. Or maybe that’s just me?

Progress: 248/1021

1001 Songs – 1965: Part One

Now we have reached 1965 I think this list is at the point where nearly every year is going to be split up. In total there are 22 songs listed for 1965 and I will be doing an even split between the two.

Just scanning the names of some of the songs released in 1965 makes your jaw drop. We are getting to the point where there are some real heavy hitters; so it is nice to start on a lesser known one.

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

La paloma – Caterina Valente

‘La paloma’ is one of the most recorded songs in history. At 140 years old this Spanish song been sung all around the world. It’s English version (entitled ‘No More’ was recorded by Elvis Presley and versions of this song have featured in films such as Das Boot and The Godfather Part II.

I guess that it would make sense for some form of this song will feature on this list. It means that Caterina Valente’s version (sung in the original Spanish) must be one of the best representations of this song. It’s nice, although it could do with fewer flourishes. However, this just pales in comparison to what is going to follow.

Sinnerman – Nina Simone

Nina Simone is worthy of more than just one song on this list. However, if you were to pick only one song it would have to be ‘Sinnerman’. She wasn’t just the amazing singer and trailblazer, but also she was an incredible arranger. You see it on other recordings in the Nina Simone discography, but ‘Sinnerman’ exemplifies this.

At just over 10 minutes long ‘Sinnerman’ feels absolutely jam packed. No time feels wasted in this powerful jazz piano-driven gospel number. To see this performed live must have been absolutely enrapturing. Makes complete sense that it would be how she ends her concerts.

The Irish Rover – The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem

From something traditionally gospel we are going to something traditionally Irish. New York truly is a melting pot. Both ‘Sinnerman’ and ‘The Irish Rover’ represent very different sides of the same beautiful city.

Think of this Irish folk song as a tall tale about a ship that gets taller and taller before it hits a rock and sinks. A good fun romp and a lot less serious than the soul grabbing song we had just before.

Needle of Death – Bert Jansch

Okay and we are back in serious town. The flip side of folk here are Scottish folk singer Bert Jansch sings a song about a friend of his who died because of drugs.

There is no ambiguity in this song. The lyrics are brutal, the atmosphere sombre and the delivery is heartbreaking. It’s enough to make you tear up (I did, but I’m an easy audience) as he repeats the chorus of “Your troubled young life/Had made you turn/To a needle of death”.

Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag – James Brown

What is this list doing to me!? Taking me from one emotion to another in the blink of an eye. Whoever arranged this book is a sadist.

Anyway. What we have here is a very important song in music classification history. Behind this light-hearted song about an older man still having the guts to get on the dancefloor and do dances like the Twist and the Mashed Potato is a new genre. That’s right: funk has well and truly entered the building.

La boheme – Charles Aznavour

Just reading though this man’s Wikipedia page is enough to make anyone humble (and not just because he was the French voice of Up’s Mr Fredericksen). To many he is THE name of chanson recordings and ‘La boheme’ is his signature song’.

It tells the story of a young painter looking back on his life in a typical chanson meter. Emotive, yet measured. Sweeping, yet subdued. It’s like the French version of ‘It Was A Very Good Year’ in that it looks back on the past fondly, but without the regret of lost youth.

California Dreamin’ – The Mamas & The Papas

How unfair is this. Such a great song written by your brain as you dream. Some people juse have the talent I guess.

The only word you need to describe this is ‘sunny’. Written by John and Michelle Phillip about the California weather they were missing whilst living in New York City during winter. The layering of the harmonies in this song and that flute solo are the perfect accompaniment to a sunny afternoon (or can transport you to a sunny afternoon when it’s a cold day). Lovely.

Ticket to Ride – The Beatles

First Beatles song on this list. With this being their 7th number one single I am impressed at the restraint of the editors of this book. Usually people just back in the Beatles because it’s an easy way to make lists like this.

Why is this their first song on the list? Because this is when the Beatles really became the Beatles. Beforehand they were taking what other groups were doing at the time and making good versions of that; now they are moving on from that. You can start to hear psychedelia creeping into their work.

5 Beatles songs left to go. Again, I admire the restraint of this book’s editors.

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – The Rolling Stone

I have heard this song so many times (including Joanna Lumley’s karaoke version in ‘Absolutely Fabulous’), but I think this is the first time that I have listened to the lyrics of this.

Much like The Kink’s ‘You Really Got Me’ we have an early example of rock and roll moving on from the dancefloors of Elvis into something a bit more powerful (or forceful) and into something harder. With these last three songs we see the spectrum that rock was splitting itself into. The softer side that is more pop and folk, the psychedelic side and the harder side.

The Tracks of My Tears – The Miracles

A bit of a breather from the rock world now and a little bit of soul. It’s unusual to hear a song from a man’s side of a break-up that is this emotionally honest. The lyric ‘my smile is my make-up I wear since my break up with you’.

Here we have someone essentially saying: I miss you, I’ve been crying, I’m on the rebound and I’m still thinking of you. It’s so heartfelt and the sad lyrics, like the song itself, are hidden beneath a more joyful backing. Layers and layers this song has.

Mr. Tambourine Man – The Byrds

I have seen the case made that 1965 is one of the three important years in modern music. The other two? 1975 and 1991.

This year has already been able to demonstrate a seminal funk song, the splitting of rock into the three sub-genres and now we have the song that invented the term punk rock. Holy cow.

Getting back on the road of songs – it is interesting to note that the band weren’t initially too keen on recording this. Probably because this is originally a slower folk Bob Dylan song and they wanted something that was more on the Beatles side of things.

Still, you can’t say that they didn’t make this song their own. I wouldn’t go as far as Bob Dylan and say that it was danceable, but it’s still a good piece of folk rock. I looked at their album AGES ago. Come take a look!

Progress: 175/1021

Music Monday: Soul Of The 60s

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 13/250

Okay I know I made a bit of a deal of going more modern but one of the first blogs I made was a failed attempt at listening to the entire in the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die book and I stalled in the mid-sixties. This means I have some write-ups pre-done for a number of albums in this Top 250 list and as such they provide a nice way for me to create a buffer for when I get busy.

This post, the seventh as part of Music Monday, marks the first time I am covering two different artists. The reason being that both artists only have one entry on this list and they are (as the title suggests) soul albums from the 1960s.

James_Brown-Live_at_the_Apollo_(album_cover) Title: ‘Live’ At The Apollo
Artist: James Brown
Year: 1963
Position: #45 (Previously: #39)

Why do girls scream at musicians they love? I ask this because it is something you hear rather often when  listening to James Brown’s Live At The Apollo. I guess that the screaming of girls is just another one of those tell-tale signs that an artist has got charisma.

If Live At The Apollo were to be solely judged against other live albums I have listened to it still lies somewhere near the bottom of the pack, still some way above Ellington at Newport 1956 but doesn’t match the majesty of At Mister Kelly’s or the sheer wow-factor of Sam Cooke’s Live At The Harlem Square Club. That isn’t to say that this isn’t a good album, as it is. Ratings wise it places about the same as Sunday At The Village Vanguard which I did also enjoy.

The real highlight, aside from laughing at the reactions of the women in the audience, is the ten minute epic that is ‘Lost Someone. This is not a track to match the sheer energy of ‘Sex Machine but this is James Brown raw and unplugged. It feels that all of the funk artifice has been stripped away leaving behind this man bearing his soul to a sparse orchestration. If it wasn’t for the sheer power of his voice it would fall flat on it’s face, but in the hands of this professional it is perfectly executed. That is not to say that the energy of the closer ‘Night Train isn’t at all welcome.

In the end Live At The Apollo comes to symbolise a lot of the problems of a live recording for a lot has become lost in the process of transferring it from the performance onto vinyl and now to mp3. I am sure that if I were there in person with the magnetic personality of James Brown at the helm of this show’s ‘Night Train’ I would happily be in the snack cart buying a bag of pretzels as I enjoyed the ride of my life. However, without seeing him dancing around and without the atmosphere I am left a little bit cold which is a shame.

Otisblue

Title: Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul
Artist: Otis Redding
Year: 1965
Position: #67 (Previously: #60)

For some unknown reason I actually had it in my head that he was one of those musicians who was still alive, or at least died in the last decade, so you can appreciate my shock when I discovered that he died at the tender age of 26 about two years after Otis Blue was released. Much like Buddy Holly, Otis Redding too died in a plane crash.

In all three attempts to listen to this album I got distracted by different things. The first attempt was the theme song to The Tudors which my mum was watching in the other room, the second by the sound of the torrential rain outside. By the third attempt I had had enough and forced myself to sit down and really listen to this. Sadly though this still left me cold.

Although there is no denying that Otis Redding had talent. This album is indeed a testament to this and in fact makes me wish that there was a live album of his on this list rather than this studio album. In this era I am not doubting that these live albums would be in short supply. In this way this is a bit annoying as in the entire album I can feel this shimmer that is constantly bubbling that makes me think that wills me onwards to try more of his back catalogue, but it somehow just remains there below the surface and never truly reveals itself. I guess this shows how far I have come from condemning the first live album I encountered on this list as being absolute refuse, but it serves a point. So, why is this album on here?

Aside from the multitude of 5-star reviews and Top 100 Albums Ever placements this has received there must be some reason. To represent a talent lost tragically soon? Maybe. But I think more likely is the sheer influence that this sound has had on music today. In fact if you listen to ‘I’ve Been Loving You For Too Long’ you can hear in the nuances of his voice and in the arrangement that there is something different going on here. This is resplendent throughout the album and really culminates in the cover of ‘Satisfaction’ (not as good as the original, but still very good). So in the end, at least in my opinion, this has owned a placement for being an album placed in the stages of music’s evolution rather than sheer merit.