Tag Archives: Nina Simone

1001 Songs – 1968: Part One

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…

Progress: 257/1021

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