On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenge of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post every day (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be… legendary!
Robert Johnson – Hellhound on My Trail (1937)
” Hellhound on My Trail” (originally ” Hell Hound on My Trail”) is a blues song recorded by Mississippi Delta bluesman Robert Johnson in 1937. It was inspired by earlier blues songs and blues historian Ted Gioia describes it as one of Johnson’s “best known and most admired performances-many would say it is his greatest”.
We remain in Mississippi for the second of two entries from blues maestro, Robert Johnson. Yesterday we covered Crossroad Blues which some believe pertains to the legend of Johnson selling his soul to the Devil at a crossroads in exchange for his musical talents both with the guitar and his vocals. Today’s song is Hellhound on My Trail which some have once again linked to that unholy business transaction.
The lyrics echo those of the lost narrator in Crossroad Blues. That protagonist was stuck at the crossroads and down on their luck not able to get anywhere. The narrator in Hellhound on My Trail doesn’t have the impediment of being stuck in one place but does have the obstacle of being not only constantly on the move but they are being pursued by the unnatural quarry in the shape of the Hellhound of the title. As with Crossroad Blues Johnson sings of his need for a woman that will make everything okay again but there is very much the air of a desperate man here.
Some have likened the song to the myth of Johnson’s exchange with the Devil and how his flight in the song is to try and prolong his life before Satan comes to collect on their deal. This song came from Johnson’s final recording session and the following year he would be dead at 27. His short life remains the stuff of legend and the questions continue to this day about how a supposed nobody could emerge from nowhere to be one of the blues greats. I’ve enjoyed both songs from Robert Johnson but would side with Crossroad Blues as the better of the two numbers here. I wasn’t familiar with the great man’s work until starting this challenge but it’s good to be at the party now, even though I am more than 80 years late.
Favourite song so far: