On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging 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 everyday (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…
Joseito Fernandez – Guantanamera (1941)
We make the short flight from the US and head back to Cuba to take in a song that is considered a national emblem of the island and their most noted patriotic number as well. This version by Joseito Fernandez, adapted from a poem by Jose Marti, was the first to gain significant popularity in Cuba though the song would later become known worldwide thanks to a rendition by the Sandpipers in 1966. However, we remain in the 1940s with Fernandez’s take and what a take it is.
The song is said to be about a peasant woman from Guantanamo, hence Guajira Guantanamera, that makes up the chorus to the song. The other lyrics refer to Fernandez’s toil at composing the song and speak of his verse being the colours of nature but also offers more striking images such as being that of a wounded animal. It reminds me of the troubled narrator in Elton John’s Your Song trying to compose their masterpiece. Clearly the peasant girl from Guantanamo has had a profound effect on our singer here.
Guantanamera is the latest song where I had to seek out a translation to garner significant meaning from it. That said, I found myself singing along with delight at the chorus even though I didn’t realise the words I was saying were “peasant girl.” I loved this rendition from Fernandez which is full of life and immediately addictive to the ear. It’s no stretch of the imagination to understand why the song came to resonate first with Cuba and then with the rest of the world.
Favourite song so far:
Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit (1939)