1001 Songs Challenge,  1950s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #39: Goodnight, Irene (1950)

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!


The Weavers – Goodnight, Irene (1950)

Goodnight, Irene

” Goodnight, Irene” or ” Irene, Goodnight,” is a 20th-century American folk standard, written in time, first recorded by American blues musician Huddie ‘Lead Belly’ Ledbetter in 1933. The lyrics tell of the singer’s troubled past with his love, Irene, and express his sadness and frustration.

Lyrics (via Genius)


A previous artist on this list was Lead Belly with Gallis Pole and today’s song is one that he recorded and sang for many years, though this is a version that followed shortly after his death in 1949. The Weavers are our guests today as we continue our travels in America. Their cover of Goodnight, Irene was not only immensely popular, it set the format for future versions of the song that artists attempted.

The song is not a happy one about wishing Irene a pleasant night’s sleep. Instead, the narrator has been married to a woman called Irene but it sounds like the marriage has come to an end. Our narrator is in great despair and there are even lyrics which point to suicidal thoughts that have arisen at the magnitude of this break-up. All the narrator has for comfort is the thought of being able to see Irene in his dreams which clearly isn’t much consolation.

While The Weavers kept lyrics about the narrator wanting to jump from a bridge to drown, they chose to omit the final verse from Lead Belly’s original which talks of injecting morphine until the narrator dies. Some criticised The Weavers for not including this final verse. I’ll have to listen to Lead Belly’s version to see how much of an impact I feel removing that final verse has. The imagery is quite striking with the mention of injecting morphine but then jumping from a bridge is equally sombre in conveying the pain of the narrator. On its own the song is beautifully sung and poignant, hardly surprising it was such a big success.


Favourite song so far:

Edith Piaf – La Vie en Rose (1946)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

Leave a Reply

< Prev

1001 Songs Challenge #38: Summertime (1950)

Considered one of the best versions of Summertime is this cover by jazz singer, Sarah ...

Further Posts

Next >

1001 Songs Challenge #40: Mambo No. 5 (1950)

Perez Prado was born in Cuba but ended up moving to Mexico to form a ...

Further Posts

%d bloggers like this: