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…
Serge Gainsbourg – Le Poinconneur des Lilas (1958)
We’re leaving the US today and heading across the Atlantic to France. To be more precise, we’re off to Paris for a spot of tourism. I’m feeling a bit lazy so rather than walk I’m going to get the Paris Metro. The nearest station is Porte des Lilas which, conveniently, is the inspiration for today’s song. It was written and performed by Serge Gainsbourg and is, let’s say, a little different to many of the songs we have had.
While stories of love and heartbreak have dominated the list thus far, Le Poinconneur des Lilas (The Conductor of Lilas), hasn’t an ounce of romance about it. Gainsbourg puts himself in the role of the train conductor and laments the monotony of his life and his job. He punches holes in tickets – over and over and over again – while the train moves from one stop to another. The same thing, day in, day out, and he has had enough. Gainsbourg sings of dreams and idyllic places away from the daily boredom, hopes of better things, anything to take him away from what he has, but sadly it seems like a more sombre path is his only option now. The conductor, endlessly reminding us of the holes he makes in tickets, now talks of taking a gun and making one final hole. It’s a dark and tragic end.
I had to seek out a translation to get to the core of Le Poinconneur des Lilas and was surprised by what I found. Gainsbourg sings it well but I imagine the subject matter would have been shocking at this time, even though it reflects reality. The repetition of the daily grind is well captured and this will resonate with many of us negotiating the working week and looking forward to our days off whenever they may be. The conclusion is poignant and hits you hard though. I imagine the story will linger with me for quite some time.
Favourite songs so far:
Elmore James – Dust My Broom (1952)
Elvis Presley – Heartbreak Hotel (1956)
Fats Domino – Blueberry Hill (1956)
Johnny Cash – I Walk the Line (1956)
The Louvin Brothers – The Knoxville Girl (1956)
Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode (1958)
Cliff Richard & The Drifters – Move It (1958)
Ritchie Valens – La Bamba (1958)
Eddie Cochran – Summertime Blues (1958)
Peggy Lee – Fever (1958)