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…
Howlin’ Wolf – The Red Rooster (1961)
There’s a sense of deja vu today. A song from the US? Check. Written by Willie Dixon? Check. Covered by Howlin’ Wolf? Check. Released in 1961? Check? Goes by the name of Back Door Man? Now, you’re just being silly and presumptuous. Yes, we really do have back to back songs written by Willie Dixon and performed by Howlin’ Wolf. What are the odds? Today’s song is The Red Rooster, also known as Little Red Rooster, which became a popular blues standard and would also be covered by the likes of Sam Cooke and The Rolling Stones, to name just a couple. However, it is Howlin’ Wolf once again that gets the nod for this magical list.
The Red Rooster is a peculiar song in that it is notable for its ambiguity. The background comes from the Southern states of the US where folklore states that a rooster in the barnyard of a farm is considered to be good luck and brings peace and serenity to the area. Howlin’ Wolf sings of the rooster at a farm and how something is amiss. The rooster isn’t crowing for a start, he’s a bit lazy, and this is causing uncertainty throughout the barnyard. Next thing the dogs are restless as the rooster is wandering around. Howlin’ Wolf then beseeches anyone to bring the rooster back for the damn thing has wandered off and taken the peace and tranquility with it. On the surface it’s a song about a rooster in a barnyard but others have taken different interpretations from the ambiguity, some of a rude and even phallic nature. I’ll let you decide on your own interpretation. Personally, I’ll keep it clean and stick with the farm tale.
As with Back Door Man, this song stands out due to Howlin’ Wolf’s powerful vocals, that deep and bellowing voice drawing you in. There is also some impressive guitar work on offer, the sort that would prove influential on the groups that were soon to follow in Wolf’s footsteps. The Rolling Stones would cover this song later in the 1960s and take it to the top of the UK charts. Whatever interpretation you take from this one – farm story or sexual innuendo – it’s another memorable tune from Howlin’ Wolf.
Favourite songs so far:
Elvis Presley – Heartbreak Hotel (1956)
Johnny Cash – I Walk the Line (1956)
Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode (1958)
Ritchie Valens – La Bamba (1958)
Eddie Cochran – Summertime Blues (1958)
Peggy Lee – Fever (1958)
The Everly Brothers – All I Have to Do Is Dream (1958)
The Shirelles – Will You Love Me Tomorrow (1960)
Johnny Kidd & the Pirates – Shakin’ All Over (1960)
Edith Piaf – Non, je ne regrette rien (1960)