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…

 

Jacques Brel – Amsterdam (1964)

It’s been a short stay in the US but we’re back on a plane across the Atlantic and heading to Europe. We’re touching down in Belgium today which I believe is appearing on this list for the first time unless memory serves me poorly. Anyway, our artist today is Jacques Brel who sang the majority of his work in French (oh dear!) and sometimes in Dutch (ah!). Brel was hugely influential with the likes of Scott Walker, David Bowie and Marc Almond among a string of musicians to record their own versions of his songs. From Brel’s back catalogue we have Amsterdam.

Okay, dear reader, this is how it is. Amsterdam is in French so yours truly relied on Google translate to help him through. Brel sings, unsurprisingly about Amsterdam in the Netherlands and his primary focus is on the sailors who have docked there and are going about the usual business of sailors. The song has an epic amount of lyrics as Brel takes us through the shenanigans of the sailors. There is drinking, dancing, sailors living and dying, and sparing their hard-earned coin for some of the prostitutes that can be found on their stay in Amsterdam. With all the partying going on, it sounds like the sailors are spending all their wages in a 24 hour period. Easy does it, guys! It’s certainly a contrast to when my wife, Donna, and I visited Amsterdam in 2010.

Jacques Brel, sadly, did not record a studio version of Amsterdam. Instead, we have only a live recording to savour and what an experience it is. Brel sings the first few verses calmly but as the time passes, the song intensifies and really comes to life. Brel’s voice is delightful all the way through but in those final verses it is loud, powerful and strikes you right to the core. A respectful audience listens intently, as did I, as Brel sings his heart out and only when the last words of Amsterdam have been uttered does the applause drown out any other sound and what well-deserved applause it is as well.

 

Favourite songs so far:

Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode (1958)

Ritchie Valens – La Bamba (1958)

Eddie Cochran – Summertime Blues (1958)

The Everly Brothers – All I Have to Do Is Dream (1958)

Edith Piaf – Non, je ne regrette rien (1960)

Ben E. King – Stand By Me (1961)

Dionne Warwick – Walk On By (1964)

Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come (1964)

The Righteous Brothers – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling (1964)

The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)

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