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…
Nina Simone – Sinnerman (1965)
We’re back in the US today, dear reader, and facing our longest song on this list thus far. Today’s artist sang in a wide range of genres and was a civil rights activist on top of all that talent as well. We are talking about Nina Simone. From her impressive tally of music, 1001 Songs has opted for Sinnerman. This African American spiritual song has been covered by numerous artists but when it came Simone’s way she put together an extended version clocking in at 10 minutes. That’s a lot of sinning.
Sinnerman has a self-explanatory title to it and Simone sings of a man who has sinned but is looking for salvation. He seems to be on the run, turning to a rock to hide him but the rock won’t comply. He turns to the rivers and the seas to aid him but they will not aid him. Finally, he turns to God in this darkest of hours but God sends him to the Devil who is happy to receive him. In the second half of the song, the man goes in search of God’s help once more and the Lord questions the magnitude of his faith. The man prays and beseeches the Lord for mercy but whether he receives this is unclear.
The recording I listened to of Nina Simone was a live performance from 1965 in New York and epic doesn’t even cover it. Her powerful vocals dominate for the opening half of the song before we dip into an interlude of rhythmic clapping along with a majestic piano accompaniment. Simone soon returns and her vocals are more intense than ever with some serious heavy pounding of the drums rounding out the final lyrics of Sinnerman and delivering the denouement. The desperation of the sinner is well-conveyed by Simone and to have witnessed this performance live must have been a breathtaking experience.
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)