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…
Charles Aznavour – La Boheme (1965)
Back on our plane we go, dear reader, and we’re crossing the Atlantic Ocean that we know so well by now and are heading over to Europe. To France we must go and to a different time to what we know today. Our guest today is French-Armenian, Charles Aznavour, who sadly died last year at the age of 94 and had a career spanning seven decades where he recorded hundreds of songs and in multiple languages as well. Seriously, Charles, are you trying to impress us or something? Well, impressed we are, sir. 1001 Songs has given the nod to Aznavour and from his collection they have gone with La Boheme.
La Boheme translates as Bohemian and sees Aznavour in the shoes of a nostalgic narrator. This individual remembers a different time when they were in Montmartre where lilacs were in bloom, food was scarce, they painted nude models and they were in love with a special woman. It sounds like a hard life but Aznavour reminisces of these days where he and this woman sometimes didn’t eat on some days yet they were still happy, they were united, they were young and they were free. Later in the song Azanvour returns to Montmartre in search of the past but it isn’t there. Those lilacs are dead, the studio he once painted in is gone, the buildings have changed and it seems the love he once had has also dissipated along with the Bohemian life that meant so much to him. It’s as if that life was a dream lost to him upon waking.
I listened to Charles Aznavour and followed the lyrics to La Boheme in French, savouring his beautiful voice and the complementing musical accompaniment. I didn’t know what he was saying yet I was moved. Afterwards I read the lyrics in English and the song hit me even harder. As I get older I find myself consumed by my own nostalgia and feeling lamentation for the years behind me that I will never get back. Aznavour sings of a different time in the life of this narrator when they were so blissfully happy that even not knowing where the next meal was coming from was no impediment. It’s such simple times in our lives when we are young and not yet fully exposed to the world and its challenges that are moments we should savour. Once our eyes are open to the world we can’t go back, just as Aznavour’s narrator discovers at the song’s conclusion. The reality is hard to accept.
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)
The Righteous Brothers – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling (1964)
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Bert Jansch – Needle of Death (1965)