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…
Etta James – I’d Rather Go Blind (1967)
We’re back to the US today, dear reader, and heading on over to California once again. Maybe I should look into some property here given how often we visit. I’ll make sure there are spare rooms for us all! Our featured artist specialised in many genres such as blues, R&B, gospel, jazz, soul and rock & roll. That’s one impressive repertoire. We are talking about Etta James who faced many problems in her personal life but was still able to deliver some truly memorable music to the world. Today’s song was primarily written by Ellington Jordan with Etta James collaborating with him to complete it. Sadly, for tax reasons Etta’s songwriting credit went to her partner at the time, Billy Foster. The song in question is I’d Rather Go Blind.
I’d Rather Go Blind is a slow number with Etta James taking on a narrator who has seen a relationship with a man come to an end. This is a painful break-up all the more so because this man has left our troubled narrator for another woman. Not cool, man, not cool. Such is the anguish of this parting that Etta James tells us she would rather be blind than have to watch her now ex-lover leave her. A particularly powerful moment is her desire to also be blind so she doesn’t have to see her reflection, one that shows her eyes filled with tears and at her most vulnerable. There is clearly no respite here for the narrator. This is Elvis’ Heartbreak Hotel territory with the volume cranked up to 11.
I was familiar with the name of Etta James but not her work. I’d Rather Go Blind is a brief song that moves along at a steady pace. The backing music is mild, giving full sway to Etta James’ powerful and beautiful voice. It is captivating to listen to and conveys the emotive element of the lyrics very well. In the decades that followed, Etta James survived a long history of heroin addiction and numerous stints in rehabilitation centres before her health gradually failed. She is said to have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2008 and in 2011 was discovered to have leukaemia which led to her death in 2012 at the age of 73. That day the world lost another stunning voice.
Favourite songs so far:
Ben E. King – Stand By Me (1961)
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Righteous Brothers – Unchained Melody (1965)
The Who – Substitute (1966)
The Rolling Stones – Paint It Black (1966)
The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)
The Beatles – Eleanor Rigby (1966)
The Monkees – I’m a Believer (1966)
The Doors – The End (1967)