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…
James Brown – Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud (1968)
The American odyssey continues, dear reader. I sure hope you don’t mind this lengthy stay in the US. It’s a fine place with some great music and today we’re having a bit of funk from our lord and master, James Brown, making yet another appearance on this list. Easy does it, James, let someone else have a turn. Having spent a few years entertaining the masses with some memorable hits, we pick up Brown’s story in 1968 where he became even braver than before by tackling some very contentious issues. Today’s song is a great example of that – Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud.
Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud sees Brown addressing racial tensions within the US and, just as likely, the world in general. He sings of the injustices that black people face, in particular, the idea that they work hard not for themselves but for the benefit of the man i.e. the white man. Through some truly powerful lyrics, Brown tells us, correctly, that black people are just people and that they deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect as everyone else. Brown sings of change and the luxury of being able to die on one’s own two feet rather than down on one’s knees. Thought-provoking stuff indeed.
James Brown’s transition to serious topical subjects is a smooth one. There is still that energy and drive behind his voice, full of passion and really grabbing your attention. Delving into the lyrics though, this is a marked departure from Brown’s earlier work. “Say it loud”, he sings, while a choir of children fire back at him, “I’m black and I’m proud.” Each repetition of the chorus hammers home this message and you can only imagine the reaction from Brown’s white fanbase. While many would have supported his message, I am sure that some prior fans may have been turned off by his protestations. More fool them.
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 Who – Substitute (1966)
The Rolling Stones – Paint It Black (1966)
The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Kinks – Waterloo Sunset (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade of Pale (1967)