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…
Elvis Presley – In the Ghetto (1969)
From Jamaica, we head back to the US and are in the company of a monarch, dear reader. Yes, the King himself – Elvis Presley – returns to grace us with his sheer genius. Now more than a decade into his career, we pick up Presley’s story in 1969. After being lost in Hollywood films for a few years, there are wilting record sales and mockery to be found in many places. The King was in need of a comeback and it came with a song penned by Mac Davis entitled In the Ghetto.
In the Ghetto is the story of the ghettos of Chicago and Presley tells us the tale of a baby boy born there on a cold and grey morning. This child is one child too many for his poverty-stricken mother who weeps at the thought of another mouth to feed. How will she manage? Life is hard as the boys grows up on the mean streets, doing what he can to survive. With no guidance and little prospect, the boy becomes an angry young man but his life ends there. It sounds as if he is gunned down in the street after trying to steal a car. While his mother weeps, another baby boy is born in the ghetto and the cycle of deprivation and violence looks set to continue. Presley admonishes us about turning a blind eye to what’s going on but the reality is that in this ghetto, people do look the other way and refuse to acknowledge what is happening.
I know many songs by Elvis Presley and although I have heard of In the Ghetto, I can honestly say I do not recall ever hearing it before. I realise I continue to paint myself as a musical incompetent with this 1001 Songs Challenge but at least I will be educated by the end of it in 2021. In the Ghetto is a beautifully written song, every lyric a reflection of poverty, while the resulting violence that befalls the young man is tragic. Presley’s voice is sombre throughout, his perfect pacing tugging at the heart strings as he gathers us around and tells us a story we don’t want to hear but we really need to.
Favourite songs so far:
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 Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade of Pale (1967)
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Voodoo Child (Slight Return) (1968)
The Kinks – Days (1968)