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…
The Last Poets – When the Revolution Comes (1970)
We’re heading back to the US today, dear reader, and we stop off in Harlem, New York. Originally formed in 1968, The Last Poets came to be the name of numerous groups of poets and musicians that emerged out of the African-American civil rights movement and strongly promoted black nationalism. The Last Poets are considered to be one of the precursors to hip hop, which would emerge later in the 1970s. 1001 Songs has selected When the Revolution Comes for this exclusive list.
When the Revolution Comes has a faint use of music but is generally spoken word throughout. In the piece, Abiodun Oyewole takes us through the verses. The song envisions a future when revolution has come to New York and we are given images of what to expect. This is a revolution where black Americans have risen to prominence but their ascension greatly benefits others such as LGBTQ and Jewish communities who are also downtrodden in a society dominated by heterosexual white people. The song even talks about Jesus Christ (depicted as a white man) being one of the first to flee the city when the revolution comes. The Last Poets create this tapestry of a better world for many but then bring us back down to reality. The song closes by stating black Americans will “party and bullshit” in a seemingly endless cycle but, most hauntingly, some will die before the revolution emerges.
When the Revolution Comes is a powerful piece of music and you can imagine how this influenced hip hop. There is a lot of injustice and anger flowing through every line here. It holds a mirror up to America at this time and the appalling disparity to be found between white and black Americans. Despite detailing a better world for black Americans, the song is grounded in the reality that such a dream is still a long way away. I once thought that the situation in the US was significantly better now for black people but the continued headlines filtering out of the US paint a very different picture. The revolution The Last Poets speak of has not yet come and today America, like the UK, feels more divided than ever.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
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)
King Crimson – The Court of the Crimson King (1969)
Derek & The Dominos – Layla (1970)