1001 Songs Challenge #317: 54-46 Was My Number (1970)
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…
Toots & The Maytals – 54-46 Was My Number (1970)
We’re leaving Canada and the US today, dear reader, and our journey takes us back to Jamaica where we have enjoyed some great music on previous visits. We catch up with Toots & The Maytals having previously spent time with them on Pressure Drop. Back in 1966 frontman Toots Hibbert spent 18 months in prison for marijuana possession and this experience inspired the song, 54-46 That’s My Number. In 1970 Hibbert wrote a sequel of sorts in the form of 54-46 Was My Number which gets the nod here ahead of its predecessor.
54-46 Was My Number was written in honour of Hibbert being released from prison. It follows a similar pattern to 54-46 That’s My Number as Toots recalls having his hands in the air in prison and insists he will not make trouble with the law now that he is free. He acknowledges the reality that his misdemeanour was a set-up and insists he did nothing wrong. He is adamant he will not be a prisoner again in his lifetime and reflects that the number 54-46 was once his identity but now that number has been given to someone else now incarcerated. Toots sounds mighty grateful to be a free man.
Based on the background to this song, it does sound like a promoter set up Toots and that his prison sentence could have been avoided. Writing two songs as a result of the experience clearly demonstrates what a big impact it had on his life. You feel the sadness of a prisoner becoming a number, their identity being stripped away, but there is desperation here as Toots clearly worries about being sent back to prison and is determined to avoid it. In an ideal world I’m sure Toots would have preferred not to be imprisoned but had this not happened this music would not have come to be. Was the price of his freedom worth it? Only Toots Hibbert can answer that.
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)