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 Grateful Dead – Box of Rain (1970)
It’s the end of 1970 for our musical journey. We’re leaving the UK and returning to the US today, dear reader. Over to San Francisco we must go and here we find a group I have heard of but know nothing about – The Grateful Dead. Their career would last from 1965-1995 and in that time they sold millions of records and maintained a loyal audience known as the Deadheads. In 1970 we join The Grateful Dead as they release their fifth album – American Beauty – and from that record we have the opening track – Box of Rain.
Box of Rain was written by bassist Phil Lesh who worked on the music while Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics. It was inspired by Lesh’s father who was terminally ill with cancer and his son would drive regularly to the nursing home to see him, composing the song in his head. In Box of Rain the narrator appears to be speaking to the dying father that inspired the song. He throws in imagery capturing many aspects of a long life lived before we switch to a refrain where the narrator asks their father what they can do for them, to help them on their way, presumably to make their final moments better. Later on we hear mention of the “box of rain” of the title which Hunter later confirmed was a metaphor for life. The narrator says it’s something we believe in or dismiss and that there is the conflicting experience of being in the box, how it seems to be a long time at one with it, but ultimately it is only a short time we are there. In a nutshell, that is life for you.
My musical ignorance continues to rear its ugly head, dear reader. Has there been a less qualified person than I to take on this challenge? This is my first experience, as far as I can recall, of The Grateful Dead and I loved this song. Beautifully written and very moving throughout. Phil Lesh would take on the vocals here, one of only two occasions when he did so with the group, but Hunter wrote this for him and his father so there was no one else that should have sang it. The Grateful Dead kept the core of their group together for thirty years but ended in 1995 with the death of founding member, Jerry Garcia, from a heart attack. Different incarnations of the group would perform beyond this but it was never truly The Grateful Dead again.
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)