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 Carpenters – Superstar (1971)
We’re leaving the UK behind, dear reader, and making our way back to the US and to California. It’s a family affair today with a guest appearance from The Carpenters. Siblings – Richard and Karen Carpenter – began their career in 1969 with Karen on vocals and Richard on piano. They would have a huge amount of hit singles and albums throughout the 1970s but 1001 Songs has managed to narrow the list down to just one song – Superstar.
Written by Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell in 1969, Superstar is a song that is told from the perspective of a groupie who has fallen in love with a musician. The Carpenters recorded their version in 1971 which is considered the definitive take. This version is faithful to the original save for one line. Karen sings about how she met this musician and fell for him, longing for him to head back to where she is so they can be together. In the meantime, she has to be content with listening to him on the radio. In the original song the narrator talks of sleeping with her man when he returns but The Carpenters tweaked this part to say the lovers will just be together again. It doesn’t alter the sentiment of the song one iota though.
I didn’t know this song when I read the title but as soon as the melody began I recognised it. Sonic Youth recorded a version of the track for The Carpenters tribute album, If I Were a Carpenter, in 1994 and this is the version I am most familiar with. Sonic Youth’s version sounds darker than this version from The Carpenters. It’s hard to separate the two as they both sound so different and approach the subject in contrasting ways. Karen’s voice is stunning here, so beautiful and effortless, as she often was when singing. The Carpenters’ career would end by the early 1980s. Heavy touring commitments left Richard struggling with drug addiction in the late 1970s and Karen faced with anorexia nervosa. Richard overcame his addiction but, sadly, Karen died from heart failure in 1983 at the age of 32.
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)
The Kinks – Days (1968)
Derek & The Dominos – Layla (1970)
David Bowie – Life on Mars? (1971)
Rod Stewart – Maggie May (1971)
Led Zeppelin – When the Levee Breaks (1971)