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…
John Prine – Sam Stone (1972)
We’re leaving the shock rock in Arizona today, dear reader, and making for Illinois for some country and folk music. John Prine is one of the most respected songwriters in this field and is known for humorous lyrics but sometimes more serious compositions as well, when the mood takes him, of course. In the early 1970s, Prine released his debut album and from that record, 1001 Songs has opted for one of the singer’s sadder pieces – Sam Stone.
Though the actual conflict isn’t named, Sam Stone is clearly about a soldier who has served in Vietnam and now come home to the US to rebuild his life. This does not prove to be an easy task, unfortunately, and Sam becomes addicted to heroin. There is the possibility that this addiction is something Sam brought back from the war with him. Although he has a family to support, Prine tells us that Sam sends the bulk of the money into his arm i.e. he’s off buying drugs instead of things for his wife and children. It does not end well. Rather than drug rehabilitation, Sam dies alone of an overdose, the only positive being the thought that he may have a hero’s grave among the other service men and women that have died in conflict.
I had never heard of John Prine but did enjoy Sam Stone. It’s interesting to have come across quite a few songs now on this list that reference the Vietnam War. It was clearly a difficult and controversial time for the US, a costly war that scarred a nation. Prine’s song is just one story that likely played out for many soldiers returning home, physically and mentally broken, unable to readjust to the lives they once had and finding solace in drugs. The song was apparently compared to the work of Bob Dylan and the great man himself is said to have been impressed when he first heard it. That’s quite a compliment.
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)
Stevie Wonder – Superstition (1972)