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…
Randy Newman – Sail Away (1972)
It was great to spend time in Germany and the ambience of krautrock but back to the US we must go, dear reader. All the way over to California is where we want to be because who doesn’t enjoy being on a plane for many hours? Anyway, over in California we find a performer by the name of Randy Newman. Starting out as a singer-songwriter, Newman is better known these days for doing film scores, including Pixar movies, but back in 1972 he released the album, Sail Away, which is considered one of his best pieces of work. 1001 Songs have taken the title track for their list.
Sail Away sounds like a pleasant song, a tribute to Charleston Bay in America, but when you get down into the lyrics it is anything but. Newman’s narrator is a slave trader in Africa, selling the dream of America to the indigenous people on the continent. He tells them of all the negative things in Africa that you will not find in America including some of the local animals. He promises them a land of freedom, hope and the chance to raise a family and live a good life. The reality is that it’s all a ruse to lure these unsuspecting people into slavery at the hands of colonists in the US.
You could easily mistake this song for being a light-hearted one, such is the way that Newman sings it. Is he being disrespectful? Certainly not, merely reflecting a slave trader with the gift of the gab and able to sell the American Dream to people who do not realise what fate will befall them. It’s a convincing performance and a well-written song with sad truths to be unearthed from its lines. From the 1980s onwards Newman’s career would focus primarily on film scores and has bagged him many Oscar nominations, including 2 wins, in the last thirty or so years.
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)