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…
Big Star – Thirteen (1972)
It’s time to leave the UK, dear reader, and head back to the US and to Tennessee. Our guests today are one of the tragic names from music history. Big Star had a brief spell in the 1970s but despite critical acclaim of their work, this did not transfer into commercial success and the group are now considered one of the best that many people will never have heard of. In 1972 the group released their debut album #1 Record and from there 1001 Songs have selected Thirteen for their appreciation.
Thirteen is a journey back to adolescence, the title presumably referring to the age of the narrator. In the song he is interested in a girl and we have a window into the sort of things you might want to do before puberty has kicked in. The narrator wants to meet this girl at the pool, or go dancing. He criticises her father and shows his appreciation for rock and roll and The Rolling Stones. In the end the narrator asks this girl to be an “outlaw for my love” but tells her if yes then great but if no then it’s no big deal and he won’t pressure her either way.
Big Star had great potential but lack of marketing and perhaps plain bad luck ensured they never really hit the big time. Thirteen is a great song, albeit too brief, but it captures the innocence of being a kid before teenage years take over. The band had separated by 1975 but in the 1980s acts such as R.E.M. made reference to their influence and Big Star were gradually reevaluated. The surviving members reformed in 1993 and continued until 2010 when lead singer, Alex Chilton, died from a heart attack. A 2012 documentary, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me chronicled their story and opened their music to a new audience.
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)