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…
Roxy Music – Virginia Plain (1972)
We leave the US and New York today, dear reader, so we can return to the UK and up north to Newcastle we go. We have had some glam rock from Slade and T.Rex previously and today we’re hanging out with Roxy Music. Very popular in the 1970s, Roxy Music were led by the enigmatic Bryan Ferry and formed in 1970. We join them in 1972 with their self-titled debut album released and doing well in the charts. The group were asked for a single but nothing on the album seemed appropriate. Instead, Bryan Ferry went with a song called Virginia Plain, not remotely feasible for a single, but a big success and worth a place on this magic list of ours.
Virginia Plain was inspired by a painting that Bryan Ferry produced of a cigarette pack back in the 1960s when he was an art student. The song itself is peculiar with five verses and not a chorus in sight. Ferry sings about a variety of things and images with an overall meaning hard to discern. He tells us of doing a deal with Robert E. Lee, Roxy Music’s lawyer rather than the Confederate leader in the American Civil War. There appears to be references to travel and potentially the glamour of the celebrity life. It’s hard to interpret and after four verses we have the second of two musical interludes before Ferry closes out the song in surprising fashion. He asks a question and answers with “Virginia Plain” before the song cuts off abruptly, no fade out or anything here, a sudden conclusion.
I’ve been familiar with Roxy Music for some time and recall some of their music from childhood. That said, I could do with being better versed in their songs and albums and intend to research further in future. Virginia Plain is very different but not conforming to the norm isn’t always a bad thing. Although the lyrics are difficult to fathom, Ferry is clearly having a ball singing this one and the rest of the group complement him well. The group disbanded in 1983 after their eighth album, Avalon (1982), with Ferry enjoying a successful solo career. Though Roxy Music have reformed for tours, they have yet to record any new music.
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)
Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side (1972)