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 Cale – Child’s Christmas in Wales (1973)
We leave behind the Eagles and the US and make our way across the Atlantic to the UK and to Wales. First visit here? Quite possibly, but having listened to 350+ songs on this list so far I am finding it hard to recall every location we have been to, dear reader. Anyway, today we are in the company of John Cale who was born in Wales before relocating to New York in the 1960s where he was one of the founding members of The Velvet Underground. We pick up Cale’s career after that group’s demise when he had turned to solo work and released his third album – Paris 1919 – in 1973. 1001 Songs has lifted the opening track from that record – Child’s Christmas in Wales.
Child’s Christmas in Wales is a tribute of sorts to the poet, Dylan Thomas, or at least the title of the song is for it is identical to one of Thomas’ own pieces. Beyond that, this is all Cale’s composition and a peculiar one it is. It seems to reference memories of childhood though isn’t necessarily all about Christmas. We hear about mistletoe and green candles, a nod to Halloween, but also to ships out on the high seas. There is talk of cattle, presumably in the Welsh valleys, but also of childhood whimsy with sword fights and arranged meeting places for duels. There is the coming together of reverential crowds in church with messages of hallelujah and prayers made collectively that are said to bring down walls such is their power. Mention of “Sebastopol Adrianapolis” makes the song even more cryptic. It comes across as a nostalgia cruise but ambiguity is prevalent throughout and makes any overall meaning hard to decipher.
It’s interesting to invest some of our time in the members of The Velvet Underground and thus far we have had songs from Nico, Lou Reed and now John Cale, so they were clearly a group worth of their legendary reputation. Child’s Christmas in Wales is very different to Velvet Underground’s work but Cale is known as an artist who likes to sample a myriad of music genres. It has a festive feel to it but the lyrics are not strongly forthcoming in meaning so what sounds like an upbeat ditty may be anything but.
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)
Carly Simon – You’re So Vain (1972)