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 Martyn – Solid Air (1973)
We’re staying in the UK, dear reader, but leaving Wales and heading over to England and on to Greater London. Here we find a musician by the name of John Martyn who dabbled in folk, rock, jazz and blues across more than 40 years of recordings. We join him in 1973 with the release of his fourth album, Solid Air. 1001 Songs has lifted the title track from that record for its consideration today.
Solid Air was written by John Martyn in reference to his friend – Nick Drake – who previously appeared on our list in 1970 with Northern Sky. Martyn’s song concerns the severe depression that Nick Drake had to face. The “solid air” of the title is used as a metaphor for depression and repeated throughout the track. Martyn tells us that his friend lives and breathes this solid air, it surrounds all of his senses, affects his sleep and brings unwanted interlopers in his mind. Martyn looks on in sympathy, not understanding what is happening to his friend, but wanting to help him all the same, out of love and friendship. It’s an ode to depression and to those it afflicts and to those family, friends and lovers that feel powerless to help.
Solid Air has an interesting blend of music to it. Martyn’s vocals are restrained, quiet and not always easy to discern, as if he recognises the fragility of his friend and reaches out to him carefully. As the song progresses it has a feel of jazz to it which does not hinder the piece one bit. Sadly, Martyn’s concern for Nick Drake was not enough with Drake dying from an overdose in 1974 at the age of 26. Martyn would continue to record for the remainder of his life but chronic abuse of alcohol and drugs led to his death in 2009 from respiratory failure. He was 60 years old.
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)