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…
Gavin Bryars – Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet (1975)
We’re staying in the UK, dear reader, and today we are in the company of an artist who was originally from Yorkshire, the home of yours truly, so, in summary, a damn fine place, if I don’t mind saying so myself. Anyway, today we welcome Gavin Bryars, a composer and double bassist who has worked in a variety of genres but is well known for experimental pieces. 1001 Songs joins Bryars in 1975 and that year heralded the epic track – Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.
The genesis of Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet goes back to 1971 when Bryars was in London helping a friend, Alan Power, work on a film about homeless people. During the many hours of recording, the two men captured the groups of homeless singing a variety of songs. From the unused recordings, Bryars later found an old man singing Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. He worked with the vocals and arranged an orchestral accompaniment that merged with the looped singing on the edit. The lyrics are essentially the same couple of lines repeated over and over but it is not to the extent that you ever feel bored. A quiet fade in introduces the vocals of the old homeless man before Bryars gradually brings in music. This goes on for 25 minutes before we have a serene fade out at the end.
I wasn’t aware of Gavin Bryars nor have I come across Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. The captured vocals from the old man are especially poignant and real, no improvisation or recording studio expectation here. It sounds like a man who still has hope and faith in the Lord and that’s a powerful testament given his clearly sad plight being homeless on the streets of London. Bryars original composition here was 25 minutes long but he has since revisited the piece as technology has improved and produced both a 60-minute and 74-minute version, even bagging a nomination for the Mercury Prize in 1993. Sadly, the old man whose voice is so pivotal to this piece passed away before Bryars had completed his masterpiece.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
Derek & The Dominos – Layla (1970)
David Bowie – Life on Mars? (1971)
Rod Stewart – Maggie May (1971)
Stevie Wonder – Living for the City (1973)
Patti Smith Group – Piss Factory (1974)
Sparks – This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us (1974)