On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenge 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 every day (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… legendary!
The Upsetters – Underground (1976)
The sun sets on 1976. We’re done with the US for today, dear reader, because we need to take a plane back to Jamaica. We have seen a handful of artists already from this beautiful island who worked with producer, Lee “Scratch” Perry but now it is the man himself who is in the spotlight. Working with his house band – The Upsetters – in the 1970s, Perry became one of the pioneers of dub, a genre of electronic music involving remixing whole or existing pieces of music, often removing vocals, and throwing in a range of studio effects to complete the composition. We’re talking very avant garde stuff here. In 1976 Perry and The Upsetters (apt name that you might argue if you have an aversion to dub music) released Super Ape, a key album in reggae and dub circles and from there 1001 Songs have gone with Underground.
As befits the dub music genre, Underground is primarily concerned with the music rather than lyrical content. It does open with a chorus of “ta da da da” and the only line in the whole track is, “underground roots are collie roots.” The word “collie” is Jamaican rastafarian slang for “marijuana” so it’s pretty clear what we are referring to with this song. We get a couple of repetitions of this one line but primarily the music is what we are here for.
Underground is lyrically limited but that has been the case with other songs on our list. Sometimes you don’t need a lot of words to create a song. While not one of my favourites on this list, there is still a lot to appreciate with Underground, particularly when considering the influence in general of dub music. The likes of The Police, The Clash, UB40 and Massive Attack have all been inspired by this subgenre and although it started as an offshoot of reggae, dub has since branched out into many other genres including rock and hip hop. Perry keeps alive the traditional dub he helped to popularise though he must be proud of how far and wide dub’s journey has been.
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)
David Bowie – Life on Mars? (1971)
Rod Stewart – Maggie May (1971)
Sparks – This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us (1974)
Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody (1975)
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)
Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run (1975)