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…
Ian Dury – Sweet Gene Vincent (1977)
We’re back in the UK after our brief stay in Germany, dear reader. Today’s artist is Ian Dury who began his career in 1970, fronting Kilburn and the High Roads, before heading the Blockheads later in the 1970s. We join Ian Dury in 1977 when he is between bands and has released his debut solo album, New Boots and Panties!! 1001 Songs have selected the only track on the record that was released as a single – Sweet Gene Vincent.
Ian Dury wrote the song in tribute to Gene Vincent who appeared on our list back in the 1950s with Be-Bop-A-Lula. When Gene Vincent died in 1971 at the age of 36, it inspired Ian Dury to push on with his own musician aspirations. The song is essentially divided into two halves with the opening section being a slow and sombre tribute to Gene Vincent. Suddenly, the flow of the track changes, as does Dury’s vocal. It becomes faster as we are given snippets of Vincent’s life, references to his songs and to moments from his brief years in this world. Ian Dury manages to cram a lot into a song that is less than four minutes.
The story goes that after intense research, Ian Dury penned Sweet Gene Vincent and his first draft would have amounted to 15 minutes of vocals. This would surely have been too long and condensing the track down does not diminish it. I love how it begins slowly but then Dury’s singing and the music hasten and become more urgent. It feels like we’re racing through Gene Vincent’s short life with the pacing. Somehow it feels apt. Ian Dury would later enjoy greater success with the Blockheads with tracks such as Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. Faster songs would leave his set-list in his later years but Sweet Gene Vincent remained, such was the impact the singer had had on Dury. Dury himself died in 2000 at the age of 57, having been diagnosed with cancer four years earlier. The likes of Suggs from Madness paid tribute to Dury just as he had done to Gene Vincent.
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)