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…
Ram Jam – Black Betty (1977)
We’re leaving the UK behind today, dear reader, and we are due a return to the US so that’s where we’re heading and touching down in New York. Our guests on this day are Ram Jam whose career was very brief (1977-78) but in that short space of time they landed themselves a pretty big hit. Unsurprisingly, 1001 Songs have gone with this song for our listening pleasure – Black Betty.
Ram Jam’s song is actually a cover version of a track dating back decades with its actual origins open to debate as is its meaning. Lead Belly popularised the song in 1939 but he was known for reworking old folk songs and the same was true with Black Betty. Ram Jam recorded their version and put a heavy metal spin on it. What the song is about is open to debate with “Black Betty” possibly being a gun, a whip used in prison farms, a bottle of whisky or even a transfer wagon shipping prisoners around. In Ram Jam’s version, Black Betty sounds like a woman as in the first verse she is said to have a child that goes “wild”. In the second verse the narrator tells us Black Betty gets him high and calms him, while the third verse he is watching her “shakin’ that thing”. Under Ram Jam the song seems to have a completely different meaning to the contentious origins.
When I saw the title Black Betty I knew immediately what the song was though I have to say I’m not sure I have heard the track all the way through before. I probably have but it’s a long time ago if so. Despite the ambiguity of the song’s origins and meaning it’s a catchy rock number and hardly surprising that it proved popular upon release. The song’s success did nothing for Ram Jam though who disbanded the following year, their 15 minutes of fame over very quickly.
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)