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!
Fela Kuti & Africa 70 – Zombie (1977)
It’s farewell to Jamaica and we’re saying a big hello to Africa today, dear reader. After a long flight across the Atlantic we reach this beautiful continent and our plane lands in Nigeria. Fela Kuti & Africa 70 are our guests today. Purveyors of Afrobeat music, Africa 70 also had a politically active and very outspoken leader in Fela Kuti who both sang and played the saxophone. In 1977 he and Africa 70 released the album, Zombie, from which 1001 Songs have gone with the title track.
Zombie is a 12½ minute epic piece divided between delightful, upbeat sounding music, a generous helping of saxophone, before switching to the main cusp of its message. At this time Nigeria was controlled by a military junta and Kuti used the song to criticise the military that obeyed the orders of this group. In the song, Kuti and his backing singers compare the military to zombies, suggesting that they are essentially mindless vessels who carry out the orders of their superiors without a shred of doubt, compassion or hesitation. No longer thinking for themselves, these “zombies” are capable of committing the most atrocious acts if it means they can tick a box to say their daily tasks are completed.
Fela Kuti was certainly brave in recording an album and indeed a track that criticised the government and the military that followed it. It’s both an angry and mocking track, with some wonderful sax playing, but it would be a song that would lead to serious repercussions. Although the album was popular upon release, the government did not take kindly to it. In response, Kuti found his compound – known as the Kalakuta Republic, where friends and family safely resided – descended upon by more than a thousand army personnel. Kuti was severely beaten and believed he only survived because a superior officer called his men off in time. Sadly, Kuti’s mother was not so fortunate. Thrown from a window, she suffered severe injuries and would spend 8 weeks in a coma before passing away. Following his recovery, Fela Kuti continued to release music and be an outspoken figurehead for repressed Nigerians in the years that followed. His tale ended with his death in 1997 at the age of 58 following complications brought about by HIV/AIDS. To this day many are sceptical this is how Kuti really died but for now that is what the history books say.
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)