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!
Richard Hell & The Voidoids – Blank Generation (1977)
From Australia we’re heading back to the US and to New York. We previously enjoyed Marquee Moon by Television, well, today’s song has a connection to that band. Richard Hell was a member of Television but after disputes with the band over various issues including his material not getting much of a look in, Hell left in 1975 and initially joined Johnny Thunder and the Heartbreakers but ended up leaving that group as well! Finally, Hell formed Richard Hell & The Voidoids. Phew! From that group 1001 Songs have gone with the title track from the band’s debut album, Blank Generation.
A rewrite of a 1959 track, Beat Generation, Richard Hell’s Blank Generation describes a narrator who does not wish to kowtow to social norms or to be moulded into an individual to fit into the world. He describes his eagerness to be born, already feeling repressed by being in his mother’s womb, the same as every other child prior to birth. The narrator speaks of being detached from the world and from others. At one point they hurl a television out of a window and into an empty parking lot. Clearly, they don’t wish for the content of the television to brainwash them into thinking like anyone else. This narrator is their own person, stating they are of the “blank generation” of the title, a generation that cannot be defined or allocated to a particular group. It’s too unique to be categorised.
The gestation of this song was very interesting as was Richard Hell’s turbulent path through bands. Was he unfortunate with Television and The Heartbreakers or does this point negatively towards his own character? It’s hard to say. Blank Generation is an interesting early punk song, ironically fitting into what you would expect from the punk rock movement, this idea of rebelliousness and individuality, contrary to society’s expectations of you. The Voidoids were short-lived, having disbanded by the early 1980s but they have had the odd reunion for live shows and recording. Hell has the consolation of Blank Generation inspiring Sex Pistols to come up with their own version, a song they called Pretty Vacant.
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)
Rod Stewart – Maggie May (1971)
Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody (1975)
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)
Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run (1975)
Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way (1977)
David Bowie – “Heroes” (1977)