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!
Tom Waits – Blue Valentines (1978)
We’re staying in the US, dear reader, but leaving Cleveland, Ohio, and making our way west to California to check in on a friend and previous guest on the blog. We first became acquainted with Tom Waits back in 1974 with the track (Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night. When we pick up Waits’ story in 1978 he has recorded and released his sixth album, Blue Valentine. 1001 Songs have gone with the closing track on the record which is Blue Valentines.
In Blue Valentines Waits’ narrator is a man with a dark past. He lives a life on the run, we are told he has blood on his hands and each night he has to drink heavily in order to sleep. To not drink means that his nights are plagued by unpleasant and difficult nightmares, presumably the memories of whatever it is he has done. Linking to the song’s title, Waits sings of how he receives the “blue valentines” of the title from an unnamed woman, a lover or former lover it seems, but someone who clearly has a profound effect on him to this day. To receive these flowers is a truly haunting experience for the narrator and the song’s ambiguity means we can only speculate as to what it is he has done to find himself in such a lonely and impoverished situation.
It was great to hear a track from Tom Waits once more. This one is all about his voice, that distinctive and gravelly vocal that sounds as weathered and tormented as the narrator in the song. The music there pales into the background. Waits’ words are delivered slowly and agonisingly, capturing the sorry state of the song’s protagonist throughout. Though mainstream success would not find Waits, he was clearly full of ideas at this period and churning out impressive music. This album took just six sessions to complete. Wow!
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)
Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way (1977)
David Bowie – “Heroes” (1977)
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (1977)