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!
The Clash – (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais (1978)
We’re staying in the UK, dear reader, but leaving Northern Ireland so we can return to London and to England. Today’s group has been mentioned more than once before on our journey as part of the punk rock scene. The Clash were formed in 1976 by Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Nicky Headon. The group first achieved success in 1977 with their self-titled debut album but we join them in 1978 with their second record, Give ‘Em Enough Rope and 1001 Songs have selected the track, (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais.
Written by Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais has nine verses crammed into a run time of around 4 minutes with no chorus anywhere to be seen. The song opens with the true story of the group’s attendance at a reggae gig at Hammersmith Palais in London which turned out to be a disappointment, with Strummer lamenting the music was too commercial and not in tune with the reggae that had inspired him earlier in the decade. The song then branches out to address the UK climate at this time, criticising the gulf in wealth between the classes and calling for a Robin Hood type individual to redress the balance. There is also mention of racial division with the group calling on everyone to come together in peace. The song also looks at a changing society in terms of who people attach their political allegiance to with the staggering image given of a limousine being rolled out for Adolf Hitler should he have ever visited the UK. It sounds like The Clash are suggesting the country has gone to the dogs. Seeing what I have in the UK in the last decade or so, I think The Clash were onto something.
I’ve been familiar with The Clash for some time and know a fair few of their songs. I wasn’t familiar with (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais but was taken aback by not just its message but how the group felt about UK society at this time. I’d like to say things are a lot better in the present day but I don’t want to get into the habit of lies and deceit. It’s not good for your character and people trust you less for some reason. The Clash have left quite a legacy, surviving the demise of punk rock, and continuing into the 1980s. Unfortunately, internal divisions saw them split up in 1985 but their sound endured. In 1991 Should I Stay or Should I Go, recorded in 1981, topped the UK charts. There were hopes of a reunion for The Clash at the start of this century but the unexpected death of Joe Strummer in December 2002, aged only 50, ended any hopes of this. The following month, The Clash were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What a shame Strummer wasn’t there to be honoured with his former bandmates.
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)
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)
Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now (1978)