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!
Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Oliver’s Army (1979)
Farewell to California, the US and to Sparks, as we head on back to the UK. To London we must go and we are visiting with our old friend, Elvis Costello, making his second appearance on our list. Previously he was telling us about not wanting to go to Chelsea but today we have something a little different. In 1979 Elvis Costello & The Attractions released their third album, Armed Forces, which is considered one of their best. From that record 1001 Songs have gone with the must-have choice – Oliver’s Army.
Oliver’s Army was inspired (probably not the right word) by Costello going to Northern Ireland and witnessing examples of the Troubles that were taking place at that time. The sight of young men, some almost boys, armed and in military uniform resonated strongly with Costello and his song extended into a commentary on the military based across the globe. The “Oliver” of the title is in reference to Oliver Cromwell who was Lord Protector of the British Isles (1653-58) following the execution of King Charles I in 1649. Striking references include “itchy trigger”, emphasising the fine line between shooting and not shooting, the result being widows and grieving families. We also hear about competition for Hong Kong, Palestine and even relocating to South Africa to get a piece of Johannesburg. This is conflict, colonialism and greed.
Though my knowledge of Elvis Costello & The Attractions is limited, I have long been familiar with Oliver’s Army. I don’t recall when I first heard the track but it’s many years ago and I have always loved it. I was never clear what it was about but always assumed the title did refer to Oliver Cromwell. The song would prove to be Costello’s biggest hit in the UK, reaching no.2. Surprisingly, Costello would never top the UK charts. Such a pity this track missed out on being top, even if just for a week.
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)
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (1977)
Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now (1978)
The Police – Roxanne (1978)