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!
Dead Kennedys – California Über Alles (1979)
We’re continuing our journey in the US but heading a long way from New Jersey and all the way over to San Francisco. I’m feeling tired just writing that. Formed in 1978, Dead Kennedys slotted into the land of punk rock but they knew very well how to touch a few nerves in the establishment, having a penchant for satirising politics and political figures in general. When we meet up with the band in 1979 they are releasing their debut single – California Über Alles.
California Über Alles is a satire based around Jerry Brown, Governor of California (1975-1983). The song imagines Jerry Brown not only running for President of the USA but securing the position. His time in power is described as being one of a fascist nature. This regime consigns hippies to the pages of history, puts strict control over children in school and by the time we reach 1984 the police are out in force to continue their ultimate control of the individual, very Orwellian I am sure you will have surmised. The song later offers images of concentration camps, being lured into showers and gassed, everything straight out of the Holocaust. The title itself is a reimagining of how the German national anthem once began i.e. “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” which translates as “Germany, Germany above everything” but the line was removed after the Second World War. The anthem is revitalised in this song though, the setting now being fascist California, and a brutal place it sounds as well.
Dead Kennedys are yet another punk rock outfit we have had the privilege of visiting on our list. Like The Clash, they were tapping into society and extricating many of the ills that they found. The satire of this track paints a frightening image of a democratic state descending into fascism. It’s somewhat ironic that the likes of the US and the UK have witnessed a rise in fascism at grassroots level but still alarming for two nations that fought and defeated this ideology less than a century ago. Dead Kennedys disbanded in 1986 after battling an obscenity lawsuit and becoming disillusioned with the music scene. They reunited in 2001 and continue to perform to this day.
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)