1001 Songs Challenge #555: O Superman (1981)
On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging 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 everyday (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…
Laurie Anderson – O Superman (1981)
We say Auf Wiedersehen to Germany and to Kraftwerk as we make our way back across the Atlantic and to the US. Illinois is where we land and it is here that we meet someone gifted in violin and sculpting, to name just a few of her talents. Laurie Anderson was always about the avant garde approach to art and when we join her in 1981 it is with her latest experiment, a song by the name of O Superman.
O Superman clocks in at around eight minutes and is a peculiarity. Anderson opens with the syllable “ha” and this continues in the background for the duration of the track. Next up, Anderson’s vocals are recorded using a vocoder giving it an almost robotic sound. The track itself seems to be an individual on the telephone trying to leave a message but then a conversation ensues between the narrator and an unidentified individual who talks of planes coming and of being “the hand that takes.” Anderson is said to have written the song in relation to the Iran hostage crisis (1979-1981) where US diplomats in the American embassy in Tehran were held hostage for 444 days, putting a huge strain on relations between the US and Iran. That’s probably an understatement. I wasn’t familiar with this incident but it certainly sounds like a serious one. From what I have read, all 52 hostages survived and were eventually released. Phew!
O Superman is a very much befitting of an artist that loves to try different things. It’s immediately a song that is akin to Marmite, you will either love it or hate it. I admire the experimentation behind it, there is a lot going on here, but at 8 minutes it is not the most accessible song we have had on our list. DJ John Peel championed the song to such an extent it reached no.2 in the UK and helped Anderson progress with a music career. She would later begin a relationship with another of our prior guests, Lou Reed, and the couple were married from 2008 until Reed’s death in 2013.
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)
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)
Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (1977)
Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now (1978)
The Police – Message in a Bottle (1979)
Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart (1980)
Ultravox – Vienna (1980)