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!
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – The Message (1982)
Welcome to 1982, dear reader. Now, there are rumours floating around that yours truly may have been born in this very year but I will not confirm or deny this though. Anyway, after hanging out in Georgia with R.E.M. yesterday, we find ourselves over in New York and in the Bronx. Formed in 1978, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five were part of the emerging hip hop scene and are regarded as key innovators, helping to develop the genre and lay the foundations for future artists. Grandmaster Flash himself is noted for pioneering techniques still used by club DJs to this day. When we join the group in 1982 it is with their biggest hit – The Message.
The Message was credited to Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five but the reality is quite different. The song was written by Duke Bootee and Melle Mel, the latter being one of The Furious Five. The song itself is performed by Duke Bootee and Melle Mel with the other members of The Furious Five, including Grandmaster Flash, not appearing on the recording save some backing vocals towards the end! The song was originally written back in 1980 and in response to a transit strike in 1980. Clocking in at more than 7 minutes, Duke Bootee and Melle Mel exchange observations and laments about the tough streets of New York and the many individuals that traverse the dangerous paths and struggle to survive in a world of poverty, violence and police brutality. Chillingly, the song seems to end with the group members being arrested by the boys in blue and you fear their only crime is the colour of their skin.
The Message is a significant track in the history of hip hop. It’s considered one of the first songs in this genre to address the social and political landscape, as opposed to earlier songs which are self-congratulatory and about the rappers performing them having nice cars and beautiful women. Here, the singers are not important. The city and the people are what matters most. Although The Message was a big hit, the group soon fell apart with Grandmaster Flash taking legal action for unpaid royalties and the group splitting in two. They did come back together in 1987 but by the following year it was over.
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)