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 – Rock the Casbah (1982)
We’re staying in the UK, dear reader, but making our way back over to London. The Clash appeared twice back in the 1970s but we love them so much we could not resist having just one more song and what a great track we have to bow out with. It’s 1982 and the group have released their fifth album, Combat Rock, which would be their biggest seller and includes two of their best known tracks – Should I Stay or Should I Go and Rock the Casbah. 1001 Songs have gone with the latter for our final taste of The Clash, at least on this list anyway.
The story behind Rock the Casbah is really interesting. Usual songwriters – Joe Strummer and Mick Jones – were not initially involved. Instead, drummer, Nicky Headon, was working on a melody that had been with him for some time and – finding himself alone in the studio – recorded the drums, piano and bass parts. When the rest of the band appeared they felt the music was almost finished, with only minor additions needed, and they were suitably impressed. However, Joe Strummer took one look at Headon’s lyrics and threw them in the nearest bin before disappearing to write what became Rock the Casbah. Strummer’s inspiration came from stories he had heard of the Middle East where in some countries the likes of whisky and rock music could lead to one receiving dozens of lashes. In the song, we have an unnamed king in an unnamed country dictating to the people that rock music is taboo and he will not tolerate it, but the people know what they want and ignore their ruler. Pilots fly overhead, crank up the rock music and proceed to rock the casbah, leading to people pouring onto the streets and dancing to the melody.
Rock the Casbah would do moderately well in the UK but proved to be The Clash’s biggest hit in the US. Its success would prove troubling for Joe Strummer who was becoming increasingly maladjusted with the group singing rebellious songs about the establishment when they were now rich men themselves. Strummer was a socialist so having such good fortune with The Clash when millions of others were in poverty must have hit him hard. Even more alarming for Strummer was that this track was embraced in the Gulf War (1990 – 1991) as an anti-Arab anthem which was never the intention when it was first written. The song is about freedom of expression and love of music rather than a savage attack on the Middle East. The Clash would continue until 1986 before disbanding and no reunions ever happened, sadly, with Joe Strummer’s death in 2002 ending any possibility of such a dream.
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)