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!
Billy Bragg – A New England (1983)
Welcome to 1983, dear reader. We are continuing in the UK but heading over to Barking in Essex for our musical pleasure today. Billy Bragg began his music career in the 1970s as a member of Riff Raff with Wiggy but the band failed to make an impact and Bragg sought alternative paths including a stint in the army. When we join him in 1983 he has returned to music and is working on his debut album, Life’s a Riot with Spy vs Spy, and from there 1001 Songs have lifted the track – New England.
In New England Bragg sings of being a young man who is single and looking for love. He details the fates of former loves including all the girls he ever fancied at school already pushing prams while it sounds like he is anything but ready to be a family man, being only in his early 20s. We are given brief snippets of other girls he has loved and for one reason or another, each of these relationships has fallen apart. The narrator even takes to wishing upon shooting stars for a change in their fortunes only to lament the stars are actually satellites, such is his run of bad luck at this time. The chorus and refrain of the track sees the narrator insisting they do not want “a new England”, instead all they want is to meet a nice new girl and for things to work out this time.
Billy Bragg’s debut album would be well received upon release, giving him the recognition he had long sought and he remains very active to this day. Although I have heard of Bragg, my familiarity with A New England comes from the 1985 cover version by Kirsty MacColl. It turns out MacColl approached Bragg about covering the song but felt it was too short in its current incarnation. Bragg duly wrote two extra verses, specially for MacColl, and it became the biggest hit of her solo career. Since MacColl’s tragic death in 2000, at the age of 41, Bragg has performed her version of the song live in honour of her memory.
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)