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 Dream Academy – Life in a Northern Town (1985)
We’re continuing in the UK but head back south to London. Formed in 1983 and made up of Nick Laird-Clowes, Katie St John and Gilbert Gabriel, The Dream Academy were not swayed by the early eighties pop that was dominating the charts. Instead, they branched out to make a different sound throwing in an array of instruments and not succumbing to the lure of synthesisers. It’s 1985 and the band’s self-titled debut album has been released. From there 1001 Songs have lifted the group’s biggest hit – Life in a Northern Town.
Life in a Northern Town was written in honour of tragic musician, Nick Drake, who died in 1974 and has appeared on our list previously. The song captures a day in the life of a sleepy northern town. We hear tales of lemonade being consumed, probably less refreshing on the cold day described here. There is talk of people stopping work to rest and talk of JFK and The Beatles. We also learn of an individual being walked to the train station to bid farewell to the town, perhaps for the last time. One can almost imagine floating over the town in tune with the music and taking it all in. It’s not a spectacular viewpoint we have; it’s just an ordinary town but, even in that fact, there is still beauty.
Life in a Northern Town is a sweeping and majestic piece having elements of folk rock in the verses but the chorus mixes things up as the band switch to something akin to African tribal chants as they sing of the splendour of the northern town. It’s a rich and varied piece and would give the group their biggest hit, reaching the UK Top 20 and going Top 10 in the US. The group disbanded in 1991 and went their separate ways but there have been reunions in the last ten years.
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)
Ultravox – Vienna (1980)
Don Henley – The Boys of Summer (1984)
The Smiths – How Soon Is Now? (1984)