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 Sugarcubes – Birthday (1987)
” Birthday” is a song written and recorded by Icelandic band the Sugarcubes. It was released as a single in 1987, and included in their 1988 debut album Life’s Too Good . It was their first international single and the first single released from the album.
We’re leaving the UK and making our way north towards Iceland. I don’t recall coming here before on this musical journey but we are approaching 700 songs now and my memory is getting hazy. I hope you can forgive me, dear reader. Anyway, formed in 1986 The Sugarcubes were an alternative rock band led by their singer Björk who would become even better known in the future as a solo artist. When we join the band in 1987 it is with their first international single – Birthday.
Björk has confirmed that Birthday is about a relationship between a five year old girl and her middle aged next door neighbour. This isn’t a sexual or abusive relationship, more a child’s fascination with the man next door, the one who is described as her only friend. We learn that the girl’s world outside her house is her own and she lives dreams and fantasies on a daily basis. Although this relationship between the girl and the middle aged man comes across as generally innocent, there are still some strange images in here like the two of them smoking cigars and sharing a bathtub. I put this more down to childhood make believe though rather than authentic. The girl is exploring her world and learning about the land of the adults at the same time. It’s curiosity and engagement with surroundings, I think, rather than something sinister.
I have heard of The Sugarcubes and was aware Björk was in the band but I had never heard one of their songs. Birthday reminded me of Björk’s later work as a solo artist, especially Hyperballad, with a sumptuous melody but peculiar lyrics bridging the divide between beauty and destruction. The music here is sensational and Björk’s vocals sometimes seem unorthodox but they suit the piece perfectly. Birthday was well received by critics upon release with DJ John Peel being a notable name to champion the band. They would split up in 1992 but Björk had not even got started yet and a successful solo career awaited.
Favourite songs so far: