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!
Syd Barrett – Opel (1988)
Opel is a 1988 album compiled from recordings made by former Pink Floyd frontman Syd Barrett between 1968 and 1970. The album is a compilation of unreleased material and alternate takes of recordings from sessions for Barrett’s solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and .
We’re returning to the UK today, dear reader, and find ourselves in Cambridge. Syd Barrett was a founding member of the legendary Pink Floyd and instrumental in their early success in 1967 with See Emily Play and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. By 1968 Barrett had left the Floyd, struggling with mental health issues possibly exacerbated by heavy drug use. While his former bandmates made a slow journey towards megastardom in 1973 with The Dark Side of the Moon, Barrett drifted between being a recluse and trying to put together solo material, his fragile health making this a tough task. In 1988 the album, Opel, was released which was comprised of recordings Barret had made between 1968 and 1970. 1001 Songs have gone with the title track.
Opel is a long track driven heavily by guitar and Syd Barrett’s often distant voice. It feels like there are instruments absent here, an unfinished recording almost, but something tangible still remains. Lyrically, the song describes a myriad of images such as a totem pole, driftwood and flies around a rotting carcass. It’s a peculiar setting but suggests somewhere barren and lifeless. The concluding segments are Barrett longing to find someone amidst this hostile environment.
My Pink Floyd Pilgrimage posts taught me a lot about the band and one thing that surprised me was how little time Syd Barrett actually spent in the group. The myth and legend that has built up around him makes it seem like he alone is responsible for what Pink Floyd became. In some respects that is true. Floyd would not have created much of their acclaimed music were it not for Barrett’s tragic fall. His solo material retains the mystique he had when in Floyd. The music seems simple at times, while Barrett’s voice feels just beyond our reach, he is there but not completely with us and we yearn for the great man to return. Sadly, Barrett never really recovered and lived a simple life while his former bandmates were a huge success. Barrett died in 2006 at the age of 60. Rather than a forgotten star, the media was flooded with tributes to an unquestionable but lost genius.
Favourite songs so far: