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!
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Mercy Seat (1988)
” The Mercy Seat” is a song written by Nick Cave (lyrics and music) and Mick Harvey (music), originally performed by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on the 1988 album Tender Prey . The song has been covered by others, including Johnny Cash, Camille O’Sullivan and Unter Null.
We’re leaving the US today and making our way over to Australia and to Melbourne. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds were formed in 1983 with Cave’s former band – The Birthday Party – having fallen apart. Dealing in a rich variety of rock, the band have endured to this day and released seventeen studio albums. We join them in 1988 with the release of their fourth record – Tender Prey – and 1001 Songs have gone with the track – The Mercy Seat.
The Mercy Seat has a dual meaning in the song, being on one hand the gold lid from the Ark of the Covenant but also an electric chair that the narrator has been sentenced to death in. The song continues various imagery of religion with a clever juxtaposition of Jesus Christ as a carpenter and as the saviour dying on the cross; an apt demise given his profession, Cave quips. We hear of the narrator ascending to heaven and not being afraid to face god. They then make for the electric chair on Death Row and are ready for the end. The track closes out with continuous repetition and variants of the chorus.
The Mercy Seat is an epic track that builds steadily and interchanges spoken dialogue with Cave’s vocals. Cave’s voice merges with the music initially but dominates at the chorus. The repetition of the chorus extends for some time but the song never feels overlong. This became one of the band’s best-known songs and a staple of their live sets. I don’t know a huge amount by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds but did enjoy this intricate and varied rock epic.
Favourite songs so far: