1001 Songs Challenge,  1990s,  Music

1001 Songs Challenge #854: Between the Bars (1997)

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!


Elliott Smith – Between the Bars (1997)

Between the Bars – Wikipedia

” Between the Bars” is the fourth track of Elliott Smith’s 1997 album . It is written as a short ballad in the key of G Minor. Possibly Smith’s most popular song, it is one of three tracks from Either/Or that was used in the soundtrack of Good Will Hunting (1997).


Lyrics (via Genius)


We’re leaving Cuba today, dear reader, and returning to the US and to Omaha, Nebraska. Elliott Smith began his career in 1991 first as part of the band, Heatmiser, before switching to a solo career in 1994. We join him in 1997 as he is working on songs for Gus Van Sant’s Oscar winning film, Good Will Hunting. 1001 Songs have gone with the track – Between the Bars – for their consideration today.

Between the Bars may sound like it is about prison and in some respects it is, though in a metaphorical sense rather than the bricks and mortar of actual confinement. The narrator in the track sings of their love of alcohol and how the drink has a hold over them. They consume the liquid in large amounts and stay up late as a result. It helps to numb them, to ease the pressures of daily life and give them some ease and comfort in the early hours of the morning. The narrator makes suggestion of a past life, the person they were before alcohol took hold but any sadness brought about by such memories can quickly be nullified if they take just one more drink. It’s going to be a late night and there is never enough to drink at the bar. 

Between the Bars is a sombre exploration of addiction, in this case alcohol which is very much the master of the narrator. It is only a brief track but packs a punch with its gentle acoustics and thought-provoking lyrics. As with much of Smith’s material, the song was a reflection of his own personal struggles with alcohol and drugs. In 2003, Smith was working on his sixth album. On 21 October that year, following an argument with his girlfriend, Smith is said to have stabbed himself twice and later died in hospital. He was only 34 but the final verdict on his death was left open with the question of whether it was suicide or homicide.


Favourite songs so far:

The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)

Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)

The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)

The Doors – The End (1967)

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (1975)

Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell (1977)

Ultravox – Vienna (1980)

Tracy Chapman – Fast Car (1988)

U2 – One (1991)

Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah (1994)

My name is Dave and I live in Yorkshire in the north of England and have been here all my life. I hope you enjoy your visit to All is Ephemeral.

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