Simply put, these are songs that quench my musical soul ‘n’ spirit.
So, I’ve been thinking about creating a list of my favorite songs of all time for a long time. I’ve been inspired by various blogs on here and different music websites to do this. However, I’ve found this an undeniably difficult and exhausting task because musical tastes are tentative. Plain and simple. That’s the essence of music, I believe. Now, don’t get me wrong: once you love a song, album or compilation, it imprints itself into your very mind and body. That’s the power innate of music.
Since I’ve made list after altered list of what I consider my “all-time” favorite songs (whatever ‘all-time’ means to a twenty-something), I’ve realized that it’s an endeavor that can’t possibly be fulfilled. So, I’ve decided to go in a different direction with my favorite songs; rather than talk about supposed favorites (which change from week to week; we music-lovers are a dynamic bunch), I’ve thought about talking about songs that move my soul. That is, songs that make me want to sing passionately, tap my feet and shake my head rhythmically (or at least as rhythmic as an engineering student can surmise). Simply put, these are songs that quench my musical soul ‘n’ spirit.
Now, I’m no singer; not by a long shot. However, most of these songs make me want to absolutely belt to my heart’s content. Again, the power innate in music.
First up, is a song filled with passion, profundity and power. In this, we’re going to take a look at “The Soul of a Man” by Blind Willie Johnson. I love Tom Waits’ rugged and anthemic version; Larkin Poe’s is dynamic and riveting; and Tom Jones’ is eerie as hell. Nevertheless, Johnson’s take is unworldly. As with all great singers, Johnson sings as if his life is on the line; he’s a man stuck between the worlds of heaven and hell and he’s just trying to figure out what it means to be human. An essential song in anyone’s musical library, especially if you’re an old-time blues lover.
NOTE: Unfortunately, this YouTube user has mixed up Blind Willie Johnson and Blind Willie McTell.
Here’s the amazing Larkin Poe version:
Lastly, here’s Tom Waits’ version off of an earlier Johnson tribute album:
Tell me which one moves you the most!
In continuing our dialogue, here’s another blues song that’s absolutely stark and brutally so. John Hammond’s cover of Blind Willie McTell’s dismal “Statesboro Blues”, namely “Statesborough Blues”. Hammond’s chilling and deeply moving voice brings us into his melancholic and forlorn world.
Truth be told, I like this cover more than McTell’s disheartening and bleak original. And I believe Hammond’s version captures the feeling and intensity found in the original better than anyone else’s that I’ve heard thus far. I tap my feet to this song whenever I listen to it.
Next is a song that’s been with me since my third year in high school. I’m talking about Status Quo’s “Spinning Wheel Blues”. God damn. This song grooves and kicks some serious ass!
I rarely ever tire of hearing this oft-forgotten gem.
Woo! I’m having an incredible night and time writing this post. Without a doubt, my favorite post to write thus far in my blogosphere-based journey. Let’s take a look at another song that’s been at my side since the end of high school: Free’s version of “Goin’ Down Slow”. These guys rocked…HARD! They knew what the blues was all about and how to convey its absolute, overarching power. Just give it a listen…
I love John Lee Hooker. Big time. He has a way of interpreting the blues: from the primordial beginnings of his harsh-sounding “Walkin’ the Boogie” (i.e., an early version of “Boogie Chillen”) to the astonishing, dynamic tour de France of “Boogie Chillen No. 2” (with the criminally underrated Canned Heat), the Hook makes it known to us that he’s lived the blues. And as you all know, I’m a HUGE Van Morrison fan. Thus, their powerhouse of a song titled “Never Get Out of These Blues Alive” had to be on this list. It just had to be. This was one of the first songs I fell in love with because it was a song I understood: we’ve all felt the blues at one point or another. Quite frankly, I think this is Hooker’s greatest song. It just works for me.
Let’s now look at a man with one of the most unmistakable and earth-moving voices I’ve ever heard: Howlin’ Wolf. While it may not be my most favorite song by the Wolf, “How Many More Years” was one of the first songs that really shaped my musical tastes and got me into the blues. Such a gripping, high-octane song. Alive and cookin’ without a doubt!
This version stupefied me upon first listening to it in the ninth grade.
Swampy, miserable blues are a helluva to digest. That’s why the long version of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Goin’ Down to the River” works so well on here. As previously touched upon, sometimes I can’t get behind McDowell’s voice (I’m a strange man I know). But this song made its way into my life during a very troublesome time when I had graduated high school. Long blues songs are simply masterful and soul-quenching when done in a candid fashion.
R.L. Burnside’s first rendition of “Jumper on the Line” is murky and dreary. It’s beauty is showcased in the way Burnside delivers his verses. Currently, one of my favorite blues songs.
Next up is a song introduced to me by a very special person in my life. I had never heard of Willie Watson before (I had heard of The Fairfield Four though). “On The Road Again” is earthy, inspiring and ennui-inducing. It makes me love life, which is what many blues songs do for me.
My final two songs are from two of my favorite bluesmen of all time, Son House and Charley Patton. House’s “revival” album (courtesy of Canned Heat, Alan Wilson, et. al.) “Father of the Delta Blues” has been in my musical rotation for many years. He lets his voice loose and creates an unshakably soulful and rustic environment. I had a tough time choosing between “Death Letter Blues”, “Preachin’ Blues” and “Levee Camp Moan”, but I ended up choosing this version of “Death Letter Blues”.
“Death Letter Blues” was one of the first blues songs that was actually jaw-dropping to me upon first hearing it. It sums up the trials and tribulations inherent in life perfectly.
Now onto Patton. His music has touched my mind and body to such a high degree that it’s hard to effectively put into words (much like Van Morrison). I love most of Patton’s songs, but “Jesus Is a Dyin’ Bed Maker” moves me so fucking much. The “alive” factor in this is unparalleled: life and death form an intimate meshwork and bond throughout the runtime, as Jesus functions as the backbone that binds the two together. I’m not a religious man nor am I spiritual in any sense of the word, but this song is something special. As such, it’s probably my favorite blues song at this point in my life.
Quite the post. However, this gives you guys an idea of what music means to me overall and which songs make my musical soul ‘n’ spirit sing and jive! Take care, all!