The challenge was to write about the three most important songs in my life. How to define just three and how to define important? I thought about it for a while and have narrowed the vast number of songs that I have connected with over the years down to just three that have left a lasting impression and who came to mind quickest.
Midnight Special by Leadbelly was a standout first choice. I must have been in my teens when I first heard it and got hooked on the driving rhythm. That is the most important element for me in a song or piece of music, the rhythm, and the gutsier the better. I learned to play guitar in my late teens and there was a period where I also took up the 12 string guitar which is another challenge in itself. I was influenced by an old blues singer player called Leadbelly who brought this to fame. He was discovered in the 1930’s by a guy called John Lomax who travelled around the south with an old wax cylinder recorder and captured an array of predominantly Negro blues singers.
These recordings have been preserved by the Library of Congress and I was able to borrow these from the US Consulate in Wellington NZ where I was living at the time. I just played them over and over in particular Leadbelly. He was a large man who was in jail for murder at the time Lomax discovered him. Folklore has it that Lomax was able to eventually get him released on the basis of his recording a plea to the Governor.
The song itself Midnight Special, however, became even more distinctive to me when I discovered that the Midnight Special was in fact prison slang for prisoners passing away overnight, there the night before, gone in the morning. More often or not it refers to suicide when the blues of their situation got too much. The symbology is that a train comes past at midnight and just spirits the prisoner away to freedom. Listen to it again with that in mind and see how it affects you.
House Of The Rising Sun by The Animals is my second song to bring forward, particularly this version by The Animals led by Eric Burdon. The Animals were from Manchester in the UK I think and were part of that fabulous era, and the word suits the time, heralded by the Beatles who still stand out for me as one of the greatest musical acts ever. The Animals had this raw blues sound highlighted by great keyboard playing. The Rolling Stones were I think the first to really get to the blues roots from the USA South and The Animals continued on with that tradition. There have been many versions of this song made since, most recently for me the Forest Rangers in the Sons of Anarchy series. Again it is the driving rhythm in particular that I love and the harsh story it tells.
Long Hard Times To Come by Gangstagrass is my third song and from a more current period, so yes I still appreciate music and there is still new music that can work for me. I got on to this from the TV series “Justified” where it was used as the theme music and the start of every episode got me tapping my feet or my hands, carried along with it. Apart from the infectious beat to it, it is the novel and unique blending of two musical forms into a completely new form itself. The band is called Gangstagrass and it is a blend of gangsta rap over a bluegrass melody. Very very novel and infectious. I’m not sure that it has any hidden depth for me as perhaps the other two do but I just love it.
** Stace says: This is my day 3 assignment as part of the Writing 101 course run by WordPress. The prompt was “the three most important songs in my life”, in a minimum of 15 minutes free writing, and the twist, commit to a daily writing practice.
I like how you incorporated history behind the music and the slang interpretations. I studied Leadbelly for a rock history class that began with the history of the guitar, blues, and even gospel. I find it ironic that some people do not realize guitar playing began in the depression as people panhandled by playing. Your post is greatly appreciated by me…I have to understand what is behind what we see and hear. Thank you for a wonderful experience!
Thanks for your freewrite about John Lomax and what “midnight special” really means. Great blog posts always have kernels of learning to share.
I’d never heard of Leadbelly before reading this post and I must thank you from the deepest corner of my heart for introducing me to such an amazing work of art ❤ I felt so at peace while listening to this track.. And I absolutely love "House of the Rising Sun" and "Long Hard Times to Come" 🙂