Monday, 30 May 2011

Pick your own "Desert Island Discs"

The BBC radio show "Desert Island Discs" is built on one of the simplest of ideas. If you were marooned on a desert island with just eight pieces of music, which eight pieces would you choose?
Each week, a different guest is asked to make their selection of music and also pick a book and a luxury item to make their exile more bearable. The show, devised by Roy Plomley, was first broadcast in 1942 and is the longest running factual programme in the history of radio.

For a short period, the BBC have given all those of us who are never likely to be invited onto the show, a chance to make our choices. So if you fancy registering your particular desert island listening faves, check out the "Your Desert Island Discs" web-page.

Just for the record, (no pun intended) the songs that I picked are:

"Harry's house/Centerpiece" by Joni Mitchell
I'd have to take something by Joni Mitchell. She was probably the first female singer/songwriter that I picked up on and she will always be the bench-mark. She's written so many outstanding songs over the years that I could have easily used up all eight choices from her back catalogue. This song is a perfect evocation of a particular American lifestyle. It also has the advantage of being two songs in one, so I effectively sneak in an extra choice. Smart, eh?

"One of those days in England (Parts 2 to 10)" by Roy Harper
An anthem of nostalgia for an England that may well have existed and that I can almost remember. I was too young to remember ration books, but I do remember the smell and heat of steam trains and how, if you were lucky, the engine driver would acknowledge with a grin if you'd waved at him.
The song also begins with references to "signing on" at the dole office. That rings a few bells too. 

"He's on the beach" by Kirsty MacColl
This is a song that I could imagine being sung by everyone who isn't on my desert island.
It's also fabulously upbeat. 

"Watcher of the skies" by Genesis
I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard this track. The mellotron introduction was like nothing I'd ever heard before and it made me realise that there was a whole new area of music out there that I could enjoy. A shared appreciation of this type of music led to sharing flats and houses with a whole raft of friends and this song is for them.

"Black light machine" by Frost*
The first time I heard this, I could not believe it. As with the Genesis song, I know exactly where I was for that first time. It had probably been decades since I'd been so joyfully surprised by any piece of music.
Ten minutes of almost perfect "prog" and it also includes my absolute favourite guitar solo.

"You've got a friend" by James Taylor
A song for me to sing along with while I watch the sunset and think about all my friends back in civilization.
"Bring the rain" by Judie Tzuke
Another female singer/songwriter. If there's a British Joni Mitchell, this is her. I've never understood how she failed to get the recognition that she really deserves.
A lovely song.

"Winter wine" by Caravan
This track is taken from "The Land of Grey and Pink", the first album that I bought. That record was played almost to destruction in a flat that I shared with some friends back in the 1970s.
If there's a single lyric from any song that I feel sums up how I'd like to live my life, it's in this song.

Life's too short to be sad, wishing things you'll never have
You're better off not dreaming of the things to come
Dreams are always ending far too soon.


  1. Where's the footnote about Frost?

    There's an astarisk but you seem to have forgotten to add the comment.

  2. Hi Anon.
    There is no footnote.
    The asterisk is actually part of the name.
    I've always assumed that it is intended to represent a snowflake, although by the time the band released their second album, "Experiments in mass appeal", the symbol had mutated into a five limbed asterisk.

  3. James Taylor would make my list - and that particular song too. I think I would have to add a bit of Paul Simon, Led Zeppelin, Some classical (but which? mmm tough this choosing just eight tunes), And Rod Stewarts 'Baby Jane' - I'd be dancing around the sandy beach on my own to that one, and a Queen track... again which one? Too hard. Maybe give this a miss. :-) but thanks for sharing.

  4. Oh yes. Led Zep. Good call.

    If you take "Stairway to Heaven" you get a nice long song with loads of variation (Bonus!) or if you take "Battle of Evermore" you get the late and undoubtedly great Sandy Denny adding backing vocals.
    In the words of Bill and Ted, "Most excellent!!"

  5. Peter Rapson Woodstock thinks [1]'E Lucevan le Stelle' is the greatest song of all, with Puccini ratcheting up the emotion and ending with an (impossible?) crescendo on a down-note. Al;so beloved of Roger Waters. For pop, the three waves of [2]'What've I Done to Deserve This' by Pets, with Dusty extracting the maximum. Jazz; [3] Gershwin's 'Embraceable You' by Sarah Vaughan and Charlie Parker's raw outburst of [4] 'Lover Man'. Passion: Irish trad of [5] 'Raglan Road' by Van and [6] vocals from Deep Purple Concerto. [7] Mahler 9 and [8] 'Won't Get Fooled again' by Who.

  6. Hi Peter:
    Plenty to like here too.

    I'm not too familiar with a lot of classical music, although I know that Mahler 9 is a personal favourite of several of my friends.

    Back in the 1970s, I had a cassette of the Deep Purple Concerto for Orchestra and Rock Band. It was the soundtrack to a number of memorable journeys up and down the motorways of England.

    ...and as for "Won't get fooled again". This has one of the best reality check lyrics of all time.
    "Meet the new boss... same as the old boss".
    How true.