Desert Island Discs

As I sit here wondering what to write about in this weeks blog, I’ve got BBC Radio 4 on in the background. The show which is playing at the moment is Desert Island Discs. If you’re not familiar with this venerable UK institution which has been on air continuously since 1942, allow me to give you some background…

The premise of the show is that you can tell a lot about someone by looking at their musical tastes. It’s basically a talk show where, each week, a guest tells their life story by discussing the eight songs they would choose to take with them should they ever be marooned on a desert island.

In it’s illustrious history, many world leaders, cultural icons and celebrities have shared their treasured memories and events which have shaped their lives on the show. It’s true to say that, in the UK at least, you’ve not really “made it” until you’ve made an appearance on the show – much like having your likeness on display at Madame Toussards in London.

As it’s unlikely I’ll ever be invited onto the show (unless grumpy middle aged men playing instrumental guitar jazz suddenly become big box office), I thought I’d indulge myself here by sharing my eight favourite tunes with my loyal reader. These are not necessarily my current favourite pieces of music – I think it probably takes a few years for any tune to find its place in the scheme of things. It is often only with a degree of hindsight that you realise that a particular work has had an effect on you.

Anyway, without further ado, here are my choices with a couple of lines explaining the significance of each one…

1) Rock Around The Clock – Bill Haley & The Comets. This song is one of my earliest memories. It was always on in the house, playing on an old Dansette record player, as I was growing up. It is without doubt the very first piece of music I remember giving me that sense of joy that only music can impart.

2) In The Mood – Glenn Miller. Another childhood memory. The Glenn Miller Story with James Stewart always seemed to be on the television at Christmas in the ’70s. That iconic scene where the band keeps playing as a V2 doodlebug flies overhead is probably pure Hollywood myth, but who cares? A great feel-good tune with oodles of happy childhood, rose-tinted reminiscences for me.

3) Daddy Cool/The Girl Can’t Help It – The Darts. This band have sort of been airbrushed out of the the nostalgia industry’s version of the late ’70s. For some reason, this song just stopped me in my tracks when I was ten years old. It was also the first song I remember hearing and thinking “I want to be able to do that!” Within a year or so, I had my first guitar.

4) Sultans of Swing – Dire Straits. Nothing remotely like this had been in the charts when it came out in 1979. Mark Knopfler’s laid back, but virtuosic guitar playing was what made me realise that the guitar was capable of so much more than just being an accompaniment to sing along with. The way he echoes the lyrics with little guitar licks… “Check out Guitar George, he knows all the chords” and “… as the time bell rings” is the musical equivalent of an illustrator bringing a text to life with beautifully executed drawings. It wasn’t long before I was learning my first scales to try and emulate this way of playing.

5) Key To The Highway – Derek & The Dominoes. I discovered Eric Clapton via the song Layla, which was used as the theme tune to a local current affairs TV show in the Tyne Tees region. I bought the album and this extended blues jam showcasing EC & Duane Allman gave me goosebumps from the first time I heard it. It was the first time I’d heard something called “blues” and I was hooked.

6) So What – Miles Davis. It’s fair to say that (like many people) I just didn’t get jazz at all. A lot of dissonant, tuneless caterwauling. It baffled me, frankly. Then I heard this and it was a revelation! The way that the riff just emerges from the mist and solidifies, then Jimmy Cobb’s drums kick in and the insistent, but chilled out, momentum carries you along through some of the finest, most musical improvisation you’ll ever hear. Distilled essence of musical perfection, and my initiation into the world of jazz.

7) Nimrod (from Elgar’s Enigma Variations). This is the piece of music which gets played every year at the service of remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. Even without this association, it is one of the most evocative, poignant tunes ever written. It conjures up misty eyed nostalgic images of an idealised English-ness that stir something in me I find difficult to put into words. It’s not so much nationalism, more a sense of heritage. More than any other work, this was my introduction to the joys of “classical” music.

8) Jungle Land – Bruce Springsteen. One of the first songs I ever heard by “The Boss”. In the early ’80s I became aware that someone called Bruce Springsteen was was due to release a new album. At that age, I was desperate to find out as much as I could about anyone who was generally regarded as musically “important”. The buzz in the media about the upcoming new album release led me to go out & buy the first Springsteen album I could find, just to see what the fuss was about. The LP I purchased with my hard-earned Saturday job wages was Born To Run. Jungle Land is the final track on that album, and it is a masterpiece. It best sums up Bruce’s ability as a wordsmith – the picture he paints, and the story he so effortlessly tells, is testament to his status as one of the most influential lyricists of the 20th century.

So there you have it. These are the eight songs I would take with me to my lonely desert island. What this says about me as a person, I can’t begin to imagine. Ask me again tomorrow & you’d probably get a different selection, though. Along with the music, castaways are allowed a book and a luxury item & my choices in these categories would be “In Pale Battalions” by Robert Goddard, a wonderful historic novel, set mostly during the 1914-18 war, which I never tire of reading, and a luxury? Well… it has to be a guitar, doesn’t it.

Got your own line up of eight tracks, should you ever become a latter-day Robinson Crusoe? I’d love to know what they are.

Until next time… have fun 🙂 

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