Friday, 10 October 2014

I’ve finally faced the fact that I’m never going to be invited on Desert Island Discs – so here’s my selection

I’ve gone through life sort of assuming I’d end up discussing my fabulously successful life on the famous BBC radio show, interspersed with snippets of my favourite musical platters. I’ve been honing my anecdotes for years, and have regularly rejigged my choice of music to best reflect what a compassionate, sensitive, tasteful person I am. (To be honest, I’d also assumed that I’d be on at least twice, and had been planning to choose eight pop records for the first edition and eight classical compositions for the second.) But it’s dawned on me that this is probably never going to happen. Ah well, sod ‘em. Their loss. In order not to waste those years of preparation entirely, I’ve decided to share my selections with you, dear reader, starting with the pop version.

When I sat down about an hour ago to compose my 89th list (or wherever I'm now up to), I realised where I’d been going wrong all these years. It shouldn’t be a list of your favourite records, or the ones that will most impress or intrigue a fascinated audience: rather, it should comprise those songs which instantly and powerfully trigger memories of people, places and events that have meant something to the person selecting them. Using this approach, I came up with thirteen records (yes, I’ve cheated a bit) which fit my new criteria, and none of which (coincidentally) have appeared on any of my previous lists:

I was five and living in Norway when I first heard The Big Bopper’s “Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor”. I still miss all the snow:

When Sam Cooke’s “Twistin’ the Night Away” came out in 1962, it was the coolest record I’d ever heard: cool people doing cool dances somewhere incredibly exotic very far away. I almost wore it out on our splendidly bass-heavy Blaupunkt radiogram:

I just have to hear the three opening chords of the next record, and I’m 13 years’ old again. And, for some odd reason, it's autumn:

Jethro Tull’s “The Witch’s Promise” evokes that blissful nine-month period between finishing exams and starting university:

Sorry about this, but it can’t be helped – whenever I hear Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2”, I’m back at university, glugging plonk, smoking Player’s No. 6 and shrieking with laughter in someone’s room in Third Court on a sunny afternoon in Spring:

Jonathan Richman’s “Egyptian Reggae” – it's the end of my first bout of wage slavery, I'm just about to start writing full-time, and I'm indulging in some embarrassingly abandoned  dancing at my very last office Christmas party (I've managed to avoid them ever since):

Feeling lonely in a bar in Key West - and definitely not interested in becoming better acquainted with any of the clientele, which consists entirely of chaps with moustaches. Then this comes on the jukebox and life suddenly seems perfect:

A stuffy dinner party at some yuppie couple’s fancy Fulham pad, energised by someone (that would be me) slipping this onto the tape deck (they'd been playing Frank fucking Sinatra all evening, and I just happened to have bought this on the way there):

I return from a summer holiday, drop my suitcase off at my flat, and rush over to Aberdeen Park, Islington, where the girl I realise I really, really must spend the rest of my life with is house-sitting:

In a car on the M5 on a stiflingly hot day, heading for my faviourite place on earth (Cornwall) with my favourite people on earth (my family), and all of us bouncing around like idiots to this. (My son, who is 21 next week, will be celebrating his birthday at Fatboy Slim’s club in Brighton):

Checking the interactive TV service which will accompany the BBC’s 2002 World Cup coverage, and reflecting on what a long, strange – and bloody exhausting - trip it’s been. This is the theme music, which I’d never heard before:

So there you have it. Not my favourite records by any means - some of them are downright embarrassing - but they all evoke distinct and welcome memories from different periods of my life. If Kirsty Young should change her mind, I might consider reducing the list to eight and including "Feed the World", "Free Nelson Mandela" and "My Way".


  1. Every one a winner.Nice post.

  2. The Desert Island boat may have sailed but there is always the cheery prospect of one's funeral music and a captive audience to look forward to. ' Let's Work Together ' from the immortal Canned Heat for me, in case I pop off without getting the chance to write it down.

    1. Brilliant choice! I had a Canned Heat track on my original DID list covering college years, but that was "Fried Hockey Boogie" - all 11 minutes of it - and it lost out to "Rock "n" Roll Part 2". Underated group, Canned Heat.

  3. Some of you may know that Roy Plomley (desert Island Discs originator) was a King's boy. He spoke at an Old Boys' dinner about thirty years ago and he was dire. He was, by fluke, for two years my landlord in Wimbledon; I rented a very damp garret near the Polka Theatre on the Broadway. He was a very jolly chap and put up with my financial inadequacies with a cheerful and benevolent acceptance.

    Like the rest of us I now never expect to be called by Kirsty Young but about thirty years ago I was interviewed by Alan Morgan for Radio Gloucestershire. The series was called 'At Home with.......' A complete rip-off of DID.
    It was a joyous interlude and I rambled on about my life and times and selected the following:

    Have some Madeira Ma Dear - Flanders and Swann
    Marie's the Name - Elvis Presley
    Dock of the Bay - Otis Redding
    Love Notes - Ramsey Lewis
    Paul Simon - Graceland
    Keep That Same Old Feeling - The Crusaders

    Incidentally, I find all the above still utterly enchanting.

    Very happy days

    1. Interesting selection, Riley!

      His Latest Flame was my alternative choice to Twistin' the Night Away - with Little Sister on the B-side, it was one of the all-time great double-sided singles. Graceland and Dock of the Bay are both terrific, obviously. I'm a Ramsey Lewis fan, but prefer several other tracks, and The Crusaders are too soft soul for me - but, anyway, that was hardly the point of your list.

      Hope you have a tape of the show somewhere?

  4. I do indeed have the tape - recorded from the wireless in the kitchen so it is not of great quality. I will find some geek somewhere who can transfer it to CD for the entertainment and mirth of my grandchildren.
    Obviously that list was woefully inadequate. There should be at least a couple of dozen Mowton tunes; an armful Beatles; a handful of Stones; Neil Young; Carly Simon; Carole King; James Taylor; Neil Sedaka; Tina Turner; Frank Sinatra; Dean Martin; Ella Fitzgerald; Bonzo Dog; Benny Hill (just for Ernie, you understand) Neil Diamond; Leonard Cohen; the Beach Boys...and the beat goes on .....oh...and Pickettywitch...

    1. The blogmaestro has put his finger on a very important point about DID: the discs you would take to a desert island are not necessarily ones you like most. I suspect I would choose a couple of Mahler symphonies simply because they are complex masterpieces and it would be something to do to pass the time to draw lines in the sand and try to notate them. I haven't listened to "Jollity Farm" by the Bonzos for years but it is such a powerful memory of the children growing up that it would have to be on the list for anti-depressant purposes. For similar sentimental reasons, "Babylon Sisters" by Steely Dan: my eldest daughter's third and fourth spoken words were 'shake it'. That doesn't leave much space for a lot of music that I like better.

      I could probably live without Pickettywitch. I would be a lot sorrier never to hear "Let's Work Together" again. Thanks Martin D for the reminder of what a great band Canned Heat were. Not even the memory of the awful lounge lizard cover version/rewrite by Bryan Ferry can spoil the enjoyment.

    2. Yes, I know I'm being appalling train-spottery here, but... the American R&B artiste Wilbert Harrison wrote and recorded "Let's Work Together" in 1962. This was subsequently covered by Canned Heat. In 1968 Mr. Harrison reworked and rewrote the song and released it as "Let's Stick Together". This is the song that Bryan Ferry did a somewhat manky version of.
      Glad to have cleared that up.