Friday, 15 June 2018

My third - and final - Desert Island Discs selection: from Snow in San Anselmo to Uptown Funk

I produced my first Desert Island Discs selection in 2014, and the second a few weeks ago.  That last one took me up the late '70s. It's now the early '80s, and I'm on holiday with a girlfriend in a dull, dusty, unfriendly Spanish coastal town full of stolid German holidaymakers - because her parents own an apartment there. I hate the food, the beach is nothing but pebbles, and the evenings are made unbearable by the constant buzz-saw whine of kids riding mopeds up and down the strip below.  I'm overweight, unhappy, and drinking far too much. My writing career's heading down the crapper, the long-term relationship I'm in is floundering, my life's going nowhere, and I have absolutely no idea how to fix things. There's a tape of the Van Morrison LP Hard Nose the Highway in the apartment, and I find myself listening to one track - "Snow in San Anselmo" - over and over again. I should hate it, because it keeps breaking into jazz,  it's one of those pop songs which sounds religious without actually being so, and Van Morrison's "irritating vocal mannerisms" dial is set to 11. And yet... always makes me feel better - maybe because it invariably reminds me that it's possible to emerge from the Slough of Despond:

New job, new girlfriend, new flat, new life. I've bought an LP by the '50s New Orleans R&B group Huey (Piano) Smith and The Clowns (who can be heard backing Frankie Ford on the great "Sea Cruise") and the nonsensical "Don't You Just Know It" has meant happiness to me ever since:

We'd been married for about a year when my wife drags me off to see the new Tim Burton film Beetlejuice. We both adore it. It's sort of been our film ever since, and Harry Belafonte's "Jump in Line" reminds me of it:

We'd been in the house where we still live for a couple of years when newcomers a few doors down hold a housewarming party one hot summer night. I step into the garden, determined to be annoyed by the music they're playing... only to find myself entranced by the sound of Herbie Hancock's super-cool "Cantaloupe Island". I had no idea what it was, and I knew if I went round and asked our new near-neighbours, they'd think I was complaining about the racket. Took me ages to identify the song, and then it was because it was heavily sampled on the rap group Us3's "Flip Fantasia":

Friends who were moving abroad asked us to house their LP collection until they'd settled in. The first one I played was a collection of the feather-voiced, fingerpicking folk bluesman Mississippi John Hurt's original 1928 recordings. Dang near wore out a tape of it on our frequent car journeys to and from Cornwall in the early '90s. "Nobody's Dirty Business" still means Cornwall to me:

I was on a plane heading for Washington DC on my way to Little Rock, Arkansas to work on the BBC's 1992 presidential election coverage. I was listening to the airline's country music channel  when this delightful version of Johnny Cash's "Doing My Time" by Marty Stuart, one of his former guitarists, came on - when the familiar rumble of the great man's voice rattled my headphones, I was so delighted, I burst out laughing:

One of the many hopes I had for my son in his early years was that he'd have a pronounced sense of humour. I needn't have worried. The first thing I remember us both finding equally funny was Ali G and Shaggy's "Me Julie". He was seven at the time, and I'm not sure whether it showed how
sophisticated the lad was or how juvenile his dad was - bit of both, probably:

It turned out to be the drama series that changed television for ever - although my wife and I obviously didn't know that when we sat down to watch the very first episode of The Sopranos, and that brilliant opening sequence and Alabama 3's "Woke Up This Morning" came on (little did we know they were from Brixton):

Another TV theme - Frank Sidebottom's (or The Filthy 3's)  "We're the Sweeney". I include it because it has an unexpected effect on a certain member of my family - to borrow a line from the aforementioned "Jump in Line", "she wind up she bottom, she go like a rocket!" As for me, I just bellow the responses:

My final selection - and the most recent of my desert island discs - is the delightful "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars, which I first heard when it was used as the soundtrack to my favourite YouTube video, "Old Movie Stars Dance to Uptown Funk". Having been feeling distinctly below par for the past four-and-a-half years, I appreciate anything non-harmful that gives me an instant energy boost - and this never fails:


  1. That's a coincidence. Whenever I hear anything by Van Morrison I am immediately plunged into something similar to the Slough of Despond from which he helped you emerge and have to put on some Tamla Motown at high volume to take away the taste. His music was one of the memories I retain of a similarly doomed relationship, as if Van was singing the theme tune to its demise. Still, I can see how Snow in Anselmo would help with weight loss as it has put me right off my breakfast.

    In fairness to Van, I am more or less alone in not liking that mannered, back of the throat, phoney mid-Atlantic drawly vocal style. And apparently, in person he is a cheery, perfectly mannered, fun loving, life and soul of the party sort of chap from Northern Ireland.

    1. I am not a slavish admirer of the surly little tub's entire oeuvre - but I listened to the "His Band and Street Choir" and "Tupelo Honey" albums to the point of insanity when they came out - and the former (which is pretty durned cheerful) is still a genuine favourite. As for his supposedly mid-Atlantic accent, it sounds pretty convincingly American to me most of the time - I suspect his Belfast accent helped with that. (I suppose we should really ask an American for an expert opinion.)

      And I always suspected he was really a wonderful, crazy, fun-loving party animal - thanks for confirming it. Pretending to be a miserable, snarling, angst-ridden curmudgeon all these years must have been a terrible strain.