BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs is one seriously aged show, having run for over 3000 episodes over the course of the last 74 years. That is pretty impressive for a show that has such a simple framework for discussion with noteworthy figures: If you were cast away on a desert island, which eight songs, one book and one luxury item would you take away with you?
And yet, I realised today that in spite of it being such a legendary show, I have never listened to an episode. I started nosing around the BBC archive, and got stuck for a couple of hours, nosing around what had been chosen, and by whom they had been chosen. Considering the massive range of figures to feature on the shows, whether film/TV celebrities, politicians, charity workers or (eh-hem) journalists, I couldn’t help but wonder, and subsequently write, what would I choose?
WARNING: May contain spoilers of 28TH MAY 2056 episode, where 87-year-old Kirsty Young, quizzes me on the Great Pop Scandal of 2040, when teen sensations The Secret Malt Loaf Committee assaulted me during an interview.
1. DAVID BOWIE – STATION TO STATION: The title track to my favourite Bowie album is his longest, serving almost as two tracks in one. I have an adoration for tracks that can hold one’s attention without capitalising on the novelty of its scale. Bowie might be referring to “the return of the Thin White Duke”, but this is hardly prog rock, or ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ with a nonsensical plot. It’s just a brilliant song. ‘Station to Station’ is a flowing experience that captures me enough that I am always taken aback as I hear it fade out at the end. Wait… it’s finishing?
2. FLEETWOOD MAC – SEVEN WONDERS: This was the song that really won me over when I was little, and I listened to Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits with my Mum. When people think of Tango of the Night, they will mention ‘Big Love’, ‘Everywhere’ and ‘Little Lies’, and I could choose them too, but no one seems to give any love to ‘Seven Wonders’. Perhaps people are put off by the cheesiness of the very 80s keys (this is probably the most ‘guilty’ track on that album), but it’s always been a favourite. Extra love due to vivid memory of little me saying that Stevie Nicks sounded like a sheep.
3. GUSTAV HOLST – NEPTUNE, THE MYSTIC: This beautiful movement is the world’s greatest lullaby, and would be wonderful under the stars (I almost selected Sigur Ros’ ‘Untitled #5’ for that purpose. More on them a little later). Holst’s The Planets is legendary, and the ‘Mars, The Bringer of War’ and the very tempting ‘Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity’ are constants in suggestions on Desert Island Discs, however the closing movement has yet to be submitted by anybody (perhaps that should cause me to aspire for fame and fortune, so nobody beats me to it). The fading choir is ingenious, and I think that the celesta might be my favourite instrument of all. I was very excited when I snuck into Studio 2 at Abbey Road and I got to muck around on one. That was until I tried to play Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and failed miserably.
4. MEAT LOAF – BAT OUT OF HELL: Discovered as I did with Fleetwood Mac, but this one is much more important. Without question, Meat Loaf’s ‘Bat Out of Hell’ (as well as other hits of his that were on Hits Out of Hell, a mainstay in my father’s car) can be credited as the spark that led to by fixation upon the weird and wonderful in music. At the age of six, I could not get my head around the scale of the Wagnerian rock tracks, stretching to a monstrous nine-minutes-and-forty-seven-seconds in the case of ‘Bat Out of Hell’. And for the record, I didn’t have to look that up. I have a photographic memory of the sleeve of the album that I “borrowed” from the car. Twenty years on, I still have it, and I’m taking Track 1 with me.
5. MUSE – KNIGHTS OF CYDONIA: ‘Citizen Erased’ may be considered by many fans to be Muse’s magnum opus, and ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and ‘New Born’ battled to be my choice, but I hold ‘Knights of Cydonia’ far more dear. I have never been more excited about the release of an album as I was when 15, and Black Holes and Revelations was on its way. In my opinion, this album was the loudest and densest that Muse got before things got ridiculous to the point of pretentiousness, as they notice that they have money for a 19th orchestra on the next album. ‘Knights of Cydonia’ sounds so much fun and tongue-in-cheek, before their scale became exactly what they sound like they’re almost satirising in this track. It is one of the best of the band’s arsenal when played live. I can’t help but grin whenever the final section kicks in.
6. RADIOHEAD – LET DOWN: My favourite song of all time? Quite possibly. This was the first song on my iTunes catalogue to accumulate over one-hundred listens (with the not so beautiful ‘Cunts are Still Running the World’ by Jarvis Cocker behind it). In a similar vein to Muse having ‘Citizen Erased’, Radiohead’s big one is the multi-movement ‘Paranoid Android’ and it is in very close second place, behind the biggest spine-tingler in my music collection, ‘Let Down’. It might not be one of Radiohead’s beloved singles, and there are a few on OK Computer, but this snatches all attention for me and many fans (nosing around YouTube, there have been ballistic reactions from crowds as it was dug up for its first performance in ten years on their latest tour), and I have always loved it. It’s pleasant, building throughout, leading to a lovely final chorus. On the island, I could pass a lot of time trying to hold the big “one daaaay” note at the end along with Thom Yorke, and hopefully not sounding too abrasive over the top. And I have tried…
7. SIGUR ROS – HOPPIPOLLA: I was torn between so many more ambient Sigur Ros tracks, such as ‘Svefn-g-englar’, ‘Staralfur’, ‘Untitled #3 (Samskeyti)’ and ‘Untitled #5 (Alafoss), but with the “staring at the stars” role already taken by by Gustav Holst, I went with the sheer triumph and beauty of the theme song to every nature documentary since 2005.
8. TOM LEHRER – WE WILL ALL GO TOGETHER WHEN WE GO: I might be accused of elitism for this, but so what? – Tom Lehrer’s An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer, recorded and released in 1960 is my favourite live album (David Bowie’s A Reality Tour is close behind), and is in no danger of losing that status any time soon. I discussed this very song when I appeared on Steve Lamacq’s show on BBC 6 Music as the ultimate example of a song to cheer you up on a bad day, making hilarious light of an impending nuclear apocalypse, making it the most appropriate song for when one isn’t too great on the desert island.
LUXURY ITEM: A DRUM KIT (and a heck of a lot of drumsticks): My favourite toy. The most common luxury request on Desert Island Discs is a piano, and until recently, that would possibly have been my choice. However, that has been knocked off of its podium by a drum kit. While I could play and compose at a piano for ages, creating intricate rhythms and trying to make a drum kit ‘sing’ would be a much more fun way to pass the time.
BOOKS: Mick Foley’s Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks or Foley is Good: And the Real World is Faker Than Wrestling. Alright, it is two books and I might need a little time to decide which one it should be. Mick Foley’s first two autobiographies are both a fascinating account of the wrestling industry from one of the most intriguing and gloriously violent wrestlers that WWF/E ever took on board. On top of this, he addresses the dearly beloved Attitude Era, when the company was at its chaotic commercial peak, which I remember fondly, as this was when I started watching the wrestling.