If Kirsty Young Called For Desert Island Discs

Desert Island Discs, the long running BBC radio programme, recently uploaded a tonne of their archived programming from the late 90s till now on to iTunes. I highly recommend the series, which uses a parlour game where one person (in this case, a celeb of some type) chooses eight songs, one book, plus a luxury of some sort (which cannot be a person, nor can it be an iPod thanks to Nick Hornby) to be cast away with. I have posted a desert island list before (three in fact). But I have decided, while listening to a slew of these programmes this last week on my walks home from work, to play the BBC game.

My picks are after the cut.

This is a more finely detailed game than the picking an album game. It can only be songs. If you choose classical pieces, you can only choose one movement from the  piece. It’s tempting to throw in all of Time Out  or The Book of Mormon, but I’m going the traditional route.

My eight tracks:

1. Tchaikovsky “The 1812 Overture”

My parents had a very eclectic and very divided album collection. My father wasn’t into rock and roll, he favoured classical and country. I never liked his taste in country (Johnny Horton and a destruction of a tape caused a rather significant argument between the two of us. I’m sorry that tape was destroyed because he was my dad, but I was kind of glad not to hear that nasally drone of a voice ever again). There were these grand collections of vinyl of various composers- Bacharach and David, Mancini, Gershwin, Porter, Berlin. I’m not really certain if my mother or my father bought those, or if it was a joint deal. I suspect it was joint.

My mother I will get to shortly. But my father and I have had a somewhat difficult relationship over the years. A lot of what transpired between us in my youth has never been discussed in any significant way except between me and various therapists. Now in his twilight years, he is trying to make amends. I am trying to forgive. The few things we have in common keep our conversations narrow. I love my father. I just cannot be in the same room with him without dissolving into a puddle of tears and panic.

My dad gave me my first love of music. Because he gave me Tchaikovsky. My father’s favourite piece of music is a specific version of “The 1812 Overture” that was done by one of the Soviet era orchestras. He had it on vinyl, and he got rid of it about a decade ago when it became next to impossible to by reasonably priced turntables. I miss a lot of those records, but the Tchaikovsky I miss most of all. He ‘s pretty certain it was the Leningrad Symphony or Philharmonic, and they used real canons in the piece from the Soviet army. I’m on the look out if anyone knows anything. If I found it, it might make up for the fact Johnny Horton was chewed up by the tape deck.

As it is, I would take Tchaikovsky, because of all the classical composers, I loved the Russians best. And because this always reminds me of my dad.

I don’t know if I found the right piece, Dad. But I hope I did.

Of course I chose the part with the real cannons and the quoting of “Le Marseilles”. Great timpani as well.

2. Herman’s Hermits “I’m Into Something Good”

My mother was a child of her era- she turned thirteen in 1964.

I grew up with healthy doses of the Beatles and the Beach Boys, but my mum preferred Herman’s Hermits. When I was younger, I considered them slight and a novelty. When you here the cockney laced “Henry the VIII I Am” a trillion times from your sweet mum, you might also consider that ( she was also oddly fond of singing “They’re Coming To Take Me Away” by Napoleon XIV while preparing dinner- and trying to get me to waltz to “Shall We Dance?” from The King and I). The Beatles were COOL. Peter Noone and the Hermits were not. It wasn’t until I was older that I recognized how good they were, and what a brilliant little pop ditty “I’m Into Something Good” was.

My brother got my mother a copy of Herman’s Hermit’s greatest hits on CD towards the end of her life. She had Beatles and Beach Boys for years. But I remember the smile in her eyes when she saw that CD. And now, I love Herman Hermit’s, even though they make me incredibly sad as they brighten the world around me.

Yes, Peter Noone was cool. I concede that now, Mum.

3. Bob Dylan “Its All Over Now, Baby Blue”

When Gwen was a baby, I would try many songs to try to settle her. Traditional lullabies, standard show tunes, Joni Mitchell all failed. She took to this Bob Dylan standard though, and I would often sing her the first verse to get her to sleep.

I would like to report it still puts her to sleep. But only because, to quote a thirteen year old with actually pretty good taste in music: “Bob Dylan sucks”.

You can’t win them all.

I can’t find a Bob version on YouTube, but if I had to take an alternative, I’m taking Joan Baez’s version.

4. The Bee Gees “How Deep Is Your Love”

My second daughter, Aislinn, was unimpressed by Dylan from the get go.  She preferred the insane high pitch squeal of the Bee Gees, and “How Deep Was Your Love” was the only song that helped her sleep.

She remains a Bee Gees fan. And Abba. She loves Abba.

Come to think of it, all three my daughters adore Abba. It’s the Scandinavian streak in us, I think. But Aislinn is more a pure pop fan than the rest of us. She loaded her iPod up with every Bee Gees, Abba, and Katy Perry song I’d let her have.

5. Shirley Jones “Goodnight, My Someone”

Emma as a baby loved it when I pulled out my show tune vibrato and sang songs from musicals. She was a high need, high-strung baby with hearing issues, and loved nestling against my chest as I sang ridiculous songs with vast ranges. I think she felt my chest rattle as I sang. “Goodnight,  My Someone” soothed her like nothing else. And I love Shirley Jones singing it.

Emma now tells me to shut up when I sing.

6. R.E.M. “Maps and Legends”

R.E.M. played such an important role in my life. They were the first band I became truly obsessed with that was MINE. I discovered them on my own, without input from my parents.

I have a soft spot for the band’s much overlooked 1985 album Fables of the Reconstruction. After the Byrdsian jingle jangle of their first two albums, the darker Southern Gothic sounds of Fables was intriguing and different.  Of all the songs, “Maps and Legends” still gets me every time. I can safely say it is my favourite R.E.M. song of all time.

Also, Michael Stipe remains one of my heroes, and he has an incredible, distinctive voice that I would miss if I didn’t have it readily available at my fingertips.

7. The Clash “(White Man) In The Hammersmith Palais”

My devotion to the Clash is well known amongst my friends. My internet handles and email addresses all come from Clash songs. This one, with the cheerful “Whoo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo”‘s and the snide comment of “If Adolf Hitler were here today, they’d send a limo for him anyway” still just get to me.

The Clash and R.E.M. were important in creating my view of the world, politically and socially. Joe Strummer, in particular, remains the person I listen to even now, nearly a decade after his death. Listening to a Clash record is a religious experience to me. The only other thing that comes close is… well, that’s next on the list.

8. The Kinks “Waterloo Sunset”

“Waterloo Sunset” is life. It’s the mundane with the sadness, melancholy laced with beauty. It’s life as a song.

The Kinks were never big in my house. My mum didn’t seem to be a fan, and I’m pretty sure my dad couldn’t figure out which Davies brother was which. But I loved them. The line from the Kinks through punk into grunge, which is the music of my teenage years, was pretty clear. But it was the Kinks after “You Really Got Me” that left a huge impression. I have often said that if you want proof of God’s existence and sense of humour, it is the Kinks. The simplicity of this song makes it perfect. There are only two other songs I consider as perfect- “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys, and “In The Midnight Hour” by Wilson Pickett.  But as I also said when the world was supposed to end a few weeks back, the very last song I ever want to hear on this earth is this one, because it perfectly encapsulates everything life is in three minutes.

Given: The religious text of your choice (KJV Bible- stick with what you know) and the Complete Works of Shakespeare. But I am choosing to take Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace because it’s 1000 plus pages with footnotes and I might actually finish it. I originally thought about taking To Kill a Mockingbird, which I read to Gwen as a baby, but I might be stranded for a while. Might as well read something I’ve never finished that is very, very long.

My luxury was originally going to be a DVD player with the complete series of Homicide: Life on the Streets, but I have decided to take a grand piano instead. By the time I’m rescued, I will be both skinny and much more proficient than I am now on the piano, and I can attempt to play every song I know on it. I hope to be rescued the day after I play all of Physical Graffiti.

By the way, I’d be rubbish alone on an island. It’s not the solitude that will get me. It’s the lack of poutine and Diet Pepsi and cigarettes.


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