“Music is a language that doesn’t speak in particular words. It speaks in emotions, and if it’s in the bones, it’s in the bones.” ― Keith Richards
This blog post is the first of a three-part mini-series; which will examine and explore my musical taste which has often provided the soundtrack to my life journey—much the way the BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs functions. The radio programme devised by Roy Plomley has continued to have a simple premise, from the first episode which went live on 27 January 1942 right up to the present day, therefore, continuing to have a firm audience.
Without deviating away from this primary aspect, Desert Island Discs, for nearly eighty years is an interview between a presenter and a well-known person. The famous individual finds themselves tasked with the question, “If you were to be cast away alone on a desert island, which eight records would you choose to have with you?” along with being encouraged to delve openly about their successes and life’s work. Some people may find this question easy. Others may find it very difficult to pin down their choices of music which resonates with them most fondly. This mini-series of blog posts is as close as I could come up with if I faced the dilemma.
Throughout the programme, the Desert Island Discs presenter will enquire about the castaway’s life journey and intimately delve into their emotions attached to events in their past. The conversation has interludes of the chosen tracks or sound clips. Plomley interviewed guests until his death in 1985. He was succeeded by Yorkshire-born chat show host Michael Parkinson who completed nearly 100 episodes before handing the baton to television presenter Sue Lawley, herself a guest during Parkinson’s run. Kirsty Young took on the programme in August 2006, and since October 2018 Lauren Laverne has been guiding the guests through his or her soundtrack to life.
Each Desert Island Discs guest is also allowed one luxury, with the advice that it must be inanimate and of no use in escaping the metaphorical island or allowing communication from outside. Along with their chosen eight tracks and before selecting their favourite or most meaningful piece of music, the castaway receives the complete works of William Shakespeare and an appropriate religious or philosophical text along with them. The individual is also allowed a book or series of books of their choosing which would hopefully occupy their time while stranded on the island awaiting rescue to society.
Over the time of Desert Island Discs’ run, a small handful of guests have appeared several times most notably Sir David Attenborough who has featured numerous occasions. It was not until 2009 that the BBC opened the Desert Island Discs archive. This online archive has allowed listeners to return, find their favourite guests and listen again or download the episode albeit some may have seen edits made to them for copyright reasons. In the case of these blog posts, all music I have located the pieces of music on Spotify – so if you have an account with the music streaming service, you will be able to listen to the tracks fully.
As mentioned, I have made a few exceptions to the rules of the radio programme for these blog posts. Firstly, I have included more than eight tracks. This particular post looks at artists with the band name or surname beginning with A to H. The subsequent “Desert Island Discs” themed posts cover I to P. Before finally Q to Z. Secondly, I have picked one track per artist named. Whereas as guests could choose multiple choices from the same group or individual.
It is also essential to know that despite having a worldly knowledge of many things. Primarily useless to all but me, football player histories; music is not top of my list and would not always know individual band members by face alone or who is top of the charts. In these cases, there may be a reason I have selected a particular track or artist as I felt the music speak to me through the lyrics and or melody. Therefore, I have also provided a personal anecdotal commentary to each piece selected. So without further ado here goes.
My A-H Desert Island Discs
ABBA: Thank You For The Music
With their song, Waterloo, the Swedish pop group ABBA broke into the mindset of many at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest held in Brighton. Winning that year’s competition in the listed building saw the crown go to Sweden for the first time as the foursome, beat fifteen competitors. Including Olivia Newton-John, performing for the host nation, the United Kingdom who did not award any points to the Scandinavians on the early April night. Following this success, ABBA went onto release many other chart-topping hits which were equally successful with people around the world.
Thank You For The Music first appeared as part of the group’s fifth studio album which was released on 12 December 1977. Despite this, those in the United Kingdom and Ireland had to wait until 1983 to buy this as a single. Once it did, the song only peaked at number thirty-three on the UK charts but is well-known due to being included in the band’s Greatest Hits albums. Despite being written by Benny and Björn, it is Agnetha who is the lead vocalist.
Despite Thank You For the Music strongly alluding to the break up of the group; primarily due to Benny and Anni-Frid’s three-year marriage. This song resonates profoundly with me as I often spend a lot of my time reflecting on how grateful I am to have a support group of family and friends who accept my quirks and personality. I am also thankful for the skills and abilities that I have developed over my lifetime and which have brought me successes and opportunities which I would not change for the world. ABBA certainly have provided many great hits which I also think are worth a mention: Knowing Me, Knowing You, Take a Chance on Me and The Winner Takes it All. Most of their successful hits have continued to be loved by many due to the original stage show musical, Mamma Mia before a star-studded cast in two movies followed the same storyline.
The Scandinavian supergroup has also been a reasonably popular choice on Desert Island Discs. With a selection of their tracks been chosen over 20 times by a diverse range of celebrities. Both former Prime Minister Theresa May and actor Sir Ian McKellen picking the popular disco hit, Dancing Queen. In comparison, cookery writer Mary Berry chose the infamous Mamma Mia.
Adele Laurie Blue Adkins mainly known by the mononym, Adele was mainly brought up by her mother in North London following her father walking out on the family when Adele was only aged two years old. At the age of four, she began singing before her, and her mother moved to Brighton, West Sussex for a couple of years. Following impersonating Spice Girls tracks Adele fortunately enough attended the BRIT School for Performing Arts & Technology. Adele graduated alongside other famous singers Leona Lewis and Jessie J. Adele also must be grateful to a friend posting a demo of her music on the social media platform MySpace. Adele soon found herself headhunted by XL Recordings. During a windswept time in 2006 following her graduation, she made her television bow on BBC programme Later… with Jools Holland. A few months later Adele would release her first single Hometown Glory all at the age of 16. Adele’s first album 19 saw her dubbed the next Amy Winehouse, however, Adele bit back saying she found comparisons to other female singers as lazy journalism. With this studio album, the philanthropist artist developed her take on soul music.
She continued to go from strength to strength throughout her twenties as her reputation became global winning music awards across the world, including several Brit Awards and Grammy Awards as well as breaking several Guinness World Records due to her remarkable rise. In 2011, Sony Pictures President of Music, Lia Vollack contacted the producers of the James Bond movie franchise for the twenty-third film, Skyfall about selecting Adele as the film’s theme song artist. Vollack believed that Adele would be a perfect choice due to her “soulful, haunting, evocative quality” similar to Shirley Bassey‘s performance in the title music of Goldfinger. Albeit feeling initially apprehensive about the opportunity, Adele worked closely with her producer Paul Epworth to produce this orchestral pop song.
Epworth has gone on record saying that the song is about “death and rebirth”. Which I feel fits the plot of this celebrated franchise’s film as director Sam Mendes took new spirit with bringing in new faces to take up roles. These included Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw as Q and Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory, a character would replace Judi Dench‘s M in the closing scenes. This track was very frequently heard on radio stations ahead of the launch of the film, which was essential to get people excited about going to the cinemas and watching how Daniel Craig‘s portrayal of the secret agent would pan out. Even if the song had not been the theme song for this film, I still feel it would have been a big success for Adele as it has the tones of a successful ballad and feels pretty timeless.
The Tottenham born artist has been selected a small handful of times on Desert Island Discs. With Skyfall being the most popular song chosen by those marooned on the fictional island. Michelin chef Marcus Wareing along with the former chairman of Sony, Sir Hugh Stringer and computer scientist Wendy Hall all picking this song. Meanwhile, Adele’s friend Alan Carr who had his wedding ordained by the singer at her Los Angeles home picked Melt My Heart to Stone.
Lily Allen: The Fear
With her cheeky attitude and diverse musical tastes, the London born pop singer Lily Allen herself has made herself equally as known as her comedian father Keith Allen, his brother Kevin and step-father for three years, Harry Enfield. Her father’s work was impressionable upon her younger years. Many eagle-eyed viewers of her father’s work within the anti-establishment comedy anthological series, The Comic Strip Presents… will be all too aware that a young Lily played a small part. Lily appears in the twenty-first episode of this series called The Yob. An unsettled childhood which saw her transfer to many different schools led Lily to rebel and find her path within the music industry which begun with a chart-topping song called Smile.
Lily saw further success when she released her first album Alright, Still and also fronted a loud and bolshy talk show on BBC Three which lasted for eight episodes. Three years after releasing the first album she released It’s Not Me. It’s You which had twelve tracks on it including The Fear. The Fear articulately takes a tongue in cheek swipe at problems with celebrity lifestyle and materialism. It also incorporates metaphors for British tabloid newspapers which had been causing grief to many famous faces. During her time at the top Lily was no stranger to many controversies as she married Sam Cooper, a local builder and decorator. The couple suffered agony when Lily’s mental health declined following the stillbirth of their expected first child. The couple eventually did have two daughters together. However, she suffered post-natal depression which saw Allen go off the rails as she tried to carry on. But, sadly for Cooper and Allen, their marriage ended in a civil divorce after a few extra-marital affairs. Allen returned to creating music with the albums Sheezus and No Shame and also published her memoirs, My Thoughts Exactly, which was well received by some critics.
I fully appreciate that Lily is a marmite type figure in the public eye; however, I admire the way she has managed to hold herself through all the challenges growing up must have caused her. The Fear is one of those songs which she wrote with American record producer Greg Kurstin and one which is not afraid to pull punches and not be a sugar-coated message. I could have easily picked a few for my choice to include Lily in this list as many songs have a unique style to them, which appeals to me. However, time and time I return to The Fear as I enjoy the wordplay and Lily’s perception that the celeb culture is damaging to many young people, especially girls.
At the time of writing this post, I am not too surprised that none of Lily Allen’s songs has made their way onto Desert Island Discs or selected by the many guests who have appeared on the programme. However, presenter Kirsty Young did invite Lily herself as a guest in 2014. At the time of recording, Lily was married to Sam Cooper, and everything between the pair seemed to be harmonious as she picked the uniquely created item of one of his shirts with her daughter’s soft toy rabbit sewn into it. Lily picked I am the Resurrection by The Stone Roses as her favourite track which I feel is very suitable as this classic song shows her determination to continue to get back on her feet despite things appearing to push her down. She also picked Pulp’s Common People as one of the other seven records. As for her book, Lily went for American author Patrick Dennis’ Auntie Mame. I can only assume she first read this book during her adolescence when she struggled to make stable friendships. The book once again demonstrates the quirky mindset of this singer with her strong, passionate views which Lily gained through her family and within the environment, she found herself in when growing up. However, I have a lot of respect for her being opinionated and not an easy pushover.
John Barry (originally performed by Louis Armstrong): We Have All the Time In The World
The vocal tones of Louis Armstrong could arguably be one of the most well recognised throughout the whole music industry. The Louisiana born jazz trumpeter, songwriter and singer had a career spanning over five decades from the 1920s through until he died in 1971. Armstrong was one of the first truly popular African-American entertainers, and despite a racially polarised United States of America, Armstrong’s music has been appreciated by all. Posthumourously Armstrong received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a year later inducted into the Hall of Fame. His house which he spent over three decades is now a museum for those fans interested to learn more about him and his music.
Although most recognisably performed by Louis Armstrong this piece was composed by John Barry to be the title theme song for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service which hit cinemas in 1969. This track is the second song I have chosen which comes from the Bond franchise however one which often is forgotten by many. The title comes from the last words said by the protagonist following the death of his wife Tracy (the second Bond girl to marry the secret agent). Despite this, it was not until 1994 when the UK public first took any notice of the song when My Bloody Valentine covered the song as part of an advert for Guinness. The Irish rock band are by no means the only artist to cover the song as it has been done so by Michael Ball, Shirley Bassey, Alfie Boe, Iggy Pop and The Specials.
In 2005, the BBC found out that this was the third most popular love song played at weddings which saw Bryan Adams’ (Everything I Do) I Do It For You top the list. I have selected this track as when I listen to it and close my eyes I picture taking a scene with the drone camera focusing on a relaxing drive through the French Riviera or down the Amalfi coastline in Italy. While the camera pans out looking out over the Mediterranean sea, the viewer can see many yachts and small sailing boats in the harbours. This song is quite relaxing, and I can see why the composer John Barry felt this was probably one of his favourite Bond compositions and why he enjoyed working with Louis Armstrong to produce this. Despite predominately living in a tangible non-fictional world. I feel this is one of the few songs which can take me somewhere I’ve not been or had any experience of during my travels however I hope to explore these places more someday taking in the blue ocean and sights along the waterside.
In 1968, Louis Armstrong was a guest on Desert Island Discs where he requested that his trumpet would be his luxury item and picked a few tracks in which he performed in with others. However, We Have All The Time in The World sung by Louis has been selected by the late football manager Bobby Robson and Steve Coogan whereas actor Martin Clunes picked the cover version by Fun Lovin’ Criminals.
The Beach Boys: God Only Knows
Active since 1961, The Beach Boys are an American band who are known for producing a mix of rock and pop songs. Predominately a strong family unit band consisting of brothers Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson alongside their cousin Mike Love and mutual friend Al Jardine made up the original line up. The group focused their music around adolescent life in southern California featuring surfing, cars and romance. It could be that The Beach Boys are one of the world’s most influential bands of all time as they have recorded 36 Top 40 hits, many best selling albums and have a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as of 1988.
God Only Knows peaked at number two on the UK Singles Chart after Brian Wilson and Tony Asher wrote it. The song first appeared on the album Pet Sounds The song’s sentiments reflect on moving forward after the loss of someone special however Brian Wilson has said that no specific muse. Wilson has gone on record saying that his and Asher intention with the song was to create the feeling of “being blind but in being blind, you can see more.” The track has also recognised as 25th in Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in their 963rd issue of the publication in 2004. It is unique as it uses a diverse collection of instruments to play the melody. Many artists released cover versions however in 2014 also had a particular cover version produced for the BBC to celebrate BBC Music and as a charity single for Children In Need, where many other celebrated musicians joined Brian Wilson to perform a line of this song. The song has also featured on several film and television soundtracks including Love Actually and in the trailer for Toy Story 4.
Although I am not a devout believer in any religion, this song certainly has a very spiritual connection to me. I do believe this song to be very human and appreciative of our finite time on this planet, and we should be grateful for those who make a difference within our existence. I will often play music at certain times as I reflect upon the events which have unfolded. God Only Knows, is a song I went to when I was beginning my recovery from my mental wellbeing set back in 2018 as I felt torn from the friends I had made over the previous year but knew I had to make my next steps alone on my journey. It is also rare that the lyrics and melody harmonise so well in a pop song for me; however, I feel this works very well. I reflect on the past but feel empowered to keep walking along my life’s path with this song in my ears, and it steadily rebuilds my confidence and wellbeing when I feel lost. Written in the mid-1960s, it faced opposition from a fairly unknown group from Liverpool called The Beatles in attempting to be a famous track however it certainly has left a legacy, and I can see why many music pundits see it as a unique track which speaks to them too.
With a diverse selection of guests picking many different tracks from this band, The Beach Boys have so far included on the programme 22 times. God Only Knows, was the favourite track of Stella McCartney despite being the daughter to a famous musical artist. The song got selected by fellow pop singer David Essex, actor Gorden Kaye and screenwriter Frank Cottrell-Boyce. Other tracks by The Beach Boys were picked by singer Sandie Shaw, comedy writer Richard Curtis, comedian Paul Merton and author Julie Burchill to name a few.
The Beatles: The Long and Winding Road
This relatively well-known band from Liverpool formed in 1960 have left a massive legacy in the music industry. Despite being rooted in 1950s rock and roll and skiffle, this foursome developed a way of incorporating both classical music and traditional pop before exploring ballads, psychedelia and hard rock. Due to being pioneers in songwriting and artistic impression, it is hard to argue against the fact this group revolutionised and led the socio-cultural movements of the decade. Due to this, The Beatles are now seen as the best-selling music act of all time as they have made roughly 800 million unit sales worldwide. Despite being from Merseyside, they are prevalent in the United States of America with 183 million of those unit sales happening stateside and have won numerous other awards. Their impact on the music industry certainly inspired many artists of all generations with many songs well known by people of all ages and diversities.
The Long and Winding Road was the last of The Beatles number-one hit on the United States’ Billboard Hot 100 Chart as it was issued a month following the band’s break up in 1970. Monthly American music magazine Rolling Stone placed the song 90th in the top 100 Beatles songs in a list created in 2011. Band member Paul McCartney has gone on record saying he had been inspired by the remote Highlands roads that he observed in his secluded property close to the Scottish town of Campbelltown. Initially, McCartney invited Tom Jones to perform the track; however, the Welsh singer turned it down as he focused upon other work. It is primarily a piano-based ballad with conventional chord changes.
The tone of the lyrics in this track is reasonably sad and melancholic, possibly referring to unrequited love. Paul McCartney said that the song allows the listener to acknowledge their deeper feelings and emotions. Although I could have picked many hits by The Beatles, this piece is the one which speaks most to me and encourages me to reflect. It is a poignant piece as it is the last track of the compilation album, 1, which was played regularly in my Dad’s car at the time of release on CD in the early 2000s and we still own today. During the time, my parents and I made several long journeys back and forth from our home in Lincolnshire back across towards Derbyshire and other areas. Primarily to see family or watch a football match. This song reminds me of those journeys, and my thoughts on how the move we made in 2001 affected our lives. Brian Wilson, of The Beach Boys, also described as his favourite Beatles track. Wilson said that the song could be distinguished by its heart and soul melody which is now very recognisable whenever heard by those paying attention to the song featured.
It is little surprise that The Beatles have been chosen more than any non-classical musical artist over the time Desert Island Discs has been on the air. Fellow Liverpudlian, Cilla Black chose The Long and Winding Road as her favourite track. Other guests including Inspector Morse creator Colin Dexter, broadcaster, Sir David Frost and writer Paulo Coelho all went for this track.
The Beautiful South: Rotterdam (or Anywhere)
Following the split of the British indie-pop group The Housemartins in the late 1980s, vocalist Paul Heaton and drummer David Hemmingway formed The Beautiful South. The Housemartins had relied on jazzy guitars and witty, wry lyrics when they had produced seven Top 40 singles and two Top 10 albums. But The Beautiful South boasted a more sophisticated, jazzy pop sound using layered keyboards, R&B-inflected female backing vocals and, occasionally, light orchestrations. Often, The Beautiful South’s relaxed, catchy songs contradicted the lyrics which had a sarcastic tone. Despite this, the band’s charming arrangements often tempered whatever bitterness there was, became part of the reason why The Beautiful South became quite popular within its native Britain during the 1990s.
Rotterdam (Or Anywhere) is predominately sung by vocalist Jacqui Abbott who joined the group in the mid-1990s and reached number five on the UK Singles Chart in late 1996. The song relates to lead Paul Heaton’s ferry trips from Kingston upon Hull to the Dutch city of Rotterdam. It is a perfect example of the way The Beautiful South‘s lyrics differed to the melody.
The song appears to be pointing the finger at the super-rich culture which was developing in the 1990s. Lyricist Heaton also tries to explain through this song that loneliness can follow you no matter where you are. No matter whether you are in a crowd of people or genuinely alone. This emotion I can undoubtedly connect with at times, especially when my anxiety is feeling high. However, despite this, I think that The Beautiful South‘s music is undeniably popular with a particular group of individuals who like myself enjoy dry wit and sarcasm.
Comedians Bob Mortimer and Johnny Vegas both selected other tracks by The Beautiful South while guesting on Desert Island Discs as did tennis coach and mother to Andy and Jamie Murray, Judy. However, no-one has yet picked Rotterdam (Or Anywhere). The distinct sweet melody certainly feels a paradox to the cynical lyrics which make it a popular song to many people. Vocalist Abbott has said in an interview that she feels it has been much appreciated by audiences far and wide and also believes there is a generation of individuals who think in a similar position to Heaton and the thoughts he had when writing this song.
Elmer Bernstein: The Great Escape March
Born on 4 April 1922, in New York, Elmer Bernstein‘s film scores are still some of the most recognisable to audiences across the globe. Along with working on the music for The Great Escape which was in cinemas in 1963. Bernstein made his first break in the industry with music for 1951’s film noir Saturday’s Hero. He also composed scores for The Magnificent Seven, To Kill A Mockingbird, Airplane!, Ghostbusters and the Martin Scorsese remake of Cape Fear. He was continuously working until his death in 2004 which saw him credited for work on 150 different films. In 1996 he was given a star on Hollywood Boulevard. Two years later, the American Film Insititute recognised his work for The Magnificent Seven and To Kill A Mockingbird worthy of being in their Top 25 film scores in American Cinema when they celebrated 100 years of film.
Bernstein’s work inspired many other movie and television score composers. Danny Elfman, James Newton Howard, Randy Newman, Alan Silvestri, and Hans Zimmer, each having their successful scores will regard Elmer Bernstein as their inspiration. During his lifetime he received fourteen nominations for Academy Film Awards, Despite this, he only won the one award for the musical-romantic-comedy Thoroughly Modern Millie released in 1967 which starred Julie Andrews as the lead character Millie Dillmount.
Albeit not a big fan of films surrounding the events which occurred in World War II, The Great Escape is a legendary movie and worth saying it is truly a classic piece of cinema. The success of this movie is undoubtedly aided by Bernstein’s soundtrack as well as having a star-studded cast headlined by Steve McQueen. The title theme has been popularly used in many different movie and television programmes, developing recognition of this theme to a variety of audiences throughout the years. Golfer Colin Montgomerie and actor Hugh Bonneville both picked this movie’s theme tune in their Desert Island Discs episode. However, more guests have selected songs from the 1961 musical, West Side Story, which Bernstein worked on with Stephen Sondheim. These included actor Martin Freeman and BBC Radio 4 legendary broadcaster Sue MacGregor when both appeared on the programme. Whereas, singer Alfie Boe chose the theme from The Magnificent Seven when marooned on the metaphorical island.
David Bowie: Rebel Rebel
It was on the morning of 10 January 2016 when fans and individuals within the music industry were shocked and saddened to hear of the death of David Bowie when he became the first public eye departure of that year. On his 69th birthday, only two days before his passing, Bowie had released what was to be his final album Blackstar. The Brixton born singer and songwriter was a unique spirit embracing the world of glam rock and experimental music and scene which developed in the 1970s and 1980s. Bowie first reached the Top Five in the UK Singles Chart with Space Oddity in 1969 before launching his alter ego Ziggy Stardust in 1972 which was popular due to his hit Starman. During this height, he wrote Rebel Rebel. Towards the end of the decade, he released Heroes and helped other musicians with writing many singles and albums.
Released in February 1974, the hit Rebel Rebel peaked at number five on the UK Singles Chart and possibly saw the end of Bowie’s glam rock style. Following Bowie’s death that Rolling Stone magazine paid tribute to him by saying that the song was one of the top 30 essential songs by Bowie to listen to of all time. In contrast, Spencer Kaufman of Ultimate Classic Rock put it in at number seven in his Top 10 primarily due to the recognisable guitar riff. Similar to Lily Allen; David Bowie was an artist that is only much loved by a section of people and not to all music lovers. It is likely there will be many who disliked him and his personality. This opinion is probably due to his spirituality and sexuality, which impacted his following with many feeling he was too garish for their taste.
However, there is no getting away from the fact that Bowie most certainly was a significant presence in the music industry. Both with his songs, but also those Bowie offered to others as well. I chose Rebel Rebel as it is a fitting end to his era that he had also pioneered and encouraged musicians to be more open and try new styles in both fashion and musical genre. Bowie was confident enough to be thick-skinned and leave his mark upon the world. He was not afraid to try new things, and I much admire that within an individual. Due to this, I feel that it is important that all people go through this emotional journey in life. Especially during the problematic hormonal adolescence and early adulthood period, as the individual comes to terms with who they are as it helps set us up to find our individuality and friendships.
Unsurprisingly Bowie’s tracks have appeared many times on the Desert Island Discs programme. Comedian Bill Bailey and naturalist Chris Packham are the only two to have chosen Rebel Rebel. However, many other individuals picked different tracks. Guests including former keyboarder for D:Ream and now famous physicist Brian Cox, comedian Ricky Gervais, the late former Liberal Democrats leader Charles Kennedy, television personality Sanjeev Bhaskar and cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins all demonstrated the diversity of Bowie’s influence in the world of music by selecting something from his catalogue of hits.
Carpenters: Yesterday Once More
The Carpenters are most recognisable for their light and airy arrangements which appealed to a variety of audiences which contrasted with my previous choice of artist to discuss. However, the Carpenters were still equally well-liked to those producing a more gaudy style as they picked up numerous awards including four Grammy awards. Brother and sister Richard and Karen worked closely in tangent on the many songs until Karen’s tragic death in 1983 which are loved by young and old. So it is little surprise that their song (They Long to Be) Close to You has developed a pop culture recognition of being the song of Homer and Marge Simpson’s love story in the long-living animation, The Simpsons.
Not to be confused with The Beatles more infamous track Yesterday. This song was released in May 1973 and was only kept off the top of the Billboard Hot 100 by Jim Croce‘s version of Bad, Bad Leroy Brown. It also peaked at number two in the UK Singles Chart. The song with its sweet melody produced by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis reflects on the influence a piece of music can have on an individual’s mind and make them think back on the first time the song influenced someone or memories which are related to it. This emotion is familiar for many and part of the reason behind this blog post as I wanted to share my thoughts on the music, which has played a role in shaping my life’s path and journey. Several artists have covered the song; however, the original sung by Karen is still the most recognisable and enjoyed version.
Like with many of the artists I have chosen picking one hit from a particular artist proved challenging, but I wanted to feature as many artists as I could; therefore, I ended up picking this hit. I would have to say my distinct introduction to the Carpenters came from their compilation album Carpenters Gold. This album features many other beautifully crafted pop songs including the previously mentioned (They Long to Be) Close to You as well as Rainy Days and Mondays which reflect the Carpenters distinct sound. The album also contains Top of the World and their remake of Please Mr Postman among others. Both these songs featured during my childhood at different times in trivial matters so were not as valuable to me as the sweeter melodies, despite the successes which came from those songs for the duo. However, Yesterday Once More offers me a significant influence for me wanting to write about my memories and emotions attached to music.
The American brother and sister act has only selected five times on Desert Island Discs. With Top of the World featuring three times proving to be the most popular. Olympic diver Tom Daley included this former chart-topping song on his eight tracks. Daley also picked, Proud by Heather Small in his selection. This particular song affects me emotionally more than most due to my memories attached to it. Businessman John Timpson, novelist Josephine Cox who recently passed away, also went with the Carpenters record.
Frédéric Chopin: Nocturne in E-Flat Major (Op. 9 No. 2)
Born nearly 30 miles from Warsaw in 1810, Frédéric Chopin could arguably be the most recognisable Polish classical music composer. As a child prodigy, he completed his musical education and composed his earlier works before leaving Poland at the age of 20 for his father’s native country France. He continued to make money and success for himself by selling compositions and giving piano lessons but rarely publicly performed his work. Unfortunately, Chopin died at the age of 39 most likely of pericarditis aggravated by tuberculosis. Despite an early death, his music remains popular. His status as one of music’s earliest celebrities along with his association with political rebellion and his high-profile love-life have all contributed to making him a leading symbol of the Romantic era of classical music.
In this blog post, I wanted to display my knowledge of classical music as the genre has featured heavily throughout my life. This genre has played its part in my life as my parents have often listened to it more regularly than more modern pop or rock music either in the car or while eating at the dining room table. I chose this Chopin nocturne as I feel it helps me feel very relaxed and calmer whenever I listen to it, which is helpful for my mental wellbeing. When looking for a suitable piece, I also considered picking Chopin’s Waltz in D-flat major, Op. 64, No. 1, otherwise known as the Minute Waltz due to the composition made infamous by being the title theme of BBC Radio 4‘s long-standing comedy panel game Just a Minute which began in 1967. I have spent many evenings sat listening to the programme with my parents enjoying listening to participants attempt to speak for a minute on a topic given to them by the chairman of the programme without repeating themselves, deviating from the subject or hesitating as they spoke. Often contestants find themselves interrupted by others participating and if that challenge is deemed successful the challenger faces the same topic for the remaining seconds of the minute.
It is little surprise that the Polish composer has been selected 51 times over the length of Desert Island Discs‘ time on the airwaves especially as many guests in the early years of the programme picked from the classical music genre. Unsurprisingly the late chairman of Just a Minute, Nicholas Parsons, did indeed select the Minute Waltz when he was on the programme. In more recent times, legendary actress Gemma Jones, cartoonist Gerald Scarfe and philosopher A.C. Grayling all picked this most popular nocturne by Frédéric Chopin within their record choices.
Eric Coates: The Dam Busters March
Born into a musical family in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire, Eric Coates showed promise with his genetic ability despite not going to school. Coates started to learn how to play the violin from the age of six however was encouraged to switch to the viola at age thirteen when he also joined a local string orchestra. Despite the apparent talents he had, Eric still had to persuade his parents to let him follow his ambition of becoming a professional musician. Despite this, he managed to attend the Royal Academy of Music on the caveat he demonstrated Eric was heading towards the standards of professionalism or else he would return home to take up a safe and respectable job in a bank. During his twenties, Coates combined being a professional violist and composer. Eric was medically unfit to be involved in military service for World War I, therefore over time Coates’ list of compositions and recognition was growing more prominent. By 1930 he wrote By the Sleeping Lagoon which got selected as the title theme for Desert Island Discs. In 1954 after producing many orchestral compositions, he wrote his most celebrated piece The Dam Busters March which would feature into the based on actual story movie starring Richard Todd and Michael Redgrave among the film’s cast. Leighton Lucas produced the majority of the film’s soundtrack as Eric was advised by Edward Elgar to write for cinema. So he only agreed to provide an overture for the film. Coates found that the film’s producers wanted him to produce more work for the film seeing it as “national importance” and piled pressure on him via his publisher. However, other than the introduction and trio section theme, the majority of the march as often performed does not feature in the film soundtrack. Away from creating music himself, Coates was very active in encouraging younger talent and was a founder member and director of the Performing Right Society. He died at the age of 71 in Chichester, West Sussex with many entirely English sounding music being composed by him still recognised today.
My first introduction to Coates’ title theme was not by the feature film but by football fans adding lyrics to the infamous tune. Such is the tribal nature of supporters; it is a popular chant among most teams just changing the words to fit the rivalries of the club. An example of this is in a scene of the final episode of US sitcom Frasier where Robbie Coltrane, Richard E. Grant and Anthony LaPaglia, playing Daphne’s brothers chant it in the guise of drunken football fans when steered away Kelsey Grammer‘s character’s apartment. The tune has also featured as a choice in BBC Radio 4’s comedy programme I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue during the round called One Song to the Tune of Another. One time saw programme regular Graeme Garden asked to sing the words of Roberta Flack’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face to this march. Despite this tune being subject in these manners I would highly recommend the 1955 film for the depiction of the events which feature in the movie and which took place in the second World War.
Eric Coates’ music has been selected a few times by guests on Desert Island Discs. Along with picking The Long and Winding Road, Sir David Frost elected for The Dam Busters March and chose it as his favourite track. Battle of Britain veteran Tony Iveson interviewed when he was 91 also unsurprisingly selected this track. Comedian Victoria Wood in her first of two appearances picked Eric’s Saxo-Rhapsody as her first track. In contrast, critic James Agate in an early February 1942 episode did pick By the Sleepy Lagoon as one of his chosen records. Sadly Eric Coates‘ time on Desert Island Discs which initially aired on Wednesday 20 January 1951 on the BBC World Service is not available for people to listen again or download however it is possible to see his choices in records.
Coldplay: Fix You
Formed in 1996, Coldplay was known initially as Pectoralz when musicians Chris Martin and Johnny Buckland met at University College London. Following the admission of Guy Berryman, they renamed themselves Starfish. Including Martin’s school friend Phil Harvey and Will Champion into the group saw them finally agree to call the group Coldplay after a suggestion by another local student’s choice of the group name. Despite befriending Keane‘s Tim Rice-Oxley and asking him to become the group’s keyboard player, both bands made tracks separately. Throughout the late 1990s and into the 21st Century, Coldplay has developed into a household name with many records being nominated and winning awards and getting to perform at many charity performances including the Amnesty International’s 50th anniversary of The Secret Policeman’s Ball show in New York City.
The song Fix You was released on 5 September 2005 as the second single from the group’s album X&Y. Despite Chris Martin saying that he felt that this record was “probably the most important song, we’ve ever written” the song peaked at number four on the UK Singles Chart despite NME magazine included it as number two in their tracks of the year 2005. With all of the band members participating in the writing process. There have been many different reflections made to the influences of this track. Martin himself saying it pays homage to Elbow‘s 2003 hit Grace Under Pressure. In contrast, bassist Berryman has gone on record saying there was some inspiration taken from Jimmy Cliff’s 1969 song Many Rivers to Cross. This song is a sentimental anthem by Coldplay which has been used for all kinds of circumstances and featured at significant events such as the One Love Manchester charity concert following the events at the MEN Arena during an Ariana Grande concert in 2017. As I often feel I have to offer support and reassurance to my friends that everything is going to be okay, this song speaks very much to me as I want to help fix their pain and suffering. Ultimately this can be a challenging pursuit, but this rock ballad is a beautiful composition discussing unconditional love and support for others in life as we all should want to make another person’s life more valuable by showing we care.
Derbyshire born yachtswoman Dame Ellen MacArthur picked this record as her final track on Desert Island Discs when she was cast away to the desert island in October 2009. Fix You was also selected by Sir Ben Ainslie when he was a guest in 2014. Celebrity baker and judge on The Great British Bake Off, Paul Hollywood also decided to include this track in his eight. Meanwhile, Gordon Ramsay decided to go for Coldplay’s song Yellow as his favourite when Sue Lawley interviewed him in 2002. Which would demonstrate there is a correlation between those who like spending time either on water or in the kitchen enjoying Coldplay’s music. However, in contrast, actor Sir Michael Caine went for 2008 baroque pop hit Viva la Vida which similar to Fix You has featured for different functions including being performed by the band at the end of the Paralympic Games in 2012. Viva la Vida was also the last song Chris Moyles played on his final BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show in mid-September of the same year.
The Corrs: Breathless
The Corrs are a group consisting of members of the same family. Initially active between 1990 and 2006, the Dundalk based alternative rock group sees sisters Andrea, Sharon and Caroline with their brother Jim form the quartet. The group’s big break occurred following the being spotted and asked to perform in the two most significant sporting events of the mid-1990s both taking place in the USA, the 1994 FIFA World Cup and the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Following going viral, the foursome collaborated with other artists such as Alanis Morrissette as well as participating in a Fleetwood Mac tribute album. The band also played live in a charity concert developed by opera singer Luciano Pavarotti who was aiming to raise funds for a refuge village in war-torn Liberia by getting acts encouraging viewers to donate towards the cause. In the year 2000, the group worked upon their third album In Blue as they transitioned into mainstream pop music. This decision was a massive success for the siblings as the album reached number one in their native Republic of Ireland, as well as Australia, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. It also reached number two in France and Norway. However, production for this album was tinged with sadness when their mother died following waiting for a lung transplant. The track on the album, No More Cry was written by Andrea and Caroline in dedication to helping their father with his grief. The Corrs’ siblings all received honorary members of the Order of the British Empire in 2005 due to their philanthropy and charity work. Further collaborations with rock legends such as Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones occurred before the group decided that 2006 that they would go on hiatus while they pursued family life and solo music careers. The band returned to the stage in 2015 which has subsequently seen them produce their sixth and seventh studio albums.
Breathless is considered The Corrs’ signature hit. This song reached not only the top of the UK Singles Chart but also number one in the Czech Republic and Poland as well as top five in their native Republic of Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Spain and Sweden. However, the song only reached 34 in the United States’ Billboard Hot 100 which to date is still their most well-received record in the USA possibly due to being used in a scene of popular crime drama The Sopranos in 2001. Several have attempted to interpret the meaning of this song. Many feeling that this song encourages the listener to enjoy an adrenaline-filled adventure rather than feel stuck in an uncontrollable rut which a good piece of music can do for the audience and take them away with the experience of the lyrics and melody. I often play this track when I am feeling a bit stuck as I think Andrea’s vocals and Jim’s melody can take me away from the stressful situation I face and make me want to try something new and exciting for my wellbeing and self-worth. Almost like there is no shame in putting oneself first at times when you are feeling overwhelmed or unsure where to go. This song tells me it is always worth attempting to being a bit out of your comfort zone even if it is just the once.
The Corrs have only been selected twice on Desert Island Discs, first by comedian and actor Jack Whitehall and then by The Sunday Times’ chief foreign correspondent Christina Lamb both when they were in discussion about their choices with Kirsty Young, both in 2018. However, at no point has Breathless been chosen as a record on the programme for any marooned participant. But I feel that there are a select number of individuals who also value the work of this quartet. Possibly with the siblings working together again in the last few years. Then maybe they have a better chance of being selected as the programme continues; however, it is incredible that it is still somewhat well-received twenty years on from being produced for the In Blue album.
Hal David and Burt Bacharach (originally performed by B.J. Thomas): Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head
Lyricist Hal David and Burt Bacharach have collaborated from 1957. They were successful for the first time together when they wrote The Story of My Life which was recorded initially by singer, actor and NASCAR racing driver Marty Robbins. However, when the song got recorded for UK listeners, Liverpudlian Michael Holliday was the one who sang it only a few years before overdosing due to crippling stage fright. The pair’s next hit was Magic Moments made famous with Perry Como‘s voice performing it. This duo also penned Cilla Black‘s hit Alfie promoting the film of the same name before they wrote the original score for the American Crime Drama classic film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The song infamously took seven takes to record due to Bacharach’s displeasure at B.j. Thomas‘ first attempts. Due to the success of the film, this record was number one in Canada, Norway and the USA where it was also the first top of the charts song of the 1970s decade. However, it only reached number 38 in the UK Singles Chart.
David and Bacharach’s song popularity rose due to the cult following of the film before that audiences did not take to this record. Initially, the song was offered to Perry Stevens for the singer to perform the track for the movie, primarily as he was working on another record written for him; therefore he refused as did Bob Dylan. Over time the song and or the scene in which the music overplays has featured and parodied in many different television programmes and films which is how I first encountered the song, as it features over the end credits of The Simpsons’ Season Four episode Duffless. There also have been many different cover versions produced which have also seen different styles produced including a Yiddish version by the Barry Sisters and a unique version by Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers which the band released in 2005. By the year 2004, the song had ingrained in history as the American Film Insitute named it as number 23 survey of top 100 tunes of American cinema. It also reached 85 on Billboard’s Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs in 2008.
The combination of David and Bacharach’s work on this record certainly makes this a positive, feel-good song to me. The song’s jaunty tune and lyrics offer me the courage to try and go again when I may feel overwhelmed or subdued by something affecting me or my opportunity to succeed. It also feels apparent to me and rather unsurprising that some of the multiple versions of the record produced have been chosen by different guests of Desert Island Discs when they have appeared on the programme. John Cleese was one of these individuals, on his first visit to the deserted island in 1971. Infamously during this episode, asked for his luxury item from presenter Roy Plomley to be a life-size model of Margaret Thatcher and a baseball bat. The episode aired a few years before she was even Conservative leader or Prime Minister. This luxury item was given to him as it was not a sentient object to take with him, a rule the original presenter was adamant about when guests selected their luxury items giving the impression that the guest was isolated from civilisation. He would return to the island many years later, but this time he asked for a non-conscious Michael Palin who he had worked closely with during their days performing Monty Python sketches. Actress Dame Maggie Smith, also selected Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head when she appeared on the programme.
Clément Philibert Léo Delibes: The Flower Duet
Best known for his ballets and operas Léo Delibes was a 19th-century French composer who was supported by a musical family and attended the French musical academy Conservatoire de Paris. During his twenties, Delibes composed light comic operettas while he was a church organist. In 1866 and the age of 30, he received public recognition for his music and contribution towards the three acted ballet La Source. Delibes then had several attempts of writing some non-comedic operas before achieving a considerable critical and commercial success in 1883 with Lakmé. Sadly he died at home after a sudden collapse shortly before his 55th birthday.
In recent years, the Flower Duet in the first act of Lakmé has become familiar more widely because of its use in advertisements, in particular British Airways adverts as well as in films. The aria sung by the protagonist and her slave was adapted for the theme “Aria on air” for the British Airways “face” commercials of the 1980s by music composers Yanni and Malcolm McLaren. It also appears in the 1983 erotic horror film, The Hunger, which included David Bowie as one of the main characters.
Noughts and Crosses author Majorie Blackman and actress Whoopi Goldberg are the only two castaways in Desert Island Discs history to pick the duet as part of their chosen records in conversation with Kirsty Young. I first encountered this duet when I heard it on the previously mentioned British Airways commercials as they appeared throughout my childhood. However, it had no effect on me wanting to travel using the airline. I also feel I am fortunate to have listened to a soprano and a mezzo-soprano sing this in Lincoln Cathedral during my early years of secondary school with the sound of the higher-pitched voices reverberating off the architecture in the beautiful cathedral producing a breathtaking performance. It is due to these two powerful memories that I have included this piece in this long list. I genuinely feel it is a beautifully graceful duet which is sung often in the native French and or English with many talented singers recording their version often found either as a standalone piece or as part of the whole opera. The duet certainly illustrates the scene of the opera, which sees the two characters gather flowers by a river.
Alexandre Desplat: Lily’s Theme
Alexandre Desplat has an array of credits which include extensive work within French cinema, Hollywood films and incidental music. His name features in the credits of over 100 movies. It was nearly nine years after being first asked to write the original score for a film that he received his first big nomination for his work. Desplat’s work for The Queen directed by Stephen Frears was the first time his work went up for the Academy Award for Best Original Score. Building on from this, he also worked on Wes Anderson’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox which hit cinemas in 2009. But this was not the only time an Anderson directed film would have a Desplat soundtrack. As the stop-motion, science-fiction, adult comedy-drama animation, Isle of Dogs in 2018 saw Desplat nominated for the Oscar and The Grand Budapest Hotel in 2013 saw the pair work on a project together. For the latter, Desplat received the coveted award. Director David Yates was pleased to have Desplat’s soundtrack for the final two-parter adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, going on record saying the music “enchanted everyone in the control room”. Desplat then worked on several historical biopic dramas including The King’s Speech, Suffragette, The Imitation Game and The Danish Girl.
This piece from the soundtrack of the final Harry Potter movie is a subtle orchestral piece with vocals from Japanese singer Mai Fujisawa. Ghostly hints of this theme are also present within other parts of the score. It is very recognisable to those who have watched the Harry Potter movie franchise. The piece starts with a deep sounding note before Fujisawa’s eerie solo reverberates. Following these sounds, there is a sharp crescendo and decrescendo of string instruments. Later on, the theme repeats without the vocals with the volume intensifying sharply. The music does have a touch of kindness but also mystery towards it and opens up the destiny of the characters the viewer has invested in for the previous seven movies. This piece is a beautifully emotional piece of the soundtrack sure to pull on the heartstrings of the viewer of the film or listener if taking in the music’s soundtrack. It is a very symbolic piece making the audience reflect on those we miss now that they have passed away. Desplat in an interview has said, “I think the goal [when composing Lily’s Theme] was to find something as gentle, as sweet, and as kind as a lullaby with a guilty touch to it”. I feel this was important to convey as the audience has watched Harry and his friends develop from children through the problematic angst and hormonal adolescent period and now starting to make adult and grown-up decisions affecting their lives and others around them.
Patrick Doyle: Harry in Winter
Doyle, a long-term collaborator of actor and director Kenneth Branagh (who played Gilderoy Lockart in the second Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), was drafted into writing the score following the exit of John Williams. The Scottish composer also has twenty acting credits too including a role within the historical drama Chariots of Fire. However, he has preferred to write scores than act since 1989. Since then he has worked on many movies including iconic British favourites Gosford Park, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Calendar Girls. While working on an American adaptation of the Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations, Doyle received a diagnosis of leukaemia, but despite going under successful treatment, he did not stop composing. Following working on the fourth Harry Potter film, Doyle has worked on several films including Thor, a live-action version of Cinderella, Brave and released this year Artemis Fowl. At the twenty-eighth annual Film & Television Music Awards, Doyle received the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Henry Mancini Award in 2013 in recognition of his “outstanding achievements and contributions to the world of film and television music.” In the same year, a concert at the Royal Albert Hall celebrated his music. It included contributions and guest appearances from actors such as ex-wife of friend Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Sir Derek Jacobi, Dame Judi Dench, Alan Rickman, Imelda Staunton and Robbie Coltrane. Throughout his numerous film scores, he has collaborated with other talented musicians such as Jarvis Cocker and Pulp. The band performed as the group The Weird Sisters in the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire film’s bonus scenes.
Harry in Winter was composed mainly for the Goblet of Fire movie and to be a new thematic identity for the protagonist of the film franchise. The track is first heard as the snow signals the change of season in this story leading up to the festivities that surround the Yule Ball event. The event involves most of the ensemble enjoying a ballroom dance celebrating the international flavour of visiting and competing schools (Beauxbatons and Durmstrang) in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. The piece is the backdrop to when Harry attempts to woo his first crush Cho Chang to attend the dance with him as he more important than his friends needs to find a partner to open the event however Cho rejects him as she has already agreed to go with someone else. The music expresses the deflation Harry feels about expressing his crestfallen emotions. Harry in Winter is a popular concert suite choice too. When re-listening to this film’s soundtrack, I also considered Neville’s Waltz as it is a warm piece giving centre stage to the slightly peripheral character Neville Longbotham and his movements around the same event. I also felt the track Hogwarts March builds excitement around the final Tri-Wizard Tournament task was a fantastic piece composed by Doyle. The Hogwarts March piece gives off an impression of a marching band enjoying what should be a joyful occasion and one which is celebratory with the crowning of a new champion of champions; however, the scene gets overshadowed by the death of the competitor student Cedric Diggory. Despite only being selected for the one film, Doyle’s work certainly had many highlights as the atmosphere of the whole narrative and storyline shifts darker and maturer. Doyle is replaced by Nicholas Hooper for the fifth and sixth films before Alexandre Desplat rounded up the franchise’s soundtrack.
Eagles: Hotel California
The Eagles, cultivated country-rock as the reigning style and sensibility of white youth in the United States during the 1970s. This Los Angeles formed band included original members, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner. However, later members included Don Felder, Joe Walsh, and Timothy B. Schmit. Before the Eagles started to record their music, country-rock was a popular local alternative in the late 1960s in Los Angeles. But their unique style and sound became the soundtrack for the lives of millions of 1970s rock kids who, keen on the present yet suspicious of glam rock and disco, donned suede jackets and faded jeans to flirt with the California dream restyled as traditional Americana.
Arguably the most iconic song of this band, selling millions of copies, Hotel California was recorded in 1976 ahead of being released as a single in February 1977. Unsurprisingly the song received a Grammy for Record of the Year the following year. Glenn Frey along with Don Henley and Don Felder have all been the primary band members credited with the work behind this hit. Members of the band in various interviews have said the song alludes to hedonism and self-indulgence in America which was affecting culture and society. Henley in an interview in 2002 told USA television program, 60 Minutes, that “It’s basically a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream and about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about.”
The first time I heard this song was in the early 2000s, and it certainly was something very different in sound to a lot of the music I had heard before then. However, admittedly I was not very knowledgeable about much music which had impacted my life until that point. But this nearly seven-minute track has been played many times since then on my Spotify account. In a later made documentary Henley also discusses that the song is “about a journey from innocence to experience,” which most of us can relate to at some point in our lives. We all will attempt to find our journey through life and the way to find out more about ourselves more than we presumed before. We can achieve this by trying different pursuits and activities, often escaping the clutches of going about daily life without risk and pleasure which I feel is vital for us all to get a more rounded and enjoyable life adventure. Often the song has transported my thoughts away from the procedures and regimes I am within and made me feel I could experience something different. As well as appreciate the wilder world, a very different one to the current time and space I occupy, most likely in the late 1970s USA when this track was top of the charts. I also would say that this is a classic rock song if anyone wishes to define what rock music is with instantly recognisable guitar riffs and sounds supporting the vocals.
Olympic rower Matthew Pinsent, cultural commentator Ahdaf Soueif and actor Jeremy Lloyd are among a select few who chose Hotel California in their top eight tracks when appearing on the programme. However other guests have gone for somewhat lesser-known Eagles records. For example, television personalities Chris Tarrant and Richard Madeley decided to choose Tequila Sunset and New Kid in Town, respectively when they sat down and discussed their life soundtrack on Desert Island Discs. While producing this list and under my rules, I have found that many great musical artists who have appeared on this list have made it very difficult to chose just one of their records, meaning that I have struggled to narrow my choice down to the one song by this band and others. If I had not gone for Hotel California then alternatively, I would have selected Journey Of The Sorcerer. This unique record is one of four instrumental tracks produced by this band. The single appeared on the album One Of These Nights and was written by Bernie Leadon before he departed from the group. Despite this, it became relatively well known as it became the theme to the science fiction series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy written by Douglas Adams when that first aired on BBC Radio in 1978 and therefore developed a cult recognition. However, the only one time this track has appeared on Desert Island Discs was during chemist Sir Harry Kroto‘s June 2001 episode.
Vivian Ellis: Coronation Scot
Vivian Ellis was born in Hampstead, London in 1903 before being educated at Cheltenham College. Despite initially beginning his career as a concert pianist, he transitioned into a composer and lyricist in his twenties. His first success was with a song called Over My Shoulder. This fortune led Ellis to receive more chances to write compositions for several revues. He gained global recognition with the dance song Yale Blues and started to work on the West End in London where he provided music until the late 1950s. The 1930s was a period where Vivian Ellis’ work was highly dominant in the musical theatre industry. During his career he also became president of the Performing Right Society and now has an annual award encouraging young composers and lyricists to write for the musical stage. In the 1980s, several compositions by Ellis found more success; this included Sting recorded a cover version of Spread a Little Happiness which came from the show Mr Cinders which Ellis contributed to in 1929. The hit featured ironically in the Dennis Potter BBC television play Brimstone and Treacle which was made in the 1970s but did not air until 1987.
Another of Ellis’ most recognisable instrumental pieces is Coronation Scot. Ellis called this tune after the passenger express train along the West Coast Main Line between London’s Euston station and Glasgow which first operated in 1937. The train’s route took passengers through the West Midlands through Lancashire and Cumbria before arriving in Scotland. The journey from London to Glasgow via this train took six and a half hours in a bid to rival the East Coast Main Line travelling time and method of getting northbound. Coronation Scot has often been used by many documentaries discussing the influence of steam engines on the railways before diesel trains started to be a formidable sight. This composition instantly gives the listener a full sense of occasion as it mimics and echos the sound of a moving express train during this heyday for the steam locomotives. The music conjures the scene of the big and bold train setting off before gliding along the tracks through the countryside with carriages containing passengers enjoying the view and stopping at different stations allowing paying customers to explore a new domain quicker than ever before. These sights have been rare since the railways changed in the mid-twentieth century. For many, this image is very emotive meaning that people flock to heritage railways across the country in hope to catch sight of a proud steam engine restored to glory along these short lines of track, especially popular in the Spring, Summer and Autumn months for all age groups able to take part in the celebrations and activities organised by the independent charities and volunteers aiming to make a positive day had by all. I certainly enjoy visiting different heritage railways across the United Kingdom when I have an opportunity to do so.
The light orchestral composition by Ellis finds itself as the theme for long-running BBC radio serial Paul Temple. However, the first time I came across the piece was on a documentary looking at the life of Thomas the Tank Engine author Reverend Wilbert Awdry produced for the BBC to celebrate 50 years of the first book published in 1945. For several years this was my favourite documentary, and I would watch transfixed at how this creation had gone viral and entered my early childhood years and even as an adult I still appreciate the fandom as do many others.
Vivian Ellis himself appeared in an episode of the radio programme, first broadcast on 29 August 1951, talking to original presenter Roy Plomley. However, the composer’s appearance is not available to listen again. The composer’s choice of records included Over the Rainbow sung by Judy Garland infamously written for the classic film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz which hit cinemas in 1939. Meanwhile, Ellis’ compositions have been selected a small handful of times on Desert Island Discs. With Coronation Scot being chosen seven times by those marooned on the fictional island. Among the seven who picked this composition include Actors Brian Blessed and Norman Wisdom (on his first visit to the island, in April 1953) while being asked to discuss the soundtrack to their life and the events which have hallmarked them to be recognisable faces.
Gabriel Fauré: Pavane Op. 50
The third and final French composer to feature on this long list is Gabriel Fauré. Born in 1845 this composer is best known for refined and gentle music which influenced the course of modern French music. Like many talented classical music composers, his ability during childhood got him discovered, and he was able to study under the stewardship of Camille Saint-Saëns. The latter was ten years his senior but introduced him to composers such as Liszt and Wagner. Faure following writing many compositions became a church organist at the church of La Madeleine in Paris and professor of composition at the Paris Conservatory. He later became director but had to resign due deafness four years before his death aged 79.
Originally written as a piano piece, Pavane in F sharp Minor, Opus 50 has received more recognition as an orchestral composition with an optional chorus. Fauré wrote the slow progressional dance piece at 42 years old. The composer has gone on record saying that he regarded the piece “elegant, but not otherwise important”. It was not until a year later that a full orchestral rendition of the composition was first entirely performed. It proved to be a popular piece for Fauré with or without the chorus which was written by Robert de Montesquiou and traditionally sing the lyrics in French. However, there is an English translation available. The composer developed more recognition following this piece was performed for audiences. Both impressionist composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel who learnt from Fauré, attempted to imitate this pavane with their dance compositions. It was after Fauré’s death, and the copyright of this composition passed that the piece became more popularised. The BBC decided to use it as their title music to live coverage of matches at the 1998 FIFA World Cup which is where I first was made familiar with this composition. Following the end of the tournament, Des Lynam, the main BBC football presenter at the time also released a reading of Rudyard Kipling‘s poem If. This version of the poem included the smooth voice of the television personality and the composition providing backing music. Many supporters felt that England’s exit from the tournament was a cruel blow and that the national team would bounce back stronger in future competitions; however, this was not to be the case. Due to this usage, it is widely recognised by football fans in England and Scotland watching the tournament at home. For me, this was the first FIFA World Cup I watched avidly and got pretty excited about as there were many players who I had started to watch regularly featuring. In the following two years, French-born singer and songwriter Norma Ray (daughter of former Cameroon football player Frédéric N’Doumbé) sampled the record into her hit Tous Les Maux D’Amour. Pop group S Club 7 a year later produced an English cover of the song retitled Natural which also incorporated the sample in September 2000. It reached number three on the UK Singles Chart however only 67th on the French charts, possibly preferring the original orchestral composition or Norma Ray’s version.
However, despite appearing less on Desert Island Discs than his previously mentioned pupils, Gabriel Fauré’s music has still generally been recognised and favoured a diverse selection of guests as several of his classical compositions have been selected over seventy times throughout the BBC radio programme’s history. It is also important to note that the majority of individuals guesting have tended to pick one of the seven movements from his “lullaby of death”. This composition is Fauré’s Requiem in D minor (nicknamed as such due to the gentle tones throughout the piece) which he composed between 1887 and 1890. However, this fact makes me wonder whether or not Fauré’s fame would have come about if he had not penned the Pavane first. Fans of Fauré have included ethologist Richard Dawkins, former Conservative politician and cabinet member Douglas Hurd, writer Roald Dahl, ballet dancer Darcy Bussell and actors Ewan McGregor and Kenneth Williams (on his second visit to the island). In comparison, Fauré’s Pavane Op 50 is a rarer choice by guests. Cookery expert, television personality and Norwich City Football Club majority shareholder, Delia Smith, is the most recognisable face to include the piece in her eight tracks to have on the metaphorical island with her. Delia was interviewed in June 1982 by Roy Plomley at a time she had begun to make cooking more possible and attainable for the masses through her published cookery books and regular television appearances. Other such occasions of when the Pavane was a selection made by the guest have occurred. Notably when the programme has isolated more than one person at a time onto the island which has been a rare occurrence but seems suitable when the duo have had a working relationship which is virtually inseparable. One of these times was when pianists Marjan Rawicz and Walter Landauer were asked about their work together in 1957 on the BBC World Service airwaves. Like many episodes from that era, unfortunately, the pair’s appearance has been lost. And unable to be included in the listen to again archive of the programme. Also while celebrating the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the Quickly Kevin podcast. In which comedian Josh Widdicombe with his friends Chris Scull and Michael Marden look back at 1990s football with hindsight, and guests asked their audience of the programme which title sequence they liked the most from the three tournaments during the decade. The BBC theme based on Fauré’s Pavane came behind Luciano Pavarotti’s version of Nessun Dorma from Giacomo Puccini‘s opera Turandot in the votes for this honour. Therefore this illustrates that the composition still has some popularity among the niche supporter group of this podcast series who use Twitter to pick their favourite democratically.
Ron Goodwin: Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines
Ron Goodwin‘s personal assistant once described him as a “musical perfectionist who had a fine rapport with his fellow artists. He was a kind, caring man with a wonderful sense of humour”. Goodwin had a successful career scoring the soundtracks of over seventy films in a fifty-year career. His highlights included Where Eagles Dare which featured Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood as the main stars. 633 Squadron and Monte Carlo or Bust which included a composition called The Schickel Shamble which is known as the theme music to BBC Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue since 1972.
The film Monte Carlo or Bust is the sequel to Ken Annakin and Jack Davies‘ Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. Both films have similar premises which look at the determination to be the quickest in races and challenges as well as containing a host of well-known actors and actresses in comedic roles. It is the title theme from the original movie released in 1965, which I have chosen as this pompous and upbeat tune truly encapsulates the spirit of the movie’s plotline. It is now commonly played by brass bands and often easily recognised. The piece also features over the credits of my favourite of twenty-six episodes of a BBC Radio sitcom called Cabin Pressure. The programme was written by John Finnemore who also stars in it along with Roger Allam, Benedict Cumberbatch and Stephanie Cole where the pilots played by Allam and Cumberbatch perform it following a trialling but successful courier delivery of a piano to the town of Ottery St Mary. Whilst the crew are in transit, Finnemore’s character gets obsessed by the name Ottery St Mary, and this leads to a humourous dialogue about otters!
Over the time Desert Island Discs has been on the air, compositions by Ron Goodwin have appeared a small handful of times. The composer himself appeared as a guest in 1984 asking Roy Plomley for a tuba as his luxury gift. It would be one of the actors of the previously mentioned movies and polymath Willie Rushton who also became a regular panellist on I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue who Plomley invited to appear on the programme next. Goodwin’s music has been admired and chosen by long-stance runner Brendan Foster, artist Grayson Perry and actor Leslie Grantham. The title music from Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines has featured twice. Cookery writer Marguerite Patten and philatelist Cyril Harmer both celebrated their time on the programme with this composition.
George Frideric Handel : Solomon HWV 67 / Act 3: The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba
George Frideric Handel was a German-born English composer during the late Baroque era of classical music. He is most famed for penning operas, oratorios, and instrumental compositions. Most will recognise that he wrote the most famous of all oratorios, Messiah in 1741, and is also known for such occasional pieces as Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks. Despite being brought up in modern-day Germany, it was travelling in Italy which influenced his musical style, and his fame had spread throughout Italy. His mastery of the Italian opera style now made him an international figure before being recognised by the English monarchy. Handel’s most notable contribution to church music is his series of large-scale anthems. Following these works Handel wrote four Coronation Anthems for George II; the most recognised of these is Zadok the Priest which Tony Britten rearranged for the UEFA Champions League anthem in the early 1990s. Fellow composer Ludwig van Beethoven praised Handel’s ability by saying he creates “great effects with simple means.” Handel passed away at 74 years of age following being blinded in a carriage accident in the Netherlands several years before, and the operation was unsuccessful. He was unmarried, so his inheritance went to niece, and at his funeral held at Westminster Abbey, he was mourned by over three thousand people. In England, Handel was accorded the status of a classical composer even in his lifetime, and he is perhaps unique among musicians in never having suffered any diminution of his reputation.
Ten years before his death Handel wrote another oratorio, Solomon. This large scale orchestral composition contains a short but lively passage traditionally performed by two oboes and strings called The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba. This piece has proved to be an equally famous sinfonia in its own right. Often it is played out of the context of the initial usage as it has featured for several grand occasions. An example of this was during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games which took place in London, but it still lives up to the majesty that Handel desired of the piece. This short composition has a very grandiose melody to it which indicates how Handel was introducing to the oratorio’s third and final act with a sense of an event. Many individuals give the credit to conductor Sir Thomas Beecham for naming this piece in the early 20th Century when he was conducting and recording a version of the composition. Due to the use of this piece familiar to many, it is unsurprisingly, this short section of music has been selected numerous times on Desert Island Discs.
Many famous names including well-versed individual and president of the National Autistic Society, Jane Asher, former cricketer David Gower, television producer John Lloyd, Downton Abbey screenwriter Julian Fellowes and comedian Spike Milligan all decided to choose The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba as one of their eight records. Handel’s work has proved very popular among guests on Desert Island Discs with his compositions appearing over 300 times on the programme only beaten by Giacomo Puccini and Edward Elgar. This representation of the classical music composers shows the legacy in comparison to more modern tastes in music selected by the diverse range of guests throughout the continuing course of the radio programme. However, it is possibly due to many guests picking classical compositions for several years, but predictably The Beatles are steadily closing in to challenge these composers.
Gustav Holst: The Planets, Op.32: 4. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
Son of a Swedish father and English mother in Cheltenham, Gustav Holst made early steps into music by playing the trombone and attending the Royal College of Music before landing the position of music director at St Paul’s Girls’ School and then Morley College in the first decade of the 20th Century. His teaching methods were rediscovering English vocal and choral tradition and soon became very influential in English schools as many of his smaller choral compositions reflected his musical interests. It was in this activity he shared common ground with fellow composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, who became his friend and contemporary. Holst’s stubborn yet independent, exploring mind had need, but, of a musical language more flexible than that offered by the English folk-song school. Therefore he found fresh creative stimuli in the new European music which impacted Holst to register in his orchestral suite The Planets. Holst penned the suite during the first couple of years of the First World World War. Holst has gone on record saying his inspiration came from astrology and horoscopes rather than astronomy and mythology.
Seven different movements cover all the planets known in our solar system at the time of writing aside from Earth. Many people are aware of the compositions titled Mars, the Bringer of War and Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity as both pieces have featured heavily in many different soundtracks for both television and movies. For the central section of the Jupiter movement, Holst adapted the melody in 1921 to fit the hymn tune called Thaxted. It got its name from the town in Essex where Holst lived for many years. Many will recognise the melody as it features as the tune of the well-known hymn I Vow To Thee, My Country, based off diplomat Cecil Spring-Rice‘s poem which I also remember singing in chapel services at primary school. Lyricist Charlie Skarbek also adapted the melody for the theme song of the Rugby World Cup, World in Union. I first encountered Holst’s music during my childhood. It was some of the classical music I first got familiar with as I was able to transport myself into the unknown vastness of space metaphorically. I also used to wonder what lies outside the finite planet we call home imagining what life would be like on the different worlds.
It was difficult for me to select which movement to choose to represent the suite. In the end, I decided upon Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity which was the favourite track of television personality Angela Rippon and former manager of the Royal Albert Hall, Christopher Hopper when both individually appeared as guests on Desert Island Discs. Actress Patricia Routledge famous for portraying Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping up Appearances and featuring in Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads series in the 1980s and former Conservative cabinet member Norman Tebbit also have been among those picking this movement when guesting on Desert Island Discs. Several other faces have selected music from Holst’s most recognisable suite; these include comedy writer Barry Cryer and actor David Jason, Tarka the Otter author Henry Williamson, writer and illustrator Judith Kerr all selecting. Mars, the Bringer of War which was a close second on my most loved part of this unique composition.
Nicholas Hooper: Flight of the Order of the Phoenix
Nicholas Hooper‘s CV probably is not as extensive as some of the composers on this list. However, Hooper is a quiet and industrious television and film scorer, and this has allowed him to work on some scores without really capturing much attention. He has worked on the music to several television movies such as the 2005 adaption of My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. This adaption starred Imelda Staunton whose portrayal of Dolores Jane Umbridge would feature heavily in the plot of Hooper’s most high-profile score; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. As a friend of director David Yates when he took up the director’s chair, Hooper was also drafted in and succeeded Patrick Doyle for the fifth instalment of the films which look at the teenage wizard. He was selected again for the next movie in the franchise. Before scoring for both Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and then Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Hooper did win his most prestigious award. For his work on the final parts of Prime Suspect which saw Helen Mirren play the protagonist in the British police series; Hooper won a BAFTA which increased his reputation and opportunities to work on more significant projects.
Despite the Grammy nomination for his work on the sixth Harry Potter film, Hooper stepped aside from the prestige of working on this series and as mentioned above the film score for the two Deathly Hallows movies was composed by Alexandre Desplat. Despite my nitpicking of some of the narrative changes, and there are a few missing scenes. I still regard the fifth Harry Potter film, my favourite of the eight that span a decade in cinemas across the globe. This film works well because the portrayal of raw teenage angst felt by the main character certainly is something very relatable along with handling the weight of hormonal pressure with internal and external stresses impacting daily life. Hooper’s produced several compositions which offer a unique tone to the scenes the audience is watching. One of these is the theme Hooper composed for Imelda Staunton’s character, which allows the viewers to capture the essence of the vindicative professor. Another was the piece titled Fireworks, which is a scene which has vibrant energy which Hooper’s music intensifies for the audience by adding to the sound effects and actions on screen. However, for this list, I have elected to go for the shortest of the Hooper’s work for the film soundtrack which plays over the scene where the protagonist travels from Surrey to North London on his broomstick along with members of the Order of the Phoenix. The piece offers the emotions Harry feels as he is free from the restrictions of his relatives’ home and being finally able to catch up with friends and loved ones. I also believe the music helps the audience imagine how it feels to fly across the landscape of London on such a device.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this extensive look at some of the music and artists which have impacted my musical taste and interests over the years. This post took a lot longer to write than I anticipated due to the amount of research I have put into it so if you have read it fully I truly appreciate you taking the time to do so. Note that I could have picked plenty more however these were the first twenty-five which I wanted to include in this mini-series and will publish parts two and three in due course. This blog post was no means sponsored by Spotify however as a regular user of the application to play music I fully recommend it due to being able to play some of my favourite records wherever I am.