Music gives a soul to the universe
Wings to the mind
Flight to the imagination
Life to Everything
I confess I am just a little bit obsessed. With music anyway. I was blessed to be born into a family who loved their music ranging from trad jazz – Dad loved Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball and the greats of that era. Mum was a super fan of Doris Day and old favourites from the musicals. Dad had many of the old ‘78’s (we had old Lonnie Donegan skiffle records in a collection, sadly long gone to that great scratchy gramophone in the sky).
I was born at the beginning of the golden age of music. The 60’s was the start of the new revolution and I remember when the nation was in the grip of Beatle-mania and the television news faded out to All my Loving: the black and white footage of our Liverpool heroes boarding the ‘plane with one of their earliest hits being played out on BBC1 – unheard of at the time – ‘pop’ music on the television news!
Dad was a showbusiness writer for TV Times from the early 1960’s so we had the privilege of receiving the early press of a huge variety of 33 rpm vinyl records. The Beatles’ White Album, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, The Searchers and their apparently famous ‘one take’ album Meet the Searchers. We played these old LP’s to death! From the Wurzels and The Goons to Al Martino and The Rockin’ Berries, our house was host to an eclectic mix of artists, bands, comedy acts and memorable albums – some of which were valuable collector’s items.
They were scratched and bumped, some just a little bit warped, the sleeves, torn and battered – the result of many party nights and a tortured stylus! There was never a theme: one night it might have been Nancy Sinatra and her Country My Way album, the next The Seekers or The Andrews Sisters and the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B.
How lucky I have been to have lived for the past six decades, through the 60’s, the birth of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Phil Spector, Simon & Garfunkel, Fleetwood Mac, The Kinks, Dusty Springfield and Sandie Shaw. The girl groups, the Shangri-las, the Supremes, the Chiffons, and Ronettes, the birth of Tamla Motown, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Hendrix and Bob Marley…
And not least – the King – Elvis and the rat pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis junior).
From the flower power of the late 60’s, Scott McKenzie, the Bee Gees, Cilla, Lulu, the Mamas and the Papas.
The decade that brought us The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, Butch Cassidy, The Great Escape, The Italian Job and The Graduate.
My lifetime of music and film is steeped in those memorable film soundtracks of the 60’s – from Julie Andrews, the English nanny with the crystal cut vocals of a saintly nun, running up and down a flight of picturesque Viennese steps, guitar in hand with the Von Trapp family, a crocodile of mixed infants singing in beautiful harmony doe a deer, a female deer, ray a drop of golden sun…
From bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens to a spoonful of sugar to the Newman/Redford/ Katharine Ross bicycle scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, romantically captured in the Bacharach composition Raindrops keep falling on my head and the unforgettable scenes from The Graduate – Simon & Garfunkel’s Mrs Robinson, a very young Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft playing out that seduction scene.
We tripped into the 70’s when the Beatles signed out… and in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make and Marc Bolan kicked off the next era, Hot Love, Metal Guru and 20th Century Boy.
Ah! The glitter of glorious glam rock – those platform boots, blue eye shadow and eye liner – even on the boys!
You’d better beware, you better take care, you better watch out if you’ve got long black hair
Those immortal words of Sweet and a memorable back catalogue of early 70’s classics – my brother Russell could still recite the words from every single track! This was our Thursday evenings, waiting patiently for Raymond Baxter to sign off on Tomorrow’s World and then Top of the Pops – our music fix of the week. I remember watching Bowie for the first time – Star Man and the genius of The Jean Genie – it remains one of my favourite records ever. Those stompy, loud artists, Slade, Suzi Quatro, Showaddywaddy and Mud, and the instantly forgettable tartan terrors The Bay City Rollers…
Karen Carpenter – the queen of melancholy – was gloomily singing about Rainy Days & Mondays in 1971 and Carly Simon kept us guessing with the subject of her classic track You’re so Vain in 1972.
The introduction of Michael Jackson, Donny Osmond and my first real idol David Cassidy dominated my early teenage years. Dad bought me and two schoolfriends at the time 3 tickets for a concert at the Wembley Arena – summer 1973 – How can I be Sure and oh yes I think I love you. Most definitely. My memory of the occasion was marred by the shrill screaming (I just wanted to listen to the music believe it or not). Beautiful, breathy and burned out far too soon- David Cassidy. The most recent documentary on his final years was painful to watch, idolatry so often carries a heavy price.
Then came the phenomena that was Abba. Bouncing onto the stage at Eurovision 1974, the epitome of Swedish cool, when we sat by our TV’s with a pull-out score chart from the Saturday paper and fully expected the UK to finish in the top 3….it seems as long ago as the Battle of Waterloo itself…my, my I was defeated you won the war…
Is there anything more oddly comforting (yet simultaneously tedious) than today’s Eurovision song contest, starting at tea time and ending around 3am, and after a succession of ‘nil point’ from our friends across Europe, the jury waiting on the line in Sarajevo benevolently awarding the UK the first 2 points of the night…cue doff cap.
Thank you, Bosnia Herzegovina.
The wonder of popular music is its ability to invent and create the innovative onto the world stage. In 1975 that was Freddie Mercury and Queen.
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango, thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening …we were singing Bohemian Rhapsody in the classroom – all 5:54 minutes and seconds of it. It was the anthem of my mid-teens – a masterpiece and unrivalled in its magnificence. Its lyrics mean nothing, and yet everything because there are so few music lovers who cannot immediately identify the opening Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? and then joining in a resounding rendition of the track in its entirety.
The summer of ’76 followed – the Isley Brothers and Summer Breeze defined the longest, warmest summer of my lifetime – thus far. Into 1977 and the sound of the incomparable Donna Summer and her hypnotic disco trance I feel love. The start of electronic dance music, the sound of Giorgio Moroder & Pete Belotte and Donna’s unforgettable vocals. I can still smell the Cinzano and lemonade as it swished around in my glass (and my head!) as I swirled around the dance floors of east London Oooh it’s so good, it’s so good, it’s SOoo good…
Oh, and then punk. With a capital ‘P’. The Queen’s silver jubilee – 1977 – and we were stroppy teenagers loving The Sex Pistols, The Stranglers, The Damned. And SHAM 69! If the kids are united, then we’ll never be divided. I drove my first car to the Dominion Theatre in Tottenham Court Road and with my Dad and brothers we were witness in surround sound to the very first of the cinematic phenomena that was – and still is – Star Wars. I can still remember the experience of flying with Luke Skywalker as this all-encompassing film experience gripped the country – hard to believe its appeal is as fervent as ever 42 years on…
1978 and Grease. Is the word. My first serious boyfriend bought me the single Hopelessly Devoted to You – sung by the saccharine sweet Sandy from yet another cinema blockbuster. No-one ever quite believes we queued at The Odeon in Romford to see this film! The soundtrack endures to this day and there has been many a party in the years since where You’re the One that I want and Summer Nights have been sung in a boozy, raucous chorus, all of us joyously screeching the last line of that song: those summer niiiiigghtsss!
Imagine being 18 and hearing for the first time the memorising vocals of Kate Bush and her Wuthering Heights (I’m a fan, but I know many who run for cover at a Kate Bush song!) The Man with the Child in his Eyes is on my reserve list of Desert Island Discs. To have written this heart shredding song at the tender age of 14 years reveals Kate Bush as an exceptional and inimitable talented artist by anyone’s standards.
Ah those memories of music from 1978…the classics…Mr Blue Sky, Baker Street, Because the Night, Up Town, Top Rankin’, Wishing on a Star…and then to top off an excellent year onto the stage came Ian Dury and the Blockheads and the wonderfully produced Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick (je t’adore, ich liebe dich).
The fabulous Blondie emerged with a string of great records. From the early Denis Denis in 1977 through to the pop classic Heart of Glass in 1979 – this iconic band was a tour de force during the early 80’s
Highlights of the 1980’s – I was in my 20’s and perhaps the most memorable music of my lifetime, to mark a decade of new artists and amazing records – from Spandau Ballet, Wham, Culture Club, Prince, Adam and the Ants, Michael Jackson, Bananarama. Pop music at its brilliant best. We witnessed the emerging superstars – cue Madonna – female rock liberation never felt quite so sexy just like a virgin, touched for the very first time… and then the beautiful George Michael with that immortal lyric from Careless Whisper: guilty feet have got no rhythm the bands, Police, Jam and Dire Straits, all producing great material. There was feel good ska, The Specials, Madness, Jimmy Cliff and of course the sound of the suburbs, Squeeze, The Buzzcocks, The Stranglers, Elvis Costello. The perennial pop icons Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney were still in there producing extremely good chart music.
We were well and truly spoiled.
The years post 1989 and I drift a little more. I am certainly not as passionate about music released after 1990. During the Pulp, Oasis and Britpop era I was busy having babies, so there was little to fire my enthusiasm and I think it is fair to say I wasn’t as exposed to the trends and popularity of the artists of the decade – and although I recognise there has been a few notable memorable acts emerging over the last 25 years, I find it a little more difficult to name them readily.
There is little doubt that Oasis made an impact. As did The Spice Girls, the remarkable Amy Winehouse, Coldplay, U2. Along with the boy and girl bands (Westlife, Boy Zone, Take That, Destiny’s Child, The Pussycat Dolls, Girls Aloud) – all of whom spawned the emerging solo artists, from Beyonce to Robbie Williams, Ronan Keating to Nicole Scherzinger and then of course, Cheryl. Is she Cole or Tweedy these days?
In the tradition of the long-established Radio 4 Desert Island Discs format, it is a tough ask to whittle down to just eight tracks, the favourite music of a lifetime, allowing just around 20 minutes of joy and escape for the stranded (in the head at least!)
I think it is fair to say that for as many records and artists I have loved over the years there is almost as many that I really don’t like! I am not a fan of the ‘big ballad’ singers and have a loathing for diva artists: Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and Mariah Carey are an anathema, equally in the male stakes, Ronan Keating and Phil Collins (or anything by Genesis) has me recoiling in horror! I’m not a heavy metal fan and I’m choosy with rock songs generally, but a bit of prog rock doesn’t offend my ears. Country music is a bit of a no-no too, although there have been a few exceptions over the years, and I am rather fond of Dolly Parton and others who might’ve had the ‘country’ tag – for example, Glen Campbell, and one of his classic songs is included in my eight discs for the island!
If I had to choose a musical genre to top them all, I would be a soul girl every time and I only wish I could’ve been a part of the Northern soul scene in the late 60’s and early 70’s. There’s a Ghost in my House by R Dean Taylor would feature in my reserve list for island choices.
Smart castaways have chosen longer classical pieces, and there are certainly a couple of choices I might have made from a catalogue of beautiful compositions – more of that later – my ‘reserve’ list if you like.
My choices are from a popular music perspective. I could have done this list at least 10 times over, so limiting to just eight was extremely challenging. But here goes…
Track 1 Help Me Rhonda (the Beach Boys) 1965
Oh happy day! To kick start, this fabulous track from The Beach Boys, it seems to be telling the story of a tortured soul, but wow – what a way to get that girl (Rhonda) ‘outta my heart’. The unmistakable multi-tracked sound of summer with those inimitable harmonies and immense lead vocals from Brian Wilson, this band is peerless in terms of impact and musical genius. It was hard to pick just one song from an impressive catalogue of memorable tracks – to be honest in any other list, and certainly in my all-time favourite albums Pet Sounds would be included. I have particularly happy memories of growing up in Romford in the 60’s and 70’s and our own copy of this fabulous album has ‘sample not for sale’ emblazoned on the centre of the vinyl: a reminder of my Dad’s role at TV Times, reviewing records of the era. What a peach of a job! I still have this very battered album in my collection.
Track 2 Norwegian Wood (the Beatles) 1965
I find this hard to believe, yet I do know people who don’t like The Beatles. Those poor deluded souls! Again, how to choose a favourite Beatles track? My mood does often dictate which one I would take on any given day. If I had to be ‘picky’, I wouldn’t take one of the early Beatles hits. I regard this as the Please Please Me era, but their mid-to late 60’s music was off the scale in terms of song writing talent and the composition of track after track of breath-taking brilliance. Norwegian Wood is just SO good because it is beautifully understated – and that’s the glory of the piece. On my reserve list, there are several ballads to choose from The Long & Winding Road, She’s Leaving Home, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away and For No-one. I have fond memories of an audio cassette I played to death in my car, at home and on a holiday in Cornwall I spent with a group of trainee reporters I had met on my NCTJ* block release training course at Harlow Technical College in 1982. This was a cassette entitled The Beatles Ballads and on hearing one of the tracks from this album I am transported back to that cottage near Bude 37 years ago – and us budding journos from all over the country happily supping copious amounts of cheap plonk and la-la-la-la-la-la’ing along to Hey Jude. This could form a separate category: my 8 favourite Beatles tracks. Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever are summertime memories from my childhood and the sublime Something – a George Harrison composition is another of those simple yet classic tracks. I recently listened to Stella McCartney when she was a desert island castaway. She came across as grounded and completely self-aware and without fanfare she chose Blackbird as one of her song choices. Another quiet yet perfectly observed 1968 song from The White Album and sung exclusively by Paul. It is poignant, but again clever in its simplicity. I can understand why the daughter of one of the mega artists of our era opted for the sound of a songbird with her Dad’s soothing voice as lyrical accompaniment. If I had to compile a list of the 20 most significant memories of my life, The Beatles would be included. They are, without doubt, in my opinion the most significant band in musical history – and of the last 60 years – unrivalled in terms of the tremendous impact they have had on popular music.
*National Council for the Training of Journalists
Track 3 Another Star (Stevie Wonder) 1976
The word icon was invented for Stevie Wonder. This was one helluva track 3 to choose! It was always going to be from the sorcery that is Songs in the Key of Life album – but I think I must have changed my mind 10 times over which of these stupendous songs would be on my desert island playlist. It still seems unimaginable that this double album on vinyl was released in 1976, it still sounds as fresh and contemporary as it did 43 years ago. I fell in love with Stevie in my early teens, I was filling my boots with soul music – this would become the soundtrack of my life – without a doubt. My first serious boyfriend bought me this album as a Christmas present in 1978. Back in the day boyfriends and girlfriends bought each other records for Christmas and birthdays and we wrote on the inner sleeve a sickly-sweet message of undying love and affection – it was of its time – long before the words ‘streamed’ or ‘download’ were in common parlance. Another Star gets my vote on this occasion because it is deeply soulful with a stomping, driving beat. It was a disco track right up there with the best of ‘em and I can clearly remember tripping the light fantastic to this 8-minute corker at a soul club somewhere near Seven Kings in London’s east end in the late 70’s. The message in the lyrics of this track are also resonant of memorable relationships, love affairs, both tantalising and tortuous in equal measure:
For you there might be another star
But through my eyes the light of you it’s all I see
For you there might be another song
But all my heart can hear is your melody
This track just – but only just – is favoured above Sir Duke and As (both from the same album). Truly great music of the 20th century.
Track 4 On Broadway (George Benson) (1978)
There are guitarists. And then there is George Benson. This track has the wow factor! I never tire of listening to it – and it must be the 9:58 live version. For sheer musicality, it is pure unadulterated joy and it captures every moment I have ever known that describes joie de vivre by the bucketload. It encapsulates everything I love about music, it has a fantastic, bold bassline and showcases the talents of the musicians on stage- led by the incomparable George Benson – who – and I would wager a bet – is instantly recognisable, the minute he strums the first two chords of any song. An artist of outstanding and immeasurable class.
A must for any gal stranded on a desert island. I could not be interrupted if this record was playing and a helicopter was about to airlift me to safety – I would politely request that I could play out the whole 10 minutes and ask if my rescuers would like to stop and join me listen (again) to this fabulous track!
Track 5 Back to Black (Amy Winehouse) (2006)
There hasn’t been much music in the past 20 years that has inspired me. Much. But Amy Winehouse did – and still does. The enigmatic and much fabled Ms Winehouse was an artist born both before and after her time. She was and remains an unbridled talent in my opinion and my heart leaps and skips a beat whenever I hear this track. It is a tour de force, such is the magnitude of its originality and place in history. Her tiny frame and tortured soul are akin to that of the French chanteuse Edith Piaf – vocals that encapsulate genuine pain, loss and a deep-rooted sadness. Je ne regrette rien. There are few artists who spill out genuine melancholy. Karen Carpenter (another sad soul) was one, Joni Mitchell’s voice aches with longing and both Piaf and Winehouse did it with aplomb. A masterclass in the ‘lights and shades’ of a vocal training lesson. My shortlist of Desert Island Discs required a checklist which required firstly that I have never, nor will ever, get bored or tired of listening to the 8 tracks I have chosen. Back to Black not only fulfils that brief, but whenever I listen to it for the 50th, 60th or 70th time I hear something else that evokes just a little more sadness, an emptiness, a feeling of loss. Not only for the artist herself but for emotion she manages to draw out of us. She was truly unique.
Track 6 The Power of Love (Frankie goes to Hollywood) (1984)
I have only been married once, but in my dreams, I imagine that I will marry once again in my lifetime (someone needs to remind the ticking clock that time is running out…!) In my misty, somnolent state I am walking in a pagan-style ceremony – it’s not an aisle because I don’t do churches or religion – but it is a gothic pathway (again faintly amusing because I don’t walk anywhere these days and the inclusion of a wheelchair or walking frame spoils the visual effect somewhat…) I am wearing a long, dark lace with satin inlets dress and in my hair, I have long stemmed purple tulips. The music that plays boldly in the background for those imaginary nuptials is the Power of Love by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. It is so goddam dramatic, gloriously OTT and perfect for this – the scene of my gothic wedding ceremony. The opening lyrics of this track sold me from the start, someone was going to protect me from the hooded claw! And then….
I, feels like fire
I’m so in love with you
Dreams are like angels
They keep bad at bay, bad at bay
Love is the light
Scaring darkness away, yeah
Oooh…What is not to love in this fabulous track of the mid 80’s. Frankie’s Relax was memorable but The Power of Love is an absolutely blistering song of simmering passion and unflinching belief. I love it!
Track 7 Wichita Lineman (Glen Campbell) (1968)
This track is a metaphor for hot chocolate with marshmallows. It is raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens and warm woollen mittens. Simply one of my favourite things. My heart melts at the opening line: I am a lineman for the county…suddenly I am eight years old and returning from the beach with my bucket and spade, a Lilo, and a picnic basket. I’m staying with my Auntie Rita and Uncle Peter – my godparents – in Dorchester. Those vivid memories of idyllic summer holiday with my relatives in Dorset and Glen Campbell encapsulates the sound of what I can only describe as my security blanket; the unconditional and all-encompassing love of my family. Uncle Peter would play Glen Campbell on the old record player. He teased me mercilessly, lovingly: ‘I hate girls’ he would say when he got home from work at the saw mill. The smell of creosote spins me back to him returning from work in his overalls and in the meantime Auntie Rita would have made a Victoria sponge for tea. Wichita Lineman is the sound of long summer days in the country, or at the seaside. It epitomises a time when none of us were ever stressed or anxious. We laughed, we played, and we were loved by all of those who surrounded us. What an enormous privilege – how lucky we were.
The beauty of this track is its simplicity. It demands nothing other than its ability to take us back to our happiest memories, and for that I love every note of its 3 minutes and 6 seconds on the turntable…
And I need you more than want you,
And I want you for all time
And the Wichita lineman is still on the line
Track 8 Jerusalem (Billy Bragg) (from the 1990 album The Internationale)
I struggled for quite a while to settle on my eighth (and final) track to take with me to the desert island. I have gone for Billy Bragg and his version of Jerusalem. This is the socialist’s anthem and since my early 20’s I have been a fervent supporter of the Labour and trades union movement. I grew up in a very comfortable white middle-class home in the south east of England and it was not until I moved to the Midlands during the Thatcher years in the 80’s that my politics changed completely. The class struggle is real and whilst I am aware of the position of privilege from whence I came, it is my long-held conviction that progressive socialism is a way of life to which we should all aspire. The fair distribution of wealth, of equality, of collaboration and partnership, to be an expansive player in a global environment. Socialists are often accused of being un-patriotic, I am not religious, nor do I genuflect to the monarchy (the epitome of everything I despise, by virtue of birth, a ruling class) and I genuinely do not subscribe to the flag waving rule Britannia crowd, but I love my country and I’m as proud to be British as anyone. Loving your country is neither for the elite or the entitled. It is a pride not borne out of arrogance or jingoistic tub thumping, but of a desire and aspiration to be the flag-bearers of peace, unity and tolerance. I have chosen Billy Bragg’s rendition of the song, it is a reminder of a Red Wedge concert I attended at Wolverhampton’s Civic Hall in 1986, the words of Blake’s hymn are heart stirring and wherever I might be stranded, there is no place on earth that I would rather be than in England’s green and pleasant land.
Desert Island Discs reserve list:
Desperado the Eagles
The Man with the Child in His Eyes Kate Bush
I Only Have Eyes for You Art Garfunkel
Nutbush City Limits Ike & Tina Turner
The Jean Genie David Bowie
String Quartet in F Major ll. Maurice Ravel
It’s Magic Doris Day
I forgot What it Was Like Karl Denver