I have long been a fan of Desert Island Discs on he BBC So I thought as a thought experiment it might be interesting to see what I would select and to look at my rationale for doing so. So in no particular order of importance.
1. London Calling – The Clash.
Who would have thought that a band, which emerged from the remnants of the UK late 70’s punk scene, could firstly play their interments and secondly write songs worth listening to? I have always thought that the position of punk in the evolution of music had been wildly overstated. In many ways it seemed to me to suffer from the same revisionist history that the summer of love in 1967 suffers from. With the accompanying overstatement of importance that such things receive.
Music historians look back with certain nostalgia and wax lyrically about the impact of punk when to my eyes and ears punk seemed to come and go without little lasting impact. Some argue that the 2 Tone genre was heavily influenced by punk but the only influence punk had was that performers such as The Specials did their top shirt button up. You hear far more ska and reggae in the 2 Tone genres than punk. It also seemed to be an excuse for narcissists with little or no talent to stick themselves on a stage and annoy people by acting like twats.
The song is perfectly matched to its dark brooding film clip of the band on a barge on drizzly depressing English night.
2. Bruce Springsteen – The River
Before Bruce beefed up and took to stadium rock with gusto he used to write songs on things that seemed to be intimately personal to him. The River is a song of struggle and the pain that comes from the loss of innocence and the death of dreams that all lives have suffered from. The River tells the story of Springsteen sister and brother in law during the economic downturn in the US in the 1970’s and it conveys a narrative that instantly resonates with anyone who has thought about their life and where it has taken them as opposed to where they wanted it to go. It also contains one of the most wonderfully haunting uses of the harmonica that you will hear anywhere. Springsteen wailing use of the harmonica in the opening few bars sets a wonderfully desperate that resonates throughout rest of the song.
3. Let The Day Begin – The Call
Before that pompous dick Bono and U2 claimed to be doing socially responsible rock there was The Call. Powered by Michael Been’s driving bass the Call are probably one of the most underrated American bands of the 1980’s. I picked this over the earlier released Everywhere I Go simply because it seems to me to be a more mature sound and is a better representation of the driving nature of their music and it gives better scope for Been’s very underrated voice. Sadly, Been died of a heart attack in 2010 whilst helping his son prepare for a concert with his band the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
4. Miserere – Gregorio Allegri
If the Internet had a simple description of beauty it would default to this performance of Miserere by The Choir of Claire College, Cambridge. Miserere or to give it its full name Miserere mei, Deus was thought to have been composed sometime during the 1630s for use in the Sistine Chapel during services conducted on Holy Wednesday and Good Friday. At some point in time it became a crime punishable by excommunication to either transcribe the music or to perform it outside of these two times. It was believed that the music was of such emotional power that it would unsettle the souls of the masses. Who said the Vatican didn’t have a sense of fun?
Unfortunately, for the Vatican there was always someone who doesn’t give a stuff about the rules. It is said that at one particular performance was a 14-year-old Mozart who having heard it performed once went home and wrote it out note perfect from memory. This story to me reinforces my belief that the word genius is overused – a true genius can do things that appear to the rest of us to be simply magic. It also shows that the pirating of music has a long and noble history.
5. O’Fortuna Carmena Burana – Carl Orff
The first two and half minutes of this piece are the best driving music I know of. O Fortuna was originally part a set of poems composed in the 13th century. They look at the role of luck in Roman mythology (fortuna) Set to music by Carl Orff the piece starts hard and keeps going to a tremendous crescendo. It is a testament to the emotional power of the massed human voice. I first came across this piece which actually watching the John Boorman film Excalibur in my late teens. Boorman uses the music in conjunction with his symbolism to set the scene for the final clash between good and evil. In this scene the knights of the Round Table are riding out thorough a desolate Camelot – as they head into battle Orffs music is matched to Boormans metaphor of the country coming to life as the gleaming knights head to their fate.
Happiness is a Bose 12 speaker sound system a roaring Italian V8, a hill climb and this piece turned up as loud as you can handle.
6. Iron Maiden – Run To The Hills
Bruce Dickinson – the human siren, tank collector and commercial airline pilot need I say more. Iron Maiden to my mind reinvigorated heavy metal and brought a wonderfully theatrical feel to it. Up until I heard Iron Maiden my view of heavy metal was – yeah it’s loud but so what. Dickinson’s operatic voice changed my opinion.
Despite very little airplay Iron Maiden have apparently managed to sell over 85 million records. Unfortunately, back then as now radio stations are convinced there are only five actual songs in the world and you need to keep playing them over and over again. If you want a brief introduction into the over the top world of heavy metal check out History of Heavy Metal Rockumentary
7. Seasons of Change – Blackfeather
The late 1960’s thorough to the end of the 1970’s were what I would consider the Golden Age of locally produced music. Instead of bands doing cover versions of overseas material on crap variety shows we now had a local voice that reflected the way we saw things. The names from this period are too numerous to mention and seasons of Change stands out to simply because of lead singers Neale Johns vocals. Interestingly, this was the second incarnation of Blackfeather and was more piano based than the earlier heavy metal version of the band. Despite this change in direction it is the harder edged version of the song that appears on the Mountains of Madness album.
I consider myself fortunate in that I grew up at a time when Australian bands could not only write their own songs and play their instruments but they could also perform without the aid of complex electronics to make them sound vaguely palatable to the human ear. Blackfeather always intrigued me because not only did they produce Season of Change but also Boopin The Blues….WTF happened there?
8. Bombora – The Atlantics.
The Americans invented the surf guitar sound and we took it over – much as we did with surfing. Watch a surfing documentary and you will inevitably hear Bombora. Named after the Aboriginal word for a large breaking wave – it is the quintessential summer surf guitar song. You can stick the Beach Boys and their harmonies up your bum….
Unfortunately, this clip doesn’t give you a sense of Pete Hoods tremendous hand speed on the drums. It also makes a fabulous ringtone.