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Desert Island Discs

March 4th, 2006 · Posted by Skuds in Music · 4 Comments · Music

I had an email from Lisa about this the other day, which I guess means that my two days are up.

It is supposed to be 8 songs which mean stuff to you, with reasons. Just 8?? I had a desert island discs page on my first website back in the 90s. It was part of a desert island discs webring and everything, but even then it had at least a dozen songs on it.

Still, I’ll give it a go. I’m not sure these are so much songs that mean a lot to me as songs which have a great effect on me in most cases. In no particular order then:

Don’t Dream Its Over – Crowded House
Remember when they were one of the biggest bands on the planet? So many good songs. Weather With You is one of my all-time favourites for singing along to, Sister Madly reminds me of seeing them at the Hammersmith Odeon, but this song has the biggest effect on me.
I find it to be one of the saddest songs in the world. Not because of the words but just the sound. When the organ kicks in it just has an atmosphere of lost opportunities. Every time I hear it I am simultaneously moved almost to tears but also feel strangely uplifted.
Seeing the video of their last ever concert, on the steps of the Sydney Opera House, with Paul Hester re-joining the band for the day, and they finish with this song was bad enough. I have not watched it since Paul killed himself last year, but I can’t imagine it makes the moment any less emotional.

Sidi h Bibi by Mano Negra
I originally started buying records and tapes of the better French bands when I was trying to improve my command of the language. I was also watching sub-titled films. I was spending a lot of time in Paris when my girlfriend moved there for six months and wanted to be able to get by and understand what the hell was going on.
The irony is that one of my favourite bands actually sung most of their songs in broken English or Spanish with only a few totally in French, and my favourite song of theirs was actually sung in Arabic.
I can’t speak a word of Arabic, but loved this song the first time I heard it. Pure energy from the French equivalent of the Clash. I have a few live versions of this on tape and CD and they can transport me back to that sweaty night at the Forum, Kentish Town when I saw Mano Negra play.

Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd
I really missed out on this when it came out. I was distracted by punk and did not get to hear The Wall until years later. The first time I really heard this properly was when I saw Pink Floyd play in 1988. The combination of the sound and the lights was tremendous.
Having since seen the movie and the Roger Waters stage show from Berlin on TV it now has more meaning, which just increases the impact.
If I hear the live version of this on CD or on a concert video I have a physical reaction, the same as I do with Shine On. I get goose pimples and my throat constricts. At later concerts I would also find my chest get tight and have to make an effort to breathe. That is powerful stuff. I even had a watered-down version of that reaction just seeing the tribute band Think Floyd.
One abiding memory I have of this song is flying back home from somewhere in the 90s. I had their concert LP recorded onto tape for my walkman. I was in a window seat in a half-empty plane and Comfortably Numb came on as we were flying over England. I was looking out of the window at the lights of town far below and lost in the music. It almost felt like an out of body experience. I could almost understand why people take acid if thats what it feels like.

Ether by Gang of Four
Not necessarily their best song, or my favourite song of theirs either on record or live, but it means more to me as it is track one, side one of their Entertainment! LP.
I played the original vinyl LP almost to transparency over the years, and have similarly battered the CD version.
As soon as I hear the first guitar notes I am in the frame of mind for the whole thing.

Malaika by Angelique Kidjo
I was going to say Agolo, for all the same reasons as Ether. Its track one of a great album. Possibly the strongest start to any album by anyone ever the way her powerful voice blasts out. For a long time this track on the Aye album was the one I would use to test out new stereo gear.
However, its the more sedate Malaika from an earlier album which now means more. Its a beautiful song, and another one sung in a language I do not understand. The vocal performance on this song is like Sinead O’Connor on Nothing Compares To You but even better.
A highlight of my life is when I saw Kidjo live the second time and she sang this song. It was at the RFH and she dragged someone up on stage to sing with her. I think they could have just been someone in the front row who was singing along.

Down At The Doctors by Doctor Feelgood
A nod to my Essex roots here. Most of their songs are no frills pub rock, but you can’t help liking them. I can listen to this song just to hear the famous ‘Eight bars of piano’.

She’s Not There by Santana
It is one of my biggest regrets that Santana did not play this when I saw him in concert as this is an important song to me, specifically the Santana version and not the original Zombies one, and specifically the live version on the Moonflower album.
I have an extremely personal reason for feeling fond of this song. I have, and have always had great trouble sleeping. Sometimes playing music helps me to sleep. Not necessarily quiet music, but music I know quite well. Tubular bells was the weapon of choice in the war against insomnia for a long time – but not without risk. If I was not fully asleep by the time the caveman bit came on it would wake me up again.
One night I was playing the Moonflower album and discovered that side 3 of the double album was guaranteed to relax me enough to make me sleep. Often She’s Not There would do it, but it was followed by Moonflower and Soul Sacrifice which would finish the job off if necessary.
It got to the point where I had an almost Pavlovian response to the song. I could go to bed and just play it in my head and go to sleep. Eventually I had to stop playing it and now save it for emergencies. (Not everyone else likes to listen to exactly the same song every single night at bed time I found). I was worried that I might build up a tolerance or immunity to it as well.
The real pity is that its a great song but most times I only hear the beginning of it and drop off.

Ripples by Genesis
The only song on this list by a band I have not seen live.
Ripples is on the Trick of the Tail album. It is a gentle song about (I think) making the most of life as you only get one chance at it.
At my school we had a school dance every fortnight – the highlight of the social calendar for a co-educational boarding school. Being a bit cut off from normal life the school developed some traditions quite different to how the outside world, and this was particularly evident in the school discos. There were the normal chart disco songs, but also there would be something by Deep Purple or Black Sabbath in the middle somewhere. There would be several slow songs as well – If You Leave Me Now by Chicago sticks in the mind for some reason – but the last dance was nearly always Ripples.
I can’t imagine that many discos played Genesis at all, let alone as the all-important last dance – the starting point of many relationships. It certainly is unlikely to appear on any of the albums, but for me it is the epitome of our school dances and the meaning of the song just adds to the poignancy.

“Sail away, away. Ripples never come back.”

So there it is. A list of 8 songs which breaks my heart as there is no room for Thin Lizzy, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, Depeche Mode, Spizzenergi or Led Zeppelin.

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Rullsenberg

    That’s a great list, but I know what you mean about the heartbreak of exclusions: I’m mortified by what didn’t make the list…

  • Reidski

    Indeed, Ether, what a perfect start to the perfect album. That I didn’t include Gang of Four in my desert island songs makes me prime candidate for asshole of the year!

    And note your mention of Spizzenergi – did you ever hear the greatest World Cup song that no-one has ever heard, E for England? Or, in fact, their great cover of Happy Xmas (War is Over)?

  • Skuds

    I wasn’t too keen on the Happy Xmas cover (sorry Spizz) but then I am not a huge fan of the original either. Mind you, the video was quite touching.

    E for England is another story completely. Great song. It was originally an Aston Villa song and I liked it then but when the lyrics were re-done for the World Cup I could enjoy it even more.

  • Just Jane

    Dr Feelgood! Positively the only good thing about my first ever Reading Festival, dominated as that was by the progressive rock which I hated.