FEATURE: “If You Had to Save One Disc from the Waves…”


“If You Had to Save One Disc from the Waves…”


IT feels like I am attending a Radio Addicts Anonymous meeting…

IN THIS PHOTO: Current Desert Island Discs host, Kirsty Young

when I pull up a stool and nervously averted people’s gazes. It is with tame acquiescence I confess this: I, group, am a Desert Island Discs obsessive. Maybe that is not such an embarrassing confession but, such is the gravity and influence the series has had on my life, I find myself repeating episodes in my head. If the moment Tom Hanks freezes after a question – when he was on the show on 8th May, 2016 – and chokes back the tears does not get to you - then you might be technically dead. Maybe it is the strangely likeable turn from Ed Sheeran or the unexpected appearance from Bruce Springsteen. I love Caitlin Moran and Sue Perkins’ incredible turns; Jimmy Carr’s unexpectedly fine musical choices – the man chose Beyoncé and Kanye West among his eight discs! – or whatever it happens to be…one cannot deny the addictiveness and compelling voices one gets from Desert Island Discs! I am, rather annoyingly, only now initiating myself to the endless pleasures of the show. The fact Desert Island Discs has reached seventy-five – and still looks fantastic in a bikini.. – means I have over seven decades of castaways to investigate! No worries because it is a task I am willing to undertake. I think, among other things, it is Kirsty Young’s incumbency that has really hooked me in.

Maybe it is her East Kilbride pronunciations – those ‘hard Hs’ are enough to make the soul sing (je suis amoureux!) – or the fact she can relax a guest to the point of seduction is entrancing – one is convinced she could get a mass murderer to confess their sins, rehabilitate and find God within the space of a conversation. It is a Sunday fixture I ensure I am committed to. The reason for penning this piece – aside from indulging my own radio habits – is to raise a genuinely interesting question! By the way: if you have not listened to Desert Island Discs, I urge you to get your earlobes around it. Anyway; let's return to my point, shall we? Every week, Young guides her guests through a series of question-and-music intervals where she would ask them about an aspect of their life – before they/she introduces a song of their choosing. Each castaway – so-called for obvious reasons – gets to select eight discs (one imagines classic 33/45 R.P.M. formats) that they are allowed to take to the island – where it is, nobody knows; each guest goes to a different one. They are, in addition, allowed a book (they get a copy of the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare) but get to select a luxury, too. I recently posted a similar piece casting myself, in ludicrous long-shot probability, in the mantle of a castaway on the show. My luxury was/would have been a photo of my family but, thinking I could well picture them – rendering a single shot rather meaningless – I changed my answer to a water purification kit and penicillin.

It seems rather un-luxurious but, if one is stranded on an unknown island, the chances are there is going to be an extinction of clean water – thus, they would painfully perish within days were they not equipped to purify the abundance of salt water around them. It would sustain my long enough in order to acclimatise to the unique and hospitable ecosystem. I would forage for food – being a pescatarian means it would be fish-rich – and, one assumes, be susceptible to infections, illness and various-assorted maladies. If I were allowed a ‘bundle’ option of the two: that would seem like the best luxury ever – the chance to extend my life is, in all honesty, far more material and pragmatic than a trampoline or a tin of deodorant (neither, to the best of my knowledge, have been selected as luxuries). I digress but, working up to my eventual point, I would select a music-related book – possibly a thorough biography of The Beatles (with photos and interviews) – that would keep me company and suffice my voracious appetite for all things sonic. Every time I immerse myself in an episode of Desert Island Discs; I follow, with great interest, the musical choices of each castaway. There is a fascinating psychology hearing one’s musical predilections and the reasons attached to each.

IN THIS PHOTO: Tom Hanks and Kirsty Young

As Tom Hanks explained when he was on the show: each track should represent a special moment or connect you to a meaningful time in your life. That is what the finest music does to me so, tasked with the option of salvaging only one record from the cruelty of the waves, chills my balls to the core. Why one would have eight discs and no turntable – an old-school Walkman, perchance? – is beyond me but one dare not quibble with the ecumenical and divine purity of Desert Island Discs. I would evoke such glee and fulfilment from curating an octet of songs: the reality of reducing that impressive eight-piece to a single survivor is heartbreaking. One might as well ask me to decide which of my vital organs I want to donate to a local cannibal. That is, you’ll forgive, post hoc ergo propter hoc, but it contextualises a similar egregiousness (I would get rid of my heart because I feel I could deliver a James Bond-worthy quip before I saw it stop beating). The fact I am a journalist means, constricting a library-full of musical desires into a briefcase-sized carry-on of eight, is a tricky predicament.

I think Caitlin Moran – a proper journalist (unlike myself) – felt, with mock-horror, the same kind of stress when faced with that conundrum. I would have to choose, for sure, one track from The Beatles, Kate Bush and Jeff Buckley: my Holy Trinity of musical idols. I would, gun to head, select Kate Bush’s Strange Phenomena; Jeff Buckley’s rendition of The Way Young Lovers Do (from his Live at Sin-é album); I would then....oooh…say, Got to Get You Into My Life from The Beatles. That penultimate cut from Revolver would not only be a perfect way to kick-start a day on an island – it is a fantastic song that is able to elicit joy and redemption in harshest of circumstances. Four and five would have to be The White Stripes’ Truth Doesn’t Make a Noise (from their sophomore album, De Stijl) and, um, Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World. The latter, because it is, literally my first memory of life – and, therefore, my first experience of music. The former is from one of my favourite acts and a song that would evoke fond memories - and a better time. I would need another female voice so I would have to Björk. In regards her music, I would pick Big Time Sensuality (from Debut). My last two choices would be a little unexpected...

Well...T. Rex were a huge influence during my childhood so I would have to go with Metal Guru (as it is one of their earliest songs I remember) and, believe it or not, Benny Goodman’s Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing). That song is full of life and energy so, it would be a good contrast to the more downbeat and contemplative records. It would be incongruence to spend too little time limiting your musical existence to eight discs - but I reserve the right to interchange and alter my selections at any point. I am pretty certain about The Beatles, Kate Bush and Jeff Buckley – Tears for Fears would need to be in the rundown. At the very end of each edition (of Desert Island Discs), Kirsty Young always poses that question: “If you had to save one disc from the waves…which would it be?” She delivers it with such chocolate-rich warmth, but it is like a stab to the heart. Forget what would happen if I ever had to answer that question on the show: if I were actually on a desert island and faced with that reality…I don’t think I would be in a position to make a quick decision. This feature is less about promoting Desert Island Discs – it does not need me to do that – but get people to think about why a song is so special and why a particular track would defeat all others.

Are music and unequivocal certainty likely bedfellows? Can one limit their passion to a single record and how easy is it to narrow your entire music knowledge to that solo choice?! Does one, if battling the water, select that disc based on its emotional connection or a particular relevance. For me, when going for that one record; I would have to go for the one that manages to connect my downs and highs in life: my whole education of music and all the emotions that interweave and socialise with those disparate things. That seems like an impossible expectation but, when you are provoked, the mind and soul can make that decision. Each person will have their own reasons for selecting a single record but, for me, it would have to have that importance and relevance. I could not make the decision idly but, pressed with very little time, I would instinctively lunge for that record that would, essentially, be my only company on the island.

Forbidden from bringing anything sentient with me: that one record would be the only other voice I would ever hear. Many castaways, when prompted, chose a female voice for their choice – a warmth and maternal spirit seems more nourishing and welcoming than a male voice – whilst others attached romantic significance to their choice. For me, being a blank canvas when it comes to grand relationships. My criteria is based on my childhood, growth and realisations. None of my eight selections is, I think, younger than fifteen-years-old. Actually, since typing this, I have had to substitute one record (not sure which) with a Talking Heads song, I Zimbra (from Fear of Music) - or maybe I should just leave it be. I don’t think I could survive without the band so, you see what I mean?! Rationalising eight records above everything else in music is difficult: how does one choose a sole survivor?! One of the great things about Desert Island Discs is how each guest explains their attachment to a particular track. Understanding the importance and story behind each is fascinating to witness. Every definition is unique and shows how broad, meaningful and universal music is. I take music for granted in this day and age. Given the access one has to nearly every track every recorded – how willing would we be to sacrifice luxury and the expansive of musical exploration? One can, at the click of a mouse, access a playlist of of-the-moment songs or Jazz classics. We can hear anything we want and, of a day, be privy to an incredible array of genres, sound and suggestions.

I shall wrap this up – as the darkness is coming in and I feel like I need to hunker-down on the island – so, before the waves come in (and I, for some reason, would not patrol my records like a rabid German police dog), I will have to clear my thoughts and allow rationale and logic dictate my near-impossible choice. I wanted people to think about their musical education and passions; why they bond to certain songs and what, for them, defines a perfect song. Whether the anthem for a celebratory moment or the song you heard whilst falling for your lover – there are so many scenarios and configurations that mean a certain song takes prominence above all else. It is really intriguing to find out each person’s story – and why they are attached so fondly to that song. Given the negative peripeteia that is about to befall me: I must run to the bank and, before the water envelopes and digests all my cherished records, I shall desperately grope for that cherished and chosen chattel. It would be interesting to hear everyone’s thoughts and feelings when faced with a similar predicament – and whether they have different reasons why they bond to certain records – and what they would do at that frightening moment. For me, I would flash each song through my mind, and, considering factors of importance, childhood imprints and personal attachment; I would have to save…

IN THIS PHOTO: Sue Perkins

THE song below…