Desert Island Discs

There are few things in the world that mean more to me than music. If that wasn’t clear enough by now, here’s me setting the record straight. My tiresome Chinese Bluetooth headphones might instil an odd lethargy whenever I put them on, but they provide a welcome lifeline on the five-minute walk to school on Monday mornings. So it strikes me as rather odd that, in two and a half years of blogging, I’ve yet to pen my own Desert Island Discs-style blog. Perhaps that’s just as well, as one’s taste in music is as much a part of growing up as one’s outlook on the world. It would surprise me greatly if I ever met a man whose tastes had remained unshaken since the beginning. I know mine haven’t. That is, not too much.

I’m going to keep to the BBC Radio programme’s format: that is, eight tracks, from which I will have to pick a favourite. So, whilst I’m still young, naïve and idealistic, here’s my Desert Island Discs.

1. Circle of Life (Elton John/Lebo M.)


Say what you like about the 90s, but they did give birth to one of the greatest animated films of all time. I haven’t the least shame in admitting that, to this day, Disney’s The Lion King remains one of my favourite films of all time. It’s simply perfect. I used to spend hours gawping at it as a kid, and watching some of my private lesson kids crawling around the room pretending to be all the animals in the opening sequence almost brings tears to my eyes. If there’s a better way to invoke a sense of awe and love for Africa’s natural beauty in four minutes flat, I’d like to see it.

When did you first discover it?
Given that The Lion King came out in the year I was born – a mere four days later, in fact – it’s very possible I’ve known this song for my entire life. I expect my first ‘real’ encounter with it would have been shortly after my first birthday when we got the movie on VHS.

What do you like most about it?
Lebo M.’s voice. The first twenty-eight seconds are pure gold. Who doesn’t love the opening? Even if most everyone gets the words wrong…

Any special memories?
I used it as my audition piece to get into Durham University’s A Cappella group, Northern Lights. Thanks to my dear friend Biff, we ended up performing it, and I got to pay homage to Lebo M. in Durham Cathedral itself in front of a crowd of a thousand. Riffing over the top of DUOS, Chamber Choir and the rest of Durham’s finest in the finale of King of Pride Rock will probably never be toppled as one of the happiest moments of my life.

2. Back in Stride (Maze feat. Frankie Beverly)


Maze is far from one of the most famous bands of their day. The late 70s was a hard time to make it big as a new artist, with heavyweights like Barry White and Earth, Wind and Fire kicking around. But for me, this is a special one-hit wonder that floors them all. Back in Stride is neither ground-breaking nor thought-provoking, but it is feel-good, and one of the most feel-good numbers I know. There’s just an honest, heartfelt get-up-and-go about it that brings me out of the dark and into the light whenever it comes on. And Frankie Beverly may well be one of the most underrated male vocalists of all time.

When did you first discover it?
If memory serves, it came on the radio on one of the few nights I tuned in to a local Soul and Funk radio station, shortly before my great Spanish adventure. Like I’ve said before, if I’m proud of one thing, it’s my whim decisions.

What do you like most about it?
The delay on the rolling bass guitar line. Apparently Despacito has been scientifically proven to be catchy because of the deliberate delay in the chorus. I wonder whether it’s the same mechanism at work here. I wouldn’t be altogether surprised if it were.

Any special memories?
This song once saved my life. Quite literally. When I was sleeping rough in the mountains to the north of Madrid, it rained through the night and my bivvy bag turned out to be a lot less waterproof than I’d hoped (though I suppose they’re supposed to be used in tandem with a tent, rather than as the sole defence). I couldn’t sleep, I was shaking from head to foot for hours, and I wanted my parents more than ever in my life. Listening to this song on repeat pulled me back from the brink. Which, I suppose, is what granted Back in Stride a certain legendary status in my Top Ten.

3. Forgiven Not Forgotten (The Corrs)


Anyone who knows me will know that I go on and on (and on) about how black is beautiful when it comes to music. You only need to look at this list to see where my preferences lie, and it’s by no means a good sampling, with Fela Kuti, Tina Turner and the one and only Luther Vandross being narrowly beaten to the punch on this list. So it might come as a surprise that my favourite band is not black at all, but an Irish folk band. The Corrs and I go way back, and there’s hardly a song of theirs I don’t love. Forgiven Not Forgotten is a gem of an album and the title number is the standout diamond.

When did you first discover it?
Forgiven Not Forgotten was my first ever album, back in the days when a mixtape meant an actual tape. My dad used to put it on every once in a while on the way to school, where the novel was born to the sound of Sharon Corr’s violin. The cassette itself is long since missing in action, and – like many of its kind – probably ended up a mess of spent tape that no pencil could fix, but I still have the cassette case.

What do you like most about it?
Andrea Corr’s vocals are hauntingly beautiful. I’d have to say that the break into the harder-hitting second verse is what takes the biscuit, though. It sends me soaring.

Any special memories?
As a kid, knowing that my favourite childhood author, Michael Morpurgo, was also a fan of the group made me smile a lot; he namedrops the band often in his Scilly Isle stories.

4. Thriller (Michael Jackson)


Who’d have thought that a song about zombies would be one of the most popular songs of all time? Who else but Michael Jackson? Thriller is amazing. I love it. I can’t shake it. The chords are insane. The bassline is unforgettable. And don’t even get me started on the dance routine. It’s MJ at his finest; no deep message, no heavy lyrics, just pure, all-out fun. Any one of these eight songs could be a strong contender for my favourite, but as far as the official list is concerned, Thriller has been in the throne for the longest. And that’s despite Vincent Price’s voiceover, which somehow adds to the charm…

When did you first discover it?
You know, I don’t know? I won’t even pretend I do. We had Michael Jackson’s Number Ones on our CD rack at home, and I don’t think it took me all that long to find it.

What do you like most about it?
The whine of the theremin during the third and final verse. No doubt about it. I get the shivers every single time.

Any special memories?
Turning up to Arrowsmith’s Halloween party in my Thriller outfit, to find fellow Light Luke had come in exactly the same outfit. The beginning of a long and happy friendship, grounded in a common love for one of the world’s greatest.

5. Love Theme from El Cid (Miklós Rózsa)


Many of the songs on this list are songs I grew up with, and number five is no exception. I can’t have seen El Cid more than two or three times before returning to study the epic at university, which brought me back into contact with the endlessly evocative soundtrack of the film. It just screams Spain, more so even than Bizet’s Carmen. Rózsa knew what he was doing. No matter what happened, I was once a violinist, and to have a set of favourites without the beautiful violin solo of the Love Theme would be nothing short of criminal. There are many pieces from the soundtrack that I adore, such as the famous El Cid March and the Fanfare Coronation, but the Love Theme wins it for me.

When did you first discover it?
Technically speaking, I ‘rediscovered’ it whilst I was writing my El Cid essay last year. I had the album on repeat every time I sat down to write, so it surprises me that Spotify seems to think ‘dance-pop’ was my favourite genre. By all rights, unrepresentative as it would be, my fixation with this album in essay season should have pushed it to the top.

What do you like most about it?
The violin solo in the second half. It’s breath-taking, and makes me wish I hadn’t given up the violin years ago, if only to be able to play it as well as the soloist does.

Any special memories?
I believe I finished my dissertation shortly after playing it for probably the 53rd time. That’s a special memory if ever there was one… right?

6. What’s Going On (Marvin Gaye)


Stealing its way into the spotlight like a fine wine, Marvin Gaye’s pleading revolution song has been with me for a while, but only found its way into my heart recently. At a time in my life when music was taken from me (after a particularly music-heavy summer at the Edinburgh Fringe), Marvin found me and picked me back up. What’s Going On called out to me with a meaning it never had before and I fell in love with it. Grapevine might be one of his greatest legacies, but the subdued vocals of this particular number make it nothing less than spectacular.

When did you first discover it?
On my first serious fling with the world of Soul, Funk and Disco music in my final year at school, under the guiding influence of my former bandmaster, Mr D. I must have overlooked this diamond then, perish the thought.

What do you like most about it?
Whilst I don’t tend to go for songs for their lyrics, believing the music itself to be of far more importance, What’s Going On strikes a chord with the pacifist in me. And, of course, there’s the violins: the sailing strings of the third verse reach so high they trace the heavens and rain down gold.

Any special memories?
It isn’t often you discover a new artist you adore, but when it does, it’s a little bit like falling in love. Discovering Marvin Gaye ‘properly’ this year via this song makes for a special memory, I think.

7. Erin Shore (The Corrs)


What do you know? It’s The Corrs again. I told you there was hardly a song of theirs I didn’t love and I wasn’t lying. It was a struggle not having at least three Corrs numbers in this list (you’d find the third if we were to expand this list to ten). Erin Shore is an instrumental, and it must have meant a lot to the band: it’s at the opening and closing of Forgiven Not Forgotten. In my head it’s the theme of the Royals in my novel, and thus this piece alone has had a heavy influence the development of the novel. The Love Theme from El Cid may have been beyond me as a dropout Grade 6 violinist, but I had the book of violin parts as a kid and I remember teaching myself this one, before ear and memory sufficed.

When did you first discover it?
Shortly after (and before) discovering Forgiven Not Forgotten.

What do you like most about it?
The bells, the flutes, the choir… the sounds of Ireland… And, of course, the wicked drumming before the final uplifting round.

Any special memories?
Every time I listen to this track I see the heroes of my book. It’s not a memory as they’re almost always on my mind, but that makes it doubly special for me.

8. Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough (Michael Jackson)


If the Corrs get a second mention, then the other great light of my life needs to be up there too. And he’s not here by proxy. Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough is the happiest, grooviest, boogiest song I know. I just want to get up on a stage and dance. If there were ever a film made about my life, this would be song playing as they rolled the end credits. The music video says it all: MJ, MJ, MJ. Oh look, more MJ. Billie Jean, Wanna Be Startin’ Something, Earthsong and The Way You Make Me Feel are all serious contenders for my top twenty, but this one makes the cut. Because it makes me want to dance.

When did you first discover it?
It was the first song on the Number Ones CD, which means that, of all MJ’s greatest hits, this was the one I came upon first. I remember boogying about to it as a toddler, unable to understand the lyrics, but smiling all the same.

What do you like most about it?
The opening. Like Thriller, MJ felt like having a few spoken words thrown in for good measure. And though what he says is James Brown levels of inspired, it is almost exactly what goes through my head every time this banger comes on.

Any special memories?
When they played this track on a night out in York back in ’14, I went berserk. I’d been waiting for a song I truly knew to get my mojo on, and then Don’t Stop came on and I lost it. I remember grooving with a couple of great dance partners on the dance floor and feeling like I’d stepped back in time to 1979. What a year to be young and free…

‘…and if you had to choose just one?’

Tough call. But it’d have to be Erin Shore. I might be on that desert island for a while, but Erin Shore would take me home in my dreams.

Special Recommendations:

Someday (The Corrs); Mother Africa Reprise from The Power of One (Hans Zimmer); A House is Not a Home (Luther Vandross); Shosholoza (Ladysmith Black Mambazo); Ukuthula (Soweto Gospel Choir); Truth Gon Die (Femi Kuti); I Wish (Stevie Wonder); Proud Mary (Ike & Tina Turner); I Feel Good (James Brown)


Fancy doing this yourself? Be my guest! Isn’t it wonderful to take a trip down memory lane through music? BB x

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