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Stars Pick Your Songs Vol. 2: Actors

October 19th, 2017 4 comments

A few weeks ago we had the first volume of songs chosen by musicians on the long-running BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs. This time, the people who are choosing their music for your listening pleasure are from the world of film — almost all actors, with the exception of one director, the great Fred Zinnemann.

The simple concept of Desert Island Discs, which had remained unchanged since it first aired in 1942, is that the invited guest chooses eight songs he or she would take with them to a lonely island. In the course of often revealing interviews, they explain why they chose those songs. One guest, opera singer Joan Sutherland, chose eight records sung by herself.

It seems to me that the thespians have a better taste in music than the musicians — though my shortlist of songs picked by Politicians & Authors is even better.

Special props to Colin Firth for picking a great favourite of mine, and the venerable Deborah Kerr for choosing Gram Parsons. Marlene Dietrich in 1965 picked a couple of Burt Bacharach songs, which might be surprising — if one forgets that the German diva was at the time recording folk songs like Blowin’ In The Wind and Where Have All The Flowers Gone.

As a general rule I have excluded classical music from consideration, but will make a couple of exceptions. One is here, where Hugh Grant has selected a piece of classical music, from Verdi’s opera Nabucco, which I might list myself if ever I get an invite from the BBC.

Terence Stamp, meanwhile, chose my favourite Beatles song; in as far as one can have one such favourite. George Clooney picked a contender for my favourite Sinatra song. His interview is as good as one might expect. One of his selections was William Shatner’s absurd version of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds — as an incentive to escape the desert island.

Gloria Swanson, a guest in 1981, picked a Mel Tormé song, which is always a recommendation. Her interview is one of the most enjoyable I’ve listened to, which is not surprising, since her autobiography is one of the best I’ve read.

A massive collection of Desert Island Discs episodes is available for download in the form of MP3 podcasts from the BBC website, with new ones added regularly. The songs are featured only as clips, for licensing reasons, but the interviews are really worth listening to — when you get tired of Any Major Mix-tapes.

I was delighted to read the lists of desert island discs which some readers offered. Please keep them coming in the comments. Maybe there will be enough to make a mix of them.

As always, CD-R length, home-radioed covers. PW in comments.

1. Talking Heads – Once In A Lifetime (1980 – Tom Hanks, 2016)
2. Dar Williams – As Cool As I Am (2000 – Kathleen Turner, 2000)
3. Little Feat – Willin’ (1972 – Colin Firth, 2005)
4. Gram Parsons – She (1973 – Deborah Kerr, 1978)
5. Bob Seger – We’ve Got Tonight (1978 – Natalie Wood, 1980)
6. Randy Newman – Love Story (1968 – Patrick Stewart, 2005)
7. The Beatles – You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away (1965 – Terence Stamp, 1987)
8. Sandie Shaw – Always Something There To Remind Me (1964 – Marlene Dietrich, 1965)
9. Marvin Gaye – Let’s Get It On (1973 – Tim Robbins, 2010)
10. Roy Ayers – Love Will Bring Us Back Together (1979 – Damien Lewis, 2014)
11. US3 – Cantaloop (1992 – Emma Thompson, 2010)
12. Bill Withers – Lovely Day (1977 – Whoopie Goldberg, 2009)
13. Brook Benton – Rainy Night in Georgia (1969 – John Malkovich, 2001)
14. Frank Sinatra – Nice n’ Easy (1960 – George Clooney, 2003)
15. Ella Fitzgerald – I’ve Got A Crush On You (1950 – James Stewart, 1983)
16. Mel Tormé – Wonderful One (1955 – Gloria Swanson, 1981)
17. Nina Simone – Mississippi Goddam (1964 – Ian McKellen, 2003)
18. Cab Calloway – Minnie The Moocher (1931 – Fred Zinnemann, 1991)
19. Sister Rosetta Tharpe – My Journey To The Sky (1948 – Hugh Laurie, 2013)
20. London Symphony Orchestra – Va, pensiero (1970 – Hugh Grant, 1995)

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Stars Pick Your Songs Vol. 1: Musicians

May 18th, 2017 12 comments

What would happen if you had a party of famous people and let them play their favourite records? This mix has 20 musicians from a time span of 75 years choosing music “for you”, one song each.

In putting together this mix – which was tremendous fun to compile (and, I hope, is tremendous fun to listen to) – I drew from the thousands of episodes of BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs programme, which first aired in 1941 and is still going.

The programme’s format is simple: a well-known studio guest is interviewed and in the course of the often revealing conversation presents eight songs he or she would take to a desert island (to be played in the past on a wind-up grammophone and lately on a solar-powered record player). They then also choose a book and luxury item to take with them, but this won’t concern us here.

There are hundreds of recordings of Desert Island Discs available for download, and the record choices of every single “castaway” ever is listed as well. Which is where I drew the present selections from.

Of course, many songs have been listed several times; I ascribe them to only one guest. So here we have Yoko Ono choosing a Lennon song in 2007 which in 1982 was picked also by Paul McCartney. But McCartney will feature on a later mix with a different song choice.

There were other songs on this mix that were popular choices: Van Morrison’s Madame George is attributed here to Joan Armatrading. But it also was a choice of Joan Baez and Bruce Springsteen (both represented here with other songs), as well as by sculptor David Wynne and author Bernard Cornwell, neither of whom will feature in this series.

Some castaways have appeared more than once over the years; often they don’t repeat their song selections from previous appearances. But Petula Clark, who was cast away in 1982 and again in 1995, stuck with one of her choices: the Doobie Brothers’ What A Fool Believes. That song also featured in the selections of composer Marvin Hamlisch, footballer David Beckham, and the late UK comedian Victoria Wood.

The oldest song selection here is by Richard Tauber, the exiled German singer who in 1942 went for a Marlene Dietrich track from 1930, the oldest on this mix. His choice is followed by the youngest track on this mix, by Amy Winehouse, chosen in a show 65 years after Tauber by George Michael.

Tauber died in 1948, long before George Michael or Amy Winehouse were born. All three died fairly young. One castaway to feature here recently celebrated her 100th birthday: Vera Lynn. It’s her song-choice from 1951 that features here.

Lynn’s choice was a contemporary hit – and Edith Piaf song recorded just a year earlier – and many Desert Island Disc guests go for contemporary hits, maybe in a flash of excitement about a current favourite, maybe to show off how hip they are to the groovy music in the hit parades. I have mostly ignored those choices and picked songs which I suspect have been long-standing favourites by the respective celebs. But I have a suspicion that Brian Eno’s choice in 1991 of a 1950s track by gospel singer Dorothy Love Coates was the result of the Roxy Music musician having just bought her re-released albums, issued the same year.

And that’s the fun too: if one hasn’t heard the guest explain in the programme why they chose a particular song, we can ponder and imagine what that song means to them.

More mixes will follow, with actors choosing their songs as well as general celebrities and politicians & authors.

So, here’s the obvious question: what would be your eight Desert Island Disc? Tell me in the comments.

As always, this mix is time to fit on a standard CD-R, includes home-marooned covers. PW in comments.

1. David Bowie – Changes (1971 – Neil Tennant 2001)
2. The Band – Up On Cripple Creek (1969 – Emmylou Harris 2003)
3. Glen Campbell – Wichita Lineman (1968 – Annie Lennox 2005)
4. George Jones – The Door (1974 – Randy Newman 2008)
5. Bob Dylan – My Back Pages (1964 – Bob Geldof 1992)
6. Colin Hay – Beautiful World (2000 – Kylie Minogue 2015)
7. Doobie Brothers – What A Fool Believes (1978 – Petula Clark 1982/1995)
8. Roberta Flack – I’m The One (1982 – Johnny Mathis 1987)
9. James Brown – Out Of Sight (1965 – Bruce Springsteen 2016)
10. Dorothy Love Coates – Lord, Don’t Forget About Me (1950s – Brian Eno 1991)
11. Muddy Waters – Got My Mojo Workin’ (1957 – John Lee Hooker 1995)
12. Sarah Vaughan – Deep Purple (1955 – Dizzy Gillespie 1979/Tony Bennett 1972)
13. Edith Piaf – Hymne à l’Amour (1950 – Vera Lynn 1951)
14. Marlene Dietrich – Falling In Love Again (1930 – Richard Tauber 1942)
15. Amy Winehouse – Love Is A Losing Game (2006 – George Michael 2007)
16. John Lennon – Beautiful Boy (1980 – Yoko Ono 2007)
17. Jackson Browne – Late For The Sky (1974 – Joan Baez 1993)
18. Damien Rice – Volcano (2002 – Ed Sheeran 2017)
19. Nick Drake – River Man (1970 – Paul Weller 2007)
20. Van Morrison – Madame George (1968 – Joan Armatrading 1989)

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