Desperate Island Disco

Well, Sue Lawley’s head in a jar, here we are again. It’s time to revisit the Desert Island Disc list, on this my fourth visit to the island. Yes, I like what you’ve done with the place. Here we are with a snapshot of what’s moving me right now. This time, two records survive from my previous visit, sand in their grooves, plus there’s a different version of a song that was on the previous list. Without further ado:

  1. Jessica – The Allman Brothers Band. A perennial this, something I’ve been listening to for forty years, since the Radio Caroline days. In many ways, this could just be background noise, and sometimes it is, but then it will catch me, and I’ll pay attention, and kick myself for not paying attention to the first three minutes, or whatever it is. It’s not really that Top Gear bit I love so much as the extended improvisation in the middle, which is the bit that will catch my ear. Pentatonic scales: so endlessly versatile.
  2. Party of One – Brandi Carlile. So much in the title alone! This one is new enough to me (and this list) that I didn’t know that title, but I love it just the same. Such a great song, with lines like, “You should always let the sun go down on your anger / Let it burn you to sleep” — but it’s not just the lines. It’s the melody, that falling line around “I loved you the first time I saw you / And you know I love you still” grabs you in the guts. And, great songwriter that she is, Brandi Carlile knows that the words don’t always have to be such a stretch. The repeat of “I am yours, I am yours…” towards the end is another gut punch, and then the lush strings come in to the close. The problem with this one, Sue, is which 30 seconds to play? Because each 30 seconds is a different song.
  3. I Won’t Dance – Frank Sinatra. Last time it was the Count Basie version from 1962, arranged by Neil Hefti; this time, it’s got to be the Nelson Riddle Orchestra version from 1957’s A Swingin’ Affair, which is my favourite Sinatra album. And this song! The second run-through of the lyric, as Frank raises the energy, and improvises a “Ring-a-ding-ding”, is such a joy.
  4. Saturday’s Song – Hiss Golden Messenger. A relatively new discovery for me, MC Taylor’s voice and songwriting are now two of my favourite things, something to turn to when I want to find my peace. His music is like getting into a warm bath, which might not be something that would have appealed to 17-year-old me, but. When I was that age, my habitual way of listening to music was under the warm bedclothes with a radio pressed to my ear. So yes, I do love music that makes me feel warm and comfortable, always have.
  5. Something Good Coming – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Surprised myself with this one. I could almost automatically reach for “Learning to Fly” or “Refugee” or “Wildflowers”, but here I am, Sue, picking a late-period number from their album Mojo. It’s a slow build, a mood piece, and maybe that was the mood I was in when I made this list. It’s a sound that soothes you in the background but can also strike you between the ribs when you pay attention to the words. It’s quintessential late-period Heartbreakers, too, because they’re such an incredible unit, they could noodle for hours, playing in the gaps left by each other. Nobody here is doing very much at all, but it all swims together into the groove around Petty’s muttered vocal. Mike Campbell on guitar: never forget how good he is.
  6. Young and Angry Again – Lori McKenna. For me, this song from the great songwriter links to Petty’s American Girl; with it’s opening line, for example: “Sittin’ on the roof to get closer to tomorrow”, and later on you hear Springsteen: “Telling yourself all you’ll ever need / Is a heart full of fire and gasoline”. But the melody and wistful vocal are pure McKenna.
  7. With a Little Luck – Paul McCartney & Wings. I used to hate synthy sounds like this, and I sort of still do; I’d rather a hammond organ, any day. And yet, the stripped back arrangement of this allows McCartney’s superb vocal to shine through, and it’s that voice in the end that gets you, a performance that lifts what might otherwise be a throwaway pop song onto a level that makes people weep. A song that throws people back to some earlier, simpler time.
  8. The Pretender – Jackson Browne. Finally, and forever: my theme song.
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