Friday, September 13, 2013

Song of the Week #263 - Rob's Desert Island Discs

Update: if you just want to listen to this week's songs then click here for a playlist that'll run through them all.

Bear with me dear listener, this week's episode is quite long and was put together over a number of evenings. Hopefully it runs together seamlessly. I almost crashed my bicycle this week because I was singing one of the tunes below in my head and got a bit lost in the moment!

A while ago I put out a call for listeners interested in letting me know the tracks that might make up a "Desert Island Disc" for them. Many thanks to all the respondents. I must say that the wide range of tunes suggested has enthused and entertained me a great deal. This week I'll reveal the 12 tracks I think I probably couldn't live without if I had a choice and in future weeks I'll comment on those of others.

Before I start I must acknowledge the BBC who have been broadcasting a Desert Island Discs radio programme since 1942. Check them out online - I'm listening to John Peel talking about his faves as I'm typing. The BBC also asks their "castaways" for a book they'd take and a luxury item. I'll do that too.

Choosing 12 favourite tracks is hard. My initial list had 21 gems on it! But, do I select the ones to sing along to? Are they the ones that make me happy? Do they need to meld together in an all encompassing playlist? In choosing mine I've made my selections based on the fact that they are songs that I'm happy to hear over and over and also that have had a significant impact on my musical palette. They are in no particular order other than the first one which is far and away the most important slab of rock music to me.

I could've put almost any AC/DC track on this list and been a happy camper. But this is the song that turned me into the rock and roll tragic that I am today. The power of those first E, D and A chords is unstoppable.

AC/DC - Back In Black -

I wasn't an early convert to Metallica. It wasn't until I was at university and playing in a band that I really gave them a chance. This track comes from their first album and it is just amazing. An instantly recognisable introduction sowed the seeds for me to become a fan. I played this song on guitar with a bunch of students a couple of times and it's a heap of fun.

Metallica - Seek and Destroy -

Billy Bragg's music has been with me for a long time now and I can assure you that it's not getting old or stale. Lyrics written almost 30 years ago still resonate with honesty and authenticity. I guess that Billy would be the artist I'd most like to sit down with for a chat. Although given my experience with Julia Zemiro I'd probably be tongue tied and say something dumb like, "I'm your biggest fan". This particular recording was made on an Australian TV show where Billy had been part of a panel along with a number of our politicians. The next night he played here in Canberra and was quite obviously drained and probably saddened by the experience. He's coming back in March 2014 so I hope that circumstances are such that he's able to be in a different frame of mind than he was.

Billy Bragg - Ideology -

I've always had a soft spot for country music. But the cliches of wives, dogs and girlfriends leaving on the road to Amarillo get boring fairly quickly. In 2004 I thought that I should check out Steve Earle on the strength of the "Copperhead Road" single. For once in my life I started with a greatest hits collection. It was $12 well spent. I like the Springsteen-esque lyrics combined with the hillbilly sound. Since that day I've collected all of Steve's recordings - there's quite a variety in there of rock, country, bluegrass and folk. I chose this particular song because it's one I like a lot in the car. Also it haunts me. It was the song playing as I drove to the hospital when one of the students in my care had attempted suicide (she was in an ambulance, not in my car). It was pretty hard to focus on driving with the dreadful events that had just occurred racing in my head and this song, cranked up to maximum volume, banished those demons for the 5 minutes it took me to get to the Emergency Department. Thankfully the girl lived.

Steve Earle - Good Ol' Boy (Gettin' Tough) -

At high school I was very much not a Kylie fan. I regarded her music as processed, manufactured, candy pop. And to an extent I still do. But the album that this track comes from is very different. Kylie assembled a "real" band and the songwriting is quite different. This concert was broadcast on TV and I had it on VHS for ages (I probably still do) and was a revelation. Guitars and Kylie - woo hoo!

Kylie Minogue - Some Kind of Bliss -

Seeing Henry Rollins play in Melbourne in 1994 may be as close to a religious experience as I'll ever get. After excellent support acts (Kim Salmon and then Tumbleweed) the Rollins Band hit the stage. All the lights were turned up full and just left to burn white hot. And Henry, a seething mass of muscle, tattoos and aggression sang his heart out for 90 minutes. I knew none of the songs but it didn't matter. I was speechless and thankful for the earplugs! Henry is an interesting guy; an author, speaker, actor, commentator and also a radio show host. I read his books and listen to his radio show as well as seeing him do his spoken word thing any time he's in town - it's all great and keeps the old grey matter ticking over. This song was played at that show, I think, and is one of my favourites from the band. I always describe their music as heavy jazz with a very angry poet shouting over the top but this one is a bit more straight ahead.

Rollins Band - Tearing -

I was turned off Bob Marley as a kid because a certain group claimed him as their own. I remember being told at quite a young age that Bob wasn't for white boys. Times change and so did I. I'm still a white boy (whiter than white with my Scots suntan) but Bob is important to me. This song, and I may have the concept all wrong is about the fact that we should sing about the future rather than always paying for past sins. Looking forwards I guess.

Bob Marley - Redemption Song -

On February 1, 1991 I missed out on seeing the Ramones in Melbourne. Why? Because no-one I was in town with wanted to go and at 19 I wasn't confident enough to go on my own. Aaarrrggghh!! It was a toss up between this song and "The KKK took my baby away". In the end this is the song for the desert island because it's fantastic but also reminds me of so many other bands as a result of the lyrics. It makes me think of how much time I did spend listening to the radio - scouring the dial for cool songs and interesting stations. I'm sad that for this generation that really no longer happens. There's an Australian version of this song by Painters and Dockers too - check it out sometime.

The Ramones - Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio? -

The first Johnny Cash CD I bought was a compilation cheerily titled "Murder". Yep, it's all songs about killing and most of it is fairly dark and morbid. But don't think that Johnny is encouraging you to go postal on your wives and girlfriends because he's certainly not. It's more a study or commentary about the darker side of life. He's got other compilations called "God" and "Love". The "Murder" CD isn't one to listen to just before bed or if you're in a bad mood. It is, however, one that really gets me thinking about justice and the situations that people end up in.

Johnny Cash - Delia's Gone -

Neil Young is awesome. The grungy electric guitar, the elegant acoustic finger picking and everything in between. I almost chose "The Needle and the Damage Done" but for a desert island it was a bit of a downer. Also in contention was "Welfare Mothers"; a cool song with a groove I like. But in the end F!#*in Up fits in with my mindset quite often. I'm more of a "don't mess it up, don't mess it up, d'oh!" kinda guy but the sentiment is similar.

Neil Young - F!#*in Up - (language warning on this one)

I have a live concert DVD of Tom with The Heartbreakers playing the next song. It's the first tune in the show and I'm not sure how they go on as it is such a great version. Another simple and cool riff. He's my favourite Wilbury too.

Tom Petty - Jammin' Me -

Tom Waits can be funny and sad at the same time. His descriptions of the American urban landscape draw me in. It's beat poetry with seedy whiskey soaked jazz and I love it. Tom also pens the best song titles in the business. "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis" was a close second to this one.

Tom Waits - Eggs and Sausage (In A Cadillac with Susan Michelson) -

It was extremely unfashionable to be a hard rock and heavy metal fan in the mid to late 1980s. That's when I was at high school. I had my mind blown by bands like AC/DC, Motley Crue, Stryper, Iron Maiden, Suicidal Tendencies, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, WASP, KISS and anyone else with an acronym and a logo. It made me yearn for long hair, a leather jacket, a Marshall amplifier and an electric guitar. I got three out of four eventually. I'd love to tell you that my parents happily fed my addiction but I'd be lying. Mum was a bit bemused but took me to the record shop to pore over LPs I couldn't afford. And when I could she smiled and nodded. I remember clearly buying the AC/DC live album "If You Want Blood You've Got It" and Mum laughing with the shop owner at Maxfield's Sports and Records in downtown Moe about how much the family would enjoy it! But she let me be. Dad was different. You have to understand that I learned the guitar mostly from watching my Dad's fingers as well as from a few lessons. He was, and remains, my biggest musical influence. But he didn't understand why anyone liked electric guitars and certainly didn't like rock music at the time. He comes from a folk tradition that to me was all encompassing. If he'd been a Dylan fan then the move to the electric guitar would've been a sacrilege to him too! To his credit, however, he agreed to let me have the old stereo system in my bedroom and whilst I knew that he was fairly disapproving of the popular music I liked, he didn't stop me listening to it. There was a pivotal moment though when Mum took me to buy my first electric guitar. Initially skeptical my Dad later told me that when he saw the joy it gave me and how much time I spent playing that he understood. And he did.

This last track was my theme song for so long and not as a result of the long form music video. Indeed, I just wanted to rock too. Twisted Sister look funny - they're almost a parody of the whole glam rock movement but this song meant so much to kids like me in their bedrooms playing through small practice amplifiers.

Twisted Sister - I Wanna Rock -

I've played in quite a few bands and with a variety of styles. They've all been a lot of fun and some more serious than others. But when it comes down to it nothing beats a simple rock song played with a tight band. Steve Earle sings, "with my back to the riser I'll make my stand". It's a great feeling.

Well, a book and a luxury item...the book is a no brainer for me. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's "One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich" is the best I've ever read. It's about a prisoner in a Soviet labour camp in the 1950s. It's a brutal depiction of what passes for Ivan's existence over just one day. Solzhenitsyn himself was in a gulag from 1945-53 for daring to write a derogatory comment about Stalin. It's only a short book but if you take the time to read it you'll feel the grind of the existence of the prisoner and be chilled to the bone.

For a luxury item I'd take my resonator guitar. There's really no point in taking an electric guitar to a desert island! With the guitar I can play all the songs I've left off the list and probably write some more as well. I bought the resonator on a whim and it's my go to instrument. It's twangy, loud and subtle all at once depending on how you play it. I can sit quietly playing that guitar and imagine I'm on a stage playing to thousands - that's how it makes me feel.

There you go. If you've read all that then well done! Feel free to send me your list of tracks if you'd like to. You don't need to provide commentary if you choose not to.

As I've written and edited this over a few weeks I've listened to a heap of music. I stumbled across footage of Neil Young inducting Tom Waits into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame which is pretty cool. Tom, in his thank you speech, describes his wife Kathleen as an incandescent light that guides him and keeps him alive and sparkling. I'm not sparkling so much these days but Tom's words sum up very well how I feel about Alison.

Have a great weekend,

DJ Rob

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