My desert island discs – Part 1

Rock Music

Rock Routes
In search of Captain Beefheart cover
537 Essential Rock Albums cover

My desert island discs

I was just listening to the radio today as someone was trotting through their desert island discs and telling me why they had selected their favourite pieces of music.

What an impossibility.

How could anyone limit their selections to so few? Music has been an integral part of my life. It reflects my views and feelings. It has helped develop my whole perspective on life. Right from the early days of my youth I have poured over lyrics and immersed myself in the emotion and wonder of music. It is a universal language. If I had to choose between music and literature for which has had the biggest effect on my development I think I would be hard pushed to decide.

Anyway – you will be pleased to know that the BBC has decided to do a special three hour Desert Island Discs just to accommodate my essential choices because they felt that they were so profoundly brilliant. Unlike with everyone else they are going to play all my selections in their entirety!

How about that!

It still presented me with huge dilemmas. What did I leave out! I’d need at least a thousand hour programme.

Anyway, they weren’t about to do that, though I think they were quite keen. I was forced to make decisions.

These are they:

Bob Dylan – It’s Alright Ma (I’m only bleeding)

Bob Dylan was that fulcrum point around which Rock Music turned. He not only brought poetry, stories and a different structure into Rock Music, he brought politics, meaning, social commentary and fury.

This is a song that sums all that up. The poetic imagery of birth and death, the wide vista, the anger at the plastic society and how we were all being knocked into shape, the hypocrisy and greed he described all seared themselves into y brain.

I could have chosen a hundred Dylan songs but this is the one that used to send my adolescent, rebellious brain into paroxysms of anger as I deciphered what he was talking about.

Roy Harper – The Lord’s Prayer

Another epic thirty minute song/poem that burned with passions. A commentary on society, a glimpse into the mind of a human being from a different age, a yearning for something more.

Again I could have chosen a heap of Harpers but this one can keep you occupied for a lifetime. The repeating musical coda provided by Jimmy Page’s guitar that sounds deceptively simple but is fiendishly complex.

A song to tease the mind on many levels and music that soars.

Stiff Little Fingers – Suspect Device

The best of the Punk Bands. The brought the Irish troubles into perspective. Their anger was channelled into raw statements of fury. Punk was a brilliant vehicle.

What was so good was the clever use of words coupled with the searing guitars, frantic pace and social message. It moved me.

Woody Guthrie – This Land is Your Land

Woody was a phenomenon. He was the first major songwriter to take that social stance and tell the stories. He was so clever.

I love this song, particularly with the often missing verses about private property and dole queues. It should have been America’s anthem.

Woody is an international treasure.

Jimi Hendrix – Voodoo Chile (Slight return)

And still no-one comes near to that genius of guitar prowess and excitement. I can’t help but wonder what brilliance we would have seen from him. His only limitation was his imagination. I have never seen anything so exciting.

Jimi epitomised Rock Music to me – the brash excitement, showmanship and expertise. Voodoo Chile sends shivers through me.

Nick Harper – The Magnificent G7

Nick is a brilliant song-writer who is different to his Dad. This is a beautiful, haunting, delicate song with a profound message.

Our leaders are only people. World policy is ultimately sorted by seven white men in the G7. They create the mountains of grain and countries of misery. Perhaps they could do it better?

What a clever song with such strong sentiments.

Son House – Death Letter Blues

The Blues is a favourite music of mine. I always go back to it and find it satisfying. I think I like the rawness and lack of sophistication most. It is authentic in a world of overproduced plastic. It is full of emotion and passion and tells the stories of a different life.

Son House was one of the originals. He taught Robert Johnson to play. Without him there might not be Rock Music. I was bowled over by Death Letter the first time I heard it. That was at Hammersmith Odeon on a Blues package tour – Son House was the star of the night at seventy nine years of age.

Elmore James – Shake Your Moneymaker

Elmore took the old acoustic bottleneck style and electrified it. What came out was a scorching sound that blistered your ears. He rocked before rocking was invented.

I would have loved to have spent an evening in one of those sweaty Chicago night-clubs bouncing to Elmore as he scattered those slide notes off the walls and decorated them with his anguished vocals.

Shake Your Moneymaker was a belter.

Captain Beefheart – Big Eyed Beans From Venus

I first saw and heard Captain Beefheart back in 1968. On that tour he blew my world apart. I had never seen or heard anything like it. He took the delta blues, dusted it with lysergic acid and created some cosmic blues that jangled your neurones.

I think you have to see it performed live to really appreciate the phenomenal synthesis of poetry, rhythms and music. The complexity and juxtapositions of guitar and vocals with that driving bass and drums plays tricks with your head. It was as exciting as Hendrix and that is saying something.

I was never the same agin!

Big Eyed Beans from Venus is one of Rock’s greatest songs.

Country Joe and the Fish – Who am I?

I think Joe McDonald has a claim to possessing the best voice in Rock Music. Not for its power but its clarity and quality. It is best heard on numbers like this introspective anthem and the anti-war dirge – Untitled Protest.

I thought this band was one of the most extreme, political and original to come out of the West Coast Acid Rock Scene. They epitomised what it was all about for me with their first three albums.

Who Am I? is a delicate song with depth and beauty. It sends me.

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