Mar 252012

Desert Island Discs turned 70 last year. Launched January 29, 1942, BBC Radio 4′s longest continuously running show has a great new web presence on the BBC site, complete with a searchable database of recordings and history.

Desert Island Disc Creator and Host Roy Plomley (courtesy BBC)


Desert Island Discs, created by its original host Roy Plomley, asks guests to assemble a list of eight recordings they’d take if stranded on a desert island. They’re also allowed one book and one luxury. Heads of state, musicians, movie stars — mainly British but often not — appear. The language is music and you’re on the record. The discussions about the choices often get quite private. People talk about music and what it means to them, which, on a good day, can lead to juicy scandal.

Norman Mailer asked for “a stick of marijuana” as his luxury in 1979; Piers Morgan admitted to tapping people’s phones as editor of News of the World; a famous British Rugby player, Brian Moore, admitted to being a certified nail technician who paints the nails of transvestites at Madame JoJo’s Nightclub in London.

Edits of the tunes are played and, at the end of the show, the guest chooses their favorite of the bunch. Original host Plomley was strict about the rules — eight discs, one book and one luxury only — but subsequent hosts have been less so. The “castaways,” as the celebrity guests are known, are also allowed the bible or its equivalent, and the complete works of Shakespeare.

Plomley died in 1985. There have been three hosts since: Sir Michael Parkinson, Sue Lawley, and the current host, Kirsty Young, a Scot whose inquisitive mind and wonderful accent make listening a great pleasure. There have been over 3,000 castaways. The most requested Desert Island tune to date is Ode to Joy, from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

Pulse! Issue #1: Supertramp, Bob Wills and the brand-new MTV


I have been a Desert Island Discs fan since 1983. I learned about it while I was preparing for the first issue of Tower Records’ Pulse! magazine. I interviewed a couple members of Supertramp about their newest release, “Famous Last Words,” the followup to the multi-platinum Grammy winner, “Breakfast in America.” It was the last record that included Rodger Hodgson. Hodgson, Davies and drummer Bob Seibenberg submitted lists of their favorite recordings. Saxophonist John Helliwell and bassist Dougie Thompson came for a chat, and we sat down for an hour or two in a studio in LA.

As a kid, I was a fan of Crawdaddy and Melody Maker. I love to scan stories for details about what musicians really liked and listened to and then I’d check them out. When I worked as a clerk at Tower, I loved to share those details with people looking for suggestions. I love the fact that musicians often have eclectic and wildly unpredictable tastes.

The Supertramp guys, though, weren’t exactly unpredictable. Sax player Helliwell liked classics and jazz — a Christopher Hogwood version of “The Messiah,” a Von Karajan “Mozart Mass in C Minor” and classic straight-ahead jazz like “The Jazz Messengers” by Art Blakey and Horace Silver. Roger Hodgson’s list was filled with rock classics: the Beatles “White Album” and “Sgt. Pepper;” “Bridge Over Troubled Waters;” “Dark Side of the Moon;” “Who’s Next;” Jimi Hendrix’ “Axis: Bold as Love.” Davies was more adventurous and jazzy, with “Miles Ahead” and “Kind of Blue” and “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” by Traffic. Seibenberg listed “Music From Big Pink by The Band; “Night Tripper” and “Gumbo” from Dr. John and “The King of the Surf Guitar” by Dick Dale.

At one point, Thompson said, “Hey, have you heard of Desert Island Discs? What you’re asking is like that — favorites, but they ask people which things they like so much they would like to be stranded with them on a desert island.” I’d never heard of the show. But it sounded like such a good idea we took the opportunity to ask our readers to contribute a few in the following month’s issue. We expanded the BBC DIDs to ten and published a call out to readers in a box embedded in the story. In the next couple of weeks we got 10 or 12.

Before long, we were getting hundreds each month. Over the next 20 or so years, I think we ran close to 5,000. Later, when I launched Tower’s Internet store and worked with Jon Kraft at Savage Beast on recommendation technology in our web store (Jon created Pandora with Music Genome Founders Tim Westergren and Will Glaser), I realized in one sense that Desert Island Discs were a precursor to collaborative filtering. Simplified, collaborative filtering is “if I like X and Y and my friend likes X, Y and Z, odds are I’ll like Z.” Over the years, countless readers thanked each other for helping them discover one band or another this way. I love Pandora, but I think Desert Island Discs’ human filter delivers some pretty great results too.

After a recent fire, I came across a bunch of old issues that made it through the blaze. As I sat flipping through the smelly burned pages I came to appreciate some of the things buried between the pages of almost 20 years of the magazine. It occurred to me these time capsules of musicians favorites might be of interest. So, I thought I’d post a few Desert Island Discs from some of the musicians we featured in Pulse and asking people who come across this blog to do the same.

And I’ve included links to the Amazon download store. What the hell.

Please do post your own!

Mike Farrace Sacramento, CA 2012

Supertramp’s Desert Island Discs March, 1983:

Roger Hodgson:

  1. The White Album (Remastered) — The Beatles
  2. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Remastered) — The Beatles
  3. Abbey Road — The Beatles
  4. Imagine — John Lennon
  5. Bridge over Troubled Waters – Simon & Garfunkle
  6. Dark Side of the Moon — Pink Floyd
  7. Who’s Next — The Who
  8. Selling England by the Pound — Genesis
  9. Band on the Run — Wings
  10. Axis: Bold As Love — Jimi Hendrix

Rick Davies:

  1. Miles Ahead — Miles Davis
  2. Focus — Stan Getz
  3. Rubber Soul — The Beatles
  4. Blues and the Abstract Truth — Oliver Nelson
  5. It’s About Time — Joe Morello
  6. Spooky Two — Spooky Tooth
  7. Kind of Blue — Miles Davis
  8. Low Spark of High Heeled Boys — Traffic
  9. Good Times — Shakey Jake
  10. In the Court of the Crimson King — King Crimson

John Helliwell:

  1. Handel: Messiah Christopher Hogwood
  2. Johann Sebastian Bach: Brandenberg Concertos Kurt Ristenpart and Chamber Orchestra of the Saar
  3. Mozart: Great Mass in C minor; Adagio and Fugue for Strings — Herbert Von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic
  4. The Jazz Messengers — Art Blakey and Horace Silver
  5. Heavy Weather — Weather Report
  6. Live — Donny Hathaway
  7. There’s No Place Like America Today — Curtis Mayfield
  8. Somethin’ Else — Cannonball Adderley; Miles Davis
  9. Sonny Rollins — The Contemporary Leaders
  10. Modern Jazz Classics — Art Pepper

Bob Siebenberg:

  1. The Band — The Band
  2. Music From Big Pink — The Band
  3. Mr. Fantasy — Traffic/li>
  4. Spooky Two — Spooky Tooth
  5. With a Little Help From My Friends — Joe Cocker
  6. The Night Tripper — Dr. John
  7. Dr. John’s Gumbo (US Release) — Dr. John
  8. Bop ‘Til You Drop — Ry Cooder
  9. Steve Winwood — Steve Winwood
  10. King of the Surf Guitar — Dick Dale and the Deltones

Dougie Thompson:

  1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Remastered) — The Beatles
  2. The White Album (Remastered) — The Beatles
  3. John Barleycorn Must Die — Traffic
  4. Live at the Fillmore — Mothers of Invention
  5. In The Court Of The Crimson King — King Crimson
  6. Bookends — Simon & Garfunkel
  7. Stage Fright — The Band
  8. Who’s Next — The Who
  9. Time Loves a Hero — Little Feat
  10. Face Value — Phil Collins

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