Tag Archives: Desert Island Discs

Rocks In The Attic #506: Various Artists – ‘The Sounds Of Time A Dramatisation In Sound Of The Years 1934-1949’ (1957)

RITA#506I love records like this; time-capsules from another era. Back when this was released in 1957, the only way for a household to have such a recording was on a vinyl record. Television was still in its infancy, and video wouldn’t see mainstream acceptance for another twenty years.

It’s easy then to imagine the whole household gathering around the record player to listen to this recording. It’s nice to picture that kind of shared experience. One day, I might try and sit my daughters down and force them to listen to this. I’ll be lucky if they don’t roll their eyes and ask me to turn the boring talking off.

This record is full of famous moments, essentially the history of the Second World War, bookended by a couple of years either side. There isn’t a great deal of light relief, but it’s all fascinating stuff; some of it well-known, some of it new to my ears.

One of the podcasts I listen to regularly is Desert Island Discs, a slimmed-down version of the Radio 4 broadcast. It’s essentially the same as what is transmitted live, except that the songs are shortened quite drastically for copyright reasons. A couple of years ago, one of the “castaways”, the novelist Vikram Seth, chose as one of his discs a recording of a Nightingale singing as a wartime bombing raid passes overhead. It’s a fantastic recording, the purity of the birdsong contrasting completely with the ominous drones of the bombers. I was so happy to find that a short clip of the recording is included on this record.

The story behind the Nightingale and bombers is worth sharing also. Every May, the BBC would record birdsong for live transmission. On the day in question – May 19th, 1942 – a quick-thinking engineer pulled the plug on the transmission, believing that the sound of the bombers could potentially forewarn German forces of the impending attack. A full recording exists, with the 197 bombers recorded on their way to Mannheim, and only 186 recorded on their return.

Hit: “Oh the humanity…” – The giant airship Hindenburg bursts into flames at Lakehurst, New Jersey, May 6th, 1937

Hidden Gem: Nightingale in a Surrey wood matches its voice against the drone of a thousand bombers striking at Germany

Rocks In The Attic #461: Stevie Wonder – ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ (1976)

RITA#461Songs In The Key Of Life is one of those double albums that’s like an entire Desert Island Discs episode in one package. There aren’t many double albums that I’d be happy listening to over and over again as I grew my beard out and learned how to spear fish, but this is one of them. I just hope there’s a lady on the island that I can dance with when I’m blasting out As or Sir Duke.

It’s interesting looking at the singles that were released off this album to promote the album – only I Wish, Sir Duke, Another Star and As. So that means no 7” releases for either Pasttime Paradise – famous more for its use by Coolio in Gangsta’s Paradise – or Isn’t She Lovely – undoubtedly the most famous song off the record – but denied a single release by Stevie himself who wouldn’t allow Motown to release a shortened edit of the six and a half minute song.

It’s a testament to Stevie’s talent and sheer dedication to his craft that he was able to pull a double-album’s worth of such strong material together, and that’s not including the bonus 7” record which adds a further four songs onto the running time. Soul music and R&B isn’t known for its double albums. The genre is borne out of dancing and partying, and who wants to flip a record over that many times? In fact, for almost the same reason, the other genre that tends to eschew the double album format is punk. Well, until London Calling came along – a genre-spanning collection similar in scope and confidence to Songs In The Key Of Life.

Speaking of flipping the record over, Songs In The Key Of Life is one of those weird records with the A/D B/C format, built for record changers. I still haven’t seen one of those near-mythical machines so I’m yet to experience one in action, but I always think it would be better to order the sides A/C B/D and then if you had two turntables and a mixer you could seamlessly play the album without stopping.

Isn’t She Lovely reminds me of the times I used to visit friends in Wexford, Ireland. We used to go and see a covers band called the Dylan Bible Band, who used to do a great cover of the song. It’s built to be played endlessly, when you have the right players (which Dylan Bible did), and it sounded great just going around and around as a seemingly infinite chord progression, just like Stevie’s version.

Hit: Isn’t She Lovely

Hidden Gem: Contusion