I Just Can't Get Enough: Desert Island Discs Archive


Yesterday I had some friends coming over and I knew I needed to clean, but that's not my favorite thing to do.  And I thought, "If only I had some new music to listen to!"  I'm trying not to buy anything on iTunes these days in order to save money, but it's cut back on the steady flow of new music I used to have going.

So I thought, what's free?  Podcasts!  I don't listen to many podcasts.  I get overwhelmed by the variety and sheer volume of them.  Where do I start?  What do I feel like listening to?

I decided I'd search for some of my favorite actors/comedians, and download podcasts featuring them.  Of course I searched for Tim Minchin, and his Desert Island Discs came up.  I'd heard his DID before, on youtube, along with David Tennant's.  I'd never thought to search iTunes for them!  And iTunes has loads: archived from 1986 - present, for free!

If you're unfamiliar, it's a BBC Radio 4 show that's been on since 1942, where a host (currently Kirsty Young) asks famous people from all areas (politics, entertainment, literature, etc.) to hypothetically prepare to be marooned as a 'castaway' on a desert island.   They get 8 songs (and I assume a means to play them), 3 books: the Bible, the complete works of Shakespeare, and one of the individual's choosing, along with one luxury.  They are also asked to pick one favorite song of the 8 chosen.

The host asks questions of the castaway about their lives and how they think they'd do on the island in between listening to the songs and why they chose them.   It's like a mini-autobiography/therapy session with MUSIC.  Is that heaven or what?  It feels so private and special to share a favorite song with someone you admire from afar.  To learn the song their mother sang to them at night, or that they sing to their own children.

From the few that I've heard, most people picks songs that have personal significance for them, reminding them of family or lovers, as opposed to merely their 8 favorite songs or what they consider the greatest 8 songs ever written.  Julie Andrews picked a song that her and her husband Blake Edwards listened to when courting: Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major.  Or Elvis Costello chose a recording of his father singing "At Last."  Which is why I find it shocking they've had so many people on for more than one episode.  I mean, I know that you can change your music taste over the years, but would the compositions most personal to you and your early life change?  Perhaps.

Other people I've heard chose songs from their own work: Juliet Stevenson chose a Bach sonata that was used in her fabulous movie Truly, Madly, Deeply (and she chose it as her favorite), and Alan Alda chose Mozart's Clarinet quintet in A major, which was played in the series finale of M*A*S*H.

As for the 'one luxury' afforded each castaway, I was initially surprised how many people chose a piano (that could stay eternally tuned).  But the more I thought about it, I realized what a great choice it is: if you don't know how to play, you'd have all the time in the world to learn.  And once you did (or if you were already proficient), you could write your own music, or play songs that weren't included in your allotted 8 tracks.  Plus, if it's a grand, you could lay beneath it for shelter!  In any case, I loved the idea of bringing something you've always wanted to learn/use, and taking the opportunity on the island to put your boredom to good use.

As for the extra book, I've liked Juliet Stevenson's response best: a book of poems.  She said she worried she'd grow too tired of reading the same novel over and over, and I like the idea of being able to learn that many poems by heart.  She picked the complete works of W.B. Yeats.  (Really, you should just listen to Juliet's episode before any others.  Her voice is so sublime, and her answers/musings are so wise and human.)

As you'll see from my selections below, I tended to go for musicians and actors.  So far there's been much more classical music chosen than I expected. The music clips have been shortened for copyright/licensing reasons, but that's alright--it usually takes about 30 seconds for me to decide if I am interested in a song or not.  I'm slightly ashamed to say that since yesterday afternoon, I've now downloaded over 100 episodes!

I've started going through 1991 - 1995 first, which has included Alan Alda, Elvis Costello, Julie Andrews, Juliet Stevenson, Joan Baez, Douglas Adams, Phil Collins, Hugh Grant, George Martin, Petula Clark, and Hugh Laurie.

Here's who I downloaded for 1986 - 1990: Jonathan Pryce, Pauline Collins, Elaine Paige, Joan Armatrading, Stephen Fry, Rowan Atkinson, Hal Prince, Joanna Lumley, Maya Angelou, Eric Clapton, Lenny Henry, and Elton John.

1996 - 1999: Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Sian Phillips, Michael Crawford, Patricia Routledge, Jennifer Saunders, Luise Rainer, Harry Enfield, Richard Curtis, Judi Dench, Anthony Minghella, Gene Wilder, and John Cleese.

2000 - 2004: Tim Rice, Graham Norton, Stephen Sondheim, Emmylou Harris, Claude-Michel Schonberg, George Clooney, Sir Ian McKellen, Donald Sutherland, Nick Hornby, Margaret Atwood, Philip Pullman, Brian May, Sue Johnston, Ewan McGregor, Cameron Mackintosh, and JK Rowling.

2005 - 2011: Tim Robbins, Rob Brydon, Emma Thompson, Gok Wan, David Tennant, Sir Michael Caine, Morrissey, David Mitchell, David Walliams, Bill Bailey, Annie Lennox, Penelope Wilton, Ricky Gervais, Yoko Ono, Joanna Lumley, Ruthie Henshall, Jo Brand, Matt Lucas, Simon Cowell, Colin Firth, Imelda Staunton, Michael Ball, Alfie Boe, and Patrick Stewart.

2012 - Present: James Corden, Julian Fellowes, Mark Gatiss, Harriet Walter, and Martin Sheen.

If you're wondering if your favorite actor/author/musician/politican has been on the show, feel free to search their archive, then download it for free!  Or you can search by song, luxury item, or book.  You can also download episodes from the website that aren't yet on iTunes, like I did!  Eric Idle (1976), Julie Walters (1985), Paul McCartney (1982), Sondheim again (1980), Shirley MacLaine (1983), Terry Jones (1983), Petula Clark again (1982), James Mason (1981), Natalie Wood (1980), Michael Palin (1979), Rex Harrison (1979), Lauren Bacall (1979), Mel Brooks (1978), Derek Jacobi (1978), Omar Sharif (1978), Glynis Johns (1976), and P L Travers (1977).

There are, however, glaring omissions.  Where is Dawn French?  Peter O'Toole?  Kenneth Branagh?  Tom Hiddleston?  Catherine Tate?  Robert Webb?  Madeleine L'Engle!  Tom Robbins!  Rufus Wainwright, Kenny Loggins, Paul Simon, Stevie Nicks, Miranda Hart, Simon Pegg, Dylan Moran, Alan Carr, Justin Lee Collins, Tom Baker, Francis Ford Coppola, Wes Anderson...

Will my next project after listening to the Rolling Stone Top 500 be listening to every episode of DID since 1942?  It's very possible.  Maybe only then will I feel qualified to share my own picks!


jonathan edmund said...

You're so pop culture literate and I love love love that about you.

Maryann said...

thank you, friend!

Linda said...

So I have to ask--

If you were on a desert island, and could bring one luxury item (assume that all your basic needs will be met), what would it be?

Maryann said...

Linda, I will have to save it for my DID post! But unless I can come up with something between then and now, it will probably be a piano. :)