Desert island discs


At some point soon, I’m going to have to come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably never appear on Desert Island Discs. Not as long as I keep putting off writing the several books I have planned in my head in favour of the instant gratification that blogging brings, anyway. At a friend’s kitchen table one evening back in December, a few of us started discussing our all-time favourite songs, albums and books. And then a few months later, someone I follow on Twitter shared his own list and over 50 of us piled in with our responses.

My list has changed since then, and will probably change every five minutes months or so until the day I die. But compiling your eight-song castaway catalogue is a lovely way to kill half an hour in bed on a Sunday morning. Or two hours on a motorway. Or a tipsy walk home after a second date.

So here are my current desert island discs…

  1. Transformation from Disney’s Beauty & The Beast. Go from about the 1:47-mark and tell me you don’t get chills. And then again at 2:32. It’s lush, it’s tear-jerking, it’s hopelessly romantic.
  2. Maggot Brain, Funkadelic. Ignore the frankly terrifying spoken-word bit at the beginning, and start here. What I love about this 10-minute one-take wonder is that it’s like someone’s said to Eddie Hazel, “Hey man, how would you play ‘some pain’?” It’s an epic of anguish.
  3. Train in Vain, The Clash. Probably my most controversial opinion (apart from the one about hot squash being PERFECT when you’re falling apart with a mystery summer bug) is that Train In Vain is the best Clash song. I’ve deployed this opinion as both flirtation and provocation and it never fails to divide a room. Anyway, it’s an auditory conundrum: it’s the cheeriest melody to ever grace a break-up song, but the moments of sheer yearning – such as “you must explain why this must be” – land like punches.
  4. Juliet, Thea Gilmore. In 2003, my uncle took me to Hove’s Old Market to see a singer-songwriter he’d been talking about for a few weeks – and so begun one of the most enduring musical loves of my life. I’ll never forget how Gilmore introduced this song: “this woman just started talking at me, telling me her life story, and I thought… I’m going to write a song about you”. I loathe people being wanky about writing (“hashtag-am-writing” can get in the bin, for a start), but knowing that with a few verses or paragraphs you can immortalise people however you see fit is deliciously pleasing. As long as names are changed to protect the guilty. Gilmore’s lyrics could stand alone as poems; no-one crafts a line like she does.
  5. Free Fallin’, Tom Petty. It was between that and American Girl, and Free Fallin’ edged it for personal reasons. The aforementioned uncle played me Full Moon Fever on cassette when I was about 12, and when I picked up the guitar a few months later, the album’s opener was the first thing I taught myself. I was so fucking proud (even though it’s only three chords). Every time I hear it, I’m 13 again, it’s the summer holidays, and I’m sitting upstairs in my gran’s cottage, melting in the heat and forcing unskilled fingers into chord shapes. If I knew how to build a time machine, I would.
  6. What’s It Like, Lissie. Because scruffy girls with guitars don’t just write about heartbreak. Hearing this song back in 2013 was a mini-revelation – with its bluesy swagger, it’s hot, but low-key hot. It’s beer and tight jeans, not champagne and lingerie. It’s band t-shirts and eyeliner, not fake tan and bodycon. It is, in short, seduction on the only level I understand. The most explicit lyric is, “You won’t believe what I want to do – rock you like a honeymoon” and somehow, that’s enough.
  7. To be on a desert island without this song would be very foolish indeed.
  8. Picture the scene: it’s 2001, and the women in the charts are either belting divas (Mariah, Christina Aguilera, Faith Hill), sassy girl groups (Destiny’s Child, Mis-Teeq), or… Dido. Then, out of nowhere, appears a tiny teenage girl in jeans and trainers, playing guitar and hollering out a storming self-penned pop-rock track about having one of those crushes that drives you bonkers. The music video is classic early-2000s nonsense, but endearing nonetheless. In 2017,  Branch’s performance of  Everywhere at London’s Lexington (her first UK gig in 15 years) took the track far, far away from its perky origins and turned it into something raw, heartbreaking, and entirely perfect (be right back, just gonna go sob like I did when I saw it live).


In the traditional Radio 4 format, as well as your eight tracks, you get a book, and a luxury item – which can’t be anything too useful like a boat, plane, laptop or phone.

The book I’d take to a far-flung island the only thing on this list that I don’t think will ever change for me – it’s Little WomenI pretty much know it by heart but as well as being one of the most comforting stories ever put to paper, in Jo March, we have the perfect model for how to live a feminist life. She is determined to make a living from her writing, she turns down a rich man because though he could save her family, she feels he’s wrong for her*, and she goes off to New York to make a creative life of her own.

*there’s actually a lot of debate in book-nerd-girl circles about Jo’s relationship choices (of course there is). But I’ll defend to the death all women’s rights to make poor relationship choices occasionally – even fictional women.

Luxury: pens and paper. What else?

If you fancy sharing your eight tracks with me, I’d be fucking honoured. Leave a comment on here, find me on Twitter or Instagram (or Facebook if we’re actual friends, which seems likely; my readership’s not that big).

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