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Alistair Livingston Desert Island Discs

Desert Island Discs- Alistair Livingston

Alistair Livingstone was a part of the Kill Your Pet Puppy collective, danced onstage with the Mob at many gigs and was one of the most inspiring writers out there, numbering the Encyclopedia of Ecstsasy amongst hos more notable publications. He writes a blog at

By the time punk’s Year Zero arrived in 1976, I had been listening to pop and rock music for 13 years. My earliest musical memory is of listening to the Beatles ‘She Loves You’ which came out in August 1963 when I was not quite five years old. The records I have chosen for my Desert Island Discs are a countdown to punk. Looking through the collection, it is a puzzle how I arrived at punk at all. There are some pretty un-punky tunes in the mix.. The selection is slightly truncated since I was thinking of a top ten style countdown rather than the eight records allowed. Plus I had added a zero (for Year Zero) and a minus 1 for a post-punk tune by Ozrics Tentacles making 12 discs altogether.

8. The Beatles – All Too Much recorded 1967, released 1969.
Until Christmas 1971, we did not have a record player in our house. To go with the new record player my youngest brother bought the Beatles Yellow Submarine album. I thought it would all be ‘kiddy songs’ like the title track (he was six and I was 13…) and then I heard this song. Even on our mono Dansette record player this had a powerful sound- and wasn’t like the Beatles singles that I was familiar with. I used to play it at full volume to get the maximum sonic effect. Listen out for the ‘we are dead’ line at 4.38/9. This song represents my discovery that an album track could be as interesting and exciting as a single and that even a group as familiar as the Beatles could come up with something surprising when they experimented with longer pieces of music.

7. David Bowie- The Supermen, acoustic version recorded 1972 for Glastonbury Fayre triple album.
I started off 1972 as a T.Rex fan. The first single I bought was ‘Jeepster’ by T. Rex. But then Bowie had a hit with ‘Starman’, released in April 1972. I didn’t buy the single, but I did buy the album ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ when it was released in June 1972…and it blew me away. Then I heard John Peel play this version of ‘The Supermen’ from the Glastonbury Fayre triple album which was released in April 1972- so I could have heard this song before Ziggy. Pretty soon I found ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ and Bowie’s other pre-Ziggy albums, ‘Space Oddity’ and ‘Hunky Dory’ and pored over their lyrics which were rather more complicated and often much darker than Bolan’s ‘word-salad’ lyrics. Then came ‘Aladdin Sane’ and ‘Diamond Dogs’. Wooo!

6. Yes- And You and I Recorded , from Close to the Edge 1972.
Can something be a retrospective antithesis? Or is this just the thesis to which punk was the antithesis? I don’t know. I saw the album with its Roger Dean art work in Woolies and bought it. Since punk did not yet exist, this has to be contrasted with the heavy darkness of Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ to re-create its otherness. It swoops and soars towards the dizzying heights of distant snow clad peaks with beautiful crystal clarity, a shimmering vision of musical virtuosity. It is beautiful, an exhilarating upsurge of pure being which becomes a dancing rainbow bubble of…nothingness. It is here to represent the fleeting wonders of progressive rock. Or maybe not so fleeting, since I still listen to Yes and Genesis and King Crimson and Van der Graaf Generator and have recently discovered the joys of Matching Mole as well…

5. Pink Fairies- Portobello Shuffle on What a Bunch of Sweeties released 1972, bought 1973.
Thanks to Silver Machine being an expected hit in the summer of 1972, I discovered Hawkwind and then their buddies the Pink Fairies. This song is here to represent the wild and wonderful world of the UK counterculture. Taken out of its countercultural/ ‘underground’ context, the song itself is (perhaps) nothing special, but the photos and images on the video go some way to -re-contextualising it and include some still from the Notting Hill carnival riot of 1976 which point forward to White Riot by the Clash and to punk. So out of all the songs I have chosen, this is the most personally significant since it leads away from music to the anarchic green politics and co-operative socialised economics of an alternative future, the possibilities of which still haunt the spectre of neo-liberalism as it crashes to earth.

4. Faust -Why Don’t You Eat Carrots? -from their first album released in 1971, bought 1973/4.
There are a couple of nice wee samples at the start of this – Stones/ Satisfaction and Beatles/ All You Need is Love. If they had put an Elvis in it could have been called 1977. I have chosen this song because it is so deliciously strange, surreal and experimental – pushing the boundaries of rock out into the unknown. Even if it was made today, it would still sound experimental. Faust were German, as were Amon Duul II, Tangerine Dream and Can and I had (still have) records by them. Not Kraftwerk though. They were a bit too obvious. Faust were not obvious. Although one of their later songs was called Krautrock- Germanic humour I think. A few years later I bought their second album in Small Wonder after it was re-released and then last year I got Faust IV and have been enjoying it. I haven‘t found a download of their first album so if I want to hear it I have to crank up the gramophone and play the (clear) vinyl. Most of my vinyl is gathering dust, but not Faust. Definitely a disc for a desert island.

3. Jefferson Airplane -Ballad of You, Me and Pooneil from After Bathing at Baxters. Released 1967, bought 1974.
In the Kirkcudbright Academy school library I found a book on rock music. It recommended After Bathing at Baxters by Jefferson Airplane as the quintessential acid rock/ psychedelic album. So in April 1974 I got a copy. And discovered that it was. And still is. It is not as experimental as Faust, but was the product of psychedelic experimentation. The Airplane had huge hits with Somebody to Love and White Rabbit plus the Surrealistic Pillow album. So their record company gave them a free hand in the studio. The album took a few months to record since the Airplane were playing loads of gigs so had to fit in studio time around their live performances. I would be tempted to cheat with this disc and take the whole album with me rather than just this one song/ track. My vinyl got played to death so a few years ago I replaced it with a cd and then ripped it to my computer. It was made by a San Francisco group in San Fransciso in the 1967 summer of love so it must be an archetypical hippie record. Enjoy!

2 Here and Now as Planet Gong Floating Anarchy recorded 1977 released 1978.
I was going to put some Velvet Underground in here since I got the first two Velvets albums in 1975 and so they fit into a sequence leading up to Year Zero. But the I realised that I haven’t listened to any Velvet Underground music for quite some time. So I wouldn’t be choosing any Velvets for my desert island. Instead here is Planet Gong aka Here and Now- which I do listen to now. I didn’t then, since Here and Now didn’t release any records until 1978 but I did have four Gong albums, two of which I bought in London in summer 1976. (Oh the irony.) Looking back over the records chosen so far, punk seems an unlikely outcome. Yet it was.

1. The Clash -1977, b-side of White Riot.
Finally… there was punk. I think Neat Neat Neat by the Damned was the first punk single I bought – and it came out in February 1977. Then I heard White Riot (released March 1977) . That did the trick. I had been in west London/ Notting Hill/ Ladbroke Grove/ Portobello Road in the summer of 1976…looking for where Hawkwind/ Pink Fairies used to hang out. [See images on video of Pink Fairies Portobello Shuffle]. This was a few weeks before the Notting Hill Carnival riot that inspired White Riot. Suddenly I realised that punk was music being written about NOW, was about the present not the past (even though the past of Hawkwind/ Pink fairies was only about four years before 1976). It was the music of (cliché ) ‘my generation’.

I can’t think of any luxury to add and the book would have to be Hegel’s Logic since after several years on a desert island with nothing else to read I might just have chance of understanding it.

Alistair Livingston

More from AL (including a bonus disc)  here

Filed in: Punk Rock Desert Island Discs

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