From Neo-Nazis (although I don’t see what’s so neo about them) to UFO fanatics, Louis Theroux has journeyed into the demimonde of society more than an underground industrial band, and like an alchemical sociologist, he has somehow garnered some sort of sensibility regarding societies flaws.
When you are continually immersing yourself in such a denigrating milieu, and all the inherent dangers that come with it, the comforting boon of music is all the more important. Imagine, if you will, being made to scream, “I am a dying cockroach because I haven’t got the will to win,” as a chorus of anabolic induced howls ring out around you while you simply try to do your day job. When you return to your hotel that evening, the humanising lullabies of music are going to play a big part in your comforting return to equilibrium.
Thus, aside from a side career as the rapper King Lou-E, music has played a huge part in the documentarian’s life. As part of the iconic Desert Island Discs on the BBC — a cultural institution that has asked celebrities to pick 8 songs, a book, and a luxury item to be cast away with since 1941 — Theroux picked out a selection of tracks and expanded on where they fit in his life journey.
His first choice was ‘All the Way Around’ from Marvin Gaye’s classic 1976 album; I Want You. “I love Marvin Gaye,” Theroux declared. “Especially in my 20’s where I was digging into vinyl in second-hand shops in New York,” where he lived for a large chunk of his post-university years after acquiring a job on Michael Moore’s TV Nation. “I would explore a lot of soul records in general, but especially Marvin Gaye,” he states, before welcoming in the silken tones Gaye’s scintillating soundscapes.
Much like his all-encompassing endeavours into the depths and far reaches of civility, his record collection is equally eclectic mingling soul, rap, indie, folk and samba. However, if there has been one artist in pop-culture history who has embodied some sort of social conscience then Bob Dylan would be near the top of the list, thus it was no surprise to see him make the island, albeit with one of his more introspective masterpieces, ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’. Theroux brilliantly describes it as “the ultimate passive-aggressive love song,” from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, one of the documentarian’s “favourite albums”.
Furthering that line of music that transcends the cultural oeuvre and dips a toe in society a large, The Smith’s song ‘Panic’ tackles media head-on. As Johnny Marr once said, “The story about this shocking disaster [Chernobyl] comes to an end, and then, immediately, we’re off into Wham!’s ‘I’m Your Man’.”
Adding: “I remember actually saying ‘what the fuck has this got to do with peoples’ lives?’ We hear about Chernobyl, then, seconds later, we’re expected to be jumping around to ‘I’m Your Man’… And so: ‘Hang the blessed DJ’.” Whether or not Louis intended the choice with this sub-conscious rationale is down to some deep metaphysics of the mind, which he may well tackle one day. Still, there is no denying that such prying at the fabric of media is befitting of Theroux. Inadvertent journalistic connections aside, he states that The Smiths soundtracked his university days.
Within the melee of Theroux’s record collection, one of the key cornerstones would be rap. “When I was about 17 or so, my friend Joe Cornish gave me a compilation tape, and it had a track on it by Eric B. & Rakim, and this was really a big moment for me because although I’d known about rap before then, this was the first rap record that just seemed really poetic and just different.” The track, ‘Paid in Full’ was a 1987 4th & B’way label classic and is credited as a benchmark in the golden age of Hip Hop.
However, if Louis could only save one record, it would be ‘Murray Head’ by Heaven on Their Minds. “I don’t really know why,” Theroux muses, “I’ve listened to it all my life, and I’ve never really got tired of it, so maybe it’s just an evergreen, maybe it never gets old.”
You can check out the full list of records below, and for those wondering, his luxury item was a 40,000 piece jigsaw puzzle and his book of choice was Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust.
8 songs Louis Theroux couldn’t live without:
- ‘All the Way Around’ by Marvin Gaye
- ‘Murray Head’ by Heaven on Their Mind
- ‘Panic’ by The Smiths
- ‘Paid in Full’ by Eric B. & Rakim
- ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ by Bob Dylan
- ‘What’s Luv?’ by Fat Joe ft. Ashanti
- ‘California’ by Joni Mitchell
- ‘One Note Samba’ by Antônio Carlos Jobim & Herbie Mann