From Leonard Cohen to Bob Dylan: The 8 songs David Gilmour couldn’t live without
We’re taking a look back at what Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour considers to be some of his most treasured songs of all time as he picks eight tracks he simply couldn’t live without. It’s a question any music fan has posed themselves and one Gilmour answers with the assuredness of a consummate musical genius. It makes for one of our favourite playlists and a sweet reminder of Gilmour’s undoubted influence on music.
If you were around in the psychedelic explosion of the late sixties, the acid-rock that flooded the streets of Britain, then chances are you’ll be familiar with David Gilmour — the pioneering lead guitarist for prog-rock giants Pink Floyd. Perhaps not the grandest name in rock music, Gilmour’s influence with Pink Floyd is undoubtedly pure, stringent and completely captivating. Gilmour held your gaze better than most guitarists could, and he did it without flashiness or ego-driven licks. His style was all about delivering the music, and Gilmour rarely missed a moment to do so.
Pink Floyd welcomed the guitarist into the fold as a replacement for their ailing singer and founder Syd Barett. Initially, alongside the starry-eyed singer, Gilmour took over guitars and was mainly there to ensure the band could still function on stage. Soon enough, Gilmour stood across from Roger Waters, Nick Mason on drums and Richard Wright on keys, and he soon took over the mic and vocal duties. There’s perhaps no greater inspirational figure than Pink Floyd.
If there’s one place where, in 2003, Gilmour could be dwarfed by the grandeur and pop culture influence of another, then it’s perhaps in the studios of BBC Radio show, Desert Island Discs. The British institution has been a cultural touchpoint since its inception in 1942. Ever since it has welcomed guests with one simple premise; if they were trapped on a desert island which eight songs would they choose to keep them company and stave off madness. It’s an idea that has captured the nation’s minds for nearly 80 years.
As well as their eight discs, a complimentary collection of the complete works of Shakespeare and a bible, the star in question also gets to choose one luxury item and one book. It offers a crisp insight into the life and times of our most notable figures through some often personal choices. Floyd’s guitarist, Gilmour was the castaway on April 11th, 2003.
First up are the non-essential items, which in our mind, are also known as ‘the things that aren’t music.’
The talented musician and gifted guitarist picked an English translation of holy book the Koran as his book of choice and of course, opted for a guitar as his luxury item, an “acoustic Martin D.35” if you’re curious. But Gilmour perhaps saved his best picks for his musical choices.
After a succinct introduction from host Sue Lawley who not only points to his “downhill run” following three decades at the cutting edge of rock and roll but also his aversion to the booby-trapped tropes of being a ‘rock star’, it’s on to a personal chat. It’s one of the things that has endeared the show to British culture, it provides a rare opportunity to see behind the facade of rock. Together, Gilmour and Lawley dissect the pitfalls of stardom and the addiction of success, suggesting that the guitarist had seemingly let go.
As the conversation looks to grow Lawley suggests they “press pause” and move on to his first disc. Gilmour’s first pick was another platoon in the swinging sixties army, the legendary band, The Kinks. Gilmour says of the song, the first he would play on his desert island, “On a lovely warm beach to listen to this, in a somewhere else sunset, and missing London would be a wonderful moment.”
After expressing the level of discomfort being in a band like Pink Floyd can foster, the musical selections go on and nods of approval continue to come from Gilmour. The singer picks two troubadours from across the Pond in Bob Dylan and Tom Waits.
Selecting Dylan’s ‘Ballad in Plain D’, Gilmour says of the song: “I lived through a lot of his heavy protest stuff and this was another side I’m very keen on. This sort of love song approach.” After waxing on about his love of the guitar, and the tragic cosmic end of Syd Barrett, Gilmour remarks on the crooning choice of Tom Waits’ ‘I’m Still Here,’ after a few words noting Waits’ uncanny sound, Gilmour, quite simply states, “I love this song.”
Next up was Gilmour’s favourite song, ‘Dancing In The Street’ from ’60s girl group Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. Once picked up by David Bowie and Mick Jagger as part of their “I don’t do it very much these days,” says Gilmour suggesting he may need the odd burst of adrenaline while stranded on the desert island, “I will need some dance music.” He coyly says, “dancing on the beach. Not the street.” It’s also the track that he said he would save above all the rest — clearly, for Gilmour, the need to dance is a great one.
The next three choices of songs follow a similar pattern of truly wonderful curation and expert choice. Selecting “one of [his] favourite artists”, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Anthem’ and Neil Young’s ‘A Man Needs a Maid’ he picks another couple of great writers. In fact, we’d argue that with both Leonard Cohen and Neil Young in the mix, Gilmour has all the self-reflecting folk he many need but it doesn’t end there.
After talking through some of his notable charity work, his mantra of “I have more than I need” prevalent as ever, Gilmour also picks Joni Mitchell’s iconic number, ‘For Free’. About the track he says, connecting with his own personal life, “this is Joni Mitchell’s struggle with her wall, if you like. The struggle with her conscience, with being a rich person but still being an artist.”
The final track, among the heroes we’ve seen already selected, may feel a touch out of place. But Gilmour’s choice of The Lemonheads’ ‘Rudy With A Flashlight’ is born out of the personal homely moment, “It’s about sitting our in your garden around a nice campfire, which is something we do at home in the summer, a lot.” It’s a sentiment that accurately sums up the podcast of the episode you can hear below.
Gilmour is everything you’d expect him to be. He’s very well-spoken, intelligent and honest with his answers, warm and welcoming and also, as you might expect, an absolutely expert in picking eight songs one simply couldn’t live without.
The BBC have made this episode available online via their BBC Sounds site which can be found here. You can also use Spotify and find our playlist of Gilmour’s favourite songs below.
Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour eight favourite songs:
The Kinks – ‘Waterloo Sunset’
Bob Dylan – ‘Ballad in Plain D’
Tom Waits – ‘I’m Still Here’
Martha Reeves and the Vandellas – ‘Dancing In The Street’