From Sex Pistols to David Bowie: The eight songs Ricky Gervais couldn’t live without
With the brand new series of After Life proving to be one of the most arresting piece of comedy written in the last decade, we thought there was no better time than now to revisit the eight songs Ricky Gervais couldn’t live without.
The comedian, actor and writer also enjoyed a brief encounter with the world of pop music himself before finding fame with The Office but now he’s just an avid listener of great records. Expect to see picks from David Bowie and Radiohead.
Ricky Gervais has established himself as a comedy legend with a brand of duelling comedic tones, one is awkward and accurate to the millimetre, concerned only with the world we see around us. The other is outlandish, unapologetic and complete uncontrollable. Both combine to make him one of Britain’s best-loved talents.
Despite being well-versed in writing and acting, Gervais started life in entertainment as one half of 1980s British new wave band Seona Dancing, Gervais and his then bandmate Bill Macrae were later snapped up by London Records and the comedian was given his first taste of the limelight as a performer. It made his appearance on British institution Desert Island Discs all the more interesting.
It’s impossible for us to over-sell the importance BBC’s Desert Island Discs has in the dense tapestry of British pop culture. It’s a time-honoured tradition that has seen Prime Ministers and rock stars alike walk through its studio doors. Created by Roy Plomley way back in 1942, the format is always the same, each week a guest is invited by the host to choose the eight records they would take with them to a desert island.
As well as their eight discs, a complimentary collection of the complete works of Shakespeare and bible, the star in question also gets to choose one luxury item and one book. It’s here that Gervias laser-tipped humour comes into effect, having picked a book of art for his castaway read, the comedian picked “a vat of Novocaine” as his luxury item to avoid any chance of toothache.
In the episode from 2007, Gervais not only talks about The Office and the success that came with it but opens up about his longtime girlfriend Jane Fallon, their reason for never having children, his scathing attacks on celebrity and so much more.
The real joy of the series is the musical choices the personality in question picks. For Ricky Gervais, it is possibly one of the best lists we’ve ever seen compiled. His first pick was a classic selection “The first one I’ve chosen is Bob Dylan, ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’,” also sharing a sweet anecdote about his mother’s teaching of him as a child.
After Gervais shares his love in science and scientific pursuit claiming he “was in awe of the world,” the comedian picks his second song, Cat Stevens’ ‘Lilywhite’, a song he describes as “just beautiful” and also shared Stevens’ album Teaser and the Firecat was the first he ever bought. It’s a pattern which Gervaisfollows, sharing intricate moments of his life.
Concentrating on the music Gervais selects, his third choice is a classic for any British lad growing up in the seventies. “This is the Sex Pistols and ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’. When Nevermind the Bollocks came out I couldn’t believe it. I ran home from school and played it every single night for about six months. The opening line, “I am an antichrist, I am an anarchist”. I was just the right age to get excited about this sort of thing but it stands up. It’s such a powerful song.”
Gervais continues to look back at the seventies with another icon of the decade, albeit for a very different style. The title track from Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush is a “His voice is fragile, it’s like he’s worried about what he’s got to tell you but he’s going to tell you anyway.” Gervais continues, “there’s a lyric in there, ‘look at Mother Nature on the run’, in the 1970s. And it just struck a chord.”
“The next track is Radiohead, ‘Bones'” says Gervais selecting the Bends song. It’s been widely credited as one of Gervais’ favourite albums of all time. He says when picking the song, “there’s a lyric that goes ‘I used to fly like Peter Pan’, and the way he sings it the way the music soars—it brings a lump to my throat.” He concludes, “Anything to do with regrets, I’m a sucker for that. It just does something to my soul. It makes me well up.”
The other long love affair with music Gervais enjoyed was with David Bowie. The man credited with soundtracking Gervais’ important teenage years the pair eventually worked together on Extras. Little did the comedian know that when he asked Bowie to introduce him in New York that it would be the last time the Starman would ever take the stage.
“David Bowie, probably my single biggest hero in music.” Gervais continues, “He’s written one of the most beautiful love songs ever. It’s called ‘Letter to Hermione’ and it’s just so stripped-down it’s just gorgeous.”
The final two selections are a little more on the obscure side as he picks Jimmy Webb’s ‘Galveston’ and the Willie Nelson classic ‘Always on My Mind’. “A lot of people won’t know who Jimmy Webb is,” confesses Gervais. “They probably know his work, he wrote all the hits for Glen Campbell,” he says sharing his thoughts on the “absolutely beautiful” ‘Galveston’, once again noting the powerful lyrics.
The final selection is the aforementioned classic from Willie Nelson, “It’s an absolutely beautiful song,” says Gervais. “The Elvis version is… beautiful. But I never considered Elvis vulnerable enough to pull this song off, like Willie Nelson.” Gervais admits “This one. Out of all the songs. Nearly makes me cry every time.”
It completes quite possibly one of the most wonderfully listenable favourite songs lists as we’ve seen in a very long time. It also makes for a quite sensational playlist which can be found below.
You can find out more on Desert Island Discshere and catch up with the show’s entire near seven-decade discography on Spotify as well as the full Gervais episode below.