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The Bob Dylan song Stephen King simply couldn't live without


Bob Dylan is one of the most far-reaching and imposing figures in music. The folk legend carved himself out a niche of personal and poetic pop music when he arrived on the music scene in the sixties and has never really wavered from that MO. It is a career which, as well as finding critical acclaim, saw Dylan become one of the most widely-loved singer-songwriters of his generation. A man with as much influence but admittedly in a different field is Stephen King.

There are few more imposing names in the world of horror, both on-screen and off, than the extraordinary writer Stephen King. A huge figure in the world of film, King’s works have always been underpinned by the expert use of music—but what were King’s most cherished songs? It’s a question that was thankfully answered by BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs who gathered up the eight songs Stephen King couldn’t live without. Within the list, however, there was one song which he treasured most of all.

Bob Dylan is certainly one of the most prolific songwriters still active today. The freewheelin’ troubadour was never one to rest on his laurels and has always been striving to put his best foot forward. Equally, a man who doesn’t know the meaning of standing still is Stephen King. One of the most potent and productive novelists of recent years, King has become the foreword in horror fiction among many other notable genres. With books like The Shining, Carrie and Pet Sematary he carved out a career no writer can ever truly imagine. He is, without doubt, one of the most important writers of our generation.

It’s why Desert Island Discs came knocking at his door. It’s impossible for us to over-sell the importance BBC’s stalwart radio show has had 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.

For King, the choice of a book was always going to be a difficult one, he chose to avoid prose and instead focus on poetry, picking W.H. Auden’s collected works. His luxury item was a choice pushed by comfort as he picked out a water hammock to while away the days on the deserted rock. However, naturally, our inclination was what songs he would pick.

Across eight choices, King selects The Beatles and their track ‘She Loves You’, inexplicably Rihanna’s ‘Pon De Replay’ as well as songs by Pretenders, Ryan Adams, Old 97’s, Bruce Springsteen, James McMurtry and, of course, his favourite Bob Dylan. We know it’s his favourite as, at the end of every episode, the interviewee is asked to select the one disc they would save form being washed away—the one song they couldn’t live without.

After King talks about watching the turquoise waves, our host, Kirsty Young sees her moment and poses the question: “If the waves did crash on to the shore and washed away the discs and you had to run across the sand to save one of them, which is the one disc you would save?” King quickly replies, “The one disc I would save would be ‘Desolation Row’ by Bob Dylan.”

While many of the other songs selected in the programme are connected with lighthearted moments and seemingly fun times, selecting Bob Dylan’s ‘Desolation Row’ was connected with the troubling relationship he shared with his “sore subject” father. In the interview, he reveals that his father was a “home movie buff” and “wrote short stories he submitted to the men’s magazines,” but that he had only ever seen him “in motion” once in one of the movies and “I’m not even sure it was him,” as such, he says before selecting Dylan’s track “The next record is the place where my father, were he still alive, would probably be living, it’s Bob Dylan’s ‘Desolation Row’”.

Below, you can listen to the full interview and get to know the ins and outs of one of the most important writers of the 20th century. If not, just listen to his favourite song of all time, Bob Dylan’s ‘Desolation Row’.