“Music on the radio. When I went in, the big bands were just getting up a good head of steam. Now every song sounds like it’s about fucking.” — Stephen King
There are few more imposing names in the world of horror fiction, both on-screen and off, than the extraordinary writer Stephen King. Of course, starting in the world as a writer of blistering horror novels, and now an equally huge figure in the world of film, King’s works have always been underpinned by the expert use of music. As well as his work’s literary rhythm, King has often noted pivotal pop music figures as inspirational people in his life. But what are King’s most cherished songs of all?
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. It makes for a perfect lockdown listen and a stunning playlist. It’s an insight into one of the most well-established names in literature.
Stephen King’s work in the horror fiction arena is undeniable. With books like The Shining, Carrie and Pet Sematary, he carved out a career no writer can ever truly imagine. Without a doubt, he is one of the most important writers of our generation, no matter how many people try to deny it based purely on his commercial success, and his inspirations are as curious and sharp-turning as his novels.
Equally, 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 and make themselves ready for a deep dive into their record shelves and their life.
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 a Bible, the star in question also gets to choose one luxury item and one book. For King, selecting a book was always going to be difficult; he chose to avoid prose and instead focus on the enlightenment of poetry, picking W.H. Auden’s collected works. His luxury item was a choice pushed purely by comfort as he picked out a water hammock to while away the days on the deserted rock.
Naturally, we at Far Out were far more concerned with the songs he chose, and it makes for a smorgasbord of different styles and genres. That said, one thing’s for sure, Stephen King loves a bit of folk and is as happy with a guitar in his hand as he is a pen. Speaking with Kirtsy Young in 2006, King picks out The Beatles and Bob Dylan as two particular favourites.
‘She Loves You’ from the Fab Four has always been a top track from the band, and it struck a chord with a young King: “Of all The Beatles songs it seems to me that it’s travelled the best over the years to my ear. It still sounds totally fresh when I hear it today, as it did when I first heard it, when I probably at 16 years old. It just gets in, it has only one thing to say, and it says it.” In fact, the story goes that Lennon ended up inspiring one of King’s greatest titles The Shining. The lyrics “We all shine on” from Lennon’s ‘Instant Karma’ were said to have stopped King in his track when searching for the perfect title for his hotel horror.
It’s clear from this very moment that, if you didn’t know already, Stephen King is a huge rock and roll fan. It has stayed with him, throughout his life as a constant companion, a glimpse of which we are given by King as he discusses his father. He approaches his pick of Bob Dylan with the same authenticity you’d expect a diehard Dylan fan to express. The next record is the place where my father, were he still alive, would probably be living, it’s Bob Dylan’s ‘Desolation Row'”.
One track that certainly wasn’t selected from the classic rock arena was Rihanna’s breakthrough song ‘Pon De Replay’, and we’d bet not many were expecting this number to feature on the writer’s list. “For me, disco never died,” he said. “I always liked punk but I never put on my punk jacket that said ‘Disco Sucks’ or ‘Burn your Disco records’. It like this because it has a great beat and you can dance to it. What’s wrong with that?”
Back to heartland rock and another similarly gifted singer-songwriter on King’s list of favourites was Bruce Springsteen. King picked out a foot-stomping bar bruiser, ‘Ramrod’. “It’s just straight-ahead rock and roll, I think it’s what Bruce Springsteen does best,” he says, “It’s just guitar-driven balls to the wall rock.” It’s a serious number that deserves a drop of the needle.
Aside from the songs picked out, on the podcast of the show below, you can gather up a real insight into the life and times of Stephen King. If you ever needed to know King more intensely than listening to the below clip is a perfect way to spend an afternoon.
You can listen to it below and we’ve got the full playlist too.
Stephen King’s 8 favourite songs:
- ‘She Loves You’ – The Beatles
- ‘Desolation Row’ – Bob Dylan
- ‘Choctaw Bingo’ – James McMurtry
- ‘Middle of the Road’ – Pretenders
- ‘Barrier Reef’ – Old 97’s
- ‘Ramrod’ – Bruce Springsteen
- ‘Pon De Replay’ – Rihanna
- ‘When The Stars Go Blue’ – Ryan Adams