Series about pieces of music with a powerful emotional impact
We've Only Just Begun
The Carpenters - brother and sister duo Richard and Karen - were one of the most popular groups of the 1970s. His outstanding compositions and her stunning vocals created several massive hits including We've Only Just Begun. Originally written as a TV advert for a bank portraying happy young couples embarking on married life full of hope, they loved it and released it as their third single in 1970. Karen's wistful voice gave the song a melancholy that has long resonated with fans.
After her premature death from heart failure due to anorexia nervosa, the song took on an extra poignancy with lyrics like "so much of life ahead".
Fans tell their stories about the song and how it relates to their own life journeys.
For Professor Karen Tongson (named after the singer), We've Only Just Begun is about growing up in the Philippines where The Carpenters epitomised the American Dream. When she emigrated to the USA, the song became a metaphor for the immigrant experience.
Nomad and writer Jeff Read remembers his childhood in a poor part of Los Angeles brought up by a single mother who eventually died homeless on the street. The song brings back memories of childhood optimism and his longing for a stable family life.
Poet Abigail George recalls seeing a film about Karen Carpenter's life and identifying with the singer's struggles with an eating disorder as she herself had to cope with a difficult family life in South Africa.
Retired policeman John Weiss was reminded of the song when he attended the death of an elderly person at a care home. John looked at the deceased man's wedding photos and was struck by the brevity of life.
The singer Natasha Khan aka Bat For Lashes always loved The Carpenters and recorded her own version of We've Only Just Begun as part of an album where things don't end well for the young bride. Ironically, her version now features in a commercial for a British bank so the song has come full circle.
Randy Schmidt is the author of Little Girl Blue (The Life of Karen Carpenter).
Versions of the song featured are by
Grant Lee Buffalo
The Carpenters with the Philharmonic Orchestra
Producer for BBC Audio in Bristol: Maggie Ayre
Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat
This disco classic tells a powerful story: that of a young, gay man leaving his homophobic small town for the freedom of the big city. Released in 1984, Smalltown Boy continues to resonate and has become an anthem for the LGBTQ+ community. The track appeared on their album 'The Age of Consent' which drew attention to the inequality between the ages at which heterosexual people and homosexual men were legally able to have sex.
Taking part in the programme:
Shaun Dellenty, an ex primary school leader and author who developed an award winning LGBT+ training programme 'Celebrating Difference-Inclusion For All' which he now delivers to students and staff around the world.
Paul Flynn, journalist and author of 'Good As You, 30 Years of Gay Britain'.
Diane Anderson-Minshall, CEO and Editorial Director of Pride Media.
Colin Crummy, freelance journalist
Neil Brand, pianist, composer, writer and broadcaster
Adam Carver aka Fatt Butcher, drag artist, creative producer, and community organiser.
Archive: The audio of Jimmy Somerville is taken from the BBC archives
Music:: various versions of Smalltown Boy by Jimmy Somerville, and Bronski Beat. Also covers by Dido, and Orville Peck.
Produced by Karen Gregor for BBC Audio in Bristol.
Sunshine on Leith
"While I'm worth my room on this earth......"
Sunshine on Leith was released in 1988 but didn't become the big hit The Proclaimers had hoped for. However it has endured and become an anthem of love and a celebration of life. It is the song played at Hibs FC matches and has come to symbolise the sense of community felt by supporters. Margaret Alcorn recalls how she and her husband were involved in the Hibs Supporters Club organising and taking part in social events for local people in Leith. When their club came under threat from a merger with rival Edinburgh team Hearts she and her husband worked tirelessly to preserve it. Craig and Charlie Reid played a benefit concert for the Club. Sunshine on Leith became the song that expressed the emotions of the fans during that time and has remained the song they still sing at the football ground. When her husband passed away the song played at his funeral was Sunshine on Leith.
Musician Ross Wilson grew up in Leith and is also a passionate Hibs Supporter. The feelings of comfort and solidarity he experiences at home games led him to create his own version of the song which he performed with a choir to celebrate one of his favourite songs that reminds him of home and that he calls true soul music.
Melinda Tetley's family would always sing Proclaimers songs at home in Edinburgh while her three children were growing up. But when her teenage son fell ill with leukemia Sunshine on Leith took on a special significance for them culminating in a spontaneous joyful singalong on a walk along a lochside.
The human rights lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith is a big fan of The Proclaimers and remembers seeing them perform Sunshine on Leith in New Orleans just days after 9/11 to an audience of exactly eight people - half of whom were the prosecuting team in a Death Row murder case he was defending. And musicologist Dave Robb who toured with The Proclaimers explains the song's lasting emotional appeal and spiritual beauty.
Producer: Maggie Ayre
Life on Mars?
Life on Mars was released on David Bowie's Hunky Dory album in 1971. Two years later it came out as a single in its own right. Famous for its exploration of disillusionment and alienation, there is no one single definitive story behind it. But that is perhaps the song's beauty and the secret behind its appeal - that its cryptic lyrics are open to interpretation, and can mean different things to different people.
Musicians and fans talk about what Life on Mars? means to them, and its lasting emotional impact, in this special programme remembering Bowie's birthday on January 8th 1947 and commemorating his death on January 10th 2016.
And what does the question mark in the song's title mean?
With contributions from:
Musician Dana Gillespie whose autobiography is Weren't Born A Man
Bowie author Chris O'Leary
Scientist Abigail Fraeman of NASA's Mars Mission
Artist Bridget Griggs
The Reverend Steve Stockman
Screenwriter Ashley Pharoah (Life on Mars)
Producer: Maggie Ayre for BBC Audio Bristol
Once In A Lifetime
Talking Heads emerged out of the post punk scene of the late 1970s. Once In A Lifetime is the iconic single taken from their album Remain In Light. With its looped synthesizer and Afrobeat inspired by Fela Kuti it seemed to pre-empt the consumerism and ennui of the 1980s. Writer Ian Gittins interviewed David Byrne and later wrote his book Once In A Lifetime. He says David Byrne had in mind people of a certain middle class existence who seemingly breeze through life with ease when he wrote the lyrics. They may get to middle age or reach a crisis point and ask "How did I get here?" For a song that invites us to question our lives it has a suprisingly emotional core that encourages people to be grateful and make positive changes in their lives where necessary. For Glaswegian Gerry Murphy that meant becoming more present for his family after serious illness forced him to reconsider the amount of time he devoted to his career. He went on to write a book about his experience - And You May Find Yourself: A Guided Practice To Never Fearing Death Again.
Ian Peddie was inspired by the song to leave his dead end existence in Wolverhampton in the mid 1980s to 'find himself in another part of the world' following his dreams. Kelly Waterhouse says the song symbolises gratitude for all the things she takes for granted and sometimes struggles with in her life as a busy working mother.
And singer Angelique Kidjo recorded her own version of Once In A Lifetime in 2018 after coming full circle with the song from her arrival in Paris in 1983 after fleeing the dictatorship in her home country of Benin. She heard the song at a student party and recognised the Afrobeats adopted by David Byrne and Brian Eno that made her feel both joyful and homesick at the same time.
Producer: Maggie Ayre
I Wonder as I Wander
As Christmas approaches, Soul Music leads you through Advent with the Appalachian carol "I Wonder as I Wander".
Written by American folklorist and singer John Jacob Niles, its origins come from a song fragment collected in 1933. Mysterious, inspiring, this traditional Christmas carol reflects on the nativity and the nature of wondering.
While in the town of Murphy in Appalachian North Carolina, Niles attended a fundraising meeting held by evangelicals who had been ordered out of town by the police. He wrote of hearing the song:
“A girl had stepped out to the edge of the little platform attached to the automobile. She began to sing. Her clothes were unbelievably dirty and ragged, and she, too, was unwashed. Her ash-blond hair hung down in long skeins. ... she was beautiful, and in her untutored way, she could sing. She smiled as she sang, smiled rather sadly, and sang only a single line of a song”.
The girl, named Annie Morgan, repeated the fragment seven times in exchange for a quarter per performance, and Niles left with "three lines of verse, and a magnificent idea". Based on this fragment, Niles composed the version of "I Wonder as I Wander" that is known today.
This most unusual of carols touches people in different ways. With childhood memories from a 1960s RAF base in Oxfordshire, a Nigerian schoolgirl who found her place in Winchester Cathedral, reflections from a candlelit vigil in an Appalachian town, and a Christmas gift as described by world renowned singer Melanie Marshall.
Guests: Performer Melanie Marshall, Ron Pen (biographer John Jacob Niles), Viva Choir member Louise Sheaves, author Chibundu Onuzo and music scholar John McClain. Featuring music from John Rutter and Burl Ives.
Consultant: Ted Olson.
Producer: Nicola Humphries
So much more than just about a song
Doesn’t matter if you know the song or not, this podcast contains very moving, interesting stories from all kinds of people about how the song affected them. Wonderful
Soothing and therapeutic
Have been subscribing this podcast for years. It’s always been one thing that carries me through in my difficult time. Music, stories shared by different people, it reminds me that I’m not alone with a certain situation, and music can always add positivities and light in the darkness.
A must listen - please never stop
Truly the best music podcast that exists. Incredible stories woven in with the theme of the song covered. Listen to every episode, even if you don’t know the song, it’s worth it.