162 episodes

Series about pieces of music with a powerful emotional impact

Soul Music BBC Radio 4

    • Society & Culture
    • 4.7 • 250 Ratings

Series about pieces of music with a powerful emotional impact

    Tiny Dancer

    Tiny Dancer

    Elton John's slow burner is now one of his most beloved tracks. Released in 1971 during a prolific period for Elton and Bernie Taupin, many people see themselves in the lyrics.
    Eliza Hewitt grew up in a strict household in Pennsylvania. During the tumultuous early 70s, her brother introduced her to the music of Elton John, and she's still a tiny dancer in her late 60s.
    Lee Hall wrote the screenplay for Rocketman, the Elton John biopic. He sees the song as a conversation between Elton and Bernie.
    Podcaster Kirk Hamilton takes us through the song's slow build to a chorus which feels as though it's never going to come.
    Judith Sibley's daughter Lily-Mae received a terrible diagnosis when she was just 4 years old. Along with her brother Paul and friend Steven, she channelled her efforts into recording a charity single for her ballet loving daughter, and Tiny Dancer was the obvious song.
    When Ava Forte Vitali and Drew Wood met and exchanged playlists they realised how much they had in common. So much so, that Tiny Dancer had to play a part in their wedding.
    Produced by Sally Heaven for BBC Audio in Bristol
    Technical Producer: Ilse Lademann
    Editor: Emma Harding.

    • 27 min
    Northern Sky

    Northern Sky

    "I never felt magic crazy as this....."
    For some it's a beacon of hope, for others a metaphor for love. 'Northern Sky' is the penultimate track on Nick Drake's 1971 album 'Bryter Layter'. The sound was shaped by the Velvet Underground's John Cale who added the piano, organ and celeste. His records didn't sell well much to Nick's disappointment, but after his death in 1974 his music and genius became much better-known. These are just some of the stories from whose lives have been profoundly touched by this iconic track.
    Gordon Hunter had a difficult childhood and says hearing 'Northern Sky' brought a meditative sense of calm to his life, like "finding treasure."
    Nick Drake's producer Joe Boyd remembers how John Cale became involved in the recording, and his sadness that Nick never got the recognition he deserved in his own lifetime.
    Singer-songwriter Alex Hart took a job on the Covid-19 111 helpline during the first lockdown and listened to 'Northern Sky' on the drives home. Alex covered the track for one of her albums.
    Musicians Neil MacColl and Kate St John fell in love on the 'Way To Blue' tour in 2011 and discuss their performance of 'Northern Sky' and Kate's string arrangements. Neil walks us through Nick's guitar tunings and the song's lyrics.
    It's a song that reminds Laura Barton of spring and the first rush of love which she experienced as a student in Oxford.
    "Brighten my northern sky."
    Producer: Toby Field for BBC Audio Bristol
    Technical Producer: Michael Harrison
    Editor: Emma Harding

    • 27 min
    I Can See Clearly Now

    I Can See Clearly Now

    "I can see clearly now the rain is gone / I can see all obstacles in my way / Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind / It's gonna be a bright / Bright sunshiny day"
    I Can See Clearly Now was written by the Houston-born singer-songwriter Johnny Nash. First released in 1972, it became a huge hit and the song has been covered by hundreds of artists, from the Jamaican singer Jimmy Cliff to the Irish rock group Hothouse Flowers.
    For recording engineer and producer Luke DeLalio the original of the song is 'a masterpiece', with a sublime vocal performance and an arrangement that is surprisingly experimental for such an apparently simple song. Professor Kathy M. Newman of Carnegie Mellon University tells us about Johnny Nash's life and career, from his early years as a clean-cut crooner and teen idol, to his time recording in Jamaica and his later years, living on a ranch in Texas.
    For author and psychologist Peggy DeLong it's a song of hope, resilience and love. It was once meant to be her wedding song but took on new significance after she lost her fiancé as a young woman in the 1990s.
    The song appeared in Brenda Drumm's life when she needed it most. In a moment of darkness and worry, it came on the radio as she was driving home from a day of tests at the hospital near her home in County Kildare. It allowed her to dare to plan for the future.
    Poet Jack Mapanje was detained in Malawi’s notorious Mikuyu Prison without charge from 1987 until 1991, under Hastings Banda's regime. He remembers singing the song when other political prisoners were released - "it's a song of hope".
    And the author Joanne Harris talks about the song's "sense of perpetual sky" and how the lyrics provide grounding and comfort in troubled times.
    Produced by Mair Bosworth for BBC Audio

    • 27 min
    Someone to Watch Over Me

    Someone to Watch Over Me

    Written by George Gershwin for the musical Oh Kay, Someone To Watch Over Me has endured as a tender ballad about searching for someone special. It has been recorded by many different artists from Ella Fitzgerald to Willie Nelson but it's perhaps Ella's version that is best known.
    Lyn Mackay grew up listening to it as a small child at her parents' home in Swansea. As she grew up and became a musician and entertainer the song has changed its meaning to her over the years.
    Nica Strunk heard her father singing it during one of their sessions at his piano. As he sang the line "where is the shepherd for this lost lamb?" she began to understand the difficulties he faced in expressing his emotions and the song brought them closer together.
    Nicholas McInerny loved Sarah Vaughan's version and his daughter sang it at his second wedding.
    Music producers James Morgan and Juliette Pochin have been Ella Fitzgerald fans since they met as students and are thrilled to have been behind the most recent release of Someone To Watch Over Me using Ella's original vocals accompanied by the LSO.
    Producer: Maggie Ayre

    • 27 min
    Sweet Thing

    Sweet Thing

    Sweet Thing by Van Morrison has an atmosphere full of tenderness, wonder and joy. But underneath this there a feeling of transience, a melancholy sense of things coming to an end, and of inevitable change. It was written for his 1968 album Astral Weeks, at a time when the Northern Irish born Van had left his home country and was down-and-out in Boston, USA. We hear how the track has come to mean so much to so many.
    Caroline Mellor from Brighton remembers an intense moment of hearing Sweet Thing whilst staying in the mountains of Andalucía, Spain.
    Sammy Douglas, Councillor and current High Sheriff of Belfast, reflects on memories of the Troubles and how the song intertwines with the tale of his first love.
    Ryan H. Walsh, Bostonian and author of Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968, explains how the seminal album Astral Weeks came about, and John Payne, flautist on Sweet Thing, shares memories of those extraordinary recording sessions with Van Morrison.
    And singer-songwriter Alanna Joy from South Africa considers why she opens her live sets with her own rendition of Sweet Thing, and recalls hearing it for the first time through Jeff Buckley's cover.
    Produced by Eliza Lomas for BBC Audio in Bristol
    Technical Producer: Ilse Lademann
    Editor: Emma Harding.

    • 27 min
    Songs My Mother Taught Me

    Songs My Mother Taught Me

    Antonin Dvorak wrote his Gypsy Songs in 1880. He was passionate about the folk music of his native Bohemia and set a poem by Czech poet Adolf Heyduk to music. Songs My Mother Taught Me is the fourth song in the cycle.
    Songs my Mother taught me
    In the days long vanished
    Seldom from her eyelids
    Were the teardrops banished....
    It's a wistful melancholic piece evoking memory and loss. Soul Music hears the stories of musicians, poets and singers from around the world of why they are so drawn to it.
    The poet Raine Geoghegan is the daughter of a Romany woman whose life was weighed down with the loss of her father at a young age. Raine identifies with the sadness of the music because it not only represents grief at the loss of her father but also for the loss of a way of life for the gypsy people.
    For Emily MacGregor it's all about the music we inherit from our parents. She is writing a book about music and grief and says this piece perfectly represents the bittersweet feeling of listening to music associated with the loss of a loved one. Dvorak had already lost three children in infancy by the time he wrote his Zigeuner Lieder.
    Paris based violinist and conductor Bartu Elci-Ozsoy associates Songs with the innocence of childhood and was moved to perform it at a benefit concert he organised in aid of the children affected by the devastating earthquake in his native Turkey and Syria in early 2023.
    The Korean soprano Sumi Jo recorded it in honour of her mother and presented it to her a year before she died in gratitude for her determination to see her daughter become a professional singer.
    When The Scotsman newspaper commissioned a series of lockdown concerts in Spring 2020 cellist Sua-Lee chose to recreate the concert by Beatrice Harrison a century earlier when she played the piece accompanied by nightingales in her garden in Surrey. Sua set up her cello in woodland near her home in Grantown- on-Spey and performed Songs My Mother Taught Me to a collection of woodland creatures
    Singer Ruby Hughes performed the American composer Charles Ives' version of the piece for a collection called Bright Travellers - music curated and composed by Helen Grimes from poems by Fiona Benson. Ives wrote his own version of Dvorak's piece not long after the Czech composer had settled in America. She loves the rocking gentle lullaby sensation created by the lilting melodies of both Ives' and Dvorak's compositions.
    Featuring additional recordings by Sua Lee and Zoe Challenor
    Producer: Maggie Ayre

    • 27 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
250 Ratings

250 Ratings

mspassell ,

5667457 stars!!!

These episodes…about why songs are meaningful to us…reduce me to a puddle of tears every time.

weswellner ,

Wonderful podcast

I love learning more about each song and the stories of how the song has affected people. Creativity and artistry are explored and felt in a way that only music and personal stories can evoke. Please keep producing more episodes. Thank you.

Beady333 ,

Hope for More

I love this podcast so much. This podcast gives me joy and comfort. I have learned lot about music that I did not know before. Thank you! Now more episodes please!

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