Series about pieces of music with a powerful emotional impact
'Fast Car' is one of Tracy Chapman's biggest hits, with listeners from around the world finding striking connections with their own lives in the song's story.
It was released in April 1988, and that summer, the American singer-songwriter performed it to a global audience of 600 million at Nelson Mandela's 70th Birthday Tribute. This broadcast catapulted Tracy and the song to super-stardom, as it became a top ten hit on both sides of the Atlantic and received three Grammy nominations.
Ever since, 'Fast Car' has resonated with people around the world. The lyrics describe a working woman trying to escape a cycle of poverty, dreaming of a plan to leave in a "fast car". She speaks of wanting to get out of the life she finds herself in, living in a shelter, and driving towards the city to find something better.
This episode features the personal stories of Fitzroy Samuels in Kingston, Jamaica; Priscilla Munson in Indiana, U.S; Gemma Brown in Gateshead, UK and Dev Cuny in California, U.S. We also hear from Alister Wright in Sydney, Australia whose band, Vlossom, covered Fast Car; and Nigel Williamson, music journalist who has met and interviewed Tracy Chapman many times.
Produced by Eliza Lomas, BBC Audio Bristol
I Say a Little Prayer for You
When Burt Bacharach and lyricist Hal David wrote I Say A Little Prayer For You in 1967 the war in Vietnam was raging. The song was intended as message of support for the soldiers there. It was originally recorded by Dionne Warwick and the following year by Aretha Franklin.
Doug Bradley was drafted and served in Vietnam as a war correspondent. He says the music the troops all listened to on AFVN (Armed Forces Vietnam Network) sustained him and others while they were in country. His book We Gotta Get Out of This Place (The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War) documents the vital role music played for the soldiers. Aretha Franklin was a symbol of hope and civil rights for many African American troops and I Say A Little Prayer a soothing and calming message of love.
The singer-songwriter Rumer adored the song and all of Aretha's music as an unhapy teenager in England. She went on to write the hit song Aretha about a young girl whose mother has a mental illness confiding all her worries to the Queen of Soul. Her husband Rob Shirakbari was recruited by both Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach as keyboard player and musical arranger. To him the song with its mixture of time signatures and different interpretations symbolises many happy years playing with two of the musical greats.
Jazz singer Nnenna Freelon has recorded two versions of because it is one she has loved throughout the years but only after the death of her husband Phil in 2019 did it become a song about the expression of grief. Her latest version interprets the song as a plea and a prayer for her late husband as well as for herself. Her podcast Great Grief is a meditation on grief and loss combined with music.
In 1968 Aretha Franklin played in Stockholm. 15 year old Hasse Huss and his friend hung around her hotel hoping to meet her. Not only did they meet her but at her invitation they spent the next day with her as she rehearsed for her show. I Say A Little Prayer fills him with happiness and nostalgia for this happy day in the late sixties and he plans to incorporate the song lyrics into a speech for his son's wedding.
And Professor Daphne Brooks grew up with older siblings and musical parents who introduced her to the song. It has been with her throughout her life representing for her the 'fullness of black womanhood'. The song very recently helped her deal with her beloved mother's passing at the age of 96.
Producer: Maggie Ayre
'Ghost Town' was recorded by British two-tone band The Specials as a comment on urban decay and social unrest. It was released in June 1981 as riots were springing up around the UK and with the help of an iconic video it topped the UK singles charts. It was also be the band's final single.
Writer Alex Wheatle first heard 'Ghost Town' in 1981 whilst in a social services hostel in Brixton awaiting his court appearance. He'd been arrested following a day of action in Brixton to protest against racist treatment of Black people, after rumours of police brutality. He was sentenced to one year in prison and sang 'Ghost Town' in his cell, as he began to find hope and purpose in his life.
Claire Horton grew up in Dudley and says 'Ghost Town' echoed her experiences of watching the shops and nightclubs of this once vibrant town closing down. Her Dad was made redundant and it had a huge impact on her family, and as a young police officer she would walk the streets and understand why people were getting so frustrated with their situation.
Soul and Reggae DJ Dave Marshall Barrett traces the history of The Specials who formed in Dave's hometown of Coventry in 1977. It's the first thing people mention when he says where he comes from.
John Collins was surprised when Jerry Dammers asked him to produce the record. John created the initial opening 'ghostly' sounds on a synth at home but he says they now sound more like sirens. The song's success opened doors for John and he loves how it keeps finding new audiences.
Broadcaster Samira Ahmed grew up in London and said her the recession of the early 80s hit her family's catering business hard. Too young for nightclubs, she remembers the video of 'Ghost Town' playing on Top of the Pops and says the track made a huge impact on her understanding of music and politics.
Jazz singer Beverley Beirne covered 'Ghost Town' for her 2018 album 'Jazz Just Wants to Have Fun' and was reminded of it during the first lockdown when she wasn't able to perform.
Founder of The Specials Jerry Dammers reflects on the inspiration behind 'Ghost Town' and how trombonist Rico Rodriguez was the heart and soul of the band.
Producer: Toby Field
Additional research: Melanie Pearson
Technical Producer: Michael Harrison
Editor: Emma Harding
I Only Have Eyes For You
When I Only Have Eyes For You first emerged in 1934 it was a jaunty ditty written by Harry Dubin and Al Warren for the movie "Dames". But it gained huge popularity when the 1950s doo wop group The Flamingos under the musical arrangement of Terry Johnson transformed it into a dreamy otherworldly love song. Terry explains how he went about turning the song into an evergreen hit that has been covered by many including Art Garfunkel and Carly Simon.
Musicologist Luis Cruz attributes the genius of the song to its pedal chord - the repeated use of the C note. It adds to the feeling of fixation he says where the singer cannot see anyone else but the object of his affection.
The song is obviously one that speaks of deep love and Vivian Fransen was one of many who chose the song to play at her wedding. She'd been introduced to the Art Garfunkel version in 1975 when she met the man who was to become her husband. 12 years later he revealed a secret he'd been keeping from her which ended their marriage and caused her to reassess the song's meaning.
Jess Farr Cox would sing the song to her aged rescue dog Pico as his health deteriorated. Only that song and the theme to Antiques Roadshow would send him to sleep when he was in pain and distress and she still gets emotional when she hears it over a year after he was eventually put to sleep. People underestimate the love you get from a rescue dog, she says.
Chris Deerin is a political journalist and part of Scottish band Fat Cops. He recorded a version of I Only Have Eyes For You for the Tiny Changes Young People's Mental Health Charity founded following the death of the singer Scott Hutchison in 2018. Chris says he and fellow musician Bobby Bluebell had always loved the song and felt it was a fitting tribute to fellow musician Scott.
Producer: Maggie Ayre
I Believe in Father Christmas
Some people say it's a protest song about the commercialisation of Christmas. Others that it's anti-religious. I Believe In Father Christmas is about neither, although lyricist Peter Sinfield concedes that it does include a touch of cynicism but says ultimately it's a song of joy and hope. When Greg Lake co-wrote it in 1975 he had embarked on a solo career away from Emerson Lake & Palmer. Those around him at the time, including songwriter Peter Sinfield and broadcaster Bob Harris, recall how repeating a simple acoustic guitar exercise led Greg Lake to this giant of a song that includes a full choir, orchestra, and an extract from Prokofiev to create an enduring Christmas anthem. For many people it's a comforting song conjuring images of nostalgic picture postcard Christmases of a childhood spent in the ambience of Christmas tree lights and candles with 'eyes full of tinsel and fire'. For others it's a cautionary reminder of the need to look beyond the materialism and commercialism to a quieter, more spiritual time.
Producer: Maggie Ayre
'None shall sleep'.
Jon Christos watched the Italia 90 World Cup with his Dad and says that the live performance of 'Nessun Dorma' by Pavarotti at the tournament was the only time he ever saw his Dad cry.
Beatrice Venezia conducted 'Nessun Dorma' at the 'Puccini day' she created in Lucca in 2018. She also conducted Andrea Bocelli's performance of the aria at the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June 2022.
Pavarotti's daughter Cristina talks about the impact this aria had on her father's life and how his 1990 performance of 'Nessun Dorma' inspired many people to become interested in opera.
Sir Bobby Robson's son Mark Robson was at Italia 90 and talks about the pride he felt seeing his Dad lining up with the England team for the semi-final against West Germany. It was also sung at Sir Bobby's memorial service in Durham Cathedral.
Broadcaster and author Alexandra Wilson explains that the opera Turandot is the story of Prince Calaf who falls in love with the titular Princess. In 'Nessun Dorma' Calaf expresses his determination to win her hand, ending with that extraordinary refrain "Vincerò!" or "I will win".
Paul Potts won 'Britain's Got Talent' in 2007 performing 'Nessun Dorma' and recalls singing it to over a million people at the Brandenburg Gate on New Year's Eve in 2010.
When Italy locked down in March 2020, hairdresser Piero d'Angelico played 'Nessun Dorma' from a five-story window above Cambridge railway station to show solidarity with his home country and the Italian community in his adopted city.
Voiceovers by Mike Ingham and Rebecca Braccialarghe.
Producer: Toby Field for BBC Audio in Bristol
Technical Producer: Michael Harrison
Editor: Emma Harding
These episodes…about why songs are meaningful to us…reduce me to a puddle of tears every time.
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.
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!