Readers recommend playlist: your songs about deserts

Tinariwen, Robert Plant, Brand New Heavies and Big Country are among the artists making this week’s reader-curated list

Here is this week’s playlist – songs picked by a reader from hundreds of your suggestions last week. Thanks for taking part. Read more about how our weekly series works at the end of the piece.

Taking a spin in the RR chair is always an educational experience, but last week proved particularly enlightening. As ever, it expanded my musical horizons, but the topic of deserts also highlighted my lifelong ineptitude when it comes to basic global geography.

Big Country: In a Big Country - video

My vocabulary also improved: although LilyDale’s nomination of Pressure Drop by Toots and the Maytals turned out to be long-zedded, the exhaustive internet research I’d undertaken before I noticed that small point usefully revealed that the phrase “just desserts” – which I’d been using for years – should, in fact, be “just deserts”. It’s all to do with the relevant words’ French roots, it seems. And talking of roots, the playlist proper kicks off with the realisation by Big Country that the arid plain of In a Big Country is no place for such things: they are “not expecting to grow flowers in the desert”.

Having said that, tradition dictates that even such barren lands contain hidden, hard-to-reach fertile spots, and I’d like to think that if one stumbled across a watering hole when in extremis, the ideal option would be to follow the example of the Brand New Heavies in Midnight at the Oasis, and throw an impromptu party. Furthermore, if one oasis is a good thing, then two must be even better, so the lyric “There is nowhere and there’s places / There’s the desert and oases” gets Contrast, by the Count Five, on to the list.

Sadly, the object of Édith Piaf’s affections seems to have strayed too far towards the “nowhere” end of the spectrum, and thus we find Mon Légionnaire being laid to rest “sous le sable chaud” – under the warm sand.

Geographically challenged or not, I’m claiming I was well aware before the nominations started that these next few selections were actually deserts. Our brief musical tour starts with some Chilean prog rock, as Crisalida share the secrets of Atacama, apparently the driest desert in the world. Dry in this context means lack of rainfall, so when John Cale announces that Antarctica Starts Here he is, of course, referring to a polar desert, distinguished from a “true desert” not just by low temperature but, obviously, evapotranspiration. Back where the mercury is higher, Brenda Kahn is able to grow lemon trees in the Mojave Winters, while Shpongle (with “a bit of chilled/trippy Goa stuff” as reader ScorchTheBlueDragon put it) settle for getting Shnitzled in the Negev.

The original version of the next pick was nominated several times, but again was zedded a while back. Room, then, for Horace Andy and his take on a controversial non camel-based choice of wilderness transport – A Horse With No Name. Now, while the protagonist in that number may have been busy looking at birds and rocks and things, legend has it that the desert is the very place for spectacular optical illusions. To that end, Siouxsie and the Banshees conjure up the power of the Mirage.

Lest the impression given until now has been of the desert as an insurmountable challenge, one’s ability to cope will depend on experience and skill. As Tinariwen’s Traveller in the Desert relates: “I am a traveller in the lone desert / It’s nothing special / I can stand the wind / I can stand the thirst / And the sun.”

The band’s music is said to have influenced the final artist this week, and in a further happy coincidence, given that the list started with a reference to flowers, it’s perhaps fitting that it ends with, um, Robert Plant. And his 29 Palms.

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Scott Blair

The GuardianTramp

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