Miles was not a great fan of the human voice as an instrument of music, but he unbent, in an interview, to list a selection of favourites.
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1. The Old Dope Peddler, by Tom Lehrer.
“You’ve never heard of Tom Lehrer? He was an American who sang funny songs in the fifties…My aunt, Peggy, who lived in the Bahamas before she ran an hotel, heard this record before anyone in England had heard it, and sent it to my Dad saying ‘ you’re going to like this’ I am not sure if my Dad liked it. I think Mum did. So there is a certain, yes, nostalgia I suppose towards this record.”
2. Knitting, by Arthur Askey.
“My Dad had 3 or 4 records by Arthur Askey, just a tinkly old piano and these very clever words. The Knitting Song is my favourite, and it’s just a very silly song.”
3. The Prune Song by Frank Crumit.
“He’s almost forgotten now, well, he is forgotten – when I was a kid the man was forgotten, I don’t why I remember. I’m afflicted with nostalgia for times I never knew. The song of his that I remember is something called The Prune Song, which is a song of sympathy for the prune.
No matter how young a prune may be
He’s always full of wrinkles
We get wrinkles on our face
Prunes get them every place
It goes on like this, it’s absolutely stupid.”
4. The Canyons of Your Mind, by the Bonzo Dog Band.
This was a piss take of all the Windmills of Your Mind songs, which were popular at the time. It had the worst guitar solo ever recorded. If I ever go on Desert Island Discs, it’s the only one solid song that I know I’ll have, it’s just very funny.”
5. I Just Wanna Be Loved By You, sung by Marilyn Monroe
“I think Some Like It Hot is the funniest film that I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve seen it more than any other film and there’s actually a lovely song she sings at the end called I’m Through With Love, and she sings it very beautifully. It makes you want to cry, especially when you think of her own history. She never got much love in life.”
6. Political Science by Randy Newman
“He was a very sardonic writer, still is. This song was basically saying, ‘Look the world’s annoying us, America doesn’t need the rest of the world – let’s bomb them.’ He played rather bad piano and sang rather badly.”
7. Hong Kong Blues by Hoagy Carmichael
“Hoagy Carmichael did write what was voted by BBC listeners as the most famous or the best pop tune of the century, which was Stardust. But he wrote one or two odd little things, and one of these was Hong Kong Blues, which is a story. I don’t know why I like it, there are other songs he wrote that have the same flavour.”
8. Garden Shed by Instant Sunshine
“This was a cabaret, three doctors and me on guitars and bass respectively. It was quite fun going round with three doctors, because they are so irreverent about everything.”
9. Round Midnight by Thelonius Monk
“I had to choose something from jazz because that’s my music and ‘Round Midnight’ is a really good tune, but it’s really hard to play. I can’t play it. The chords are quite intricate, and I was encouraged to read in Miles Davis’ biography that he couldn’t play Round Midnight for about ten years. He said ‘I wouldn’t play it in public ‘cos I couldn’t get the hang of it. Finally, after ten years I did it, and I got away with it.’”
10. Tired by Pearl Bailey
“I just happened to hear it on the radio about two years ago. She’s a wonderful singer – she’d got so much life in her voice, she almost acted her songs. In Tired she actually more or less falls asleep…and it’s very funny.”