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Planet Earth’s Desert Island Discs

What music is the most meaningful to humans, according to Spotify?

Many of us at Explore love to listen to Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. While, of course, we resonate with the idea of being stranded on a beautiful desert island, listening to people share their most meaningful music tracks reminds us how powerful music is at transporting us back to our past adventures. Listening to a particular song can immediately evoke a specific time and place from our past, reminding us of our travels and taking us to another part of the world.
The Desert Island Discs premise, being flung into a paradise-like solitude, is inherently linked to travel and solo-exploration, two things we value very much at Explore! And so, we’ve interviewed a selection of Explore’s own staff from around our business to find out their Desert Island Discs tracks – specifically the songs that evoke their biggest travel ‘moment’.
We also enlisted the help of a data whizz, to analyse the depths of Spotify to reveal which tracks appear the most on people’s personally curated ‘Desert Island Discs’ playlists. There are thousands of 'Desert Island Discs’ themed playlists on Spotify, and taking a sample of 999 of these playlists, we have uncovered which tracks appear most often. Below we exclusively reveal the eight most meaningful and special songs that the residents of Planet Earth would take with them to their desert island.

The Eight Most Popular Tracks Used in Personal Desert Island Discs Playlists, According to Spotify

Rank Track Title Artist
1 Landslide Fleetwood Mac
2 Fast Car Tracy Chapman
3 The Chain Fleetwood Mac
4 Wish You Were Here Pink Floyd
5 I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free Nina Simone
6 This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody) Talking Heads
7 Love Will Tear Us Apart Joy Division
8 Romeo And Juliet Dire Straits

Man with retro stereoLandslide – Fleetwood Mac

Widely considered as one of the standout tracks on Fleetwood Mac’s 1975 self-titled album, Landslide is the song that appears most frequently in people’s own curated Desert Island Discs playlists. The delicate melody and beautifully written and performed lyrics provide plenty of emotional connection opportunities for listeners; its introspective themes of aging, change, uncertainty and reflection have made it incredibly popular in Desert Island Discs playlists. The song has an enduring quality, appealing to generation after generation, currently sitting at over 540 million plays on Spotify. 

Fast Car – Tracy Chapman

The powerful lyrics of Fast Car, combined with Chapman’s unique voice and guitar style make Fast Car one of the world’s most popular songs (it has over 672 million plays on Spotify alone). It’s an iconic song of the 1980’s but has continued to resonate with subsequent generations thanks to its universal message of escaping hardship to search for a better life. Whether people find solace in the song’s message, or it simply reminds them of a particular time in their life, Fast Car is the second most popular track to appear in people’s personal Desert Island Discs curations. 

The Chain – Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac make a second appearance in the top three most common Desert Island Discs playlist tracks - fitting as the band truly dominates these rankings with five of their songs ranking in the top 30 (see appendix below). The Chain’s lyrics feature themes of love, commitment and the interconnectedness of people’s lives, set against intricate guitar work and a propulsive rhythm. The Chain has appeared in numerous films, TV shows and adverts over the years, helping cement it as a song that connects people to an important stage of their life. It has over 300 million more Spotify plays than Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide on Spotify, but isn’t featured quite as much in Desert Island Discs as the 1975 track. 

Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd

The stunning mix of piano with acoustic and electric guitar sets Wish You Were Here apart as one of Pink Floyd’s most highly regarded songs. The lyrics handle themes of loss, isolation and the search for meaning in an overwhelming world. Written at a time of social and political upheaval in the 1970’s, the song captures the mood of a particular place in time, but still has massive universal appeal that has lasted for five decades. There have been 766 million combined Spotify plays of the original and remastered version of the song, and it comes fourth in the most frequently seen songs in personal Desert Island Discs playlists. 

I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free – Nina Simone

Nina Simone’s enduring hit of positive empowerment is the fifth most seen song in people’s Desert Island Playlists. It has clocked over 90 million plays on Spotify, with listeners enjoying the gospel-inspired melody performed on piano, organ and percussion perfectly balancing Simone’s passionate and soulful vocals. The song has become an anthem in the struggle for freedom and equality, resonating with people on many levels - from social justice advocacy and civil rights movements through to people’s private and personal journeys of liberation. 

A wall with instruments hanging including guitars, violins and trumpetsThis Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody) – Talking Heads

Widely regarded as Talking Heads’ most iconic song, the engaging musical rhythm of This Must Be the Place is super-catchy with synths and percussion working together to create an uplifting track that is great for dancing to, as well as enjoying in a more introspective manner. It’s an innovative track, blending the worlds of early 80’s pop, rock and world music. It appears very often in Desert Island Discs playlists (being the sixth most popular) and the 2005 remastered version has 222 million plays on Spotify, thanks to its persistent themes of love, belonging and contentment. 

Love Will Tear Us Apart – Joy Division

The haunting and memorable melody of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart makes it an instantly recognisable song, that has cemented itself as an anthem of love, loss and emotional turmoil. Whether people associate it with a breakup, a lost love or just a particular year in their lives, the song frequently appears in Spotify’s Desert Island Discs playlists (it’s the seventh most frequently appearing track) and it has garnered over 335 million plays on the streaming platform. 

Romeo And Juliet – Dire Straits 

The Desert Island Discs show asks its castaway guests for the eight tracks they would take with them, and the eighth most frequently seen song in people’s personal Desert Island Discs playlists is Romeo And Juliet by the Dire Straits. Mark Knopfler’s distinctive vocal style adds a raw emotional depth to the lyrics and the doomed relationship they describe. The song also showcases Knopfler’s exceptional guitar work and, coupled with the strong emotional resonance of the song, the track displays a timeless quality that has kept it relevant for decades after its release. It has clocked up over 237 million plays on Spotify, with the version covered by The Killers garnering 43 million streams too.  

Explore’s Desert Island Discs ‘Travel Moments’

We asked Explore staff from around the business to share a Desert Island Discs that evokes a strong travel memory for them – and they did not disappoint!

Our Marketing Director Jae Hopkins reveals:
In April 1991 I was getting organised for my gap year travelling around the world. To save money I wasn’t going out much, so the radio was my friend. And Chesney Hawkes was singing The One and Only on every station. I sang along and felt powerful doing it. I WAS the one and only. Nobody I’d rather be! Funnily enough, many years later I worked at Butlins where Chesney often rocked the stage (he’s surprisingly rocky live) at the adult music weekends. I’ll always associate that track with holidays - both around the world and closer to home.

My first stop on that trip around the world was Thailand, and it was a real eye-opening adventure for me. Filled with beautiful beaches, golden temples, kind people, Mekong-&-Cokes, papaya salads, bamboo huts and iridescent fishes. I’d love to recreate a few days of that time on our Thai Island Hopping trip.

Our Asia Product Manager Chris Ellis shares:
“John Denver’s Country Roads instantly takes me back to Antarctica of all places! I went on an excellent cruise to Antarctica aboard the MS Expedition in 2014 and the ship had an in-house band made up from the Filipino Staff – The Monkey Eating Eagles was their name - and one of the songs they’d often play was Country Roads. After a busy day exploring an incredible other-worldly environment, it was so surreal to be sat in a bar on the back of a ship in the evening amongst a crowd of people belting out ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’ that it has just stuck with me ever since!”
Our Head of Product Rachael Stone says:
“In the Spring of 2005 I arrived in Auckland with my backpack, a Lonely Planet and a bucket load of anticipation.  A friend and I embarked on a month-long road trip to Queenstown, stopping off on the way to enjoy some of the country’s best hikes – the Tongariro Crossing, Abel Tasman Coastal Track and Milford Track to name a few. Driving along open roads with the windows down and the radio on, the soundtrack to our trip was Don Henley’s The Boys of Summer.  It was the perfect musical accompaniment to our road trip and we sang along whilst driving past scenery which seemed to get more spectacular the further south we travelled.  Whenever I hear Don Henley, I’m immediately transported back to New Zealand’s soaring landscapes, which can be experienced on our epic Walking in New Zealand tour.”

 Our Head of Commercial David Bray reveals: “I’m going to go with Bongo Bong or Je Ne T’aime Plus or Clandestino by Manu Chao. Arggh can I have all three? The album (Clandestino) as a whole perhaps? I first heard this music and thought what on earth is that?! Partly in English, partly in French, partly in Spanish. Having lived and studied in France (where I first heard it) and travelled there a lot, then travelling extensively in Latin America in the early part of my travel career, this music reminds me of two happy times – my studies in France and also hearing it in a beach bar in Jericoacaora (Jeri) in Northeast Brazil, and it always takes me back to that Latin travel-freedom vibe.”
Methodology & Appendix

All results are based on a sample of 999 Spotify playlists (the maximum sample size allowed by Spotify’s API) that included ‘Desert Island Discs’ in their title. The most popular artists and tracks were calculated by analysing the 33,332 individual tracks featured in the 999 playlists to find which tracks appeared most frequently. Of the 33,332 tracks analysed, 10,880 were unique songs, from 311 different artists.

The rankings are based on a single artist’s performance of a song. Remastered and live versions of a song, by the same artist, are included towards a song’s final count, but multiple artists’ recordings of the same song are not reflected in the final rankings. For example, Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’ ranks in 140th position, but when including Leonard Cohen, Rufus Wainwright, k.d. lang and other artists’ recording of this song, the song, regardless of the artist, actually features in 3.4% of people’s Desert Island Disc playlists. 

All data correct as of April 2023.

The Thirty Most Often Used Songs in Spotify ‘Desert Island Discs’ Playlists
Rank Track Title Artist Name Playlist Frequency Percentage
1 Landslide Fleetwood Mac 4.6%
2 Fast Car Tracy Chapman 4.4%
3 The Chain Fleetwood Mac 4.0%
4 Wish You Were Here Pink Floyd 4.0%
5 I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free Nina Simone 3.8%
6 This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) Talking Heads 3.8%
7 Love Will Tear Us Apart Joy Division 3.8%
8 Romeo And Juliet Dire Straits 3.5%
9 Here Comes The Sun The Beatles 3.4%
10 Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) Kate Bush 3.4%
11 Go Your Own Way Fleetwood Mac 3.4%
12 Tiny Dancer Elton John 3.2%
13 Dreams Fleetwood Mac 3.2%
14 American Pie Don McLean 3.2%
15 One Day Like This Elbow 3.2%
16 Into My Arms Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds 3.2%
17 Bohemian Rhapsody Queen 3.2%
18 Unfinished Sympathy Massive Attack 3.2%
19 Walk On The Wild Side Lou Reed 3.0%
20 Everybody Wants To Rule The World Tears For Fears 3.0%
21 Brown Eyed Girl Van Morrison 3.0%
22 Rocket Man (I Think It's Going To Be A Long, Long Time) Elton John 3.0%
23 Everywhere Fleetwood Mac 3.0%
24 Perfect Day Lou Reed 2.8%
25 Mr Brightside The Killers 2.8%
26 Common People Pulp 2.8%
27 (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Day Otis Redding 2.8%
28 Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes Paul Simon 2.8%
29 The Whole Of The Moon The Waterboys 2.8%
30 Harvest Moon Neil Young 2.6%