Soundtrack Of My Life: Don Letts

Legendary DJ and artist who witnessed the birth of punk

The first song I remember hearing

Peter, Paul and Mary – ‘Puff The Magic Dragon’

“I’m as old as rock ’n’ roll. I remember listening to this show when I was a kid called ‘Ed Stewpot’s Saturday Morning Show’ on Radio 1. It would’ve been in a council flat in Brixton, tuned in to my radio, back when that was my only form of transport. I didn’t get the references in the song at the time, but I soon caught up.”

The first song I fell in love with

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The Beatles – ‘For No One’

“That soundtracked the first stirrings in my underpants. I was of that age when you’re starting to look at girls and think about that stuff. I was pining over a certain young lady. I had an opportunity to make a film with Paul McCartney about five years ago and I told him this story of me sending the lyrics of that tune to this girl I had my eyes on and pretending that I’d written it. He laughed. That afternoon we were shooting some shit and he played it for me on the piano. I can’t tell you how fucking touched I was.”

The first record I bought

Marvin Gaye – ‘What’s Going On’

“I’m of the generation where you could go to the sweet shop and have these ex-jukebox records, so I remember picking up some of those. I remember investing in this song. It was a big deal to me – and it remains one of my all-time favourite albums. It’s the voice of god for a man with a great soundtrack.”

The first gig I went to

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The Who at the Young Vic, London, 1971

“At 15 years old, I saw The Who. I’m at school and word goes around the school that some band’s playing at the Young Vic, which isn’t a normal venue, and they want an audience. I went in my goddamn school uniform. It was The fucking Who doing a full production rehearsal. So they’re not jamming. There’s dry ice, lasers, Townshend doing the goddamn windmill. I’m 15 feet from the front of the stage and I can see the whites of Keith Moon’s eyes, and that was it. Before that I was a grade-A student. After that night they fucked me forever and made me the man I am today. That lit the touchpaper. Blinding.”

The song that reminds me of home

The Kinks – ‘Waterloo Sunset’

“I’m first generation British-born Black and that does it for me. I’ve got a jukebox and it’s still on my jukebox to this day. It’s a genius homage to the city that I love that’s never been bettered. The Clash‘s ‘London’s Calling’ comes close but if you’re not from London, if you don’t know, you don’t fucking know. It’s hard to put into words but thank god that Ray Davies did.”

The song I wish I’d written

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl – ‘Fairytale Of New York’

“What a great fucking record. And it’s a massive fucking earner. Result! Kerching! Winning! I know Shane from ’77 back in the Roxy and to think that that person – a Nipple Erector – would destined to be the man that wrote that song, it blows my mind every fucking time.”

The song I do at karaoke

None

“Are you having a giraffe? I’m Don Letts, the Rebel Dread. Fuck off. Jesus Christ. I’ve never been that drunk.”

The song I can’t get out of my head

Bob Marley – ‘Get Up, Stand Up’

“They keep trying to write him off as ‘One Love’. The dude was a complex brother. He weren’t that simplistic and right now that’s a song that speaks to me and countless other people on this planet.”

The song I can no longer listen to

The Rolling Stones – ‘Brown Sugar’

“In a world so woke you can’t make a joke, there’s a lot of them. The building blocks of rock ’n’ roll, right or wrong, are these misogynistic, sexual… that’s half of rock ’n’ roll. I ain’t saying it’s right but with this new woke world it makes you hear these tunes in a different light.”

The song I want played at my funeral

The Jam – ‘Going Underground’

“If I want to leave with a laugh, it’s got to be this. If I want to get six feet deep it’s Flaming Lips’ ‘Do You Realize??’ Do I want it to be a party? I don’t know, I won’t fucking be there. All I hope is the DJ’s good and there’s a lot of bass.”

The song that makes me want to dance

Tame Impala – ‘One More Year’

“I used to be a real fucking show-off, one of these competition-winning motherfuckers. But that was in the days when I had a big afro and I was a real dick. I’m of the generation where all we had to express our identity and our sexuality was our dance moves and our style, and I maxed that shit out. Now I just groove.”

The song that reminds me of the NME Awards

Primal Scream – ‘Loaded’

“If you’ve ever been to an NME Awards, enough said. This song captures the spirit of all the NME Awards I’ve been to. I’ve got a job on the BBC now so I can’t say [what he can remember about previous awards], and I don’t want to incriminate people that should know better.”

‘Rebel Dread’, a music documentary about the life of Don Letts, is released in UK cinemas on March 4

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