Because I like to torture and play mind games with myself, I decided to do this impossible task – to choose ten albums I’d want with me if I were stranded on a deserted island. I imposed the rules that I can only bring one per artist (including no repeats of artists, whether solo or in other bands), and I can’t have any greatest hits, compilations, or live albums.
1. London Calling – The Clash (1979 UK, 1980 US)
While there are a number of my favorite Clash songs that aren’t on this record, this album is truly a masterpiece and is the one I come back to all the time. Part of its genius is the variety of genres it incorporates: reggae, 50s rock and roll, lounge jazz, hard (?) rock, ska and, of course, punk. While their eponymous debut album is perhaps a bigger landmark, being one of the seminal punk albums released in Year Zero, 1977, London Calling was the moment the band broke free of the “accepted” punk sound. They said nothing is more punk than breaking all the rules and making whatever music you want, and incorporating all their influences in one record did just that. It should be noted, however, that punk was supposed to be a new sound without the old dinosaurs of past music seeping in. Whatever the rules, whatever the reasons for their choices, this album manages to pull together a wide variety of sounds while remaining cohesive. And the track “London Calling” doesn’t sound like anything else before or since. I can’t even begin to pick a few favorite songs, so I won’t. I’ll take this one to the island and play it through, over and over, even if I would be wishing that “White Man in Hammersmith Palais” were on it, as that might be my favorite Clash song. The greatness of this one can’t be overstated. The album regularly falls in top album lists. In 1989, Rolling Stone named it the best album of the 1980s. When Joe Strummer got the phone call about that, he was confused because it was released in 1979 (in December). The album was released in the US in January, 1980. I’d say it’s a contender for the top album for both decades.
A fun activity: imagine the Clash on a deserted island. I wonder who would end up being the first meal once the food runs out. My guess would be Mick.
2. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (1989)
I recently wrote a post about how much I love this one. What I’ve noticed since then is that this is a good one for me to have playing while I work – grading papers or prepping teaching materials – AND is one I crank up in the car and groove and drum while warbling along with Ian Brown’s vocals. (I’m not going to get into the debate about the quality of his voice – I’M the warbler, I’ll admit it. It’s one of my sorrows in life that I can’t sing very well at all. I have about a one-octave range, and I think I’m a tenor). I don’t expect to be driving or grading papers if I were a castaway, but the album would be good for the limited variety of activities available in said situation. She would be banging coconuts, not drums.
3. Elephant – The White Stripes (2003)
Another difficult choice: which White Stripes album to take. I chose Elephant mainly because “Ball and Biscuit” is on this one. It’s hypnotic, bluesy, and it sucks me into enjoying every second of the 7:19 running time. A bonus is that “Seven Nation Army” also appears on this record. I learned after falling in love with the album that the song has become a sports anthem in Europe, which kind of tickled me, as I don’t think that would happen here in the United States.
4. Heartbreaker – Ryan Adams (2000)
This album truly is the sound of a heart breaking. It took me a while to like alt-country, and I still like a pretty limited amount of it. I chalk that up to my dad watching Hee Haw all the time when I was a kid. When I first heard Ryan Adams, I preferred Gold for about five minutes until the depth and beauty of this album just hit me square in my soul. I’ve liked some of his other music well enough, but I’ll never get over this record. I can’t seem to pick a few standout tracks, but I’d say that “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” “Come Pick Me Up,” and “In My Time of Need” are probably the ones that I gravitate to if I don’t listen to the whole album.
5. Document – R.E.M. (1987)
While listening to Out of Time puts me straight back in my freshman year of college, and I’ll always love that album for that reason (as I recently wrote), Document perfectly captures their early sound but slightly evolved. If I took this one, I could spend a good amount of time trying to remember the lyrics to “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” which would be a good activity to stave off boredom on the island. I can’t really explain why, but beyond just loving especially the songs on the first half of the album, I have a particular affinity for “Oddfellows Local 151.” The lyrics are repetitive so there’s not a lot of verbal analysis to be done, but I think it’s the charming picture I have in my head of an oddball/wino perched on a wall behind a fraternal organization’s building, sermonizing. R.E.M. and Michael Stipe are known for impressionistic, imagistic lyrics, and I think that’s quite true of this song and this album. Even if the words don’t tell a story or make the connections for the listener, the evocative imagery works as a collage that enables the listener to visualize the subject matter. (Honorable mention – Automatic for the People. Beautiful, amazing, emotionally realized).
6. The Bends – Radiohead (1995)
Alright. I know that which Radiohead album is the “best” is one of those debates that will rage on, but guess what? I don’t think there’s a correct answer. My reason for picking this one is simple: I saw Radiohead play with R.E.M. on the Monster tour in 1995, and Radiohead was touring this album. Listening to it puts me back in that time and place, at what was then called the Riverport Amphitheater in St. Louis, Missouri, on a brisk late September night. The songs are lush and warm-sounding, soft but hard-edged, vulnerable yet steely. I have to admit that I haven’t listened to all of their albums enough to decide if this really is my favorite. Honestly, I don’t think it would change anything, as that would be an exercise of the intellect, and my love for this one is mostly emotional. Neither way of knowing beats the other, in my opinion. My favorite on this album might be a cliché – it’s “High and Dry.” Sometimes songs or albums are “the most popular” because they’re just damn good
7. Speaking in Tongues – Talking Heads (1983)
Choosing a Talking Heads album was difficult yet not. This one seems to me to be one of their strongest, but I actually like all of their albums about the same. What made this one an easy pick for me is that “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” is on it. I’ve loved that song for a long time but loved it more because it expressed how I felt about a previous boyfriend when we were dating. Hearing it became bittersweet after we split. Hearing it became devastating but comforting when he passed away a couple of years ago. He had “a face with a view.”
8. Different Class – Pulp (1995)
I’ve written about this one in a previous post, but I still can’t stress enough how fantastic it is. From the British anthem of the 90s, “Common People,” to the sweet “Something Changed,” from the devious class warrior narrator in “I Spy” to the completely danceable and poignant “Disco 2000,” every track is class. As I mentioned, there’s only one track I don’t care for, but I’m still not going to tell you what it is. Care to guess? Taking this to the island would be almostsortakinda like taking Jarvis with me. The original album also had different inserts you could put in for the cover photo, so this one would be a little game as well.
9. Power, Corruption & Lies – New Order (1983)
New Order is another one of those bands that have made consistently good albums with a good number of standout songs on each, and their singles that didn’t appear on a studio album, including “Blue Monday” and “Ceremony,” are classics as well. So, considering each of the studio albums that I’m most familiar with, I had to pick Power, Corruption & Lies. I’d love to have a record with me on the island that includes those singles I mentioned, as well as “Bizarre Love Triangle,” “True Faith,” and “Love Vigilantes.” Power, Corruption & Lies has a couple of tracks that I particularly love, including “Age of Consent,” which is one of their well-known songs. Another is “Your Silent Face,” which I hadn’t heard until I specifically listened to this album and haven’t seen (yet) anyone having written about the track. It’s hypnotic and dark and a bit dancey. The album overall is highly regarded and seems to me to be a bridge between their darker Joy Division sound and their future more electronic dance sound. The album cover is beautiful, so I’d have a nice piece of art to hang on the wall of my hut.
10. Parade – Prince & The Revolution (1986)
I’m torn – I might just as easily take the Purple Rain soundtrack instead of this one. Purple Rain is uneven, but “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Purple Rain,” and “When Doves Cry” are three of his best. Three of the best songs period. But Parade includes “Kiss,” which is my favorite Prince song. It’s funky as hell, and I can’t help but sing along and dance as well, even if I don’t do either of those very well. Another one I love is on this: “Sometimes It Snows in April.” The piano is gorgeous, and the fact that Prince died in April makes me choke up when I hear this now.
Wait – no, I think it’s going to have to be Purple Rain.
10. Purple Rain – Prince & The Revolution (1984)
See above, as well as my previous post about seeing the movie at age 12. These tracks never get old, and Prince will live forever.
What I have I left out? So very much! I enjoy jazz, musicals, hip-hop, rap, R&B, reggae, classical, blues – a little of almost everything. I gave some thought to variety when picking these, but overall, these albums are representative of what I love most, even if they don’t really cross genres too much. One that deserves honorable mention is August and Everything After by the Counting Crows (1993), as it’s one of those albums that I not only love, but I listen to it all the way through without skipping a track most of the time. It’s lush, melodic, and gorgeous.