The Desert Island discs

Several months ago, I first posted my list of “Desert Island Discs.” Most people are generally familiar with the concept — what discs would you want if stranded on a desert island. I first encountered the concept in another lifetime in which I was actually a published music critic. The managing editor suggested it as a topic for a column so readers might have an idea where I was coming from in my reviews. I figure the same is true here.

I have two ground rules: no more than a dozen selections and no greatest hits or compilation releases. With that, here’s my explanation of why particular discs made my Desert Island list:

Abandoned Luncheonette (1973) — To many people, Hall & Oates means the 1980s version that produced almost sickeningly slick pop music. This album demonstrates far better the duo’s talents and there may be no better example of Philly-based “blue eyed soul.” Moreover, given the technology of the time, this LP was exquisitely recorded.

Were you ever so in love
You couldn’t wait to get to sleep and dream
About the one you wish was there beside you
— Had I Known You Better Then

Abbey Road (1969) — This is kind of a kitchen sink pick. A Beatles LP is a necessity and I’d be happy with any from Rubber Soul on. Abbey Road gets the nod perhaps because it technically is the last studio recording of the group.

And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make.
— The End

Blood on the Tracks (1975) — This LP may rank as #1 on the list. Written following Dylan’s estrangement from his wife (they divorced in 1977), I can only describe it as perhaps the most beautiful and exquisite album about life and love ever recorded.

I’m going out of my mind
With a pain that stops and starts
Like a corkscrew to my heart
Ever since we’ve been apart.
— You’re A Big Girl Now

Chicago Transit Authority (1969) — The first release by the band that even on this album’s liner notes wanted to be known simply as “Chicago.” It epitomizes the fusion of jazz and rock in this era. In addition to the drive and color of the horns, the album shows that Peter Cetera was actually a tremendous bass player and the awesome talent of Terry Kath, the lead guitarist who died in 1978 at age 31.

And don’t you put me down, please
For creating beyond your mind
I said all you got to do is listen
— Listen

The Heart of Saturday Night (1974) — I am not a big Tom Waits fan. This album, though, truly demonstrates his songwriting talent and wordcraft. Part jazz, part blues, part hipster rap, the album brings you right into the smoky nightclub in which these tunes were meant to be performed.

If I exorcise my devils
Well my angels may leave too
When they leave they’re so hard to find
— Please Call Me, Baby

Highway 61 Revisited (1965) — I still remember exactly where I was the first time I heard “Desolation Row” from this LP. Coming at the conclusion of the album, it eliminated any doubt that Bob Dylan was a genius. This album is a true blend of folk and rock. And when you consider “Desolation Row” closes an LP that opens with “Like A Rolling Stone,” voted Rolling Stone’s greatest song of all time and about which a book is written, you know you’ve got something special.

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?
— Ballad of a Thin Man

Kind of Blue (1959) — Easy. The finest jazz record ever made.

L.A. Woman (1971) — If Jim Morrison’s personal life was sinking him and the Doors, this LP showed they were still capable of making great music. The title track and “Riders on the Storm” alone make this worth the price of admission. At least Morrison went out with a classic.

Well, I’ve been down so Goddamn long
That it looks like up to me
— Been Down So Long

Who’s Next (1971) — The first release by The Who after <Tommy, this is another Pete Townshend extravaganza. Yet by jettisoning the concept approach, this album is tighter and has nary a weak song. And, with cuts like “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and lyrics referring to the “teenage wasteland,” it can be seen as a well-crafted albeit disillusioned farewell to the 60s.

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss
— Won’t Get Fooled Again

The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973) — From the opening mild horn cacophony of “The E Street Shuffle” through the closing “New York City Serenade,” this album never hits a sour note. Springsteen has always been a great wordsmith. This LP established his abilities were far deeper and broader than lyrics. Almost an ode to life on and near the Jersey shore, to me this is quintessential Springsteen.

Now I know your mama she don’t like me
’cause I play in a rock and roll band
And I know your daddy he don’t dig me
But he never did understand
— Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)

Warren Zevon (1976) — As with Tom Waits, I am not a huge Warren Zevon fan. But this album is a treasure chest of tremendous songwriting. It was produced by Jackson Browne and many of the creators of the so-called Southern California sound of the 1970s are on it. As a result, it tends more toward that style than some of his later productions. I find this the most consistent of his work.

She’s so many women
He can’t find the one who was his friend
So he’s hanging on to half her heart
He can’t have the restless part
— Desperadoes Under the Eaves

A final comment. My ground rules say “no more than a dozen” yet I list only 11 discs. That is because often the disc I am currently listening to is perfect for the desert island at that particular moment in time. A person needs to be able to make a last minute adjustment before hitting that desert isle.

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