Sunday, July 31, 2011

Musicule's Desert Island Discs

Last week, Jeff Pollack wrote a great piece on Huffington Post about his desert island discs. While not an original concept, it was one of those rare occasions where I read someone's list of desert island discs (or DIDs) and respected the rationale behind the thought and agreed with many of his choices. I wouldn't have picked any of his DIDs for my island, but I understood and respected why he'd bring those.

After reading the article I quickly fired off a bunch of tweets listing my 10, which appear below, with my rationale. A word of clarification. Here are the two rules (at least my rules...expanded from Mr. Pollack):
  • No greatest hits compilations
  • An band or singer can only be represented once. However, you could conceivably have a Sting album and a Police album...that's fair.
With the technicalities out of the way, here are my 10 DIDs (in the order they popped into my head):

Rio, by Duran Duran: To anyone who knows me or has ever poked their head onto this website, the appearance of this album on my DID list is no surprise. I know my limitations in the bias department, and I know a ton of people would disagree with me on this pick, but this is the perfect album from beginning to end. If I had to pick one album that I would have to listen to over and over, Rio would be it. Why do I think this? Blame 12-year-old me. Once I got this album in my head, it never left. Released in 1982, 29 years later it holds up: nine songs, one instrumental and the album that, for better or worse, defined what Duran Duran is/was/could be capable of. From the opening swoosh of Rio to the jangling of keys at the end of The Chauffeur, Duran Duran's second album is what lightning in a bottle sounds like. That sound is what bands strive for: and few actually achieve this certain zeitgeist (Nirvana with Nevermind, Prince with Purple Rain, Peter Gabriel with So, Peter Frampton with Frampton Comes Alive, etc.)

Bachelor No. 2, by Aimee Mann: Aimee Mann is one of the most amazing songwriters of our time. It's a crime that she hasn't sold more albums or garnered more praise. This album is one of the best examples of a great album with an even better background story: By 2000, Aimee had no record contract and had to sell this CD on her website (I'm proud to say that's where I got my copy); Paul Thomas Anderson loved the songs enough to build a whole movie around them (Magnolia) AND the soundtrack got nominated for an Oscar, only to lose to Phil Collins that year (BOO!). Driving Sideways is one of those dark songs that you just want to belt out when it comes on.

Aladdin Sane, by David Bowie: Trying to pick my one favorite Bowie album is a tough decision. Despite the lousy pun in the title, this is the one Bowie album that I keep coming back to. It didn't have the most number of radio friendly hits, nor was it his most popular album. But, again, I have to go with cohesion. This album sets a mood and sticks with it, and in terms of Bowie's accomplishments, I would put any track on here against any of his best: Panic in Detroit brings the Ziggy swagger and Drive in Saturday Night brings the epic, almost Queen-like bombast. I have to confess that I was most torn between putting this on the DID list or Diamond Dogs. The only drawback to this album is an atrocious version of Let's Spend the Night Together. By the way, if I could specify which version of Aladdin Sane I would take with me, I'd go with the Rykodisc reissue: they did an amazing, respectable job of reissuing Bowie's catalog in the early 1990s.

Kick, by INXS: In 1987, my parents bought me my first CD player. Later that afternoon, I went to Bert's Record and Tapes in Wilmington, Delaware to buy my first batch of CDs. The addiction began right there, and Kick was in that first batch of six (if memory serves included The Cure's Staring at the Sea, Duran Duran's Seven and the Ragged Tiger, Sgt. Pepper, Sting's Dream of the Blue Turtles and George Michael's Faith). I had already owned this album on cassette, and for my freshman year at Syracuse, it served as the soundtrack to my life at the time, thanks to my yellow Sony Walkman. What's interesting is that I wouldn't characterize this as INXS' best, but again, it goes back to capturing a zeitgeist and with this album, INXS had their lightning in a bottle.

The Rise & Fall, by Madness: Have you ever misjudged a band by one song? Well, millions and millions of people have done that with Madness. On this side of the Atlantic Ocean, most people know Madness for their one hit (which appeared on this album in the UK initially, but a different album altogether in the US), Our House, which isn't indicative of their work. Rise and Fall, it's worth noting, also isn't indicative of most of their work, but it captures the band at their most creative and most interesting. For someone only familiar with the "nutty Madness sound", this will be an eye-opener. Not that anyone asks, but if anyone came to me and said, "If there's one album that I've never heard of that I should buy...what would it be?", I would suggest this one. It's also worth noting that this album takes the award for "Best Album Not Available on U.S. iTunes". 

Purple Rain, by Prince and the Revolution: In the fall of 1984, I began my short, but rewarding journalism career as a music critic at my high school's newspaper, The Brandywine Line, with a a review of Purple Rain. I gave the album a Spinal Tap-ian "11 out of 10". So much for managing expectations as a critic. This taught me a few lessons:

- Don't throw out your rating scale on the first album you review
- I didn't realize it at the time, but I recognized a classic when I heard it
- I'd still give it an "11"

My only complaint about the album was that it wasn't a soundtrack to the film. Imagine what rating I would have given this record if Sex Shooter and some Morris Day and the Time tracks were on this album!

Rhapsody in Blue, by George Gershwin: My girlfriend calls "bullshit" on this one...and understandably so, since I didn't have this in my iTunes music collection. An explanation of Dos Equis Guy level of proportions is in order: I don't regularly listen to classical music, but when I do, it's Gershwin. 

Particularly Rhapsody in Blue (known to many...sigh... as "The United Airlines Song":

And if I'm going to be stuck on a deserted island with only 10 albums, I'm going to want some Gershwin with me.

The Beatles for Sale: Picking my favorite Beatles album is probably one of the toughest music choices for me. It changes. I love Sgt. Pepper, I've gone weeks where the only thing I would play would be The White Album and there have been occasions where I would argue that side 2 of Abbey Road is the best seamless piece of music The Beatles ever recorded. However, for me, there's one album that marks the turning point for The Beatles, and it's on this record. Somewhere while recording this, The Fab Four matured, They outgrew pop as they knew it, they outgrew their fame and they outgrew their personas. One look at the cover tells you that these aren't the four boys from Liverpool you're looking for. They're battle weary, and they're ready to make the music they want to make. This is the transition album that took The Beatles to the creative stratosphere. And if you want to take one Beatles album, take one that has both early pop and the seeds of experimentation. That's For Sale.

Secrets of the Beehive, by David Sylvian: In college, you had to have a "mood record": one that reflected that you were reflective, moody and insightful. You played it when you were studying, you played in when you had people in your room and wanted to seem sophisticated or poignant and you played it when you needed to concentrate. This album fit that bill for me. It helped that I enjoyed it immensely. The whole album is simply beautiful, but two tracks stand out: Forbidden Colours and Let the Happiness In. If you don't own it, buy it and let David Sylvian's velvety baritone float you away.

So Red the Rose, by Arcadia: Let's just agree from the get-go that I'm not fooling anyone by having this album on here. It's a Duran know it, I know it, but I will justify having it because it's only two-fifths of Duran Duran and it's under the title of another band name. Regardless, I'm taking it with me to my deserted island, and it deserves to be there. This came out during the "Great Duran Duran Chasm of 1985" when Duran Duran split up to form two side projects: Arcadia and The Power Station. So Red the Rose was what Simon and Nick came up with and was a moodier, synthier, darker sound than Duran ever came up with. I've always maintained that Simon and Nick were the heart and soul of Duran Duran, and this album proves it do me. As an aside, I've never been much of a protestor, but when Capital Records neglected to reissue this as a CD in the late 80s, I undertook a one-man letter writing protest campaign against the head of Capital Records, vowing not to buy another Capital Records CD until the company issued this album on CD. My protest must have worked!

There's my list.... I'd love to see your lists. Please share below or via Twitter!

1 comment:

  1. As a postscript, I was going through some of my notes this morning, and I found my list of DIDs as of 2005:

    Duran Duran - Rio
    Aimee Mann - I'm With Stupid
    Beatles - White Album
    10,000 Maniacs - In My Tribe
    David Bowie - Diamond Dogs
    INXS - The Swing
    Blondie - Autoamerican
    David Sylvian - Secrets of the Beehive
    Norah Jones - Norah Jones
    Prince - Purple Rain

    It just goes to show you how one's tastes change over the years!