Rock Steady, June 30 and July 7, 1983
Every once in awhile you’ll hear somebody talk about who they’d want to be marooned on a desert island with. I have a number of candidates for that position, but my thoughts have just as often run to what I’d want to be stranded with.
One of the requisites, of course, would be an adequate stereo system — with, I guess, a solar panel to run it — and a stack of records to wile away the hours. And since a stereo and solar power unit to run it (not to mention my choice of company) is asking a lot already, we’ll have to assume a limited record collection. Therefore, here are my picks for the 10 records I would need to survive:
“Moondance,” Van Morrison: Absolutely essential, besides being one of the best albums ever made, in my humble opinion. It’s one of those rare discs where every song clicks. It’s substantially mellow music, coming from the man who led the Irish group Them and gave us such classics as “Gloria,” “Mystic Eyes” and “Here Comes the Night” — but it does have “Caravan,” which is enough of a rave-up for life on a desert island.
“The Band,” the Band: Another classic (it’s the brown album, their second release), it was acclaimed by all when it came out in 1969; the group played backup to Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan before going it on their own. “Cripple Creek” was about the closest the group ever had to be a big hit — but as is usually the case, it isn’t the best song on the album. Everybody else has recorded “The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down,” but the less well-known numbers like “Ole Rockin Chair,” “Jemimah Surrender” and “Across the Great Divide” are the real meat; supplies 100 percent of your MDR for real American country (as opposed to Gnashville).
“Pretzel Logic,” Steely Dan: The best album by the most unique pop musicians of the ’70s, and another disc with hardly a low spot. Intelligent life without the guitar break on “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” might not be possible, I could use “Any Major Dude” to console my companion, and having their version of Duke Ellington’s “East St. Louis Toodleoo” around is a bonus.
“Who’s Next,” the Who: Like the Beatles and Stones, you have to have one by these guys around or you’ll forget what rock music is all about. Picking which one, like with those other groups, is tough; “Next” is probably their most unified and coherent (although it would be tempting to bring “Tommy” along instead). “Baba O’Reilly,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Mobile” would remind me of what I left behind, and “Behind Blue Eyes” would remind me to keep madness carefully at arm’s length. Another piece of vinyl with no flaws.
“Communiqué” — Dire Straits: Nobody else probably knows about this one (I got my copy from the cutout rack at the Farmer Store for $3.99), probably because it doesn’t have “Sultans of Swing” on it. But it’s technically an excellent recording, the guitar playing is really amazing and the lyrics are very interesting — particularly on “Once Upon a Time in the West,” “Cutty Sark” and the title tune. It also provides one of my two token recordings from after 1973, when the art of making good albums (not just fancy recordings of catchy songs) was lost to all but a few.
“The Beatles” (White Album), the Beatles: This group probably deserves two albums in any such life support kit—but then this two-record set is worth about any four others. The double disc format finally gave them enough room to spread the studio time around to all four talents, and the result is a lot of variety and experimentation. “Abbey Road” was probably a better album — but this way I get twice as much Beatles music.
“Something … Anything,” Todd Rundgren: Another little-known classic, one for which I’ve been cruising the cutout racks and record clubs for quite awhile. Not many realize it, but Rundgren was one of the major figures in American pop and rock in the ’60s and ’70s, through his work with Nazz and Runt and his later solo stuff. “Something” is another two-record set, and has a wealth of material on it; “Hello, It’s Me” is probably the best known, but it also includes a letter-perfect Beatles sendup, “Couldn’t I Just Tell You The Way I Feel,” and everything else from silly Philly shoe leather to bouncy ballads.
“Bop ’till You Drop,” Ry Cooder: Another overlooked classic, probably because it doesn’t fit any one groove; Cooder has explored every nook and cranny of southern music, and this album has everything from Tex-Mex to soul. “Down in Hollywood” is perhaps the most memorable cut; it has a riveting backup vocal by none other than Chaka Khan, who used to front for Rufus. Cooder’s blue-eyed soul singing makes the Righteous Brothers sound like Gary Puckett.
“Sticky Fingers,” The Rolling Stones: No such list would be complete without the Stones, but like the Beatles, it’s tough to choose. “Exile on Main Street” or “Let It Bleed” would have been the alternatives, but “Fingers” centerpiece “Wild Horses” is one of my favorites, with “Sway” and “Dead Flowers” right behind; “Brown Sugar” probably survived radio overplay better than most hits. As a whole, this album (and “Exile”) are most representative of the Stones at their prime.
“Dark Side of the Moon,” Pink Floyd: Something to listen to in those black moods that you don’t want to be plucked out of. One of the best engineered and produced albums ever recorded (Alan Parsons turned the knobs), it is also one of those perfectly unified concept albums that flourished in the early ’70s (Parsons seems to be the only one even attempting it anymore); “Money” was PF’s first Top 40 hit. My selection of “Dark Side” is heavily influenced by having seen the group on the tour that promoted the record.
The above list doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be scrambling to grab some other albums before the ship went down; I know I’d miss my recordings of Beethoven’s “Eroica” symphony and his “Emperor” concerto, and Respighi and “The Four Seasons” (the concerti, not the group) and some Duke Ellington would be nice to have, too. But I do have to save some room for my banjo!