The classic thought experiment; trapped on an island with nothing but a box of records to keep you company, which ones would you choose? It’s a simple question, but one that requires complex thinking. The choice is more involved than merely picking your ten favorite albums. You need to examine all your tastes and moods, and try to bring a package of music that can best serve all of them. Sometimes this requires the sacrifice of a dearly loved album that is too similar to another you’ve already chosen, and sometimes it means denying yourself of an element of music you love because you can’t bear to part with any other albums to make room.
In deciding on my desert island list, I tried as best I could to make it as inclusive of all the music I love. The goal was to give myself the widest range of sounds and emotions, while taking as many of my absolute favorite albums as was possible. If I didn’t love everything I picked, this would have been a miserable failure.
I hope to never be stranded on a desert island, but if I am, these are the ten albums I want to have with me.
Meat Loaf – Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell
Nothing else sounds like the music of Jim Steinman. His music is not for everyone, but if it speaks to you, there is nothing else like it. His mix of Wagnerian drama and soaring theatrical bombast is one-of-a-kind, and something I couldn’t imagine being without. “Bat Out Of Hell II” was the first album I ever owned, and remains a mainstay of my collection. Every time I listen to it, I get lost in the grandeur of the music, and am transported back to my youth. It’s one of the few albums that can move me in such a way, and aside from simply being great music, it’s a trait that would be most useful on a desert island.
Tonic – Lemon Parade
“Lemon Parade” is my favorite album of all time, and would appear to be an easy pick to include. It wasn’t, however, as it’s follow-up “Sugar” may be the more appropriate album for this dilemma. “Sugar” is the more balanced, diverse effort, the one that would pay dividends after long stretches of repeated listening. Ultimately, I chose “Lemon Parade” because of what “Sugar” isn’t; gritty and real. “Lemon Parade” isn’t a polished jewel of pop music, it’s a raw rock and roll record. That honesty makes all the difference.
Dilana – Beautiful Monster
How could I not include an album by my favorite singer on the planet? I couldn’t, in good conscience, and “Beautiful Monster” made any doubts I had disappear. Dilana’s voice is a thing of wonder, and it was impossible for me to imagine never hearing it again. While I loved “InsideOut”, that record was spotty enough to make me nervous about including it, but “Beautiful Monster” has no holes. It is, simply put, one of the most beautiful collection of viscerally emotional songs I’ve ever heard, sung by a voice that makes me weak.
Black Sabbath – Heaven & Hell
My love of the heavier side of music must be addressed, and there is no better way to do it than with “Heaven & Hell”. The seminal Black Sabbath album is everything a metal record should be; at times heavy, majestic, driving, soaring, and a testament to songwriting. I commonly refer to it as the blueprint upon which metal should be drawn, which makes it a perfect choice for inclusion. That it also happens to feature the immortal Ronnie James Dio, perhaps the greatest voice to ever grace a metal record, is icing on the cake.
Elvis Costello – King Of America
Picking an album from Elvis Costello’s vast catalog is not an easy task. His diversity is remarkable, and his best songs run the gamut of styles. What “King Of America” did better than any other album he has made is capture a mood. The somber, dusty sound that comes through these songs is a special blend. Though sparse in arrangement, there is a wealth of beauty to be found in these compositions. I have learned so much from this album about songwriting, and it remains my favorite choice as the soundtrack to a dark mood.
Dan Swanö – Moontower
For those moments when you feel defeated, and need an outlet for your frustration, we tend to turn the dial towards the more extreme. What that means for each of us is different, and for me it means turning to “Moontower”. There are times when you want to be run over by music, and nothing can do that better than death metal. But while most of that music would be unbearable after long, “Moontower” is a unique beast. Every time I listen to it, I find something else to love about it. It’s ugly enough for the times it’s needed, but is still beautiful enough to never been unwelcome.
Elton John – The Captain & The Kid
For the sake of diversity, I need to include something that isn’t guitar-centric. I love the sound of a thundering piano as well, and “The Captain & The Kid” is my go-to piano album. Elton John’s string of hits is rightly revered, but never before did he have such a sense of relaxed freedom about his music. His writing isn’t concerned with pleasing anyone but himself, and telling the story of his career was a masterstroke of inspiration. You can hear in every song how much they mean to him, and that makes it a joy to listen.
Wallflowers – Rebel, Sweetheart
Every time you ask me, I will tell you “(Breach)” is the Wallflowers’ greatest work. I was floored by it the first time I heard it, and remain convinced of its genius. But for the purposes of this exercise, it is not the right choice. “(Breach)” is many things, but fun is never one of them. Those brooding songs are beautiful in their own way, but would become weary if they were all you knew. “Rebel, Sweetheart” is a close second in quality, but provides a vastly different outlook. It is sunny where “(Breach)” is gray, wrapping the band’s best qualities in a record that is a slow sugar-fix. Sometimes you want to sit back and smile, which “Rebel, Sweetheart” will allow you to do.
Matchbox Twenty – Mad Season
I often recount the pearl of wisdom, “there’s nothing better than a three minute pop song.” I believe it to be true, and this album is my finest evidence. I grew up on pop music, and maintain a soft spot in my heart for when it manages to meet my expectations. “Mad Season” is a brilliant album that encompasses the various forms and sounds of the pop music I grew up with. It’s a perfect distillation of all the best days of the radio had to offer a wide-eyed kid such as myself. I couldn’t make a list that avoided pop music altogether, and “Mad Season” is the easiest gem to fit in the setting.
Transatlantic – Kaleidoscope
Progressive music seems like a natural fit for this scenario, with its layers upon layers of weaving sounds and meandering structures a perfect way of breaking up the routine of four minute musical bites. “Kaleidoscope” is more than my favorite progressive album, it’s the natural choice for this list. The dueling epics are filled with the requisite musicianship to amaze me for as long as I listen, but it’s the diversity that wins out. They music is epic in every sense of the word, but throws in a touching ballad, and one of the most riotously catchy songs I’ve ever heard. It has a little bit of just about everything imaginable.
With these ten albums, I believe I have touched upon every base I would want covered. They could never provide me with all the music I could ever want to hear, but they do the best job any small collection could. If they were all I could listen to for the rest of my life, I can’t say I’d be entirely disappointed.