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Desert Island MP3s: What's Your Must-Have Music?

Here's a holiday weekend thought experiment, which doesn't seem so far-fetched anymore given the high price of gas: If you were stranded in the middle of nowhere, what digital tunes would you have to have on your music player to survive the boredom? In the old days, radio stations called this challenge "Desert Island Discs." I'm updating it for the MP3 era; read on for my list.
Here's a holiday weekend thought experiment, which doesn't seem so far-fetched anymore given the high price of gas: If you were stranded in the middle of nowhere, what digital tunes would you have to have on your music player to survive the boredom? In the old days, radio stations called this challenge "Desert Island Discs." I'm updating it for the MP3 era; read on for my list.British readers, by the way, will recognize "Desert Island Discs" not as some broadcast of distant memory but rather a real, live program which has run weekly on BBC Radio 4 for more than half a century. Unfortunately, us poor American cousins have had to get by on pale imitations. On WNEW-FM in New York City, which in the 1970s was archetypical FM progressive-rock station, listeners were invited to send in -- via snail mail -- their choice of three LPs to pass the time on their mythical island until the Bud Light cargo drop appeared. (I'm kidding; those Bud Light commercials came much later.)

Today, the music on three vinyl records wouldn't fill up enough bytefuls of an MP3 player to dent its capacity. Still, we're talking quality, not quantity, so here are the ground rules. You can choose only 10 albums, not singles, and no more than one album per artist. This second rule prevented me from loading up my list with Beatles records, though an artist is able to appear as both a member of a group and as a solo performer.

Don't put your picks in any particular order; just list 10. However, remember that greatest hits collections and compilations aren't allowed, because that would be cheating, even though this excludes Bob Marley's Legend. (The greatness of that album isn't enough to overcome the crappiness of all the other greatest-hits records combined, with the exception of The Beatles' 1, but the Fabs are always the exception.)

In true desert-island fashion, while I was mulling this blog some weeks ago, I prepared my list and carefully set it aside. Then I lost it. Still, that fits in with the "stranded" meme of the contest, which requires you to work with whatever you've got -- hey, that's what Madonna does.

OK, so here's my desert-island mp3 list of the moment, album version. Along with artist and title, I've included the year of release. I'm not saying it's the definitive list; I'm just saying it's mine. It's pretty much centered around the late 1970s and early 1980s, which tells you more about my age than about the music. Also, while this list might include a few artists who are obscure to the average American Idol fan, to even a moderately knowledgeable musician, I'm pretty much down with the hoi polloi. No jazz, no classical, too pop-oriented, and I always go for words over notes, but as an almost-writer (aka journalist), that's to be expected. Also, the list is overly tilted toward female artists -- not that there's anything wrong with that.

About the only thing I can state with certainly is that it's highly unlikely you'll agree with my list, and I'm not just talking about my readers who take issue with my fandom of Feist.

Wolfe's Desert Island MP3 Album List

  • The Beatles, Rubber Soul, 1965
  • Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, 1998
  • Patti Smith, Horses, 1975
  • The Clash, London Calling, 1979
  • Aimee Mann, Whatever, 1993
  • Fairport Convention, Liege & Lief, 1969
  • Kate & Anna McGarrigle, French Record, 1982
  • Sheryl Crow, Sheryl Crow (aka 2nd Album)1996
  • The Jam, Sound Affects, 1980
  • Robin Lane & The Chartbusters , Robin Lane & The Chartbusters, 1980

    What are your picks? After you're through insulting me over my selections, please add yours to the comments section below. You can also e-mail me directly at [email protected].

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