This is two music-themed posts in a row; weird.
A few weeks ago a friend asked me: “If you were trapped on a desert island and could only listen to three albums for the rest of your life, what would they be?” I love these kinds of questions because the important part is the limitation, and the desert island is not only irrelevant but actually changes the situation drastically. If I can only listen to three albums again for the rest of my life, okay, I see where you’re going with this and I can formulate an answer, but what does the desert island have to do with it? Does this island have electricity? Does it even have a CD player or an iPod or something to play the music on? Am I to assume this device will never break down, and the electricity to power it will never run out? If so, then should I further assume that I’m trapped there with the Professor from Gilligan’s Island? These are important things to know, and they could drastically alter my answer (for example, if Maryanne’s there, I’ll choose two Barry White albums and Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing).
But I’m going to go with the intent of the question and ignore the desert island: I can only listen to three albums again for the rest of my life. This is an interesting question, subtly yet intriguingly different from “What are your three favorite albums,” because it seems to call for a bit of variety in your selections. It may very well be that two, or even all three, of your favorite albums are from the Rolling Stones, but if you were forced to listen to those and nothing else you might get sick of a single style of music and voice, so you’d be better off choosing just one Rolling Stones album and then two different albums you also love in order to switch things up a bit. Or you might be a bigger Stones fan than I think you are, which is also fine. You make your list, I’ll make mine.
My first album is a windmill slam, no-questions-asked, how-could-I-ever-pick-anything-else kind of pick: Abbey Road, by the Beatles. I love the Beatles with the same kind of eye-scratching obsession that teenage girls loved them with in the 60s, and Abbey Road is by far their best album. BY FAR. Don’t argue this point, because I will cut you. Side one is fun and wacky, with super hits like Come Together, kooky classics like Octopus’s Garden and Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, and one of the best love song’s ever written: Something. All great songs, but not yet transcendent; that’s where side two comes in. Side two of Abbey Road doesn’t just present some more songs, it changes the entire concept of what an album, or even a song, can be. The first two songs are catchy, trippy Beatles-ness, leading us step by step into deeper, weirder, downright brilliant section that’s half medley, half pop-rock suite, and overflowing with awesomeness. Themes rise, fall, repeat, and weave through each other, both musically and lyrically, and the whole thing comes together in a crashing, pitch-perfect ending. The goofball Her Majesty track stuck onto the end is like an inside joke where the Beatles wink and let you know they’re just kidding around, except the fact that they wink let’s you know that they aren’t, and I don’t know what to think anymore I just want to listen to it again. This is my favorite album of all time, and I would happily listen to it forever, desert island or not.
My second album is going to surprise most of you: Donde Estan Los Ladrones?, by Shakira. Shakira is famous in America primarily for being a Latina booty-shaker, but before she entered what I’ll call the “Britney Spears” phase of her career, she had a much softer, more poetic, sort of “Alanis Morisette/Jewel” kind of phase of her career, and this is the one I love. This started with Pies Descalsos, which I loved, and thought nothing could beat, but she followed it up with Donde Estan Los Ladrones? which was, quite simply, so much better it made Pies Descalsos look pretty amateurish in comparison. I still love them both, but if I have to choose only three albums for the rest of my life Donde Estan Los Ladrones? will definitely be one of them. I love every track on this album, covering every musical genre from rock to mariachi to pop to country to some kind of Lebanese thing in the radio hit Ojos Asi. More than the music, though, it’s the lyrics that I love. Listen to Moscas en la Casa, or Ciega, Sordomuda, or my favorite, Tu, and marvel at the sheer poetry of it, sometimes happy, sometimes heartbreaking, always fiercely intelligent and achingly self-aware. As with Abbey Road, this is one of my favorite albums of all time, and I would gladly listen to very little else for the rest of my life.
Now, the hard part. The first two were easy, but the third? I honestly have no idea. Graceland, by Paul Simon? Or if we’re allowing “best of” compliations, Negotiations and Love Songs by Paul Simon? Or how about the Silversun Pickups–they’re arguably my favorite band currently playing, but I don’t know which of their albums I’d choose; Carnavas is the strongest album overall, but my favorite individual songs are on Pikul and Swoon. I’m a huge fan of Radiohead, and I’d seriously consider The Bends as one of my desert island albums, but…I don’t know. As much as I love that album, I don’t know if I feel strongly enough to take the plunge and choose it. So let’s expand the net a bit: how about the mashup album American Edit? Santana’s lots-of-guests album Supernatural? Some hypothetical Pearl Jam album that just contains everything on Ten plus Given to Fly? Or maybe it’s something I haven’t even considered yet, like Weezer’s blue album, or Don Mclean’s American Pie, or Tapestry by Carole King. I don’t want to include “best ofs” because then I’m just choosing artists, not albums, and I think that’s cheating. Anthologies, on the other hand, would probably be fine as long as they were produced by a real studio–no mix tapes allowed–which means I could maybe choose the Forrest Gump soundtrack. I don’t know, this is too hard.
What about you guys? I’m not asking for suggestions because, frankly, your tastes are not mine, and vice versa; this isn’t an empirical list of best albums, this is three albums that you, personally, would choose to listen to if you couldn’t ever listen to anything else.