Listening to music on a desert island

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.

31 Responses to “Listening to music on a desert island”

  1. This is a tough question, Dan. I know that my first album would be from Big Country, but I’m really torn between Seer and The Crossing. I think, maybe, for sheer artistry and power, I might have to go with The Crossing, although I would miss the soaring ballads on Seer.

    My second album would probably have to be Clapton Chronicles. Something about every song on that album. But then, I might actually like to go with something from the Cult, or even Pearl Jam. Which one could I listen to every day? Clapton, so that’s the one.

    Then I’d have to go with something more aesthetically challenging, because amazing guitars will take you a long way, but not all the way. I’d probably have to go with Olodum: Live at the Montreaux Jazz Festival.

    And I write all this while listening to U2 October. Go figure.

  2. Rob Wells says:

    Ha. I guess it proves that we shared a room for eighteen years, because when you first posed the question I immediately thought of both Abbey Road and Graceland.

  3. Maija-Liisa says:

    I’m with you on Abbey Road. As for the other two…I’ve narrowed it down to composers. I would have to pick a Sondheim musical, but keep on waffling between several of them (and now that I think of it, I want to throw in Les Miserables too). And then I thought I had it narrowed down to a Gershwin anthology but then I remembered Harold Arlen and can’t decide between those either. Can I take some Dvorak too? I just hope I never have to limit myself to such a sad, sad state.

    P.S. You need a ‘Notify me of additional comments’ option.

  4. admin says:

    I have a “notify of additional comments” option. It’s called “you love my blog so much you check every post, every hour, just in case there’s something new.” It’s an admittedly basic system, but it gets the job done for now.

  5. admin says:

    Also, dang you for mentioning Sondheim, that makes my choice even harder. Actually, it might make it easier–Company or Sunday in the Park with George could easily fill my third slot.

  6. Heather Muir says:

    This is a tough one! I don’t know if I can honestly decide but I’ll have a go:

    RENT: The Musical
    Hang on Little Tomato by Pink Martini
    You’ve Got Mail: The Original Score

    I know that last one is very strange and maybe doesn’t count as an album but that music is just part of me. It instantly puts me in a better mood, enables me to feel that whatever activity I am slogging through is glamorous and magical.

  7. Martin says:

    3 albums for the rest of my life…that’s a hard one.
    I think variety is definitely important. I’m a metalhead, but would I want to listen to only metal? No, because the sound of distorted guitars and pounding drums gets very annoying after a while.
    1. Once – Nightwish
    My favorite band, and I think this is their best album. Every song is so full of small details that you can listen to it a hundred times and still find some little things that you hadn’t noticed before.
    2. Madness Of Crowds – Troy Donockley
    I could listen to celtic music forever, and this album is the best celtic album I’ve heard. Like Once, this also is full of details that keeps the songs fresh.
    3. Hymn To The Immortal Wind – Mono
    I’m having a hard time choosing between this one and ‘You Are There’ which has my favorite songs on it. But I think this one is the best album overall. An incredibly beautiful album that puts you on an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish.

  8. Matthew Watkins says:

    I also love Abbey Road. In definite agreement.

    I would have to get HIStory because I just love Michael Jackson.

    I’m not sure what I would choose as a third album.

  9. Matthew Watkins says:

    I guess I would have to choose between some kind of James Taylor album, or A Love Supreme.

  10. Maija-Liisa says:

    I’m happy to have helped out with the third choice. You didn’t help solve my dilemma, though.

  11. Mike L says:

    You’re right, it’s tough. There are definitely albums which I love but if they were looped for a week I’d get tired of them.
    I guess I’d take some of the albums that I keep going back to regardless of my mood – albums that I usually stop listening to because I feel like listening to something different rather than because I’ve had enough of them for the time being.

    1) The Crow: Original Soundtrack (The 1994 movie, not the sequels)
    2) Tool – Aenima
    3) She Wants Revenge – She Wants Revenge

  12. Brooke says:

    Hm, at the moment I’d choose

    -Dig Out Your Soul – Oasis
    -Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs – Andrew Bird
    -O – Damien Rice

    Though, if I could only listen to three albums for the rest of my life, I’m sure I’d either go insane, or stop listening to music. Or rig up some instrument using coconuts and palm trees. That’d be fun.

  13. Titus says:

    My first thoughts of albums I own:

    1. Kamelot – Ghost Opera: The Second Coming
    2. Armin Van Buuren – A State of Trance 2007
    3. Carlo Maria Giulini – Mozart’s Requiem

    My choices would vary based on these questions: Do you have a battery-powered device and can only listen to each track once (and your batteries never deteriorate unless you use them)? Are there other people on the island (is there a cultural future here)? Are you guaranteed to live on this island from this day until you die of old age?

  14. Simple, at least for me:

    1: Depeche Mode’s “101”, though I wonder if this is cheating since it’s a double CD?
    2: Portishead’s “Portishead”
    3: Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World”

  15. Rose says:

    I almost always think harder on these kinds of questions than I think I should.

    I’m going to try this, but usually when I answer this question, I always have to wrack my brain of what I’m listening to in a given moment.

    1. The Smithereens – “Especially for You” or “Green Thoughts”, I’m edging toward “Especially for You” because it has some of my favorite songs, but “Green Thoughts” has a cohesiveness that makes it stand out (and I love several of the tracks on that too…crud, this is hard).

    2. Miles Davis – “Kind of Blue”
    3. Chiaki Ishikawa – Boku wa Mada Nanimo Shiranai

  16. Christoph says:

    Tough one, really. Kind of reminds me of High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, except that the list in question only has three slots.
    I do not know whether it bends the rules of this particular game, but I will treat double CDs (two cds in one jewel case) as one.

    Then I suppose my first choice would be Black Clouds and Silver Linings by Dream Theater. There are actually three CDs in one jewel case, but the third only features the instrumental tracks of the first one, so I suppose it would not count. The first CD is brilliant Dream Theater work, the second a mix of covers of bands Dream Theater loves. I like all albums by Dream Theater, but somehow that one sticks out in my mind as my favorite.
    My second choice is an album by the german acapella band Wise Guys. The best feature of their music is how intelligent they play with texts and words and the harmonies behind them. The album I would choose is “Frei!”.
    The third album I would choose is “Achillesverse” by Bodo Wartke, again a German artist. He is very creative, glib, and he is a very good pianist. I don´t suppose he is well known outside of Germany, but if you are curious, there are some videos of him on youtube. I´d recommend his rendition of Mozarts “Rondo alla Turca” ( the video is called “alla turca stomp”), or if you understand the german language, “Bodo Wartke – an dich”. He is a genius.
    So in list form, my choices:

    1. Dream Theater – Black Clouds and Silver Linings
    2. Wise Guys – Frei!
    3. Bodo Wartke – Achillesverse

    Oh and Dan, thank you for your diversity in your blog. It is always delightful to come here and find something with a completely different angle. Guess I am one of these “I love your blog so much I check every post, every hour, just in case there’s something new.”-guys…

  17. Addison C. Smith says:

    I really thought this would be more difficult than it turned out to be. Three albums that I could listen to over and over again, without growing bored.

    Avenged Sevenfold – Avenged Sevenfold
    The album lacks the song M.I.A. from City of Evil, the loss of which would hurt me a great deal, but it has enough awesome to help me heal.

    Hybrid Theory – Linkin Park
    A Thousand Suns is awesome, but I fear what will happen when the novelty of it being a new album wears off

    The Book of Secrets – Loreena McKennitt
    I hope I surprised someone with this third choice. The truth is, I am not sure I could live without The Highwayman or The Mummers’ Dance.

  18. Sean - Texas says:

    Your second choice was a pleasant surprise. I love that collection, especially Si Te Vas. It breaks my heart every time I listen to it, which, sadly, has been some time. Ciego, Sordomudo and Moscas en la Casa are also amazingly good.

    I can’t really pick my three, mostly because I don’t generally listen to albums as a whole, with a few exceptions: Live’s Throwing Copper is amazingly good, as is Bush’s Sixteen Stone, but I am not sure I’d take either one of those. The Counting Crows’ Rainy Day album is also really good.

    If we’re allowed to take soundtracks, then one of my choices might very well be the Last of The Mohicans sound track. Then again, it might be Evita. I don’t know. I’d be too afraid that I was passing by a gem that I had yet to truly discover.

  19. Dan Smyth says:

    1: Metallica, Load
    2: Black Lab, Your Body Above Me
    3: Tom Waits, Orphan: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards

    Though, Jim Croce’s Greatest Hits hits real close to that number three spot as well.

  20. Steve D says:

    Dan, I think you can consider some Best Of albums as qualifying for this topic if they were released to fulfill contractual obligations.

    Jamiroquai – High Times
    U2 – Achtung Baby

    As for a third, it would probably be something by 311.

    I was impressed by your mentioning of Shakira’s early, good stuff. I almost put Cuando los Ángeles Lloran or Sueños Líquidos by Maná. The guitar and lyrics of those albums are great.

  21. admin says:

    My favorite Mana album is Donde Jugaran Los Ninos? We need to get together sometime and get all nostalgic over late 90s Mexican rock.

  22. Steve D says:

    Donde Jugaran Los Ninos is pretty good, but its pretty straight forward rock. The next two, after they changed guitar players, are much more creative in my opinion. Of course, the guitar player from Mana went to Jaguares, and they are pretty awesome too.

  23. Sean - Texas says:

    I never could get into Mana, but early Santana is awesome, e.g. Corazon Espinado. Of course, for newer stuff, you can’t beat Juanes. Mala Gente ftw.

  24. Steve D says:

    Corazon Espinado isn’t exactly new Santana. It was written by Fher from Mana in ’99 in an effort to bring Santana some commercial recognition after a couple decades of limited success. I mean, Santana was founded in the 60s. I prefer the the “newer” stuff that is mostly just collaborations (like that great Mana/Santana number).

  25. Steve D says:

    I meant to say “early Santana”.

  26. Scott M says:

    Yet another wrench is thrown into the question when one of your favorite pastimes is dancing. There’s a ton of music I love listening to, but if I have to choose three albums they’re going to be albums that SWING:

    The Best of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
    Gene Harris: The Best of the Concord Years
    Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra: Live in Swing City

  27. Terra L says:

    I love your blog! So much so I am giving you the “Lovely Blog Award”. Go to to claim it. I promise I made it as un-cutesy as possible just for you! :) Terra

  28. Liz says:

    Evanescence: Fallen
    I like a lot of songs and groups in this genre, including Nightwish, but I love all of Fallen and “Going Under” in particular. One of those songs I couldn’t live without.

    Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker: performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.
    Not sure the orchestra matters particularly, but it’s the version I have and they’re very good. I listen to it year-round. The Nutcracker is not Christmas music in this house.

    3 Doors Down: Away From the Sun
    When I feel the need to hear some alternative, this is my go-to album.

    I think I actually could listen to only these for the rest of my life if I had to. Like Scott, dancing is a really important part of my life, but I’m a belly dancer (goth), so I love to dance to Evanescence. I also really like Ojos Asi for that, but had to narrow by album…
    I also need the brain-clearing effect of great classical music, and as an “album” the Nutcracker does it for me.

  29. Alex B. says:

    This is tough. My musical tastes vary so much with my mood. That said, I’ll attempt to pick three.

    1.) Thrice-Vheissu

    Thrice has been my favorite band for almost ten years now and this is their Magnum Opus. For me, it redefined what music can do. Perfectly mixing the ambient and the chaotic, it’s a masterpiece.

    2.) Eminem-The Marshall Mathers LP

    Say what you want about Em, he’s a masterful artist. Even when he is saying the most repugnant things possible, he says them with unbelievable beauty. His writing ability coupled with Dr. Dre’s beatmaking ability is an unstoppable combination, one that even haters of rap should be able to appreciate.

    3.) Warren Zevon-I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

    Warren Zevon is one of the most underrated performers of the last half century. This collection of his songs covers most of his finest works, but there are so many that it doesn’t get them all. Still, if picking one disk, this compilation would be it. If I were to pick one actual album of his, Excitable Boy is great, and his posthumous Wind is superb.

  30. Andrew says:

    Soon this question could be meaningless, given the increasing prevalence of iTunes-style music consumption. Even now, I think about the songs on my multi-thousand song playlist, and I don’t think I have more than a few from any but a handful of albums.

    That said, if I had to pick three, they’d be:

    1) Epica- The Classical Conspiracy

    Symphonic Metal is my favorite musical genre, and this album has some of my favorite examples of it.

    2) “Fellowship of the Ring” soundtrack

    I love listening to dramatic soundtrack music, and this is one my favorites. A necessity when searching for inspiration while writing.

    3) Special Reserve- Gaelic Storm

    Irish drinking music. Enough said.

  31. Max Moseley says:

    Um…is there ever going to be another blog post? Perhaps another State of the Danion address?

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