On Part 3 of our inaugural podcast, Riffraph joins in to discuss the Drake vs Meek Mill beef, the state of hip hop, Dr. Dre, BET, Kendrick Lamar and more. Enjoy!
By now everyone knows that Riley “Blues Boy” King is dead at 89. There are some people whose absence means that things will not and cannot ever be the same. B.B. King was the face of blues music for more than half of a century, with a reputation earned by relentless touring, soulful singing, legendary playing and remarkable stage presence. The best entertainers can be summed up immediately by one image. When you see King’s Gibson “Lucille” guitar you know who it is, and who is coming.
Anybody could have written that paragraph though.
Blues is unlike other forms of music in that the more notes you play, the less it sounds authentic. The best blues players don’t use a lot of equipment or a wide variety of guitar. The technique is all in the hands, in wringing every bit of soul and emotion from every note. B.B. King was the master of timing, of teaching when to play and when not to play. And that vibrato where he swings that pinky while keeping that first finger fixed? Divine.
King created an internal tension in every lead he played. Sometimes in a song he would dedicate time to labor-intensive string bending, slowly creating rich, sobbing notes. Then he would just hold one note for one seemed like forever, finally finishing it with a flurry of activity. That understanding of his audience is something that hundreds of thousands of players have imitated ever since.
It would have been enough for him simply to be great. But its what King did after that that was even more astonishing.
King put together shows and specials and became the glue that held blues together. You could always count on his consistent performance, but it’s his chemistry with other musicians that made him irreplaceable. On any given day he could trot out Eric Clapton, whose voice would blend perfectly with his as they calmly traded licks. They would bring in a couple singers, say, Dr John or Koko Taylor for a couple tunes for a different feel.
Then out would come Buddy Guy, whose showmanship, competitiveness, and constant improvisation would immediately energize everyone. From Texas you’d have the Iceman Albert Collins with his reedlike Telecaster sound, or the earthy overbends of Albert King or Stevie Ray Vaughan. From Memphis, maybe Lonnie Mack, from Britain, good old Ron Wood or mercurial Jeff Beck.
It didn’t matter.
As long as B.B. King was there, he could play with them all, and their respect for him held it together. With anyone else it would have been cacophony. But B.B. King would calmly play on Lucille, and then he would give a little nod, so slight you may have missed it if you were watching. And that’s how everyone knew it was okay for them to play, cause he said so. And if he made that little grimace, they knew they had hit that sweet spot.
To some people blues is sad, an intense protest from the soul about trials that never seem to change. To some people blues is happy, the music for a weekend at the juke joint. B.B. King did both, often in the same show. He connected every regional style in the country, easily adapting to everyone one else. He held everything together.
I’ve worried for years whether blues is dying. It used to be the music for the common person, and now its relegated to a niche. Fewer people play the music honestly, its more a pastiche of overamplified rock technique, then what it is supposed to be. Maybe in twenty years it goes the way of polka and becomes a curiousity – a punchline to an untold joke.
I don’t know who is the man who holds things together now. Who is the face of the blues? Who keeps the concerts from collapsing under their own weight? Who is the player that sends everyone to the woodshed practicing? What happens to a kingdom when the king dies?
On January 9, 2015 Willie ‘Popsy’ Dixon of the Holmes Brothers passed away of bladder cancer at the age of 72. He had been playing with brothers Wendall and Sherman Holmes for the last 48 years.
In terms of major music news, there was barely a ripple. And that’s a shame. So I figured the only way to memorialize an overlooked artist was to discuss him on a blog that no one reads. It seemed fitting.
In terms of a biography or a review, there are better ones online. And while it seems unfair to marginalize his fine drumming, that’s not the reason I was grieved to hear Popsy had passed away.
It was that voice. That voice that no one has, free of pretension or affectation or anything false. Just this honest voice with that sobbing tremolo that cuts right down to the soul of the listener. That was the Popsy we lost.
With a great artist I can remember when I first heard them. The Holmes Brothers covered Gillian Welch’s song ‘Everything is Free,’ a fine song I suppose, but not really memorable for me. I include it here for contrast.
I was listening to public radio and their version of the song came on. When Popsy started to sing, I stopped everything I was doing.
I couldn’t move until it was over. I couldn’t remember anything like it. At certain points in the verses tears came to my eyes and I couldn’t figure out why. And every day since, I’ve listening to Popsy Dixon sing something.
He is a link to something that doesn’t seem to exist much anymore. He wasn’t trying to sing like anybody or cultivate an image, unlike the ‘reality shows’ we see today. He sang from the heart, and he did it pretty much better than anyone else has, and now we don’t get to have that anymore and it seems pretty cruel.
But, I think he can explain what you’re missing a lot better than I can. Rest in peace, Popsy. Your like will not come again.
Britney Spears, Coldplay, Daft Punk, David McCallum, Desert Island Disc, Genesis, Inner City Blues, Lauren Hill, Love Ballad LTD, Marvin Gaye, Phil Collins, Ray Charles, Sade, Sister Nancy, Wu Tang Clan
It pains me to discuss Tom’s list, because music is intensely personal and no one’s tastes match, nor should they. It feels kind of like a cheap shot to criticize someone’s choices.
Also, I was amused how much of a populist list this was from someone with Tom’s music industry background. I was expecting a rare song from an Aborigine group that only used instruments made of coral reef and shark bones.
He went with Sade, Marvin Gaye and Genesis. Thanks for making me look like a hipster. Then again, there are no black hipsters.
There are some high points on this list, you can’t go wrong with Marvin Gaye, I could listen to “Love Ballad” on a continuous loop and never get tired of it, the Sade song isn’t my favorite one by her, but it’s Sade. I loved the inclusion of David McCallum, because the whole crime jazz thing is pretty cool.
Lauren Hill is a heartbreaking talent, just seeing her on the list is hard, because she was so great. Kool and the Gang is an underrated band, so it’s good to see someone rep them too. I’m sort of intrigued with the idea of Wu-Tang Clan’s “Triumph” as being the pinnacle of hip-hop. He used Sister Nancy as his reggae representative, my first list included Slim Smith. I don’t mind that.
Also he included James Brown. If there’s anything that pisses me off about black people its that we are disinterested in preserving our history or memories. James Brown is a musical giant, and people are forgetting about him and the idea that kids would grow up and not know who he is is intolerable.
Here’s my problem with his list.
Remember when Britney Spears did the Michael Jackson comeback concert, and she looked phenomenal? Just super hot?
And then remember when she fell apart, gained weight, went completely crazy, started walking around barefoot, and then moved on from her backup dancer to a guy she met in rehab?
Tom did the musical equivalent of picking crazy, bad weave Britney.
There were two Phil Collins, the uncanny power pop guy (In The Air Tonight, Just a Job to Do, Against All Odds, etc), and the guy that would ride a dull melody into the ground (Follow You Follow Me, Two Hearts). Tom picked bad Phil. I think I’m probably on a desert island just to get away from “That’s All.”
And one bad Phil Collins song wasn’t enough, the whole column ends on “Take me Home.” The last song we put is going to be the first thing anyone remembers. His list will be remembered for Phil Collins “Take me Home.”
I risk my man card here, but Coldplay has made some good songs.
This is not one of them. “Trouble” combines boring, with sad, with kinda long. Also, Tom said my list was depressing. Pot, meet kettle.
Daft Punk just made an incredible album with Nile Rodgers and Pharell Williams. Really exciting stuff, it sounded retro and fresh at the same time. Tom ignored Random Access Memories and picked their old, unambitious house single “One More Time.” Yikes.
The Bee-gees are associated with disco, but they were uncanny songwriters beginning with their Beatle-esque single “New York Mining Disaster 1941” (which they wrote as teenagers!) or the touching “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” or “Emotion.” Tom picked “You Should Be Dancing,” from the most dated part of their musical catalog.
Ray Charles was a tremendous talent, but “Lonely Avenue” is only two minutes and thirty seven seconds long and it feels like ten, mostly it is built on one riff that is beaten into the ground every two seconds. You want great Ray Charles? Try “I’ve Got News for You.”
In short, I can’t argue with his artists, but I don’t understand some of his picks. But it is his island. Just stay off of mine.
Be Happy, Be Thankful For What You've Got, Can't Hide Love, Desert Island Disc, Earth Wind & Fire, Mary J Blige, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Phil Collins, Take Me Home, They Reminisce Over You, William DeVaughn
It’s been a long time since we drifted on to our tropical prison, but our prayers have finally been answered:
Be fermenting a combination of sugar cane, mango pulp and coconut water, we have managed to concoct a libation that, while tasting terrible, manages to get you drunk as shit in record time. With our ticket to moonshine blindness in hand, it’s time to listen to the final 5 cuts from the Desert Island Playlist. Since drunkenness and nostalgia go hand in hand, we begin with….
“They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y)” – Pete Rock & CL Smooth
Pete Rock is a god amongst aspiring beatsmiths, having pioneered the jazz and soul-infused production style that the late J-Dilla and Kanye West used to catapult themselves to super-producer status. He has produced for damn near everyone, from hip hop legends of the past and present, underground kings and aspiring MCs, and even pop sensations like the Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga.
His 1992 album with his partner CL Smooth, Mecca and the Soul Brother, is a critical darling, and still stands as one of the best hip-hop albums of all time. And no song makes the reason why more plain than the group’s magnum opus, “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)”.
Recorded as a tribute to Trouble T-Roy, best known as one of Heavy D’s eponymous Boyz, the song encapsulates everything the group got right in their all-too-short pairing: CL Smooths’ rhythmic musings, while not the most intricate, worked beautifully with Pete Rock’s outstanding production – the urgency of the message was beautifully accentuated by stirring horn loops and soulful atmosphere, while the beat made bobble heads out of all that heard it.
The idea of hip-hop as an art-form has taken a severe beating in today’s era of disposable music, but if you wanted to make the case, you couldn’t find a better exhibit A than this. “They Reminisce Over You” still stands as one of hip hop’s finest recordings, a shining example of the genre’s power to not just tell you a story, but to musically transport you there, and immerse you in the artist’s state of mind. It’s no wonder then that this is one of my favorite cuts, and one that I couldn’t take a sabbatical from society without.
“Be Happy” – Mary J Blige
Before Mary J Blige exploded onto the scene with 1992’s What’s the 411?, she purposely eschewed the refined, pop ready look and feel of R&B songstresses like En Vogue and Mariah Carey who dominated the charts at the time. Her music seamlessly entwined hip-hop with the raw, gospel-tinged, soul-bearing vocal energy pioneered by Aretha Franklin, creating the sound that propels modern urban Pop and R&B hits to this day.
I’m just gonna leave this right here:
Mary more than lived up to the expectations set by her initial success with My Life, the brilliant sophomore album that cemented her legacy and actually made her worthy of the title “Queen of Hip Hop Soul”. My Life finds Mary in a great deal of pain: At the time she was dealing with a great deal of personal tragedies, and many of the album’s best songs are steeped in sadness. It’s for this precise reason that the first single, “Be Happy”, is the album’s standout piece, and one of the songs I can’t do without.
From it’s windswept intro to it’s mantra-chanting fade out, “Be Happy” finds a woman bottoming out experiencing a moment of clarity. It’s the precise moment when Mary figures out that the way to rid herself of her demons is to begin to love herself – it’s an amazing moment of power on an album driven by vulnerability. It’s especially comforting to hear these days, since it showed us the woman that Mary J Blige would become.
She may have been crawling through a river of shit at the time, but Mary figured out how to come out clean on the other side.
“Can’t Hide Love” – Earth, Wind & Fire
I was glad to see that Tom picked a record by Earth, Wind & Fire, because they are one of my all-time favorite bands. Many musicians, including some classic artists, have a tendency to throw up the reels – to use a familiar formula in order to achieve success from follow-up songs after having a hit record. Earth, Wind & Fire are one of very few groups from which no two records ever sound alike, yet all of their arrangements are still incredibly accessible – hardly any of their songs doing hard turns into experimental ditches.
“Can’t Hide Love” isn’t even the best song from Gratitude, but that’s just a testament to how good the album is. A powerful horn section, accompanied by an amazing bass arpeggio, draw you in to this incredible groove from the first few notes. The interplay between Maurice White’s verse and Philip Bailey’s hook, coupled with the band’s whip-perfect timing on the intricate arrangement, is a classic example of what made the group legendary.
“Be Thankful For What You’ve Got” – William DeVaughn
Another in a long line of soul records that made the list, “Be Thankful For What You’ve Got” is the best known song from William DeVaughn, but it boasts a simple message that continues to stand the test of time, minus the Cadillac part.
In recent years, is seems that artists have forgotten that music can be used to deliver a message in a non-preachy way: Either a song is too on-the-nose about an issue or cause to be popular, or too shallow to resonate with people. I also think that’s kind of a shame, because songs like this demonstrate that this is not the case. In today’s consumption-driven world, where material possessions are too often equated with self-worth, the idea that you don’t need a bunch of extravagant goods to have pride and happiness is lost on a lot of people. It’s one that I wish more artists would share with their audience.
I also think this one is right at home in our desert island setting. As you contemplate the desperation of the situation, it can be very hard to stay positive about getting out. I imagine that, at some point, you will have to make peace with the idea of staying there forever, and that means looking on the bright side: You have your life, you have your health, a beautiful view, and a large quantity of materials to make more booze from.
It’s at this moment, when you have given in to the notion of staying on the island forever, and surrendered to the idea of pickling yourself with homemade hooch until the end of your days, when you suddenly see it: A boat on the edge of the horizon.
You quickly spring to your feet just to make sure this isn’t an alcohol-fueled hallucination, and, drawing on your movie-inspired survival education, quickly dash the bottle into your fire. The bottle shatters and ignites the moonshine, creating a mushroom cloud that does two things: First, it completely singes your eyebrows off. It also gets the attention of the boat.
At long last, the long nightmare is over. You may have been driven half mad by isolation, you maybe completely smashed, and you may have naught but charred skin where your eyebrows used to be, but at long last, you are going home.
And for that glorious moment, I picked what I believe is the perfect song to get you there:
“Take Me Home” – Phil Collins
After achieving worldwide success with Genesis, Phil Collins embarked on a journey as a solo artist, and “Take Me Home” is one of his best songs.
Inspired by One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, the song tells the story of someone who’s been so beaten by circumstance he doesn’t even mind the situation anymore. He doesn’t even remember what home feels like, but he longs for someone to transport him there, because he doesn’t even know the way.
It’s one of the few Phil Collins solo songs that haven’t aged poorly over time, and it still conjures up that longing feeling in any road-weary soul who hasn’t seen their family, who has been so caught up in the rat race that they long for a simpler time, or even a simpler existence. I think we have all felt that longing at one time or other, and pop music is at its best when it is able to stir those type emotions up in you. This one does that in spades, making it the perfect closer to the list.
And with that, we set sail off of the desert island, with a few things in hand: A deeper appreciation of the need for human companionship, an appreciation for a few amazing tunes, and the recipe for an awful-tasting cocktail that will certainly be a hit with the binge-drinking crowd back home.
Bam Bam, Death Cab For Cutie, Feel It All Around, Hello It's Me, I'll Be Around, James Brown, Lonely Avenue, Ray Charles, Sister Nancy, The Payback, The Spinners, Todd Rundgeren, Transatlanticism, Washed Out
I was going over the playlist for this entry, and it occurred to me that a few of my picks for the Desert Island Disc would make me the object of ridicule. I got that revelation after Tom specifically told me he would be mercilessly ridiculing some of my selections from Part 2.
Nevertheless, we soldier onward.
“Bam Bam” – Sister Nancy
There’s no way I’m spending time on a desert island without a bit of reggae, and this one has been a dancehall staple since the moment of it’s release. Some of you might recognize this one from the numerous times it’s been sampled, and perhaps two of you know it from the part in Belly where they ripped off Scarface.
While she only released one album in her heyday, Sister Nancy was a pioneer in the genre – one that is none too kind to its female members – and left a lasting legacy for the subsequent dancehall queens that came after her.
“I’ll Be Around” – The Spinners
The Spinners have been summer barbecue favorites since “I’ll Be Around” came out in 1971. Personally, if I don’t hear this song at an outdoor function, I think the police have arrived to shut the party down.
It also serves a dual function as a PSA for dating someone new: Behind every prospect who just got out of a relationship, there’s some dude out there, lurking in the bushes, waiting for you to mess up.
“Hello It’s Me” – Todd Rundgeren
Another song that might earn some ridicule, but is still a damn good tune, “Hello It’s Me” is a song that I hear pretty often, but I always stop to listen to. It’s not particularly well structured, but it has a warm, relaxed vibe that I feel would keep a person from going batshit insane from isolation.
The lyrics are pretty slight, but they are emblematic of a theme that started to emerge in popular music: The sexual revolution made it OK to just want to fool around with someone without a serious commitment, but you still couldn’t say that straight out in a song – you had to finesse that shit.
Thus, the breezy “no pressure” style of songwriting was born, and few songs of that era did it better than this one.
“Feel It All Around” – Washed Out
In recent years, Chillwave managed to capture a great deal of my attention, and “Feel it All Around” is an example of the genre at its best. Washed Out never quite recaptured the magic he found on Life of Leisure, but this song has never made its way out of my playlist since the day I heard it.
Boasting a slowed down Gary Low loop as its base and Washed Out’s ethereal vocal at its center, the song creates a dreamlike atmosphere that’s completely immersive: You really can feel it all around you.
“Lonely Avenue” – Ray Charles
Ray Charles is a perfect example of an Impossible Choice artist, an artist who has so many classics to choose from, no matter which way you go the choice will be both right and wrong. “I Got A Woman” and “What I’d Say” seemed too obvious, and “Leave My Woman Alone” would drive you insane on a desert island, constantly wondering whether or not your girlfriend has slept with someone yet.
I ultimately chose “Lonely Avenue” because it fit the situation the best: It’s gonna get pretty lonely out there. Besides, I’d be wondering if my girlfriend slept with someone no matter which song I chose.
“Transatlanticism” – Death Cab For Cutie
Despite having three albums and two EPs of reasonably solid songs, Death Cab for Cutie did not hit their stride musically until Transatlanticism, a concept album centered around a long distance relationship. The album boasts an impressive collection of cuts, but the title track is one of my favorite songs.
I’m not going to say too much about this one, except: A)that I chose it because the concept seemed to fit perfectly with the desert island theme, and B) just listen to it:
Ben Gibbard does an amazing job allegorizing the impact of being away from the one he loves, and there’s no doubt that, on a desert island, you’d get to know that feel pretty quickly.
I already spoke about how you can slowly go insane just wondering whether your significant other has slept with anyone in your absence on the island, but after a while, you will have to accept the fact that she has. If you ever make it back, there’s no reason to think the world was encased in amber since you left. Life goes on, and people go on living it.
But when I get back….
That’s where the next song comes in to play…..
“The Payback” – James Brown
I chose this song because of it’s theme, belted out in the guttural timbre only James could pull off: Revenge. Emotion can be a powerful motivator for survival, and nothing can keep a person going quite like the thought of getting back at the people who left you to die on some godforsaken spit of land with only one disc worth of choices.
Remember the Impossible Choice Artist I talked about? James Brown is another one of those artists. I anguished while trying to choose between the multitude of amazing cuts in James Brown’s repertoire. You really can’t go wrong no matter which one you pick, but you’ll always wonder if you made the right decision.
The Godfather of Soul likes to take you on an incredible ride with all his songs, but the destination is usually only one way. I like this one specifically because it has quite a few twists to it, while still taking you on a ride the corner of Pay and Back.
Bee Gees, David Axelrod, David McCallum, Friendly Fires, Fugees, Genesis, Inner City Blues, Killing Me Softly, Lauryn Hill, Marvin Gaye, Pala, Saturday Night Fever, Thats All, The Edge, The Score, You Should Be Dancing
“Killing Me Softly” – Fugees
While the sophomore release from the Wu-Tang Clan over promised with “Triumph” and under-delivered with Wu-Tang Forever, The story of the Fugees follow up to Blunted on Reality, The Score, is one of unexpected greatness that slowly crept into the public consciousness. The album boasted some of the era’s most amazing cuts – “Fu-gee-la”, “Ready or Not” and “How Many Mics” to name a few – but the song that propelled the album and the group into the stratosphere was the unbelievable Roberta Flack cover, sung by Lauryn Hill.
On the surface, the song is as simple as can be: a minimalist hip hop loop, coupled with a limited but brilliant live bass track from Jerry Wonder. But it’s Lauryn’s incredible vocal that brings you to your knees. Every note is flawless, but the slight rasp to her voice gives the song a raw feeling. It makes the anguish the song wants to showcase as apparent as an exposed nerve, and the whole world stopped to feel Lauryn’s pain.
It’s only right that this song makes the list: The song is supposed to be a bit of a tearjerker, but hearing it always makes me happy.
“Pala” – Freindly Fires
Prior to the release of Pala, Friendly Fires made a bit of noise by dressing up like skeletons in a video, but failed to make much impact outside of the UK. They came to my attention via a crazy remix by Aeroplane to “Paris”, and after digging into their catalog, I came across the title track to their second album, and have kept it in heavy rotation ever since.
The song is almost like a dream set to music: ethereal synths gracefully take you to a paradise, so beautiful and filled with life, that you wouldn’t care if you died there. It seems appropriate, considering the circumstances.
“Inner City Blues” – Marvin Gaye
In another of many classic soul tracks that made the playlist, “Inner City Blues” isn’t a pick-me up, but it is a masterpiece from one of the genre’s greatest. Taken from Marvin Gaye’s classic album What’s Going On, the song encapsulates the plight of ghetto
life – existence, because as the stark lyrics remind us, “This ain’t living”. It hooks you from the opening piano chord to the “What’s going on” reprise at the end, painting a picture of the bleak inner city more clearly than any camera could ever hope to.
It says a lot that, for a lot of people, the message contained within the words is still as relevant today as it was in 1971. While some songs on the desert island playlist might make you long for a return to civilization, “Inner City Blues” might make you not want to come back.
“That’s All” – Genesis
Phil Collins is one of my favorite artists, and I’m pretty sure he has at least one song that’s a favorite of almost everyone in the world. If you can’t name a song by Phil Collins – either from his solo work or his time in legendary prog rock group Genesis – that doesn’t speak to you in some way, then you need to pay Mephistopheles a visit, and try to get your soul back.
I chose “That’s All” because it’s an elegantly simple pop record with funky intentions, thanks to a crazy electric piano riff. The song is every good relationship in a nutshell: You’re with someone that drives you so crazy, you wanna escape through the sewer system to freedom. There’s only one thing keeping you in the house with this person: You’re in love with them. Its the one thing that’s somehow everything, and great music can crystallize that feeling in all its forms.
“The Edge” – David McCallum
A lot of you might know this piece by David McCallum only as the sample bed for Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode”, but there’s an amazingly cinematic piece of music hiding just beyond the incredible guitar loop. It brings to mind a hard-boiled detective, walking the mean streets and playing by his own rules.
A song that can take you to another place just seems like it would be good for a place where a scenery change won’t be happening soon.
“You Should Be Dancing” – Bee Gees
That’s right. I picked a song from the Bee Gees.
Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, it’s a disco record. It’s also one of the best from the era – You don’t score that many hits by accident, after all – and a bit of silly fun never hurt nobody. Besides that, it’s a desert island: I don’t have to care what anyone thinks.
Without further ado, here’s my playlist, in it’s entirety:
You can enjoy it now, while I break down the list in no particular order, starting with the first selection:
“Triumph” – Wu Tang Clan
What you may notice from the top is that there is surprisingly little hip-hop on this list. It surprised me too, but because the idea is that you only get one CD worth of songs, I didn’t want to fill it with just one type of music. (I failed, but we will get to that in a moment.) But, if I had to choose one song to place in the Pantheon, it would be Triumph, every time.
The name is completely appropriate for the record, as it announced the triumphant return of hip hop’s most elite rap group to the stage after their critically acclaimed debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and an amazing collection of solo albums. This song found the Wu in top form, striding the beat like roman generals returning to the fanfare of an adoring public.
Triumph is hip hop in its uncut, purest form. There were no weak links; every verse was as hard and precise as the next, and there was no room for a hook as every member of the clan got a turn. Old Dirty Bastard played the role of hype man here, and set the tone for one of the hardest records the genre had ever produced.
This song could easily be picked as the swan song of Hip Hop’s golden age. The album was pretty uneven, ranging the gamut from bangers like “It’s Yours” and “Reunited” to abysmal dreck like “Black Shampoo”. But at the time, that didn’t matter: I personally can’t remember a song that made me feel the level of anticipation for an album that I felt the first time I heard it.
And if I had to choose one Hip Hop song to bring me back to the genre’s finest hour, I doubt I could find a better replacement.
“One More Time” – Daft Punk
These days, everyone knows who Daft Punk is: The Pharrell Williams-helmed “Get Lucky” has been played almost half to death. But at the time of Discovery’s release, the electronic duo were mostly relegated to club play, and “One More Time” was their first big hit. It was also the song that made me aware of the genius of these two perpetually helmeted Frenchmen, and from the moment I heard the song and saw the anime infused video, I was forever hooked.
The reasons for this selection are relatively simple: I like house. It’s an obscure genre, one that gets barely any recognition and even less airplay on mainstream radio, but it has soul. And I’m always on the lookout for any music that can make me feel something, if but for a fleeting moment. Also, on a desert island, you need a record that can lift your spirits and make you forget about your abysmal circumstances. One More Time fits the bill, and then some.
Baden and I will worry about constructing the vine elevator for the tree-house tomorrow. Tonight, we’re gonna celebrate.
“Love Ballad” – L.T.D
This is but the first of many soul records that made the list. Earlier, I said that my favorite songs are the ones that make me feel something. It wasn’t on purpose, but it’s no wonder to me that the warm inviting tones of soul would dominate.
70’s funk group L.T.D. was not exactly a ground-breaking band; in fact, most of their music would barely stand out from the dominant R&B sound of that era. But “Love Ballad”, beautifully arranged and featuring the glorious vocals of Jeffrey “The Wizard Of” Osbourne, is the group’s lighting in a bottle moment.
It’s one of those rare songs that simply and perfectly encapsulates what love, the thing we all long to obtain and hold on to, is all about. The final refrain sums of the intangible quality of love better than any song I’ve ever heard before:
What we have is much more than they can see…
There was a moment when I debated replacing this song with “I Love You” by Lenny Williams, but I like the tempo of this record a little bit better, so it won out.
“Paradise” – Sade
In keeping with the vein of enjoying your imposed vacation from the things of man comes the music of Sade. Music is an ever changing medium, and some older artists are stuck in a time capsule, either producing music that sounds dated, or failing miserably to keep up with current musical trends in order to stay relevant. Listen to just about any 90’s Michael Jackson record, then compare it to his newer stuff, and you’ll know what I mean.
I like Sade’s sound particularly because it never changes, yet never sounds out of date. It’s that timeless quality that I believe makes this a perfect addition to the desert island playlist.
Trouble – “Coldplay”
Before Coldplay’s frontman Chris Martin became a of favorite of rap moguls and tabloid fodder for his “conscious uncoupling” from Gwyneth Paltrow, he and his band were blowing up with their debut album Parachutes, and “Yellow” was getting played all over the place. Their more subdued follow up single, “Trouble”, is my favorite song from the band, and, like Daft Punk before it, hooked me to them.
A simple song about a guy attempting to apologize for messing something up horribly, it just struck a chord with me, as it reminds me of the many situations I’ve personally FUBARed over the years.
And, if you’re stuck on a desert island, the chances are pretty good you messed up somewhere along the way.
“Requiem for a Tower (Lux Aeterna)” – Simone Benyacar, Daniel Nielsen, and Veigar Margeirsson
At some point on a deserted island, the longing for human physical and emotional contact will win out, and your mind will either break, or focus on one thing: escape. It’s at this moment you will need a selection to inspire you, and get you prepared for the daunting task.
“Requiem for a Tower” is an orchestral remix of Clint Mansel’s “Lux Aeterna” from the Requiem for a Dream soundtrack, that was made for the trailer of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The original is hauntingly beautiful, and perfectly underscores the hopelessness that permeated that film. The remix, with its full orchestra and chorus, adds power to the equation, transforming the piece from one of heartbreaking struggle to one of epic glory. It cuts out abruptly, leaving the outcome of the struggle ambiguous, which makes it perfect for sailing a raft made of two sea turtles roped together with back hair into the great unknown.
Will you make it? Will you die? There’s no way to tell, but this song will hype you up just enough to try, dammit.
“Summer Madness” – Kool and The Gang
A desert island is a great place for peaceful reflection, and I imagine that, on nights when you can get past your circumstances, would be pretty beautiful.
“Summer Madness”, one of only a handful of pure instrumentals by Kool and the Gang, is a perfectly tranquil track for enjoying a crisp sunset, contemplating life and its meaning, and just general relaxation – something you will have plenty time for when the sea turtles break free from their flimsily constructed hair restraints, and leave the waves to wash you back to your tropical prison.
You’re probably gonna be here for a long time; you might as well enjoy it.
As I, like the rest of our adoring fans, read through and listened to Tom’s Desert Island Disc, my mind slowly drifted towards said island, and I imagined what it would be like if I had only a collection of amazing tunes to keep me company (as a volleyball with a bloody handprint might not be readily available).
Picking the only CD you’ll ever hear for the indefinite future is a daunting task. It has to contain songs that you’ll never tire of hearing, but it also has to be upbeat enough to keep you from constructing a hanging noose from the old VHS tapes that washed up on shore a few days after you did. It should also keep you going while you forage around looking for the essentials:
Food and fresh water,
firewood and kindling,
a lifetime supply of booze in an underground cavern,
and coconuts to make CB radios from.
A surprising number of Tom’s selections were a good place to start. Some of the artists will most likely make my own list, but some of the selections were so depressing, they would make me wish I’d been marooned with a pistol containing a single shot. My own taste dictates a lot more uptempo pieces, but to each his own.
After much delay, I’ll be presenting my own version of the Desert Island playlist soon. In the meantime, I’m gonna study up on how to build a treehouse.
!!!, Airwaves, Chicago, Freedom (Motherless Child), Heart of Hearts, Jai Paul, Moonraker, Rebellion (Lies), Richie Havens, Shirley Bassey, Stereolab, Sufjan Stevens, The Arcade Fire, Thomas Dolby, Velvet Water, Zion Wolf
16. Freedom (Motherless Child) – Richie Havens
His trademark song, an intense experience that somehow combines Gospel with folk music, a nearly impossible hybrid. His wild strumming and percussive slapping fills the entire song, with his ragged voice, little other accompaniment is needed, in fact, it would be intrusive. It is my belief that he performed the song better over time as his voice entered a lower register.
The most unbelievable part is that his first performed the song at Woodstock and it was a pure improvisation, since most of the other artists were stuck in traffic and couldn’t get to the venue in time.
17. Velvet Water – Stereolab
Sometimes I like really weird songs, just because they feel fresh.
Velvet Water starts out incomprehensible, and then after a minute and a half, comes in a jazzy off kilter keyboard riff, and then the vocals of Laetitia Sadier. The hook is a natural extension of the verse and by the time Mary Hansen’s backup vocals kick in, it starts to hit you how pretty this song really is.
18. Zion Wolf – Jai Paul
I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in the music business and have to deal with Jai Paul. Since he’s been signed he’s only produced two singles, he’s a musician who doesn’t actually release any material. In 2013, there was a leak of his older material apparently. Mixed so poorly most of the lyrics are indecipherable, it is still jaw-droppingly brilliant.
From the first second of his music, his melodies are incredibly addictive, and he seems to be able to appropriately insert more polyrhythms and world music flourishes then anyone I’ve ever seen. I cannot get this song (or any of them) out of my head.
19. Airwaves – Thomas Dolby
Some of the best music I know comes from so-called ‘one hit wonders.’ Airwaves is one of those songs that I find extremely visual. In a logical sense, I don’t understand what the song is about, but it gives a me very distinct impression sort of like a Jack Kerouac poem and when that hook hits this song goes into overdrive.
Dolby’s music is dismissed as synth pop, but he had quite a bit of really impressive material. Like many of the people I like, he deserved better than he got.
20. Moonraker – Shirley Bassey
I never saw Moonraker, as I refuse to see any more Bond films with Roger Moore in them, so I don’t know what a Moonraker actually is. What I do know is that Shirley Bassey killed this thing.
The human voice is supposed to exceed every other instrument. Moonraker proves it. I actually wince in the middle of the verse at the sheer power and range of her voice. A lot of us think that we can carry a tune, but this is a humbling vocal display.
21. Chicago – Sufjan Stevens
Stevens is a genius. This list could quite easily be top twenty songs of Sufjan Stevens but then we would be on the island without any good fight songs and we’d be overrun by cannibals.
So then you’re forced to pick a song, and if you have to, it would be Chicago.
22. Rebellion (Lies) – The Arcade Fire
Very few songs build this well, and very few songs have such strong call and response melodies that sort of bleed into each other. The moment you hear this, you won’t be able to not think about it.
Go ahead. Try not to hum it now.
23. Heart of Hearts – !!!
A particularly infectious song, from a great band that infects their music with a very authentic joy. Even better live, so I’m linking to one of those versions, even though it doesn’t have that jaw dropping guitar solo/instrumental breakdown of the studio version.
I have like, another 10 songs. This was a terrible idea.