Ten Recordings for a Deserted Island

I was recently asked to pick ten recordings that I would want to have with me while stranded on a deserted island. Personally, the thought of being stranded – on a deserted island no less - presumably with no rescue in sight - is depressing. A few favorite things wouldn’t do much to ease the worry I’d have over essentially being lost in space. I’d go hungry without food, and insane without company. Overriding concerns would likely stay anxiously tied to survival and mortality, not the best frame of mind for enjoying sound recordings.

In another sense, I am relieved to NOT be stranded on a deserted island (I have that going for me). It’s in this spirit that I decided to play along with the damned hypothetical. Picking ten favorite records turned out to be a harder challenge than I thought. I was only able to quiet arguments in my head and start making some decisions after establishing a few ground rules. They are: I would be alone on the island; but I wouldn’t have to worry about food, water or shelter, and the stereo would not break down. Also, I couldn’t pick double albums, or box sets.

The process of picking the records reminded me of how much I enjoy sharing music with others. Since I’ll be alone on the island, I chose the following records, in part, for not being predominantly social recordings. Being alone forever really changes the weight of the ultimate party record, the love song, the urgent call to action, etc. I wouldn’t want to waste a pick on a record that would serve to deepen the despair I’d feel over being stranded. So, this task was made a little easier by not having to pick my all-time favorite recordings, but rather, solid selections that might bring comfort to a solitary circumstance.

These selections are in no particular order.

Bud Powell – The Amazing Bud Powell (VOL 1)
-If I could only hear one soloist and one instrument on a deserted island, it might be Bud Powell playing piano. Add to it performances by Fats Navarro, Sonny Rollins, Roy Haynes and Max Roach, and my predicament is made immensely better.
 
Best of Muddy Waters (Chess Records, released 1958)
-An album to sooth my imagination and call to my humanness. I’ve already tested this one out during real life moments of loneliness. It works.
 
John Fahey – Death Chants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes (1963 version)
-This is a minimalist acoustic guitar masterpiece that I would probably never tire of. As a bonus, the intense solitude of the island might be an ideal environment for understanding Fahey’s liner notes.
 
Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters
-Experimental and understated Funk. The subtle interplay between instruments and consistent ease of temperament throughout rewards repeated listening. This is practical music that could be played alongside any activity on the island, from work to play and everything in between. Such flexibility could be why it is one of the most popular jazz albums of all time.
 
Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde
-I choose this as a “sound novel,” a record with real lyrical ambition – evocative, not too literal, and just coherent enough to allow some kind of huge story to settle in and still change over time. It’s also a noisy recording, a high water mark for garage rock perhaps - perhaps something to keep me from losing myself to the desolate elements of the island.  
 
Nat King Cole Trio – Vocal Classics 1942 – 1946
-This would be a record for special occasions on the island; for times when I might wear finer island clothes to enjoy a nice meal and good conversation with myself. The song selection and performance is solid throughout. The quality of such popular music from yesteryear is stunning.
 
Sarah Vaughan – Self Titled, featuring Clifford Brown 
-Sarah Vaughan’s voice is full of humanity, while the band exhibits a little bit of everything under the Bebop sun. This is a great recording, pure and simple on its face and yet expansive over time. If Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” plays like a sound novel akin to a grand epic, this would be a more-in-the-now serial novel. I might get tired of the story, but not the voice.  
 
Townes Van Zandt – Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, TX
This is the only live recording (performed in front of an audience) on my list. If I’m stranded, but relatively ok (see ground rules), I would allow myself the conceit of having an imaginary live music venue on the island. Also, I wanted something indicative of Country music, and couldn’t find anything else to rise into the top ten, so Townes ends up as my resident entertainer by default. This is kind of a crazy thought.
 
Steve Reich – Music for 18 Musicians (original ECM recording)
-It would be nice to be rescued eventually just to see how this music played on my mind over a protracted period of isolation. Music built from loops might actually become regenerative after the umpteenth listen.
 
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messangers – Moanin’
-This is just a good record to have on hand to keep from hollowing out as a person.
 
 

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