Adam shares his top five album picks that he would want with him if he was stranded on a desert island. Care to share yours?
As a music lover, I’m often asked: “If you were stranded on a desert island, what five records would you want with you?” My top five album list is a living thing that changes frequently because there is so much amazing music out there. Certain records remain constant; while others creep their way onto the inventory, only to lose their position to something else. My criterion for this index is simple. All five albums give me goose bumps and they inspire me with each listen. So, the following list is a catalog of astonishing songwriting.
Number I: The Beatles – The Beatles (White Album)
Songwriting is the most important aspect of any record and the Beatles are unparalleled in their skill. The composition of each song rivals entire albums released today, with so many layers enticing the listener’s ears. Each Beatle album is timeless, but their self titled album stands out because of the turmoil that the Beatles were experiencing, during the recording of the record. The Beatles were growing apart as a group in 1968 and the White Album highlights each songwriter, as an individual, composing songs entirely on their own, or with limited input from the other members. Each track on the album is outstanding, but there are compositions that are heightened due to the incredible songwriting, making them more memorable. One of those songs is, Rocky Raccoon, written by Paul McCartney. He writes:
“Rocky Raccoon checked into his room
Only to find Gideon’s Bible
Rocky had come equipped with a gun
To shoot off the legs of his rival
His rival it seems had broken his dreams
By stealing the girl of his fancy
Her name was Magil and she called herself Lil
But everyone knew her as Nancy”
Paul creates an astonishing narrative in a few short lines. This is songwriting at its finest. The tune is made even better by the upbeat instrumentation, giving the song a playful feel. It’s an amazing arrangement only McCartney can achieve. This song is among the best on the record, but where McCartney sings of underdogs attempting to put right what is wrong, Lennon croons of much darker subjects. In the song, Yer Blues, Lennon writes:
“The eagle picks my eye
The worm he licks my bone
I feel so suicidal
Just like Dylan’s Mr. Jones
Lonely wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why”
This song is packed with ‘Yes I’m lonely wanna die’ lyrics peering around the edges, or in the background in soft echoes. This song could have never been sung by anyone other than John Lennon and is accompanied by frantic blues guitar. It is a startling piece and my favorite on the record. But let’s not forget George Harrison, the quiet Beatle. His songwriting shines on the album more than on previous works with, While My Guitar Gently Weeps. One can truly understand his wonderful talent by closely examining the lyrics:
“I look at the world and I notice its turning
While my guitar gently weeps
With every mistake we must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps”
Harrison knew that life can be simple and beautiful at the same time; and this song mirrors that thought process throughout. George Harrison is underrated as a valuable asset to the Beatles, but he was a masterful guitar player and his songwriting stands out as some of the Beatles best material.
The Beatles were on the verge of breaking up when this album was recorded, but it’s astonishing that, even when they were at odds with each other, they managed to create some of the most beautiful music ever documented. It speaks to their professionalism and talent; moreover, of the love for their craft.
Number II: Tom Waits – Bone Machine
If you step into the mind of Tom Waits, you will return unrecognizable. His music is very frenzied, metallic, and filled with a crushing passion that not many songwriters can accomplish. Bone Machine is the pinnacle of his musical talent and the album is teeming with songs that will astound any listener that happens upon this release. The record is a continuous assault of mortality, as the title suggests. Each track is driven by Waits’ strained, husky voice as he shouts towards the sky; hoping that someone is listening, knowing that he is alone. With so many stunning songs on Bone Machine, it’s hard to pick a standout, but one of my favorites is, The Ocean. Waits speaks to the listener, reciting a poem; complemented by random bells, sticks, and what sounds like a violin playing erratically soft in the background. For lack of a better word, the song is, creepy. Waits writes:
“The ocean doesn’t want me today
But I’ll be back tomorrow to play
And the stranglers will take me
Down deep in their brine
The mischievous braingels
Down into the endless blue wine
I’ll open my head and let out
All of my time
I’d love to go drowning
And to stay and to stay
But the ocean doesn’t want me today
I’ll go in up to here
It can’t possibly hurt
All they will find is my beer
And my shirt
A rip tide is raging
And the life guard is away
But the ocean doesn’t want me today
The ocean doesn’t want me today”
The entire piece leaves a chill that takes days to dissipate. Tom Waits is a true poet and a master of word structure. Waits is not the type of music that many will like at first listen. But if you give him the attention and time needed, he will begin to seep into every pore. His music is more of an experience and only the active listener can appreciate what he does. It is his genius that appeals to me and it is the reason he is a constant resident in my top five list.
Number III: Deer Tick – The Black Dirt Sessions
Deer Tick is a band that has recently received some attention within the indie-rock crowd and it’s easy to see why. John McAuley’s voice sounds like a raspy Van Morrison, but with an underlying pain. The Black Dirt Sessions is filled with songs that instantly become a constant feature in any music collection. The only word that can describe the record is: breathtaking. McAuley has a way with words that is absent in most artist’s repertoire. One song will leave you smiling; the next will bring you to your knees. In addition, he arranges music in such a way that gives each track a beauty that possesses the listener. My favorite track on the album is, Goodbye, Dear Friend. It is heartbreaking in its subject matter and the accompaniment of a piano makes in truly gorgeous piece. McAuley writes:
“Some roads that you take
Some bonds we’ll choose to break
I swore I’d no longer be the pallbearer
But I carried you to bed
So you could rest your head
You were taking off a load, heavy drinking
The world, it carries on
Your memories and song”
The track is magnificent in every way and I highly recommend listening to it, now. I’ll wait. From the moment I first heard Deer Tick, they instantly became one of my favorite bands playing music today. Each song they create brings a shudder to whoever listens.
Number IV: The Roots – Illadelph Halflife
The Roots are a hip-hop group from Philadelphia that consistently creates music that sounds completely different than their peers. Whether on studio albums or in concert, they use a live band to produce the melodies that cause heads to bob and feet to stomp. Malik B. and Black Thought are songwriters that construct words that command attention. Even if you’re not a fan of hip-hop, the Roots warrant respect. One of the best lyricists in the genre, Black Thought, guides the listener on a path of remarkable rhymes and cohesive sentence structure that cause the finger to instantly hit the repeat button. For example, on the song, Section, Black Thought writes:
“Y’all know the dynasty, the Roots repertoire
The lieutenant from the reservoir, serve the spar
The injurar, preditar of a competitar
I send MCs where the paramedics are
At first, I’m like “nah”, I’m nonchalant from afar
Then strike to cut the fake rap star jugular
With irregular balance of the cat burgla-rar
Known to parlay with Garcia Vega cigars
I know the flavor because me and the thugs minds are mutual
We congruent, lay on the corner with the trauma unit
I’m from the lab where the bomb’s distributed
So never try to duplicate the skills executed”
I’ve been a fan of the Roots since the early 90’s and they continue to grow with each album. This album is on my top five list because it changed the way hip-hop albums were structured. I have never heard any hip-hop group that sounds like, or has as much talent as, the Roots. They are masters of their technique and display this on every album.
Number V: Phosphorescent – Aw Come Aw Wry
Years ago, I was lucky enough to come across Phosphorescent while searching for new music that I could add to my collection. Aw Come Aw Wry was the first album I heard and I have been a huge fan ever since. The genius behind this record is a restructuring of the same melody throughout the entire album. Mathew Houck’s breaking vocals give each track a delicate nature that masks a strength that is not instantaneously felt. Houck’s songwriting combined with a multitude of instruments give the album its glorious nature. Aw Come Aw Wry is one song broken up into twelve parts, so it’s hard to pick one single track; but I will say that if I were to ever make a movie, the songs, Endless Pt. 1 and Endless Pt. 2, would be music for the closing credits; it’s so beautiful that if I were to copy the lyrics here, it would take away from the experience and this piece needs to be experienced. The song begins with Houck singing accompanied by a piano and his guitar, building to a choir of vocals harmonizing one octave lower than Houck. Eventually, a piano can be heard playing the melody that is constant throughout the album, and the keys almost seem to sing, Aw Come Aw Wry. It is a masterpiece.
I wrote this article because I wanted to start a dialog about music and get the reader excited about what their ‘desert island collection’ would include. Like I stated above, this list is in constant shift, and will most likely change by the next sunrise, but the records I’ve listed here are very close to my heart. I recommend each record highly and I hope that you take the time to listen to one, if not all of them. On a side note, thank you for taking the time to read the articles that I’ve written for IW. I am immensely proud of being able to share my passion with each one of you and I cannot tell you how much your support means to me. Thank you very much.
Writing has been a passion of Adam Hook since he first read Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Dostoyevsky’s words leapt off the page and Adam knew then that he had to be a writer! Adam is a father, husband, sometime poet and music junkie. Be sure and check out more of Adam’s writing on his blog, Soaked in Sound .