Desert Island Disks

The long-running BBC radio series “Desert Island Disks” asks the guest celebrity of the week to choose eight of their favourite records. The premise is that if you were marooned on a desert island, and you had just eight records to listen to, what would they be?

I’m treating “records” as albums, and for this exercise, I’ve imposed a rule of no compilations, and no live albums. So with no further ado…

pink-floyd-meddlePink Floyd – Meddle

The first album I ever bought was Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. But although that album means a lot to me, there’s only room in this list for one dark angst-ridden concept album, and that’s coming up further down. And though “Dark Side of the Moon” and “Wish You Were Here” are undisputed classics. they’re so overexposed that they’ve just been worn smooth. If I’m in the mood for some Pink Floyd nowadays it’s most often either “Meddle” or “Animals” that gets played. If forced to choose, we’ll go for Meddle. It’s worth it for the extended dreamy atmospherics of “Echoes” alone, but there’s more to the album that that.

blue-oyster-cult-secret-treatiesBlue Öyster Cult – Secret Treaties

Blue Öyster Cult have been one of my top bands ever since a college friend played me the live version of “Astronomy” from Some Enchanted Evening when that live disk was still almost a current album. But since live albums are against my self-imposed rules, so we’ll go for their classic third album. Fan consensus is their Secret Treaties is their best, and fan consensus isn’t wrong. It’s the final album of the so-called “Black and White trilogy” combining richly layered music with a raw garage-like sound, with high weirdness lyrics hinting at the magical origins of World War Two. Blue Öyster Cult were always far more that just a metal band, and this album is proof of that.

Rainbow RisingRainbow – Rising

Hearing “Eyes of the World” on Nicky Horne’s show on Capital Radio radio changed my life. Ever since then Ritchie Blackmore’s music has been part of the soundtrack of my life, either with Deep Purple or with Rainbow. He was at the peak of his powers when he made this record along with the greatest hard rock singer of all time in the shape of the late Ronnie James Dio, and a sheer force of nature in Cozy Powell on drums. With just six tracks and a running time of less that forty minutes it’s all-killer-no-filler, with the monumental “Stargazer” as the centrepiece of the record.

220px-MarillionBraveMarillion – Brave

The three previous bands had been long-established by the time their music first appeared on my radar, but with Marillion I was there from the start. Not quite to the extent that I was seeing them play to thirty people in pubs before they were signed, but I did see them at the 1982 Reading Festival and bought their first album of the day of release. Since then they have released many great albums both with Fish and later with Steve Hogarth, but the favourite has to be their dark and intense 1994 concept album. As the sleeve notes say, play it loud with the lights out.

mostly-autumn-the-last-bright-lightMostly Autumn – The Last Bright Light

Anyone who knows me knows that Mostly Autumn are one of my favourite bands. I’ve seen them something like a hundred times live now. Which doesn’t make it easy to choose just one album, especially when their music has evolved of the years along with changes in the make-up of the band. But if forced to choose just one, it will be their third, the high point of their celtic-folk-prog era on Cyclops records. It’s now sadly out of print, though many of the best songs appear on the retrospective compilation “Pass the Clock”.

porcupine-tree-in-absentiaPorcupine Tree – In Absentia

It’s not easy to choose one Porcupine Tree record. Sometimes it seems as if their best album is whichever one I’ve just listened to. But if forced to keep just one, it would be have to be this album, because it’s sheer variety covers many of the bases of their sound. In just the first three numbers it goes from the Zepellinesque riffery of “Blackest Eyes”, the song-focused pop-rock of “Trains” and the psychedelic atmospherics of “Lips of Ashes”.

opeth-waershedOpeth – Watershed

Perhaps more than any other band, Opeth have redefined what a metal or progressive rock band can be, with deep roots in the classic rock of the 1970s on one hand and a contemporary attitude and desire to avoid repeating their own past on the other. Few other bands can match their sense of dynamics and compositional skills. All their albums are good, but Watershed is the best, seamlessly combining intense heaviness with mellow atmospherics, often in the same song, and would be the last time Mikael Åkerfeldt would use his death-metal growling vocals on record.

Panic Room - SKINPanic Room – S K I N

Along with Mostly Autumn, Panic Room are my other favourite club-level band, and I’ve seen them live almost as many times. Indeed, the two bands were joined at the hip at one point with Anne-Marie Helder and Gavin Griffiths doing double duty in both. All their albums have their fans; there are even people who think the first was the best, but for me the favourite has to be their third, which goes from hard rock to jazz-tinged adult pop to epic soaring ballads while still adding up to a coherent work. It may well be that their best is yet to come, but for now this album is their masterpiece.

Over to you. What eight records could you not live without?

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16 Responses to Desert Island Disks

  1. I ought to expand on this in a post by itself, but here’s the quick and dirty version:

    - Godflesh, “Pure”
    - Tackhead, “Tackhead Tape Time”
    - Skinny Puppy, “Last Rights”
    - Front 242, “06:21:03:11 UP EVIL”
    - Miles Davis, “Kind of Blue”
    - Sandy Denny, “The North Star Grassman and the Ravens”
    - Brian Eno, “Music for Films”
    - Peter Gabriel, “Peter Gabriel [3] [aka 'Melt']“

  2. Synthetase says:

    I like your thought process. Some of those are not what I would immediately have thought of from those bands, but I agree with your reasoning :)

    My list is subject to change a bit as I go through various listening phases. I hate to choose, but…

    Riverside – ADHD
    Porcupine Tree – Deadwing/In Absentia (It’s too hard to choose, I’ve decided they’re a double album and fit on one disc)
    Midnight Oil – Diesel and Dust (If you haven’t heard it, give it a spin. This was the sound of Australia in the 80s)
    Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon (the very fact that it’s worn smooth means I can’t live without it…)
    Panic Room – Skin
    Quiet Child – Thumper
    Opeth – Damnation
    Black Sabbath – Paranoid

    Honourable Mentions:
    Iron Maiden – Number of the Beast (if only they never recorded Invaders…)
    Metallica – Ride the Lightning
    Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman (I don’t know what it is about this album, but I do find myself coming back a lot. It’s a shame there’s one track I don’t like)
    Grinspoon – New Detention (again, don’t know why, but I keep coming back to this as well. You guys would probably hate it. High school memories I suppose.)

  3. Tom B says:

    I have implemented a self-imposed rule that no artist shall have two albums on the list. This means there is no place for classics like Dark Side or Fugazi.

    Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (as Synthetase says, there’s a reason they are worn thin)
    Marillion – Misplaced Childhood
    Jethro Tull – Aqualung
    King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King (if only they hadn’t included Moonchild)
    David Gilmour – On an Island (and not just because the title fits! It’s so mellow and chilled out)
    Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (obvious, I know, but filled with classics)
    Fotheringay – Fotheringay (fitting testament to the greatness that might have been had Sandy Denny not been persuaded to break up the band and go solo)
    Rainbow – Rising (the only overlap between mine and Tim’s lists. Worth including for the intro to Tarot Woman alone. But no filler? what about Do You Close Your Eyes?)

    Honourable mentions
    David Bowie – Hunky Dory
    Queen – Queen II
    Genesis – A Trick of the Tail

  4. Great choices all around.

    I should add that with any list like this, the floodgates open. I look at what I wrote and realize I missed out on so many other things I could have included in a hot second: Vangelis, Einstürzende Neubauten, Swans, The Who, J.A. Caesar, Chrome, Dissecting Table, etc., etc. To paraphrase the title of a TV show, eight isn’t enough. :D

  5. Simon Edwards says:

    I’ve tried to stick to a similar set of rules as those mentioned above, so, here’s my list :

    Steven Wilson – Hand.Cannot.Erase.
    My favourite of his solo albums, and probably of anything he’s done full stop. A perfect blend of light and dark, soft and heavy, the addition of Ninet Tayeb on a couple of songs is just icing on an already perfect cake.

    Riverside – Love, Fear and the Time Machine
    I loved Out Of Myself, and everything that came after that amazing debut. The weakest point in a wonderful discography was ADHD, SONGS was an interesting diversion but LFatTM was just the sound of a band rediscovering exactly what made them so special. The tragic loss of Piotr Grudzinski earlier this year just adds to the emotion behind this recording.

    Airbag – All Rights Removed
    This was a difficult choice – any of their four albums could have been chosen, but in the end I went for the first one I heard by them. Yes, it’s similar to modern day Pink Floyd, but I don’t see that as a bad thing at all.

    Pink Floyd – Animals
    To me the perfect blend between the melody of Gilmour and the acid of Waters. Earlier albums were all about the music, afterwards it was all about the words – this is the meeting point.

    Gazpacho – Night
    Again, a difficult choice between this, Tick Tock and Demon. In the end I chose this as it flows so wonderfully, it’s the album where they found their style, and everything that has followed has relied on what this album gave them.

    Mermaid Kiss – Etarlis
    Not a well known band (sadly now defunct), or a well known album – according to Bandcamp I’m one of the few to have it in my collection. It’s just a wonderful concept album, with wonderful music, a great blend of voices, instruments, effects… I’ll never tire of listening to it.

    Fates Warning – A Pleasant Shade of Grey
    Their masterwork – everything else they do I judge against APSOG…and they’ve never matched it yet I’m afraid. A concept album with a difference, a blend of heavy and softer moments, and a story that it’s up to the listener to decipher.

    Anathema – A Natural Disaster
    The start of their change from metal/doom to something altogether more special, including the first appearance of Lee Douglas on the title track.

    So, that’s my 8. There were a few that came close :
    Dire Straits – Alchemy Live (this would have been included except for the ‘no live albums’ rule). It’s the perfect example of just how good a live band Dire Straits were, and a brilliant greatest hits package up to that moment – after this came Brothers in Arms and it all got a bit too big…

    Jeff Wayne – War of the Worlds. The first album of this is perfection – the second one sadly does not equal it!

    Porcupine Tree – Deadwing. My favourite PT album, but I could live without Glass Arm Shattering, and therefore H.C.E. was my pick

    The Pineapple Thief – So nearly made it in, but I haven’t lived with it for long enough yet. Currently I think it’s the best thing Bruce Soord has put his name too, the culmination of everything that has built up over the years.

  6. Tim Hall says:

    Good shout for Mermaid Kiss’ Etarlis – wonderful album by a much-overlooked band.

  7. Synthetase says:

    Some great choices here. Cutting it down to eight is just not fair :) I also realised that Haken’s Affinity should be in my top eight or at least in the honourable mentions. Oops.

    ADHD the worst? Them’s fightin’ words! ;) I always felt that ADHD is what ELP should have sounded like (not an ELP fan…). Bass driven, thick, with oodles of keys, and wanders off into interesting territory before bringing you back to an awesome riff. Absolutely love it. Like a Beethoven symphony, I can’t hear a bit of it without wanting to listen to the whole thing.

  8. Synthetase says:

    I’ve just had a thought. There are a few comments here about an otherwise flawless album having a dud track on it. It might be interesting to do a top 10 “so close and yet…” list.

  9. PaulE says:

    Not sure which would be worse – no music at all is certainly a kind of hell, but only having 8 surviving (yet remembering all the rest) is also pretty bleak. My selection is also very predictable.

    Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
    Genesis – Selling England By The Pound
    Marillion – Clutching At Straws
    Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
    The Beatles – Abbey Road
    Panic Room – Skin
    Mostly Autumn – Passengers
    Odin Dragonfly – Offerings

  10. baldb says:

    It’s tough not being able to include live albums as I always listen to these over band’s studio albums & not just because they tend to be largely Greatest Hits, I just prefer the live sound. So whilst I’ve played Seconds Out to death over the years & it would be right at the top, there’s not a studio album by Genesis that is quite perfection enough. Same thing with Pearl jam, Iamthemorning, Pink Floyd, Anathema, Iron Maiden & others – I could easily do a top 8 from those bands with the other spots coming from live albums from some of my final list.

    Logos – Tangerine Dream – yes I know it’s a live album but the tracks weren’t on a previous studio album so I’m claiming it.
    Agaetis Byrjun – Sigur Ros. I had that very smug feeling when Takk came out & people started talking about SR & I’d been listening to them for years
    Gathering Light – Karnataka. Not enough time to write just how special this album is for me
    Clutching At Straws – Marillion. Marillion were the band that changed my musical listening when I heard Real to Reel the first time.
    Operation Mindcrime – Queensryche – saw this performed almost theatre like in London when I was a teen, still love the album now
    Carmine Meo – Emma Shapplin. The only singer left on my bucket list of gigs to go to before I die
    In My Tribe – 10000 Maniacs – quite old now, but for me their music hasn’t dated & some of Merchant’s lyrics still convey the same power now.
    For All We Shared – Mostly Autumn. Very very hard to choose a fave studio album. I’ll change my mind tomorrow

  11. Glyn B says:

    Sort of impossible and changes by th ehour, but here goes.

    The Old.

    Strawbs – Grave New World – This is without doubt my all time favourite.
    Yes – Tales from Topographic Oceans – the Steven Wilson re-mix.
    King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King.
    Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here.

    The New

    Panic Room – Esscence I don’t think this can be disqualified as a) its not live and b) its not exactly a compilation either even though it has old songs.)
    Mostly Autumn – Dressed in Voices
    Big Big Train – Folklore
    Steven Wilson – Hand.Cannot.Erase

    Shocking – No Fairport Convention, No Richard Thompson, no Genesis, no Greenslade no Touchstone and a zillion others. They may turn up on tomorrows list.

  12. Scott says:

    1.) Steely Dan – Aja. Towering, and my favorite record of all-time.

    2.) Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On? Seriously, my number two.

    3.) Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – Deja Vu. No modern act did harmonies better.

    4.) Genesis – The Lamb. Yes, Wind and Wuthering is actually my favorite due to its production values, but The Lamb is the one I reach for more than any other.

    5.) Pink Floyd – Roger’s Dad Died in the War, and Then He Got Mad and Spit on a Fan. Again, Animals is the strongest, but I keep reaching more for The Wall these days. However, I have a bunch of live bootlegs from ’75-’77, and man, live they were on fire, especially in ’75. I’m actually playing those more than studio stuff.

    6.) Railroad Earth – a couple of random shows (they allow taping) with what I sometimes call prog-grass.

    7.) Jethro Tull – Songs from the Wood. My absolutely favorite Tull album.

    There’s more, but that’s a good start. For me, PT would be The Sky Moves Sideways, and Wilson solo would be The Raven. I only like HCE through Routine, and back again on Happy Returns. Too much guitar. ;)

  13. Scott says:

    Oh, and add Gabriel 4/Security. His absolute best.

  14. Tom B says:

    Agreed Scott, about Gabriel 4. But again, Shock the Monkey spoils it.

  15. As others have remarked, eliminating live albums makes it tough. Possibly my all-time top 8 albums would all be live! But ok, sticking within the rules:

    Mostly Autumn – The Last Bright Light
    I probably don’t need to say anything else about this to the readers of this blog!

    Odin Dragonfly – Offerings
    Ditto ;-)

    Bach: the six Partitas and Sonatas for Violin Solo – Lara St. John
    This is the most perfect music ever written anywhere in the history of music. I can’t imagine life without listening to it. I could have picked any of half-a-dozen recordings I have, but St. John’s, though not generally recognised as a definitive version, is the one that affected me most.

    Pink Floyd – The Wall
    Nuff said.

    Deep Purple – Machine Head
    I know it’s almost the cliche choice for Purple (once you discount MIJ), but it honestly deserves its reputation. As Jon Lord said, “it’s got the excitement of In Rock and the musicality of Fireball”. So while I love both those albums (probably more than I do MH), this is the more rounded choice for a desert island.

    Yes – Close to the Edge
    The title track alone is worth taking. The other two tracks are merely the second and third best songs in their catalogue ;-)

    Meat Loaf – Bat out of Hell
    One of the first rock albums I ever owned. It’s simply a masterpiece of composition and performance. I’m not sure why more prog fans don’t overtly embrace this album, because to me all the hallmarks of prog are to be found here, as well as all of the traditional feel-good-rock bombast you could ever want.

    Iamthemorning – Lighthouse
    Maybe I’m being over-hasty in putting a 2016 album in the list, but this is an emotionally-devestating masterpiece that I’m sure will still have the same effect on me for years to come.

  16. Baldb says:

    I decided to rule out anything I’d bought this year, so no Lighthouse for me, & I still don’t like Chalk & Coal, but House of Arts live album is perfection though