You know the proposition: Marooned with only a handful of musical choices, which would you make? After all, between anguished laments (it’s was only a three-hour tour!), making the acquaintance of new volleyball friends, and the never-ending search for Penny’s Boat, you’ll need … distractions. What better way to while away the days, weeks, months, (gulp!) and maybe years than with your all-time favorites?
But, which favorites? Given a choice of only five, and narrowing it even further to 1970s classic rock albums, we set the question before our panel of distraught experts.
“Being stranded on a desert island is actually one of my worst nightmares — and I really did experience such a dream before,” Beverly Paterson says. “But having five of my favorite albums with me would certainly make the situation a whole lot easier to deal with. Also, I expect a record player also comes with the package, not to mention dozens of cases of soda pop and pounds of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, right?
The temptation, of course, is to load it up with your very favorite bands. But remember, forever (gulp again!) is a very long time — even with treasured recordings of our youth: “I didn’t go all Aerosmith and Sabbath, though I could have, but it was hard enough to pick just five without doing that,” Fred Phillips says. “There are so many records that I wouldn’t want to be without that aren’t on this list. No Alice Cooper? No Kiss? No Uncle Nuge? No Skynyrd? FREEEEE BIIIIIRRRD! The 80s list is going to be brutal.”
Oh, yes, there will be subsequent editions, with new musical conundrums. But for now, here are our Top Five Desert Island Discs from 1970s Classic Rock, followed by more from our meeting around the watercooler at SER Towers …
1. JOHN LENNON – PLASTIC ONO BAND (1970): Raw as punk but intensely visceral like nothing else in rock, POB puts the listener right inside Lennon’s troubled state of mind right at a crucial juncture in this brilliant singer and songwriter’s life.
2. THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND – LIVE AT FILLMORE EAST (1971): Long-form jams dominated in the early 70s, and this is the dmominant jam record of them all.
3. THE DOOBIE BROTHERS – WHAT WERE ONCE VICES ARE NOW HABITS (1974): Country, boogie rock, soul ballads and even prog leanings conveyed in a consistently strong set of songs makes this the peak effort by a band that gave mainstream rock ‘n’ roll a good name.
4. STEELY DAN – AJA (1977): Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s experimentation with a radio friendly jazz-rock alchemy yielded perfection on this album.
5. ZZ TOP – DEGUELLO (1979): Ideal modern Texas blues where the little bearded band shows off its best attributes on every track.
[STEEL YOURSELVES!: Check out our weekly feature ‘Steely Dan Sunday,’ where S. Victor Aaron breaks down this legendary group’s always-interesting musical offerings – song by song, even the solo stuff!]
1. THE WHO – QUADROPHENIA (1973): The band’s crowning achievement, this album encapsulate everything The Who had been trying to do: wrap a cohesive storyline around the smart hard rock they were known for.
2. KING CRIMSON – RED (1974): The most aggressive of the “early” model band, it’s also probably the least strange – yet it’ll still clear most rooms in minutes.
3. GENESIS – SECONDS OUT (1977): The best of everything Genesis could do, at the peak of their game with Phil Collins at the helm, and enough of the Peter Gabriel material to remind you what was so great about that era, too.
4. RUSH – HEMISPHERES (1978): Sure, half of the album is dedicated to the title track’s geeky pseudo-mythological story, but the music rocks, and the other half has “The Trees” and “La Via Strangiato.”
5. TALKING HEADS – MORE SONGS ABOUT BUILDINGS AND FOOD (1978): Here is that geeky energy of 77 mixed with some nods toward Eno’s power as a producer that we would see soon enough, but it would never be quite as fun as this.
1. CHICAGO – VII (1974): 50% jazz, 50% pop, 100% enjoyable. The jazz portion of the album really shows off the chops of the tight rhythm section of Kath, Cetera, and Seraphine which was arguably just as responsible for Chicago’s success as their trademark horn section.
2. BILLY JOEL – THE STRANGER (1977): This is a sentimental favorite as it represents some of the earliest memories of my childhood. Listening to it today still takes me back to my big sister sharing her music with me.
3. GENESIS – SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND (1973): The best album from the Peter Gabriel era. It showed shades of things to come with Phil Collins handling vocals on the haunting “More Fool Me.” Steve Hackett’s melodic guitar solo on “Firth of Fifth” still gives me chills every time I hear it.
4. TOWER OF POWER – BACK TO OAKLAND (1974): The Lenny Williams era of Tower of Power is considered by many to be their best. I’d argue that Back to Oakland is the best of ToP’s albums from the Lenny Williams era.
5. DRAGON – O ZAMBEZI (1978): Little known in the US, but this Kiwi band is very popular down under in both Australia and their native New Zealand. This is their best album of the ’70s.
1. PAUL McCARTNEY AND WINGS – BAND ON THE RUN (1974): Widely considered one of the best of McCartney’s career, it contains some of the most memorable 1970s rock of the decade. I defy anyone to come up with such a perfect song sequence as side one: the title track, “Jet,” “Bluebird,” “Mrs. Vanderbilt,” and “Let Me Roll It.”
2. JOHN LENNON – IMAGINE (1971): Many fans view this album as “Lennon lite,” a polished effort that pales in comparison to his edgier albums. But these songs contain a powerful and at times political punch; even in 2012, we’re still crying “Gimme Some Truth”!
3. GEORGE HARRISON – ALL THINGS MUST PASS (1970): This three-LP opus exemplifies his gift for writing thoughtful lyrics and playing distinctive guitar. When you hear those timeless words “all things must pass away,” you are hearing no less than Harrison’s life philosophy.
4. CAROLE KING – TAPESTRY (1971): No one broke through music’s glass ceiling like King, and her emotionally frank lyrics and stark singing style are on full display here. What other songwriter has laid herself bare to her audience with classics like “So Far Away,” “It’s Too Late,” and “You’ve Got A Friend”?
5. ELVIS COSTELLO – THIS YEAR’S MODEL (1978): Few artists gave rock a kick in the pants like Britain’s angry young man, and his second effort perfectly combines rock with the then-new punk new wave movement. Plus, cranking “Pump It Up” while driving still thrills.
1. JONI MITCHELL – BLUE (1971): In my opinion, this one of the most profoundly sincere and emotive records of all time. Almost every song is a classic — “Blue,” “River,” “A Case of You,” “Carey,” “All I Want” — if I was alone on an island, no one would ever be able to speak to that lonesomeness better than Joni.
2. NICK DRAKE – PINK MOON (1972): The third and final album before Drake’s sudden and tragic death, “Place to Be” and “Things behind the Sun,” exudes his rather dark and mysterious nature, and his relatively unknown genius.
3. BILLY JOEL – THE STRANGER (1977): From “Movin’ Out” and “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” to “She’s Always a Woman to Me”, this album whets the entire musical palate. And, “Just the Way You Are” not only got me through high-school heartache, but Phil Woods’ solo on it is absolute perfection.
4. JOHN LENNON – IMAGINE (1971): Stranded on a desert island, the lyrics “Imagine there’s no countries,” “Imagine no possessions,” and “Imagine all the people living for today” could possibly take on a whole new and all too real meaning.
5. CAROLE KING – TAPESTRY (1971): Her songs so explicitly present us with visual stories that they are continually entertaining.
1. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – BORN TO RUN (1975): The existence of this album is as important to me as air, water, and food. The wide-ranging music and the cinematic storytelling come together to form an object that feels like it’s a part of me … because it is.
2. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN (1978): Born To Run was my E-Street introduction but Darkness was my baptism.
3. THE CLASH – LONDON CALLING (1979): The ears will be needing some diversity on a desert island and this album does it all, from rock to ska to reggae.
4. THE WHO – LIVE AT LEEDS (1970): It might be a mistake to overlook the expanded concert version of this one, but the original release was tight, packed with equal amounts of beauty and metallic brutality.
5. JACKSON BROWNE – RUNNING ON EMPTY (1977): Apparently, I won’t be going on the road again, so I’ll need me some road songs. Plus, there will be mornings where melody will be necessary and “The Load Out”/”Stay” will be there for me.
1. JOHN LENNON – IMAGINE (1971): Beauty meets the beast, and the results are nothing short of remarkable. There’s a song for every emotion!
2. THE EAGLES – HOTEL CALIFORNIA (1976): The title track of this album is truly one of the greatest songs ever written and recorded. The lyrics flourish with all kinds of wild and wonderful imagery, and Recruiting Joe Walsh on board was a bright idea!
3. THE FLAMIN’ GROOVIES – SHAKE SOME ACTION (1976): A perfect mix of three of my favorite genres, which are British beat, garage rock, and power pop, performed by a band that was so out of step with what was happening commercially in the 1970s that they became famous just by going against the grain.
4. ELTON JOHN – CAPTAIN FANTASTIC AND THE BROWN DIRT COWBOY (1975): Picking a single Elton album was a tough task, considering he recorded a string of impeccable platters during the ’70s. But there’s no doubt this is the album I play the most. Poetry that rocks!
5. THE BEATLES – LET IT BE (1970): There is no way I could ever live without having my ears massaged to the majestic melodies of “Across The Universe,” “Let It Be,” “Two Of Us” and “The Long And Winding Road” or the rough and ragged rock of “I’ve Got A Feeling,” no matter where I am or what I am doing. Congratulations, lads, you have passed the audition!
1. ELVIS COSTELLO – THIS YEAR’S MODEL (1978): Giving you the 33 and a 3rd degree with spittle and spite on every spin and revenge and guilt in every groove, Elvis Costello’s breathtakingly bristling and audacious quantum leap of a second album seems aimed to truly bite the hand that feeds him.
2. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN (1978): Not content to re-Run escapist romanticism and blind expectation, Springsteen’s gritty realism and sense of rudderless futility — without the foregone conclusions of new starts and promises — marks an insidiously brooding and sometimes seething discontent in which “no one asks any questions, or looks too long in your face.”
3. BOB DYLAN – BLOOD ON THE TRACKS (1975): By turns tender and tempestuous, laced with lamentations and recriminations, Dylan confronts the dying embers of his marriage while fueling a bittersweet confessional tone in which every word “rang true and glowed like burning coal.”
4. TELEVISION – MARQUEE MOON (1977): In this innovative and monumentally-maniacal masterpiece, lightening seemingly does “strikes itself” as the lacerating and riveting guitar-work of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd interweaves and doubles down to create a poetic and punk-ish sonic assault.
5. NEW YORK DOLLS — TOO MUCH, TOO SOON (1974): Valued as much for what it personally represented as for its musical immediacy and refreshingly reckless proto-punk spirit: I had not only found the New York Dolls’ raucous and rough-edged second release at a public library book sale for 25 cents, but also discovered enough intangible rewards in its infectious sense of celebratory fun to weather any ‘personality crisis’ that came along.
1. TRAFFIC – JOHN BARLEYCORN MUST DIE (1970): This was supposed to be Steve Winwood’s first solo album. In the end he called in two of his bandmates, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood, to help out and they made an album that still stands tall today. It’s a thrilling combo of earthy blues, folk, and rock.
2. CHICAGO – CHICAGO II (1970): A double that set was my introduction to the great horn band. Forty-two years later, Terry Kath’s solo on “25 or 6 to 4” still blows my mind.
3. THE BEACH BOYS – SUNFLOWER (1970): A devastating commercial failure that in reality was one of the hall-of-famers greatest records. It’s the last excellent example of their classic 60s sound.
4. ROD STEWART – EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY (1971): My favorite album from the first half of the decade. Even so, listening to it saddens me because it proves how far Rod the Mod’s “art” has sunk since then.
5. JACKSON BROWNE – RUNNING ON EMPTY (1977): I know Browne has made better albums than this best seller, but it’s the one that made me a big fan. I still can’t get enough of the title track today.
[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Danny Seraphine talks about the beginnings of Chicago, and the end, then how he finally emerged with a new band – California Transit Authority.]
1. AEROSMITH – ROCKS (1976): In my opinion, the best hard-rock record ever. Period. It’s raw, rocking and the most energetic thing the band has ever done. Even the ballad is good. It’s hard to believe this is the same band that, 20 or so years later, would unleash the abomination that is “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” on the world.
2. BLACK SABBATH – SABOTAGE (1976): Probably the most underrated Sabbath record of the Ozzy era. Sure, Paranoid has the big songs, but this album is, at times, heavier and certainly more varied. And do you really want to spend all that time listening to “Iron Man” over and over?
3. ZZ TOP – DEGUELLO (1979): Simply put, this is ZZ Top’s finest hour. There are blues numbers, rocking tunes that hint at where they were headed in the 1980s and weird off-beat pieces like “Manic Mechanic.” It’s like a blend of the best elements of their 1970s and 1980s stuff.
4. RAINBOW – RITCHIE BLACKMORE’S RAINBOW (1975): Sure, Ronnie James Dio had been kicking around in the music biz since the late 1950s, but this was the record that introduced him to most of the world, and for that the metalheads among us owe Blackmore a debt of gratitude. Plus, it’s just vitally important that I have access to “Temple of the King” whenever I need to hear it.
5. VAN HALEN – VAN HALEN I (1978): I’m not the biggest Van Halen fan in the world, but this record kills from start to finish. How could you not include it.
[SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: Gas up the hoopty-car space shuttle for a fun trip back to ZZ Top’s blues-rocking, furry-guitared past — from ‘Tejas’ and ‘Deguello’ to ‘Afterburner’ and “Recycler.’]
1. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN (1978): The springboard for one of the most storied, legendary tours in all of rock history. Songs like “Badlands” (and occasionally “Prove It All Night”) remain centerpieces of Bruce’s live shows to this day.
2. PATTI SMITH GROUP – EASTER (1978): The sound of a great poet discovering her inner voice as an equally powerful rock singer, and of a previously decent band learning how to become a great one. Those of you still crying sellout, need only reference the punk-rock snarl of “Rock And Roll Nigger.”
3. DAVID BOWIE – DIAMOND DOGS (1974): Bowie’s post-apocalyptic bridge from Ziggy Stardust to Plastic Soulman. This ain’t rock and roll, this is genocide!
4. NEIL YOUNG – RUST NEVER SLEEPS (1979): Where many of his fellow 1960s rock dinosaurs reacted to ’70s punk-rock by dismissing it, Neil Young chose instead to embrace it. Smart move, Neil: Hey, Hey, My, My …
GENESIS – THE LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY (1974): I still have no idea what Peter Gabriel’s “Rael” character is actually singing about here. What I do know, is that I’ll take the heady-prog of The Lamb, over the latter-day Phil Collins model Genesis any day.
1. THE BAND – ROCK OF AGES (1972): The Band, just past the peak of their songwriting powers, but at their absolute performing peak — before drugs took Richard Manuel and Rick Danko, before Robbie Robertson went Hollywood, before Levon Helm was felled by cancer. And with Allen Toussaint handling the horn arrangements? Priceless.
2. ROLLING STONES – STICKY FINGERS (1971): Mick Taylor’s first full-length appearance with the band produced, track for track, my favorite Stones album — from the nasty come on of “Brown Sugar” to the desolate loss of “Wild Horses,” from its tasty blues breakdowns to the junkie ballad “Dead Flowers.”
3. PAUL McCARTNEY AND WINGS – WINGS OVER AMERICA (1976): The ultimate cheater pick, in that it includes most every significant Paul McCartney hit of the 1970s, a slew of Wings deep cuts, a few asides from Denny Laine (including “Go Now,” from his time with the Moody Blues) — and even a handful of Beatles covers.
4. PINK FLOYD – WISH YOU WERE HERE (1975): Not as wall-to-wall famous as its predecessor Dark Side; not as famously walled off as The Wall. What it is: The last true collaboration between all four members of this great space-rock band — with Richard Wright playing a central role for what would be the last time.
5. THE CARS – THE CARS (1978): A template-setting blast of new-wave cool, this record plays like an instant greatest-hits package — so familiar are even its deep cuts. And unlike so much of the hipster music to follow in the 1980s, including some by the Cars themselves, this recording somehow remains ageless.