Desert Island Discs: Guilty Pleasures Edition

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Proof that every one’s guilty pleasure is their own: We reached almost no consensus on this particular version of Desert Island Discs, with only the Carpenters, the Electric Light Orchestra, Hall and Oates and Olivia Newton-John garnering more than one mention.

Newton-John and ELO actually intersect, with the soundtrack for Xanadu. Both of the Hall and Oates mentions are, inevitably, from their hair-sprayed 1980s era. Elsewhere, we sheepishly admit to crushing on Tony Orlando, the Monkees, Neil Diamond, the Bee Gees, the Archies, Michael Franks, Bread, the Partridge Family and Barry Manilow.

Make no mistake, however, several so-called “classic rock” acts also find a home here — including Lou Reed, the Beach Boys, Phil Collins and Foreigner, among others.

Here’s a peek at what we’ll be packing way in the back of our luggage — way, way in the back — before this fateful journey …


1. THE CARPENTERS – THE SINGLES 1969-1973 (1974): Karen Carpenter’s voice might be a sedative but it’s also a comforting connection to a childhood that was simpler, more innocent and hopeful relative to life today; I listen to it and it’s “yesterday once more.” Richard’s arrangements remain the gold standard for soft rock.
2. MICHAEL FRANKS – SLEEPING GYPSY (1977): Claus Ogerman’s lush string arrangements, the bane of most of George Bensons’s late 70s albums, found a logical home in Franks’ softer, Brazilian-lite jazz-pop tunes.
3. HEATWAVE – CENTRAL HEATING (1978): If it’s gotta be disco, might as well go with the best all-around disco band. “Groove Line” still to me represents the apex of the genre.
4. HALL AND OATES – BIG BAM BOOM (1985): It’s not a guilty pleasure to like a Hall & Oates album from the 70s. Well, this one is about as “80s” of a Hall & Oates album there ever was, but I still can’t enough of “Out of Touch.”
5. BASIA – THE SWEETEST ILLUSION (1994): Brazilian-lite like Franks, but with danceable grooves.


1. THE ARCHIES – ABSOLUTELY THE BEST OF THE ARCHIES (2001): Just because the Archies weren’t a “œreal group” doesn’t mean they sucked. Composed of seasoned studio musicians, the band which operated exclusively as animated characters on a Saturday morning cartoon show, coughed up a series of nifty records brimming with clever structures, insanely catchy hooks and solid gold singing, resulting in a tugging tenor equal parts bubblegum pop and blue-eyed soul.
2. THE BAY CITY ROLLERS – THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION (2000): Pigeonholed a teenybopper act, serious rock fans and critics did not view the band with serious eyes or ears. But to heck with them, as the Bay City Rollers released a fair share of mighty fine nuggets sprinkled with references orbiting anywhere from the Beach Boys to Slade to Raspberries. Even the band’s flirtation with disco, “You Made Me Believe In Magic” exerted a cool factor.
3. THE GODZ – THE GODZ (1978): Bearing no connection to the band of the same name and same spelling of the previous decade, these fellows emerged from the Midwest and were taken under the wing of Grand Funk Railroad drummer Don Brewer, who produced this album, which marked their debut effort. Armed with a sound a bit similar to that of their knob twiddler’s band, the Godz were heavy, extremely loud and paid no mind to style or technique.
4. THE 1910 FRUITGUM COMPANY – THE BEST OF THE 1910 FRUITGUM COMPANY: SIMON SAYS (2001): Nursery rhythms nailed to a rock context were what the 1910 Fruitgum Company attained their claim to fame with. Leaders of the bubblegum brigade, the band echoed forth from radios from here to there in 1968 and 1969. To write and arrange songs as gripping as these pop pastries requires much talent, so what a shame it is the 1910 Fruitgum Company, in select quarters, are still looked upon as joke.
5. TONY ORLANDO AND DAWN – THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION (1998): I am proud to admit I am a first generation fan of Tony Orlando and Dawn, and have remained fiercely loyal to them since day one. Not only do their records warm the cockles of my heart, but their live gigs are as emotionally electrifying as well.


1. DONNA SUMMER – BAD GIRLS (1979): As I’ve admitted many times before, I was something of a closet disco fan. And while I truly didn’t like how the genre kind of overtook the pop music landscape for a time, there were a few songs here and there that were just too much fun to ignore. Bad Girls is just full of ’em.
2. SHANIA TWAIN – COME ON OVER (1997): Part of me wanted to start out by saying that I totally love Shania because of her rebel stance toward Nashville, and how she achieved success despite being (at first) spurned by that establishment. But c’mon, you’re gonna call bullshit on me because you just know that I was won over by her hotness. You would not be totally wrong there. Ahem. On the other hand, I can’t say that I would have come along for the ride if it wasn’t for the ultra-fun to be had in songs like “You’re Still The One” and “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” By the way, I saw Shania in Boston when she toured on this album. It was one of the loudest shows I’ve ever been to. Go figure!
3. LOU REED – METAL MACHINE MUSIC (1975): I can’t really explain why I like this big slab of music concrete. Maybe it’s the funny looks that appear on peoples’ faces when it starts to play.
4. MADONNA – LIKE A VIRGIN (1984): The first Madonna album I ever bought was The Immaculate Collection, purchased on the strength of the uber-slinky “Justify My Love.” I ended up finding Like A Virgin in the bins at a used record shop. It’s kind of amazing how organic this record sounds when compared to today’s dance/R&B fare.
5. PHIL COLLINS – FACE VALUE (1981): After “In The Air Tonight,” there’s plenty of R&B-laced fun here. It’s light. It’s breezy. It’s…uh, why do I like this?? Even if you profess to be a Collins-hater — because after Peter Gabriel left Genesis, Collins when on to “destroy” your favorite prog band — you probably dig “In The Air Tonight.” You might not admit that in public but please, you need to stop lying to yourself.


1. PARTRIDGE FAMILY – COME ON, GET HAPPY!: THE VERY BEST OF THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY (2005): The best moment here might actually be the lost gem “Together (Havin’ a Ball)” sung by the studio backing vocalists when David Cassidy couldn’t make the session (probably hiding out in the back of the band bus with Susan Dey).
2. THE OSMOND BROTHERS – GREATEST HITS (1992): On “Hold Her Tight,” they stole a chunk of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” And a song title called “Double Lovin'” After all the Mitt Romney business, let’s not even go there.
3. FOREIGNER – RECORD (1982): I’m digging myself into a pit here — “Urgent,” with its cut-and-splice Junior Walker sax solo, is pretty good – but after that, I might as well say I like Meatloaf as well.
4. MEATLOAF – BAT OUT OF HELL (1977): “You Took the Words Right out of My Mouth,” “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.” Which leads to the final guilty pleasure:
5. BONNIE TYLER – FASTER THAN THE SPEED OF NIGHT (1983): Hey, I just tell people I bought it for the cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Going Through the Motions” … oooh — just ran out of room on my list.

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1. VARIOUS ARTISTS – XANADU (1980): Yes, the film was a train wreck, but the soundtrack has held up quite well. Olivia Newton John’s “Magic” and “Suddenly” (a duet with Cliff Richard) remain pure pop confections, while ELO’s contributions such as “All Over the World” are just fun.
2. OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN – TOTALLY HOT (1978): Fresh off Grease, Newton-John sported a racier image on her followup disc. While the songs may not be the epitome of cool, they are solid and catchy productions nicely showcasing her powerful voice. Need examples? Listen to “Deeper Than the Night” or “A Little More Love.”
3. BARRY MANILOW – BARRY MANILOW LIVE (1977): This is a sentimental favorite, as it’s one of the first albums I ever bought. Manilow was at the peak of his popularity, so his concert includes hit after well-known hit. He may be considered uncool now, but “Weekend in New England” and “This One’s for You” are lovely, well-written ballads.
4. BREAD – THE BEST OF BREAD (1973): People like to ridicule the soft rock movement of the 1970s. But David Gates and Bread did record songs like “Diary,” which thoughtfully tells a story that tugs at the heartstrings. One of my childhood babysitters loved this group and would play this album in my house; this was my initial introduction to the band.
5. HUEY LEWIS AND THE NEWS – PICTURE THIS (1982): Before they hit it big with Sports, the group released this underrated fusion of rock and pop. “Do You Believe in Love” is as good a pop song as you can get, profuse with a sing-along chorus and Lewis’ gritty, blue-eyed soul vocals.


1. THE CARPENTERS – A SONG FOR YOU (1972): #1 guilty pleasure of all time. Karen’s gorgeous voice sings very nice covers of Bacharach/David, Carole King, and more. The LP showed what Karen and Richard could do with good material. Richard’s own “Goodbye to Love” almost rocks. Leon Russell’s title track is outstanding.
2. HERMAN’S HERMITS – THEIR GREATEST HITS (2006): I have no idea why I like these guys. They were too cute for their own good and they even made Paul McCartney look sinister by comparison. However, Peter Noone could sing and they did some cool songs, especially “A Must to Avoid” and “No Milk Today.” This 16 song album is all you’ll ever need.
3. THE MONKEES – MORE OF THE MONKEES (1966): I know that they weren’t a real band at this stage of their career but any album with “When Love Comes Knocking at Your Door,” “I’m a Believer,” and the great rocker “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone” is OK by me.
4. CHICAGO – HOT STREETS (1978): I hated this album when I first heard it but over the years it has really grown on me. Donnie Dacus was actually a pretty good guitar player although he couldn’t sing like Terry Kath. In the end it’s one of the band’s very few listenable albums from the post-Kath era. “I’m Alive” and the title song were the standouts.
4. AMERICA – HERE AND NOW (2007): America never abandoned their basic formulaic sound but with Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne and James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins producing you knew there wouldn’t be a “Muskrat Love,” part 2. Included among the Beckley and Bunnell originals were songs by My Morning Jacket and Nada Surf. The sideman included Ryan Adams and Rusty Young. Their best album since the ’70s.


1. THE BEACH BOYS – LOVE YOU (1977): The slapdash lyrics and throwback subject matter of the songs are no great shakes, but this raggedy glorious and unassuming album is a good reminder that Brian Wilson’s pop instincts were still intact.
2. ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA – A NEW WORLD RECORD (1976): I can’t get it out of my head. All strings attached.
3. SPARKS – KIMONO MY HOUSE (1974): Mile-a-minute displays of wit and wordplay set to terminally infectious tunes, almost undermined by seemingly helium-infused vocals, but not quite.
4. NEIL DIAMOND – CLASSICS: THE EARLY YEARS (1983):Ear candy for the soul. Not even the chair disagrees.
5. GLEN CAMPBELL – THE BEST OF GLEN CAMPBELL: CAPITOL (1976): I clean my gun and listen to “Galveston” and some great Jimmy Webb hits, among others.


1. CHIC – RISQUE (1979): Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards were the shag-carpeted Babyfaces of their day, talented musicians with a golden touch at producing, too. I bought it all, but have come back most often to this throwback disco delight. There’s “My Forbidden Lover,” “My Feet Keep Dancing” and (always, always) “Good Times” — perhaps the most sampled song in hip-hop history. I really struggled with putting this one over Hall and Oates. But, then, there was this: Clams on the half shell … and rollerskates. Rollerskates!
2. HALL AND OATES – PRIVATE EYES (1981): After years of fiddling with everything from dewy-eyed singer-songwriter acoustics to glam-pop overkill, Hall and Oates finally found their sweet-spot synthesis with Private Eyes. Even the throwaway songs here might have been smash-hit earworms for lesser acts — and, of course, there were plenty of those too. Of course, it’s been a very long time since these guys were cool. But give up Hall and Oates? No can do.
3. THE BEE GEES – MAIN COURSE (1975): John Travolta’s disco film, with its zeitgeist (and paint can) swinging cultural reverberations, was still two years away. Yet, for me, this sleek Arif Mardin-helmed groover — highlighted by “Nights on Broadway” and “Jive Talkin'” — outshines all of what followed. My roller-skating rink, not to mention the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album, would never be the same again.
4. SYRO GYRA – BREAKOUT (1986): This album always rips my jazz street-cred to shreds. No matter. Every time I cue up the still-fun opener “Bob Goes to the Store,” written by former bassist Kim Stone, I’m stuck. For all of their canny musicianship, “Bob” doesn’t take itself too seriously. Ultimately, that’s the song’s — and this comfort-food album’s — enduring charm.
5. RUPERT HOLMES – PARTNERS IN CRIME (1979): Of course, there’s the chart-topping “Escape” — which includes the helpful addendum (as if any fool, ahem, who knows all the words, cough, could forget): “The Pina Colada Song.” But don’t forget about “Him,” which would later go to No. 6 despite its similarly laughable implausibility. This time, Holmes has a cuckold becoming thoughtfully pensive — rather than furniture-smashingly violent — after noticing another man’s cigarettes on the nightstand. I know. I shouldn’t like any of this. It’s true, he was nobody’s poet. Then it comes on the radio. And I’m singing along like a damn fool.

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