Tuesday, December 20, 2016

My Eight Desert Island Songs

Recently, a friend of mine posted the following question in an online rock music forum that we participate in: What are your eight Desert Island songs? Of course we’ve heard this question—and a variety of variants of this question—many times before. In this hypothetical scenario, we somehow end up on a deserted island and the mysterious all-powerful entity that placed us there allows us to choose eight, and only eight, songs to listen to over and over again. It’s unclear how we’re listening to these songs—mp3 player, CD, mixed tape, Victrola—but, the point is we can hear nothing else but these songs for the rest of eternity, so we better make some wise choices.

As a point of interest, my friend posted this question because he came across an article in which Bruce Springsteen was posed this query. Bruce’s choices were: Elvis Presley – “Hound Dog;” The Beatles – “I Want to Hold Your Hand;” The Rolling Stones – “It’s All Over Now;” Van Morrison – “Madame George;” Marvin Gaye – “What’s Going On;” James Brown – “Out of Sight;” The Four Tops – “Baby I Need Your Loving;” and Bob Dylan – “Like a Rolling Stone.” A respectable list, to say the least.

Clearly, the song choices of Springsteen, one of the most successful solo artists in the history of rock, will be of more interest to most than that of Schwartzberg, whose musical career consisted of four months of piano lessons as a child followed by an occasional drunken karaoke session in his 20s. But alas, seeing as how I write this blog, I’m going to share Schwartzberg’s list of eight desert island songs anyway, and nobody—not even The Boss, can stop me.

Be aware that the list below is in no special order, other than the order in which I happened to think of the songs. So, without further ado, here are the eight songs I would listen to over and over again throughout eternity, and the rationale behind each.

“Born to Run” – Bruce Springsteen
No, it’s not just because this list was inspired by Springsteen’s list that I picked this song. It’s because he’s far and away my favorite solo artist and this song introduced me to him. And every time I hear this song, I drop everything and give it my full attention. There is an urgency about this song—a driving force that sucks me in and gets my heart pounding and my temperature rising. I know this song has gotten endless airplay, but to me it can never be overplayed. It is passionate, alive and immediate. When I’m on my desert island and I need a sure shot of pure adrenaline, this will be my go to song.

“Roundabout” – Yes
This is the song I’ve cited as my favorite song for close to 30 years, now, and with good reason, I believe. This is 8 minutes and 29 seconds of the greatest, mind-bogglingly complex musicianship you will ever hear on a rock song. Rick Wakeman on keyboards, Steve Howe on guitar, Chris Squire on bass, Bill Bruford on drums, and Jon Anderson on vocals are unparalleled in their craft and each blows my mind at different points in the song. Actually, in some cases they blow my mind at the same point in the song. You know how they say if pregnant women play classical music while their baby is in the womb it will increase their baby’s intelligence? My theory is that if a pregnant woman ever decided to put “Roundabout” on constant rotation for the entire duration of her pregnancy, the being that she would birth would end up making Stephen Hawking look like Pauly Shore. And on a desert island, I would need all the intelligence I could muster.

“Subdivisions” – Rush
Just as Springsteen is far and away my favorite solo artist, Rush is far and away my favorite band, and “Subdivisions” is the song that introduced me to them. While the song is great musically and lyrically (it’s about being a loner in a suburban world of conformity) it is actually not my favorite Rush song. But, because this song turned me on to the band that would go on to make up such a core part of my psyche from age 16 onward, its significance cannot be denied. Being without this song would be like being without a limb, and if I were on a desert island, I would definitely need all my limbs intact.

“Birdhouse in Your Soul” – They Might Be Giants
If you are living by yourself on a deserted island, I would imagine despair might be a pretty major issue, so it occurred to me that I would need at least one song guaranteed to lift my spirits, and this was the obvious choice for me. To my mind, there is no band more fun than They Might Be Giants and no song of theirs more joyous than “Birdhouse in Your Soul.” The lyrics are somewhere between whimsical and nonsensical (“Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch/Who watches over you/Make a little birdhouse in your soul”) and its matched with music that is peppy and uplifting. Ever since I discovered this song in the early 1990s it has been my go to song when I needed cheering up. Indeed, it’s like musical Prozac and on my desert island I would take a daily dose.

“Hello” – Lionel Richie
Okay, stop snickering. The truth is, I was a huge Lionel Richie fan in junior high school when he was at the peak of his popularity. And when this song was released in early 1984, as ninth grade was coming to an end, I had a massive crush on a girl named Elizabeth. I played this song endlessly as I pined after this girl and the song has come to represent yearning for something that cannot be obtained. Of course, nothing ever happened between Elizabeth and I, and once 10th grade started she was long forgotten when a new crush surfaced. But the song “Hello” is part of the fiber of my being and I would play it on my desert island when wistfulness and longing were the order of the day.

“Dance With You” – Live
For me, this song is the antidote to “Hello.” Instead of unrequited love, it represents pure, mutual love.  It is the theme song to the early days of my relationship with my wife and was the first dance at our wedding. Live is a band that my wife and I both loved prior to meeting, so when we started dating and found we had a mutual admiration for their music, it became “our band” together. Less than three months after we started dating, Live released the album The Distance to Here and “Dance With You” was the final track. It’s a song about how two people wrestling with inner demons find peace in their love for one another. It was, and is, our song. So, if I were alone on a desert island, I would need to have the musical representation of my wife with me, and that’s what this song is.

“Because the Night” – 10,000 Maniacs
After thinking about how my wife would be represented in my musical selections it suddenly occurred to me that I had no women’s voices in any of the songs I had picked. How horrible it would be to go through the rest of life without ever hearing a female voice ever again. And as soon as I had that thought I knew that the voice I would have to hear would be Natalie Merchant’s, as she is my favorite female vocalist by a very wide margin. At first I pondered her solo career, which has produced so many songs I love, and then I thought about her time with 10,000 Maniacs, which likewise, has dozens of great tracks. But then I remembered this song—a Bruce Springsteen cover, which the 10,000 Maniacs played on MTV Unplugged in 1993. I already liked this song, but their take on it is hauntingly beautiful and it quickly became one of my favorites. But I’m also picking this song because it is from a live album and there is applause at the beginning and end of the track, so if, while on my island, I want to feel like there are others with me, this is a great track to play.

“Help!” – The Beatles
I knew from the beginning of this exercise that one of my eight songs was going to have to be a Beatles song. There was no way I was going to commit to never hearing a Beatles song again. So when I got through my first seven and still hadn’t picked a song from the Fab Four, I refocused my energy on their catalog. I quickly realized that this task was nearly impossible. No band has more great songs than the Beatles, so how was I going to narrow it down to just one? But then, like a lightning bolt, it suddenly occurred to me what song I would have to pick. It was so obvious. Not only was it a great song, but the title was the one word phrase I would likely utter most often while trapped on a desert island—“Help!” Sometimes the answer just stares you in the face.