Philadelphia’s WXPN, the station that brought Trip and me together, is asking listeners to submit lists of the ten songs they’d want to have on their iPods were they to be stranded on a desert island, an occurrence that happens far more often than the left-leaning media would have you know. These lists will then be compiled into one master list of 885 songs to be counted down by the station, and perhaps to be ridiculed – excuse me, commented upon – by the proprietors of this humble web site.
I tried (and probably failed) not to overthink my list, but once the final song came to me, it was a eureka! moment. It was plain to me, as I’m sure it will be to you, that the list is perfect, unassailable, and unimproveable. Before I unveil the list (and you may not want to look directly at it, for the brilliance could be blinding), I want to stress that sequence is important. The songs must be encountered in the proper order. There is logic to it, with synergies created. Dynamics. Pace. Crescendo. If the songs are placed in any other order, not only do they lose their power, they could be become volatile, dangerous, even deadly (under no circumstances should the offerings from Mingus and the ‘Mats be placed adjacent to one another). Please, use good judgment.
“Another Girl, Another Planet,” The Only Ones. Like all good rock and roll mixes, this one starts with a bang. One of the best songs from one of the most fertile times for rock and roll singles, this (just barely) post punk slab of angular guitars, monster melody and breathless pacing is the perfect blend of rock and roll power and pure pop bliss. I considered tunes by Nick Lowe, the Undertones, the Plimsouls, Pretenders and Marshall Crenshaw for this spot, but nothing else sounded quite so perfect.
“I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man,” Prince. Gotta sustain momentum with the second track, while still heading in a different direction. This was a fairly late entry, taking the place of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up,” and somehow it feels like sneaking Curtis and Sly Stone on to the list in a single song. This is the best of Prince crammed into one tune – the funk, the pop, and that otherworldly guitar.
“Many Rivers to Cross,” Jimmy Cliff. An out of left field choice and the last song to make the list. A few Bob Marley songs had been penciled in here, and I was ready to hit submit with “No Woman No Cry” in the three-hole, but Bob seemed to rest uncomfortably here. And then it just struck me. I have long loved this song, but I don’t think I knew how much. So beautiful, so powerful, so soulful, and so remarkably comforting. Even stranded, you can never be alone with a song like this. And the intro blends so nicely with Prince’s fade.
“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” Charles Mingus. This isn’t some awkward effort to shoehorn some jazz onto the list. This tune might be here if I were allowed just five songs. Stately, elegant, never cloying, always satisfying. And when the bass and sax flutter in unison, it sends me through the roof.
“Amelia,” Joni Mitchell. From Mingus to his most famous fan (evidence here). I loved this song the very instant I first heard it twenty-some years ago, and that love has only deepened over time. As graceful a recording as I can imagine, it provokes something powerful within me, the sort of deep connection that you spend a lifetime chasing but rarely finding. Still, the few times you find it make all the chasing worthwhile. The song gets bonus points for being about someone who may actually have been stranded on a desert island.
“Answering Machine,” The Replacements. From a song that is (largely) a woman and her guitar to one that is (largely) a man and his, but a hard shift in tone. Paul Westerberg’s greatest song is nothing less than the electrified sound of exposed nerve endings. Has anyone ever been so desperately alone at such devastating volume?
“Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” The Hold Steady. Much has been made of Craig Finn being Bruce Springsteen’s spiritual heir, but at least half of his DNA comes from fellow Minnesotan Westerberg. This is the song that indoctrinated me into the cult, the one that first made me feel at forty the way the ‘Mats made me feel at twenty. The way we deify The Hold Steady has become a bit of a running joke around here, but down deep, it’s dead serious. I love this band. I love everything about them: the riffs, the words, the ambition, the respect for the audience’s intelligence. Everything. And I love this song best.
“All Down the Line,” The Rolling Stones. Everything I love about rock and roll can be traced back to the Stones’ perfection of Chuck Berry’s imagination, and this is the epitome – the best song on the best album. The way Mick sings, the way Charlie swings, the way Keith sends it hurtling down the tracks, the way Mick Taylor dances on top, the way Bill Wyman anchors it at bottom. It’s a lesson in chemistry, in physics, and in literature. “Open up and swallow, yeah!”
“Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen. If you complain that this is obvious, I’ll remind you that obscurity isn’t the object. I’ve heard this song a million times and I can’t wait till the next. When the E Street Band explodes – is there any other word for it? – into the song, I feel the rush every time. It’s like fight-or-flight with guitars, and I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to pump my fist and sing with abandon and hear something new with each listen as layer after layer of sound peels away. That a scruffy Jersey kid could conceive of such a thing at 25 was audacious. That he could achieve it was supernatural.
“Marquee Moon,” Television. My “Stairway to Heaven,” and the only way I could end this thing. “Marquee Moon” is pure mystery to me. I don’t know why I should love such a long song with a medium tempo and an odd construction, but I do, and more than I can express. It is pure majesty, and the long, winding, ascending guitar dance between Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd is a musical/sexual path to higher consciousness. This song is last because I don’t know what could possibly follow it.