As an in-class writing assignment, we gave students 15 minutes to answer the question, “What three CDs would you want to have with you on the proverbial desert island?”
I would do terribly on a desert island. I’d be a nervous wreck — for sure the first to go in a Lost situation. I’d get all weepy and scared but, to give myself some credit, I think I would also become imaginatively retrospective. I’d spend my days on the lonely beach looking back at old memories, watching them in my mind. I’d stave off insanity by reminding myself of who I have been at different points of my life, holding on to selfhood as a means of survival, parsing together broken images of car rides and concerts and thanksgivings and parties and tears and laughs and all that comes with growing up. As I look back, weaving my memories into one life, I think I’d find these albums played throughout most of them.
The first is Stevie Wonder’s Music of My Mind, which was the only CD my Dad had in the car when I was little. Every morning when we’d drive to school, I’d reach out to turn on the CD player before I buckled my seat, most of the time before he’d even shut the door. I’d lug my backpack up the big cement flight of stairs humming “Girl Blue” and continue with “I Love Everything About You” as I unpacked my books.
Eventually, when I got my own car, I bought some new CDs. My car didn’t have an aux so I had to get a little creative. My ex-boyfriend donated his second copy of NxWorries’ “Yes Lawd,” which quickly became the new “Music of My Mind.” My high school album. My friends and I would whip through the school parking lot, getting more than a few angry stares from my teachers, to “Lyk Dis,” relishing in Knxwledge’s groovy beats and Anderson Paak’s quippy lyricism.
Then, on my drive to college, my Mom introduced me to the Dixie Chicks’ Wide Open Spaces. I used to listen to it when I missed home, but, eventually, it became the album of freshmen year. On Sunday mornings, embarrassingly hungover from the night before, my friends and I would lounge on my bed and listen to this disc. We never really talked about it, it was just kind of an unspoken rule. Sometimes we’d sing along, the occasional dance party exciting us out of our sleepy, headache-filled stupor.
All three remind me of how grateful I am for the life I’ve lived and all the people who have been in it. Gratitude: exactly what I’d need on a desert island.
My three choices would be Just as I Am by Bill Withers, Come Softly to Me by The Fleetwoods, and Abbey Road by the Beatles. With these albums, I could introduce the natives of the island I’m on to my (rather formulaic) music taste while still presenting them with a Black soul giant, a female dominated doo-wop group, and a British art school boy band.
Just as I Am exemplifies Withers’ signature style in the most interesting, nuanced way. The number of greats on the album is incredible, ranging from “Ain’t No Sunshine” to “Grandma’s Hands.” The lesser-known songs, however, would act as modes of comfort on lonelier days on my island, such as “Moanin’ and Groanin’” and “I’m Her Daddy.” These songs are gut-wrenching and emotive, intelligent and suave.
Come Softly to Me because it is lovely. It is satisfying and reminds me of comfort. The harmonies on every track would act as an interpersonal connection on my island when my islanders could not provide it for me. This album, too, is full of greats. “Unchained Melody” soothes like no other, and “Mr. Blue” uplifts. “Skylark” and “I Care So Much” would offer additional solace. This album would ease my island life into a serenity I couldn’t imagine when deciding which three albums to choose.
Of course I would bring Abbey Road. It’s brilliant, and it’s the Beatles album that most fits my personal music taste. Knowing me in this class and out of it means knowing my obsession with the blues, and knowing Abbey Road means knowing that it masterfully manipulates the genre. “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” is so extraordinary it’s almost painful. Ditto “Because” and “Something.” Then you remember “Here Comes the Sun” is on the same album, and that it opens with “Come Together.” You remember growing up listening to “Octopus’s Garden.” You remember discovering “Oh! Darling” in high school for your radio show. Somehow the 26-second “Her Majesty” brings you to tears. This is why Abbey Road must accompany me on my desert island.
Currents — Tame Impala. This album is packed front to back with memorable, upbeat, catchy songs. I think each of the 13 songs on the album has been my favorite at some point. This disc would make the happy times happier and the sad times a little better too.
Uptown Saturday Night — Camp Lo. One of the albums that sparked my infatuation with boom-bap style hip-hop music. Pete Rock executive-produced it, and it shows with the amazing funk and soul sampling used in the instrumentals. Sonny Cheeba and Geechi Suede flow over these beats in a way that is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Using unconventional, internal rhyme schemes, they really bring something new to the table. An album as amazing and underappreciated as this would be a no-brainer for me.
05 Fuck ‘em — Lil B the BasedGod. Because I don’t know how long I will be stuck on this island, the quality vs. quantity debate becomes more applicable to my situation than others. If I bring 05 Fuck ‘em with me, I will have a 101-song, 5-hr, 48-min album to keep me inspired and entertained for more time than not. I have never listened to the album straight through, but being stuck on an island seems like the perfect opportunity to do so.
Caroline Shaw: Partita for 8 Voices
1964 Bernstein conducts Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique with the New York Philharmonic
1997 Pierre Boulez conducts Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 with the Vienna Philharmonic
Unfortunately a lot of classical music only has one big piece per album, so my three desert island albums are three of my favorite pieces.
The Partita for 8 Voices is a piece I absolutely adore, and it reminds me of a very happy time in my life. Both the Partita and Symphonie fantastique remind me of springtime, because that was when the season during which I really discovered and fell in love with these pieces. The Partita has so many elements that make it an all-encompassing work, and the four movements are all quite different. I believe this also goes for the Berlioz and the Mahler. Something else I like about Symphonie fantastique is that it tells a tale, so I wouldn’t just be bringing an album to the island, I would also be bringing a story. Mahler 5 is very transcendent and ethereal, and I think it would be nice to listen to at night under the stars.
All of these pieces have different merits that would keep me occupied during my time on the island. I also think I wouldn’t get tired of them, or if I did it would take a long time to happen. My logic for not including any popular music in my choices is that I can sing songs with words (not half as well as Lizzo, but still…), but I can’t perform a whole symphony by myself. Close fourth and fifth choices are the Imani Winds’ album Startin’ Sumthin’ and Zubin Mehta conducting Mozart’s Gran Partita.
This question is difficult to answer. If I were to go about it honestly, I would most likely include over ten albums. Although after giving it some time, I think these three albums stick out from the others, and I will begrudgingly have to settle upon them.
For me, Sky/Lift by Randy Ingram is one of the few albums that best communicates the love of life, and the pure joy of making music with others. Ingram’s band, including himself (on piano), Mike Moreno (guitar), Matt Clohesy (bass), and Jacob Rueckert (drums), takes the listener through a wonderful timeline spanning many areas of music. From the country-rock “Nicky” to the famous Bill Evans tune “Time Remembered,” this album never gets old.
There’s a reason that Hiatus Kaiyote’s Choose your Weapon has been sampled by greats such as Kendrick Lamar and Anderson Paak. The album is impressive to say the least, a polyrhythmic masterpiece featuring beautiful vocals from bandleader Nai Palm, and intense, disjointed grooves from her bandmates — something that could only be created by true masters of rhythm. And that’s not even including the wonderful craftsmanship that goes into the songwriting.
Flying Lotus’ Flamagra is quite the collaboration. With 27 tracks, each featuring different artists, this electronic compilation includes everything from expertly-composed drum machines to string quartets. With classic artists like Erykah Badu, Herbie Hancock, Denzel Curry, and Thundercat, this is an album you wouldn’t ever want to leave behind.
To qualify for my Desert Island Discs’ spots, the first threshold an album has to meet is the “no skips” test. If I can’t be happy listening to a project from front to back, I’m not going to make it one of the three things I can listen to when there are alternatives out there that I’d be happy listening to the entirety of. Of the projects on that shortlist, I’m making selections based on what would hold my interest musically, as well as the nostalgia the respective records hold.
The first album I’d bring would be To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar. The record emcompasses so many “genres” that I don’t think my ears would ever get bored, and it features production, vocals, and writing credits from some of my favorite musicians ever, including Bilal, Dr. Dre, Ronald Isley, George Clinton, Knwledge, Pete Rock, Pharrel Williams, Robert Glasper, Snoop Dogg, Thundercat, and the most prolific and well-versed poet of our time, the incredible Kendrick Lamar himself. Tracks including “Momma,” “How Much A Dollar Cost,” “Hood Politics,” “Alright,” “Complexion (A Zulu Love),” and “King Kunta” are personal favorites.
The second album I’d select would be My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West. This choice is particularly difficult because I think there are three other Kanye albums that might satisfy the “no skips” criteria in Graduation, College Dropout, and The Life of Pablo, but personally MBDTF gets the nod for me because I think the production on the project contains the most of the other three. The album features contributions from Raekwon, Jay Z, Rick Ross, Ghostface Killah, Q Tip, Mike Dean, Pusha T, and John Legend, another laundry list of some of my favorite musicians. Smash hits like “Power,” “All of The Lights,” and “Monster” defined radio rap for a generation of listeners, “Gorgeous” features one of the most brilliantly penned verses of my lifetime, and “Devil In A New Dress” is on the shortlist of my favorite rap songs of all time. Unfortunately, at this point, a desert island is the only place I can listen to this fool in good conscience.
The third album I’d select is My Favorite Things by John Coltrane. My feelings about his album are complex. Would I like to pick something more edgy and less popular to include? Sure. Can I ignore the feeling I get in my chest when McCoy Tyner starts to improvise on the title track, pondering and exploring life’s most fundamental question, “what makes me enjoy being alive?” Literally impossible. I think I’m still chasing the high I felt when I exhaled and relaxed into my bed and allowed the sheets of piano and tenor wash over me. Every song is a different season, and “Everytime We Say Goodbye” is one of the few instrumental pieces that makes my eyes well up, imagining winter in New York or leaves falling outside my home in Berkeley. It’s a perfect record, and the fact that everybody agrees isn’t enough to dissuade me from bringing it along.
The first album I would bring with me on a desert island would be Tapestry by Carole King. This is one of the only albums which, from the second you put it on, makes you feel as if your best friend is right there with you. Classic tunes such as “You’ve Got a Friend” would console me in my feelings of loneliness and longing for human contact. This album deals a lot with separation from loved ones. One of my favorite songs of all time, “So Far Away,” would be an invaluable asset on a desert island and would definitely be a great way to vent my frustrations that my friends and family are literally so far away.
Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs is known as one of the most depressing hip-hop albums of all time — however, I don’t see it that way. I see it as an album which has actually helped me through my own feelings of depression and some of the hardest times, giving me the ability to push through. Songs such as “Red Water” would help me come to terms with my disintegrating mental health (being stuck on an island would do this), while songs like “Nowhere2go” would provide the perfect gloomy, druggy, meditative getaway that I would so desperately need. Finally, songs like “Azucar” would give me an emotional backdrop to cry and purge out feelings of helplessness but still give infinite thank you’s for the life I have. This record would be a must-have on a desert island.
Finally, I would bring Tyler the Creator’s Wolf with me because it’s just my favorite hip-hop album of all time. Super diverse in its emotions, Wolf finds ways to be absolutely hilarious on one track while crushingly forlorn on the next. “Tamale” would just be such a necessary song to have because it’s so funny yet musically rich, and fun to sing and rap along to. Songs such as the intro track, “Wolf” would be a much needed time for me to yell at the top of my lungs and release any feelings I have been holding in. “Cowboy” would be extremely consoling, with its refrain “I am the cowboy on his own trip…” supporting feelings of self sufficiency.