It’s cold. I’m talking “wind chill is below zero and I keep thinking about how this time last year, I at least had Florida to look forward to” kind of cold that seems endless. Because I have no warmer climates to visit this year (although if someone else wanted to foot the bill, I probably wouldn’t decline), I’ve just been trying to imagine them in my head. Naturally, the whole desert island scenario came up for me, and I started thinking about my desert island top 5 albums.
Of course, this causes my pop culturally sensitive brain to go two places at once: first to the film High Fidelity, one of my favorite Cusack movies. How can you even consider any kind of top 5 list without thinking about that movie? Second, my brain goes to that episode of LOST when Hurley is listening to his Discman and the batteries die. That makes me wonder if the whole concept of “Desert Island Top Five Albums” is kind of dead. When I went to Ireland, I took four CDs with me and three of them were “mix tapes on disc”. But now I have an iPod and all of my music is at my disposal all the time. I wouldn’t really need to choose my top 5 albums. I’d just need to pray for an iPod battery that never dies.
Clearly I’m over-thinking this and should just get to the list. So, for technicality’s sake, here’s my list.
5. Billy Joel – The Stranger
You’re already whistling the title track, aren’t you? Billy Joel has a rather large body of work to choose from, but The Stranger is the one I’m going with just because of its sheer volume of awesomeness. Nearly all of the songs were hits and are among some of my favorites. If by chance I find myself stranded on a desert island, I don’t foresee that I would get tired of listening to this one. In fact, one time on a road trip with a friend, I listened to this one several times in a row and I still enjoy it. Plus, who doesn’t love Billy Joel? I was fortunate enough to be able to see him in concert once (and with Sir Elton John, nonetheless). But I digress. This one’s got “Vienna” which is one of my top 5 Billy Joel songs. It’s also got “The Stranger” (obviously), “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” (too bad about Brenda and Eddie, but love that sax), “Only the Good Die Young”, “Anthony’s Song (Movin’ Out)” and what I like to call the “even softer side of Billy” — “Just the Way You Are” and “Always a Woman”. Like I said. Loaded with awesomeness, in at number five.
Key Tracks: All of them.
4. Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American
During the fall semester of my sophomore year of college, I listened to this album all the time. It’s a good one to crank up and sing along to. The track that everyone went nuts over was “The Middle”, but that was my least favorite track on the album, probably because I just got tired of it. In any case, I had a Friday afternoon ritual that involved going back to my dorm and listening to “Sweetness” at really high volumes because my roommate wasn’t there. Every time I hear that song, it feels like a Friday afternoon, and that’s a good feeling. It’s not just that, though. I think that why I would want to have this album with me is because it just reminds me of a good time in my life. The first semester of my sophomore year of college was one of my favorites. I was comfortable at school by then and was no longer the little fish in the pond. That was the semester that I made some great new friends and also when I started joining clubs and getting involved in things on campus like the newspaper and the radio station. The toxic people in my life were far, far away, and I just felt, well… free. Anything was possible. This album reminds me of all of that, so it takes me to a good place. I’m sure if you ask the survivors of Oceanic 815, they’ll tell you that not every day on a desert island is a good one, so I’m going to need that pick-me-up sometimes. This album pumps me up. It also makes me want to turn the volume way up and sing along.
Key Tracks: Sweetness, A Praise Chorus, Your House, If You Don’t, Don’t, Bleed American
3. Pete Yorn – musicforthemorningafter
The first time I heard Pete Yorn, I was a senior in high school, and I’m absolutely not ashamed to say this next part: I heard him on the Dawson’s Creek soundtrack (volume 2). His song “Just Another” was on that compilation and I fell in love with it. Like… crazy psychotic love. To this day, it’s still my favorite of his songs, and one of my favorite songs of all time. I don’t even know if I could tell you much else of what was on that soundtrack because I just listened to this on repeat. But please don’t judge PY based on his appearance on a Dawson’s Creek soundtrack. There was approximately one other person that I knew of in my high school who had ever even heard of Pete Yorn, and he had the whole album. He burned me a copy which sat for the whole summer without me listening to it. And then one day it was time to load up the mini-van and move to college. I decided to listen to the album in my Discman (it was 2001, we didn’t all have iPods then). And then I fell in crazy psychotic love with the whole album. As I adjusted to dorm life, I discovered that it helped me if I listened to music as I fell asleep every night (which was odd since music usually distracts me from sleeping). But I could only listen to this album. It was so chill — mostly acoustic singer/songwriter stuff — that it just helped me relax and fall asleep. Somehow, ten years have passed since this album was released and it’s still one of my top go-to albums when I just need to calm the hell down and think (which I would need to do if I were marooned on an island because step one would be having a panic attack). There’s a good range of music for calming and thinking here. I’m pretty excited about the ten year anniversary re-release, too.
Key Tracks: Just Another, EZ, On Your Side, Sleep Better, Lose You, Strange Condition
2. Butch Walker – Sycamore Meadows
If you’ve had any kind of at-length communication with me at any point since 1998, you will probably already know that multi-talented singer/songwriter/producer Butch Walker is my absolute number one favorite musician. His sound has gone from power pop rock to indie acoustic and basically everywhere in between. I love this album so much for its back story: in 2007, the wildfires in Malibu burned Butch Walker’s house to the ground and he lost everything. That resulted in Sycamore Meadows – named for the street he lived on. If you’re intrigued by that, watch the video for “Ships in a Bottle”, which is one of my favorite songs on the album. The song was written two weeks before the fire, which makes the song lyrics, especially the chorus, almost eerie to listen to. The video, which will open in a new tab, is of Butch picking through the rubble of his house. I love this album because it conveys that sense of loss. It just really appeals to me. Not that it’s all sad, though. There are an equal number of tracks that I will listen to at exceedingly high volumes, especially in my car, that are upbeat. I was blown away and really excited about hearing a horn section in “Ponce De Leon Ave.”, which is one of my favorite tracks. It makes me feel like dancing all around. Anyway, I spend too much time listening to this album (I love it so much that I’ve given it as gifts to people in a “this album will change your life” kind of way) to not take it with me to the island.
1. Butch Walker – Letters
I am hard-pressed to find an album with which I am as much in love as I am with Letters, and I suppose that’s the reason it’s number one. I spent the entire summer of 2004 anxiously awaiting this one. It had been two years since I’d had my Butch Walker fix. The album prior to it had been his first as a solo artist (he previously fronted The Marvelous 3 of “Freak of the Week” fame) and I was really interested to see if he would fall prey to the sophomore slump. Not a chance. Even though I’d heard a few tracks off of this one as works in progress at some of his shows, this album blew me away. It was a completely different sound than the one before it. Less amped up guitars, more acoustic, more piano. The songs tell stories. The balance between soft and hard, fast and slow, was perfect. And once again, the autobiographical aspect is a factor. This finally came out just as my senior year of college was starting – a bittersweet time, to be sure. In the fall, I probably listened to “Mixtape” and “Best Thing You Never Had” about eleventeen gajillion times. Moving toward winter, it made obvious sense to become obsessed with “#1 Summer Jam”. Then it was time for student teaching. Every day on my commute, I listened to either the Garden State soundtrack or this album. I discovered that the perfect visual juxtaposition for the song “So At Last” is to be driving down a road surrounded by corn fields covered in snow when the sun is just barely up. And then there’s the song “Don’t Move” which begins with the line “Good morning, sunlight”. The day of graduation, I woke up for the last time in my apartment and I saw the sun coming in through the window, and that line jumped in my head for the rest of the day. So I suppose this is my “major life transition” album. In any case, I’d never be able to live without it, so there’s no question. Number one with a bullet.
Key Tracks: Maybe It’s Just Me, Mixtape, #1 Summer Jam, So At Last, Joan, Don’t Move, Best Thing You Never Had, Stateline (and…. every other song on the album).
I could go on about how I’d also sneak an album-length-ish playlist, but this is already long enough. I’ll save that one for another day. Should you feel compelled to share your Desert Island Top 5 Albums with me in the comments section, I’d love to know what they are.