The Usual Suspects — Boring Desert Island Discs I Still Love:
- The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night
- The Beatles – Revolver
- The Beatles – Rubber Soul
- Big Star – #1 Record/Radio City
- Billy Joel – The Stranger
- Billy Joel – 52nd Street
- Billy Joel – Glass Houses
- Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run
- Bruce Springsteen – Born in the USA
- Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Rust Never Sleeps
- Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
- Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
- Queen – Night at the Opera
- Stevie Wonder – Innervisions
Colton: I have tried listening the In The Aeroplane several times, but I never make it all the way through. Lots of multiples here (and below)—do you see these as showing range, or as representing more of the same voice at an artist’s peak?
Dan: I actually had a tough time assembling this list for that very reason. “Usual Suspects” implies these are records that I am definitely supposed to like, and do. Well, I figured I’d include more “canon,” classic rock acts here — the two lists combined make the repeats not quite as extreme (of 30, 4 for Billy, 3 for Bruce, 3 for Beatles, 3 for Kalnoky, 2 for Oasis, 2 for RK — my five all time favorite acts making up just about half the list). I considered intentionally diversifying this, but this represents what albums I actually value. To answer your specific question, this represents both consistency and variety: The Billy Joel albums are pretty similar, The Beatles are quite divergent, and Relient K’s two entries may as well be by different bands.
Dan: As for Aeroplane, I prefer the first half, but I find something intoxicating about it that keeps me coming back.
Grant: I’m one of the rare people (I think) who prefers Born in the USA to Born to Run.
Dan: I actually wrestled with this issue recently: http://earnthis.net/ranking-the-tracks-on-bruce-springsteens-born-to-run-and-born-in-the-usa/ — I slightly prefer Run to USA (and I think most people who identify as Springsteen fans feel that way), but both are fantastic.
Grant: But you don’t like the second-best song on USA (Bobby Jean), so that doesn’t help.
The Real Desert Island List — Albums I Listen to More Than the Previous List:
- Billy Joel – Songs in the Attic
- Bruce Springsteen – The Wild, the Innocent, and the E-Street Shuffle
- Catch 22 – Keasbey Nights
- Eve 6 – It’s All In Your Head
- Green Day – International Superhits
- Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
- Me First and the Gimme Gimmes – Are a Drag
- Oasis – Definitely Maybe
- Reel Big Fish – Our Live Album Is Better Than Your Live Album
- Relient K – Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right… But Three Do
- Relient K – Forget and Not Slow Down
- Streetlight Manifesto – Everything Goes Numb
- Streetlight Manifesto – Somewhere in the Between
- Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque
- Weezer – Pinkerton
Colton: So, basically, the 1980’s were a wasteland for you.
Dan: Hey, uh, two of these thirty are from the 80s (Born in the USA and Glass Houses).
Colton: Combining all desert island albums and singles, totals by decade from 60’s to 10’s: 9, 15, 5, 10, 11, 2. I’m really impressed by the range of your choices, and therefore find it amusing that the 80’s score so low, considering one of those five is a live album made up of 70’s songs, another was released in ’80, and two more were released in ’89, so that Born in the USA ends up looking very lonely in the middle.
Dan: I hadn’t really thought of it that way. It makes me wonder if I just haven’t looked hard enough at pop & rock from that time frame.
Grant: I’m trying hard not to say anything about the inclusion of that Green Day greatest hits album that has like two of their 20 best songs.
Dan: I knew that one wouldn’t be popular with you (in part because I know you’re morally adverse to Greatest Hits albums). I listen to Warning and American Idiot and Stop Drop and Roll just as often as International Superhits these days
Colton: Should’ve commented before: Catch 22’s KN over Streetlight’s is a noteworthy choice! I note it. My preference varies from song to song.
Dan: My take on Streetlight’s Keasbey is that I’m glad it exists, but the rawness (and hyperactive drumming) of the Catch 22 version make the original definitive. Streetlight’s album gives you the impression that Kalnoky doesn’t really mean it when he sings. On the other hand, Streetlight’s version has some of the wind instruments’ best solos and performances.
Greatest Single Ever Made:
- Bruce Springsteen – Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Passionate and funny, this high-energy rocker from Bruce’s early career is a thrilling masterpiece. The Boss layers his lyrics deep with innuendo and brilliant turns of phrase while the E-Street Band layers the performance deep with knockout after knockout. Its climax is everything a rock song could hope for: a confrontation, a revelation, an explosion. Take a listen and jump a little lighter with me.
- Marvin Gaye – Heard It Through the Grapevine
The Prince of Soul tears through a brilliantly arranged classic. The steady crescendo to each refrain is searing, and Gaye’s voice will rip your heart into a thousand tiny pieces. The melodies are perfect and the production is epic. This is a higher plane of pop.
For about ten years I considered this my favorite song, and I’m still not sure I give the edge to “Rosie.” It’s a mournful yet optimistic song about accepting that something good lies just beyond the horizon. Its lyrics are vague enough to be insightful to just about every experience I encounter in life. “Vienna” was one of the first songs I ever connected to in a meaningful way, so its beauty and emotions struck me hard. More than a decade later, it still haunts me.
Other Desert Island Singles:
This list was growing out of control, so I trimmed it down to the songs that it really hurt not to list as the “greatest ever” or “runner up” — this is just a sampling of songs that that are both unequivocally great and that I relate immediately and passionately to, my absolute favorites. The term “single” is so diluted at this point, that I just used it as a synonym for “individual track,” though most of these were true singles.
- Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution – It’s a Wonderful Life
- Ben Folds Five – One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces
- Bomb the Music Industry! – I Don’t Love You Anymore
- Bruce Springsteen – Thunder Road
- Dion and the Belmonts – Runaround Sue
- Donna Summer – Hot Stuff
- Elvis Presley – Suspicious Minds
- Fine Young Cannibals – She Drives Me Crazy
- John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John – You’re the One That I Want
- Kanye West feat. Pusha T – Runaway
- Madonna – Like a Prayer
- Oasis – Live Forever
- Patsy Cline – Crazy
- The Raspberries – Go All the Way
- The Ronettes – Be My Baby
- Suburban Legends – I Want More
- Taylor Swift – You Belong With Me
- Tommy James and the Shondells – I Think We’re Alone Now
- Tom Petty – American Girl
- U2 – One
Grant: It’s always nice of Dan to make sure he’s got the ‘most embarrassing selection’ award locked up early with that Taylor Swift, thus making me feel less vulnerable with some of my more questionable picks.
Dan: I knew that wouldn’t slip through the cracks without comment
Favorite Box Sets:
I’m not a big collector of box sets, but aside from Billy Joel’s My Lives (flawed and geared just for hardcore fans like me), the most personally significant collection that comes to mind is Phil Spector’s 4-disc Back to Mono. It provides a good summary of how the sounds, as much as the composition, of pop music can evoke emotions (though the compositions are pretty great too).
I also recently learned of Motown: The Complete No. 1’s and it would surely be discussed in greater detail here if I filled this survey out a year from now.
First Record Bought:
I had to think about it for a few minutes, but I finally remembered the first two albums I owned. My dad bought them for me, so it technically doesn’t count, but it’s too appropriate not to include: Billy Joel’s and Bruce Springsteen’s Greatest Hits albums. Explains a lot, I guess. I’m not sure the first one I bought; it may have been Cold Spring Harbor by Billy Joel.
Queen in 2006. Billy Joel a month later. Loved both.
Colton: How’s Queen sound with… wait, who was on vocals? And bass?
Dan: “QPR” as they went by those days was pretty entertaining. Paul Rodgers (of “All Right Now” & “Feel Like Making Love” fame) provided vocals and did an admirable job. Thankfully, they let a live recording of Freddie take vocals on “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Not sure who played bass.
- Streetlight Manifesto-Reel Big Fish (with Colton!)
Two of my favorite bands both giving peak-level performances. Everything I could hope for in a show. Two hours felt like twenty minutes.
- Koo Koo Kangaroo-Suburban Legends-Aquabats-Reel Big Fish
Ska bands put on good shows, and no show I’ve been to has had more personality than this quadrifecta. Koo Koo Kangaroo is a kid’s band that performs for grown-ups; Suburban Legends performs dance routines with each song; The Aquabats stage campy superhero stories and fight scenes with each show; and Reel Big Fish dress like it’s the ‘70s, perform songs from the ‘90s.
Colton: Sunday, January 18, 2009 at the NorVA. Two years later I got to see the same two bands co-headlining again, but my concert companion that time didn’t get it.
Dan: Well, if you want to see Streetlight on their farewell tour, they’re coming to Springfield with Rodeo Ruby Love and Empty Orchestra on July 10. I will be there!
Concert You Wish You’d Seen:
- Arrogant Sons of Bitches
Of bands that I never saw live but theoretically could have, I’m disappointed I missed Oasis. I don’t imagine it would have been too revelatory — their live recordings are mostly just sloppy versions of their studio recordings (though volume often makes bands like Oasis sound better). A better answer is the Arrogant Sons of Bitches, who were live ska legends. My brother thinks their last album was the best album of the past decade; I disagree, but would have loved to have seen their infamous live show.
Within the realm of bands I’ve seen but wish I could have seen a specific show, the Eve 6 farewell* concert under the Gateway Arch comes to mind. I get chills just thinking about “Arch Drive Goodbye.”
Grant: That description of live Oasis sounds exactly as I would have predicted.
Favorite Music Movies:
- That Thing You Do!
The title track is perfect and great enough to carry the movie (which is honestly my favorite movie, period), but the entire film is filled with facsimiles of ‘60s pop and rock. It’s impressive, and the soundtrack would have made my “Real Desert Island” list above if I didn’t have the chance to honor it here.
Soundtrack is a great collection of early ‘80s alternative that’s opened me up to a world of music I hadn’t previously paid attention.
Grant: Adventureland is a great movie, too. You know your structure is solid when you can succeed with KStew and Ryan Reynolds as key contributors.
Dan: Yeah. For awhile this was the only KStew movie I’d seen, which made me surprised at the general backlash against her. She’s pretty alright in that movie.
Best Use of Music in a TV Series:
Every episode has something surprising in the soundtrack. It’s so jam-packed with great pop and rock canon tracks that they can’t release it on DVD for licensing reasons.
- Freaks and Geeks
A great homage to the late ’70s/early ‘80s.
Colton: Ah, so there must have been something you liked in the 80’s!
Dan: The Wonder Years is pretty much my favorite thing, period, although it’s late ’80s nostalgia for late ’60s.
Grant: Freaks & Geeks also gave us some unintentional comedy with them trying to sell us on the notion of Jason Segel as a John Bonham-esque drummer.
Dan: I’m not sure I’d call that comedy “unintentional,” but it’s definitely one of the more humorous threads in that show. His poorness at drumming and how strange he looked playing the ridiculous drums was never not amusing.
Grant: Fair point. ‘Unintentional comedy’ claim rescinded.
Favorite Music Books:
Note: I do most of my music reading online.
Great overview of rock’s most significant artists and albums. It’s a fun, informative, and well-written read.
- Ripped by Greg Kot
This will give you a good idea of how the platform of music distribution and consumption is changing/has changed. It will also make you hate record labels if you don’t already.
- Tomas Kalnoky
He marries rambly stories with melodies inspired by classic rock, radio pop, and classical music, and then records the songs with world-class instrumental talent. Whether he was writing Catch 22’s first album, or fronting the highly influential ska band Streetlight Manifesto, or briefly uniting the Earth-shattering, all-acoustic supergroup Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution (see below), Kalnoky has always made every song sound like a barn-burning anthem, a brief course on philosophy, and a mini-masterpiece.
Colton: Speaking of brilliant songwriters who head up Earth-shattering, all-acoustic supergroups, check out Genius Grant winner Chris Thile.
Dan: I listened to a few Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers songs and quite liked them (starred This Girl on Spotify!), but they don’t have the same orchestral, towering sound that BotAR does.
Favorite Record Label:
Quote Unquote Records is the first donations-only record label, and they house some thoughtful and ambitious ska and punk bands. Their web-site was also once suspended for housing copyrighted content — the label’s own music.
Favorite Album Covers:
- Billy Joel – Songs in the Attic
- Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
- Yellowcard – Ocean Avenue
Grant: Points for any ‘Ocean Avenue’ reference or selection.
Least Favorite Album Cover:
- Oasis – Heathen Chemistry
Grant: Come on, I’m not even sure that’s Oasis’s worst album cover.
Dan: I just as well could have said Oasis’ entire discography… all so bad…
Dan: I mostly chose an Oasis album as a default choice because a) all of their album covers suck, and b) I couldn’t think of anything truly awful.
Grant: Dig Out Your Soul would be my pick among Oasis’ plentiful options here.
Favorite Music DVDs:
It’s also one of the best live albums ever, see below.
Artist You Will Always Believe In:
- Relient K
I feel like this band was crafted by the music gods with me specifically in mind. They’re not just a favorite, they’re personally inspiring: their arc from semi-pro filler to true greatness makes me believe that leap is possible. You don’t have to be a prodigy: You have to hone your craft with an open, ambitious mind.
- Reel Big Fish
What do you do if you are a former one hit wonder? You put together a great live show, keep making records with great craft and consistency, and continue doing what you love. Reel Big Fish has been offering cheap, entertaining shows on the east coast for more than 20 years, largely with the same band (though some of them are starting to retire). They even survived record label contractual friction that seems the norm with bands from discarded chart fads; they responded by independently publishing a monumental live album that captures how much fun a RBF show is. Reel Big Fish could disband now, or they could tour for another ten years: Either way, I would believe in them as one of the most admirable, underappreciated acts of my lifetime.
Colton: Re: RBF, I didn’t realize they had a hit! (Outside the ska world, at least.) But their stage presence is top-knotch and the inter-song banter is like ensemble standup comedy.
Dan: Sell Out peaked at 10 on the Billboard Modern Rock charts. I agree re: stage presence. Their live album captures this in spades.
Artist You Will Always Defend:
- Oasis (circa 1994-96)
Fronted by two brilliant morons, rehashing everything that was relevant 25 years before they formed, and blasting chords with all the subtlety of a Bryce Harper home run swing, Oasis is a backlash magnet. They want to be loved, which is why so many people hate them. But, from April 1994 to May 1996, they were the best band in the world. Their songs were great and their execution was better. They couldn’t stop making great songs: most of their 11 singles in that timeframe had 2 or 3 B-sides just as good as the songs that made the albums. That adds up to about 4 albums worth of five star material in two years.
- Billy Joel
So commonly a critical punching bag that it’s starting to become cool not to hate him. Whatever. He’s a great writer and an enjoyable musician, so I don’t care whether the internet is smiling or frowning at him this week. He’s my favorite musical artist and the best pop melodicist of the past 50 years. No one can convince me otherwise.
Colton: …but you won’t always defend Oasis post-1996?
Dan: As great as they were, they lost their way pretty badly. (Though see the next section…)
Grant: Maybe they should have put some of those extra singles or B-sides on the second half of Morning Glory.
Dan: Morning Glory has some of the best Oasis songs from that era, also some of the worst
Dan: You can listen to The Masterplan as a sampling of some of their B-sides from that era. About 10 of the 14 tracks from that collection are better than any of tracks 5 to 11 of Morning Glory (possibly excepting Some Might Say).
Albums That You Will Always Defend:
- Oasis – Be Here Now
- Weezer – Maladroit
Grant: Everyone has a Weezer album like that, I feel like. Lord knows I do.
Colton: I don’t, but I’ve always felt a little guilty for being part of this generation and not caring more about Weezer… I only know the radio singles.
Album You Own That No One Else Does:
- Suburban Legends – Goin’ on Tour EP
Singers Who Make Your Skin Crawl:
- Thom Yorke
I’m okay with Radiohead. I feel like I would love them if Thommy Boy had a less grating voice. He can knock it out of the park (check the “Creep” bootleg Grant cites), but more often he provides a barrier between me and the song he’s singing.
- Bob Dylan
Too obvious, too true.
Colton: Yeah, and he stole that extra “h” from Jonny Greenwood!
Grant: I think what Dan yearns for is ‘The Yorke back when RH was a normal rock band.”
Dan: The Bends is by far my favorite album by them, but based on this comment I’m thinking I should listen to Pablo Honey again.
Colton: Ah yes, back before England proclaimed them gods among men and the second coming of the Beatles. Or, wasn’t that Oasis? I guess it was just Thom Yorke who proclaimed RH gods among men.
Grant: I don’t know, it seems like a ton of people consider them to be gods among men. Also, yes, Bends has Yorke’s best vocals. His work on Fake Plastic Trees makes me forget about the second half of their career for five minutes.
Singers Who Make You Swoon:
I toyed with a few answers, until I thought of the one correct selection for this category: Eva Cassidy. Go look up her covers on YouTube and you’ll get it.
Artists You’re Supposed to Like but Don’t:
- Led Zeppelin
- Bob Dylan
Song You Can’t Stand by an Artist You Like:
- This is the Time – Billy Joel
Grant: Funnily enough, I kind of like this one. It’s all nostalgia, though, nothing legitimate.
Favorite Teen Idol:
- Dion. Watch this.
Artist Who Broke Your Heart:
- Coulda had class, coulda been a contender – Hot Hot Heat
- Kept lying to me about release dates – Streetlight Manifesto
- Later career spoiled early good single – Train
- They divorced – Sonny and Cher
- Just stopped trying – Weezer
- Broke up during a promising second wind – Oasis
- Music actually broke my heart – Sinead O’Connor
Grant: Oasis’s description here sounds like a lot of my relationships.
Band That Should Break Up:
Band That Should Re-form:
Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution are a logic-defying, orchestral, all-acoustic supergroup performing the music of my favorite songwriter, Tomas Kalnoky. They released a single EP, A Call To Arms, that has only five songs. One of them is a short intro track, one of them was already a cover, and two have been covered very well by Streetlight Manifesto since. (The lone uncovered track, It’s a Wonderful Life, is the apex of Kalnoky’s poetic vision and unsurpassable in its BotAR version, so I hope it’s never covered by another Kalnoky band.) It would be easy, then, for them to fade quietly from music history.
What’s so great about BotAR is not only their one-of-a-kind timbre, but the cohesive vision on the one EP we have: Kalnoky blends dark images of violence with buoyant melodies and colorful sounds. It’s startling and perfect. The little taste of BotAR we have is just enough to break your heart knowing there’s a 99% chance they’ll never have another recording session.
I am definitely past the age when *NSYNC’s last album, Celebrity, should be receiving serious airplay in my apartment. I am also definitely past the age where I’m going to pretend not to love this album. The Backstreet Boys lost this feud when they got defensive about still being relevant on Black and Blue. *NSYNC didn’t spit game, they spit the truth: they were true “Pop” stars, bona fide Celebrities. Great upbeat numbers, great ballads (Stevie Wonder cameo sighting!), great album.
Colton: The uncanny thing is that *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys both started out with Max Martin and Denniz PoP (!) songs, but the latter relied fully on this crutch while the former had JT’s starpower and, increasingly with time, his own developing songwriting powers.
Dan: JT co-wrote 0 songs on their first album, 1 on their second, and 7 on their third.
Grant: Look at Dan coming at us with hard evidence. But, come on…this over No Strings Attached?
Dan: Talking about *NSYNC reminds me of a story… One of my brothers used to use Windows Media Player to track how much he listened to different songs pretty carefully. None was at more than 100 plays. He went to summer camp for a week, and I turned “Makes Me Ill” on loop… had more than 1000 by the time he got back. He couldn’t figure out how to make it go back to 0.
Grant: That’s genius. iTunes knew they had to include that “Reset playcount” feature.
Song You Like By an Artist You Don’t:
- Led Zeppelin – D’yer Mak’er
Favorite Live Albums:
4. Our Live Album is Better Than Your Live Album – Reel Big Fish
3. 12 Gardens Live – Billy Joel
2. Odeon Hammersmith 1975 – Bruce Springsteen
1. Songs in the Attic – Billy Joel
Genre You Will Always Defend
- Modern ska
It’s not artful (except when it is, like Streetlight Manifesto and The Slackers), but ska and ska-punk are all about amplifying melodies, driving forward with a strong backbeat, and coloring the sound with wind instrumentation. Too many that I’ve encountered dismiss the genre as a long-past fad for frat boys, and it irks me: You can find some damn fine writing and brilliant craft in modern ska music. Maybe the haters just don’t like having fun; their loss.
Best Live Discovery:
I actually already wrote an article about them for Earn This, but Larry and His Flask blew my mind. Bluegrass instrumentation, punk-rock composition. Works brilliantly.
Favorite Compilation Album:
I now know that Jukebox Jive has two crappy covers on it, but it’s also the album that introduced me to ‘50s and early ‘60s rock and roll. Truly classic stuff.
Favorite Winter Albums:
- A Very Special Christmas 3
- Relient K – Apathetic EP (for In Like a Lion especially)
- The xx – The xx
Favorite Summer Albums:
- The Beach Boys – Sounds of Summer
- Shrek 2 (original soundtrack)
- A New Found Glory – Nothing Gold Can Stay
- Yellowcard – Ocean Avenue
- BBMak – Into Your Head
Grant: That first one’s almost cheating.
Dan: I think I know all 30 tracks on it by heart, and I considered about 5 for my Desert Island Singles list (I’m wondering how I didn’t include Good Vibrations, actually)
Grant: Wouldn’t It Be Nice is my jam off that one.
Favorite Album Names:
- Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
- Ben Folds Five – Whatever and Ever Amen
- Billy Joel – Songs in the Attic
- REM – Eponymous
- Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
- Weird Al – Running With Scissors
- Reel Big Fish – Greatest Hit and More
Favorite Song Names:
- Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade of Pale
- Relient K – Chap Stick, Chapped Lips, and Things Like Chemistry
- Elton John – Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
- Bruce Springsteen – Hungry Heart
- Nick Lowe – I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass
Grant: I like this Relient K name. It’s pretty emo, but I can work with it.
- Bruce Springsteen, For You
“The band played the homecoming theme as I caressed your cheek / That ragged, jagged melody still clings to me like a leech”
- The Beatles, Drive My Car
“I got no car and it’s breaking my heart / But I found a driver, and that’s a start”
- Ben Folds Five, Boxing
“I take a good swing at all my dreams / They pivot and slip / I drop my fists and they’re back”
- Billy Joel, And So It Goes
“And still I feel I said too much / My silence is my self-defense”
- Weezer, Surf Wax America
“I’m going surfing ‘cause I don’t like your face”