13 Sept 2012

Desert Island Discs Selected By Michael Toland

We've got another Desert Island Discs selection for you, with selections today painstakingly chosen by Michael Toland, writer for Blurt, The Big Takeover, The Austin Chronicle, Trouser Press & High Bias.
"When I look at this list now, I’m almost distraught at what’s been left out. Where’s the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street? Or the Clash’s London Calling? Or Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue? Jeff Buckley’s Grace? Last Exit’s Iron Path? Sly & the Family Stone’s Greatest Hits? Something by CCR (my first favorite band)? Why aren’t there more women on my list? Or African-Americans? Or world music artists? Why could I not find room for the Hedwig & the Angry Inch film soundtrack? Or the Aretha Franklin box set? Where’s Nikki Sudden, of whom I’ve grown inordinately fond over the past decade? Seriously, no David Bowie or Richard Thompson?
Ten slots seem like too few, but let’s face it: if the limit wasn’t imposed, the list would go on forever. What music I listen to depends on so many factors that to put together a collection for a desert island would be an impossible task, anticipating my every mood while the surf flowed between my toes. Not to mention where the artist sits in my current listening mode – Grace didn’t make the cut solely because I’ve gotten a little burned out on the younger Buckley, but I know that status won’t last. So I made the list with as little thought as possible and it is what it is – a list of records I never tire of and return to frequently. Today, anyway."

The Beatles – Abbey Road (1969)
It’s become popular in certain circles to bash this record, and I’ve never understood why. To me it seems like the culmination of everything the band had accomplished thus far – great writing and playing, imaginative production and arrangements. For me this has held up much, much better that the more celebrated Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The Bevis Frond – New River Head (1991)
I adore Love’s Forever Changes, the Beatles’ Revolver, Hendrix’s Axis Bold as Love, Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn and all the other acid classix. But Nick Saloman’s double LP explosion of sensual guitar freakouts and high songcraft is my favorite psychedelic rock album. Saloman’s facility with the pen is almost supernatural given how many songs he cranks out. He’s made a bunch of great records, but this one, to me, has always felt like the one on which his vision hit its most perfect execution.

Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (1971)
It’s tempting to say that this record is significant because it’s the point where soul/R&B most overtly manifested a social conscience. (As long as you don’t dig into pre-war blues, that is.) But that’s not the real reason I love this record. In truth it’s because I love the melodies, the lush production (setting a precedent throughout the 70s) and the way Gaye’s wonderful voice soars, swirls and floats in and around the arrangements. His intricate vocal interplay – mostly with himself – puts a unique stamp on an already exemplary album.

House of Freaks – Monkey On a Chain Gang (1988)
I can’t remember now what turned me on to this record – I think it was a review in a magazine. But I’ve loved this album from this Richmond, Virginia duo since it first came out. Predating the White Stripes, the Kills, the Black Keys, etc., the Freaks sound like none of them, instead mining a vein of richly melodic Americana, but with enough rock & roll passion to put in more in line with John Fogerty than anything that No Depression would cover. The layered production belies the fact that only two guys made all this sound, and the late Bryan Harvey was a great singer and guitarist.

Paul K – A Wilderness of Mirrors (1998)
Detroit-to-Kentucky singer/songwriter Paul K(opasz) has been making excellent, often stunning records for 30 years, self-releasing most to a handful of devotees. But for a while in the 90s his remarkable body of work was discovered by a larger audience, first in Europe, and then in America, where a succession of indie labels signed him up. Ever the iconoclast, his music – which reveled in traditional rock & roll song structures even as it traveled into territory not usually visited by mainstream rockers – never quite fit in anywhere but on critics’ best-of lists, which is truly a shame. A Wilderness of Mirrors, a concept album that filters the Roswell UFO legend through the Book of Job, is his most fully realized work, a collection of intelligent, literary, heartfelt songs set in some of the most accessible production of his career. I’d put the title track on any shortlist of the best rock songs ever.

Bob Mould – Workbook (1989)
Mould’s music has had such a huge impact on me that it’s really difficult to choose one record – this slot could have just as easily gone to Sugar’s Copper Blue or Hüsker Dü’s Warehouse: Songs & Stories, or even his most recent record Silver Age. But this is the first LP I heard of his music (yes, even before I heard the Hüskers), and thus the first one to draw me into his world of passion, craft and guitars, guitars, guitars.

The Music Lovers – The Words We Say Before We Sleep (2004)
When I got turned on to this record a few years ago by a Nikki Sudden-penned review in Bucketfull of Brains, I had been under the assumption that I’d never find another songwriter as powerful and skilled as Pete Townshend, Bob Mould, Lucinda Williams, Elvis Costello and all the other pre-millennial icons. I was wrong. Matthew Edwards is just as good as any well-known writer you’d care to name, and better than most of them. This CD lived in my various stereos for a good three years, and I still return to it regularly.

Porcupine Tree – In Absentia (2002)
PT is probably the most psychedelic progressive rock band going, in large part because of leader Steven Wilson’s painterly production style. That’s not to give short shrift to his songwriting, mind you, which is always smart, emotional and supremely melodic, and this album – the band’s first for a major label – is a particularly strong set of tunes. But the production is such that I never fail to discover something new every time I spin it. And I’ve played this record more times than anything else in my collection – no kidding.

The Who – The Kids Are Alright (1979)
Admittedly, this is cheating, as it’s more of a compilation than an album. But I can’t live without the Who, and more specifically, I can’t live without these versions of “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” which are definitive, as far as I’m concerned. Besides, this record to me fully unites the two sides of the band that diehards (the 60s loyalists who think the band took a wrong turn with Tommy and the 70s fans who don’t get the Who’s 60s pop side) fight over in a stream of brilliance that proves more than any other LP what a great, great band they were.

Lucinda Williams – s/t (1988)
In the late 80s, when I was reading a lot of music rags, I noticed that critics couldn’t pin this album down. I saw it called the best country album of the year, the best rock album, the best folk album and the best blues album, depending on the publication. If music writers couldn’t definitively describe it, I knew I had to hear it. Sure enough, it doesn’t fit comfortably in any box, adding strains of nearly every American style of music into a well-crafted but straightforward, unelaborate tapestry that proved the perfect setting for Williams’ remarkable songs. She’s since made more popular albums, even more acclaimed ones, but I think this is far and away her best, and it’s set a standard few, if any, of her contemporaries have reached.

Want to tell us about your Desert Island Discs? E-mail to nford150@gmail.com

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