INTRODUCTION, Or . . .
“NO PEACE IN THE BARNYARD”
Back in February or March, when it first occurred to me to post on my blog the “must-have” music albums I would need if confined on an otherwise musicless island, I considered what numerical restrictions ought to be self-imposed. 10? 20? 30?
Well, even for someone who loves music as much as I do, I realized that I could create a list of twenty albums and then set sail without too much anxiety. True, I would be leaving behind a great deal of great music, but I could do it without a lot of self-flagellation. But I think that anyone who can compile a “desert island” music list and not feel some pangs of guilt and regret isn’t doing it right. So, I determined that twenty albums was too many.
Generally, when lists of this nature are proposed, ten entries seems to be the standard limit permitted. However, I realized immediately that my love of music is too profound and expansive to limit myself to an extremely painful number like ten.
I wanted the list to represent the crème de la crème of my music collection, so it needed to cause me some discomfort but not so much that it would take the enjoyment out of the game. I mean, heck, I dig that lingering capsaicin burn of a jalapeno pepper in my mouth, but I ain’t gonna sit down and eat two pounds of habanero peppers all at once. Well, at least not without an unlimited supply of cold beer within easy reach. So, fifteen seemed like the perfect “jalapeno compromise” between bell pepper and habanero.
Although I tend to be overly analytical at times, I compiled my list of music albums in an entirely unscientific manner. I was not concerned with questions of genre and variety, not interested in attempting to impress anyone with quality by including perceived “highbrow” recordings. Had that been the case, surely I would have placed the Miles Davis / Gil Evans collaboration on George Gershwin’s ‘Porgy And Bess’ compositions on this list, as it’s a recording that I feel should be familiar to every educated music fan. (Yes, I prefer it to Davis’ ‘Kind Of Blue’, in the same way that I prefer John Coltrane’s ‘Blue Train’ to his heavily worshipped ‘A Love Supreme’.)
My criterion for inclusion came down to the answering of a simple question: Which albums would most negatively impact my enjoyment of life if I did not have access to them? The eclecticism of my list, therefore, is an organic representation of my appreciation of wide-ranging musical types and styles, and it was not molded or manipulated by any artificially applied “affirmative action”. In other words, plain and simple: These are the 15 compact discs that contain the most amount of music that I love the most.
Sentimental considerations never entered into my thinking until I was left with just one remaining spot open on my list and had to weigh the test of time against the amount of music per disc and then compare those factors to the sentimental attachment to the music.
Other than the fact that the first three albums appearing on my list probably do represent my “Top Trio”, the recordings are not being presented in any particular order.
Special thanks go to Arlee Bird of the blog ‘Tossing It Out’, who suggested making the ‘Fifteen Fantasy Island Favorites’ a blog community festival. I’m really pleased he thought of that.
I also wish to thank Jessica of ‘The Alliterative Allomorph’ for sharing with me her idea to add song sample links.
At the end of each album’s commentary, you will find a link to one song from that recording. Click on it and it should take you to a page with a link to a song sample – sometimes just 30 seconds long and sometimes the entire song. I believe that if you click on the sample, you can then click your “Back” button and return to my list while still being able to hear the song sample as it plays. [*Fingers crossed*]
I am indeed experiencing the appropriate degree of pain that a limited list of desert island music albums ought to inflict. Having submitted a list that does not include any Howlin’ Wolf or Tiny Tim (this is the first time in history that those two names have appeared in the same sentence) or the Philip Glass soundtrack to my favorite movie ‘Koyaanisqatsi’, leaves me feeling as if I have cheated on a girlfriend. No, I have never cheated on a woman, but I can’t imagine that doing so would grieve my conscience any more than this does.
And I’m sailing today without ‘Merry Christmas’ by Johnny Mathis, Van Morrison’s ‘Hymns To The Silence’, ‘The Best Of WAR And More’, or Leroy Anderson’s 1950 instrumental masterpiece ‘Sleigh Ride’. On this island, the rum had better be plentiful and the womens had better be beautiful or I’m gonna be one cranky customer!
Well, as Howlin’ Wolf would say (if he were here), “Alright, let’s get on it!”
Stephen T. McCarthy’s
FIFTEEN FANTASY ISLAND FAVORITES
THE POPULAR RECORDINGS (1938 – 1942)
GLENN MILLER / 1992
Below is an excerpt of a review I wrote for the Amazon website on October 30, 2005:
I'm Always IN THE (Miller) MOOD!
This may be a bit more information than you want, but I first realized that Glenn Miller's MOONLIGHT SERENADE was my all-time favorite piece of music in 1990 while I was on a second floor "lavatory throne" at The Sundowner Hotel & Casino in Reno, Nevada. I was minding my own “business” when the song was piped into the men's room over the casino's sound system. I recognized the beautifully lilting melody as belonging to Glenn Miller, and the bygone Big Band era seemed to beckon me, transporting me back in time. I was almost convinced that when I exited the stall I would find a restroom attendant present, who would offer me a genuine cotton towel and ask if I wanted a shoeshine and a splash of Old Spice before rejoining the suit and fedora-wearing gentlemen and the sleek black dress and single strand pearl necklace-wearing ladies in the gambling parlor.
Yes, it's all here! The beautiful ballads, the energetic dance romps, and the silly lyrics that speak of a far simpler and more playful time. Glenn Miller's THE POPULAR RECORDINGS (1938-1942) would have to be my choice if I could only carry one CD with me to that imaginary "island." (Has anybody ever explained how we're going to get electricity on this island in order to play our "island discs"?) This set would have to go, because I can't imagine never hearing MOONLIGHT SERENADE ever again. Plus, it's just loaded with terrific tunes to daydream by. But you'd better hope that you aren't there with me because I'm gonna be pretty irritable on that island without my Pat Metheny Group recordings. I'll take it out on the macaws by blasting the rip-roaring GLENN ISLAND SPECIAL every time they're trying to sleep. That'll serve 'em right for driving me up the banana tree with their incessant squawking!
Song Sample: ‘Moonlight Serenade’
LETTER FROM HOME
PAT METHENY GROUP / 1989
My relationship to music is a very personal one. I mean, pretty much everything that I do, I’m doing between me and it. I think as soon as you cross that line where you’re worrying about what other people say about you, you’re in big trouble, because then you’re always guessing.
~ Pat Metheny
I had never heard of Pat Metheny, didn’t know the first thing about his music, but while in a record store one day in 1986, I found myself so intrigued by the cover of his live album ‘Travels’, that I took a chance and laid my money down. GOOD MOVE! I fell in love with the PatMet stuffs!
Between 1984 and 1989, the Pat Metheny Group released a trilogy of Brazilian-influenced albums – each of them was considered for this list. But overall, my favorite was the third: ‘Letter From Home’. Never mind the fact that Metheny is a world-class Jazz guitarist, what I find most enthralling is the “complexity of his simple compositions” that become downright addictive and never tiresome.
And there is something about these tunes that make them the perfect soundtrack for the road. God only knows how many miles I have logged while listening to Metheny. From 1986 to 1992, I traveled the criss-crossing Los Angeles freeways daily with the Pat Metheny Group as my accompaniment. And it’s been the same soundtrack since I moved here to Airheadzona. I’m not even sure I could find fifth gear if PatMet wasn’t emanating from my car speakers. When I’m preparing for a road trip, the very first thing I pack in my suitcase is the Pat Metheny Group.
The Rule Of The Road: Ninety-eight out of one hundered times, if Stephen T. McCarthy is driving, Pat Metheny is playing.
Song Sample: ‘Better Days Ahead’
THE COMPLETE LIVE OBLIVION
BRIAN AUGER'S OBLIVION EXPRESS / 1975
It was 1978. Having crossed Sunset Boulevard a few blocks back, I was driving north on Highland Avenue, nearly adjacent to the Hollywood Bowl, when the AM radio station I was listening to played this 10-minute Jazzy piece recorded live and which featured a Hammond B-3 organ that had my head spinning. The entire time the song played, I was thinking to myself: Tell me who this is, DJ! – Tell me who this is, DJ! The DJ did (God bless him!) and within the next couple of days I had purchased my first Jazz album: ‘Live Oblivion’. Well, it wasn’t a Jazz album in the purest sense; more like Jazz/Funk fusion. But this is the album that genuinely ignited my interest in musical forms other than Rock.
By 1985, I was listening to more Blues than Rock, and by 1987, Jazz had become my favorite musical form. I had come to realize that I had a greater appreciation for Wes Montgomery than I did for Jimi Hendrix, for Joe Morello than I did for John Bonham, for Ben Webster than I did for Ian Anderson – yes, they both blew, but one of them wasn’t wearing long hair and dressed in tights when he did it.
Over the decades, my most loved musical instrument went from being the electric guitar to the tenor saxophone to the Hammond B-3 organ. I could name a slew of B-3 Masters right off the top of my head who crank out music I dearly dig, but my favorite has remained Brian Auger. Man! That is one downright funky, English White boy! And unquestionably, the song that I have whistled the most in my lifetime is ‘Bumpin’ On Sunset’. Incidentally, it was a Wes Montgomery original.
Song Sample [actually, this one’s a video]: ‘Bumpin’ On Sunset’
PAT METHENY / 1992
I nearly wrote this one off at first as another one of Pat’s experiments in unlistenable, atonal racket. But in time, I came to recognize it as one of his best. Here is what two different Amazon.com reviewers have had to say about this album:
“If you're not turned off by the description of new-age classical world-beat jazz (and you're prepared to give it a good while to grow on you), you'll find more feeling and depth to this album than I can sum up in words.”
“Once in your life, you should spend an hour and do nothing but listen to this record on a good stereo. It's like PM became a classical music composer and a conductor. Some folks don't like it because of all the symphony stuff, but it really works.”
Yes, the album is almost a Jazz/Classical fusion with many orchestrated tracks, some which are complex and challenging. In fact, ‘Above The Treetops’ (guest starring the Choir of the Cambodian Royal Palace) and ‘Finding And Believing’ never did grow on me. But the other tracks feature some lovely melodies and exquisite guitar playing from Metheny.
Another reviewer at Amazon had this to say about the twelfth track on the set:
"The Truth Will Always Be is my vote for Pat's finest composition on any album. The tune is so strong that you can almost visualize the story behind it.”
I couldn’t agree with him more. In my opinion, I think ‘The Truth Will Always Be’ is possibly the last true masterpiece composition we have received from the mind of Metheny. The reviewer’s remark about being able to “visualize the story behind it” is spot on:
Sadly, it seems that Pat Metheny is an irreligious man, and one who holds political views that are 180 degrees removed from my own. I guess God blessed Pat with an overabundance of musical talent but gave his portion of intelligence to me. Well, nobody gets it ALL!
I have no idea what Metheny had in mind when he dreamed up ‘The Truth Will Always Be’, but taking the above into consideration, I think we can be sure it isn’t the “story” that I “visualize” when I hear the 9-minute instrumental. But I find the track to be one of the most spiritually powerful I have ever heard . . .
Pat Metheny’s album ‘Secret Story’ would be going with me to my Desert Island even if I hated every single track other than ‘The Truth Will Always Be’ – that’s how much track #12 means to me, regardless of what it might signify for Metheny himself.
WAYLON JENNINGS / 1979
I've always been different, with one foot over the line;
“He didn’t become a legend by following the rules.”
~ RCA advertising slogan for Waylon Jennings merchandise
Everything I've ever really needed to know,
I bought my first Waylon Jennings album – ‘I’ve Always Been Crazy’ – in 1978, after hearing the title track played on KMET (“The Mighty Met”), Los Angeles – my Classic Rock station of choice. Of course, it wasn’t categorized as “Classic” back then; it was just the contemporary Rock that we annoyed our parents with. And back then, there was a great deal of variety being played on the FM, so it wasn’t entirely unheard of to find a Country-Western artist like Waylon getting a little airplay on a Rock station.
I immediately recognized ‘I’ve Always Been Crazy’ as pretty much a personal anthem. And to tell ya the truth, it pretty much still is my personal anthem.
The question you’re undoubtedly thinking is: Stephen, even though it does have one of the coolest album covers ever conceived, why did you choose this compilation collection when the 2-disc set ‘The Essential Waylon Jennings’ contains every one of the 11 tracks on ‘Greatest Hits’ as well as 31 other great Waylon tunes?
And the answer is: When I start out thinking of a musician, there’s usually one absolutely “must-have” song. In this case, for me, it’s ‘Honky Tonk Heroes’ – the best of the best of Waylon.
Unfortunately, the 2-disc ‘The Essential Waylon Jennings’ set borrowed the version of ‘Honky Tonk Heroes’ from the original album rather than the superior version from the famous ‘Wanted! The Outlaws’ (the first Country music album to sell one million copies). Yes, the first version has the better drumming, but the ‘Outlaws’ version has the far better, rough ‘n’ rowdy vocal performance from Waylon. And I don’t listen to Nashville’s “Outlaw” for drumming, I listen to him for the vocals, for that rumbling guitar of his, and, of course, for the exceptional playing of legendary steel guitar player Ralph Mooney.
Waylon In Concert: I used to practically live in Hollywood music clubs – the Whisky, the Roxy, the Troubadour, Filthy McNasty’s, Club 88 – I have seen more music performed on stage than I could possibly remember. And I was fortunate to have seen Waylon perform four sets at three different venues in the late 1980s / early ‘90s. Waylon had charisma to burn and was funnier’n hell! If this was a list of “Top 15 Music Shows”, he would be at #1. “Hey-Hey” – as Waylon sez just before kickin’ butt in ‘Honky Tonk Heroes’.
Song Sample: ‘Lonesome, On’ry And Mean’
THE HEART OF SATURDAY NIGHT
TOM WAITS / 1974
White man on the Blues. Down and out. Hmmm… Got enough for a shot and a beer. Overcoat collar turned up against this rainy night. Bloodshot moon reflected in a puddle. Is that an angel crying in the alley? Scroungy tomcat startled the hell out of me. “Tin cans to yer tail!” A saxophone somewhere far off played. It’s way wilder down the street. Pool balls a-crackin’, the neon’s a-buzzin’. Yo, Bart! Set ‘em up, I’ll knock ‘em down! Rinky-tink piano player’s drunk on the moon, crazy as a loon. Everyone’s a bit insane. I never heard the melody until I needed the song. Hey, buddy, can you spare… the time? Point me in the direction of the door? And now the town’s in the keeping of the one who is sweeping . . . up the ghosts of Saturday night. (I think I may be hungover tomorrow.)
The second album recorded by Tom Waits establishes a mood and then rides that mood into the wee small hours. This album could make even a teetotaler feel lightheaded. It’s cinematic. All Bluesy, urban, and film noir. You can smell the stale beer and taste the cigarette smoke. You can feel the darts striking the dartboard and hear the glug, glug, glug of cheap red wine being poured out into a chipped glass behind the bar. And you’re going to drink your way to “Last call” with Tom as the two of you go looking for the heart of Saturday night.
It was my dear ol’ friend Pooh who turned me on to Tom Waits. Way back in the daze, he had a copy of ‘Small Change’ and we used to listen to it together while tipping the bottle. I eventually bought my own copy of ‘Small Change’ and a bunch of Tom’s other stuffs as well. As I wrote in another place, “Waits established himself as the greatest lyricist of all time from the years 1973 through 1982.” And I think his best song, lyrics-wise, is ‘San Diego Serenade’ which appears here on, what in my opinion is, the best Tomcat excursion into the seedy underbelly of the city. A great album by a guy who made more than one great album.
Song Sample: ‘New Coat Of Paint’
BOSSA NOVA FOR LOVERS
VARIOUS ARTISTS / 2003
Don’t be turned off by the cheesy title and the cheesy cover art, this is easily one of the most beautiful albums in my collection! Featured herein are the bosses of Bossa Nova: Antonio Carlos Jobim, Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto, and Astrud Gilberto.
Saxophonist Stan Getz had the ideal touch and tone for the gorgeously romantic moods for Bossa Nova. Jobim is one of the all-time greatest composers of modern music. Astrud Gilberto – well, no argument – she had an untrained singing voice with an infinitesimal range. So what? If you’re a man, her voice will absolutely melt your cold, cold heart! Listen to ‘So Nice (Summer Samba)’, it is idealistic but put over with such charm, grace, and innocence by Astrud Gilberto that you will be completely caught up in her seductive lovedream.
Men, it’s been a long time since we’ve encountered true femininity, but it’s all right here in Astrud’s voice. Travel back to a bygone era of “real women”, “real men”, and “real romance”. Don’t wake me! I’m dreamin’ deep of true love.
Song Sample: ‘So Nice (Summer Samba)'
THE BEACH BOYS / 1974
"I wanted to write joyful music that made other people feel good. Music that helps and heals, because I believe that music is God's Voice."
In trying to grasp how hard it was to pull off what Paul McCartney calls the "musical invention" contained in PET SOUNDS, it's important to know that studios were comparatively primitive in 1966. Brian had to figure out a way around the limitations of the machines. As one music industry observer noted, "the equipment in today's recording studios was primarily created so that they could make records now the way Brian Wilson was making them in 1966 without the technology. They've almost caught up."
If there is one person that I have to select as a living genius of pop music, I would choose Brian Wilson.
T-shirts, cut-offs, and a pair of thongs
We’ve been having fun all Summer long
~ The Beach Boys
If you grew up in the L.A. area in the 1960s and 1970s, the music of the Beach Boys was as much a part of you as was your right arm. Or was it your left leg? Well, don’t hold me to and by the limb, but you get the general idea.
‘Endless Summer’ was released in the year of my “Best Summer” – 1974. My Pa had been laid off from work, and although we were pretty darn poor despite the fact that he had been working his butt off all of his life, he did the crazy thing and decided to “take the Summer off”.
Most of the days, my Pa would go to Santa Monica Beach with my brother Nappy and me (and sometimes our Sister, too). We would park for free in the lot at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium (where two years later I would attend my first Rock concert: Styx opening for Journey) and then we’d walk to the sand. We’d bodysurf for hours, then stroll to the Hot Dog-On-A-Stick stand, get one dog each and split a big cup of lemonade (because we couldn’t afford more than one). And then we’d walk back down to lifeguard station #26 and bodysurf for a few more hours.
I turned 15 in August of my most memorable Summer. I recall one time walking back to our car at the Civic Auditorium after a day of bodysurfing, and when my Pa turned the engine over, ‘Help Me, Rhonda’ was playing on the radio. Yeah, we were as poor as we’d ever be, but money wasn’t everything. Time spent with yer Pa is priceless.
I was a student at Santa Monica High School from 1974 to 1977. And while I was there, every single Friday pep rally ended with the playing of ‘Good Vibrations’ by the Beach Boys.
And then there was that little episode in a Reno lounge in 1986 involving myself and the Beach Boys song ‘In My Room’ – but I think I’ll save this sad story for the day I post a Blog Bit here about my all-time favorite saloons.
Well, this “Best Of” compilation hardly holds all of the great Beach Boys songs, but you start with ‘The Warmth Of The Sun’ – for me, that’s “must-have” number one - and Endless Summer does have that . . . and a whole lot of other great memories. Surf’s up, dudes!
Song Sample: ‘The Warmth Of The Sun’
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (Movie Soundtrack)
HENRY MANCINI / 1962
Ironically, I’m not a big fan of the movie ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’, but the soundtrack is one of the most often played albums in my collection.
Henry Mancini is a musical genius. The longest cut on this soundtrack is a mere 3:18, but the compositions swing fiercely. And although you know that each musical piece was structured, every note was scripted, the instrumentalists are so loose, jivey and jammin’ that the tracks leave the listener with the impression that most of them are six to seven minutes long and loaded with Jazz improvisation. This is pure magic and the musicianship is A-List and beyond.
It is almost criminal that the album does not name all of the musicians and singers individually. The credits simply read: “Henry Mancini and his Orchestra and Chorus.” But in my opinion, these musicians could have gone toe-to-toe and trumpet-to-trumpet with the Basie and Ellington orchestras and not surrendered an inch of ground. Listen to ‘Loose Caboose’. Had that been recorded by the great Count Basie, Jazz journalists would STILL be writing about it! It explodes out of the speakers and packs seven minutes of music into its three minutes and eight seconds.
This album contains the classic song ‘Moon River’, as well as the playfulness of the striptease number humorously titled ‘Hub Caps And Tail Lights’ and the big blow out titled ‘The Big Blow Out’. But best of all, it contains three musical pieces – ‘Sally’s Tomato’, ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’, and ‘Holly’ – which evoke in me a feeling which C.S. Lewis calls “joy” but which I refer to as “Goldenshadow”. But more on this feeling in a future Blog Bit.
Someday I’ll throw the big Sake Party I’ve been talking about since probably 1981, and when I do, you will ALL be invited. The festivities will officially open and close with ‘Mr. Yunioshi’, the fourth cut on this fantastic soundtrack.
Song Sample: ‘Loose Caboose’
BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME
BOB DYLAN / 1965
And if my thought-dreams could be seen
~ Bob Dylan
[from his song ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)’]
“It was all going by so fast, too, that I managed to get free at a time when I was as surprised as anyone else was. So, it was like I was doing one thing and this would lead me into another thing so fast that the old thing hadn’t even got a chance to be even digested yet, ya know? And it all happened real quick and all of a sudden I was doing things that no one had ever done before – and I knew it! When we were doing those albums, I knew that no one had ever done those kinds of things before and it was too much to even comprehend. You know, I couldn’t handle it, actually.”
~ Bob Dylan [from 1981 radio interviews.]
“Nobody’d heard anything like this before. No one had heard… anything… LIKE this before.”
~ Bobby Neuwirth
When Bob Dylan went (half) electric on this truly revolutionary album that rewrote the songwriting rulebook, it totally shocked and shook the pop music world. Very little pop music has been produced since its release in 1965 that hasn’t in one way or another been influenced by it. It has even been said that the first track, ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, is a kind of prototype of Rap music. I have called the album “The best writing course I ever took”. Here’s how it happened:
In my late teens and early twenties, I owned about eight Bob Dylan albums, yet ironically, I never particularly thought of myself as a Dylan fan. ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ (BIABH) was the Dylan record I had played the most, but by my mid-twenties I had sold off most of my record collection and was transitioning to compact discs. I never replaced ‘BIABH’.
I had not heard the album in 25 years, but in February of 2008, something reminded me of it. All I could recall of it was the line, “The pump don’t work ’cause the vandals took the handles”. So I borrowed a copy of BIABH from my buddy, DiscConnected (he of the 12,847 CDs and counting), and I listened to it one Saturday. I was knocked down, knocked out, and blown away! It was one of the strangest sensations I’ve ever experienced in my life.
As I was listening to each song, the lyrics and melodies began coming back to me and after hearing just two-thirds of the album, I had found so much of myself in it that I came to realize that all those years earlier when I played it on a fairly regular basis, I had been subconsciously learning from it. My mind had been absorbing the patterns in that album’s structure, I had been learning how to expand the mind allowing for the inflow of creative ideas, I had been learing how to manipulate words and develop an ability for wordplay. In short, ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ was like LSD to me, but I had never even realized I was under the influence of a musical drug.
Looking back at it now, I think I can honestly say that I have probably not written so much as a single page – maybe not even a single paragraph – in the last 25 years that wasn’t somehow influenced by Bob Dylan’s Classic of classics. It took a quarter of a century – and only then by accident – for me to learn what BIABH had done for me as a writer and a creative thinker!
In a very recent Email to a friend, I was telling her about this wild sorta stream of consciousness letter I wrote to a girl I was romantically interested in back in June of 1983. I told her:
I seriously doubt I would have ever been able to write a letter like that had I not already spent a few years listening to ‘Bringing It All Back Home’. This album's influence on me is inestimable.
Song Sample: ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’
16 MOST REQUESTED SONGS
MAHALIA JACKSON / 1996
Mahalia is mythic…her voice transcends itself. … Her technique is surely astonishing, but it is her emotional directness – her eagerness to give all she’s got, to infuse her song with so much of herself until ever melody is somehow Mahaliaized – that insures her immortality.
~ David Ritz
To that I will add that her vocal range was amazing, and at times – particularly in the live version of ‘How I Got Over’ – I think she almost stepped aside and gave her voice over to The Holy Spirit to use. She absolutely makes mush of the weenie, whiny, wimpy stuffs that passes for “Christian music” today! Do I loves me some Mahalia? Hael Yeah! (Uhm… sorry ‘bout that, but you know I cain’t control myself.) All hail the power and the majesty of Mahalia Jackson, the appropriately nicknamed “Queen Of Gospel”.
Very shortly after my 1994 “Come to Jesus meeting” with… well… with Jesus… I discovered the great Mahalia Jackson, who shook my rafters and rocked my world. I think she was the greatest singer ever and her 1961 live recording of ‘How I Got Over’ is the most remarkable vocal performance of all time. It makes the hair on my back stand up. Ha! I’m only kidding; I don’t have hair on my back! But it does make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Mahalia’s voice can shiver ‘n’ chill me. About once every 12 to 18 months, I will go on a Mahalia kick during which, for two or three weeks consecutively, I feel compelled to play nothing but Mahalia as loudly as possible.
It pains me to leave for this island without Mahalia’s recordings of ‘Elijah Rock’, ‘Keep Your Hand On The Plow’, and a few other essential titles I could name, but that’s all a part of the necessary “Desert Island Jalapeno Burn”, isn’t it?
And as if the music on this disc were not enough, I also get to retain the CD’s booklet containing the best album liner notes I’ve ever read, penned by David Ritz in 1996 – excerpts of which I posted on my very lengthy 2008 Blog Bit about “The Queen Of Gospel”.
Song Sample: ‘How I Got Over’
UP-UP AND AWAY: THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION
THE 5TH DIMENSION / 1997
How could I not love a group that sang ‘The Declaration Of Independence’ ?
Both sides charted, neither very well, since pop radio was afraid to play a song which endorsed overthrowing the government (as stated in the document itself). … Though the Armed Services banned the record outright, college radio embraced it, giving the group significant underground airplay. The 5th [Dimension] boldly performed the controversial song before a White House-sponsored Governors’ dinner, where at its conclusion, there was an uncomfortably silent pause. The awkward moment ended when President Nixon himself began to clap. Naturally, his endorsement prompted the gathering to applaud. Ironically, the State Department sent the group behind the Iron Curtain three years later, making them the first African-American band to perform there.
Ha!-Ha! Ya gotta love that! But that wasn’t the first first for The 5th Dimension. In fact, years earlier, member Ron Townson had become the first African-American dramatic tenor ever accepted into the New York Metropolitan Opera.
I have always had a fondness for choral groups, and for my money, the Beach Boys and the 5th Dimension were the best. Think the Mamas And The Papas only with better voices and a whole lot more soul!
I can still recall singing their hit ‘Up-Up And Away’ in Boys’ Chorus at school in the very early 1970s, and their version of that tune is another song which evokes that “Goldenshadow” feeling in me. [To be written about in a future Blog Bit.] If we were doing a “Top 15 Songs” list, ‘Up-Up And Away’ would be on mine.
This 2-disc set gives you all of their hits and a lot of lesser known songs that are just as good and often better than the hits. Of course, it includes all of their fabulous versions of the Laura Nyro songs like ‘Stoned Soul Picnic’, ‘Sweet Blindness’, ‘Wedding Bell Blues’, ‘Save The Country’, ‘Time And Love’ and ‘Black Patch’. And yes, the set also includes the now terribly dated and silly sounding ‘Aquarius’. But let’s face it, that was pretty much the anthem of that “Far Out” embarrassing hippie generation, and it sure does roll out the memories for those of us who had to live through it.
Song Sample: ‘Up-Up And Away’
SINGLES 1969 – 1981
THE CARPENTERS / 2000
Because of their commercial, square, and squeaky clean image, by the time I was in high school, you couldn’t find a single teenager who would admit to liking The Carpenters. I mean it was really funny, the brother and sister duo were still selling millions upon millions of records and yet there was not one person out there who would say, “I like ‘em”. You gotta wonder who was buying all those records.
Well, I never stopped liking The Carpenters, and if asked, I would have admitted it, but I didn’t yet have the personal courage to actually go around advertising this fact. So I kept quiet . . . and listened.
In 2001, I had a spiritual experience in which Jesus answered for me, in a rather startling way, a very deep and troubling question. Shortly thereafter, I came to associate The Carpenter’s song ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ with that experience. Below is an excerpt from a review I wrote in 2004 about a Bobby Darin recording, in which I also address that strange quality in Karen Carpenter’s voice:
It strikes me that the individual human response to music is one of life's most intriguing mysteries. What is that unexplainable thing inside us that resonates to a certain combination of musical notes, or to the tonal quality of particular instruments, but not others? And why is this response not universal?
Some might think that this is comparable to our myriad responses to food flavors, but in that example there is a physiological explanation - something to do with chemical reactions in the glands, the taste buds. With music it's entirely intangible; some "it" within the inner being responds, “it” makes the body move, the toes tap, the mind rejoice . . . or mourn.
It is this quality in Karen’s voice that makes her my all-time favorite singer, even though, truthfully, Mahalia Jackson was the greatest.
But lest someone think The Carpenter’s was all about Karen, let’s not forget that Richard Carpenter has been called a genius arranger, and in fact, no less a musician than Pat Metheny has publicly stated that he greatly admires the writing and arranging of Richard Carpenter. And, few people realize that it was Richard Carpenter who actually invented a new facet in pop music: the Power Ballad. The following comes from the liner notes to the Carpenters' album ‘Singles 1969-1981’, penned by Paul Grein:
"Goodbye To Love" went to #7 in 1972.
A decade ago, I was in a Phoenix bar where this young, Stevie Ray Vaughn wannabe was performing on the stage. At one point between songs, he started poking fun at The Carpenters and even sang a short portion of one of their songs, changing the lyrics to include references to puking. My first impulse was to walk up on that stage and wrap his Fender guitar around his neck. But being the spiritually enlightened, nonviolent guy I am, I simply walked out on him instead. And I’ve spent the last ten years of my life regretting that I didn’t follow my first impulse.
Song Sample: ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’
ROCK ON: 1970
VARIOUS ARTISTS / 1996
Because I had the foresight to pack this compilation album, I’m going to have a variety of good Rock/Pop songs on my island. For one thing, this album includes the Blues hit ‘The Thrill Is Gone’, featuring B.B. King’s manly vocals and an orgasmic guitar solo – one of the best in the history of electric Blues. I also get ‘Green-Eyed Lady’, the Hammond B-3 organ workout by the two-hit wonder Sugarloaf. I get the sappy Ray Stevens hit ‘Everything Is Beautiful’ which begins with a group of children singing ‘Jesus Loves The Little Children’, a song that I myself was taught and sang “when I was a child”. ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ was one of my brother Napoleon’s favorite songs in 1970. The weird ‘Mama Told Me Not To Come’ is by Three Dog Night, the favorite band of the former Los Angeles Dodger centerfielder Willie “Three Dog” Davis.
I get ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ by the Hollies, a song which, if it catches me in a totally inexcusable and embarrassingly weak moment when I happen to be feeling (gasp!) love for all of the nearly 7 billion Brothers and Sisters God has given me in this world, it can actually produce tears in my eyes. (Of course, hereafter, I will deny that I ever said this.)
But most importantly, I get Norman Greenbaum’s ‘Spirit In The Sky’, with its totally fuzzed-out, distorted-up-the-Wahzoo, addictive as all get-out, blown a fuse electric guitar trumpet-in-your-ear-on-Easter-morning McFunkshunoleo Passamaquoddyism.
Song Sample: ‘Spirit In The Sky'
ROGER MILLER / 1965
Roses are red and violets are purple
Sugar is sweet and so is maple syrple
And I’m the seventh out of seven sons
My pappy was a pistol
I'm a son of a gun.
~ Roger Miller
[from his song ‘Dang Me’]
For this one, I went back to my roots. It’s quite likely that this is the first music album I ever heard. When I was growing up, my Pa routinely played three albums in the house: this one, and ‘The Call Of The Wildest’ and ‘The Wildest Show At Tahoe’, both by Louis Prima. But I think Roger Miller’s ‘Golden Hits’ got played more than any other.
At times, Pa would wake up ‘We Three Kids’ for school by suddenly blasting the song ‘You Can’t Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd’. Yup. Many’s the time that song was my “alarm clock”, yanking me out of a sound sleep and alerting me that it was time to get ready to go to school.
Look folks, you can’t wake a kid up in the morning with a song like that and then expect that he is going to turn out “normal”. Uh-uh. Sorry, but it just ain’t gonna happen. So, if any of you have ever asked yourself: Gee, what’s wrong with that guy Stephen? Well, now you know. ‘You Can’t Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd’ is what’s wrong with me.
Today, that’s not even my favorite song on the record. That honor would probably go to ‘Dang Me’ or ‘Kansas City Star’. But ‘Buffalo Herd’ is a sentimental favorite amongst sentimental favorites. I still love this album and play it semi-regularly, but ALWAYS on my Pa’s birthday. (May he rest in peace.)
The goofiness and the humor of these songs undoubtedly had a hand in forming my own zany sense of humor. In fact, I was engaged in an internet political debate with a woman once when she said to me, “By the way, your writing style is derivative, jingositic [sic] and tedious”.
Jingoistic? Definitely not. (She probably didn’t even know what the word meant.) Tedious? That’s not for me but for my readers to decide. Derivative? Hmmm… Maybe. But unless she specifically had in mind Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, Bob Dylan’s ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ and the ‘Golden Hits’ of Roger Miller, then she didn’t know what the hell she was talking about!
It was important that I include a few albums suitable for listening to at the Fantasy Island watering hole, and Roger Miller’s ‘Golden Hits’ - along with Waylon, Waits, the Beach Boys and Bossa Nova - is ideal. For you see, I’ll be spending the rest of my life at ‘The Big Yellow Cabana Bar’, drinking daiquiris and reading ‘Winnie-The-Pooh’ and ‘The House At Pooh Corner’ while being pampered by beautiful, brown-skinned native women who will be at least half naked all of the time. Ya know, I might be able to get used to this island life.
Song Sample: ‘You Can’t Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd’
Well, I’m on my way now to ‘The Big Yellow Cabana Bar’ where the slogan is: ‘Never drink to forget and never forget to drink.’
“Yo! Barmaid! Another round of daiquiris here, for me and my island gals!”
Ukulelely Yours . . .
~ Stephen T. McCarthy
Postscript: Although it may take me a few days to get ‘er done, it is my intention to eventually read the list of every single participant in the ‘Fifteen Fantasy Island Favorites’ festival. Also, on Thursday I hope to be posting on this blog the lists of a few of my non-blogging friends. They’re all cool ‘n’ bright individuals, so their lists should be very interesting. I hope y’all will return here to check ‘em out. Thanks!
Link: “Highway Zimmerman Revisited”
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