Bee Gees, David Axelrod, David McCallum, Friendly Fires, Fugees, Genesis, Inner City Blues, Killing Me Softly, Lauryn Hill, Marvin Gaye, Pala, Saturday Night Fever, Thats All, The Edge, The Score, You Should Be Dancing
“Killing Me Softly” – Fugees
While the sophomore release from the Wu-Tang Clan over promised with “Triumph” and under-delivered with Wu-Tang Forever, The story of the Fugees follow up to Blunted on Reality, The Score, is one of unexpected greatness that slowly crept into the public consciousness. The album boasted some of the era’s most amazing cuts – “Fu-gee-la”, “Ready or Not” and “How Many Mics” to name a few – but the song that propelled the album and the group into the stratosphere was the unbelievable Roberta Flack cover, sung by Lauryn Hill.
On the surface, the song is as simple as can be: a minimalist hip hop loop, coupled with a limited but brilliant live bass track from Jerry Wonder. But it’s Lauryn’s incredible vocal that brings you to your knees. Every note is flawless, but the slight rasp to her voice gives the song a raw feeling. It makes the anguish the song wants to showcase as apparent as an exposed nerve, and the whole world stopped to feel Lauryn’s pain.
It’s only right that this song makes the list: The song is supposed to be a bit of a tearjerker, but hearing it always makes me happy.
“Pala” – Freindly Fires
Prior to the release of Pala, Friendly Fires made a bit of noise by dressing up like skeletons in a video, but failed to make much impact outside of the UK. They came to my attention via a crazy remix by Aeroplane to “Paris”, and after digging into their catalog, I came across the title track to their second album, and have kept it in heavy rotation ever since.
The song is almost like a dream set to music: ethereal synths gracefully take you to a paradise, so beautiful and filled with life, that you wouldn’t care if you died there. It seems appropriate, considering the circumstances.
“Inner City Blues” – Marvin Gaye
In another of many classic soul tracks that made the playlist, “Inner City Blues” isn’t a pick-me up, but it is a masterpiece from one of the genre’s greatest. Taken from Marvin Gaye’s classic album What’s Going On, the song encapsulates the plight of ghetto
life – existence, because as the stark lyrics remind us, “This ain’t living”. It hooks you from the opening piano chord to the “What’s going on” reprise at the end, painting a picture of the bleak inner city more clearly than any camera could ever hope to.
It says a lot that, for a lot of people, the message contained within the words is still as relevant today as it was in 1971. While some songs on the desert island playlist might make you long for a return to civilization, “Inner City Blues” might make you not want to come back.
“That’s All” – Genesis
Phil Collins is one of my favorite artists, and I’m pretty sure he has at least one song that’s a favorite of almost everyone in the world. If you can’t name a song by Phil Collins – either from his solo work or his time in legendary prog rock group Genesis – that doesn’t speak to you in some way, then you need to pay Mephistopheles a visit, and try to get your soul back.
I chose “That’s All” because it’s an elegantly simple pop record with funky intentions, thanks to a crazy electric piano riff. The song is every good relationship in a nutshell: You’re with someone that drives you so crazy, you wanna escape through the sewer system to freedom. There’s only one thing keeping you in the house with this person: You’re in love with them. Its the one thing that’s somehow everything, and great music can crystallize that feeling in all its forms.
“The Edge” – David McCallum
A lot of you might know this piece by David McCallum only as the sample bed for Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode”, but there’s an amazingly cinematic piece of music hiding just beyond the incredible guitar loop. It brings to mind a hard-boiled detective, walking the mean streets and playing by his own rules.
A song that can take you to another place just seems like it would be good for a place where a scenery change won’t be happening soon.
“You Should Be Dancing” – Bee Gees
That’s right. I picked a song from the Bee Gees.
Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, it’s a disco record. It’s also one of the best from the era – You don’t score that many hits by accident, after all – and a bit of silly fun never hurt nobody. Besides that, it’s a desert island: I don’t have to care what anyone thinks.