Be Happy, Be Thankful For What You've Got, Can't Hide Love, Desert Island Disc, Earth Wind & Fire, Mary J Blige, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Phil Collins, Take Me Home, They Reminisce Over You, William DeVaughn
It’s been a long time since we drifted on to our tropical prison, but our prayers have finally been answered:
We’ve made booze!
Be fermenting a combination of sugar cane, mango pulp and coconut water, we have managed to concoct a libation that, while tasting terrible, manages to get you drunk as shit in record time. With our ticket to moonshine blindness in hand, it’s time to listen to the final 5 cuts from the Desert Island Playlist. Since drunkenness and nostalgia go hand in hand, we begin with….
“They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y)” – Pete Rock & CL Smooth
Pete Rock is a god amongst aspiring beatsmiths, having pioneered the jazz and soul-infused production style that the late J-Dilla and Kanye West used to catapult themselves to super-producer status. He has produced for damn near everyone, from hip hop legends of the past and present, underground kings and aspiring MCs, and even pop sensations like the Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga.
His 1992 album with his partner CL Smooth, Mecca and the Soul Brother, is a critical darling, and still stands as one of the best hip-hop albums of all time. And no song makes the reason why more plain than the group’s magnum opus, “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)”.
Recorded as a tribute to Trouble T-Roy, best known as one of Heavy D’s eponymous Boyz, the song encapsulates everything the group got right in their all-too-short pairing: CL Smooths’ rhythmic musings, while not the most intricate, worked beautifully with Pete Rock’s outstanding production – the urgency of the message was beautifully accentuated by stirring horn loops and soulful atmosphere, while the beat made bobble heads out of all that heard it.
The idea of hip-hop as an art-form has taken a severe beating in today’s era of disposable music, but if you wanted to make the case, you couldn’t find a better exhibit A than this. “They Reminisce Over You” still stands as one of hip hop’s finest recordings, a shining example of the genre’s power to not just tell you a story, but to musically transport you there, and immerse you in the artist’s state of mind. It’s no wonder then that this is one of my favorite cuts, and one that I couldn’t take a sabbatical from society without.
“Be Happy” – Mary J Blige
Before Mary J Blige exploded onto the scene with 1992’s What’s the 411?, she purposely eschewed the refined, pop ready look and feel of R&B songstresses like En Vogue and Mariah Carey who dominated the charts at the time. Her music seamlessly entwined hip-hop with the raw, gospel-tinged, soul-bearing vocal energy pioneered by Aretha Franklin, creating the sound that propels modern urban Pop and R&B hits to this day.
I’m just gonna leave this right here:
Mary more than lived up to the expectations set by her initial success with My Life, the brilliant sophomore album that cemented her legacy and actually made her worthy of the title “Queen of Hip Hop Soul”. My Life finds Mary in a great deal of pain: At the time she was dealing with a great deal of personal tragedies, and many of the album’s best songs are steeped in sadness. It’s for this precise reason that the first single, “Be Happy”, is the album’s standout piece, and one of the songs I can’t do without.
From it’s windswept intro to it’s mantra-chanting fade out, “Be Happy” finds a woman bottoming out experiencing a moment of clarity. It’s the precise moment when Mary figures out that the way to rid herself of her demons is to begin to love herself – it’s an amazing moment of power on an album driven by vulnerability. It’s especially comforting to hear these days, since it showed us the woman that Mary J Blige would become.
She may have been crawling through a river of shit at the time, but Mary figured out how to come out clean on the other side.
“Can’t Hide Love” – Earth, Wind & Fire
I was glad to see that Tom picked a record by Earth, Wind & Fire, because they are one of my all-time favorite bands. Many musicians, including some classic artists, have a tendency to throw up the reels – to use a familiar formula in order to achieve success from follow-up songs after having a hit record. Earth, Wind & Fire are one of very few groups from which no two records ever sound alike, yet all of their arrangements are still incredibly accessible – hardly any of their songs doing hard turns into experimental ditches.
“Can’t Hide Love” isn’t even the best song from Gratitude, but that’s just a testament to how good the album is. A powerful horn section, accompanied by an amazing bass arpeggio, draw you in to this incredible groove from the first few notes. The interplay between Maurice White’s verse and Philip Bailey’s hook, coupled with the band’s whip-perfect timing on the intricate arrangement, is a classic example of what made the group legendary.
“Be Thankful For What You’ve Got” – William DeVaughn
Another in a long line of soul records that made the list, “Be Thankful For What You’ve Got” is the best known song from William DeVaughn, but it boasts a simple message that continues to stand the test of time, minus the Cadillac part.
In recent years, is seems that artists have forgotten that music can be used to deliver a message in a non-preachy way: Either a song is too on-the-nose about an issue or cause to be popular, or too shallow to resonate with people. I also think that’s kind of a shame, because songs like this demonstrate that this is not the case. In today’s consumption-driven world, where material possessions are too often equated with self-worth, the idea that you don’t need a bunch of extravagant goods to have pride and happiness is lost on a lot of people. It’s one that I wish more artists would share with their audience.
I also think this one is right at home in our desert island setting. As you contemplate the desperation of the situation, it can be very hard to stay positive about getting out. I imagine that, at some point, you will have to make peace with the idea of staying there forever, and that means looking on the bright side: You have your life, you have your health, a beautiful view, and a large quantity of materials to make more booze from.
It’s at this moment, when you have given in to the notion of staying on the island forever, and surrendered to the idea of pickling yourself with homemade hooch until the end of your days, when you suddenly see it: A boat on the edge of the horizon.
You quickly spring to your feet just to make sure this isn’t an alcohol-fueled hallucination, and, drawing on your movie-inspired survival education, quickly dash the bottle into your fire. The bottle shatters and ignites the moonshine, creating a mushroom cloud that does two things: First, it completely singes your eyebrows off. It also gets the attention of the boat.
At long last, the long nightmare is over. You may have been driven half mad by isolation, you maybe completely smashed, and you may have naught but charred skin where your eyebrows used to be, but at long last, you are going home.
And for that glorious moment, I picked what I believe is the perfect song to get you there:
“Take Me Home” – Phil Collins
After achieving worldwide success with Genesis, Phil Collins embarked on a journey as a solo artist, and “Take Me Home” is one of his best songs.
Inspired by One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, the song tells the story of someone who’s been so beaten by circumstance he doesn’t even mind the situation anymore. He doesn’t even remember what home feels like, but he longs for someone to transport him there, because he doesn’t even know the way.
It’s one of the few Phil Collins solo songs that haven’t aged poorly over time, and it still conjures up that longing feeling in any road-weary soul who hasn’t seen their family, who has been so caught up in the rat race that they long for a simpler time, or even a simpler existence. I think we have all felt that longing at one time or other, and pop music is at its best when it is able to stir those type emotions up in you. This one does that in spades, making it the perfect closer to the list.
And with that, we set sail off of the desert island, with a few things in hand: A deeper appreciation of the need for human companionship, an appreciation for a few amazing tunes, and the recipe for an awful-tasting cocktail that will certainly be a hit with the binge-drinking crowd back home.