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John McV's Desert Island List

Here's my current entry in the old game of "desert island recordings," "recordings to die for," or whatever. I've tried to play by the following rules:

  1. A limit of 25 albums...can't you remember when a 25-album collection seemed immense?
  2. Selection for reasons of personal pleasure and anticipated continuing enjoyment ONLY; I've tried to avoid the impulse to be a historian. My assumption is that this is what I'd want to have on a real, live desert island...NOT in some graduate seminar. I would thusly never again hear any music except this collection, so I'd have nobody to impress with my erudition but myself.
  3. No more than one album per artiste. The world is so full of beautiful things that I don't really need to cram my list full of works by a single musician, even Louis Armstrong (or the Beatles, Aretha, or whomever!)
  4. No anthologies or mega-overviews...I've tried not to include multi-disk extravaganzas like The Stax Singles Collection or even 'authorized' best of sets like Neil Young's Decade. It's fun to try to find a single album release that satisfies.

Of course I've cheated here and there, but I've tried to justify myself in the comments section. I seem to have left out entire eras of pop music, I notice that album selections seem suspiciously clustered between the years of 65 and 80 (the curse of the boomer is upon me), and some folks may find my selections insufferably mellow, superficial, or wrong-headed (e.g., my son, Leo, Robert Christgau, Greil Marcus, Lester Bangs). Tough luck, I say; this list is just the albums I'd take to MY desert island. Let quibblers find their own island.

I'd sure like to see other folks' list; they would probably give me some ideas about stuff to listen to/for. contact me at mcvicker@ohiou.edu with your ideas, some of which you'll find if you try this search.

Release Info

Louis Armstrong

The Hot Fives & Sevens

1927 to 30 - JSP Louis Box 100

A bargain-price but beautifully remastered collection of the finest hour(s) of the greatest musician of the 20th century. You've gotta have it. Its cheapo price is my excuse for the inclusion of a box in this list.

Franco & Rochereau

Omona Wapi

1976 - Shanachie

This album has a more acoustic feel, less electric energy, than the typical solo recordings of these two giants of classic Afro-pop. But there's a wonderful interplay of the two voices that carries the day. NOTE: you may find the similar Directeur Général which is harder to find but even better; it's a Syllart (France) import. Here's an audio of Franco & Rochereau; here's a video of Franco and one of Rochereau Lettre M. le

Billie Holiday & Lester Young

Lady Day & Prez

Giants of Jazz

A collection of their finest duets, collected together only here (I think); you can ignore the fairly low quality of the sound (the individual recordings are available in better condition elsewhere), this is a unique opportunity to sit back and marvel at their musical rapport. Here's a video

Skip James


1965 - Vanguard 79219

Powerful, beautiful stories. Skip's version of the music of the delta is, as far as I know, unique to him. Here's a video

Van Morrison

Astral Weeks

1968 - WB 1768

Still my favorite from Van the Man; Astral Weeks hasn't lost a bit of freshness after many years of listening to its late-night groove. Check out Richard Davis' bass playing on this one. Here's a video

The Beatles


1966 - EMI 46441

So which Beatles album would I take. I dunno, but I'd sure miss this one.

Bob Dylan

John Wesley Harding

1967 - CBS CK 9604

Another impossible, and thus arbitrary, choice (see Louis Armstrong, the Beatles, etc). So why this one. Because I like the songs, for one thing. Well, no, I don't understand the lyrics, but I keep wanting to hear them.

Coleman Hawkins

The Complete Coleman Hawkins on Keynote

1944 - Verve 830960

A Multi-disk compilation (many out-takes) of Hawk's small group work on Keynote; these are wonderfully inventive sessions, and a more intimate and relaxed setting than the big bands he often played with shows off Hawk's genius. Here's a video of Hawk with Charlie Parker

Stevie Wonder

Songs in the Key of Life

1976 - Motown 0340

Stevie has his heart on his sleeve. Many find his expressions of hope and spirituality corny; I find them uplifting...and the grooves are killer. Here's a video

The Deller Consort

Madrigal Masterpieces

Vanguard Classics 2000

Renaissance doo-wop. I got turned me on to this (hi Laurie, hi John) when I was in a phase where I couldn't care less about "old-fashioned music," and I've listened regularly ever since.

Bembeya Jazz National

The Syliphone Years

2007 Stern's Africa 302930

Bembeya Jazz is the band that made me fall in love with African music

Marvin Gaye

What's Going On

1971 - Motown 5339

His heart is on his sleeve in this one. No other recording that I have seems more starkly personal, or more achingly beautiful; I'm still moved to tears when I hear it. Here's a video

The Meters


1972 Sundazed 6169

A near-perfect funk album; the critics all seem to prefer their earlier work on Josie, considering the Reprise stuff to be too commercial. Not me...I think this stuff BURNS. Here's a video

John Coltrane

John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman

Impulse 5661

Not exactly a typical Coltrane album, but a very lovely one. Can't get enough of the interplay between Trane's voice and Hartman's.

Thelonious Monk

Pure Monk

1952 to 55 - Milestone 47004

Distilled Monk; 2-LP set of solo piano from Riverside sessions. There, I've cheated in selecting a comp, but this is sort of the Well-Tempered Clavier for modern jazz. Here's a video

Manu Chao


1998 Virgin 457832

Euro-Latino-Reggae; good band, good tunes; here's a video

Mississippi John Hurt


early 1960s - Vanguard 505028

The best of the Vanguard LPs; a unique take on the blues, warm and humorous and incredibly beautiful; here's a video

Curtis Mayfield


1972 - Rhino 72836

Curtis always gives a nice mix of political, spiritual, and funky. I used to have "Back to the World" here, but the Rhino reissue is wonderful. The sound of the album has been beautifully restored, and I love the alternates and working versions on disk two; here's a video

Sly & the Family Stone


1973 - Epic 32134

Full of hope, but without illusions. I love Stand and There's a Riot Goin' On too, but I find the message of this one irresistible. Here's a video

Tim Hardin

Tim Hardin 3 Live in Concert

1968 - Verve S 3049

Perfect songs from an imperfect life, songs that have stood the test of time, songs that many other singers have felt drawn to, and still songs for which no other setting seems so perfect; here's a video from Woodstock

Fela Kuti

Roforofo Fight

1972 Wrasse 056

There are bunches of great albums out there by the inventor of Afrobeat. This is a fave of mine, and the Wrasse re-issue has a couple of fine bonus tracks; here's a video

Various Darker Than Blue: Soul From Jamdown 1973-1977 2001 Blood & Fire 36 Covers of US R&B hits by Jamaica's finest musicians of the era; amazingly cool.

Michael Hurley

Ancestral Swamp

2007 Gnomonsong 007

The latest from the bard of Snock, America's greatest living poet of wolfish doggerel; here's a video

Nawal Kweli 2005 Melodie 79629 The 'Voice of the Comoros Islands' - swings like mad; check her version of Jacques Brel's "Ces gens-l" Here's a video

Page created: March 1997
Last updated: January 6, 2009

(John McVicker's home page)

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