Music is an integral part of my life, my constant companion. I spend upwards of fifty hours per week listening to music, mostly on my iPod, though recently I discovered Spotify. It has allowed me to venture beyond the 16,000 songs on my iPod. With a seemingly endless supply of music at my fingertips, why do I find myself going back to the same music? Because while new is exciting, there is comfort in that which is familiar. If I had to choose only twelve albums—a desert island list—I’d start with the double-barrell threat of Zamfir and his magical pan flute, and maybe some Yanni. Then, realizing I’d died and gone to hell, I would find two sharpened pencils and jam them into my ears. Actually, here’s my list, in no particular order:
Rush – Clockwork Angels (release date June 12, 2012)
Clockwork Angels is Rush’s latest offering, and is their best album since 1982’s Signals. It is Rush’s first concept album. Don’t piss and moan to me about 2112. It is only half a concept album – side 1 – 2112. Clockwork Angels tells the story of a young man chasing his dreams through a world of alchemy and steampunk, while the Watchmaker imposes strict order on everything. “Caravan” and “Headlong Flight” are two songs with as much bombastic power as anything Rush has ever played, and “The Garden” is perhaps the most heartfelt song they’ve ever written. Neil Peart and Geddy Lee are both 60, and Alex Lifeson are each 59, and they aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.
Steven Wilson – Grace for Drowning (release date September 26, 2011)
Stephen Wilson is best known as the founder of Porcupine Tree, the brilliant British prog-rock group. However, his second solo album, Grace for Drowning, is perhaps his best work. This is a dark, dark album employing an array of musical styles ranging from jazz to classical to heavy metal to progressive rock. Give it a try. “Remainder the Black Dog,” “Sectarian,” and “Belle de Jour” highlight an album packed with great songs. If you’re looking for uplifting music, this isn’t the album for you.
Blackfield – Blackfield II (release date March 6, 2007)
Blackfield is another of Steven Wilson’s projects, a collaboration with Israeli pop-star Aviv Geffen. Blackfield II is filled songs about love, loss, and failure. It’s a morose collection with an endearing pop sensibility.
Joe Bonamassa – Live from the Royal Albert Hall (release date September 22, 2009)
This is the album that got me started on Joe Bonamassa. “The Ballad of John Henry” is perhaps the best song on the album, though I think the most powerful is “Asking Around For You,” a song about lost love that describes heaven as a place “where we all can sit and talk a while / play some cards and drink black coffee.” I hope Joe is right about that.
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (release date September 12, 1975)
In addition to the brilliant title track, this album contains Pink Floyd’s crowning musical achievement: “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” a touching tribute to their former bandmate, Syd Barrett. This is not my favorite Pink Floyd album. That honor goes to Animals. But if I’m going to be stuck on a desert island with a Floyd album, Wish You Were Here is the one.
Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy (release date March 28, 1973)
Forget IV. Front to back, Houses of the Holy is Zeppelin’s finest album. The album starts with Jimmy Page’s blazing 12-string guitar on “The Song Remains the Same,” and finishes with “The Ocean.” In between are such classics as “The Rain Song,” “D’yer Mak’er,” and the haunting “No Quarter.” Every song on this album is a classic.
Opeth – Damnation (release date April 14, 2003)
There were lots of people wearing Opeth t-shirts at the first Porcupine Tree concert I attended at a Cincinnati dump called Bogart’s back in 2005. I was curious, so I did a little Internet research. Turns out Opeth is a progressive metal outfit from Sweden. At random, I selected and ordered my first Opeth album, Damnation. As I would soon discover, Damnation is a severe departure from the band’s other albums, which are full of heavy, progressive riffs, and a mix of clean and cookie-monster vocals. Damnation contains no cookie-monster vocals, and is chock-full of acoustic guitars, mellotron, and lament.
Black Country Communion – Black Country Communion (release date September 21, 2010)
Black Country Communion, the band’s eponymous first album, is perhaps the best straight-ahead rock and roll record since Guns N’ Roses blew everyone away with Appetite For Destruction in 1987. I know, I know, that’s quite a bold statement. But when you combine the talents of guitar master Joe Bonamassa, rock’s elder statesman Glenn Hughes, Jason Bonham (yes, the son of Zep’s John Bonham), and Derek Sherinian, you’re bound to end up with something special. And BCC is very, very special—a balls out hard rock band straight out of the ‘70s.
Porcupine Tree – In Absentia (release date September 24, 2002)
In Absentia was my first taste of Porcupine Tree, so this album holds a really special place in my heart. Even though none of its songs are longer than 8 minutes, In Absentia is a prog-rock masterpiece, on a level, I would argue, with Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. It is also the band’s first album with drummer Gavin Harrison, perhaps the second-best drummer in the world behind Karen Carpenter…uh, I mean Neil Peart.
Rush – Moving Pictures (release date February 12, 1981)
I don’t know if Moving Pictures is Rush’s best work, though it is certainly their most popular, containing rock radio staples “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight.” There isn’t a clunker on this album. The album is special to me because it was the first Rush album I got. Actually, I taped a Q95 (WFBQ 94.7 – Indianapolis) broadcast of the album on a TDK D-90 cassette using a ratty old GE boombox. I believe Ace Cosby was the jock who played it that night. I can still remember the pops and cracks on the tape from the vinyl.
Deep Purple – Machine Head (release date March 1972)
Machine Head is the quintessential Deep Purple album. With classic rock radio staples like “Highway Star,” “Smoke On The Water,” and “Space Truckin’,” it’s a no-brainer for my time on the island. Created by the classic Mark II lineup of Deep Purple, which consisted of Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Ian Gillan (vocals), Roger Glover (bass guitar), Ian Paice (drums), and the late Jon Lord (keyboards), Machine Head hits you in the mouth from the opening riff of “Highway Star.” Plus, it contains my favorite Deep Purple song, “Lazy,” which opens with some wicked keyboarding by Jon Lord. If you’ve not heard this album, you owe it to yourself to crawl out from under the rock you’ve been under for the last 40 years and give it a listen. You’ll be blown away.
Sting – The Dream of the Blue Turtles (release date June 1, 1985)
This may seem an odd departure from the previous eleven selections, but I just love this album. It is a severe departure from Sting’s work with The Police, filled with a lot of jazz, and some classical influences as well. “Moon over Bourbon Street,” a song about a vampire, is my favorite track. For me, this is Sting’s finest work as a solo artist. The rest of his catalog pales in comparison.
Well, there you go. That’s my list. I make no apologies. I love progressive rock, classic rock, and heavy metal. It’s the music I cut my teeth on. Hell, Rush has been my constant companion for over 30 years. I’d like to see your list, if you’d care to send it to me. Now, if I can just figure how to get power to this damn CD player…