Occasionally, I like to troll through the Celebrity Playlist section on iTunes to see what people count as songs they could not live without. It’s usually interesting, and I’ve come away with new things to listen to. And sometimes the commentary is witty or thought-provoking or even delightfully bizarre. *coughs* Gnarls Barkley *coughs*
There used to be this radio show on back in the day called “Desert Island Discs.” The idea was very similar to celebrity playlist: the host would interview musicians and ask which records they would have to take with them to a deserted island. The interviews were usually meandering and somnambulent–better than a Tylenol PM if you couldn’t sleep–and I’m pretty sure everyone in the studio had smoked whatever could be smoked: “Hey man, try this.” “Yeah? What is it?” “It’s the couch, dude. I shredded it up and put it in a Big Bambu. ‘S not bad.” The eighties. Sheesh.
Anyhoo, I remember the show for two reasons: 1. It was a great way to fall asleep, lying in my bed, feet sticking out of the covers, posters of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page standing watch like strutting angels with a cherry-sunburst Les Paul and a couple of Zoso talismans. And 2. They’d always play the music that the (probably stoned) artist recommended. I distinctly remember Todd Rundgren introducing the Talking Heads’s “Once in a Lifetime.” I remember the tingly feeling along my arms, the realization that I had never heard anything quite like it and that I “got” the song but couldn’t articulate the what, why, or how of it. (Kind of like the way Magritte’s paintings and Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” make me feel–as if someone has staged a quiet, bloodless emotional coup inside me, and my vital organs are now plastered with absurdist truth banners, and the top of my head just might be a propellor beanie cap, ready to lift off at a moment’s notice. Really, that’s the best I description I can give. See, I said it was impossible to explain.)
I’m amazed that people can choose ten or eleven songs they can’t live without when I can barely limit myself to a manageable twenty or thirty for a playlist. But that won’t stop me from trying. And so, I submit my songs I couldn’t live without.
Non, Je Ne Regrette Rein/Edith Piaf–Her voice makes every single hair stand up on my arms. So sweeping. So stirring. So epic. So French. And who wouldn’t like to claim that they regret nothing?
Hallelujah/Jeff Buckley–Haunting and beautiful. I’ve heard lots of people sing this song but no version ever quite reaches the exquisitely painful nirvana of this.
What Makes You Happy/Liz Phair–“He’s got an ex-wife in Pasadena/And sometimes, she’s a mess to deal with/But mostly we’ve been living here uninjured.” That’s why she’s Liz Phair, folks. That’s why she’s Liz Phair.
Hyper-Ballad/Bjork–I first heard this at Wigstock in NYC. I can’t remember the name of the utterly fabulous drag queen who did an avant-garde performance to this (more’s the pity) but I remember turning to my friend Ed at the same time he turned to me, both of us mouthing the words, “I want this song!!!” Makes me want to wear my swan dress proudly.
Sunday Morning/The Velvet Underground–This song is like a bruise you just can’t let alone. Perfect for depressing rainy days. You know, like this one.
Rebel, Rebel/David Bowie–So hard to choose a Bowie song because I love so many of them, but this one never fails to put a little strut in my walk. (Or into my fantasy of me walking, the one in which I actually AM David Bowie. And I can wear leather pants. Because in real life I would need a crowbar and a vat of talcum powder and a dismantling of my mortification gene. Great, now the fantasy is ruined for me, just ruined.)
You’re My Best Friend/Queen–Freddie Mercury ruled, as far as I’m concerned, and it was a real toss-up between this and Bohemian Rhapsody. But this song reminds me of riding around in my car with my best friend when I was sixteen, and for that, it makes the list. Shout out to you, Miss Ellie Mae. The Ostway way!
Fight the Power/Public Enemy–You could count on Public Enemy to come out swinging, serving it straight up without a spin chaser.
A Quick One While He’s Away/The Who–It hurts me to try to select only one or two Who songs. No, really, look–see that bruise on my forehead? That’s from trying to decide which I love more, Tommy or Quadrophenia? Who’s Next or The Kids Are Alright? (I love Pete Townsend so much, that If I ever had the chance to meet him, I’m afraid I would probably cry, vomit, and sh*t myself all at the same time. Which would certainly make an impression.) But I’m choosing this song for a number of reasons: it’s a mini-opera, it’s got that great Townsend wit, and underneath it all is that driving, raw, passionate tsunami of sound that makes me want to run along the white cliffs of Dover in a leather jacket along with a cigarette-smoking mate fresh out of reform school like we’re both runaways from some Stanley Kubrick/Joe Orton hybrid world. Okay, I’m scaring myself.
(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding/Elvis Costello–Such a genius, and again, hard to choose just one, but this is the one I want to hear with my car windows rolled down, my favorite people in the car, and my hand in a bag of Cheese-Nips. Probably not what Elvis had in mind when he wrote it.
White Man in Hammersmith Palais/The Clash–Love this band, love this song. Didn’t even matter that I couldn’t understand a word Joe Strummer was singing.
Beat Surrender/The Jam–There is no brooding funk that cannot be dispelled by this song, and it’s not just because I used to doodle “Mrs. Paul Weller” on scraps of paper, I swear. I dare you to resist its beat. No, I double-dog dare you.
The Ballad of El Goodo/Big Star–To me, Big Star set the bar for melodic American pop. But this song has a special place in my heart: it’s the first song I ever slow-danced to with my husband. God, I’ll really miss him on that desert island. 🙂
Message of Love/The Pretenders–“When love walks in the room/Everybody stand up/Oh, it’s good, good, good.” Yes. Yes, it is.
Bad (Live version)/U2–When I go for a run…okay, when I used to go for runs, before I sat all day at a computer trying to meet deadlines while hoovering up muffins, this was always my favorite song to run to.
You’re All I Need to Get By/Aretha Franklin–I couldn’t go to a deserted island without some ReRe. I almost chose “Respect” and “The House that Jack Built” but I love the build on this one.
Once in a Lifetime/The Talking Heads–Still my favorite song, same as it ever was, same as it ever was.
Okay, final tally is seventeen songs, and still, I know I’ve left off tons of songs I love. (What? No Ramones? No Nirvana? No Radiohead, Led Zeppelin or Sam Cooke? No Stevie Wonder?) but I’ll let this stand for now.
What songs could you not live without? Go on. Be a celebrity–make your playlist.