When this concept of five discs to see you through the long, lonely days on a singletrack-infested island came to fruition, I thought it would be a doddle, a walk in the park to pick a selection worthy of constant high-rotation. How wrong I was. If only box-sets could be included (in fact, as I make the rules here, why not? Because that’s the easy way out). Therefore I’ve tried to maximise each artist’s contribution with longer playing albums, collabs and double disc sets. And still there’s probably a dozen or more records that I don’t think I could be without. After much deliberation and input from Friday arvo office beers, here’s what I would take with me as I kick screaming and grasping at my Hendrix collection…
John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey–Dance Hall at Louse Point
Music is sex, and PJ Harvey is music. Her demure British speaking voice transforms seamlessly into a demonic growl or banshee-like wailing, always with pitch-perfect precision. Her eyes melt me, her voice makes the hair on the back of my neck (and other places) stand up, she makes me wish I was born in Dorset and was her high school sweetheart.
I thought about just taking five of her albums and an iPad full of videos, but man cannot live on a diet of PJ alone (I’ve tried, and came pretty damn close). This record brings her together with her old Automatic Dlamini cohort John Parish, and when I first heard it back in 96 it was a revelation. It can be a rude awakening for anyone not versed in Polly Jean’s music, and took me, oh, about two listens to understand what this is: an opus of incredible diversity, sweeping vocal gymnastics overlaying stark, stripped-back instrumentation that draws you in and holds you gently in its embrace, while slapping you across the face occasionally to remind you who you’re dealing with.
*Not from the album, but this video captures PJ at her grittiest, with an incredibly solid engine room made up of the legends Rob Ellis (drums) and Mick Harvey (bass).
Fugazi–Repeater + 3 Songs
Probably the most intense, powerful and honest band to ever plug in to a valve amp, Fugazi’s live shows are a spectacle that sadly may never be witnessed again. Their policy of no alcohol, all-ages, no stage-diving and an almost military-like command over their audience could be a recipe for a stale evening, but on the contrary I’ve never left a Fugazi gig in anything less than an exalted state of euphoric emptiness, like I’d had my frontal lobe peeled back and tattooed with the teachings of the true rock and roll denizens that are Ian MacKay and Guy Picciotto. Social, political, intensely passionate and powerful. Dive deep into their lyrics and you’ll be forced to look at yourself and the fucked-up world we live in with a whole other perspective. Or just rock the fuck out.
*Don’t bite the musicians, and don’t fuck with Ian…
Pixies–Wave of Mutilation (best of)
How can a band as influential and brilliant as the Pixies be consigned to a ‘best of’? Like PJ, I’d be happy to take their back catalogue to the island and would never tire of listening to them. They got me through Uni when I first heard Here Comes Your Man on Triple J back in 1990, and I immediately went back to discover Surfer Rosa, probably my favourite album of theirs (besides Doolittle being their widely acknowledged magnum opus). The two following albums Bossanova and Trompe Le Monde didn’t get the critics salivating like Doolittle had, but both were probably better than most bands would ever dream of producing, but not up to the ultra-high standard that Doolittle set. This record highlights the best from those two, including probably my favourite Pixies track Dig For Fire. Yeah right, like I can pick just one favourite… this one is another:
*Kim Deal, gone but never forgotten…
David Bowie–Hunky Dory
Bowie changed it all for me. Sure, I’d experimented with Devo, Roxy Music, even some Frank Zappa, but when a 16 year old gets hold of something this potent, things can never be the same again. Sure, I’d heard Space Oddity on the radio, but I was looking for a bit more… then in 1980 I heard Scary Monsters, almost a ‘comeback’ album for him, and Ashes to Ashes was unlike anything I’d seen or heard up until then. So I went backwards into his huge catalogue, and there it was; Hunky Dory. It’s a beautiful album, moving effortlessly between happy, poppy (Kooks, Oh you Pretty Things) through edgy (Andy Warhol) glam rock (Queen Bitch) to dark, brooding and introspective (Quicksand, The Bewlay Brothers). Just a complete record, great for any island situation. Hard to believe it was made in 1971. Timeless.
*Bowie covers Pixies:
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds–Abattoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus
Today, too many ‘rock stars’ are manufactured. Nick Cave was born to be, if not so much a rock star, but a pure musician, author, poet, lothario. Women want him, men want to be him (ok, maybe it’s just me, mainly because of his affair with PJ). The depth of his lyrics is without peer, weaving in and out of your conscience, making you stop and think ‘how did he manage to fit so many words into such little space, and still be comprehensible, even if I had to google at least half of them for definition’?
This double album is two parts of dissimilar concepts that come together to form a perfect whole… I could go on about how each track introduces the next seamlessly, how the Bad Seeds are possibly the most talented and tight bunch of misfits to grace a stage, but the album, and all of their works, just need to be absorbed totally, while alone, headphones, darkened room, a whiskey in hand, an empty mind willing to be filled with warmth, knowledge, love, hope, despair and death all at once.