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Desert Island Disks

Whenever I’m in town, I usually hook up with maman on Saturday afternoons for some mother-daughter jamming. We both play flute and piano, trading off so we both get practice on each instrument. We usually work on classical and jazz pieces, and sometimes we enlist my partner Alicia to provide cello support. When we delve into rock or folk music we’ll occasionally let my father join the party to accompany us on acoustic guitar. Over the past few months we’ve been working on piano-flute arrangements for Radiohead songs, as both maman and I find their music fascinating. My old fart father loathes Radiohead, so whenever we go there, he heads for one of the Irish pubs in Nice (yes, we have them) while maman and I get down to business.

A couple of weeks ago, maman and I were trying to work out an arrangement for “Daydreaming” from A Moon Shaped Pool. The piano part is pretty straightforward, so most of the work focused on the flute. Since maman is the more capable flutist, she experimented with various possibilities while I handled the ivories and gave feedback. We decided early on that once the melody was established, she would shift to a combination of double tonguing and whisper tones for her improvisations to reflect the gentle flow of the song and the orchestral feel of the album. While whisper tones are an absolute bitch for me, maman has the discipline and patience to pull them off. After a couple of hours we recorded a credible rendition on Garage Band with some beautifully quirky partials produced by the whisper tones.

Please note that the recording is for personal use only and cannot be distributed because we don’t want Radiohead to sue us.

Maman wanted to hear the original again before we quit for the day, and the album continued to spin while we discussed other possibilities for the piece. About thirty seconds into “Desert Island Disk,” Dad popped in.

“Great guitar—who is that?”

“It’s Radiohead, dude! Gotcha!”

Dad frowned. “I never said they didn’t have talent. I just don’t like the results.” He then paused to listen. “Okay, this song’s pretty good. Nice latin feel. What’s it called?”

“‘Desert Island Disk’.”

“So, what’s on Radiohead’s desert island disk?”

“They don’t say. The song’s about love, loss and change,” I explained, economically.

“Then why the title?”

“I don’t know. There’s a BBC programme where famous people pick eight songs, a book and a luxury they would take with them to a desert island. Maybe that got stuck in Thom Yorke’s head.”

“What does that have to do with love, loss and change?”

“I don’t know, dad—maybe it’s a riff on the getting a new start in life theme.”

“Hey! We ought to do that!”

“What? Get a new life? We just changed continents a few years ago!”

“No—come up with our desert island disks.”

I immediately liked the idea but had to change the rules. “There’s no fucking way I can live on a desert island with only eight songs. I’d go batty the first day and feed myself to the sharks.” It wasn’t difficult to get a family of music lovers to agree to an extended format, so after a lot of back-and-forth we agreed that we’d choose twenty albums. Then I pointed out a problem with the plan.

“There are some songs that are really important to me but I don’t want the whole album.”

“Okay—how many? Eight?”

“No, let’s go with classic British album format—fourteen.”

“No luxuries, no books?” asked maman.

“Okay—one book, one luxury. I’ll go with Ulysses and a vibrator.” As soon as I said that, I realized there was a fundamental flaw in the logic. “We can’t listen to music without electricity, and the batteries in my vibrator won’t last forever. Do we have to go to a desert island?”

Maman pointed out that since this was an exercise in fantasy, we could imagine an island with plenty of solar panels to keep the juice flowing. Sometimes the Spock side of me is really stupid.

Alicia came over later and agreed to participate. Maman put hers together in less than an hour. The rest of us struggled for days; I only finished mine this morning. Even with the expanded format, the process was agonizing. I don’t consider my list a “best of” list, but took into consideration the existential reality of being alone on a desert island, choosing music with long-lasting replay potential. Had I been allowed to bring my partner, the list would have been more fuck-friendly.

So here are my family’s desert island disks, supplemented with explanatory comments.



  1. London Calling, The Clash
  2. Monk’s Dream, Thelonious Monk
  3. Kid A, Radiohead
  4. In Rainbows, Radiohead
  5. And Out Come the Wolves, Rancid
  6. The Complete Recordings, Robert Johnson
  7. Odessey and Oracle, The Zombies
  8. The Best of Louis Armstrong: The Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings
  9. Love Deluxe, Sade
  10. Ultimate!, The Yardbirds
  11. Revolver, The Beatles
  12. Between the Buttons, The Rolling Stones
  13. Lola vs. The Powerman and the Money-Go-Round, The Kinks
  14. A Passion Play, Jethro Tull
  15. Clube da Esquina, Milton Nascimento and Lô Borges
  16. The Best of Muddy Waters
  17. Different Class, Pulp
  18. Always, June Tabor
  19. Lady Day: The Best of Billie Holiday
  20. Way to Blue, Nick Drake


  1. “Strawberry Fields Forever,” The Beatles
  2. “Don’t Mess with Me,” Brody Dalle
  3. “I Can’t Get Next to You,” The Temptations
  4. “Celluloid Heroes,” The Kinks
  5. “Only the Lonely,” Roy Orbison
  6. “Arms Aloft,” Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros
  7. “Let Down,” Radiohead
  8. “Codex,” Radiohead
  9. “Debaser,” Pixies
  10. “Beeswing,” Richard Thompson
  11. “The Party,” Phil Ochs
  12. “Hello, Susie,” The Move
  13. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” The Rolling Stones
  14. “Severed Crossed Fingers,” St. Vincent

Comments: My list shouldn’t be much of a surprise to my readers. The most difficult decision was leaving off “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman” by Whistling Jack Smith, but I figured I could whistle all by my lonesome. A year ago the St. Vincent album would have made the list but her latest release, Masseduction, was a crushing disappointment.



  1. Revolver, The Beatles
  2. Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles
  3. Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan
  4. At Fillmore East, The Allman Brothers Band
  5. For Everyman, Jackson Browne
  6. Triangle, The Beau Brummels
  7. In My Life, Judy Collins
  8. Blue, Joni Mitchell
  9. Kind of Blue, Miles Davis
  10. Beggars Banquet, The Rolling Stones
  11. Muswell Hillbillies, The Kinks
  12. Trout Mask Replica, Captain Beefheart
  13. Aqualung, Jethro Tull
  14. Liege and Lief, Fairport Convention
  15. After the Gold Rush, Neil Young
  16. The 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, Spirit
  17. Are You Experienced?, Jimi Hendrix
  18. The Great Twenty-Eight, Chuck Berry
  19. Pleasures of the Harbor, Phil Ochs
  20. Surrealistic Pillow, Jefferson Airplane


  1. “Hey Jude,” The Beatles
  2. “Ticket to Ride,” The Beatles
  3. “All Day and All of the Night,” The Kinks
  4. “Come See About Me,” The Supremes
  5. “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” The Tokens
  6. “She’s Not There,” The Zombies
  7. “Like a Rolling Stone,” Bob Dylan
  8. “As Tears Go By,” Marianne Faithfull
  9. “I Still Love You,” The Vejtables
  10. “19th Nervous Breakdown,” The Rolling Stones
  11. “Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” The Four Tops
  12. “End of the Line,” The Traveling Wilburys
  13. “O My Soul,” Big Star
  14. “Maybe I’m Amazed,” Paul McCartney

Comments: I could have identified 98% of the entries without breaking a sweat: Dad really doesn’t care all that much for music released after 1975. The only surprise was the lack of a Donovan track or album. “You’ve ruined him for me,” he explained, referring to my not-very-positive reviews. “And that is something for which you should be eternally grateful,” I replied.

Dad’s choice of book was Dostoyevsky’s The Devils, and his luxury a case of 2007 Heitz Cellars’ Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.


  1. Schubert, Symphony No. 9 (The Great), Wolfgang Sawallisch
  2. Masterpieces, The Duke Ellington Orchestra
  3. In the Court of the Crimson King, King Crimson
  4. Days of Future Passed, The Moody Blues
  5. Kid A, Radiohead
  6. A Love Supreme, John Coltrane
  7. Flute Concertos, Jean-Pierre Rampal
  8. Hejira, Joni Mitchell
  9. Rosa Mundi, June Tabor
  10. La Question, Françoise Hardy
  11. Dvorak, 8 Slavonic Dances, Rafael Kubelik
  12. Mahler, Symphony No. 9, Herbert von Karajan
  13. Boîte à Bonbons, Jacques Brel
  14. The Indispensable Django Reinhardt
  15. Platinum Collection, Edith Piaf
  16. Out to Lunch, Eric Dolphy
  17. The Golden Flute, Yusef Lateef
  18. Thick as a Brick, Jethro Tull
  19. Stand Up!, Jethro Tull
  20. The Art of Segovia, Andrés Segovia


  1. “Question,” The Moody Blues
  2. “Comme un Garçon,” Sylvie Vartan
  3. “Que C’est Triste Venise,” Charles Azvanour
  4. “Billie Jean,” Michael Jackson
  5. “Lucky Man,” Emerson, Lake & Palmer
  6. “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” Pink Floyd
  7. “Eleanor Rigby,” The Beatles
  8. “Never Comes the Day,” The Moody Blues
  9. “Blue in Green,” Miles Davis
  10. “Japanese Folk Song,” Thelonious Monk
  11. “Si C’est Ça,” Françoise Hardy”
  12. “White Rabbit,” Jefferson Airplane
  13. “Inner City Blues,” Marvin Gaye
  14. “Me Ama Mô,” Simone

Comments: Maman’s collection will last the longest, as she included a few box sets. Clever girl! The one that really blew me away was “Billie Jean,” as I had no idea maman took Michael Jackson seriously or even liked him a little. “Thriller has some very inventive arrangements,” she said, trying to bullshit me. “Come on, maman, truth!” She gave me a stern look, then a smile started to crack the mask. “The music seizes my body and forces it to dance!” I promised her a review in the near future.

Her book is a collection of Maupassant short stories and she decided to take her pet Papillon along as her luxury.



  1. Something Else, The Kinks
  2. Urban Hymns, The Verve
  3. To Bring You My Love, PJ Harvey
  4. Senderos de Traición, Héroes de Silencio
  5. OK Computer, Radiohead
  6. Rodrigo, Concierto Como un Divertimento, Julian Lloyd Webber
  7. Some Girls, The Rolling Stones
  8. Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, Arctic Monkeys
  9. A Night at the Opera, Queen
  10. Sam’s Town, The Killers
  11. You Could Have Said It So Much Better, Franz Ferdinand
  12. Love Deluxe, Sade
  13. Bach, Six Unaccompanied Cello Suites, Yo-Yo Ma
  14. Sea Change, Beck
  15. Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine
  16. Superunknown, Soundgarden
  17. The Argument, Fugazi
  18. And Justice for All, Metallica
  19. Get Your Wings, Aerosmith
  20. A Boy Named Goo, Goo Goo Dolls


  1. “I’ll Never Find Another You,” The Seekers
  2. “Come As You Are,” Nirvana
  3. “Everlong,” Foo Fighters
  4. “Dream On,” Aerosmith
  5. “Hush,” Deep Purple
  6. “Angeline,” PJ Harvey
  7. “You Really Got Me,” The Kinks
  8. “Brand New Cadillac,” The Clash
  9. “White Wedding Pt. 1,” Billy Idol
  10. “Heroes,” David Bowie
  11. “Girl U Want,” Devo
  12. “The Best of Jill Hives,” Guided by Voices
  13. “Hide and Seek,” Imogen Heap
  14. “Bodysnatchers,” Radiohead

Comments: Although she plays classical cello beautifully and reveals to the world a consistently sunny disposition sweetened even further by excellent manners, her musical tastes triangulate around hard rock, progressive, metal and just fucking angry. I really didn’t take her seriously as a potential partner until she told me she likes her music rough and raucous. Alicia is much more into the early sounds of the 21st century than I am, but she has persuaded me to include a few of her favorite tracks on our fuck playlists. The attachment to early Kinks dates back to childhood; the Seekers’ tune and “Everlong” are “our songs.”

Alicia chose Story of O for her book and her favorite dildo (actually, it’s mine, since I’m the one who straps it on) as her luxury. She’s hoping to figure out a way to attach it to a palm tree and back in for some doggy-style memories.

Join the fun! Let’s hear about your Desert Island Disks!

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