Which performers have the largest number of songs on my Desert Island list? Two have four apiece. One was no surprise when I began analyzing the list, and one was.
I have never considered myself a major Rolling Stones fan, and I never listened to their catalog much beyond the radio hits until relatively recent times; nevertheless, the four songs on the list have been there for a while. While I might add a few if I were assembling the list today (particularly “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” but also “Let It Bleed” and “Dead Flowers”), I wouldn’t scrap any that are already on board.
“Brown Sugar”: Four minutes of concentrated nasty. Possibly the greatest 45 ever made by anybody.
“Tumbling Dice”: The sound of a party breaking out. If Exile on Main Street is the apex of the Stones’ career, and “Tumbling Dice” is the apex of Exile on Main Street, well, you do the math.
“Fool to Cry”: The sad, reflective electric piano that opens this record absolutely kills me every time. The sound befits the Black and Blue album, which despite its controversial marketing (see a couple of examples here), was actually a pretty somber affair. At the time of its release, the Stones were in their mid 30s, bickering, and worn. Which is why they would put a song on the album like . . .
“Memory Motel“: On that night 32 years ago when I reluctantly graduated from high school, this is the song I cued up for the drive home. It’s about the never-ending road that takes us further and further from the people and places we love the most—a road all of us travel at one time or another.
Despite high-falutin’ rock critic dislike of the Eagles that now stretches into a second millennium, I’m probably not the only person who would pack away a few of their tunes for the long, lonely haul.
“Lyin’ Eyes”: Despite the sad tale of loveless marriage and adultery in the lyric, “Lyin’ Eyes” is the ultimate feel-good radio record. One night from the stage I heard Glenn Frey say that he could never get tired of playing the song, and I can’t imagine getting tired of hearing it.
“New Kid in Town”: It’s said that your life’s theme song is the Number-One single on your 18th birthday. Since I don’t want “Love Is Thicker Than Water” by Andy Gibb, I’ll take this, which topped the Hot 100 on my 17th birthday. No matter how popular you are, the song goes, you can be replaced, and you probably will be, eventually. The lesson wasn’t lost on the 17-year-old me, and it hasn’t been lost ever since.
“The Last Resort”: A song about Manifest Destiny and what comes afterward: “Call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye.” Even if we were to succeed in remaking the world so that it reflects our conception of perfection—liberal, conservative, or somewhere in between—the odds that we’ll be satisfied with it are somewhere between slim and none.
“The Sad Café”: What I said here still goes.
The only Eagles song I might add to the list is “Ol’ 55,” the Tom Waits number from On the Border. (If forced to choose a single Eagles album for the journey, that might be the one.) Here’s a live performance of “Ol’ 55” from Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert in 1974. Leaving aside the personal or musical failings of later years that can color our perceptions of them now, the Eagles were capable of creating music of stunning beauty. Stuff like this is the reason why they’ll be by my side for as long as it takes me to get wherever it is I’m going.
Recommended Reading: Kinky Paprika finds the link between The Great Gatsby and “Emotional Rescue” by the Rolling Stones. It’s one of the best things I’ve read anywhere in a long time.