25 Desert Island Discs

(I Get That Many Because I’m Special)

by Duke Egbert

I’ve been writing for the Vault, on and off (mostly on), for 25 years.

My 25th anniversary is sometime this month. I wanted to do something to commemorate the occasion, as frankly it was against the odds that I’d even still be here.

I considered several ways to celebrate; skywriting was too expensive, a Times Square billboard has been done to death, and I don’t do tattoos. Finally, I decided to take the trope of Desert Island Discs and run with it.

Below please find the 25 albums I would take into a fallout shelter, a shipwreck, or hospice. No criteria were applied save two:

1. Two-album limit from each artist
2. no made-up albums, no multi-disc collections (so much for Harry Chapin’s “The Electra Collection”)

The albums are not rated in any particular order. These are the albums I go back to constantly. This is, forgive me, the soundtrack my life. My want, my desire, is that everyone who has ever enjoyed my writing pick one they haven’t listened to and give it a spin.

Thank you for a magnificent, sad, joyful, infirm, transcendent time. Twenty-five years down. I wonder if I can make it to fifty?


1-2. Alan Parsons Project -- Eye In The Sky and Turn Of A Friendly Card

Longtime readers of the DV will know that when I did my ratings of all the Alan Parsons (Project) albums, I had a lot of trouble deciding which disc should be #1. In the end, I went with TOAFC and I Robot. However, I listen to Eye more than Robot, and for reasons related to the next entry I swore to limit myself to two Project CDs. Robot is a better album, but I like Eye more. Eye was also the first album I ever bought with my own money.



3-4. Alan Parsons -- The Very Best Live and Try Anything Once

I am not a fan of live albums. Very Best Live is a pretty good album, but the reason it’s on this list is the studio tracks, specifically “Take The Money And Run.” I own two copies of Live so I can keep one in the car and blast that song as loud as possible, often. Meanwhile, TAO is still the best solo work Parsons has done.


5. Rush -- Grace Under Pressure

This was almost Power Windows, and I don’t care what Jason thinks about the production. Go listen to the Shaggs or something, Jason. But I refuse to go through life as a tropical exile without being able to listen to “Between The Wheels” and “Distant Early Warning.”


6. Amanda Marshall -- Amanda Marshall

This was a toughie. Everybody’s Got A Story may be a better album, and expect to see that reviewed in the next month or two. But without the self-titled debut of someone you should all listen to immediately, I don’t get “Last Exit To Eden.” And that, friends, isn’t happening.


7. Great Big Sea -- Road Rage

Again, there’s an almost here. This was almost Something Beautiful. But I was once privileged to see GBS live, and it was either the best or second-best concert I ever went to. Road Rage captured that energy perfectly.

As much as I’d like to continue this Canadian streak I have going:


8. Barry Manilow -- 2AM Paradise Café

Go ahead, make the jokes; that’s how I know you’ve never heard this CD. If you had, you might understand. Forty-nine minutes, five seconds, 11 tracks, two amazing guest appearances (Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme), one take. Magic.



9-10. Carrie Newcomer -- The Geography of Light and The Gathering Of Spirits

The decision was too hard to make. One gets me “The Fisher King,” one gets me “Lazarus.” Screw it, my list, I can make the rules. If you at all love singer-songwriters, for the love of Bragi, please go find these albums somewhere and listen to them. They will break your heart in a good way.


11. Peter Mayer (the Minnesota one) -- The Great Story

Everyone should have an album that succinctly describes their entire spirituality and philosophy on one compact disc. This one’s mine. And I have never reviewed it. In fact, I’ve never reviewed any of his stuff. Jason, how do you let me get away with this crap?


12. Duncan Sheik -- Duncan Sheik

This could be any of the Buddhist singer/songwriter’s albums. But looking back, with one exception (see entry 13), this is the album I go to most. “She Runs Away,” “A Body Goes Down,” “Barely Breathing”—it’s a veritable banquet of tight, incisive lyrics and lovely singing and playing.


13. Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater -- Spring Awakening

And now we get to Broadway. One would not normally think that a musical adaptation of an 1893 German play about hypocrisy, sexuality, and societal oppression would make a good musical. It didn’t; it made a great one.


14. Peter Gabriel -- So

Because of Tony Levin’s hypnotic bass on “Red Rain.” Because of that great, great horn intro on “Sledgehammer.” Because in 1986 and beyond, this album kept me from killing someone—including myself.


15. October Project -- October Project

If this album had come out ten years later, it would have sold much, much better. The twin voices of Mary Fahl (contralto) and Marina Belica (soprano) is sheer bliss. This album, which featured over twenty musicians, is a masterpiece of cross-genre music. If you like Tori Amos, Kate Bush, or anyone else in that vein, please, check them out.


16. The Police -- Synchronicity

I think this is the Police at their best, even though that’s not a popular opinion. But it’s here more for the memories: when I moved back from Texas to Indiana after my marriage fell apart, I realized I could play whatever I wanted on the car stereo. So while driving through northern Mississippi, I listened to “Synchronicity II” and sang along madly, loudly, and perhaps badly – eleven times.

At least.


17. Peter Cincotti -- Metropolis

Cincotti would have been a great member of the Rat Pack. Similar energy. That said, “Do Or Die,” “Graffiti Wall,” “Fit You Better”—there is not a bad song on this disc. There are also two heartbreakingly sad songs, “Madeline” and “Take A Good Luck,” and I’m a sucker for that stuff.


18. Marillion -- Clutching At Straws

This is the best Marillion album where Fish was the lead singer. I will die on this hill, even though “Kayleigh” is the best song from that period. Ten tracks of genius, and an eleventh that’s still okay (“Going Under”). Tight as your creepy uncle when the wedding has an open bar.


19-20. Kate Bush -- The Hounds Of Love and The Sensual World

So I want to tell a story here.

I was, years and years ago, a two-time national champion in collegiate speech, in two different events (shout out to my extemporaneous homies). The problem is, our coach wanted us to each carry five events, the max. So I would usually throw together three more events – one of which was this wacky event called Oral Interpretation, where you could do a mixed-media (for example, one poem, one monologue, one drama excerpt) set around a given theme.

I had fun with this, including once when I used the lyrics of Miss Kate’s “Love And Anger” as part of an OI script. One of the two judges, after I finished, said, rather haughtily, “Does Kate Bush even write her own lyrics?” And right there, I whipped my cassette of The Sensual World out of my backpack and proved she did. True story.

21. James McMurtry -- Saint Mary Of The Woods

This is the album where McMurtry went top to bottom, all killer, no filler. His portrayals of an America crumbling at the edges and tearing at the seams is powerful, sobering, and sad. Except “Choctaw Bingo,” which is powerful, drunk as hell, and the musical equivalent of that Duck Dynasty show. Except it’s good.
22. Eva Cassidy -- The Best Of Eva Cassidy

Sometimes, life isn't fair.

23. Spock’s Beard -- Snow Live

This was going to either be Snow Live or the original Snow. I decided on the live version for a few reasons. The crowd is really, really into it; the arrangements are slightly leaner and come across with a bit more ferocity; and as a bonus, you get a live encore of “June” from The Kindness Of Strangers. It’s like getting seven chicken nuggets when you ordered a six-pack.


24. Dan Fogelberg -- The Innocent Age

This choice hurts, because I lose the Poet of Peoria’s best song, “Tucson, Arizona (Gazette).” But in terms of an album, this was Fogelberg’s zenith. Any album where “Leader Of The Band” is the last track…


25. The Smithereens -- Especially For You

The Smithereens were (I use past tense because of the death of long-time vocalist Pat DiNizio; there’s still a band called The Smithereens, but I can’t imagine it without Pat) the four-chord geniuses that everyone said Nirvana was. Grunge is just garage rock that hasn’t taken its medication.

Finally, I want to say thank you. Thank you to Chris Thelen for giving me the shot; thank you to Jason Warburg for putting up with my on-again off-again schtick for as long as he did; and thank you to all the other authors it has been my honor and privilege to share space with on the “Reviewers” page.

Thank you to Alan Parsons for forty years of joy.

Thank you to my two ex-wives who put up with my obsession with music as long as they did, especially given I wasn’t making any money off it.

And thank you to Carla. You are the song, my very dear.

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