Alton Brown’s Desert Island Tracks

28 Jul

Track: The Ballad of Billy The Kid
Album: Songs From The Attic
Artist: Billy Joel

Billy Joel was the reason I wore suit jackets to school in the 10th grade and had a Wurlitzer electric piano in my room. Of all the great songs from all the great albums, I just couldn’t pick so I let my 8-year old take a stab. She says this is her hands down favorite and because of that, I think it might be mine too. The song first appeared on The Piano Man but this live version has the juice.

Track: Ain’t Goin’ To Goa
Album: Exile On Coldharbor Lane
Artist: A3 (Alabama 3)

There’s just no one out there like Larry and D. Wayne Love. Most of the hundred or so fans that Alabama 3 has in the US came on board because of Woke Up This Morning, which you may remember as the theme to The Sopranos. Morning is a fine tune but it doesn’t express A3’s unique country, acid, house, gospel, rock music philosophy. Ain’t Goin to Goa does.

Track: Baubles, Bangles And Beads
Album: Come Dance With Me
Artist: Frank Sinatra

Baubles, Bangles And Beads isn’t Sinatra’s biggest or boldest. It isn’t brash and doesn’t drip braggadocio. Truth is it’s kinda low and slow and quiet and meek. It’s also the smoothest two and a half minutes of cool that the Chairman ever crooned

Track: Mexican Candy
Album: Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart
Artist: Iguanas

A few years ago I was on a book tour and found myself driving alone across most of Texas. Radio stations came and went through the day and around sunset I lost a station and decided to just let the empty frequency play on. About half an hour later this tune floated into range. I’ve come to love all the Iguanas work but the sax rif in Mexican Candy speaks to me and me alone.

Karn Evil 9 (1st Impression – Part 2)
Album: Brain Salad Surgery
Artist: Emerson, Lake & Palmer

“Seven virgins and a mule, keep it cool, keep it cool.” Oh, we will.

Track: Graceland
Album: Graceland
Artist: Paul Simon

Simon’s Africa-fusion-folk album blew me away in 1986 and still does today. I cannot hear the title track without singing along at the top of my untalented lungs. Poor boys and pilgrims indeed.

Track: Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues
Album: Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues
Artist: Buddy Guy

If Gospel was the mother of Rock and Roll, then the blues was certainly the father, a bad father who ran around and drank and probably had another woman at every honky tonk in the delta. No one personifies that better than Buddy Guy and his guitar. Listen closely and you’ll hear Clapton, Richards, Vaughn, Lang and Page. Dad sure did get around.

Track: Boys of Summer
Album: Building the Perfect Beast
Artist: Don Henley

I’ve always had a soft spot for ole Don. He was always my favorite Eagle and when he came out with his second solo project in ’84 it became something of an anthem for me. That was the year I first tasted long lived loss and this song washed it down. “Don’t look back, you can never look back”.

Track: Another World
Album: Night And Day
Artist: Joe Jackson

The 80s were a great time for concept albums. (For you youngsters albums were big platters of vinyl with holes in the middle that had music engraved on both sides). In this case Day’s on one side, Night’s on the other, and each track welcomes a brand of discovery. Jackson is one of a very short list of singer songwriters (Elvis Costello comes to mind) who can convey tremendous emotion without treading on the maudlin. There is wit and wonder here but it never tangles up in irony or naiveté.

Track: Southern Girl
Album: Southern Girl
Artist: Erykah Badu

This was the first Badu tune I ever heard and although there may be better tracks on Mama’s Gun or Worldwide Underground, this is the one that still gets under my skin. This is what Nina Simone might have sounded like if she’d been raised on biscuits and collards in South Georgia.

Track: Home At Last
Album: Aja
Artist: Steely Dan

Aja was released in 1977 and I seriously doubt that a month has passed since when I haven’t listened to it. This is my record. Period. The fact that it is now 31 years old in no way tarnishes its freshness. Choosing a track was tough but this jazz funk retelling of Homer’s Odyssey is timeless and transcendental. And the horns…oh my.

Track: Once In A Lifetime
Album: Stop Making Sense
Artist: Talking Heads

Even if Jonathan Demme hadn’t directed the movie and Jordan Cronenweth hadn’t shot it, this live Talking Heads show would still be all a live album should be because of that big suit and the music. Same as it ever was.

Track: When Love Comes To Town
Album: Rattle And Hum
Artist: U2

I’m a Christian but often not a very good one. I’m thankful to have BB King, Bono and the boys here to remind us that there’s not a one of us out there who hasn’t “held the scabbard while the soldier threw the sword”. You just don’t want to miss the train when love comes to town.

Track: Lush Life
Album: John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman
Artist: John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman

The best recording of the best performance of the best jazz song ever written, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Track: Brand New Day
Album: Brand New Day
Artist: Sting

This is not Sting’s best solo work. That would probably be Fortress Around Your Heart or maybe Fragile. But I want to end on this note because it’s just so darned hopeful. I don’t know if it’s the simple, hooky chorus, the unabashed, child-like rhymes, or Stevie Wonder’s harp work that do the job but I do know that once upon a time this song helped me and a loved one over a patch jagged rocks. When in doubt “sell the stocks and spend all the money”.

Bonus Track: No Trust
Album: Thickfreakness
Artist: The Black Keys

I think the troubled soul of the late, great Junior Kimbrough may have passed directly into the rib cages of this blue-eyed duo from (of all places) Akron. If you like your southern blues gritty and rough, pull up a sticky, three legged chair and have a listen.


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