By most accounts, the concept of so-called "Desert Island Discs" — at least as it relates to rock and roll journalism — began with a book published in 1979 called Stranded: Rock and Roll For A Desert Island, edited by one of America's foremost rock journalists, Griel Marcus.
In that book, Marcus posed the simple question "What one record would you bring to a desert island and why?" to a panel of America's leading rock scribes at the time, including people like Dave Marsh, Robert Christgau, and the late, great Lester Bangs.
In their detailed essays, this rather esteemed panel mostly stuck to the rock and roll of the era, and wrote about the exact names you would expect in a book like this one. It was a cast of all the usual suspects like Van Morrison, The Beach Boys, The Kinks, and The Eagles with the somewhat occasional surprise of a random choice like Ronnie Spector (well okay, maybe not so random).
Since that book's publication, Desert Island Discs eventually became a solid part of the rock and roll landscape. In its monthly Pulse Magazine for example, Tower Records (R.I.P.), ran a regular feature asking readers to send in a top ten of their own so-called "DIDs," that often generated some very interesting and eclectic results.
Here in Seattle, our local adult-alternative station The Mountain does the same with its listeners daily, and often even devotes entire weekend blocks of programming to the concept. I'm sure there are any number of stations across the country who do the exact same thing. Unfortunately, here in Seattle, Mountain listener's DIDs tend to be somewhat samey, leaning heavily towards the Dave Matthews, Bob Marleys, and John Mayers of the world.
So while the Desert Island Discs concept is hardly a new one, it has been in dire need of a facelift for some time now. As much as things have changed within the musical landscape since the 1979 publication of Stranded, that much more has changed in the world of rock journalism itself, and in the way music is actually written about these days.
Marooned: The Next Generation of Desert Island Discs is that much-needed update. Presenting itself as the semi-official sequel to Stranded (it even duplicates the cover art of the original book), editor Phil Freeman (author of Running The Voodoo Down: The Electric Music of Miles Davis), poses the DID question to a group of modern music scribes, including such critics as Daphne Carr, Greg Tate, and hip-hop journalist Jeff Chang.
Not surprisingly, the choices here lean less toward the rock classics of this book's more famous predecessor, and instead tend to veer all across the musical map. The choices covered here represent everything from heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden and The Scorpions, to jazz masters such as Davis, Alice Coltrane, and Sonny Rollins, to the semi-obscure hip hop of someone like Divine Styler (who merits a particularly passionate essay from Scott Seward here).
As is, many of the choices here are, at least on the surface, somewhat curious ones. This is a book where both Dionne Warwick and Ronnie James Dio are warranted the critical consideration of John Darnielle and Anthony Miccio respectively. Manassas, the long since forgotten band fronted at one time by Stephen Stills is the unlikely recipient of critical props here by Kandia Crazy Horse, the editor of Charlotte's Creative Loafing.
Even Freeman's own choice here of Motorhead's No Remorse is an interesting one, given his own authorship of a serious examination of Miles Davis "electric period" in his own book. Speaking of Davis' electric period, the fusion masterpiece Bitches Brew is placed under the magnifying glass of Greg Tate. Other bands and artists who receive the DID treatment in Marooned include an eclectic mix of everyone from Elton John to the Meters to Brand Nubian to Stereolab to Spiritualized to John Martyn.
In the book's final chapter just prior to rolling the writers credits, Freeman invites the reader and potential listener to "Return To Treasure Island" as he then proceeds to recount a rather extensive list that attempts to answer the question: "What has happened in music since 1979?"
Here again, the list Freeman recounts is somewhat subjective. Most of the groundbreaking, or otherwise essential releases of the past twenty-five years or so make the grade. Hip-hop is represented by Public Enemy, De La Soul, Eric B & Rakim, the Beastie Boys, and so forth. Elsewhere, everybody you'd expect from Nirvana to Wilco to Lucinda Williams to Radiohead to the Fugees to Tom Waits makes the cut.
But these sort of lists being what they are by their very nature, it is still nowhere near being complete. Where for example is Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska? Why is Johnny Cash's entire American Recordings series narrowed down to his single cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt"?
To be fair to the authors here (who I am assuming all contributed to the "Treasure Island" list), there is of course no way that a list denoting every important musical event since 1979 couldn't have come up at least a buck or two short. As is, I've yet to find a better representation of at least the modern rock period anywhere than in this book's "Treasure Island" chapter.
For students of rock journalism, especially in its more modern stripe, I would rate Marooned as an essential read. For those seeking only a quickie guide to some great music that crosses a variety of genres, you'd be likewise well served to point your iPods in the general vicinity of this book.
Oh, and feel free to leave your own list of DIDs in the comments section below.