The Friday Symposium: Fifteen Albums

I’ve been a fan of the BBC’s Desert Island Disc series for as long as I can remember. The original premise was that if you were cast away on a desert island (presumably one with a working electrical power grid), which eight recordings would you choose to bring with you? Across the entirety of musical history, eight is just too restrictive a number. I find it hard to limit just jazz to even 20, let alone “classical” music with more than 500 years worth of compositions to choose from. So here I propose 15–five from each of the three major genres (“classical”, jazz and popular). I’ve limited myself to one album/composition per artist to enforce some diversity.


  • The Beatles, Rubber Soul
  • The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds
  • The Kinks, We Are the Village Green Preservation Society
  • The Velvet Underground and Nico
  • David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars


  • Miles Davis, The Birth of the Cool
  • John Coltrane, A Love Supreme
  • Charles Mingus, Ah Um
  • Thelonious Monk, Brilliant Corners
  • Lenny Tristano, Tristano


  • J.S. Bach, Mass in B Minor (Herreweghe/Collegium Vocale Gent)
  • Gregorio Allegri, Miserere (Tallis Scholars)
  • Ludwig van Beethoven, Late String Quartets (Hagen Quartett)
  • Claude Debussy, Preludes (Pierre-Laurent Aimard)
  • Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection” (Bernstein/NY Philharmonic)

Those are my 15. Lou Reed makes the cut; Mozart does not. I’m sure he would find that endlessly hilarious. And despite my deep love of 20th century music, the first omission on the classical list was Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers (Gardiner). Then Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. And then Dimitri Shostakovich and a symphony never to be named later. No Wagner; no Liszt. Interestingly, it was Hendrix who was first out from the popular list (Electric Ladyland), then Genesis (Selling England by the Pound). And then a Radiohead album, maybe. Jazz was particularly brutal for me–no room for Bill Evans, Art Blakey, Lee Konitz, Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Wes Montgomery, Art Tatum, Horace Silver, Eric Dolphy, Lee Morgan, Bud Powell, Chet Baker, the Modern Jazz Quartet — and the list goes on and on.

Which got me thinking about a Desert Island Bar. Going back to the original definition of eight albums, which eight bottles would I want in endless supply on my desert island. And since the BBC always assumed sufficient electricity to power a stereo, I will assume sufficient refrigeration and the like here. To keep things sporting, I’ve put a notional cap of about $100 on each bottle, although most are far less expensive.

Desert Island Bar

  • Gin: Plymouth
  • Scotch: Ardbeg Uigeadail
  • Rum: Kirk & Sweeney Gran Reserva
  • Bitter: Campari
  • Vermouth: Dolin Dry
  • White Wine: Château Pape Clément Blanc
  • Red Wine: Williams Selyem Sonoma Coast
  • Champage: Louis Roederer Vintage Blanc de Blanc

WIll I regret leaving off sweet vermouth? Yes, but not more than Mozart or Monteverdi. Ultimately, music feeds the soul much more than any wine or spirit can.

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