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The Desert Island Game: What’s the Best Music?

If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one album, what would you pick? Here's what our staffers declared they just couldn't survive without.

Michael Jackon “Thriller”

Each song on this album has its own separate but wonderful memory for me, and would surely take my mind off of being deserted: me, eagerly awaiting the World Premiere of the Billie Jean video, with my whole family on the edge of our seats. Michael’s Motown 25 performance. Michael shimmying down the hallway in his Beat It video. (I wished upon a star that one day we would marry!) When PYT comes on, I can’t help but dance. And Lady In My Life will undoubtedly be my wedding song. The only track I would skip is Thriller. I love it, but on a deserted island … it would scare me.—Adrienne Farr, assistant to the chief content officer/editor-in-chief

The Band “The Last Waltz”

Picking “The Last Waltz” feels almost like cheating, given the incredible number of music legends that joined The Band on stage that night. I’ve been listening to The Band ever since my dad first introduced them to me on a family road trip, with their distinct blend of folk, blues, country, and rock and roll. But it’s the bittersweetness of their farewell concert that adds a powerful emotional element to the listening experience.—Caitlin O’Connell, assistant editor

Tim McGraw “A Place in the Sun”

This 13-year old album elicits many emotions for me, with McGraw’s soulful slower ballads and upbeat songs, whose catchy melodies have yet to feel old to me. The album as a whole is optimistic and entertaining, and each song tells a story.—Drew Anne Scarantino, editorial assistant, magazine rights

Darius Rucker “Learn to Live”

I absolutely love Rucker’s unique voice, and his amazing tune “Alright” reminds me to be thankful and optimistic, even on the hardest days.—Kelsey Grad, intern

PJ Harvey “Rid of Me”

PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me has been an album that I have listened to continuously since it was released in 1993. When I saw the band in concert in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1993, it was a night I’ll never forget. I made friends that I still have to this day! The album builds its tension nicely, and the music is very motivating—which will be good when I’d have to build a hut and crack coconuts.—Jeff Nesmith, digital production director

Stevie Wonder “Songs in the Key of Life”

I’m cheating and picking a double album, Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. Few things in life are better than classic Stevie, and this album features the megahits Isn’t She Lovely, Love’s in Need of Love Today, and As. Since the island will be deserted, I won’t have to worry about looking dorky dancing alone.—Dawn Raffel, features editor, books

Steely Dan “Aja”

It’s one of those albums that I hear something new every time I listen to it. Every song evokes some kind of memory or nostalgic emotion in me.—Dean Abatemarco, art director

Bach: “Cello Suites”

If you don’t already know Bach, his Cello Suites, especially Suite No. 1 in G Major, offers ripe, round sound that stands the test of time.—Diane Dragan, executive digital director

The Weakerthans “Left and Leaving”

I already listen to The Weakerthans’ Left and Leaving on repeat (it’s my most-listened-to album since its 2000 release). Stare out into the horizon and absorb the beautiful simplicity of this mellow mix of expert lyricism and wittiness. The words are affectionate, heavy, emotional, and sincere, but there’s a lightness and quirkiness that I can’t pull myself away from—I’m forever hooked.—Emilie Harjes, photo researcher

Bob Marley

Being stranded is hypothetically a romantic notion, but I choose Bob Marley because I have never tired of his music since I began listening to him in the early seventies, and I think he’d help me with the challenge of staying sane, calm, and spiritually grounded. I can sing, dance, and meditate to Marley—and each listen guarantees a positive, hopeful feeling. To quote the Rastafarian himself, “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”—Bill Black, photo director

Radiohead “OK Computer”

This is one of those amazing, rare albums that transforms with age and seems to somehow take on new relevance with each listen. In other words, it’s the perfect choice for a lifetime of tropical isolation far, far away from the modern urbanity that the music examines. Yes, it’s been 15 years since this album came out, but it still eclipses everything I’ve heard since. Haunting. —Damon Beres, assistant editor

Tom Petty “Full Moon Fever”

I remember: My parents had just bought our first CD-player sound system and my dad and I laid out on the living room floor as we blasted this album. We sat there for an hour or so but it only felt like a few seconds. Whenever I hear “Free Fallin” or “Face in the Crowd,” I picture our feet side by side tapping against the hardwood floor. —Alison Caporimo, associate editor

Dave Matthews Band “Before These Crowded Streets”

People often ask me what it is about the Dave Matthews Band that I love so much. Why, summer after summer, do I travel thousands of miles to see this band from Charlottesville, Virginia play? I’ve never really been able to give an appropriate answer. But silently, I always think the exact same thing. It’s that Almost Famous quote: “They don’t even know what it is to be a fan. Y’know? To truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts.” This is why it hurts.—Perri O. Blumberg, Assistant Editor

Bob Dylan “Blonde on Blonde”

Why Bob Dylan’s double-album masterpiece from 1966? Simple: Mass quantity of Dylan genius at his absolute peak. Visions of Johanna, Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, I Want You, Temporary Like Achilles, Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat, 4th Time Around (a true fave, listen to it)—the incredible list goes on and on. No album from that time can match it for variety and originality, not even “Sergeant Pepper” (let the debate begin). Best lyrics ever? Check. Under-appreciated melodies with eerie staying power? Check. Sneaky great musicianship? Check. And let’s not that forget iconic fold-out album cover of Bob with his coat and scarf, looking like a neo-Dickens character with a head full of secrets. Which reminds me … I’ll need a turntable.  —David Noonan, features editor, national affairs

Michael Jackson “The Essential Michael Jackson”

Full disclosure: I’m a Michael Jackson mega-fan. This collection has selections from the King of Pop’s entire music catalog—from his early days in The Jackson 5 to his more recent solo work—which makes it a satisfying mix of hits. Plus, there is a song for your every mood! If you’re feeling rebellious listen to “Smooth Criminal.” If you’re feeling self-reflective: “Man in the Mirror.”
If you’re feeling nostalgic: “Remember the Time.” —Lauren Gniazdowski, assistant editor 

Various Artists: “Motown: The Complete No. 1’s”

If stranded on a desert island (with a conveniently charged and functioning iPod), I’d escape to Hitsville U.S.A. with the musical stylings of Motown legends. This 10-CD box set ditches what’s new and hip for what’s timeless and hipper to celebrate a musical era when simplicity set the bar. From “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” to “Baby Love,” this collection is gimmick-less, raw musical talent that I’d happily play on loop. All it takes to appreciate the sweet sounds of The Supremes, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and their soulful comrades is some respect for pop music at its prime. Sorry, Biebs. —Sheri Alzeerah, intern

Coldplay: “A Rush of Blood to the Head”

Growing up, my parents exposed me to classical music (read: endless Beethoven) as I agonized over violin lessons. And then Coldplay happened. The band opened my eyes—my ears, if you will—when I heard “Clocks” for the first time. The entire album, is riveting with Martin’s haunting yet comforting vocals in “God Put a Smile upon Your Face,” “The Scientist,” and “Warning Sign.” So yes, I’m confessing that I have an embarrassing amount of Coldplay in my iTunes, and that I’d bring their music along to a desert island. But I do owe the band a lot. —Shirley Li, intern

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest