I’ve written before about Desert Island Discs, a BBC-produced podcast that interviews public figures about the eight songs they’d want access to if they were stuck on a desert island. In between explanations of each selected song, they discuss their upbringing, the growth of their careers, and what they anticipate in time to come. Its archive goes back to the 1940s, and while most new episodes feature figures only those in the UK would know, there are also plenty of appearances from American and global stars.
The reasoning behind guests’ song choices varies. Some may pick music that is significant to a certain time in their life or has always meant something to them. Others think more rationally, considering which records they wouldn’t tire of on a desert island. I tried my hand at this selection process with both angles in mind.
1) “Piano Man,” by Billy Joel
Now Paul is a real estate novelist / Who never had time for a wife / And he’s talkin’ with Davy, who’s still in the Navy / And probably will be for life
If you were born and raised on Long Island in the last 50 years, a love for Billy Joel and this particular song runs through your blood from the very second of your first breath. He’s our local bard, our very own William Shakespeare of music. This is the song that was there before my memories even formed — I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know it. Its lyrics ache with lost potential, pessimistic optimism, and the sad comfort of an often pathetic routine.
2) “Many the Miles,” by Sara Bareilles
There’s too many things I haven’t done yet / There’s too many sunsets I haven’t seen
I’m guilty of feeling the pressure to achieve certain milestones by a specific time. It’s easy to want to rush to the next step. The delivery of this song is simple, relying on the variety of Bareilles’ voice to initially perk your ears, but the lyrics are what keep me returning to the song. It’s okay to take your time. Success, romance, and a feeling of contentment or satisfaction will come in due time. Until then, relish in the beautiful things, both big and small, that you have to look forward to on the journey to more.
3) “Make Your Own Kind Of Music,” by Cass Elliot
You gotta make your own kind of music / Sing your own special song / Make your own kind of music / Even if nobody else sings along
This song plays at pivotal moments for two of my all-time favorite TV characters, Sue Heck and Desmond Hume. Seeing it used in those mediums was probably my first formal introduction to it, but since then, I’ve adopted it as motivation for life. I’m in a creative career, having grown up in a blue-collar area full of nurses, police officers, firefighters, teachers, and others whose professional paths are relatively straightforward. It’s easy to envy that security and assuredness, but “Make Your Own Kind of Music” is a reminder that treading your own way is admirable and worthwhile.
4) “One Day More,” from Les Misérables
Tomorrow we’ll be far away, / Tomorrow is the judgment day / Tomorrow we’ll discover what our God in Heaven has in store
If I’m stuck on an island, I’ll need at least one ensemble musical number to belt out and help lighten the mood. “One Day More” has special significance because I was first introduced to Les Misérables in tenth grade when our school performed it. This was before the 2012 movie and the show’s return to Broadway, so as teenagers, we didn’t know the show like kids a few years later might have. Many of my friends were in the ensemble or stage crew, and I watched it in the audience with more friends, simultaneously crying and laughing as barricade deaths of our classmates ensued. From then on, a friend and I always texted each other “One Day More” lyrics on the night before our last final of a term. The overall score always reminds me of my high school friends.
5) “Your Song,” by Elton John
So excuse me forgetting, but these things I do / You see I’ve forgotten if they’re green or they’re blue / Anyway the thing is, what I really mean / Yours are the sweetest eyes I’ve ever seen
As a writer, I love “story songs” and music with well-meaning or multilayered lyrics. I think I discovered “Your Song” when I was 15 or 16, a particularly impressionable time when it came to my pop culture consumption. To me, this was the purest expression of love there was, and I still find it so romantic and sweet.
6) “Fifteen,” by Taylor Swift
And when you’re fifteen feeling like there’s nothing to figure out / Well, count to ten, take it in / This is life before you know who you’re gonna be
I really love Lover, but I have such a nostalgic soft spot for Taylor Swift’s Fearless album and this era of her career. I discovered her first album about a year before the Fearless release, and her songwriting captured every angsty, 13-year-old trauma I was experiencing at the time. During the Fearless launch, “Fifteen” assured me that I wasn’t alone in wanting this young, special-seeming age to be great, but now at 24 years old, I’m stirred by how true its message is to that teenage mindset and what time and perspective have taught me about it.
7) “Friday I’m in Love,” by The Cure
It’s a wonderful surprise / To see your shoes and your spirits rise / Throwing out your frown / And just smiling at the sound
This song makes me smile. Plus, it simultaneously reminds me of a montage in About Time, one of my favorite movies, and walking down a London street on a Friday night, surrounded by so much charming life that I was pulsing with adoration for the city.
8) “Mrs. Robinson,” by Simon & Garfunkel
Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon / Going to the candidates’ debate / Laugh about it, shout about it / When you’ve got to choose / Every way you look at it, you lose
Looking back, I think much of my musical taste was influenced by the kinds of songs my parents played when I was little. On long car rides, my dad always played a CD he burned himself, packed with R.E.M., Luther Vandross, Harry Chapin, Billy Joel, Peter Gabriel, and Simon & Garfunkel. Like “Piano Man,” “Mrs. Robinson” is a song I’ve always known because of my parents’ affinity for it. Even now, I’m often drawn to the acoustic sound and deceivingly heavy lyrics of 1960s and ’70s folk music.