Desert Island Discs

David Lehman

You ask me to pick five records to take with me to a desert isle. Okay. Here's how I would attack the problem. My analytical intelligence takes over. I make categories and then sub-categories. On the baker's dozen principle, six equals five when that's what the dice show. And then I start making lists!

Five Favorite Sinatra albums
(arranged by Nelson Riddle and released by Capitol in the 1950s: chronological order)

  • Songs for Swinging Lovers ("I've Got You Under your Skin")
  • In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning ("Last Night When We Were Young")
  • Songs for Young Lovers / Swing Easy ("All of Me")
  • A Swingin' Affair ("The Lady is a Tramp")
  • FS Sings for Only the Lonely ("One for My Baby and One More for the Road")

Five other favorite Sinatra albums:

  • Sinatra / Basie 1962 ("Learnin' the Blues": Reprise)
  • Swing and Dance with F. S. ("It All Depend On You": Columbia)
  • Sinatra with Jobim ("Girl from Ipanema": Reprise)
  • The V-Discs (World War II issue)
  • The Frank Sinatra Collection: Best of the Radio Years (1940s)

Five favorite Non-Sinatra Vocalists (Male):

  • Mel Torme
  • Nat King Cole
  • Bing Crosby
  • Johnny Hartman
  • Joe Williams
  • Vic Damone

Five Favorite Non-Sinatra Vocalists (Female):

  • Ella Fitzgerald (Songbooks: complete)
  • Billie Holiday
  • Peggy Lee
  • Jo Stafford
  • Lee Wiley
  • Sarah Vaughan

Most Underrated Singers (with an exemplary song)

  • Fred Astaire ("Let's Face the Music and Dance")
  • Marilyn Monroe ("I'm Through with Love")
  • Al Jolson ("After You've Gone")
  • Dick Haymes ("It Might As Well be Spring")
  • Marlene Dietrich ("Ich Bin Von Kopf Bis Fuss Auf Liebe Eingestellt")
  • Helen Forrest ("All the Things You Are")

Five Favorite Beethoven Symphonies (descending order of favoritism):

  • 9
  • 7
  • 3
  • 5
  • 6

Five Favorite Non-Beethoven Classical:

  • Schubert, 8th Symphony (Unfinished)
  • Schubert, Trout
  • Schubert, String Quintet in C Major
  • Schubert, Lieder
  • Schubert, Piano Works (Sonatas etc)

Five Favorite non-Beethoven, non-Schubert, pre-1900:

  • Brahms, Violin Concerto
  • Mozart, Jupiter Symphony
  • Tchaikovsky, Fifth Symphony
  • Mahler, Symphony #1 (The Titan)
  • Bizet, Carmen
  • Debussy, Danse Tarantelle

Five Favorite Broadway scores:

  • Show Boat
  • South Pacific
  • Guys and Dolls
  • My Fair Lady
  • West Side Story

Five Favorite Hollywood scores:

  • The Wizard of Oz (Arlen and Harburg)
  • Swing Time (Kern and Fields)
  • Top Hat (Berlin)
  • An American in Paris (Gershwin and Gershwin)
  • The Band Wagon (Schwartz and Dietz)

Five Favorite Soundtracks:

  • Bernard Herrmann, Citizen Kane (Bernard Herrmann)
  • Hitchcock movies e.g. Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, Marnie (Bernard Herrmann)
  • On the Waterfront (Leonard Bernstein)
  • The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, The Man with the Golden Arm (Elmer Bernstein)
  • Once Upon a Time in America (Ennio Morricone)
  • Spellbound (Miklos Roszka)

Soundtracks Too Obvious to Mention:

  • Gone with the Wind, The Big Sleep, and Casablanca (Max Steiner)
  • Doctor Zhivago (Maurice Jarre)
  • The Godfather (Nino Rota)
  • Anatomy of a Murder (Duke Ellington)
  • Ascenseur pour l'echafaud (Miles Davis)

Favorite Jazz Records:

  • Miles Davis, Kind of Blue
  • John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman's Desert Island Disc [!] (with "My One and Only Love"),
  • Art Tatum, Solo Masterpieces
  • Teddy Wilson, Interaction
  • Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Moanin (with ""Come Rain or Come Shine")
  • The Amazing Bud Powell, volumes 1 and 2

Favorite Duets:

  • Ella and Louis, complete
  • Sinatra, Live Duets 1943-1957 (with such as Eileen Barton, Dinah Shore, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Lena Romay, Sy Oliver. PLUS "Let's Take an Old Fashioned Walk" with Doris Day and "My Romance" with Dinah Shore)
  • Oscar Peterson and Fred Astaire (the Norman Granz Sessions, 1952)
  • Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney (Fancy Meeting You Here, 1958)
  • Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting, Jo Stafford, et al
  • Bob Eberly and Helen O'Connell, "Tangerine" (Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra)

Five Biggest Surprises:

  • Ethel Merman!

Five Other Surprises:

  • Anita O'Day, "You're the Top" [with lyrics including "you're Art Tatum's left hand, you're the Benny Goodman swing band, you're Lester Young," the song is itself a guide to desert island planning]
  • Perry Como, "Hot Diggity Dog"
  • Dean Martin, "That's Amore"
  • Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1839-1869), "Cakewalk"
  • Emile Waldteufel (1837-1915), "Estudiantina waltz" (i.e. "My beer is Rhinegold, the dry beer" played by the Serenata String Quintet)

Five Favorite Big Bands:

  • Tommy Dorsey (I"m Getting Sentimental over You")
  • Benny Goodman ("Stompin at the Savoy")
  • Harry James ("You Made Me Love You")
  • Artie Shaw ("Begin the Beguine")
  • Count Basie ("All Right, Okay, You Win"; Joe Williams vocal)

Miscellaneous Favorites:

  • The Threepenny Opera (Brecht & Weill)
  • HMS Pinafore (Gilbert & Sullivan)
  • Porgy and Bess (Gershwin, Gershwin, Heyward)
  • Charles Trenet ("La Mer," "Que Reste-t-il de Nos Amours")
  • Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall, April 23, 1961
  • William Bolcom, piano, Joan Morris, mezzo-soprano: songs of Gershwin, Kern, Youmans

And just for the hell of it, five best Oscar winners:

  • "The Way You Look Tonight" (Kern and Fields): 1936
  • "Thanks for the Memory" (Ralph Rainger, Leo Robin): 1938
  • "Over the Rainbow" (Arlen and Harburg): 1939
  • "It Might As Well be Spring" (Rodgers & Hammerstein): 1945
  • "All the Way" (Jimmy Van Heusen & Sammy Cahn): 1957

Best nominated songs by Harold Arlen that didn't win Academy Awards:

  • "Blues in the Night" (lyrics Johnny Mercer): 1941
  • "That Old Black Magic" (Mercer): 1943
  • "My Shining Hour" (Mercer): 1943
  • "Accentuate the Positive" (Mercer): 1945
  • "The Man That Got Away" (Ira Gershwin): 1954

Five Greatest Dance Sequences to Visualize While Not Singing in the Rain

  • Gene Kelly on roller skates in It's Always Fair Weather
  • Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Swing Time or Top Hat
  • Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in The Band Wagon
  • Gene Kelly and Vera Ellen, "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" (I think this is in the movie Words and Music)
  • Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, An American in Paris

Now all I have to do is take one from each category and then narrow down the list to just five and we're in business. And then I guess I have to choose books.

More Desert Island Discs

Jennifer L. Knox

Full disclosure: despite my seven-year stint as a third-chair clarinetist, my musical vocabulary is limited to simian gestures, deep nods, and stink-face grimaces. No doubt, if I could describe, in proper terms, how music does what it does, I would be a phenomenally wealthy woman.

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Jen Benka

My great-grandmother Phoebe was French-Canadian. My mother, who was named for her, studied in Quebec for a spell, and eventually became a French teacher. She had several albums by Edith Piaf that she acquired in the 1950s and 1960s, and certain Piaf songs—like the plaintiff yet commanding "Mon Dieu" and "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien"— are part of the soundtrack of my childhood.

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