Post #1,500 – The “Top 5 All-Time Desert Island Albums” Experiment!

Life in the Vinyl Lane started on a bit of a lark. I figured it was something I’d do for a bit and then lose interest. But almost six years and 1,499 posts later, it’s still here.

A few months ago I could see post #1,500 on the horizon and figured I should do something to mark the occasion, but inspiration failed to strike as the pending milestone got closer and closer. I lamented this situation to the lovely Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane on Friday night while enjoying some cocktails and watching High Fidelity, and she suggested getting Top 5 album lists from friends and writing about that. In my hazy state I started sending out texts and FB messages at a rapid pace, and when I woke up in the morning I couldn’t figure out why I had so many notifications on my phone. And then I remembered. And I had a lot of work to do.

The rules here were simple. Your Top 5 albums. Full stop. Do greatest hits collections count? They do if they’re in your Top 5. EPs? Check. 12″ singles? If it’s in your Top 5. Reel to reel? Yes. If it was recorded, then yes yes yes. You decide, friend.

And decide you did. Over the next two days I heard back from 30 people for a total of 150 albums. Contributors included a couple of my best friends since high school, people I work with, family members, people I met through mutual music fandom, and of course some musicians too. They work in insurance and construction and graphic design; they’re business owners, video game designers, and doctors (both medical and academic). The one thing they all have in common is their passion for music.

I have to admit that the pool of respondents skews in a few specific directions, which certainly has an impact on this list. They’re generally between 40-50 years old, with the youngest 29 and the oldest probably somewhere approaching 60-ish. They’re predominantly male. And if I’m being honest, most of ’em (but not all) are caucasian. I think we have six counties represented – the US, Canada, Iceland, Belgium, England, and Argentina, so that gives us at least a little diversity. Clearly this is not a scientifically valid sampling of “music fans”, but it was the best I could do in a weekend. And despite the somewhat homogeneous nature of the group, there’s actually some interesting diversity within the list.

The list of all the albums is below. I decided to group them by decade, then by artist. If more than one person picked it, it’s in bold. If I’ve written about it on the blog before, it’s linked.



  • A-Ha – How Can I Sleep With Your Voice In My Head (2003)
  • Box Set – Live Duo (2004)
  • Hardcore Superstar – Thank You (For Letting Us Be Ourselves) (2001)
  • HIM – Venus Doom (2007)
  • Jurrasic 5 – Quality Control (2000)
  • Lady Gaga – The Fame Monster (2009)
  • Maroon 5 – Songs About Jane (2002)
  • Neko Case & Her Boyfriends – Furnace Room Lullaby (2000)
  • PJ Harvey – Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea (200)
  • Ryan Adams – Love Is Hell (2003)
  • Various – O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack (2000)


  • A Tribe Called Quest – Low End Theory (1991)
  • Alice In Chains – MTV Unplugged (1996)
  • Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works II (1994)
  • Autechre – Tri-Repeater ++ (1996)
  • Bad Religion – Against The Grain (1990)
  • Björk – Homogenic (1997)
  • Daft Punk – Homework (1997)
  • Dandy Warhols – Come Down (1997)
  • Death – Spiritual Healing (1990)
  • Depeche Mode – Violator (1990)
  • Dr. Dre – 2001 (1999)
  • Dr. Dre – The Chronic (1992)
  • Dr. Octagon – Dr. Octagonecologyst (1996)
  • Einsturzende Neubauten – Strategies Against Architecture II (1991)
  • Face To Face – Live (1998)
  • GG Allin – Carnival Of Excess (1995)
  • Gusgus – This Is Normal (1999)
  • Jagúar – Jagúar (1999)
  • John Haitt – Haitt Comes Alive At Budokan? (1994)
  • Luna – Penthouse (1995)
  • Madonna – The Immaculate Collection (1990)
  • Manic Street Preachers – Generation Terrorists (1992)
  • Metallica – Metallica (1991)
  • MF Doom – Operation: Doomsday (1999)
  • Morrissey – Vauxhall And I (1993)
  • NAS – Illmatic (1994)
  • Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)
  • Notorious B.I.G. – Ready To Die (1994)
  • Oasis – Be Here Now (1997)
  • Our Lady At Peace – Clumsy (1997)
  • Panasonic – Kulma (1996)
  • Pearl Jam – No Code (1996)
  • Pearl Jam – Ten (1991)
  • Pennywise – About Time (1995)
  • Radiohead – OK Computer (1997)
  • Radiohead – The Bends (1994)
  • Silkworm – Libertine (1994)
  • Slayer – Divine Intervention (1994)
  • Social Distortion – Live At The Roxy (1998)
  • Sting – Ten Summoner’s Tales (1993)
  • The Roots – Illadelph Halflife (1996)
  • The Shamen – En-Tact (1990)
  • The Tragically Hip – Fully Completely (1992)
  • Turbonegro – Apocalypse Dudes (1998)
  • Wu-Tang Clan – Wu-Tang Forever (1997)


  • AC/DC – Back In Black (1980)
  • Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (1989)
  • Bonnie Raitt – Nick Of Time (1989)
  • Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska (1982)
  • Bubbi Morthens – Kona (1985)
  • David Sylvian – Gone To Earth (1986)
  • De La Soul – 3 Feet High And Rising (1989)
  • Def Leppard – Hysteria (1987)
  • Depeche Mode – 101 (1988)
  • Die Krupps – Volle Kraft Voraus! (1982)
  • Eagles – Eagles Live (1980)
  • Guns ‘N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction (1987)
  • Martin Gore – Counterfeit (1989)
  • Metallica – Master Of Puppets (1986)
  • Michael Jackson – Bad (1987)
  • Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982)
  • Mötley Crüe – Dr. Feelgood (1989)
  • NWA – Straight Outta Compton (1988)
  • Pixies – Doolittle (1989)
  • Prince – Purple Rain (1984)
  • Prince – Dirty Mind (1980)
  • Queensrÿche – Operation: Mindcrime (1988)
  • Sugarcubes – Life Is Good (1988)
  • The Jesus And Mary Chain – Automatic (1989)
  • Tom Waits – Swordfishtrombones (1983)
  • Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman (1988)
  • Various – Rocky IV Soundtrack (1982)
  • Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston (1985)


  • Bill Staines – Roseville Fair/Whistle Of The Jay (1979)
  • The Clash – London Calling (1979)
  • Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)
  • Duke Ellington – Mood Indigo (1973)
  • Eagles – Eagles Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (1976)
  • Elvis Costello – This Year’s Model (1978)
  • Fela Kuti – Fela’s London Scene (1971)
  • Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (1977)
  • Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (1971)
  • Gil Scott-Heron – Bridges (1977)
  • King Tubby – The Roots Of Dub (1975)
  • KISS – Alive! (1975)
  • KISS – Dressed To Kill (1975)
  • Kraftwerk – The Man-Machine (1978)
  • Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti (1975)
  • Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
  • Pink Floyd – Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)
  • Robert Watson – Estimated Time Of Arrival (1978)
  • Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street (1972)
  • Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure (1973)
  • Rufus & Chaka Kahn – Ask Rufus (1977)
  • Stevie Wonder – Songs In The Key Of Life (1976)
  • The Sensational Alex Harvey Band – Tomorrow Belongs To Me (1975)
  • The Who – Who’s Next (1971)
  • Van Halen – Van Halen I (1977)


  • Beatles – White Album (1968)
  • Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
  • Beatles – Revolver (1966)
  • Beatles – Rubber Soul (1965)
  • Bill Cosby – Why Is There Air? (1965)
  • Crosby, Stills & Nash – Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)
  • Etta James – At Last (1961)
  • Glen Campbell – Wichita Lineman (1968)
  • Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II (1969)
  • Nancy Sinatra – You Only Live Twice Soundtrack (1967)
  • Bill Evans et al – The Blues And The Abstract Truth (1961)
  • Sonny Rollins – The Bridge (1962)


  • Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out (1959)

Phew… that’s a lot of great albums! Of the 132 on the list, my best guess is I’ve heard just shy of 50 of them all the way through… so I still have some work to do.

A few things stick out to me. This leans fairly heavily towards the rock/metal arena, which is not surprising both based on the people who participated and what has constituted the bulk of popular music since the 1960s. But there’s definitely some diversity here. We’ve got a fair amount of hip hop (though none after the 1990s…) and a bit of jazz as well. Some electronica made it to the list, including a wide range of subgenres – we’ve got house, ambient, IDM, and straight-up industrial (thanks in part to Alexandra!). On the other side of the coin, there are some glaring holes here too. Only one country and one reggae album, though surprisingly (and refreshingly) they’re not by Johnny Cash and Bob Marley, the two artists who even appear in the music libraries of people who don’t like those genres. My buddy Patrick R contributed a classical album, but then changed his mind a few minutes later, so no classical here either.

Another big surprise is that just under 1/3 of these albums came out in the 1990s. I don’t know about you, but in my mind the 90s were sort of a cultural wasteland. I mean, the prior decades all seem to have their own character, whether that’s the Roaring 20s or the hippie 60s or the big-shoulder-pads-and-bigger-hair 80s. But the 90s? What did the 90s give us? Flannel as a fashion statement? Maybe I was too busy learning to be a responsible adult to know what was going on. But one thing is certain – there was a lot of good music. I expected more representation from the 1980s, and was a bit surprised too that there wasn’t more from the post-2000 era. But the latter shouldn’t have been unexpected as often the pivotal albums are those that come to our attention in those pivotal teenage years, which for this demographic would be in the 1980s and 90s.

As you can see, 15 albums were selected by more than one person. Of these, 14 were picked twice, and one album appeared on FIVE lists. That album is Paul’s Boutique. Now, to be completely transparent, four of the people who picked that Beasties’ classic were people I went to high school with – two guys who are still two of my closest friends (Brent and Norberto) and my wife (Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane). The other was our friend Travis, who we met while standing in a long line at Easy Street Records on Record Store Day a few years back. So… hardly a random sampling of people since four of us have a shared history with the album. But still, we all had to pick it, and the four of us who went to school together have NO other albums in common at all… though Travis and I both have Master of Puppets on our lists, so maybe we’re kindred spirits after all (we went together to see Metallica live in Seattle on their most recent tour), and we may have to fight Greg and Brandon since they both selected a post-And Justice For All Metallica album in their Top 5s (old school versus new school Metallica fans have a long-simmering feud).

There were a handful of surprises here for me. Brent, who I’ve known forever and was the best man at our wedding, included Box Set’s Live Duo, a band I’ve never once heard him mention and who I had never heard of until now. He also didn’t pick anything by Def Leppard, which almost caused me to fall off the sofa in disbelief when I got his list via text. Greg had the courage to pick NWA and Madonna… and Metallica and Tracy Chapman, so he gets points for being honest about what he likes (♠). Wim Van Hooste, who I’ve gotten to know through out mutual love of Icelandic music and who has been documenting the music scene there since before I went to my first Airwaves in 2009, only had one Icelandic artist on his Top 5 list, the Sugarcubes. That being said, his list turned me on to The Shamen, which I need to try to track down. Other omissions that surprised me given the submitter were Ariel not including a Depeche Mode album, Andy leaving out Gusgus and Ghostigital, and Tim’s original list excluding The Tragically Hip, though he changed his mind as soon as I pointed that out and had me remove The Doors to make room for his fellow Canadians. Hoser. It’s also really light on grunge given that I’m connected with a lot of you via time spent in the Seattle area in the 1980s and 90s – only one album each by Nirvana and Alice In Chains (♣).

In addition to learning more about each of you through this project, I was also enlightened to some things I need to track down. Most notably is Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life, who both Celeste and Dave mentioned; I’ve never spent any time in the Stevie Wonder catalog, and this sounds like the perfect place to start. Erik Foster of the band Dirty Sidewalks is pointing me towards some specific selections by Oasis, Morrissey, and the Dandy Warhols with his selections, while Gestur is making me think I need to expand my Slayer repertoire beyond their first four albums to check out Divine Intervention. I also clearly have some more hip hop research ahead of me.

I want to thank each and every one of you who shared your lists with me, and in doing so gave me a peek inside your musical psyches. While I haven’t mentioned everyone by name, you know who you are and how grateful I am to have you as part of my life.

I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t make a quick shout-out to the musicians who contributed. They’re out there living their dreams and making this tremendous art, so if you get the chance go check out some of their stuff, and if you like it, kick them a few bucks and buy it! They need our support to make more amazing music.

And lastly, since you were nice enough to share your Top 5 lists with me, here’s mine. In no particular order…

  • Gusgus – Arabian Horse
  • Metallica – Master Of Puppets
  • Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II
  • John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts
  • Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique

Hope to see you all again soon, and thanks for reading!

(♠) I feel like if those four bands were playing a festival together, they’d all get together on stage and play together on a metal song about getting pulled over by the cops while driving a fast car and barely wearing any clothes. I’d go see it.

(♣) Pearl Jam is not grunge. It’s not. So don’t even start with me on that.