Welcome to the 4th Artist Picks feature. This feature was created about seven months ago, and I was hoping to make it a more regular feature, but, totally understandably, it takes people a while to prepare their list of what could be their Top 10 Songs of All Time. To refresh your memories, let me recap what this feature entails. We are asking people, be they artists, listeners, or fans, what they would do if they were stranded on an island with an iPod that held only 10 songs. Which songs would they pick and why?
Brett Shady began writing songs four years ago after a cross-country tour with the band Golden Shoulders. His songs paint a picture of heartbreak and regret and raise questions of good and evil deeply rooted in the American songwriting tradition. Most of the ten songs on his debut album, The Devil To Pay, were written about his move from Northern California’s gold country to Los Angeles ten years ago, a period Brett says was “full of isolation, depression and struggling to find my place in the world.” Recorded in Nevada City by renowned engineer/producer Dana Gumbiner, the album features an ensemble of veteran musicians and is now available.
Here’s what Brett had to say:
I’ve been agonizing over this list for the past few days, as I always tend to do when trying to come up with a definitive list because I know I’ll think of something I left off or forgot. And I’m sure I’ll have a completely different list within about a month. But the basis of this feature is very cruel anyway: only having ten songs on a deserted island? For the rest of my life?
Well, here’s my list. I tried my best to include individual songs that really mean something to me personally, instead of just trying to represent my favorite bands or artists, which means I regrettably have left off Randy Newman, Bob Dylan, Elliott Smith and others (picking one song from them would be nearly impossible so I chose not to). Anyway, without further ado and in no particular order:
1. “Summertime” – The Zombies
The Zombies were all I was listening to during one of the my best and most unforgettable summers. It was after I graduated high school but before moving to LA. I was unaware of how complicated and unforgiving life was about to become, but knew something was about to change. It was an exciting, innocent and heartbreaking summer. Colin Blunstone’s vocals are so smooth and cool, especially on their version of this song. It’s been done by so many great people, but this Zombies cover is probably my favorite.
2. “The Only Living Boy in New York” – Simon and Garfunkel
When I was recording my album, we were trying to come up with a percussion idea or something and someone suggested listening to this to get an idea. As soon as it started, just hearing it coming through the same speakers I’d been listening to my songs over and over on, I felt so defeated and depressed by how beautiful it was. It’s always been one of my favorites from S&G, but hearing it then just illustrated how much further I had to go. It was a wonderful ego-check and I think I’d need to have it handy.
3. “Detour Ahead” – Billie Holiday
When I was about ten, I had a Blue Note Female Jazz Vocalists cassette tape compilation that I would listen to every night to get to sleep. It had about ten or twelve songs that got burned into my brain, this one being the song that stuck with me the longest and most intensely. It’s definitely in the top five of the best songs I’ve ever heard. So good! I think I’ll actually put it on right now.
4. “Bring It On Home To Me” – Sam Cooke
It was between this, “These Arms of Mine” by Otis Redding and “Try Me” by James Brown as the one soul ballad I would have to have on that horrible songless island. But Sam edged the other two out slightly because this song is one of the greatest ever recorded.
5. “When You Find Out” – The Nerves
This list so far is missing some energy. I’m sure I’d also want to dance around at some point, and this song would definitely get the job done. There was a period of time several years ago when I was looking all over the place for this song and couldn’t find it anywhere. Now that it’s readily available, I’ll never have an iPod without it.
6. “Big Iron” – Marty Robbins
I don’t think I could go too long without hearing Marty Robbins’s voice (and those background vocals!). I was going to pick “El Paso”, but my friend Dana played it live once and had me come up and sing with him on it and I screwed up the lyrics pretty bad, so I figure it would just make me think of that over and over again. There are too many other great Marty Robbins songs to choose from anyway.
7. “You and Your Sister” – This Mortal Coil
This version of the Chris Bell song is one that I would never want to be without. Kim Deal and Tanya Donelly’s vocals can make my heart totally melt or break it into pieces depending on when I listen to it. There’s a quality in those voices that, along with the simple arrangement, is hard to forget or top.
8. “Ode to LRC” – Band of Horses
I think I need to have at least one song from the 2000s. I figure it would make a nice moment if I’m sitting, watching the sun set on my private island while hearing Ben Bridwell sing, “The world is such a wonderful place” and then it hits that great crescendo… Ah, life.
9. “Rise Above” – Black Flag
I’d need some aggression so things don’t get too sappy. This song can act as the representative for all the punk in my heart. One of the best live shows I ever saw was the Black Flag Tribute/West Memphis 3 Benefit at Amoeba Music in Hollywood with Henry Rollins, Keith Morris and Chuck Dukowski. When Rollins came out and ripped into Rise Above, I knew it was a moment I’d always remember. Screaming at the top of my lungs with my good friends Matt and Geoff along with the rest of the crowd in positive solidarity is a moment I’d love to have with me there.
10. “Familiar Terrain” – Bobby Birdman
This song doesn’t seem to be available and I’m not sure if he ever recorded it in a studio. Back in ‘99, I moved from Nevada City, California to Los Angeles (Van Nuys, to be exact). During my first trip back to my hometown the following year, my buddy Adam gave me a cassette tape of a show I had just missed. My friend Rob was now called Bobby Birdman and he played with Adam’s great band at the time, The Gears (not the LA punk band, the Beatlesy pop band) at a local coffee shop. I completely wore out that tape over the next few years. This song in particular became the soundtrack to what I had left behind: the security and warmth of a beautiful hometown that I knew I had to get out of but also knew would haunt me from that day on. It begins with my friend Alison’s awesome laugh and voices that I can instantly recognize talking in the background during some awkward crowd participation, and then Rob totally kills it. Whatever the song meant to him, to me it will always be a way I can get back home.
“Any Old Wind That Blows” – Johnny Cash
“Marie” – Randy Newman
“So I Finally Belong To The Night” – Little Wings
“Unchained Melody” – The Fleetwoods
“Take It Or Leave It” – The Strokes