If you haven’t heard of Desert Island Discs, it’s a long-running BBC radio program where guests are asked to imagine what eight discs they would want with them if they were marooned on a desert island.1 Typically these discs are comprised of one track, but I think it makes more sense to imagine you have eight full albums with you. Since the BBC have somehow yet to invite me, I decided to try the exercise myself with two modifications. The first — selecting albums instead of tracks, and the second — avoiding greatest hits or compilation albums, as those feel like cheating.

I found the narrowing down difficult. I started by going through my Amazon Music library and selecting my favourite artists and groups. This led to the following list (in alphabetical order by first name):

  1. Bob Dylan
  2. Cat Stevens
  3. Desmond Dekker
  4. Donovan
  5. Edvard Grieg
  6. Everly Brothers
  7. John Lennon
  8. The Kinks
  9. La Roux
  10. Led Zeppelin
  11. Metallica
  12. Neil Young
  13. Nirvana
  14. Pink Floyd
  15. The Pixies
  16. The Waterboys

Needing to halve the number of items, I next thought about which musicians were redundant with one another. If I’m going to be stuck on a desert island, range or diversity in styles would be important. So I tried to group the artists based on how similar I thought their styles were, so I could eliminate based on whether another artist in their group already filled their niche.


  • Bob Dylan
  • Cat Stevens
  • Donovan
  • Everly Brothers
  • John Lennon
  • Neil Young


  • Desmond Dekker


  • The Kinks
  • Led Zeppelin
  • Metallica
  • Pink Floyd


  • Nirvana
  • The Pixies
  • The Waterboys


  • La Roux

That left me with eight artists I felt pretty good about, despite the painful omissions. But I realized that I still wasn’t getting as much diversity in style as I would want to entertain myself on the island. Most of the artists I picked play completely guitar-based music. To be fair, that is my favourite kind of music, but I needed some classical music in there too. I immediately thought of the Peer Gynt Suite and Carmina Burana. Those would be welcome additions to all the guitar music. But whom to cut from the eight? I decided to jettison the Everly Brothers and John Lennon. The Everly Brothers were a big loss–I could have spent my time trying to harmonize with them. That left me the following group of artists, for each of whom I had to pick my favourite album:

Artist Album Notes
Neil Young Harvest This supplies my soft folk rock.
Desmond Dekker Intensified It’s pretty difficult to find one album to select from him; no iconic albums. A best of compilation would be nice here. Provides my reggae anyway.
Edvard Grieg Peer Gynt Classical. Some nice soothing string pieces.
Carl Orff Carmina Burana Classical, but with incredible range. Songs that are stirring, sad, comedic, and beautiful. My hot take is that this is among the greatest pieces of music ever written.
The Kinks The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society Provides some quirky pop from my favourite artist. It also is a themed album; all the songs are related, which makes it nice to listen to from beginning to end.
Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin III Provides the hard rock I might want on slow days on the island. Another artist where it is difficult to select an album. I find that each album of theirs has about three songs I really love, a handful I like, and one or two that I could do without. After reviewing the track list, Led Zeppelin III seemed to have more of the songs I like than others.
The Waterboys Fisherman’s Blues Provides a nice mishmash of traditional Irish music mixed with blues and rock.
La Roux La Roux Electro-pop. Probably the weakest album in the rotation, but sometimes I just feel like electro-pop.

Having gone through this exercise, I feel okay about my picks, but I also realize I probably took the wrong approach. I was picking artists I liked, and trying to think about diversity of music, but I didn’t think about albums specifically, mood, or danceability. I picked artists first to make my life easier, but the truth is that there are definitely albums I like better than, say, that Desmond Dekker album. I could have started by looking at albums first. Second, you probably want to maximize the emotional moods covered by your music. An emo, heavy metal, or bubblegum album might help here. Spiritual music might be good for that too. And as far as danceability; you probably want to also maximize the number of albums you can dance to. That would help pass the hours on the Island. Anyway, my picks are in and I don’t want to change them at this point. Now I just need a long road trip where I can listen to all eight albums in a row!

  1. They are also asked about a book and a luxury item, but I’ll skip that. ↩︎