If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Madonna

Happy Wednesday and welcome to another installment of my desert island song exercise. If you’re a first-time visitor, I hope you’ll stick around and come back.

My song choice this week falls outside my ’60s and ’70s core wheelhouse, so in case you dig music from these two decades but are less excited about this pick, I hope you’ll check out some of the other posts and return. Should you love the tune I selected but are less sure about the ’60s and ’70s, come back anyway and allow me to demonstrate how much great music these two decades have to offer. BTW, you’ll also find some contemporary music on this blog.

After this shameless attempt of self-promotion, here are the rules: I’m about to embark on an imaginary trip to a desert island and need to decide which one song (not an album!) to take with me. Moreover, it must be a tune by an artist or a band I’ve only rarely written about or not covered at all. I’m doing this exercise in alphabetical order, based on my music library, and I’m up to the letter “m”.

Artists (their last names) and bands starting with the letter “m” are a sizeable pool in my music universe and, for example, include The Mamas & The Papas, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Paul McCartney, John Mellencamp, Men At Work, The Moody Blues and Mumford & Sons. And my pick is La Isla Bonita by Madonna.

Yes, I like a good number of her songs but must immediately qualify for the most part I’m referring to music on her first four albums. I’m also not familiar at all with her two most recent albums Rebel Heart (March 2015) and Madame X (June 2019). I vaguely recall sampling a few tunes from MDNA (March 2012). Afterwards, I stopped paying attention altogether. Other contenders for my specific song choice included Borderline, Into the Groove, Papa Don’t Preach and Like a Prayer. Not only has La Isla Bonita been among my favorite Madonna tunes for many years, but I also felt it’s a perfect fit for the occasion.

The Spanish pop-flavored tune was co-written by Madonna and co-producers Patrick Leonard and Stephen Bray. It first appeared on Madonna’s third studio album True Blue, which came out in May 1986. The song was also released separately as the album’s fifth and last single in February 1987.

Both the single and the album enjoyed substantial international chart success. La Isla Bonita went to no. 1 in Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland in the UK, while the album topped the charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the UK. Europe definitely loved Madonna!

True Blue also became Madonna’s most commercially successful record globally, with more than 25 million units sold worldwide, and her third-highest seller in the U.S. where it reached 7x Platinum certification (verified sales of 7 million units) as of February 1995. In a review for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine called True Blue “the album where Madonna truly became Madonna the Superstar – the endlessly ambitious, fearlessly provocative entertainer who knew how to outrage, spark debates, get good reviews — and make good music while she’s at it.” The album was also well-received by many other music critics.

How about La Isla Bonita gypsy style. This cool live reinterpretation captured in 2007 features guitarist Eugene Hütz and violinist Sergey Ryabtsev, both from Gogol Bordello, a gypsy punk band formed in New York City in 1999. Check this out – man, what a performance!

I’m leaving you with a few additional tidbits from Songfacts:

“La Isla Bonita” means “The Beautiful Island” in Spanish. In the song, Madonna sings about the beautiful island of San Pedro, where she longs to be. San Pedro is not a real island. In a 2009 interview with Rolling Stone, Madonna said, “I don’t know where that came from. I don’t know where San Pedro is. At that point, I wasn’t a person who went on holidays to beautiful islands. I may have been on the way to the studio and seen an exit ramp for San Pedro.”

This song provided yet another look and sound for Madonna, as it had a Spanish theme. In an interview with the New York Times, she called the song, “A tribute to the beauty and mystery of Latin American people.”

Songwriter and producer Patrick Leonard wrote this for Michael Jackson, but Jackson claimed he didn’t like the title and turned down the song. Leonard then offered it to Madonna, who rewrote some of the lyrics in her style. Leonard worked with Madonna on many of her other hits including: “Live To Tell,” “Who’s That Girl,” “The Look Of Love,” “Like A Prayer,” “Cherish,” “Oh, Father,” “Frozen” and “Nothing Really Matters.”

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to the final Sunday Six of 2021 – can’t believe I’m writing this! To those celebrating, I hope you had a nice Christmas and are still enjoying the holiday season. To everybody else, hope you’ve been having a great time anyway! Today, this weekly recurring feature is hitting a milestone with its 50th installment. It’s another eclectic set of music touching the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2021. Ready for the last mini music excursion of the year? Let’s do it!

Frank Zappa/Pink Napkins

I’d like to start today’s music time travel with an artist I never thought I’d feature. While I recognize Frank Zappa was widely acclaimed, except for the weirdly catchy Bobby Brown Goes Down, I always found it difficult to listen to his music and never warmed to him. That being said, I’ve always known he was a pretty talented musician. When my streaming music provider served up Pink Napkins the other day, I was immediately intrigued by this guitar-driven instrumental. And, yes, I was quite surprised to learn I had just listened to Frank Zappa! Pink Napkins is from Son of Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar, the second in a series of three all-instrumental albums released in May 1981, which subsequently appeared as a box set in 1982. It’s a very improvisational collection of what essentially are guitar solos. While hey there, people, you may wonder, wonder, why Zappa released a massive collection of guitar solos, dare I say it, I actually dig Pink Napkins!

Pink Floyd/Stay

Next is what I would call a deep track from Pink Floyd’s catalog. Stay, co-written by the band’s keyboarder Richard Wright and guitarist David Gilmour, was included on the group’s seventh studio album Obscured by Clouds that came out in June 1972. It was the soundtrack for a French motion picture titled La Vallée and directed by Iranian-born Swiss film director and producer Barbet Schroeder. Among others, he’s known for directing Hollywood films Barfly (1987) and Single White Female (1992). While Obscured by Clouds didn’t match the chart performance of the group’s two preceding records Meddle and Atom Heart Mother, it still reached a respectable no. 6 in the UK. By comparison, it remained, well, a bit more obscure in the U.S. where it stalled at no. 46. This was in marked contrast to Pink Floyd’s next album The Dark Side of the Moon.

Little Richard/Good Golly, Miss Molly

Okay, boys and girls, it’s time to get movin’ and groovin’ with some killer classic rock & roll by the great Little Richard: Good golly, Miss Molly, sure like to ball, whoo/Good golly, Miss Molly, sure like to ball/When you’re rockin’ and a rollin’/Can’t hear your momma call…Even though I’ve listened to Good Golly, Miss Molly countless times since I first heard it 40-plus years ago, I’m still amazed by Richard’s energy. This man was a force of nature and an incredible performer. Good Golly, Miss Molly was co-written by John Marascalco and producer Robert “Bumps” Blackwell. It was first recorded by Richard and appeared as a single in January 1958. It was also included on Richard’s eponymous sophomore album released in July of the same year.

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band/Ways and Means

Let’s keep rockin’ and jump to 2021 and The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. If you happened to read part 1 of my recent year-in-review feature, you may recall the name of this unusual country blues trio, which has been around since 2003. Ways and Means is the opener of Dance Songs for Hard Times, the trio’s energetic 10th studio album that came out back in April. Check out the official video, which is fun to watch. These guys are just amazing! Peyton is a really talented guitarist, and his singing ain’t too shabby either – my kind of reverend!

The Mamas & The Papas/Monday Monday

After two high-energy tunes, I’d like to slow it down a little with some beautiful sunshine pop from the ’60s. For the purposes of this feature, the tune really should have been titled “Sunday Sunday”, but I’ll gladly go with Monday Monday. The third single by The Mamas & The Papas, released in March 1966, became the L.A. vocal group’s only no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. Written by the group’s leader John Philipps, aka Papa John Phillips, the tune was a big hit outside the U.S. as well, reaching no. 2 in Austria, Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands; no. 3 in the UK; and no. 4 in Australia, among others. Monday Monday was also included on The Mamas & The Papas’ debut album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears from February of the same year. I’ve always loved their beautiful harmony singing.

Bonnie Raitt/You

I’d like to wrap up this installment with one of my all-time favorite artists: Bonnie Raitt. Since I was introduced to her with Nick of Time in 1989, I’ve come to love her music and amazing slide guitar-playing. I also finally had a chance to see her in August 2016 in New Jersey. If you’re curious you can read more about the show here and watch a clip of the entire gig, which is still up! For this post, I’ve picked You, a beautiful tune from Raitt’s 12th studio album Longing in Their Hearts that appeared in March 1994. The song was co-written by John Shanks, Bob Thiele and Tonio K. (born Steven M. Krikorian). Bonnie Raitt will tour in 2022. Man, would I love to catch her again – we’ll see whether conditions are going to responsibly allow it!

Last but not least, here’s a playlist with the above tunes!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube