What Rock Albums Would the American Idiot Gang Take to a Desert Island?

By Kenneth Jones
April 20, 2010

The question is simple: What rock or pop albums would you want on a desert island? We asked cast members from Green Day's American Idiot, Broadway's new rock musical.

Let us assume that on this desert island you also have a music player with a lifetime battery, to say nothing of endless fresh drinking water, plenty of coconuts and some kind of shelter. What recordings from the rock world would feed your soul until the end of your days?

We put a handful of American Idiot rockers on the spot, giving a limit of, say, three albums. (No fair choosing a Green Day title!)

*

"That's a great question," Rebecca Naomi Jones, who plays Whatshername in American Idiot, said, pondering the question alongside John Gallagher, Jr., who plays Johnny, a.k.a. Jesus of Suburbia.

John Gallagher, Jr.
photo by Paul Kolnik
Gallagher — himself a guitarist and a rock band member over the years — scratched his chin, and added, "That's a really good question. Oh, gosh. Probably some records from The Band, maybe like 'Music From Big Pink.' [The Beatles'] 'The White Album.' Maybe 'Blood on the Tracks' by Bob Dylan. Those are some of the things I listen to a lot, over and over again."

Jones said, "I would do 'Joni Mitchell: For the Roses.' I would take — I know it's an easy choice, but 'Rubber Soul' [by The Beatles]. I would probably take, I don’t know, maybe even some Simon and Garfunkel. I sound like such a hippie! Ooooh, some Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young! But definitely lots of Joni."

Interviewed separately (except for Jones and Gallagher), the performers did have common passions.

Tony Vincent
photo by Paul Kolnik
Tony Vincent, who plays the blood-chilling St. Jimmy in American Idiot also chose the double-disc "White Album" by The Beatles, especially picking out the John Lennon song "Dear Prudence."

Vincent called Radiohead's "OK Computer" "one of the most sonically epic and well-written rock records ever."

His third pick is Jeff Buckley's "Grace," which includes a song that "kills" the actor —"Lover, You Should've Come Over." Vincent said, "Every time I listen to this record it rips my heart out and reminds me that I'm human, vulnerable — a hopeless romantic to the core."

Stark Sands
photo by Paul Kolnik
Stark Sands, who plays Tunny in American Idiot, is tuned to the same station as Vincent: the late Buckley's "Grace" is on his list, too.

Sands called "Grace" "one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking albums of all time. His voice was just unbelievable — so much passion and emotion."

Of The Beatles' "Revolver," Sands said, "In college, they actually offered a class all about The Beatles, and two of my friends got to take it. Every week we would all go to their apartment after the class and they'd relay all the stories they'd learned as we listened to the songs. That's where it started for me."

Sands picked the 1999 album "Clarity" by the emo rock band Jimmy Eat World. "Let me be clear," Sands said, "this is the band before any mega-success, before they became the toast of the town and had MTV hits. None of the tweeners probably even know this album, and it's a shame. Jim's songwriting is poignant and inspiring, and I never tire of listening to it."

Michael Esper
photo by Paul Kolnik
Michael Esper, who plays Will in American Idiot, picked "The Velvet Underground & Nico." He said, "I kind of can't believe this record exists. After hundreds of listens it still unfolds in strange and beautiful new ways each time I hear it. As literary and glacial as it
is blood-filled and honest — both pop and experimental — it reverberates all up and down the history of recorded music. A dirty gorgeous
masterpiece."

Esper admitted that he stretched the rules of the challenge with his next pick: "Keep an Eye On the Sky" by Big Star. "O.K.," he said. "So, I'm just cheating now. This is a box set. But the idea of living
without songs on any one of their three early records is too terrible to contemplate. No 'Thirteen'? No 'Nighttime'? No 'September Gurls'?
Impossible."

The group's lead singer Alex Chilton died March 17 of a heart attack. "Alex Chilton," Esper said, "we miss you."

Esper's No. 3 is "Love & Curses" by Reigning Sound. "Looking for something to live for? This record came out in 2009, and I 
already can't live without it. Ex-Oblivion, ex-compulsive gambler Greg Cartwright is one of the greatest songwriters alive. Memphis
garage soul for the desperate huge-hearted."

Christina Sajous
photo by Paul Kolnik
"Why couldn't the questions on the SATs be this easy?!!" asked Christina Sajous, who plays The Extraordinary Girl in American Idiot. "First of all, I want to warn everyone that I am an old-fashioned gal when it comes to rock or pop music, so please feel free to judge. My first choice of a rock album I would bring to a desert island — besides 'American Idiot' (wink wink) — would be the concept album of 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' by The Beatles. Their genius album is a masterpiece that is greatly enthusiastic, intense and aesthetically ambitious.

"Secondly, I must feed my Jackson hunger with Michael Jackson's 'HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1.' This album is not only a compilation of his early work, but the second disc is innovative, rebellious, loud, political, angry, direct and controversial. His lyrical brilliance sends me into a trance and makes everything around me disappear."

Her final choice? "I must entice my ears with the ultimate Queen of Rock & Roll — Tina Turner's 'Greatest Hits.' Her raw, broken, yet powerful voice sends chills down my spine with every honest word she sings."

We even asked American Idiot director Michael Mayer — whose taste is eclectic — to weigh in. Mayer's repeated listenings of Green Day's 2004 album "American Idiot" got his imagination spinning about the possibility of a musical theatre piece based on the punk songs. So, for a desert island pick, he named "American Idiot," adding, "Obviously!"

Michael Mayer
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Being put on the spot to name titles seemed a frustration for the Tony winner. Why must there be limitations?

"I would bring, probably, [Elton John's] 'Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road.' I would bring — God, I'm just so, like, obsessed with Jack White at the moment. I'd probably bring everything he ever did… I would bring — oh, that's so hard! I would probably bring 'The Crane Wife' by The Decemberists. Honestly, I'd probably bring Carole King's 'Tapestry' or Joni Mitchell's 'Hejira,' one of those two. Or 'The Best of Laura Nyro,' maybe. Maybe that's what I would bring, 'cause that's a double album! Can I do that? And 'Judy at Carnegie Hall,' because I have to. Because it's the best live recording ever in the history of anything, and I'm committed to that!"

A few days later, Mayer amended his list in an email: "'Sgt. Pepper' would be on my list for sure!"

When he heard that Mayer got to amend, Gallagher said, "I'm already going over the ones I said, and I'm like, 'No, I should have said something different!'"

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. His pop picks for a desert island are "John Denver: The Wildlife Concert," "Joni Mitchell: Hits," k.d. lang's "Ingenue" and anything by Cheryl Wheeler. But his true heart belongs to John McGlinn's three-disc studio recording of Show Boat. Now you know.)