Desert Island Disc Challenge: ‘Is This It’
The coolest desert island guy ever.
Editor’s note: As part of CMN’s ongoing music journalism program, we asked our team of music writers to take on the age-old challenge of choosing one piece of music they would like to have with them if they were stranded on a deserted island. It’s an absurd notion, but also irresistible. See all the different approaches they took to the challenge right over here.
If I could only bring one album on a desert island, what would it be? Anyone that knows me knows the answer: Is This It by The Strokes. I did not even need to think about it.
I would choose this album for critical and personal reasons. Is This It was the 2001 Strokes debut album that made Converse and skinny jeans cool to hipsters everywhere. At the time, nu-metal was ruling the musical landscape with forgettable bands like Limp Bizkit commanding the spotlight.
The Strokes were led by lead singer Julian Casablancas, the man with the voice everyone wishes they had while singing in the shower. But you can’t overlook the guitars of Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr., and the bass of Nikolai Fraiture. Those three created a raw sound that was more complex and polished than most people ever realized.
Rolling Stone’s Joe Levy wrote at the time, “This is the stuff legends are made of.” In 2009, The Guardian called Is This It the fourth best album of the decade: “The impact of the Strokes first album was immediate and dramatic.”
The hype around the band suggested they were the second coming of the Rolling Stones or something, but the album was simply one ridiculously amazing post-punk album at a time when such garage rock sounds were not in the mainstream consciousness.
The Strokes made it cool to like rock and roll again. They influenced other great bands of the 2000s, including Arctic Monkeys and The Killers. Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys said in 2011, “I remember I used to play that first album [Is This It] in college all the time, when our band was first starting. Loads of people were into them, so loads of bands coming out sounded like them. I remember consciously trying not to sound like The Strokes, deliberately taking bits out of songs that sounded too much like them, but I still loved that album.” And just listen to the first line of Monkeys most recent album: “I just wanted to be one of the Strokes…”
As for the Killers, drummer Ronnie Vanucci said in 2017 to NME, “It’s kind of flattering just to hear them talking about our band — even now. Especially The Strokes. They’re one of the baddest rock bands out there.”
Is This It also had a huge impact on me. During college I listened to older bands from like Metallica, Pearl Jam, and Radiohead — or classic rock. I had not opened myself up to listening to new bands much. Near the end of 2001, I read a Spin Magazine article and decided to listen to the Strokes to hear this newer raw sound taking shape in music, and the album blew me away.
It was one of those albums where you can put it on any track and never want to skip it. Siamese Dream by the Smashing Pumpkins was also this way for me in high school. The Strokes caused me to embrace new music everywhere — never getting enough of it to this day. Without that album, you are probably not reading this.
The other reason I would select this album is because it embodies being cool. Watch the music videos for this album. The Strokes hang out at a bar in the video for “Someday” with Slash from Guns and Roses and Robert Pollard from Guided By Voices. The other part of the video they compete against Guided By Voices in a fictitious episode of Family Feud. How cool is that? This was the band back then that you wanted to go out to the bars with.
And let’s say I am stranded on this island and a beautiful mermaid comes out of the water and on shore and asks if I can play any cool music. I want that mermaid to know that I am the coolest desert island guy she has ever come across by putting on Is This It by The Strokes.
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