I just love doing these occasional posts about lost classics.
Radio has always failed us. When it comes to keeping alive so many of the truly great songs of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s that appeared on albums but never got the appropriate amount of appreciation, it was always up to us.
Some of these spectacular tracks appeared on well-known albums, and they were merely underexposed against their more popular brothers. But so many great tunes showed up on otherwise forgettable albums, and they were therefore in danger of being lost to the proverbial dustbin of history.
One of my jobs here at Hack’s Back Pages is to shine a light on some of these amazing songs that escaped the attention of even the most ardent music fans of that period.
This week, I offer another dozen really strong recordings you should (and can) check out, via the Spotify list at the bottom of this entry.
“Old Judge Jones,” Les Dudek, 1977
Dudek is unknown to all but the most dedicated rock enthusiasts. Neither the singles nor the albums released under his name have made a ripple in the Top 40 waters, but he has been present for some of the great tracks of the 1970s with The Allman Brothers Band, Steve Miller Band, Boz Scaggs, Maria Muldaur and more. Most notably, he’s the guy playing the harmonic lead guitar behind Dickey Betts on the 1973 huge hit “Ramblin’ Man.” Although his solo career went nowhere, his underrated 1977 LP “Say No More” included the infectious “Old Judge Jones,” which got some FM airplay at the time but deserves far wider exposure.
“Giving It All Away,” Roger Daltrey, 1973
The Who’s titanic lead vocalist could very possibly have had a strong solo career outside The Who, but he seemed to prefer working with Pete Townshend and his enigmatic rock operas and street anthems. Still, he dabbled in solo recordings through the years, beginning with “Daltrey,” recorded in early 1973 during a lull in The Who’s touring schedule, prior to the release of “Quadrophenia.” Daltrey had met struggling singer-songwriter Leo Sayer, who provided a batch of songs co-written with David Courtney, the best of which was the dramatic “Giving It All Away.” Daltrey’s powerful voice helped push the song to #5 in England, although it stiffed at #83 in the US. Still, if you were to put this tune on a playlist of Who tracks, it would fit in beautifully.
“Midnight Wind,” John Stewart, 1979
Stewart was a California-born singer-songwriter who joined the folk group The Kingston Trio in 1961, then wrote the well-known “Daydream Believer,” a huge hit for The Monkees (#1) in 1967 and Anne Murray (#12) in 1979. Meanwhile, Stewart pursued a solo career bouncing around between multiple labels until he scored a hit in 1979 with the LP “Bombs Away Dream Babies.” The single “Gold” (“People out there turning music into gold”) went to #5, which utilized the vocals and guitar of Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, but even more impressive was his song “Midnight Wind,” which also featured Buckingham and Nicks and reached a respectable #28 here.
“Roll Away the Stone,” Leon Russell, 1970
Leon Russell was a huge figure in ’60s rock, having played keyboards and handled arrangements on dozens of Top 40 hits as a member of the famed “Wrecking Crew” gang of L.A. session musicians. When he went out on his own, the masses didn’t exactly embrace him, but his work was widely admired by others, including Joe Cocker (“Delta Lady”), Rita Coolidge (“Superstar”), The Carpenters (“A Song for You”), George Benson (“This Masquerade”) and others, who turned his songs into mainstream hits. Elton John so worshipped Russell that he teamed up with him in 2010 on the #3 collaborative LP “The Union,” which demonstrates Russell’s considerable skills. His unmistakable vocal delivery on tracks like his early classic “Roll Away the Stone” made him an FM favorite.
“Eyes of the World,” Grateful Dead, 1973
The Dead had their legendary “Deadheads” following, who guaranteed packed venues wherever they played in the 1970s and 1980s. Their albums, though full of great material, were never big sellers (except the #6 hit LP “In the Dark” with its #9 hit “Shades of Gray” in 1987). Back in 1973, the group’s otherwise unremarkable LP “Wake of the Flood” included the bonafide gem “Eyes of the World,” which The Dead continued to play in concert for many years afterwards. Jerry “Captain Trips” Garcia’s vocals and guitar are at their best on this marvelous song.
“Who But a Fool (Thief Into Paradise),” Bonnie Raitt, 1986
In the mid-1980s, Columbia Records chose to “clean house” of older artists whose work wasn’t selling as it once had, and Raitt, a reliable blues talent for a decade, was caught up in that purge. She had just completed an album, but it sat on the shelves for nearly three years before Columbia belatedly released it, retitled “Nine Lives.” It didn’t sell either, and she ended up changing to Capitol, where she won multiple Grammys for her “Nick of Time” LP in 1989. On “Nine Lives,” though, there’s a hidden beauty called “Who But a Fool (Thief into Paradise)” that mustn’t be allowed to escape attention any longer.
“She Has Funny Cars,” Jefferson Airplane, 1967
In 1965, singer-songwriters Marty Balin and Paul Kantner worked their way through a few preliminary lineups for their band, The Jefferson Airplane, before settling on guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, bassist Jack Casady, drummer Spencer Dryden and singer Signe Anderson. They cut one record before Anderson left to raise a family, and her replacement was the fiery Grace Slick, who brought two killer songs with her — “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.” While those two tracks still get major airplay on classic rock radio, the rest of the “Surrealistic Pillow” album is overlooked these days, which is a shame. In particular, “She Has Funny Cars,” the leadoff song, has the crucial elements of the Airplane’s trademark sound: Kaukonen’s guitar work and the Balin-Slick vocal interplay.
“With My Face on the Floor,” Emitt Rhodes, 1970
This multi-talented instrumentalist got screwed by the record industry, plain and simple. He’d been part of a failed ’60s band called Merry-Go-Round, but he was still tied to A&M Records when he took matters into his own hands and recorded a batch of songs at home on his own equipment (way before that kind of thing was common). The demos were so good that ABC/Dunhill leaped on them, and the debut LP ended up at #29. But still, most people remained unfamiliar with his work, which is tragic. Check out the opening track, “With My Face on the Floor,” plus others like “Live Till You Die,” “Somebody Made for Me,” “Lullaby” and “Fresh as a Daisy.” They sound like a cross between Paul McCartney and Eric Carmen.
“Hurt,” Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, 1978
The late great Tom Petty and his band were still struggling early in their career, trying to move beyond the minor success of “Breakdown” on their debut LP the year before. It wouldn’t be until the “Damn the Torpedos” album and its hit single “Refugee” that they would break into the big time in 1979. But meanwhile, their second album, the criminally underrated “You’re Gonna Get It!”, slipped by in 1978, despite being chock full of great songs like “I Need to Know'” and “Listen to Her Heart.” In my opinion, the most underrated track was “Hurt,” which deserves a place on any Petty setlist that’s being composed in the wake of his death in 2017.
“Velvet Green,” Jethro Tull, 1977
Although Tull was known as a band with progressive rock complexities and hard rock leanings, they always had an acoustic side as well, thanks to leader Ian Anderson’s fondness for delicate melodies. The 1977 LP “Songs From the Wood” signaled a definitive left turn in that direction, with songs full of Elizabethan motifs and keyboard arrangements. “The Whistler” and the title song featured prominent flute passages, as did perhaps the album’s best track, “Velvet Green,” which offered erotic and pastoral lyrical phrases to complement the gentler music.
“Living on a Thin Line,” The Kinks, 1984
Singer/frontman Ray Davies wrote virtually all of the songs in The Kinks’ lengthy catalog (1964-1995), from the early raucous “You Really Got Me” to the prissy Brit number “Sunny Afternoon” to the transgender huge hit “Lola.” But brother/guitarist Dave Davies wrote a handful, and “Living on a Thin Line,” his contribution to their 1984 LP “Word of Mouth,” is not only his best, but one of The Kinks’ best tracks as well. It has a wonderful groove, which saw a resurgence in 2001 when it was used to great effect in the celebrated “University” episode of “The Sopranos.”
“Skateaway,” Dire Straits, 1980
The huge impact of Dire Straits’ 1978 classic “Sultans of Spring” seemed to color everything they did afterwards, at least for a while. But guitarist/songwriter Mark Knopfler had grander plans, and when he came up with the outstanding material that comprised 1980’s “Making Movies,” he was off and running, mostly due to the gorgeous “Romeo and Juliet” and the cinematic “Tunnel of Love.” Often forgotten is “Skateaway,” a fabulous pastiche about an alluring rollerblading girl who clearly mesmerizes the songwriter, to a point where we’re all a bit entranced by her.