Waiting there like hidden treasure
When you mention the ’70s, you end up thinking mostly of singer-songwriter pop, and disco. But the ’70s had many many excellent songs that didn’t get much radio play but were still well known to people who bought a lot of albums.
In other words, DEEP TRACKS.
Here are another dozen such tunes, chronicled on a Spotify list at the end.
“Thunder Island,” Jay Ferguson, 1977
Jay Ferguson was a founder and key player of the wonderful ’60s San Francisco group Spirit, who had FM radio exposure with “I Got a Line on You,” “Fresh Garbage,” “Mr. Skin” and “Nature’s Way.” Ferguson then fronted a pop band called Jo Jo Gunne, who had a sort of “one hit wonder” success with “Run Run Run” in 1971. In 1977, Ferguson went solo and hit the Top Twenty with the great “Thunder Island,” carried by the guitar work of Joe Walsh.
“Holdin’ on to Yesterday,” Ambrosia, 1975
The L.A.-based group Ambrosia is known mostly for its three hit singles in the 1978-1980 period: “How Much I Feel,” “You’re the Only Woman” and “Biggest Part of Me.” But the 1975 debut LP had a much more progressive rock feel to it, and two tracks from it got a lot of FM radio play: “Nice, Nice, Very Nice” (with lyrics by novelist Kurt Vonnegut) and the excellent track “Holdin’ On to Yesterday.” This is an excellent album…
“Your Nashville Sneakers,” The Guess Who, 1972
Once Randy Bachman left in 1970 and went off to form Bachman-Turner Overdrive, The Guess Who was left in the capable hands of Burton Cummings, the amazing singer/songwriter/keyboardist responsible for songs like “Rain Dance,” “Albert Flasher,” “Heartbroken Bopper,” “Dancing Fool,” “Running Back to Saskatoon” and “Star Baby.” On the overlooked 1972 “Rockin'” LP, there’s a fabulous jazz piano track called “Your Nashville Sneakers” that ranks right up there among the best of The Guess Who’s impressive repertoire.
“Fast Buck Freddie,” Jefferson Starship, 1975
When the Jefferson Airplane crashed and burned in 1972, guitarist Paul Kantner took the Jefferson Starship science-fiction concept he’d used in his 1970 solo project “Blows Against the Empire” and officially launched a new lineup on the 1974 LP “Dragonfly.” In 1975, the second Starship LP “Red Octopus” ended up at #1, thanks to Marty Balin’s sublime “Miracles” single. Much better was the rocking leadoff track, “Fast Buck Freddie,” which features the great Grace Slick on vocals.
“What Is and What Shall Never Be,” Led Zeppelin, 1969
Heavy blues rock made up the bulk of Led Zeppelin’s catalog, but each album included songs that showed a mellower acoustic side. On “Led Zeppelin II,” perhaps the group’s heaviest album, there was “What Is and What Should Never Be,” which has both quiet and bombastic sections. So much great Plant vocals and Page guitar here! Such an amazing album…
“Duncan,” Paul Simon, 1972
“Mother and Child Reunion” and “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” got all the airplay from Paul Simon’s 1972 solo debut, but I think “Duncan” is the overlooked gem of the album. It’s one of Simon’s most whimsical songs, with lyrics that tell the story of a guy enjoying sexual exploits (“And just like a dog, I was befriended…”). and (“I was playing my guitar, lyin’ underneath the stars, just thankin’ the Lord for my fingers…”)
“Real Man,” Todd Rundren, 1975
Rundgren was a mastermind — producer, songwriter, singer, multi-instrumentalist — who had a strong solo career (“Hello It’s Me,” “I Saw the Light”) and also spearheaded a band called Utopia. In 1975, Rundgren’s solo LP “Initiation” included the wonderful “Real Man,” which became a favorite live choice. He is such an amazing talent, although not necessarily commercially regarded…
“The Witch’s Promise,” Jethro Tull, 1970
Before “Aqualung” made Jethro Tull a hugely successful recording/live act in 1971, the group released three excellent LPs: “This Was,” “Stand Up” and “Benefit,” all of which showcased Ian Anderson’s flute and vocals and Martin Barre’s sizzling electric guitar. “The Witch’s Promise” was a single in the UK but didn’t show up in the US until the 1972 #3 LP “Living in the Past,” a collection of great songs which came out in the wake of the extraordinary #1 LP “Thick as a Brick.”
“Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You,” Bob Dylan, 1969
Dylan’s early albums were all recorded in New York, but beginning with “Blonde on Blonde” in 1966, Dylan recorded in Nashville, using some of the city’s finest session musicians like Charlie McCoy, Pete Drake, Charlie Daniels and Kenny Buttrey. 1969’s LP “Nashville Skyline” was Dylan’s most “country” album, including the #3 hit “Lay Lady Lay” and the wonderful “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You.”
“Damned If I Do,” Alan Parsons Project, 1979
Parsons was an engineer/producer at the Abbey Road studios, playing a key role in the recording of The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” before teaming up with songwriter Eric Woolfson to form The Alan Parsons Project in 1976. Using multiple vocalists and session musicians, the “group” ended up scoring a couple Top Ten albums (“I Robot” in 1977 and “Eye in the Sky” in 1982), and several Top 20 singles (“I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You, 1977; “Damned If I Do,” 1979; “Games People Play,” 1980; “Time,” 1980; “Eye in the Sky,” 1982; “Don’t Answer Me,” 1984). Lenny Zakatek, one of five featured singers, was the voice of “Damned If I Do.”
“Ladyfriends I,” Lazarus, 1973
Bill Hughes was the songwriter, voice and guitar behind a little known but tragically overlooked trio called Lazarus, who released two gorgeous albums in 1971 and 1973 under the tutelage of Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary. The second Lazarus LP “A Fool’s Paradise” included two songs, “Ladyfriends II” and “Ladyfriends I,” that both should have been big hits, in my opinion. Hughes’ song “Walking on a Chinese Wall” was the title track to the 1984 Top Ten album by Philip Bailey (which included the #1 hit “Easy Lover”). Later, Hughes’ tune “Welcome to the Edge” was the Emmy-nominated theme song for the “Santa Barbara” 1990s ABC soap opera.
“Relay,” The Who, 1972
After “Tommy,” Pete Townshend wrote and recorded demos of many songs in 1971-72 for another rock opera called “Life House” that was never completed, but the bulk of it became the songs for the iconic “Who’s Next” LP in 1971. Other tracks, like “Join Together” and “Relay,” ended up as modestly successful singles in 1972. “Relay,” in particular, was a favorite of the band and often played in concert during that period leading up to the amazing “Quadrophenia” LP in late 1973.