Let’s define a “lost classic“:
A song from the past that maybe got a little radio airplay when it was released, if you were listening to a hip FM station that played more than just the hit singles.
A song from the past that got zero radio airplay, but it was from an album that got considerable radio attention on hip FM stations and Top 40 stations alike.
The 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were teeming with lost classics, and here at Hack’s Back Pages, I enjoy shining a light on them every so often, a dozen at a time.
This will be our 14th installment of this popular feature, with a Spotify playlist. I welcome your comments and suggestions for future entries here.
“A Salty Dog,” Procol Harum, 1969
Of the British progressive rock bands of the late ’60s and early ’70s, Procol Harum gets far less attention than they deserve. They will forever be known for their incredible debut single, “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” and later on, their collaboration with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra on “Conquistador.” But there’s so much more to feast on in Procol Harum’s catalog, and I’ve always been crazy about “A Salty Dog,” a gorgeous piece carried by Gary Brooker’s magnificent voice.
“Places in My Past,” James Taylor, 1971
“Fire and Rain,” “Country Road” and “You’ve Got a Friend” received almost all of the airplay during Taylor’s initial popularity when his “Sweet Baby James” and “Mud Slide Slim” albums dominated the charts in late 1970 and early 1971. Me, I’m nuts about this wistful track that followed “You’ve Got a Friend” on the “Mud Slide Slim” LP. Carole King’s distinctive piano is prominent, and Taylor’s lyrics (“Sometimes I can laugh and cry, and I can’t remember why…”) fill me with nostalgic feelings for days gone by.
“Lawyers, Guns and Money,” Warren Zevon, 1978
Always a darling of the critics, Zevon never flirted with the charts much during his career, but his 1978 LP “Excitable Boy” was the exception. Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt and numerous other “L.A. Mafia” participated in the production, background singing and overall mood of the sessions. While the quasi-novelty number “Werewolves of London” stole the radio attention, I much preferred this wonderfully angry rocker about a guy who repeatedly gets into trouble in foreign countries and needs his father to “send lawyers, guns and money” to help him out of his predicament.
Tales of Kilimanjaro,” Santana, 1981
From the very beginning in 1969, Carlos Santana’s three dozen albums (both with the band and as a solo artist) have included mesmerizing instrumental tracks, both vivacious and subtle. Check out “Samba Pa Ti” (1970) and “Europa” (1976), for starters. The group’s 1981 LP “Zebop!” included the amazing “Tales of Kilimanjaro,” which is about a hundred times better than the album’s lame single “Winning” — a perfect example of how the deep tracks are better than the supposed highlight single.
“Carpet Crawlers,” Genesis, 1974
The story of Genesis (the band, not the book of the Bible) can be broken into two parts: Act One, when they were a boldly progressive art-rock group led by iconoclast Peter Gabriel, and Act Two, when their stock in trade was commercial pop written mostly by drummer/singer Phil Collins. As Gabriel’s involvement was winding down in 1974, he wrote the lengthy concept LP “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,” which didn’t get much radio exposure past the title song. From that project, I am a big fan of one of its tentpoles, the superb track “Carpet Crawlers.”
“Have You Ever Loved a Woman,” Derek and the Dominos, 1970
In early 1970, Eric Clapton had fallen deeply in love with his friend George Harrison’s wife Pattie, which was a huge problem, although it gave him an agonizing muse that allowed him to write and record several songs dripping with pain and longing. “Layla” is the anguished centerpiece, but also fitting on the Derek and the Dominos double album is their scorching rendition of R&B singer-songwriter Billy Myles’ 1961 blues chestnut “Have You Ever Loved a Woman,” which includes lines like “Something inside you won’t let you wreck your best friend’s home…”
“Talking Back to the Night,” Steve Winwood, 1982
You would think that the momentum of success triggered by Winwood’s “Arc of a Diver” LP (#3) and its hit single “While You See a Chance” (#7) in 1981 would have led to great things for its 1982 follow-up album “Talking Back to the Night,” but curiously, it stalled at #28 with no singles. The title song is classic Winwood, with that bluesy voice and a hypnotic rolling beat. He would later top the charts with 1986’s “Higher Love” and 1988’s “Roll With It,” but I urge you to explore the deep tracks on these earlier LPs.
“Heaven is Ten Zillion Light Years Away,” Stevie Wonder, 1974
From 1972-1977, Stevie Wonder was on fire. He released four albums, won three Album of the Year Grammys, and enjoyed numerous hits singles — “Superstition,” “Living For the City,” “Higher Ground,” “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” “I Wish.” Just as noteworthy, though, are a handful of sumptuous, beautifully arranged ballads that have gotten lost in the shuffle — “Golden Lady,” “I Believe,” “Summer Soft.” I often come back to “Heaven is Ten Zillion Light Years Away,” hidden on his “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” LP in 1974.
“Song for the Asking,” Simon and Garfunkel, 1970
Between the iconic title song, the stunning “The Boxer” and pop singles like “Cecilia,” other tracks on Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” LP got buried in the mix. I’ve often mentioned “The Only Living Boy in New York,” but there’s another sleeper here — the brief, heartwarming closer “Song For the Asking.” It’s a lovely melody with provocative lyrics about a songwriter’s gift to his lover (“Ask me and I will play, so sweetly I’ll make you smile…”)
“Theme From an Imaginary Western,” Jack Bruce, 1969
Cream’s catalog included many songs written by bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce and his lyricist Pete Brown, and when Cream disbanded, the two went on to write more songs for Bruce’s strong solo debut, “Songs For a Tailor.” One of them was “Theme for an Imaginary Western,” a majestic tune that had been covered by Mountain and performed by them at Woodstock. (Mountain’s bass player was Felix Pappalardi, who produced and played on Cream’s and Bruce’s albums.). Bruce’s version heard here is superior, as is the rest of this album, a “lost classic” from start to finish.
“Canary in a Coal Mine,” The Police, 1980
As The Police progressed from raw punk and reggae in 1977 to a more sophisticated jazz-pop amalgam in 1983, they went through a New Wave period on 1980’s “Zenyatta Mondatta” album, characterized by singles like “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” The frenetic, pogo-stick pace of the deep album track “Canary in a Coalmine” used to have me dancing on the furniture back then!
“Time Machine,” Grand Funk Railroad, 1969
When I wasn’t yet 14, I attended by first rock concert: Led Zeppelin at Public Auditorium in Cleveland. To say I was gobsmacked by the experience is a huge understatement. Before the headliners even took the stage, I was treated to a warm-up band, an unknown power trio out of Flint, Michigan called Grand Funk Railroad, who offered up 45 minutes of paralyzing hard rock and blues to my eager ears. Within a year, Grand Funk was selling out their own concerts. I wasn’t a big fan of their repertoire, but I’ve always dug this excellent blues tracks from their debut LP.