Some songs, they just snuck right by me

If you’re anything like me, some days you want to pull out some old vinyl and bypass the well known tunes, instead refamiliarizing yourself with the deep tracks hidden on your favorite LPs.  They’re there, all right, waiting to be rediscovered.  Try “Jelly Jelly” on The Unknown-186Allman Brothers’ “Brothers and Sisters” album…or perhaps “Respectable” on The Rolling Stones’ “Some Girls” LP.

Even more rewarding is when you pull out a so-so album and fimages-102ind an amazing track you’d forgotten all about — like “Gypsy” on The Moody Blues’ “To Our Children’s Children’s Children” album…or maybe “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar,” a marvelous Bob Dylan track from his inferior “Shot of Love” LP.  (These aren’t included in the current batch, but they will be someday soon…)

I like to collect these lost classics and, every so often, put a dozen of them in front of you and see if you don’t agree they’re pretty great records.  Perhaps they won’t all appeal to you, but I’m willing to bet my track record will be more hit than miss.

Crank it up, kids!  Let’s rock!

***************

“Hitchcock Railway,” Joe Cocker, 1969

220px-JoeCocker!albumcoverThe great Donald “Duck” Dunn, a legendary bassist with the great Booker T and the MGs and an in-demand session musician at Stax Records and elsewhere, wrote this rollicking tune that Joe Cocker and His Grease Band turned into a real tour de force on his “Joe Cocker!” album in late 1969.  Carried along by Leon Russell’s barrelhouse piano, Henry McCullough’s biting guitar fills and one of the most relentless cowbells ever committed to vinyl, “Hitchcock Railway” has always been one of my favorite Cocker recordings, with Rita Coolidge and Merry Clayton providing soulful backing vocals.  Cocker regularly included the song in concert throughout his career, and there’s a superb live version to be found on his 1990 platinum LP “Joe Cocker Live.”

“Heaven Knows,” Robert Plant, 1988

Unknown-185When Led Zeppelin broke up in 1980, most people figured it would be Jimmy Page who would get the most attention as a solo artist, but it turned out to be Robert Plant who has been more active.  He started with two great rock albums — “Pictures at Eleven” (1982) and “The Principle of Moments” (1983) — and the “Honeydrippers” EP side project in 1984 that included Page on the hit cover of “Sea of Love.”  Plant has continued to release quality work on solid albums, with a revolving door of various collaborators, every two years or so, right up through the 2010s.  One of his consistently strong solo LPs is 1988’s “Now and Zen,” opening with the Middle Eastern-flavored “Heaven Knows,” which recalls the exotic feel of Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” with its prominent guitar and female backing vocals.

“Nobody,” Three Dog Night, 1969

images-101Three Dog Night — FYI, a phrase used in cold climates to connote how many dogs you need to sleep with when it’s particularly frigid — emerged from the L.A. club scene in 1968, with the trio of Danny Hutton, Chuck Negron and Cory Wells taking turns on lead and harmony vocals.  They made their mark singing original songs by a broad range of outside songwriters including Laura Nyro (“Eli’s Comin'”), Randy Newman (“Mama Told Me Not to Come”) Paul Williams (“Out in the Country”) and Hoyt Axton (“Never Been to Spain”).  On their first LP, there’s a great overlooked track called “Nobody” that captures the band chugging along nicely while the vocalists do their patented thing.  It should’ve been a hit, and was in fact released as their debut single, but it inexplicably stiffed.  They tried again with “One (is the Loneliest Number)” and watched it reach #5.

“I Would’ve Had a Good Time,” John Kongos, 1972

Unknown-177Of all the great artists and records I’ve heard over the years that were criminally ignored in the U.S., I’d put John Kongos’s 1972 album “Kongos” near the top of that list.  Hailing from South Africa, Kongos moved to England in the late ’60s and worked with various bands and musicians before finally recording his solo debut, using many of the musicians Elton John used on his early records (guitarist Caleb Quaye, percussionist Ray Cooper, bassist Dave Glover, even producer Gus Dudgeon).  One song, “He’s Gonna Step on You Again,” got moderate airplay here, but the standout song for me is “I Would’ve Had a Good Time,” which sounds uncannily like Elton and would’ve fit nicely among the songs on his “Your Song” album.

“Thing For You,” Supertramp, 1987

Unknown-178When Roger Hodgson, one of Supertramp’s two singer-songwriters, chose to leave the group for a solo career in 1984, some thought the band might not survive.  It was Hodgson’s songs and vocals, after all, that had been the most visible side of the group’s output (“Dreamer,” “Give a Little Bit,” “The Logical Song,” “Take the Long Way Home”).  But keyboardist Rick Davies was responsible for some of their best work (“Bloody Well Right,” “Goodbye Stranger”), and he came through with some great songs on 1985’s “Brother Where You Bound,” notably “Cannonball.”  On the underrated 1987 LP “Free as a Bird,” Davies wrote some beauties, like the mesmerizing “Thing For You” with the sexy sax solo.

“Never Let Me Down,” David Bowie, 1984

Unknown-181The late great “chameleon of rock” went through so many changes in his colorful career that it was often hard to keep up.  He would wow the critics with one style, then turn on a dime and try something radically different his next time out.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but as Bowie himself always said, “I make music for me.  If anyone else likes it, that’s a bonus.”  Following the commercially successful peak of 1983’s “Let’s Dance,” he did a couple acting projects, and upon his return to the studio, he opted for a techno/harder edged approach on 1987’s “Never Let Me Down.”  Years later, he dismissed it as “my nadir, an awful album,” and while it isn’t all that bad, it ain’t great.  I love the catchy title track, though; it sounds like it could’ve been an outtake from the “Let’s Dance” sessions.

“Bermuda Triangle,” Fleetwood Mac, 1974

fleetwood-mac-heroes-are-hard-to-find-6-ab

back cover group photo (Bob Welch at left)

It’s not an exaggeration to say that without Bob Welch providing songs, guitar and vocals on Fleetwood Mac’s albums from 1971 through 1974, the band very likely wouldn’t have survived, and we might have never heard of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who joined immediately after Welch’s departure.  Welch’s distinctive vocals and especially his catchy songwriting on the “Future Games,” “Bare Trees,” “Mystery to Me” and “Heroes Are Hard to Find” albums gave the group crucial momentum in the US market.  Songs like “Sentimental Lady” and “Hypnotized” became FM radio favorites, and deep tracks like “Bermuda Triangle” gave heft to counter the lighter melodies that Christine McVie was writing for these middle-era Fleetwood Mac LPs.

“Single-Handed Sailor,” Dire Straits, 1979

Unknown-180Following the surprise success of Dire Straits’ compelling debut album in 1978 and its enormous hit single “Sultans of Swing,” guitarist/songwriter Mark Knopfler and his band went to the Bahamas to record the follow-up, 1979’s “Communiqué.”  It reached #11 in the US and #5 in their native England, but for the most part, it seemed as if they were just treading water, with songs that were reminiscent of, but not as appealing as, those of the first record.  There are two notable exceptions:  the fantastic “Lady Writer,” which was released as a single and inexplicably stalled on the charts in the mid 40s in both countries; and the wonderful groove of “Single-Handed Sailor,” which features some of Knopfler’s prettiest guitar work.  These two tracks kept me interested until Dire Straits’ next album, the masterpiece “Making Movies” (1980), totally won me over.

“Three Roses,” America, 1971

Unknown-182I always thought critics gave this fine trio of acoustic guitar singer-songwriters a raw deal, claiming they were nothing more than “a poor man’s Crosby, Stills and Nash.”  While it’s true they modeled their sound after CSN, these guys wrote some mighty fine songs of their own, many of which appear on their stellar debut LP “America,” released in the U.S. in early 1972.  I never cared much for the big hit “A Horse With No Name,” which sounded like a ripoff of Neil Young, but there’s so much more here to enjoy:  their follow-up single “I Need You”; the acoustic workout “Riverside”; the electrified track “Sandman”; two introspective Dan Peek songs, “Rainy Day” and “Never Find the Time”; and particularly “Three Roses,” with its chooka-chooka-chooka beat and marvelous harmonies.

“The Bed’s Too Big Without You,” The Police, 1979

220px-Police-album-reggattadeblancThe first two albums by The Police, “Outlandos d’Amour” and “Reggatta de Blanc,” were considered to be “post-punk New Wave/reggae rock,” with the debut single “Roxanne” being a prime example of this melding of genres.  The British market responded enthusiastically, but the American music buyers were a bit slow on the uptake at that point; not until their 1980 LP “Zenyatta Mondatta” did the band make an impact on U.S. charts.  I suggest you revisit “Reggatta de Blanc” for the handful of craftily infectious tunes Sting contributed.  (Steer clear of the dreary Stewart Copeland songs, though.)  Besides “Message in a Bottle,” which became a big hit here later, there’s “Bring on the Night,” “Deathwish,” “Walking on the Moon” and the wonderfully insidious “The Bed’s Too Big Without You.”

“It’s Gonna Come Down on You,” Seals and Crofts, 1973

Unknown-183By the late ’70s, Seals and Crofts had become maligned (unfairly, in my view) as purveyors of the too-smooth “yacht rock” that people now make fun of.  At first, though, the duo wrote and recorded some excellent, thoughtful music, from hits like “Summer Breeze” and “Hummingbird” to “Diamond Girl” and “We May Never Pass This Way Again.”  They offered an envious blend of impressive acoustic guitar and mandolin playing, coupled with lyrics that tipped toward life-searching, spiritual concerns.  On 1973’s “Diamond Girl” album, there’s an amazing, rarely heard track (written by the duo, like most of their catalog) called “It’s Gonna Come Down on You” that ought to snap you to attention about the relative worth of these guys.

“Point Blank,” Bruce Springsteen, 1980

Unknown-184In 2015, The Boss said he regards “Point Blank” and “The River” as the two tracks that make up “the heart and soul” of the 1980 double album “The River.”  He regularly performed “Point Blank” on the 1978 “Darkness” tour, two years before it was officially released, with significantly different lyrics.  Roy Bittan’s heartfelt piano work, combined with Springsteen’s earnest vocal delivery, make it one of the very best songs in his entire catalog, in my view.  The lyrics deal with the conflict between dreams and reality, where he thinks he’s still with his former girlfriend, but then he wakes up and realizes she’s standing in the doorway “like just another stranger waitin’ to get blown away.”  It was released as a single in Europe but not in the U.S.

**********************

I forgot to remember to forget

 

“The only thing faster than the speed of thought is the speed of forgetfulness.  Good thing we have other people to help us remember.” — Vera Nazarian

“Let the past be content with itself, for man needs forgetfulness as well as memory.” — James Stephens

****************

I’ve always been blessed with a pretty good memory, especially for facts and dates regarding the music of my younger days.  I seem to have an uncanny knack for recalling when a particular song was released…or which album it was on…or who the bass player was…or what the exact lyrics were.

Why is that?  I can’t tell you for sure, but I can hazard an educated guess.  We all have what is known as selective memory — we choose the things we want to remember, and 0-1we choose to pretty much forget the rest.  As a music fanatic and music collector, I have enjoyed learning all I can about the artists, their albums and songs, while most people I know don’t choose to retain that kind of stuff (mostly because they prefer to devote their memory space to, oh, I don’t know, maybe information that will make them money!).

As far as remembering lyrics is concerned, I think that has more to do with repetition.  We hear a song on the radio so many times, often singing along to it, that the lyrics become embedded in our memory.  That’s why students studying for an exam are encouraged to repeat the information out loud numerous times, maybe even set it to music in their heads, to help them remember it.

Of course, age plays a factor as well.  If I try today to memorize the lyrics to a new song, I find I have much more difficulty retaining the words.  It’s as if my memory bank is full.  It’s full of Beatles lyrics, and Springsteen lyrics, and Joni Mitchell lyrics, and there’s just no room for an Ed Sheeran lyric, as much as I try to save it.  Even worse, my mind is still full of stuff I’d like to delete — the words to the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song, for instance — but there’s no use.  It’s cemented in there forever.

As we all ruminate about why we remember and why we forget, I’ve taken the liberty of coming up with a dozen classic rock songs about forgetting.  You might remember these tunes, or perhaps you’ve forgotten them.   Or maybe you’d like to forget them, I can’t remember.

*****************

“(Don’t You) Forget About Me,” Simple Minds, 1985

Unknown-165Producer/songwriter Keith Forsey wrote this hypnotic tune while doing the film score for the classic John Hughes comedy “The Breakfast Club.”  Forsey, a big fan of Simple Minds, sought out the band and urged them to record it, but they at first refused, saying they preferred to record their own songs.  Bryan Ferry, Billy Idol and Corey Hart also turned down Forsey’s overtures before he returned to Simple Minds, who finally relented, assuming it would be just a forgettable tune in an inconsequential movie.  Instead, it became one of the least forgettable songs of 1985 and, indeed, the 1980s, and the movie turned into an iconic bit of filmmaking as well.  The song vaulted to #1 in multiple countries and stayed there for weeks on end, propelling Simple Minds to arena-rock popularity.

“Don’t Ask Me to Forget,” Jay & Techniques, 1969

images-90Jay Proctor and his six bandmates emerged from Allentown, PA, in the mid-’60s and found their way onto the pop charts with two big hits, both in 1967 — “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie” and “Keep the Ball Rollin’.”  Their music had a decidedly R&B focus to it, as evidenced by their #8 charting on the R&B charts for “Apples, Peaches” and by the feel of songs like the underrated “Don’t Ask Me to Forget” from 1969, just before the group’s dissolution.  The lyrics cover the often-discussed idea that a transgression can be forgiven but not forgotten:  “We shared the good and the bad for so long, but I never thought you’d be the one who’d go wrong, I can forgive, but don’t ask me, don’t ask me to forget…”

“I’m Not Trying to Forget You Anymore,” Willie Nelson, 1986

Unknown-169Nelson is almost the definition of an iconic artist.  His debut LP came out in 1962 and he has released nearly 70 more studio albums since then.  He’s mostly known in the country music arena, but he has sung albums of children’s songs and Gershwin classics, and has flirted with the pop charts occasionally (“On the Road Again,” #20 in 1980, and “Always On My Mind,” #5 in  1982).  On his 34th album, “The Promiseland” in 1986, he recorded this poignant song he wrote about a woman he broke up with and had put out of his mind, but he later reconsidered and rekindled fond memories of her:  “I’m not trying to forget you anymore/I’ve got back into remembering all the love we had before/and I’d been trying to forget someone that my heart still adores/so I’m not trying to forget you anymore…”

“Forget That Day,” The Go-Go’s, 1984

gogos200Originally a punk band from the Los Angeles punk music scene, The Go-Go’s evolved into a polished New Wave act that took the country by storm with their #1 debut LP “Beauty and the Beat” and their huge hit singles, “Our Lips Are Sealed” and We Got the Beat.”  On their 1984 LP “Talk Show,” which included the #11 hit “Head Over Heels,” there’s a really nice album track called “Forget That Day” with lyrics that describe a girl who wishes she could block the memory of the fateful day her ex first told her he loved her:   “Why’d you say you loved me that day, that day, when you knew you wouldn’t have me on this day, this day, now you’re fine, I’m not okay, and I can only stay away, I can only kneel and pray, try and try to forget that day…”

“Never Forget,” Fleetwood Mac, 1979

18010e8e5f8e20b94a31bf026d316957Christine McVie wrote this gentle tune that closes out the Fleetwood Mac double album “Tusk.”  Ever since Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined the band in 1975, they seemed to get most of the attention, particularly on stage, but I think McVie’s songs and voice are just as good, if not better.  Indeed, her songs were often the ones picked to be released as singles (“Say You Love Me,” “You Make Loving Fun,” “Don’t Stop,” “Little Lies”).  This one is so deceptively simple and soothing, all about a magical evening she once spent with someone she cared for, an evening she hopes to always remember:  “Could we ever forget tonight?/Oh, it’ll be all right/We’ll never forget tonight…”

“I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near),” Michael McDonald, 1982

Unknown-161For six years, McDonald was the smoky-voiced front man of The Doobie Brothers, responsible for writing and singing several of the band’s bigger hits, including “Takin’ It to the Streets,” “Minute By Minute” and “What a Fool Believes.”  He chose to go solo in 1982, and scored high with “I Keep Forgettin’,” which reached #4 on the pop charts that year.  The song so resembled an earlier song with the same name by the famed songwriting team Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller that they ended up winning co-writing credits.  In the lyrics, the narrator has to be reminded that his romantic relationship is over:  “I keep forgettin’ we’re not in love anymore, I keep forgettin’ things will never be the same again, I keep forgettin’ how you made that so clear, I keep forgettin’, darlin’…”

“I Don’t Mind If You Forget Me,” Morrissey, 1988

Unknown-160Morrissey’s music, both with the British alt-rock band The Smiths (1982-1987) and as a successful solo artist ever since, has been noted for his distinctive lyrics with recurring themes of emotional isolation, sexual longing, self-deprecating and black humor, and anti-establishment stances.  The self-deprecation is in full display on this snappy little track from his debut solo LP, “Viva Hate.”  The narrator is bitter about having been dumped, and hopes she’ll move on without any further contact:  “I don’t mind if you forget me, rejection is one thing, but rejection from a fool is cruel, so I don’t mind if you forget me…”

“How Soon We Forget,” Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997

images-92This star-crossed Southern rock band from the ’70s was known foremost for their FM radio staple “Freebird” and their impossible-to-forget anthem “Sweet Home Alabama.”  Despite losing several key members in a 1977 plane crash, the group has soldiered on, touring and recording well into the new millennium.  Johnny Van Zant, brother of the late original singer Ronny, came up with this tune that appears on the 1997 LP “Twenty,” with reflective lyrics that remind us of what’s important to remember:  “How soon we forget/to count every blessing/if you think you got it bad/take a look around/how soon we forget/that life is one big lesson/still we make the same mistakes/time and time again/how soon we forget…”

“Don’t Forget to Dance,” The Kinks, 1983

Unknown-166Ray Davies has written so many memorable songs during his lengthy tenure with The Kinks, from “You Really Got Me” in 1964 to “Hatred” in 1994.  The band enjoyed a new surge in popularity in the late ’70s and early ’80s with several hard rocking, commercially accessible albums like “State of Confusion” and “Word of Mouth.”  On the former LP, you’ll find the roller-rink hit single “Come Dancing” and this pretty tune addressed to a heartbroken woman who needs to remember to have fun:  “I bet you danced a good one in your time, and if this were a party, I’d really make sure the next one would be mine, yes, you with the broken heart, don’t forget to dance, no, no, no, don’t forget to smile, don’t forget to dance, no, no, no, forget it for a while…”

“True Love Tends to Forget,” Bob Dylan, 1978

Unknown-162Dylan’s “Street-Legal” album came along at a complicated time for him.  It followed on the heels of his mid-’70s masterpiece LP “Blood on the Tracks” and the almost equally strong “Desire,” but it was written as his divorce and child custody proceedings were distracting him from his creative work.  The songs were generally well regarded, but their production was not, as he chose to use a makeshift rehearsal space in Santa Monica instead of a bonafide studio.  The single “Baby Don’t Cry” did well in the UK but failed to chart here.  I’ve always liked “True Love Tends to Forget,” an album track that seems to be not autobiographical but fictional:  “Still, I’m getting weary looking in my baby’s eyes, when she’s near me she’s so hard to recognize, but I finally realize there’s no room for regret, true love, true love, true love tends to forget…”

“Forget the Cost,” UB40, 1982

Unknown-164Britain’s most successful reggae band reached the Top 10 in England with each of their first dozen albums and scored nearly two dozen Top 20 singles as well.  UB40 were nowhere near as popular in the US; nevertheless, they scored two #1 singles with reggae cover versions of Neil Diamond’s “Red Red Wine” and the Elvis hit “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” in 1983 and 1993, respectively.  “Forget the Cost,” a deep album track on their fourth LP, “UB44,” bemoans how the nations of the Earth spend huge sums on defense while worrying about spending too much on planet-saving programs:  “Forget the cost, we’ve got to choose, we’re running in a race that we can only lose…”

“I Forget to Remember to Forget,” Elvis Presley, 1955

images-91Writer/producer Stan Kesler wrote two great whimsically titled songs for Elvis Presley early in his career.  First came “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone,” followed by “I Forgot to Remember to Forget,” both recorded at Sun Records in 1955.  While the latter reached #1 on the country charts, it failed to reach the pop charts, but that all changed once Presley was signed to RCA and exploded into our consciousness with “Heartbreak Hotel” in early 1956.  “I Forgot to Remember to Forget” was later covered by Jerry Lee Lewis (1957) and Johnny Cash (1959), and was among the songs The Beatles performed during their BBC Radio sessions in early 1964.  The lyrics:  “Well the day she went away, I made myself a promise that I’d soon forget we’d ever met, but something sure is wrong, ’cause I’m so blue and lonely, I forgot to remember to forget…”

****************

We definitely need to keep a sense of humor about all this forgetting.  With that in mind, I want to Unknown-170close with the lyrics to this recent tune by that old folkie Tom Rush called “Remember Song“:

“I’m looking for my wallet and my car keys, well they can’t have gone too far, just as soon as I find my glasses, I’m sure I’ll see just where they are.  I’m supposed to meet someone for lunch today, but I can’t remember where, or who it is that I am meeting, it’s in my organizer…somewhere.  I might’ve left it on the counter, or maybe outside in the car, last time I remember driving was to that memory enhancement seminar.  What’s that far off distant ringing in that strangely familiar tone? Must be that person I am meeting, calling me on my phone…”

****************

Honorable mentions:

Forgive and Forget,” Eddie Rabbitt, 1975;  “Forget Me Not,” Martha Reeves & Vandellas, 1968;  “Don’t Forget Me,” Al Stewart, 2006;  “Remember What I Told You to Forget,” The Four Tops, 1972;  “Trying So Hard to Forget,” Fleetwood Mac, 1968;  “I Forgot to Be Your Lover,” William Bell, 1972.