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!

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“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, 1987

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

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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.

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