Here we go again. On this 24th edition of “Lost Classics,” let’s go exploring the deep tracks from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, looking for the hidden gems you never knew or forgot all about.
I love turning you on to great old songs. I hope you do too!
“St. Judy’s Comet,” Paul Simon, 1973
Following his somewhat somber solo debut, Simon seemed to be amped up with joy and gratitude when he wrote the songs for “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon,” his 1973 masterpiece. There are ten songs that show his mastery of multiple genres, from gospel (“Loves Me Like a Rock,” “Tenderness”) to Dixieland (“Take Me to the Mardi Gras”), from reggae (“Was a Sunny Day”) to blues (“One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor”). Tucked in near the end is “St. Judy’s Comet,” an exquisite lullaby he wrote for his son, who liked to stay up and watch the night sky. He pokes fun at himself in the lyrics: “Well I sang it once, Then I sang it twice, /I’m going to sing it three times more, /I’m going to stay ’til your resistance is overcome, /’Cause if I can’t sing my boy to sleep, /Well, it makes your famous daddy look so dumb…”
“Shelter From the Storm,” Bob Dylan, 1975
After the understated and overt songwriting brilliance he displayed throughout his first seven or eight albums in the 1960s, Dylan went through somewhat of a dry patch in the early ’70s, as both critics and fans had lukewarm reactions to the albums of that stretch. But in January 1975, Dylan made a triumphant return with “Blood on the Tracks,” a timeless collection of songs that are among the best he ever wrote. Interestingly, he recently released a deluxe version that featured very different alternate takes of these tracks, which is worth hearing, but I prefer the originals. “Simple Twist of Fate,” “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” and especially the marvelous “Tangled Up in Blue” — they’re all still so enjoyable 45 years later. I’m also partial to the comforting “Shelter From the Storm,” a ten-verse story with just his voice and guitar and a bass.
“Approaching Lavender,” Gordon Lightfoot, 1970
Another outstanding songwriter who got his start in the ’60s, Lightfoot wrote wondrous folk tunes on his first four albums (“Early Morning Rain,” “Did She Mention My Name,” “Pussywillows, Cat-tails,” “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”) that were successfully covered by Peter, Paul and Mary and others. Once he was signed by Reprise in 1970, Lightfoot took a huge step forward as a recording artist with the beautifully produced “Sit Down Young Stranger” LP, which included his big hit “If You Could Read My Mind.” The whole album, with ace guitarist Red Shea and bassist Rick Haynes in support, is very satisfying, with splendid tracks like “Minstrel of the Dawn,” “Your Love’s Return” and one of the first covers of Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee.” My favorite may be the captivating “Approaching Lavender,” with a string arrangement by Randy Newman.
“Leave It Like It Is,” David Wilcox, 1989
I’d wager that very few of my readers here are familiar with this talented, unassuming singer-songwriter from Ohio who eventually found his way to Nashville, where an appearance at the legendary Bluebird Cafe won him a contract with A&M Records. His warm, expressive voice on songs filled with keen insight and humor made his 1989 debut with them, “How Did You Find Me Here?”, a cult favorite at a time when singer-songwriters weren’t in vogue. Take a listen to how well-crafted these songs are: “Eye of the Hurricane,” “Saturday They’ll All Be Back Again,” and “The Kid” show how unjustly neglected Wilcox has been. Sure to elicit a chuckle or two are fun ditties like “Just a Vehicle” and the marvelous “Leave It As It Is,” which features great jazzy guitar and potent lyrics that explore how a paint can mishap can turn into a much-coveted work of art.
“That’s the Way,” Led Zeppelin, 1970
After two rocket-fueled years on the road evolving into the biggest blues rock band in the world, Robert Plant suggested that they chill for a month or two at a rural cottage in Wales he knew about, where they could see what musical inspirations might come. The “Led Zeppelin” and “Led Zeppelin II” albums had shown a hint of the group’s acoustic side on songs like “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Ramble On,” but those were both acoustic and electric. For the “Led Zeppelin III” album, they devoted nearly half the album’s running time to four acoustic-based tunes that had critics and fans scratching their heads a bit. It still sold a zillion copies, and tracks like “Tangerine,” “Born-Y-Aur Stomp,” “Friends” and the all-acoustic “That’s the Way” were eventually embraced by fans and took their rightful place in the Led Zep canon.
“Crazy Mama,” J.J. Cale, 1972
Cale has always preferred writing and recording his songs to performing them, so it’s not surprising that the songs from his catalog you’ll know best are the ones covered by better known artists, particularly Eric Clapton (“After Midnight,” “Cocaine”) and Lynyrd Skynyrd (“Call Me the Breeze”). Cale was a leader in what became known as the Tulsa Sound, and his laid-back groove came through both in his understated guitar playing and his soothing vocals. He began recording his own songs in 1972 with the album “Naturally,” which included his own take on “After Midnight” as well as the jazz-inflected “Crazy Mama,” which became his only appearance on the Top 40 charts (#22). Cale eschewed the limelight, but Clapton’s collaborative effort with him, the excellent “Road to Escondido,” won him a Grammy in 2008. He died of a heart attack in 2013 at age 74.
“Helpless,” Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, 1970
Following the breakup of Buffalo Springfield in 1968, Young wasted no time putting together his first solo record by the end of the year, and the amazing “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” album (with “Cinnamon Girl” and “Cowgirl in the Sand”) came along only eight months later. Springfield pal Stephen Stills, together with David Crosby and Graham Nash, had become the hottest act of the summer, thanks to their stunning debut album’s songs and performances, but to take it on the road, they needed another guitarist. They invited Young, who showed up with two tunes that ended up as deep-track anchors of the CSNY album “Deja Vu,” a #1 album in the spring of 1970. “Helpless” was a simple, three-chord song that Young had already recorded unsatisfactorily with his other band Crazy Horse, and Crosby convinced him to re-record it with them, and they nailed it.
“By Today,” Batdorf and Rodney, 1972
I’ve been spreading the word about this amazing duo since I first heard them in 1971. Their astounding debut LP “Off the Shelf” still ranks among my Top 25 albums of all time. “Can You See Him” got considerable airplay, and “Let Me Go,” “Oh My Surprise,” “You Are the One” and others ring true with dexterous guitar work and fine harmonies. Their second album, “Batdorf and Rodney,” shines as well, with tracks like “All I Need,” “Poor Man’s Dream,” “Home Again” and “By Today,” which I’ve singled out here. The duo lasted for one more album (“Life is You”) in 1975. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and become friends with Batdorf over the past decade as he has continued writing and releasing great new music and performing at clubs and house parties.
“Bella Donna,” Stevie Nicks, 1981
From the moment she and Lindsey Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac in 1975, Nicks turned heads with her distinctive voice, memorable songs and mesmerizing stage presence. “Rhiannon,” “Landslide,” “Gold Dust Woman” and the #1 hit “Dreams” established her as a formidable enough force that she felt justified in embarking on a concurrent solo career. Her 1981 debut LP, “Bella Donna,” was a smashing success both commercially and critically, registering three Top Ten hits from it (“Edge of Seventeen,” “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and “Leather and Lace” with Don Henley). But there were other fine tracks as well — “Outside the Rain,” “How Still My Love” and especially the shimmering title track had all the elements of Nicks’ ouevre: mystery, gorgeous harmonies, poetic lyrics and studio dynamics, this time courtesy of produce Jimmy Iovine.
“Everybody’s Been Burned,” The Byrds, 1967
Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, David Crosby, Chris Hillman and Alan Clarke became The Byrds in 1964, and in short order became cultural icons when they took Dylan’s acoustic “Mr. Tambourine Man” and turned into an electric “folk rock” prototype. It went to #1, as did their follow-up, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Clark left the band, but the songwriting of Crosby and Hillman had them trying other genres, specifically psychedelic rock and country, respectively. On The Byrds’ fourth LP, “Younger Than Yesterday,” McGunn and Hillman’s tongue-in-cheek tune “So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star” became a big hit, while Hillman added four songs with an overt country influence. Crosby’s finest moment, to my ears, was the moody, jazz-influenced “Everybody’s Been Burned,” with a superb vocal performance that presaged his classic “Guinnevere” with Stills and Nash.
“No Other,” Gene Clark, 1974
As one of the integral founding members of the original Byrds, Clark provided rich harmonies as well as occasional lead vocals and contributed several of his own songs to the band’s celebrated first two albums, including “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” and “Set You Free This Time.” Sadly, Clark suffered from a profound fear of flying that prevented him from touring, which ultimately caused his departure from the lineup. Clark attempted a solo career, working with multiple labels and musicians over the next decade or so, receiving critical praise but almost no commercial success. Still, he persevered, and in 1974 he released “No Other,” a wonderful amalgam of country, rock, soul and gospel, and one of the most unjustly neglected records of that period. The haunting title track has been a favorite lost classic for me ever since.
“Spanish Nights,” Michael Stanley Band, 1982
Stanley was a Cleveland-born singer-songwriter whose first two solo albums, augmented by the contributions of Joe Walsh and other L.A.-based luminaries, included stellar tracks like “Rosewood Bitters” and “Let’s Get the Show on the Road.” He formed The Michael Stanley Band in 1975 and went on to release ten of the greatest Midwest rock albums the world has never heard. MSB set attendance records at numerous Cleveland-area venues and enjoyed a modest following in various other U.S. cities, but they failed to break through nationally, which is a crying shame, in my book. So many strong rock songs and power ballads alike, from “Last Night” and “In Between the Lines” to “Why Should Love Be This Way” and “Lover.” Probably the best of Stanley’s songs is “Spanish Nights,” a superb track from their 1982 LP “MSB.”