The ’60s, ’70s and ’80s offered so much great music that it’s easy to forget — or to have never heard — the hundreds, even thousands of deep tracks and lost classics found on great, average and even crappy albums. I’ve taken it upon myself to search these records so that we might all discover, or re-discover, some of the fine nuggets of great music that’s been tucked away for far too long.
I hope you get a kick out of these selections, and I encouraged you to send more candidates my way as possible candidates for a future set of “lost classics.”
“Giddy Up a Ding Dong,” The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, 1973
Harvey, from Glasgow, Scotland, was already 37 and a veteran recording and performing artist when he formed this quasi-progressive rock band in 1972. They had almost no following in the US except in Cleveland, where hip DJ Kid Leo from WMMS played them incessantly, which brought them to the famed Agora Ballroom, where they recorded many tracks for a live LP in 1974. Harvey had been a big fan of early rock and roll, including obscure acts like Freddie Bell & The Bellboys. Bell had written a fun dance tune called “Giddy Up a Ding Dong” that Harvey and his band covered in a riotous arrangement that appeared on their 1973 LP, “Next.”
“Hallelujah,” Sweathog, 1972
This is one of those modestly successful tunes from my high school years by an obscure California rock band that qualifies as a “one-hit wonder.” Sweathog was a foursome founded in the San Jose area in 1969 who went on to become popular as a warmup act for more popular rock groups like Black Sabbath, Grand Funk Railroad and Edgar Winter’s White Trash. Although “Hallelujah” managed only #33 on the charts in January 1972, but the vocal harmonies and rocking groove that attracted me must’ve clicked with Canadian listeners as well, where the track reached #16.
“Talk to Me,” Bruce Springsteen, 1978
Springsteen has been one of rock music’s most prolific songwriters since he first emerged from the Jersey Shore in the early ’70s. In 1977-78, as he was working on recording his “Darkness on the Edge of Town” LP, he recorded more than three dozen songs, selecting ten of them to put on his “Darkness on the Edge of Town” LP that year and giving several others to other artists to cover (“Because the Night” to Patti Smith, “Fire” to The Pointer Sisters). His pal “Southside” Johnny Lyon and his band, The Asbury Jukes, recorded a few Springsteen originals, one of which was the exuberant “Talk to Me.” In 2010, The Boss released “The Promise,” which compiled the best of the tracks he recorded and shelved in 1978, including “Talk to Me.”
“Oh Atlanta,” Little Feat, 1974
With the addition of bassist Kenny Gradney, percussionist Sam Clayton and, especially, versatile guitarist Paul Barrère in 1972, Little Feat adopted a rhythm-oriented, funky sound that recalled the New Orleans feel of The Meters. The band really hit their stride with a six-album run — “Dixie Chicken” (1973), “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now” (1974), “The Last Record Album” (1975), Time Loves a Hero” (1977), the double live album “Waiting for Columbus” (1978) and “Down on the Farm” (1979). From the “Feats” album you’ll find the barrelhouse stomp of “Oh, Atlanta,” with leader Lowell George leading his troops through a tribute to the Southern city and the woman he left behind there.
“Pardon Me Sir,” Joe Cocker, 1972
Beginning with his first LP in 1969, Cocker developed a solid reputation reinterpreting songs already recorded by others, from The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” and Dave Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright” to Leon Russell’s “Delta Lady” and the old Box Tops classic, “The Letter.” Although Cocker struggled with depression and alcoholism, he and keyboardist Chris Stainton somehow found the strength to collaborate on five original songs for his 1972 “Joe Cocker” LP, including the minor hits “High Time We Went” and “Woman to Woman.” I recently rediscovered the lively opening track, “Pardon Me Sir,” carried by Stainton’s fine piano work, Cocker’s gruff growl and the Sanctified Sisters on backing vocals.
“Highway 61 Revisited,” Bob Dylan, 1965
When Dylan made the switch from acoustic to electric guitar arrangements for his songs, he was driven by rock and roll and the blues, leaving folk music in the dust, at least for the time being. The title song of his landmark “Highway 61 Revisited” LP references the main route that follows the Mississippi River from New Orleans north through Tennessee and Missouri to Dylan’s home state of Minnesota. Dylan metaphorically traveled that road from north to south, leaving the backwoods for the urban scenes, picking up the blues influences along the way. “Highway 61 Revisited,” a rollicking blues boogie, is one of Dylan’s most spirited tracks, with notables like Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and Harvey Brooks in the mix.
“8th Avenue Shuffle,” The Doobie Brothers, 1976
When Doobies co-founder Tom Johnston was sidelined in 1975 with bleeding ulcers and exhaustion, the band hired singer Michael McDonald temporarily to fill in on tour, then decided to bring him in the studio and use four of his songs on their next LP, “Takin’ It to the Streets.” McDonald’s presence injected new life and a different style to the group’s palette, but it wasn’t a complete departure, thanks to the singing and songwriting of co-founder Patrick Simmons, which remained as strong as ever. His hard-to-pinpoint tune “8th Avenue Shuffle” goes through R&B, jazz and hard rock changes in less than five minutes, making old and new Doobies fans sit up and take notice.
“Trip Through Your Wire,” U2, 1987
The incredible songs that make up U2’s multiplatinum album “The Joshua Tree” set such a high bar that it’s kind of surprising to hear there was another entire album’s worth of material being worked up at the same time that didn’t make the cut. Indeed, Bono even pushed for “The Joshua Tree” to be a double album but he was overruled. The R&B-flavored “Sweetest Thing,” which wasn’t released until a “Best Of” package 12 years later, was intended to be a companion piece to one of my favorite album tracks, the bluesy romp “Trip Through Your Wires.” Bono’s harmonica workout was the unusual element this time, complementing The Edge’s rustic, jangly guitar stylings.
“Good Shepherd,” Jefferson Airplane, 1969
This 19th Century African-American hymn went through many changes in tempo, title, lyrics and instrumentations as a lasting spiritual that used elements of folk, gospel and blues. Jorma Kaukonen, the Airplane’s guitarist, sang “Good Shepherd” (originally titled “Blood-Stained Bandit”) as a folk-based song in small Bay Area clubs in the early ’60s. By the time the band was recording “Volunteers” in 1969, Kaukonen offered this “psychedelic folk-rock” arrangement of “Good Shepherd,” adding biting electric guitar lines and a rare lead vocal. The track stood out as a peaceful moment amidst a batch of songs that focused on protest, revolution and anarchy.
“Cold Cold World,” Stephen Stills, 1975
Once Stills’ inventive musical assembly called Manassas completed a two-year run in 1973, he started work own a solo LP that was put on hold as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young” reunited in 1974 for a lucrative US tour. He resumed production with the help of numerous musicians, especially guitarist/singer Donnie Dacus, drummer Russ Kunkel and bassist Lee Sklar. The resulting LP, titled simply “Stills,” reached a respectable #19 on US album charts. Stills and Dacus co-wrote two tracks: “Turn Back the Pages,” a great song which disappointed as a single, and “Cold, Cold World,” a slow-tempo creeper highlighted by Stills’ delicious guitar playing and singing.
“Don’t Talk,” 10,000 Maniacs, 1987
Hailing originally from Jamestown in western New York, 10,000 Maniacs featured the songs and captivating voice of Natalie Merchant, who led the band through three successful LPs in the 1987-1993 period. On 1987’s “In My Tribe,” Merchant co-wrote a few tracks with guitarist Robert Buck (“What’s the Matter Here?” and “Hey Jack Kerouac”) and the shimmering “Don’t Talk” with keyboard player Dennis Drew, featuring dynamic drumming by Jerome Augustnyiak. The lyrics describe the frustration of trying to communicate with an alcoholic when he’s in his addiction, being dishonest and hurtful: “The drink you drown your troubles in is the trouble you’re in now…”
“Love of the Common Man,” Todd Rundgren, 1976
Between 1966 and 1976, the ambitious, unpredictable Rundgren fronted two nascent bands (The Nazz and Runt), released seven wildly different solo albums and one by his side project Utopia, and also produced albums by Grand Funk, the New York Dolls, Hall and Oates and Meat Loaf. In 1976 he chose to mark his first decade in the business by recording exact covers of six songs from 1966 by The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Yardbirds, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. On Side B of “Faithful,” he wrote original songs that touched on the genres he’d been dabbling in — commercial pop, progressive rock and experimental jazz. I’ve always thought “Love of the Common Man” is one of Todd’s finest tunes.