Time again for another dozen lost classics to remind us all how much great music was released during the classic rock period that gets no airplay these days.
You might have had these albums but forgot about them. You might have never heard these songs before but you like the artist. You might have no clue about the band, album or song. Whatever the case, I’m thinking you’ll find something you like about most or all of these tracks, and I invite you to listen on the Spotify playlist at the end as you read my back-story info.
“Are You Ready,” Grand Funk Railroad, 1969
My introduction to this hard rock band from Flint, Michigan, came when they served as the warm-up act for Led Zeppelin at my very first rock concert in October 1969. Their 45-minute set of songs from their debut LP blew me away, and I bought the album a few days later. “Are You Ready” kicked off the concert, and the album, and made quite an impression on my neophyte ears at the time. My interest in the band may have dissipated — it turned out that “On Time” was the only Grand Funk LP I ever owned — but I still get revved up when the power trio of guitarist/vocalist Mark Farner, drummer/vocalist Don Brewer and bassist Mel Schacher explodes from my speakers with this track.
“You and Me,” The Moody Blues, 1972
Beginning with “A Question of Balance” in 1970, I became a big Moodies fan, thanks in large part to the songs, singing and guitar work of Justin Hayward. Tunes like “Question,” “It’s Up to You,” “Story in Your Eyes” and “You and Me” were right up my alley, a smooth yet relentless sound embellished by synthesizer and string arrangements and the band’s solid rhythm section. This forgotten song from their “Seventh Sojourn” LP implores us all to “look around in wonder at the work that has been done” to create our amazing planet and “never never stop” working together to protect it. (As a grammar cop, I’ve chosen to forgive the fact that it should be “you and I just cannot fail” rather than “you and me”…)
“Kooks,” David Bowie, 1971
It took me several years after turning on to Bowie via his “Ziggy Stardust” masterpiece before I finally explored his earlier work, especially “Hunky Dory.” I devoured the music on “Ziggy” in 1972-73 and was pleasantly surprised to find that “Hunky Dory” has a similar feel to it. Many of the songs were written on piano instead of guitar, and “Kooks,” written just days after the birth of his son Duncan Zowie Jones, is dedicated to him. The infant is invited to “stay in our lovers’ story… Soon you’ll grow, so take a chance with a couple of kooks hung up on romancing…” It has a light, easygoing arrangement and tempo, and fits in perfectly with other keyboard-centered tracks like “Life on Mars?”, “Oh! You Pretty Things” and, of course, “Changes.”
“Ballrooms of Mars,” T. Rex, 1972
Bowie’s flip side in the British glam rock movement was the late Marc Bolan, the main force behind T. Rex, who scored five #1 hits and five more in the Top Five in England between 1971 and 1973, but in the U.S. they had just one Top Ten hit, “Bang a Gong (Get It On).” Their highest charting LP in the U.S. was “The Slider” at #17, produced by frequent Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti. It features some of Bolan’s best writing, including “Telegram Sam” (which borrows from “Bang a Gong”), “The Slider,” “Metal Guru” and especially the sultry “Ballrooms of Mars.” Bolan manages to namecheck Dylan, Lennon and Alan Freed as he describes the bizarre glam rock scene, where “we’ll dance the night away in the ballrooms of Mars…“
“You’re Lost Little Girl,” The Doors, 1967
The appeal of the music of The Doors is in the combination of Ray Manzarek’s dominant organ playing, Robby Krieger’s understated guitar work and, of course, Jim Morrison’s haunting vocals. The lyrics, on the other hand, are pretty simplistic, so I wouldn’t dwell on them too much. Case in point: “You’re Lost Little Girl” from their second LP, “Strange Days,” has a compelling arrangement and melody (and dig that bass line!), but the lyrics go absolutely nowhere: “You’re lost little girl, you’re lost, /Tell me, who are you? /I think that you know what to do, /Impossible? Yes, but it’s true…” That’s the whole song. Morrison wanted us to regard him as a deep thinker, but it’s best just to stick to the great musical vibes here.
“Ngiculela (I Am Singing),” Stevie Wonder, 1976
When Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” double album came out in the autumn of 1976, it was universally praised as a musical cornucopia of styles, genres and moods, mostly joyous and effervescent (cue the hit singles “I Wish,” “Sir Duke” and “Isn’t She Lovely”). Stevie’s melodies and expressive vocals are his strong suits, and both are on display throughout the album on tracks like “As,” “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” “Summer Soft,” the ballad “If It’s Magic” and especially “Ngiculela,” which begins with verses in Zulu and Spanish before switching to the English translation: “I am singing of tomorrow, I am singing of love, /I am singing someday love will reign throughout this world of ours, /I am singing of love from my heart…”
“My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone),” Chilliwack, 1981
Hailing from the Canadian province of British Columbia, Chilliwack had a fitful yet successful career in their native country, charting ten albums between 1970 and 1984, four in the Top 20, plus seven Top 20 singles. A revolving door of record labels and musical personnel hampered their momentum and ability to gain much recognition in the U.S. until their biggest hit, “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone),” broke through in 1981, reaching #16. I had forgotten about this catchy tune, which was nominated for Single of the Year in Canada’s Juno Awards that year. The pop songwriting and impressive vocal range of singer-songwriter Bill Henderson reminds me of Daryl Hall of Hall and Oates.
“Try My Love,” Atlanta Rhythm Section, 1980
After struggling along through the first half of the 1970s, ARS scored well with their seventh LP, “A Rock and Roll Alternative,” which reached #13 on the album charts in 1977, thanks to the #7 hit “So Into You.” Then came “Champagne Jam” with its two hits, “Imaginary Lover” and “Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight,” both offering their melodious brand of Southern rock. By 1980, radio was turning to New Wave, and their LP “The Boys From Doraville” was essentially ignored. Too bad — you’ll find some great tracks on that album, like “Silver Eagle,” “Cocaine Charlie” and particularly the infectious “Try My Love,” all featuring the smooth vocals of Ronnie Hammond.
“The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar,” Bob Dylan, 1981
For three years (1979-1981), the Jewish-born Dylan went through a phase of embracing Christianity, with songs like “Gotta Serve Somebody,” “Saved” and “Property of Jesus.” Fans and critics were lukewarm at best on these works, but 1981’s “Shot of Love” showed he was reverting to stronger, more secular material that resonated with a broader audience. The most widely praised track was the old-fashioned “Every Grain of Sand,” but most impressive to me was the bluesy “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar,” which still hinted at religious imagery but simultaneously dealt with more universal relationship woes. Dylan’s voice is in fine form at this stage.
“Stranger,” Stephen Stills, 1984
This one is truly a lost classic, buried on an album that was pretty much ignored upon release. Stills has had some fantastic successes with Crosby and Nash (and Young), Buffalo Springfield, and his mid-’70s band Manassas, but his solo recording career has been more hit-or-miss. In 1984, he released “Right By You,” which featured a couple of fine tracks, especially “Stranger,” released as a single that stalled at #75 but reached #12 on Mainstream Rock Radio. Stills constructed a great lyric about how uncertain and awkward it can be when you’re attracted to someone new: “Tryin’ to remember that getting it wrong is what everyone does, /Mutual attraction can be so distracting, forget where you were, /Strangers can fall in love…”
“Breakthrough,” Atomic Rooster, 1971
Ever go into a record store where they’re playing a song by a band you’ve never heard of before, and you buy it on impulse? That’s what happened to me at age 16 with an album called “In Hearing Of Atomic Rooster,” at Record Revolution in Cleveland Heights. This was a British prog rock band that sounded like a cross between Deep Purple and Yes, with keyboardist/songwriter Vincent Crane at the helm. The album in question had charted in the Top 20 in the UK, but fared poorly here. Still, I was crazy about the leadoff track, “Breakthrough,” and the second cut, “Break the Ice,” both carried by singer Pete French’s intriguing voice. Both qualify as lost classics in my book, but I’m partial to “Breakthrough.”
“Gonna Get Ya,” Pete Townshend, 1980
Following the death of drummer Keith Moon in late 1978, The Who were uncertain how (or whether) to proceed, eventually hiring Faces drummer Kenney Jones in time for a 1979 tour. Townshend, meanwhile, was going through a rough period with alcohol abuse and marital problems, and he decided the time was right for a proper solo album of new material. Roger Daltrey later complained that the best songs on Townshend’s “Empty Glass” LP would’ve been better if The Who had recorded them, and many critics and fans agreed. But no matter — Townshend’s versions of “Let My Love Open the Door” (a Top Ten hit here), “Rough Boys,” “And I Moved” and particularly “Gonna Get Ya” were outstanding.