Criminally overlooked albums of the Seventies

Regular readers of this blog know I love to shine a light on “lost classics” — excellent songs from little-known or less-than-great albums, or neglected deep tracks from commercially and critically successful LPs.

It has always been a labor of love for me to scour the vaults looking for the tunes from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s we heard a few times and forgot all about, or tracks we never heard in the first place. What a joy it is for a music lover like me to discover “new” music from the old days!

The Seventies in particular was an extraordinarily fertile period for great music. In my search for lost classic songs, it has been my pleasure to come across some “lost classic albums” — LPs that barely made the Billboard Top 200 album charts when they were released, but are, in my opinion, consistently strong musical collections that should have been widely praised and purchased. I have gathered 12 lost classic albums of the 1970s that almost certainly flew under your radar at the time but are very worthy of your attention today.

The Spotify playlist at the end offers five tracks from each of these dozen records, but I encourage you to dive deeper into these albums if you like what you hear.

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“Off the Shelf,” Batdorf and Rodney, 1971

The singer-songwriter era of the early ’70s brought us some beautiful music and introspective lyrics from the likes of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens and others, but the most criminally overlooked artists of that period, in my opinion, were John Batdorf and Mark Rodney.  Their virtuoso acoustic guitars, great vocals, Batdorf’s superb songs and pristine production values were all in abundance on their amazing debut album, “Off the Shelf,” as well as the follow-up, “Batdorf and Rodney,” and, to a lesser degree, their final effort, “Life is You” (1975).  Tunes like “Oh My Surprise,” “You Are the One,” “Where Were You and I,” “Let Me Go,” “One Day” and especially the effervescent “Can You See Him” all deserve a place among the highest-regarded songs of the genre.  Batdorf continues to release quality new music (four albums since 2006) as a solo artist, but I keep returning to “Off the Shelf.” A phenomenal record.

“Lazarus,” Lazarus, 1971

Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary discovered this trio of musicians (Billie Hughes, Carl Keesee and Gary Dye) from Texas, got them a recording contract and hired them as his warm-up act in 1971.  Their self-titled debut album has some of the most stunning harmonies and melodies I’ve ever heard — “Blessed,” “Warmth Of Your Eyes,” “Listening House,” “Eastward,” “Rivers” and “Whatever Happened.”  They later toured behind label mate Todd Rundgren to promote their second album, “A Fool’s Paradise,” but sadly, they never caught on with the buying public.  In the ’80s, singer-songwriter Hughes developed a strong following in Japan and Europe, where he found success writing for film and TV.  His song “Welcome to the Edge” was nominated for an Emmy for its role as theme song for the soap opera “Santa Barbara” in 1991.  He died in 1998 at age 50.

“The House on the Hill,” Audience, 1971

Howard Werth and Keith Gemmell were the chief musical talents behind Audience, a British art rock band that was well received by critics but never achieved chart success in the U.K. nor the U.S.  They played in support of Led Zeppelin in 1971, and were paired with Elton John’s first producer Gus Dudgeon in making what I consider to be their finest of four albums, “The House on the Hill.”  Werth’s voice is admittedly an acquired taste, but his electric classical guitar stylings and Gemmell’s impressive playing on electronically altered sax and flute resulted in several outstanding original recordings, including “Indian Summer,” “Raviole,” “Jackdaw,” “Nancy,” “You’re Not Smiling” and the 7-minute title track.  This is a superlative album well worth seeking out.

“Songs For a Tailor,” Jack Bruce, 1969

For three years (1966-1968), Jack Bruce was one of the hottest musicians in the world, playing bass and handling lead vocals for Cream, the British power trio that also featured a young Eric Clapton and drummer Ginger Baker.  Cream broke up in 1968, and Clapton went on to more success in Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominos and a lengthy solo career.  Baker moved to South Africa and was only marginally involved in music afterwards.  Bruce continued playing in various jazz bands and jazz-rock trios throughout the ’70s and ’80s that involved the likes of Leslie West and Robin Trower, and their output was average at best.  However, Bruce’s first solo album, 1969’s “Songs For a Tailor,” is a bonafide gem, with stellar playing and excellent songs like “The Clearout,” “Theme From an Imaginary Western,” “Ticket to Waterfalls,” “Weird of Hemirston” and “Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out of Tune.”

“Howlin’ Wind,” Graham Parker, 1976

Growing up in London in the Sixties, Parker was influenced by Beatles pop, pub rock and Motown soul, and all those influences showed up when Parker and his band, The Rumour, released their high-energy debut LP, “Howlin’ Wind,” in 1976. Although he’s mentioned in the same breath as fellow Brit New Wave pioneers Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson, Parker didn’t reach the chart heights of either of them. In fact, he never found much fame in the U.S., but if you give “Howlin’ Wind” a listen, you’ll hear shades of the R&B stylings of Van Morrison and the melodic, heartfelt rock of Bruce Springsteen in his songs, especially “Soul Shoes,” “White Honey” and “Between You and Me.” This LP and its strong follow-up the same year, “Heat Treatment,” are perfect party albums that you probably missed when they came out, but it’s never too late to become a convert. Check him out.

“Emitt Rhodes,” Emitt Rhodes, 1970

This multi-talented multi-instrumentalist is a classic example of a musician who got royally screwed by the industry.  Emitt Rhodes had been a member of two fledgling Sixties bands, The Palace Guard and Merry-Go-Round, and after they disbanded, Rhodes continued writing and recording songs to fulfill their contract with A&M Records, but they chose not to release his songs.  Instead, he invested in recording equipment and set up a home studio in his parents’ garage, playing all the instruments and singing and producing his own album.  He got a contract with ABC/Dunhill, and the album reached #29 on the charts in 1971, and was a big hit with critics as well.  “Fresh as a Daisy,” “Somebody Made for Me,” “Long Time No See,” “Lullabye” and “With My Face on the Floor” all have irresistible Beatlesque hooks and vocals that recall Paul McCartney.  A&M then released his earlier work, which confused buyers, and ABC demanded he release a new album every six months, a grueling pace that he found impossible to meet.  Discouraged, he soon quit the business but built a career as a producer/engineer.  The “Emitt Rhodes” LP is a hidden treasure.

“Ahead Rings Out,” Blodwyn Pig, 1969

Original Jethro Tull guitarist Mick Abrahams was a blues purist and didn’t enjoy life on the road, so he and Tull frontman Ian Anderson had a falling out over Anderson’s non-blues songs and a punishing tour schedule.  Abrahams left and formed Blodwyn Pig, who released two albums before folding.  Their first, “Aheads Rings Out,” released in the waning days of 1969, offers the explosive “See My Way” and several excellent blues tracks like “It’s Only Love,” “Dear Jill” and “Summer Day.”  Although the album got little attention in the U.S., it reached #9 in England, rivaling Tull’s concurrent “Stand Up” LP that year.

“No Other,” Gene Clark, 1974

With high-profile musicians like Roger McGuinn and David Crosby around, it’s not surprising that Gene Clark was sometimes the overlooked jewel of The Byrds’ lineup. Clark served as frontman and one of the lead singers, writing or co-writing some of their finest tracks (“I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” “She Don’t Care About Time,” “Eight Miles High”), but his stage fright and fear of flying led to his premature departure. He signed with Geffen Records in 1973 as a solo artist, but his remarkable tour-de-force LP “No Other” got the cold shoulder from David Geffen, who refused to promote it, and it consequently tanked on the charts, which devastated Clark. The album has undergone a dramatic reappraisal in recent years; AllMusic’s Thom Jurek calls it “a sprawling, ambitious work that seamlessly melds country, folk, jazz-inflected-gospel, urban blues, and breezy L.A. rock in a song cycle that reflects the mid-’70s better than anything from the time.” I confess the album went under my radar at the time, but I’ve since become a huge fan. So much great music to absorb here!

“Blows Against the Empire,” Paul Kantner, 1970

Singer/guitarist Kantner has been the mainstay in every phase of the great San Francisco band — Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and Starship.  He fancied himself something of a countercultural revolutionary, and was obsessed with science fiction, so he combined those two interests and came up with a song cycle about hijacking a starship and starting a new world on some distant planet, since Earth appeared doomed to him.  Kantner’s solo concept album “Blows Against the Empire” was a bit silly lyrically, perhaps, but the music was excellent, thanks to the participation of several key musicians:   Grace Slick, Jerry Garcia, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Jack Casady, David Freiberg and Harvey Brooks.  Songs like “Let’s Go Together,” “A Child is Coming,” “Have You Seen the Stars Tonite” and “Starship” are as good as anything on earlier Airplane albums and later Starship LPs.

“Kongos,” John Kongos, 1972

Born in South Africa, John Kongos had some modest success there in the Sixties with a number of groups before moving to England in 1969.  He enjoyed two Top Five hits there in 1971 — “He’s Gonna Step on You Again” and “Tokoloshe Man” — but they never reached the Top 40 in the US, and the album they came from, “Kongos,” reached #30 in the UK but failed to crack the Top 200 album list here.  Too bad — the songs are engaging and beautifully produced, recalling early Elton John at times, particularly “I Would Have Had a Good Time,” “Gold,” “Tomorrow I’ll Go” and “He’s Gonna Step on You Again.”  This one might be tough to find but well worth the effort.

“Sunburst Finish,” Be-Bop Deluxe, 1976

One of Britain’s better progressive rock/art rock bands that never made much impact here in the U.S. was Be-Bop Deluxe.  Despite their name, they didn’t traffic in bebop music, preferring blues-based British rock not unlike David Bowie.  Three of their seven albums reached the Top 20 in the U.K., but none did better than #60 in the U.S.  Singer/songwriter Bill Nelson had a knack for great song riffs and quirky science-fiction lyrics, and it all came together nicely on their 1976 LP, “Sunburst Finish,” which includes great tracks like “Ships in the Night,” “Fair Exchange,” “Crying to the Sky,” “Sleep That Burns” and “Life in the Air Age.” If you’re a fan of Ziggy-era Bowie, you’ll enjoy this LP for sure.

“What If,” Dixie Dregs, 1978

Although their albums failed to chart, The Dixie Dregs have had an appreciative following from their founding in the early ’70s up to the present day. Led by guitar virtuoso Steve Morse, the group focuses almost exclusively on instrumental tracks that are so eclectic as to almost defy categorization. One critic tried, calling them “a cross between The Allman Brothers and Mahavishnu Orchestra,” which correctly pinpoints their leanings toward Southern rock and jazz fusion. And yet, there are elements of country and bluegrass here as well. You’ve got to hear it to believe it. The Allmans’ keyboardist Chuck Leavell brought the group to the attention of Capricorn Records, who released “Free Fall,” “What If” and “Night of the Living Dregs” in the late ’70s. “What If” is their most artistically proficient, and it’s an album I played often when the rest of the world had fallen for disco fever.

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Do you know? Did you ever?

Time to sharpen your pencils and test your memory banks about classic rock music!

Some of you who struggle to recall the words to even your most favorite songs may be relieved to hear this is NOT a lyrics quiz. It’s a rock trivia quiz, where I ask you 10 multiple-choice questions about bands, solo artists, singles, albums and other information from the classic rock of a half-century ago. Even if you weren’t around back then, or weren’t all that into the details of the music you listened to, the music has lived on, and I find it entertaining to see what we know about those days.

Study the choices for each question, mark your best guess on a piece of paper, then scroll down to find out the right answer and learn more about the subject under consideration.

Good luck!

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1 Which of these four rock groups does NOT have a Canadian member?

The Band

Buffalo Springfield

The Mamas and the Papas

The Doobie Brothers

2 Which of these four Beatles hits was not written by Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, or Starr?

Who was the first of these female artists to have a #1 single in the U.S.?

“I Feel Fine”

“Twist and Shout”

“Love Me Do”

“Yellow Submarine”

3 These four artists all had big hit singles in the 1970s. Three of them also scored a second Top 40 hit, but one artist failed to make a return appearance and therefore became a “One-Hit Wonder.” Which one?

Norman Greenbaum

Redbone

Five Man Electrical Band

Maria Muldaur

4 Which of these is Meat Loaf’s real name?

Vincent Furnier

Marvin Aday

Reginald Dwight

Melvin Houser

5 Which of these early Elton John singles failed to reach the Top 40 upon initial release?

“Daniel”

“Tiny Dancer”

“Honky Cat”

“Levon”

6 Which hit single was written by the composer when he was only 12 years old?

“My Generation” by Pete Townshend of The Who

“Lucky Man” by Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake and Palmer

“Proud Mary” by John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival

“You Really Got Me” by Ray Davies of The Kinks

7 Of these four hugely popular double albums, which is the only one to reach #1 on the U.S. charts?

“Tommy,” The Who (1969)

“Tusk,” Fleetwood Mac (1979)

“Exile on Main Street,” The Rolling Stones (1972)

“Eat a Peach,” The Allman Brothers Band (1972)

8 Only one of these lead singers was an original member of the band that made them famous. Which one?

Steve Perry of Journey

Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues

Jon Anderson of Yes

Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane

9 Which artist did NOT die of a gunshot wound?

Marvin Gaye

Terry Kath

Sam Cooke

Keith Moon

10 Which band’s album cover includes a reference to a different rock band?

“Axis Bold as Love,” Jimi Hendrix Experience

“Physical Graffiti,” Led Zeppelin

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” The Beatles

“Stand Up,” Jethro Tull

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1 The Doobie Brothers

The Doobies were a bar band formed in San Jose, California. Their two guitarists (Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons) and bassist Tiran Porter were from the West Coast, and their two drummers (John Hartman and Michael Hossack) were from Virginia and New Jersey. Even the later members to join the group (Jeff Baxter, Keith Knudsen, Michael McDonald, John McFee) were all from the U.S.

The Mamas and Papas came to symbolize the California sound, and while Michele Phillips came from Long Beach, Cass Elliot was actually from Maryland and John Phillips from South Carolina. Denny Doherty, however, was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and sang in bands there until moving to Hollywood at age 23.

Buffalo Springfield had three Canadians on their roster: Neil Young from Toronto, Bruce Palmer from Liverpool, Nova Scotia, and Dewey Martin from Chesterville, Ontario. (Stephen Stills and Richie Furay were from Texas and Ohio, respectively.)

The Band was 80% Canadian: Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and Rick Danko all hailed from various cities in Ontario, while drummer Levon Helm was the lone American, born in Arkansas.

2 “Twist and Shout”

This iconic rocker was co-written in 1961 by Phil Medley and Bert Berns, who also wrote other hits like “Hang On Sloopy,” “Piece of My Heart” and “A Million to One.” It was first recorded that year by a vocal group called The Top Notes as “a Latin-tinged raveup,” as one critic put it, but it failed to chart. The Isley Brothers’ recording in 1962 offered a better R&B groove and added the ascending vocal parts that made it so memorable, helping it reach #17 on the U.S. pop charts (and #2 on the R&B charts). The Beatles used almost the same arrangement as The Isley Brothers’ version when they recorded “Twist and Shout” in 1963 for their debut LP, “Please Please Me.” It was not released as a single in the UK, but in the US, the single reached #2 in early 1964, held from the top spot by another Beatles song, “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

“I Feel Fine” was written mostly by Lennon with help from McCartney.

“Love Me Do” was one of the earliest Lennon-McCartney songs, and the first ever to chart in the UK.

“Yellow Submarine” was another Lennon-McCartney collaboration, written as a children’s song for Ringo Starr to sing on the “Revolver” album.

3 Norman Greenbaum

Upon hearing country artist Porter Wagoner sing a gospel song on TV, Greenbaum thought to himself, “I can do that,” and within 15 minutes, he’d written the lyrics and basic chords to “Spirit in the Sky.” Greenbaum had been in an unsuccessful psychedelic jug band in the late ’60s but somehow won a solo contract, and when he recorded songs in a San Francisco studio, he employed friends who were in other bands. When the record became an unexpected international #1 hit, Greenbaum had no band available to go on tour, and subsequent attempts at follow-up singles fell short. So he reverted to his previous calling as a pig farmer.

Redbone was a California-based band comprised of musicians of Native-American and Mexican heritage. I always loved their #5 hit from 1974, “Come and Get Your Love,” but I hadn’t realized they were the group that already had a minor hit with “The Witch Queen of New Orleans,” which peaked at #21 in early 1972.

Five Man Electrical Band was a Canadian pop rock group that scored eight hit singles in the Top 20 on the Canadian charts between 1965 and 1975. In the US, they had their breakthrough with “Signs,” which not only reached #3 here in the summer of 1971, it was also #1 in Australia for nearly two months. Later in 1971, the group did modestly well here with the spirited rocker “Absolutely Right,” which peaked at #28.

Maria Muldaur had a big hit with the sexually suggestive “Midnight at the Oasis,” which reached #6 in the spring of 1974. I wasn’t aware until recently that she had a second hit less than a year later when “I’m a Woman,” a gritty blues tune that sounds like something Bonnie Raitt might record, reached #12.

4 Marvin Aday

A Texas woman named Wilma Oday gave birth in 1947 to “nine pounds of ground chuck,” as Wilma’s husband Orvis described the infant’s reddish appearance. For most of his childhood, Marvin went by “M.L.” which stood for “Meat Loaf,” and the name stuck as he became a bruising football player, then an actor and singer of international fame, thanks to his delivery of the dramatic rock songs of Jim Steinman on the multi-platinum “Bat Out of Hell” in 1977 and its much-delayed follow-up, “Bat Out of Hell II” in 1993. Oday died in January 2022.

Vincent Furnier is the real name of shock rocker Alice Cooper.

Reginald Dwight is the real name of Elton John.

Melvin Houser, well, that’s just a name I made up. Apologies to any real Melvin Housers out there.

5 “Tiny Dancer”

Originally released as the leadoff track on Elton’s fourth studio LP, “Madman Across the Water,” this gorgeous song ran over six minutes, which hurt its chances as a Top 40 single. In fact, it stalled in the U.S. at #41 and wasn’t even released as a single in the UK, although it reached #19 in Canada and #13 in Australia. Over the years, the song slowly became one of John’s most popular songs on American rock radio stations, and got a big boost of popularity after having been prominently featured in the 2000 film “Almost Famous.”

Daniel,” released in 1973 as the second single from “Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player,” reached #2 that spring.

Honky Cat,” the second single released from his 1972 LP “Honky Chateau,” peaked at #8.

Levon,” the first single from “Madman Across the Water,” did modestly well, topping out at #24.

6 “Lucky Man” by Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake and Palmer

Lake’s mother, a pianist, influenced his early musical leanings, and bought him a modest guitar when he turned 12. Once he’d mastered his first four chords (Am, Em, G and D), he wrote his first song, which he called “Lucky Man,” which he described as “sort of a medieval folk song” when played on acoustic guitar. The lyrics describe a privileged man who went off to battle and died, but for Lake, it referred to himself. “My mother bought me the guitar when she couldn’t really afford it, and I felt that I was a lucky boy, a lucky man indeed,” he recalled. It became ELP’s breakthrough hit in 1970.

My Generation” sounds like it could have been written by a defiant 12-year-old Pete Townshend, but he was actually 19 or 20.

Proud Mary” was written by John Fogerty shortly after he was discharged from the Army Reserve in 1968 when he was 23.

You Really Got Me” was the fourth or fifth song Ray Davies ever wrote, in the spring of 1964 at age 20.

7 “Exile on Main Street,” The Rolling Stones

Although the Stones were more of a singles band during their first eight years, every one of their albums released in the 1960s reached the Top Five on U.S. album charts. Beginning with “Sticky Fingers” in 1971, they put together a string of nine consecutive #1 LPs, some of which, in my opinion, didn’t deserve it, and 1972’s “Exile on Main Street” is one of them. It’s a double album with a lot of filler, the production is muddy and the performances substandard, but The Stones were on a roll throughout the ’70s as far as the U.S. record buyers were concerned.

Tommy” was certainly consistently strong enough to be a #1 album for The Who, but it peaked at #4.

Tusk” was a strange collection of songs, and a step down from the appeal of “Rumours,” but it still managed to reach #4 for Fleetwood Mac.

Eat a Peach,” which is half studio and half live, was the first released following the death of Duane Allman. It, too, topped out at #4.

8 Jon Anderson of Yes

Anderson and his school chum Chris Squire were the founding members of Yes in 1968. They recruited guitarist Peter Banks, drummer Bill Bruford and keyboardist Tony Kaye, and were off and running in the progressive rock sweepstakes fashionable in the UK at the time. Yes had a virtual revolving door of members come in and out over the years, but Anderson’s ethereal vocals are perhaps the defining element of the group’s sound.

Steve Perry didn’t join Journey as their lead vocalist until 1978, five years and three albums after they were founded by keyboardist Gregg Rolie and guitarist Neal Schon, formerly with Santana.

Justin Hayward joined The Moody Blues in 1967 when they recorded the landmark “Days of Future Passed,” but the band had been around since 1964.

Grace Slick brought Jefferson Airplane their biggest success with two 1967 singles, “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit,” but she was preceded as lead vocalist by Signe Anderson in 1965-1966.

9 Keith Moon

Moon was notorious for excessive and destructive behavior, which made him a phenomenal drummer but eventually a danger to himself. He drank and drugged too much, and when he tried to quit, he was prescribed a powerful sedative, on which he overdosed and died in 1978.

Marvin Gaye was shot to death by his father in 1984.

Terry Kath died from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot in 1978.

Sam Cooke was shot and killed in an altercation with a motel manager in 1964.

10 “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by The Beatles

This 1967 album cover has been scrutinized and interpreted more than probably any other rock album in history. In addition to the 50-odd likenesses pictured behind the Fab Four, several props appear in front of and next to them, one of which is a doll propped up on a chair. The doll, a gift to Mick Jagger from the winner of a contest on Memphis radio station WMPS-AM in 1964, was brought to the photo session by photographer Robert Fraser, a friend of Jagger. If you look closely, the sweater the doll is wearing says, “THE WMPS GOOD GUYS WELCOME THE ROLLING STONES.”

Zeppelin’s “Physical Graffiti” featured a tenement building with various faces peeking out, including those of Hollywood icons and the Zeppelin band members themselves, but no one from different rock bands. Jimi’s “Axis: Bold as Love” and Tull’s “Stand Up” included all sorts of nooks and crannies within the designs for them to hide words or images of other bands, and you can search all you want, but you won’t find any.

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