The radio reminds me of my home far away

Damn, I just LOVE foraging through my collection of vinyl (and CDs) from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s and unearthing those hidden gems that have been all but forgotten as time has rolled on…

23415249_2036943229872411_622328307341983055_oFortunately, many of these great “lost classics” are available today to those who didn’t hang on to their old records, or are too young to have been exposed to them in the first place.  Online music services provide a wealth of decades-old music — in fact, so much of it that you can be overwhelmed.  Where to start?

That’s where Hack’s Back Pages comes in.  Every so often, whenever the mood strikes, I dive deep and come up with a dozen selections that made their mark on me back in the day, and that I still find worthy enough to bring to your attention today.

Feel free to follow along on the Spotify playlist I’ve included at the bottom of this post.  I hope you find these tracks as satisfying as I do.  Enjoy!

****************

“Many a Mile to Freedom,” Traffic, 1971

traffic_lowfMusical wunderkind Steve Winwood and drummer Jim Capaldi formed Traffic as a quasi folk-jazz-rock hybrid outfit in 1967, with Dave Mason on guitar and Chris Wood on flute.  They earned praise in England for their first two records, but Mason soon left and Winwood spent several months in the hugely hyped side project called Blind Faith with his friend Eric Clapton.  Winwood then intended on unveiling his first solo LP but it turned into the reformation of Traffic (without Mason) and became the brilliant 1970 album “John Barleycorn Must Die.”  By 1971, the group chose to broaden its sound by adding Blind Faith’s Ric Grech on bass and violin, Derek and the Dominos’ Jim Gordon on drums and Rebop Kwaku Baah on percussion, and the result was their best selling album in the US, “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.”  The epic, haunting title tune justifiably got most of the attention, but another solid deep track not to be ignored is “Many a Mile to Freedom,” a delicious piece Winwood co-wrote with Jim Capaldi’s wife Anna that’s peppered with Chris Wood’s fine flute work and carried by Winwood’s top-flight vocals.

“Running Hard,” Renaissance, 1974

cover_21171122122007Renaissance was born in 1969 when two ex-Yardbirds (Jim McCarty and Keith Relf) had tired of blues-based rock and wanted to experiment with a blend of classical, rock and folk forms.  A revolving door of musicians came and went as the group struggled during their first three years, but eventually Renaissance found a solid core revolving around the astonishing four-octave voice of Annie Haslam and the accomplished piano playing of John Tout.  With guitarist Michael Dunford and poet/lyricist Betty Thatcher-Newsinger collaborating on the composing duties, Renaissance began its rise in popularity, with albums like “Prologue” and “Ashes are Burning” getting airplay in Northeast US cities like Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.  The 1974 album “Turn of the Cards” displayed a more dark, lush, orchestral sound, and that showed up most noticeably on the superb, nine-minute opening track, “Running Hard.”  The group’s successful hybrid of classical music, folk and rock served them well for another three LPs (“Scheherazade,” “Novella” and “A Song For All Seasons”) before dissolving in the mid-’80s.

“Dawning is the Day,” The Moody Blues, 1970

220px-QuestionofbalanceThe impressive run of seven albums that established The Moodies as pioneers of the burgeoning progressive rock genre are a veritable treasure trove of lost classics.  From 1967’s “Days of Future Passed” through 1972’s “Seventh Sojourn,” for every hit single you instantly recognize (“Ride My Seesaw,” “The Story in Your Eyes,” “I’m Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band”) you’ll find another five or six songs well worth checking out.  The group boasted five musicians who each brought something intriguing to the mix, from Ray Thomas’s flute to Graeme Edge’s gentle poem-songs, from John Lodge’s rocking bass to Mike Pinder’s Mellotron/keyboard pieces.  The most recognizable element of The Moodies’ sound, though, has always been the vocals and melodic songs of guitarist Justin Hayward.  On the band’s 1970 LP “A Question of Balance,” you can hear his work most prominently on the hit “Question” and the excellent “It’s Up to You.”  Hidden on side two (remember album sides?) is another Hayward beauty, “Dawning is the Day.”

“St. Charles,” Jefferson Starship, 1976

71rJXf0y2VL._SX355_The Jefferson Airplane didn’t so much crash and burn as peter out, but founder Paul Kantner always had his eye on reimagining the Jefferson name to further explore his passion for science fiction and fantasy.  First came his solo LP “Blows Against the Empire” in 1970, where the loose crew of musicians who participated was first referred to as Jefferson Starship.  On the 1974 LP “Dragonfly,” with guitarist Craig Chaquico, bassist Pete Sears, keyboardist David Freiberg, violinist Papa John Kreach and drummer Johnny Barbata joining Kantner and rock icon Grace Slick, Jefferson Starship was officially launched with stellar material like “Ride the Tiger,” “All Fly Away” and “Caroline.”  Airplane founder Marty Balin joined the lineup full-time on the #1 LP “Red Octopus” in 1975, which included the huge hit single “Miracles.”  The band played to sold-out arenas in 1976 when it toured in support of the follow-up LP, “Spitfire.”  My favorite track from that LP is the soaring “St. Charles,” featuring the vocal blend of Kantner and Slick.

“Angel Lady (Come Just in Time),” Boz Scaggs, 1974

scaggs_boz~_slowdance_101bScaggs got his start in the late ’60s as a guitarist in San Francisco as part of the original lineup of the Steve Miller Band, and by 1969, he was testing the waters with a self-titled solo LP that included the incredible “Loan Me a Dime” with Duane Allman guesting on lead guitar.   It wasn’t until 1976 when he had his commercial breakthrough with the outstanding “Silk Degrees” LP, a catchy collection of slick “blue-eyed soul” that got plenty of airplay (particularly “It’s Over,” “What Can I Say,” “Lido Shuffle” and the #3 hit “Lowdown”) in the age of disco’s rise in popularity.  Before that fame arrived, Scaggs released a strong but overlooked album of R&B-laced songs in 1974 called “Slow Dancer,” produced by Motown great Johnny Bristol.  “You Make It So Hard to Say No” and “Pain of Love” have Bristol’s soul imprint on them, but the finest moment here is “Angel Lady (Come Just in Time),” which compels you to get up and dance to its mid-tempo groove.

“Chestnut Mare,” The Byrds, 1970

THeByrdsUntitledThrough every phase of The Byrds’ recording career, it was Roger McGuinn’s plaintive vocals and songs that dominated the proceedings.  In 1969, following the pioneering country rock LP “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” McGuinn began a collaboration with Broadway impresario Jacques Levy for a country-rock stage production of Henrik Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt,” to be entitled “Gene Tryp” (an anagram of the title of Ibsen’s play).  Ultimately, the stage production was abandoned, but among the songs that McGuinn and Levy had written for the project, four ended up on the Byrds’ next album, curiously entitled “(Untitled) due to a misunderstanding by the record company.  It’s a double album, with one live disc and one with new studio tracks.  The best one, to my ears, is “Chestnut Mare,” a fine tune about an uncooperative horse who defiantly resists attempts to tame her.  McGuinn’s trademark electric 12-string and Clarence White’s country-style acoustic picking dominate the arrangement.

“Pretty Princess,” Loggins and Messina, 1976

R-2294733-1361926349-7879.jpegMany people may not be aware that Jim Messina was a staff producer at Columbia Records in 1970 when he was brought in to help mold an untested new talent named Kenny Loggins.  Messina contributed so much to Loggins’ debut (songwriting, singing, playing, arranging and producing) that it ended up being called “Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina Sittin’ In.”  That, in turn, resulted in the two men officially embarking on a six-year career as a duo, marked by five successful studio LPs, two live albums and a huge hit single (“Your Mama Don’t Dance”).  There’s so much great material to be found there, but I want to focus on “Pretty Princess,” a brilliant track from their final LP, “Native Sons.”  I’ve always been very fond of it, not as much for its musical beauty as for its lyrics, which tell a story that seemed to closely mirror a relationship I had shortly after the album’s release.  A man and a woman who had been merely friends found themselves growing into much more than that, despite the fact that she was beholden to someone else.

“Rosie,” Tom Waits, 1973

220px-Tom_Waits_-_Closing_Time-1Waits, with his gravelly voice and gritty songs about the underbelly of American society, has been around now for many decades but has never seen much in the way of sales or chart success.  He has a loyal cult following and has been widely admired by all kinds of musical icons like Bob Dylan and the late David Bowie.  He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011 and is on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time.  If you know nothing about Waits or his music, I urge you to spend some time perusing his catalog, and I would start with the album that started him on his way, the 1973 debut called “Closing Time.”  This is an album I love to put on when it’s a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon and I’m feeling a bit blue.  It’s hard to pick a favorite here, but I guess I’ll go with “Rosie,” full of angst and raw emotion about the girl who got away.

“All I Need,” Batdorf and Rodney, 1972

R-6138944-1532470854-7640.jpegAt the top my list of artists who should have been rewarded with much more commercial success is this duo of singer-guitarist talents.  John Batdorf wrote and sang most of the songs that appear on their two exemplary Atlantic LPs, 1971’s “Off the Shelf” and 1972’s “Batdorf and Rodney.”  Rodney provided the jazzy acoustic lead parts and chipped in on backing harmonies as well.   They were shepherded along by Atlantic guru Ahmet Ertegun, which makes their chart disappointment all the more puzzling.  Personally, I’d take the music of Batdorf and Rodney over many of the more commercially successful acts of that era.  “Can You See Him,” “Oh My Surprise,” “By Today,” “You Are the One,” “Home Again” — all of these tunes eclipse most of the work by Seals and Crofts or Bread, just to name two.  I’m particularly partial to “All I Need,” a thoughtful song from the second album.

“Buzzin’ Fly,” Tim Buckley, 1969

11420d188fd9a2be865c65756af9a104Born in New York state but raised in California, Tim Buckley was a singer-songwriter maverick, never fully comfortable with his talents nor the various genres with which he continually experimented.  His self-titled debut in 1966 and 1967 follow-up effort, “Goodbye and Hello,” showcased his early folk leanings, but for me, his best work can be found on the 1969 LP “Happy Sad,” which marked the beginning of his forays into jazz elements and freeform scat singing.  The 12-minute track “Gypsy Woman,” which became a mainstay of his live performances, is the best example of that style, which would become more pervasive over his next several albums, even though it seemed to alienate his original fan base.  Buckley’s recorded apex, in my view, is the dreamy “Buzzin’ Fly,” highlighted by the unusual vibraphone sounds of David Friedman and his friend Lee Underwood’s guitar.  Buckley died of a drug overdose in 1975.  His son Jeff was a highly acclaimed singer-songwriter too, until his drowning death in 1997.

“For You,” Bruce Springsteen, 1973

e94f4-6a0120a56c9e44970b019b051888b1970d-piBefore there was an E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen was signed by Columbia Records honcho John Hammond as a solo artist, in the Bob Dylan mold, largely because Springsteen’s earliest songs likewise featured an overabundance of lyrics, delivered over lively acoustic tunes.  Although he had his eye on becoming an all-out rocker with a full band, Springsteen relented and allowed his debut LP, “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.,” to feature more subdued material like “Mary, Queen of Arkansas” and “The Angel.”  In turn, Hammond gave in and permitted Bruce to record two uptempo tracks — “Blinded By the Light” and “Spirits in the Night” — that included sax man Clarence Clemons and the rest of the soon-to-be E Street Band.  Riding the balance between these two approaches were the three songs I admire most, which became staples in his live repertoire for the next few years:  “Growin’ Up,” “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” and the piano-based “For You,” which was often played at a much slower tempo in concert.

“See My Way,” Blodwyn Pig, 1969

R-855032-1278625766.jpegThanks to Cream and others, most aspiring British musicians in the mid-to-late ’60s became aficionados of the blues, or at least the blues-based rock that Cream had developed after hearing the original music of American bluesmen like Albert King, Buddy Guy and Robert Johnson.  One of these ragtag groups was Jethro Tull, whose debut LP, the presciently named “This Was,” offered mostly blues stylings.  But when flutist-singer-songwriter Ian Anderson pushed the group in a more rock/folk direction, original guitarist Mick Abrahams left the band and went off to form Blodwyn Pig to continue his interest in blues music.  Their debut, “Ahead Rings Out,” reached the Top Ten in England, carried by Abrahams’ guitar and Jack Lancaster’s wailing sax on tracks like “Dear Jill” and “It’s Only Love.”  The best song, in my opinion, was “See My Way,” which appears on the US pressing of the album but was left off the UK album and held back until the group’s second album, 1970’s “Getting to This.”

******************

Advertisements

There are lovely soundscapes to discover

I’m a big fan of “lost classics” here at Hack’s Back Pages.  These are songs that are generally buried deep on an album somewhere, rarely get airplay but bring back great memories upon rediscovery.

ccrbayou3-650x597

For many readers, they are discovering a song here for the very first time.  For me personally, I sometimes find that when I look up a song by an artist I know, I learn of another album the artist released a few years later (or earlier) that I’d been unfamiliar with.  I give it a listen, and maybe I find it’s full of not-very-good songs.  But sure enough, there’s one hiding in there that really tickles my fancy.  That’s not a “lost classic,” exactly; it’s more of a “diamond in the rough.”

This week’s collection of tracks, my 15th, is a cross section of both — songs I believe are worthy of your attention.  You might have heard these somewhere before, or you may be hearing them here for the first time.  When its comes to rock/pop music, it really doesn’t matter.  I enjoy this opportunity to open up my readers’ ears to great songs.  It’s a challenge, because tunes that appeal to me may not always appeal to you, but I’m predicting you’ll be giving most of them a grade of B or better.

And here we go:

“Let’s Get the Show on the Road,” Michael Stanley, 1974

jqnxx8st.j31My Cleveland friends are intimately familiar with this fabulous tune, but those from other parts of the country are probably in for a real treat.  Stanley is a homegrown Cleveland guy who should have hit it big with his Michael Stanley Band (1975-1988) but for reasons unknown, the stars just weren’t aligned in their favor.  I could recommend a dozen, two dozen great songs by MSB, and maybe someday I’ll do a piece focusing on just them.  But here, I’m going to focus on his signature track from his 1974 solo LP, “Friends and Legends,” recorded with Joe Walsh, Joe Vitale, Kenny Passerelli, Paul Harris and Joe Lala providing the backing music, and sax legend David Sanborn virtually carrying the tune with his amazing tenor sax work.  Sadly, it never made any impact on the charts, chiefly because this all-star band couldn’t tour behind it (which led Stanley to form his own band the following year).  SUCH an amazing song!

“Brooklyn Kids,” Pete Townshend, 1987

41BKR2421PL._SL500_Like Springsteen, Van Morrison and other prolific songwriters, Townshend often wrote, demo’ed and recorded twice as many songs as he needed for The Who albums he was working on over the years.  Some of them became tracks on his official solo LPs while others sat on a shelf in his home studio collecting dust.  Truly incredible, I’d say, that a song as dramatic and beautiful as “Brooklyn Kids,” written around the time of the “Quadrophenia” sessions, languished for 15 years before it finally saw the light of day.  In 1983, Townshend finally satisfied fans who had long requested these forgotten gems when he released the double album “Scoop,” which also included a few alternate versions of Who songs.  A second collection in 1987, appropriately titled “Another Scoop,” finally served up “Brooklyn Kids,” and we’re all the better for it.

“Mystic Traveler,” Dave Mason, 1977

Dave-Mason-Let-It-Flow-album-cover-on-BoomerSwag-DL-800x800Mason was a founding member of Traffic who couldn’t seem to coexist with fellow songwriter Steve Winwood, causing him to depart from and return to the lineup several times.  He embarked on a solo career in 1970 with the brilliant album “Alone Together,” which is overflowing with classic British rock songs but didn’t sell all that well.  Once he landed on the Columbia label a few years later, he got more recognition and flirted a few times with chart success, especially on the #12 hit “We Just Disagree” from 1977’s solid LP “Let It Flow.”  Hiding on that great album is the soaring, beautiful “Mystic Traveler,” a fine addition to any “diamond in the rough” playlist.

“Bootleg,” Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1969

B000000XCA.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_John Fogerty honestly admits that he alienated the other members of Creedence early in the band’s career by insisting that he write, arrange and produce all their albums.  “The others wanted to contribute their own songs and have more say, but I firmly believed I knew what was best,” Fogerty has said.  “I had these songs that would tie together this whole feel and image of what was later called “swamp rock,” beginning with ‘Born on the Bayou’ and ‘Proud Mary.’  So that’s what happened.”  Indeed, 1969’s “Bayou Country” set the mold for the Creedence sound on its five consecutive million-selling LPs, released in rapid fire in the next three years.  I’ve always been fond of the short (2:58) but sweet “Bootleg” with Fogerty’s unmistakable vocals, guitar and hook.

“Oh Atlanta,” Little Feat, 1974

Little_Feat_-_Feats_Don't_Fail_Me_NowThe story goes that Little Feat was formed because Frank Zappa, after hearing band member Lowell George play his song “Willin’,” kicked him out, saying he was too talented not to have his own band.  George teamed up with keyboard talent Billy Payne and founded Little Feat in 1970 as a wildly eclectic Southern California group offering strains of country, blues and R&B.  When their first two LPs didn’t sell, half the lineup left and were replaced by Kenny Gradney and Paul Barrére, who brought a New Orleans-style funk to the mix.  Beginning with 1973’s “Dixie Chicken,” Little Feat established a solid reputation as a Southern-fried blues boogie band.  A fine examples of their oeuvre was “Oh Atlanta,” from the 1974 album “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now.”

“Sookie, Sookie,” Steppenwolf, 1968

220px-SteppenwolfAlbumSinger John Kay hailed from Ontario, Canada, and from the ashes of his band Sparrow came the mighty Steppenwolf, one of the late ’60s more successful rock bands.  Everyone knows them for their ubiquitous biker anthem “Born to Be Wild” and the psychedelic rock classic “Magic Carpet Ride,” but I urge you to look a little deeper on their albums.  You’ll find many other memorable tracks like “The Pusher” (memorialized in the 1969 counterculture film “Easy Rider”), “Desperation,” “Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam” and an irresistible guitar/organ song called “Sookie, Sookie,” written by Don “Chain of Fools” Covay and legendary Stax Records guitar hero Steve Cropper.

“Lifetime Piling Up,” Talking Heads, 1987/1992

1163553-1I admit the stark New Wave sound that New Yorker David Byrne came up with on his early Talking Heads records wasn’t really my cup of tea when they first arrived in 1977.  But I warmed to them by the early ’80s when I saw and heard the extraordinary “Stop Making Sense” concert film, directed by the great Jonathan Demme.  I’ve since become a Talking Heads devotee, and I often listen to the excellent 2-CD package “Sand in the Vaseline,” a 1992 collection of hits and outtakes from throughout their 15-year career.  One hidden track on it is “Lifetime Piling Up,” a discarded tune from the 1988 “Naked” album sessions that Byrne tweaked, cleaned up and re-recorded for the ’92 collection.  Great song!

“Later,” Cat Stevens, 1973

619dN3eR65L._SL1200_Following his phenomenal success on 1970’s “Tea for the Tillerman,” 1971’s “Teaser and the Firecat” and 1972’s “Catch Bull at Four,” Cat Stevens moved to Brazil in 1973 as a tax exile.  During that period, he came up with “Foreigner,” a departure from those LPs in several respects.  He incorporated a more R&B feel to the new compositions, using new backing musicians and producing the album himself.  Half the album was devoted to a complex, piano-oriented opus called “Foreigner Suite,” which was performed and broadcast on ABC that year in an unusual quadrophonic simulcast.  The album’s single, “The Hurt,” stalled at #31, a commercial disappointment after his previous Top Ten hits.   Tucked into this challenging album is another piano-driven gem called “Later,” which features black female vocalists and a soulful rhythm.

“Where Are You,” Burton Cummings, 1980

7577657fcdcc40149ebe27a421542595Cummings was the driving force behind much of the success of The Guess Who, Canada’s most commercially successful rock band on the US charts.  He and Randy Bachman shared songwriting duties as the band rose to fame in 1969-70, but then Bachman left to form Brave Belt and Bachman-Turner Overdrive.  Cumming’s superb, distinctive vocals kept The Guess Who’s hits coming for another five years, ending when he chose to try a solo career.  After initial success — “Stand Tall,” a #10 hit — his popularity dissipated, despite a string of seven albums from 1976-1990.  Buried on his mostly forgettable 1980 LP “Woman Love” (with a truly awful album cover), Cummings came up with a soulful beauty called “Where Are You.”  Why this wasn’t released as a single is a mystery to me.

“Be Free,” Loggins and Messina, 1974

logginsmotherlodeJim Messina had intended to be Kenny Loggins’ producer, offering guidance and maybe a few guitar parts for Loggins’ 1971 debut album.  Instead, Messina’s contributions — half the songs, most of the arrangements and multiple guitar, bass, and vocals — were so substantial that the album was entitled “Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina Sittin’ In,” and they then decided to make a go of it as a working duo for the next five years.  Much of the engaging music they recorded together featured a pair of outstanding backing musicians (Al Garth and Jon Clarke on saxes, woodwinds, strings and percussion, and backing vocals), and the evidence of their value to the musical mix is never clearer than on the tour de force “Be Free,” a Messina song from L&M’s superb 1974 LP, “Mother Lode.”

“Alabama Rain,” Jim Croce, 1973

6ed186873ff352a28335a47cfb63d34bWhen I hear the music of Croce, I hear only sadness and “what could have been.”  He was only 30 when he died in a plane crash in 1973 enroute to his next tour date.  Ironically, three days earlier, just as his hard-won fame was materializing, he released a new album and single called, agonizingly enough, “I Got a Name.”  What a punch in the gut for his fans.  On the previous LP, 1972’s “Life and Times,” you’ll find one of Croce’s finest hidden moments, a perfect little song called “Alabama Rain” that has its own romantic “what used to be” story.

“Skyline Pigeon,” Elton John, 1969/1973

Elton John - Empty Sky-FrontIn the formative days of the songwriting partnership of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, the duo’s hit-or-miss ratio was more erratic.  Their first official album, 1969’s “Empty Sky,” has only a few songs that stand the rest of time.  One of them, “Skyline Pigeon,” was written on harpischord almost as a hymn, with lyrics that reveal a longing for the freedom to pursue truer dreams and ambitions.  In 1972, John re-recorded the song with his band (bassist Dee Murray, drummer Nigel Olsson and guitarist Davey Johnstone) during the sessions for “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player,” and the result is far more satisfying, and as good as anything on that LP.  It was relegated to the B-side of the “Daniel” single in 1973, and didn’t appear on an album until a career anthology in the ’90s.

*******************