Waiting for you like hidden treasures

(Reprinted from Oct 30, 2015 post)

It’s time once again to delve deep into some of the classic albums of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s and find those superb “deep tracks” that the radio stations never play.  So many of the albums that topped the charts back then have three, maybe four songs that get all the airplay even though there are some jewels just sitting there, waiting to be rediscovered and savored.

This blog has always been dedicated to shining a bright light on a number of neglected tracks from famous albums.  I also enjoy drawing attention to great songs from LPs that were NOT major-selling albums.  But for now, come with me as we expose the wonderful “diamonds in the rough” among the top-selling albums of the glorious decades of 40, 50, 60 years ago.

There’s a Spotify playlist at the end to soak in these great tunes as you read along.

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“Listen,” Chicago, 1969

When the band that would be known as Chicago released their debut, the extraordinary “Chicago Transit Authority” in April 1969, they felt they had so much good material that it should be a double album, which takes chutzpah for a new band to claim.  But they were right — not only were there enough worthy tracks to warrant a double LP, their sound was a revelation, a shrewd merger of rock and big band, with fiery guitar solos, exuberant trumpet/trombone/sax passages, and three vocalists each capable of leading the way through instantly likable hit songs like “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is,” “Questions 67 and 68” and “Beginnings.”  But like most albums chock full of hits, there are excellent tracks that never got the attention they deserved.  On “CTA,” I nominate “Listen,” the shortest song on an album full of 5-minute-plus tracks, led by Robert Lamm’s great vocals, a strong bass line from Peter Cetera and the ever-present horn section.

“Just a Job to Do,” Genesis, 1983

Genesis was a fantastic theatrical progressive rock outfit from 1969-1975, with the amazing Peter Gabriel as their vocalist/showman throughout that period…but then he felt the need to leave, spend family time, yada yada, and maybe branch out on his own.  Meanwhile, the remaining members of Genesis — keyboardist Tony Banks, guitarist Mike Rutherford, and drummer/vocalist Phil Collins — soldiered on, and ultimately became a hugely successful commercial act, with multiple hit singles in the ’80s.  Their 1983 album “Genesis” had hits like “Mama” and “That’s All,” but the highlight for me from this period was the track about the reluctant hit man, “Just a Job to Do” (“…and bang! bang! bang! and down you go…”), which has a relentless beat and an irresistible arrangement that just won’t quit.  Genesis was certainly two different bands, with and without Gabriel, but the second one surely had its moments…

“Peace Frog,” The Doors, 1970

I love the Doors, and inhaled their first two albums especially, and their swan song, “LA Woman,” but somehow never caught on to the “Soft Parade”/”Morrison Hotel” period for whatever reason.  Buried deep on the 1970 “Morrison Hotel” album is a great little track called “Peace Frog,” which my daughter Rachel did a very cool dance to in 2010 in her jazz dance class/recital, and I rediscovered the song amidst the overplayed Doors tracks on classic rock radio.  I recently was pleased to hear it again on the season premiere of the James Spader TV series “The Blacklist,” which proves how classic tracks have staying power and can resurface when and where you least expect them.  I urge you to dig this one out of the archives.

“I Give You Give Blind,” Crosby Stills and Nash, 1977

CSNY had always been a volatile mix.  David Crosby, Steve Stills, and Graham Nash had already brought an excess of talent and ego to the party when they first formed in 1969, so when they added the moody and enigmatic Neil Young to the mix, the result was a predictable implosion, and they soon went their own ways.  So, what a delight when, in 1977, the original trio reconvened with the superb “CSN,” which included Nash’s hit “Just a Song Before I Go” and the haunting “Cathedral,” and Crosby’s “Shadow Captain” and “In My Dreams,” and Stills’ “Fair Game” and “Dark Star.”  All great songs — in fact, there’s not a dud on the album — but the one I find most spellbindng is the Stills closer, “I Give You Give Blind,” which includes not only the trademark CSN three-part harmonies but a fiery, full-band attack not often heard on a CSN recording, a sound sparked by Stills’ guitar work.  Fantastic.

“Been Too Long on the Road,” Bread, 1970

Bread?!  Yes, Bread.  Everybody has their guilty pleasures, and Bread is one of mine.  I was 15 and full of puppy love when they showed up, and I loved their hits like “Make It With You,” “It Don’t Matter to Me” and “Baby I’m-a Want You.”  But Bread was more than just the syrupy ballads of David Gates; they had some album tracks with tasty guitar licks and a rock backbeat.  Witness the minor hits “Mother Freedom” and “The Guitar Man.”  Hidden deep on their 1970 album “On the Waters” was a delicious little song called “Been Too Long on the Road,” which had a catchy melody and mature lyrics about how touring can kill a relationship.  Make fun of me if you must, but at least check out this song.  It’s a keeper.

“Telegraph Road,” Dire Straits, 1982

Mark Knopfler, one of the great guitar players of my lifetime, will forever be known mostly for his Dire Straits debut single “Sultans of Swing” and the 1985 MTV hit “Money for Nothing.”  But his output is so much broader and deeper than those two monster hits.  Since Dire Straits’ breakup in 1994, he has released a dozen amazing records full of tasty guitar passages and Celtic folk material, and I could go on and on about the worthiness of his solo stuff.  Still, let’s just examine the incredible tracks that make up the six Dire Straits studio albums:  “Down to the Waterline,” “Lady Writer,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Skateaway,” “Your Latest Trick,” “Brothers in Arms,” “Calling Elvis,” “Planet of New Orleans,” and many many more.  The one that stands out most for me, though, is “Telegraph Road,” the 15-minute masterpiece from their 1982 album, “Love Over Gold.”  It starts quietly, builds for a while, gets quiet again, and then hits a point just past halfway through where it goes into a relentless crescendo that leaves your jaw scraping the floor once it finally fades out.  Do yourself a favor and put this one on when you’ve got a 15-minute nighttime drive home ahead of you.

“Do What You Want, Be What You Are,” Hall and Oates, 1976

For my money, Daryl Hall and John Oates never topped the incredible blue-eyed soul classic “She’s Gone,” released in 1973 on the duo’s overlooked second album, “Abandoned Luncheonette.”  Of course, they went on to become the most successful pop duo of all time in the late ’70s/early ’80s with “Sara Smile,” “Rich Girl,” “Private Eyes,” “I Can’t Go For That,” “Maneater” and many more.  Buried on their 1976 LP “Bigger Than Most of Us” is a super sexy slow song called “Do What You Want, Be What You Are,” on which Hall hits high notes no man should be able to reach.  This beautifully produced track is music to undress to.

“Let It Roll,” George Harrison, 1970

The triple album “All Things Must Pass” got a lot of attention, largely because the quiet ex-Beatle had substantially eclipsed his compatriots’ first solo albums, and because his hit single, “My Sweet Lord,” was simply effervescent.  Clearly, he’d been sitting on a stockpile of great songs while waiting for the chance to come out from underneath the shadow of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting axis to shine in his own way.  The album was chock full of great songs, including hits like “What Is Life” and “Awaiting On You All,” but to me, the unsung hero on the album is “Let It Roll (The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp”), which would have fit quite nicely among the tracks on the celebrated Beatles’ “White Album” two years earlier, when it was written.

“Punky’s Dilemma,” Simon and Garfiunkel, 1968

Director Mike Nichols was enamored with the work of Simon and Garfunkel and wanted Simon to write songs for his coming-of-age film “The Graduate” in 1967.  Simon obliged with 3-4 songs, but Nichols rejected them, instead preferring to use “The Sounds of Silence,” “Scarborough Fair” and other existing songs from the S&G catalog in the background of his film.  Simon was successful in getting “Mrs. Robinson” into the film in abbreviated form (because he hadn’t finished it yet).  But left on the side of the road were amazing songs like “Overs” (about a marriage that had reached its end) and the winsome track “Punky’s Dilemma,” about a young man who wants to be anything (even a Kellogg’s corn flake or an English muffin) instead of a draftable college graduate in the late ’60s.  The song ended up on the #1 1968 album “Bookends.”

“Murder By Numbers,” The Police, 1983

Between 1978 and 1983, The Police just kept getting better and better, starting with “Roxanne” and “Message in a Bottle” and improving with “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “Every Little Things She Does is Magic.”  The trio of drummer Stewart Copeland, guitarist Andy Summers and bassist/singer/songwriter Sting (Gordon Sumner) peaked with their #1 album (and swan song) “Synchronicity” in 1983, which featured “King of Pain,” “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” the title track and the international #1 hit, “Every Breath You Take.”  Left off the vinyl version but included on the CD was the sleeper classic “Murder By Numbers,” a creepy but compellingly great track about a serial killer.

“Rock and Roll Suicide,” David Bowie, 1972

The enigmatic “chameleon of rock” was still relatively unknown in the US in 1972 when he made an indelible impression as the androgynous stage persona called Ziggy Stardust, an orange-haired rocker from another planet who single-handedly invented “glam rock.”  David Bowie went on to adopt other personas over the decades, some commercially successful, others defiantly not, but he will always be known most for “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars,” one of the most astounding records in rock history.  “Suffragette City” and “Starman” got most of the airplay, but the incredible finale, “Rock and Roll Suicide” (“YOU’RE NOT ALONE!  GIMME YOUR HANDS!”), leaves the listener gasping for breath when it ends with emphatic violins.

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Songs to see you through the end of summer

As summer winds down, I’m feeling a little wistful, a little relaxed, and my deep dive into “lost classics” of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s is consequently leaning toward the mellower choices this time around.

The rockers among my readers may fail to recognize some of these selections, or even the artists who recorded them. But that’s the fun of lost classics — even though they were recorded 50+ years ago, sometimes they’re brand-new songs to you because they came in under your radar at the time.

I hope you find these tunes to your liking.

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“Tell Me What You Want,” The Doobie Brothers, 1974

I think it’s safe to say that every album The Doobies released has at least one “lost classic” — a deep track that got little airplay but is still well worth our time and attention.  The band’s fourth LP, “What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits,” will forever be known for its first #1 hit, “Black Water,” and the minor single “Eyes of Silver,” but there are about a half-dozen other strong tunes to explore.  I’ve always enjoyed Pat Simmons’ engaging, mostly acoustic “Tell Me What You Want,” featuring the sweet pedal-steel work of Jeff “Skunk” Baxter in the outro.  Baxter was then still a full-time member of Steely Dan, but as that group evolved into a duo with multiple guest musicians, he would soon make the jump to join The Doobies’ lineup.

“You’re Only Lonely,” J.D. Souther, 1979

If the lush harmonies you hear throughout this soothing track sound like those of The Eagles, that’s because the voices belong to Glenn Frey, Don Henley and Don Felder, plus Jackson Browne and Phil Everly for good measure.  These gents were happy to help their friend John David Souther on his 1979 solo LP because he was an honorary Eagle, having co-written such hits as “Best of My Love,” “New Kid in Town” and “Heartache Tonight.”  (He also co-wrote and co-sang “Her Town Too” with James Taylor in 1981.)  “You’re Only Lonely” — a tribute of sorts to Roy Orbison’s 1960 classic, “Only the Lonely” — reached an impressive #7 on the US pop chart at a time when disco and New Wave were dominant.

“Still Believe,” Michael Tomlinson, 1987

Tomlinson came up out of the Austin, Texas, music scene in the mid-’80s, offering a pleasing acoustic style that caught the attention of certain radio program directors, particularly “relaxing radio” like The Wave. That’s where my friend Mark first heard Tomlinson’s song “All is Clear,” prompting him to buy his 1989 LP, “Face Up in the Rain,” and also his earlier album, “Still Believe.” I borrowed these records and enjoyed several standout tracks, most notably the positivism behind the lyrics of “Still Believe.” Tomlinson grew frustrated with record labels and corporate takeovers of radio stations and chose to withdraw from the business, but he later established his own private label and continues to write and record new music.

“It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way,” Jim Croce, 1973

Croce’s story is such a sad one, ending prematurely in a plane crash just as his years of hard work were beginning to pay off.  After two hits in 1972 (“You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” and “Operator”) and a #1 hit in the summer of 1973 (“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”), he was poised to join the top ranks of singer songwriters with his album and title song (“I Got a Name”) until fate intervened.  Several posthumous singles were released — “Time in a Bottle” (another #1), the #9 hit “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song” and, one of my favorites in his catalog, the poignant “It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way,” with Christmas-flavored lyrics and even the use of handbells.

“The Euphrates,” Seals and Crofts, 1972

I remember being so knocked out by this duo’s first hit, “Summer Breeze,” that I pretty much ran to the record store to pick up the album of the same title.  I found a delightful collection of melodic songs brimming over with spiritual lyrics espousing a life of selflessness and optimism.  The voices of Jim Seals and Dash Crofts, the instruments (guitars and mandolin, mostly) and professional production give these tracks a majestic sweep.  Buried on side two is a real sleeper called “The Euphrates,” which references the historic river running from Turkey through Syria and Iraq into the area formerly known as Mesopotamia:  “The deep, deep river.  The wide, wide river.  The long, long river.  Spiritual river.  The river of life…”

“Dreidel,” Don McLean, 1972

“American Pie” is so imbedded in the arc of popular culture that, sadly, it has overshadowed everything else McLean ever recorded.  He is a gifted songwriter who has composed some thoughtful pieces over the years that are worthy of our attention.  “Vincent,” his tribute to Van Gogh, was a fairly sizable hit on its own, but other McLean material has been overlooked.  I love the changes in tempo and instrumentation that mark the arrangement of “Dreidel,” a modest #21 hit in early 1973 based on the four-sided spinning top Jewish children play with while observing Hanukkah.  For him, a dreidel symbolizes life itself:  “Round and around the world you go, spinning through the lives of the people you know, we all slow down…”

“Time to Space,” Loggins and Messina, 1974

This duo happened more or less by accident when Jim Messina, a staff producer at Columbia and alumnus of the country rock band Poco, was tasked with shepherding newcomer Kenny Loggins through the production of his debut album.  It became instead “Kenny Loggins With Jim Messina Sittin’ In,” the first of six studio albums (plus two live LPs) by the duo in the 1970s.  For my money, 1974’s “Mother Lode” is their best stuff, with nary a weak moment on the album.  The track that has never ceased to captivate me is “Time to Space,” which begins and ends as a beautiful ballad, interrupted halfway through with an exhilarating uptempo section featuring flute/sax man Jon Clarke.  Wow!

“Written in Sand,” Santana, 1985

Emerging from San Francisco at the end of the ’60s, Santana went through many personnel changes over the years, but always with guitar virtuoso Carlos Santana at the helm. The group’s LPs routinely made it to the Top 20 on the US album charts, including two #1s in the early ’70s. The use of congas and vigorous percussion remained a mainstay element of Santana’s oeuvre, but by the 1980s, synthesizers and drum machines began creeping into the mix, which alienated some longtime fans. The 1985 LP “Beyond Appearances” was their first to fail to crack the Top 50, but it had a minor hit, “Say It Again,” featuring vocalist Alex Ligertwood, who also sang on the LP’s best track, the luxurious “Written in Sand.”

“Ship of Fools,” Robert Plant, 1988

In the wake of Led Zeppelin’s demise, many observers assumed we’d hear much more from Jimmy Page, but it was Robert Plant who emerged with the most active solo career, scoring four consecutive Top 20 LPs in the 1980s. His fourth, “Now and Zen,” was probably his most consistently satisfying, with the killer opening song, “Heaven Knows,” “Helen of Troy” and the intriguing “Tall Cool One,” in which Plant made liberal use of samples from a half-dozen Led Zep tracks. I’m also partial to “Ship of Fools,” a wonderfully moody piece that shows off Plant’s vocal shading in the same way we heard on “I’m in the Mood” from his 1983 LP, “The Principle of Moments.”

“The Right Moment,” Gerry Rafferty, 1982

Following his rocky beginning as half of Stealer’s Wheel, with whom he recorded the 1973 hit “Stuck in the Middle With You,” Rafferty finally resolved legal differences and made a huge splash with his first solo LP, “City to City,” which included the #1 hit “Baker Street” and “Right Down the Line.” Two more albums in the same vein followed, but by 1982, people had stopped paying attention, due in part to Rafferty’s aversion to touring. His “Sleepwalking” album that year failed to chart in the US, but I found three strong songs on it: “Standing at the Gate,” “Cat and Mouse” and the gentle yet forceful “The Right Moment,” carried by Rafferty’s rich vocals and the marvelous keyboard work of Dire Straits’ Alan Clark.

“Bitter Creek,” The Eagles, 1973

With strong personalities like Don Henley and Glenn Frey around, it was inevitable that the other two founding members of The Eagles would eventually feel marginalized enough to become disillusioned and leave the nest.  Bernie Leadon, whose country/bluegrass roots had brought him to the group by way of The Flying Burrito Brothers, was probably the group’s most talented player, and a fine vocalist and songwriter as well.  He co-wrote three tracks on “Eagles” and then penned two of the best songs on “Desperado” by himself.  In particular, Leadon’s “Bitter Creek” remains the most neglected song in The Eagles’ repertoire, with lyrics that warn of desert dangers while tying into the outlaw cowboy theme of the “Desperado” LP.

“Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” Judy Collins, 1968

A stalwart of the thriving folk music scene in Greenwich Village in the early ’60s, Collins at first limited her repertoire to traditional material and the works of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan. By 1966, she began branching out, attempting covers of nascent songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen and Randy Newman, eventually scoring a Top Ten hit with Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” In 1968, she enlisted the help of fine musicians like Stephen Stills, James Burton and pedal steel guitarist Buddy Emmons to beef up the arrangements for her countryish hit, “Someday Soon,” and the moving song written by Fairport Convention’s Sandy Denny, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes.”

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