Where do you find these gems?

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.

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“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.

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Songs that slipped my mind

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.”

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“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.

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