You know the groove’s still there

Most of the posts and playlists I put together here at Hack’s Back Pages have themes. Songs about autumn… Cringeworthy songs… Great ex-Beatles tunes… Songs with female names as the title… Songs for April Fool’s Day…

Some groupings, however, are seemingly random — strange mixes of genres, tempos, year of release, lyrics topics. That’s because these are what I call “lost classics.” Typically, the only thing they have in common is that they’re great songs that you maybe heard once before, or maybe a few times, but you haven’t heard in ages or have forgotten about. Or perhaps you’ve never heard some of these songs at all.

In any case, you’re just going to have to trust me. I think my track record for selecting dusted-off gems is pretty good, and I’ll wager that after hearing this playlist of a dozen songs from the ’70s (and a couple from the ’80s), you’ll come away with at least three or four “new” songs that hit your sweet spot. That’s the fun of lost classics — exciting discoveries of long-neglected musical jewels!

The Spotify playlist is at the end for you to access as you read more about the tracks. Enjoy!

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“People Gotta Move,” Gino Vannelli, 1974

I remember going to an audio store in 1974 to buy new speakers, and when the sales guy dropped the needle on an album to test the sound of various brands of speakers, the record he chose to use was “Powerful People,” a new album by a Canadian singer named Gino Vannelli. The track was “People Gotta Move,” an infectious, keyboard-driven tune that knocked me off my feet (and eventually reached #22 on US charts that year). In addition to new speakers, I also bought Vannelli’s LP and it’s been a favorite of mine ever since. Four years later, his “Brother to Brother” LP reached #3 on the US charts, thanks to the #4 hit “I Just Wanna Stop,” but I still prefer the sound and excitement of his early work. Crank this one up LOUD!

“Without Love,” Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, 1977

I’d become a major Bruce Springsteen fan in the summer of ’75, playing his first three LPs incessantly and bowled over when I saw him in concert at a Cleveland theater. While in college at Syracuse the following year, I began hearing great things about a New Jersey cohort of Springsteen named “Southside” Johnny Lyon, so when he came to campus to play a small club with his rollicking R&B band The Asbury Jukes, I eagerly attended, and have loved this group ever since. Their second LP, 1977’s “This Time It’s For Real,” is full of irresistible dance tracks, many written by Steve Van Zandt and Springsteen, but my favorite is “Without Love” by songwriter Carolyn Franklin, younger sister of Aretha Franklin. Southside Johnny and his horn section are in top form on this slab of vintage soul.

“Lucretia MacEvil”/”Lucretia’s Reprise,” Blood, Sweat & Tears, 1970

I was among the millions who loved BS&T’s 1969 album with its original use of horns and jazz arrangements in a rock format, and singer David Clayton-Thomas’s gutsy vocals on big hits like “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” “Spinning Wheel” and Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die.” I played the hell out of this LP, which also included sharp interpretations of Traffic’s “Smiling Phases” and Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child.” The follow-up album, “3,” turned out to be a big disappointment, but it included “Hi-De-Ho,” a stirring gospel track by Carole King, and Clayton-Thomas’s own “Lucretia MacEvil,” a modest hit at #29. The group tacked on a nifty jazz-horns coda entitled “Lucretia’s Reprise” that extends the song’s groove an extra three minutes.

“Dissatisfied,” Fleetwood Mac, 1973

First, there was Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, founded in London in 1967 as a blues band led by Green’s superb guitar. In the late ’70s and into the ’80s, Fleetwood Mac was a super-platinum group pumping out multiple hit pop singles, led by guitarist Lindsay Buckingham and singer Stevie Nicks. In between those two versions, in the 1970-1975 period, there was a more eclectic period featuring the diverse songs of two guitarists (Brit Danny Kirwan and American Bob Welch), and the marvelous Christine McVie, whose singing and songwriting have been the most consistently superior of them all. On the otherwise ho-hum 1973 LP “Penguin,” she serves up the catchy pop rock of “Dissatisfied,” which resembles her later successes like “You Make Loving Fun” and “Little Lies.”

“Throwing Stones,” Grateful Dead, 1987

The late great Jerry Garcia got most of the accolades as the musical epicenter of this venerable band, and deservedly so, but I have always been equally fond of the singing and songwriting of bandmate Bob Weir. That’s his voice you hear on classics like “Truckin’,” “Sugar Magnolia” and “One More Saturday Night,” and his stellar contributions to the group’s superb 1987 comeback studio album “In the Dark” are arguably that record’s finest moments. There’s Weir’s compelling rocker “Hell in a Bucket,” and there’s the relentless beat and social commentary behind “Throwing Stones”: “And the politicians throwing stones, so the kids, they dance, they shake their bones, /’Cause it’s all too clear we’re on our own, singing ashes, ashes, all fall down…”

“Wastin’ Away,” Gerry Rafferty, 1980

The smooth voice and beautifully constructed songs of Gerry Rafferty seemed to come out of nowhere in the summer of 1978, particularly the majestic hit “Baker Street” with its killer sax riff. Actually, Rafferty may have sounded vaguely familiar because he was the singer in the band Stealers Wheel, who had a 1973 hit with “Stuck in the Middle With You.” He followed up his #1 LP “City to City” with “Night Owl” (1979) and “Snakes and Ladders” (1980) and more sporadic releases in subsequent years, but because he had an aversion to performing and touring, the albums didn’t get the promotion they needed, and his chart success dwindled. Such a shame, because a fine track like “Wastin’ Away” from “Snakes and Ladders” could’ve been a hit.

“Sit Yourself Down,” Stephen Stills, 1970

From his Buffalo Springfield days (“For What It’s Worth,” “Bluebird,” “Rock and Roll Woman”) through his Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young period (“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Helplessly Hoping,” “Carry On”), Stephen Stills became known as a terrific songwriter, not to mention guitarist and multi-instrumentalist. The egos of CSN&Y were too big and stubborn to allow the group to last long, but that didn’t stop the individual members from proceeding with solo careers and/or other groups. Stills came out of the gate with the strong “Stephen Stills” LP and its single, “Love the One You’re With,” in late 1970, and it was packed with fine tunes and top-flight musicians. You might recall “Sit Yourself Down,” which features Crosby, Nash, Rita Coolidge and Cass Elliot on background vocals.

“Carolina Day,” Livingston Taylor, 1970

James Taylor’s younger brother shares a similar singing/songwriting talent and was able to secure his own recording contract at age 20, not long after “Sweet Baby James” was released in mid-1970. Livingston was pretty prolific, releasing six albums in ten years (inching into the Top 40 twice with singles but never with LPs), and he continued recording new songs periodically in the ’80s, 90s and 2000s. The debut LP “Livingston Taylor” showed a strong vocal resemblance to James, and the ten original songs by Liv were strong, but the album’s production sounded a bit amateurish. The upbeat debut single “Carolina Day,” which had “hit” written all over it, curiously stiffed at #93. Its lyrics reference his siblings and their growing-up-in-Carolina experiences.

“Nature’s Way,” Spirit, 1970

Emanating out of the rustic Topanga Canyon area of Malibu, California, in 1968, Spirit was a rock/jazz/blues band that had some modest chart success but was more a proud FM underground favorite. Their first two albums flirted with the US Top 25, thanks to the minor hit singles “Fresh Garbage” and “I Got a Line on You.” For their fifth album, they came up with a quasi-concept LP, “The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus,” which used literary themes to examine the fragility of life and complexity of the human experience. The sardonic “Mr. Skin” became a dance favorite upon its re-release as a single in 1973, but the track from “Dr. Sardonicus” that became a signature song for Spirit was the ecologically prescient “Nature’s Way,” an acoustic song by guitarist Randy California.

“Easy Now,” Eric Clapton, 1970

During his days with The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream and Blind Faith, Clapton concentrated almost exclusively on electric blues guitar, shying away from the microphone except perhaps to add a harmony. He deferred to Keith Relf, Mayall, Jack Bruce and Steve Winwood, respectively, because he had no confidence in his singing voice. Then Clapton befriended Delaney Bramlett, with whom he collaborated on tour with Delaney and Bonnie’s band and, more important, on writing songs together. Bramlett wisely pushed Clapton to make his first solo album and to do all the lead vocals, and the result was the 1970 LP “Eric Clapton,” which features the guitarist’s lovely voice, and includes classics like “After Midnight,” “Let It Rain,” “Blues Power” and the acoustic guitar-based love song “Easy Now.”

“Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” Karla Bonoff, 1977

A close-knit fraternity of songwriter musicians based in Los Angeles played and sang on each other’s songs throughout the mid-late 1970s, and one of the most talented singer-songwriters of the bunch was Karla Bonoff. She won plenty of acclaim for the excellent tunes in her portfolio recorded by others — “All My Life,” “Isn’t It Always Love,” “Home,” “Wild Heart of the Young” and “Lose Again” — but never had much chart success herself, which is a crying shame. Her four LPs between 1977 and 1988 are all beautifully recoded keepers in my vinyl collection. Linda Ronstadt cast such a long shadow with her versions of Bonoff’s songs, especially the gorgeous “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” but I maintain that Bonoff’s rendition is the better of the two. Listen and decide for yourself.

“Summer Soft,” Stevie Wonder, 1976

From 1972-1977, it seemed that Wonder could do wrong. “Innervisions” (1973), “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” (1974) and “Songs in the Key of Life” (1976) all won Album of the Year Grammy awards, not to mention a string of Top 10 singles in the same time perioda. In particular, “Songs in the Key of Life” is a monumental double LP that offers an amazing smorgasbord of musical genres and lyrical explorations, with Wonder in firm command of his songwriting gift. The funky stomp “I Wish” and Wonder’s Duke Ellington tribute “Sir Duke” got the lion’s share of attention, but there are equally worthy tracks to savor, like “As,” “Another Star,” “Isn’t She Lovely,” “Ngiculela (I Am Singing),” “If It’s Magic,” “Love’s in Need of Love Today” and the melodic, heartbreaking “Summer Soft.”

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Discovering things and giving them wings

Here we go again — this is “Lost Classics, Collection #23.”

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What I do in compiling these playlists is search through my voluminous music collection (vinyl and CD) of artists’ works from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s and select a dozen songs I’m betting you’ve forgotten all about, or never heard before.  The idea is to ignore the same old hits that classic rock stations keep playing and dive deeper to find those jewels from the past that deserve your attention.

Some of these songs are on brilliant, classic albums.  Others are tucked away on so-so albums you never think about pulling off the shelf.  Still others are the only decent tunes on horrendous albums that probably didn’t deserve to be made in the first place.  See if you can figure out which of these 12 fit in which category…

I hope you enjoy this new batch of “diamonds in the rough.”

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“Happiness is Just ‘Round the Bend,” Brian Auger & Oblivion Express (1973)

Unknown-437Auger is a British jazz/rock keyboardist who has played as a session musician and in several configurations with jazz and rock musicians alike.  He played on The Yardbirds’ “For Your Love” hit single in 1965, and in a group called The Steampacket with Rod Stewart, Long John Baldry and Julie Driscoll.  He made more albums with Driscoll and the band Trinity before forming The Oblivion Express in 1970.  On that group’s fourth effort, the 1973 LP “Closer to It,” there’s a pretty solid cover version of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues,” but the standout tune I want to share is “Happiness is Just ‘Round the Bend,” a marvelous jazz/rock track featuring Auger on vocals and keyboards.  Auger has continued working with a broad range of artists in Europe and the U.S., playing festivals and doing live TV performances well into the 2000s.

“Forever Man,” Eric Clapton (1985)

Unknown-442By the mid-’80s, Clapton had seemingly done it all.  He played iconic guitar parts and solos with The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominos, and evolved into a damn good singer and songwriter as he began a solo career in 1974.  He also had kicked heroin and alcohol addictions, and struggled through a marriage to Pattie Boyd, George Harrison’s ex-wife, which influenced the songs he was writing.  He was chagrined when he turned in the tapes for his 1984 album “Behind the Sun,” and the label found it too depressing.  They insisted he record three more radio-friendly songs with a team of seasoned producers and musicians, and the result was a likable but disjointed LP that still stalled at #34 on the US album charts.  The single was one of those three, the irresistible “Forever Man,” a hard-driving tune by Texas songwriter Jerry Williams that fared modestly at #26 on the pop charts.

“Night By Night,” Steely Dan (1974)

Unknown-438To my ears, the recorded output of this “band” is one spectacular track after another, with maybe two or three duds in their whole seven-album catalog of their initial run (1972-1980).  Donald Fagen (keyboards and vocals) and Walter Becker (guitar, bass) co-wrote disarming, clever, infectious songs, and brought in hired guns like guitarist Larry Carlton, sax man Phil Woods and singer Michael McDonald to record the parts as Fagen and Becker envisioned them.  They had their share of hit singles (“Reelin’ in the Years,” “Josie,” “FM,” “Peg,” “Hey Nineteen”), but just as juicy were the deep tracks, and there were dozens:  “Doctor Wu,” “Bad Sneakers,” “The Fez,” “Your Gold Teeth,” “Glamour Profession,” “Brooklyn.”  You’ve got to check out “Night By Night,” a funky piece from their third LP, “Pretzel Logic,” with riveting horn charts and drop-dead vocals.  You simply can’t go wrong with any of Steely Dan’s albums.

“The Tourist,” Gerry Rafferty (1979)

Unknown-439I’ve been a big Rafferty fan since 1973 when, as part of Stealers Wheel, he scored with “Stuck in the Middle With You,” which went on to appear in a key scene in Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs.”  Rafferty hit his commercial peak in 1978 with the fabulous “Baker Street” and its indelible sax riff, followed by the engaging “Right Down the Line,” both from his consistently excellent “City to City” LP.  From the next album, “Night Owl,” Rafferty had some success with two singles, “Days Gone Down” (#12) and “Get It Right Next Time” (#21), but just as strong a candidate would have been “The Tourist,” also featuring Rafferty’s smooth Scottish tenor, solid melodic song structure and that soaring sax from Raphael Ravenscroft.  Rafferty’s aversion to touring and a crippling alcohol addiction affected his sales from that point forward, but you’d do well to discover the seven subsequent albums he made before his death in 2011 at age 63.

“Them Changes,” Buddy Miles (1970)

Unknown-444Drummer Buddy Miles was a musical legacy:  His father played upright bass for Duke Ellington, Count Basie and others, which helped give him cachet when he sought drumming gigs with R&B and soul acts like The Delfonics and Wilson Pickett.  At age 21, he moved to Chicago and teamed up with blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield and singer Nick Gravenites to form the blues/rock/soul band The Electric Flag.  The next year, he contributed to sessions for Jimi Hendrix’s “Electric Ladyland” LP, and then joined Band of Gypsys, Jimi’s new blues rock trio.  By early 1970, Miles released his first solo album, anchored by the heavy bass line and marvelous groove of the title track, “Them Changes.”  The tune appeared on two successful live albums as well — “Band of Gypsys” (1970) and “Carlos Santana and Buddy Miles Live!” (1972).  Miles died in 2008 at age 60.

“Sanctify Yourself,” Simple Minds (1985)

Unknown-443Although this Glasgow, Scotland-based art rock/new wave band built a strong fan base in the UK during its initial five album run (1979-1984), they made almost no impact in the US.  When Simple Minds were asked to record a song by a German songwriting duo for use in John Hughes’ coming-of-age film “The Breakfast Club,” they balked at first, preferring to record their own songs, but eventually relented.  “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” of course, became a huge international #1 hit and the group’s signature song.  Recorded concurrently in 1985 was their seventh LP, “Once Upon a Time,” which featured producer Jimmy Iovine, who pushed singer Jim Kerr to achieve a more energetic vocal style.  It worked — the album reached #10 in the US, thanks to stellar tracks like “Alive and Kicking,” “All the Things She Said” and especially “Sanctify Yourself,” which reached #14 in 1986.  You rarely hear it anymore….until now.

“In Between the Lines,” Michael Stanley Band (1982)

Unknown-446In their native Cleveland and other Midwest pockets, The Michael Stanley Band was a wildly popular, multi-talented rock band during their 10-year run, but elsewhere, MSB were virtual unknowns, which is a crying shame.  Stanley recorded two solo acoustic albums in the early ’70s, then formed MSB and recorded an album a year for a decade, each packed with strong rock tracks like “Misery Loves Company,” “Last Night” and “In the Heartland” and the occasional ballad (“Waste a Little Time on Me,” “Why Should Love Be This Way” and “Spanish Nights”).  One of my favorite rockers in their catalog is “In Between the Lines,” the leadoff track from their “MSB” album.  Bob Pelander’s impactful piano hook, Rick Bell’s savage sax lines and Stanley’s guttural vocals pack a real wallop.

“Take It As It Comes,” The Doors (1967)

Unknown-450Still one of the most astonishing debut albums of all time, “The Doors” was almost a Doors greatest hits package, with not only the longer album version of the huge #1 hit “Light My Fire” but also “Break On Through,” “Soul Kitchen,” “20th Century Fox,” “Back Door Man,” “The Crystal Ship” and the dark opus “The End.”  Notorious vocalist Jim Morrison was singing at his best in those days, and the organ-driven sound of the band helped the group stand out from all the guitar bands so prevalent at the time.  Of the three or four deep tracks you rarely hear from this LP, “Take It As It Comes” is a keeper, with Ray Manzarek in charge on keyboards.  The band’s later work included some real gems (“Riders on the Storm,” “When the Music’s Over,” “Love Me Two Times,” “Roadhouse Blues”), but was far more erratic.  Morrison’s mysterious death in 1971 at age 27 effectively closed the door on their career, but their legendary music lives on.

“Buyin’ Time,” Stephen Stills (1976)

Unknown-451Stills’ impressive track record as a songwriter, guitarist and singer with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills and Nash created high expectations when he began his solo career.  The “Stephen Stills” album in 1970 met those expectations, but most everything that followed was highly inconsistent.  One or two enjoyable songs does not a great album make, as we learned on “Stephen Stills 2” (1971) and “Illegal Stills” (1976).  It wasn’t until 1977’s “CSN” reunion with Crosby and Nash that we were treated to five superb Stills tunes on the same LP.  But those isolated tracks on ho-hum records are well worth your time.  “Change Partners,” for instance (from “SS 2”), is one of Stills’ best tunes, and “Buyin’ Time” from “Illegal Stills” would’ve fit in nicely on the CSN album if there had been room.  It’s carried by fine Hammond organ by Stills and harmonies by Donnie Dacus and Mark Kaylan, who continued working with Stills on his next few solo projects.

“Showdown,” Electric Light Orchestra (1973)

Unknown-449When Jeff Lynne and others from the British rock band The Move went off on their own in 1971, they adopted a lofty goal:  Pick up where The Beatles left off.  Lynne said they wanted to focus on orchestral instruments to give the music a classical sound, with rock guitars used as accompaniment, hence the new group’s name:  Electric Light Orchestra.  Did it work?  An early hit from “ELO II” merged Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” with a portions of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and made the Top Ten in the UK.  On the band’s next LP, “On the Third Day,” they included the catchy original “Showdown,” which featured a funkier backbeat to go with their trademark sweeping strings.  ELO went on to become one of the biggest concert draws and record sellers of the late 1970s/early 1980s, and Lynne ended up working extensively with George Harrison and, later, all three remaining Beatles on their “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love” singles in 1995.

“Sub-Rosa Subway,” Klaatu (1976)

Unknown-441This obscure Canadian band consisted mainly of two multi-instrumentalists named John Woloschuk (keyboards) and Dee Long (guitars), who wrote very Beatlesque pop and progressive rock.  When they signed with Capitol in 1976, their debut album (known as “3:47 EST” in Canada) was released in the US as “Klaatu.”  The band chose to include no photos nor individual musician credits; all songs were simply listed as being written and published by “Klaatu.”  When an American journalist speculated that the LP might actually be a secretly reunited Beatles recording under a pseudonym, it led to widespread rumours.  Klaatu’s vocal style and musical creativity could definitely be considered similar to the Beatles, especially on tracks like “Sub-Rosa Subway.”  Compare this to the next track, from McCartney’s solo work from the same period.

“Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five,” Paul McCartney and Wings (1973)

Unknown-447After The Beatles’ breakup, McCartney couldn’t resist including at least one track per album that sounded like it would’ve fit nicely on “The White Album” or “Abbey Road.”  “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “The Back Seat of My Car,” “My Love,” “Band on the Run” — all have richly produced melodies laden with strings and backing vocals.  Also from the “Band on the Run” LP is the suite-like “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five,” which gallops along furiously to the album’s conclusion, when it wraps up the song cycle with a quick reprise of the title track’s chorus.  It reiterates the album’s loosely imagined theme of escape, with lyrics that capture the idea of artistic freedom through love.  I think it’s one of the best dozen songs in McCartney’s solo career.

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Here’s the Spotify playlist so you can listen to the tunes as you read about them: