I once was lost, but now I’m found

There’s nothing better than hearing a song you used to love but have somehow forgotten all about over the years.  Perhaps it’s the one great song on a so-so album, so you don’t even remember it’s there.  Or maybe it’s on a super album but the radio plays only the same 3-4 songs, neglecting some choice tunes in the mix.

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Or maybe you never heard it before, even though it’s on a popular album.  Some music-loving friend turns you on to a deep track, and blows your mind.  “Wow!  Where has THAT song been all my life?”

That’s the purpose of my series of “lost classics” blogs (this is the 35th installment!) in which I turn the spotlight on these hidden gems.  They live among us, dear readers.  Treat yourself to these dozen songs I’ve selected from the 1969-1983 period that will perhaps spark great memories, or thrill you for the first time.

And off we go…

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“Queen of My Soul,” Average White Band, 1976

This R&B band from Scotland made quite a splash in the US in the mid-to-late ’70s with singles like the #1 instrumental “Pick Up the Pieces” and its follow-up, “Cut the Cake,” and three Top Ten albums.  On their third LP, “Soul Searching,” there’s an infectious dance track by guitarist/bassist/vocalist/songwriter Hamish Stuart called “Queen of My Soul” that is guaranteed to get you up out of your chair.  Its main message, repeated often in the chorus and coda, is that music can play a hugely important role in our lives:   “Music, sweet music, you’re the queen of my soul…”

“Mirage,” Santana, 1974

After a spectacular debut LP, followed by two consecutive #1 albums, Santana foundered a bit in 1973 as their lead guitarist wanted to stretch boundaries and try new things.  Several personnel shifts occurred, and the music, while fascinating at times, didn’t offer what the band’s early fans were looking for, so the albums didn’t chart as well.  Still, there’s often a diamond in the rough hidden amongst average songs, and on “Borboletta,” it’s a gorgeous keyboard-dominated track called “Mirage,” written and sung by organist/pianist Leon Patillo.  Carlos Santana is, of course, on hand to offer his trademark biting guitar riffs.

“I Really Don’t Know Anymore,” Christopher Cross, 1980

This unlikely-looking singer-songwriter seemingly came out of nowhere in early 1980 with his eponymous debut LP and its four hit singles (“Sailing,” “Ride Like the Wind,” “Never Be the Same” and “The Light is On”).  He won the “Big Four” Grammys that year, including Song of the Year (as composer) and Record of the Year (as performer) for “Sailing,” Album of the Year, and Best New Artist, the only time this has happened in Grammy history.  Did he deserve it?  That’s debatable, but the album is full of really great music, and the lost gem, to me, is “I Really Don’t Know Anymore,” a shimmering rock track that features Michael McDonald sharing vocals, and a scorching guitar solo by jazz/rock great Larry Carlton.

“Starship Trooper,” Yes, 1971

This accomplished progressive rock group from England had greater chart success with their “Fragile” album and its single “Roundabout,” and their #1 opus “Close to the Edge,” but I keep going back to the brilliant 1971 LP, “The Yes Album.”  There you’ll find the minor hit  “I’ve Seen All Good People” and the sonic smorgasbord of the leadoff song, “Yours is No Disgrace,” but most diehard Yes fans are partial to the 9-minute “Starship Trooper,” which is actually a suite of three separate pieces of music combined in a gorgeous, mesmerizing track.  In particular, Jon Anderson’s crystalline vocals and Steve Howe’s intricate guitar work stand out.   

“Tell Me All the Things You Do,” Fleetwood Mac, 1970

The band that blues guitarist Peter Green put together in 1967 would go through several giddy highs and discouraging lows before they hit superstardom in 1977.  In 1970, Fleetwood Mac muscled their way through the sessions for “Kiln House,” their first LP without Green at the helm, who had abruptly left to join a commune.  Guitarist Jeremy Spencer wasn’t much of a songwriter, and he too would soon be swayed by a persuasive cult.   This left the bulk of the songwriting on the frail shoulders of young Danny Kirwan, a new recruit the year before.  He came through with a couple of gems, including “Tell Me All the Things You Do,” where his tenor voice sounds a lot like Christine McVie, who became a full-fledged member later that year.  Kirwan’s guitar work is masterful here.

“Criminal World,” David Bowie, 1983

It had been three years since Bowie’s last release, 1980’s “Scary Monsters,” so naturally, the public was about to meet a new Bowie persona.  He wrote or identified eight captivating songs, hired Chic’s Nile Rodgers to produce, and unleashed then-unknown blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan on most of the tracks, and the result, “Let’s Dance,” was #1 in ten countries.  While “Modern Love,” “China Girl” and the anthemic title song rightly get most of the attention, I suggest you take a listen to “Criminal World,” which features Vaughan adding just the right guitar fills to spice things up.  Great song!

“Albert Flasher,” The Guess Who, 1971

Randy Bachman had been the de facto leader/guitarist/songwriter of this polished Canadian band, but he departed after “American Woman” in 1970, later to lead Bachman-Turner Overdrive.  That left singer/pianist/songwriter Burton Cummings to take over the reins, and he came up with some impossibly catchy Top 20 tunes to keep the Guess Who popular for several more years — “Share the Land,” “Hand Me Down World,” “Rain Dance” and my favorite, “Albert Flasher,” a piano-driven single that wasn’t available on an album until many years later.  Cummings’ vocal delivery here is simply spectacular.  I wish this one went on longer than its brief 2:18 length.

“Tell Me to My Face,” Dan Fogelberg & Tim Weisberg, 1978

For his fifth album, Fogelberg teamed up with jazz flautist Weisberg for the delightful “Twin Sons of Different Mothers,” which reached #8 on the charts on the strength of the single, “The Power of Gold.”  Most of the LP showcases the delicate interweaving of flute and acoustic guitar, but “Power of Gold” is full-bodied and really cooks, and even more so is the incredible 7-minute rendition of “Tell Me to My Face,” written by Graham Nash and Allan Clarke in 1966 and recorded by The Hollies.  Fogelberg’s version is leaps and bounds better than the original, if only because production values are so superior…but so is the musicianship.  I crank this one up every chance I get.

“Be My Lover,” Alice Cooper, 1971

The shock rock of Alice and his band of hard rock misfits had struggled to find an audience at first, but producer Bob Ezrin polished up their sound and asked for songs with great hooks, and the band responded with “I’m Eighteen,” a teenage rallying cry to this day.  On their “Killer” album in ’71, “Under My Wheels” kept momentum alive until 1972’s “School’s Out” and “Elected” and 1973’s “Billion Dollar Babies” LP made them one of the nation’s top concert draws.  But go back to “Killer” — many compelling songs there, particularly “Be My Lover,” written by guitarist Michael Bruce.  The dude knew his way around a knockout riff.

“Kozmic Blues,” Janis Joplin, 1969

In early 1969, Janis had left her erstwhile group, Big Brother and the Holding Company (despite their #1 album together, “Cheap Thrills”), and instead assembled a new band loosely known as The Kozmic Blues Band.  This group, which included blues great Mike Bloomfield on a few tracks, recorded the impressive “I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!” just before appearing at Woodstock.  The album’s release a month later capitalized on that appearance and reached #6 on the charts.  Three singles were released but curiously went nowhere, despite their energy and musical quality.  The title track shows Joplin in fine form, offering alternately dulcet and screeching vocals as a basic piano melody evolves into a full brass, full-throated tour de force, all in a compact 4:42.

“Night Flight,” Led Zeppelin, 1975

Eight new songs were recorded by the band for their “Physical Graffiti” album in 1974, but since their combined length pushed the limit of a conventional single album, they decided to resurrect some unreleased tracks recorded during previous sessions and make “Graffiti” a double album.  Naturally, it went to #1, but only four or five of the 15 songs got much airplay — usually “Kashmir” and “Trampled Under Foot,” maybe “In My Time of Dying.”  But the one I like is “Night Flight,” originally intended for the “IV/Untitled” album in 1971.  Carried by John Paul Jones’ keyboards, and a typically powerful Robert Plant vocal, it packs a wallop, and recalls “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Four Sticks” from that classic album.

“Freedom Rider,” Traffic, 1970

Steve Winwood had already achieved so much before he was 21 — hits with Spencer Davis Group, forming trippy folk/rock band Traffic, then teaming up with Eric Clapton for the Blind Faith project.  He then decided the time was right for a solo LP, and started writing the songs that would eventually make up the extraordinary “John Barleycorn Must Die” album.  Because Winwood used Traffic’s drummer Jim Capaldi and flute/sax player Chris Wood in the recording sessions, he relented and agreed to call it a Traffic album, which kick-started another five years and three more amazing albums for the band (and delayed Winwood’s solo career until the late ‘70s).  On “Freedom Rider,” Wood’s sax and flute passages perfectly complement Winwood’s piano and organ, and that voice — well, there are few peers in the business. 

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Rockers from the vault

Sometimes you open up a safe, and there’s nothing in it but dust. In the vaults of classic rock from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, though, you’ll find a treasure trove of delectable goodies just waiting to be exposed to the light.

Here at Hack’s Back Pages, that’s what I do every couple of months: I explore the albums of that rich period of musical development and select a dozen tracks that we’ve forgotten about or never got to know the first time around.

This batch is all over the map — acoustic, electric, jam groove, sunny pop and more. I think you’ll find the playlist at the end to be a great soundtrack to any party. Meantime, I hope you enjoy reading the backstories behind these fine tunes.

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“Room Full of Mirrors,” Jimi Hendrix, 1971

Hendrix’s premature death in 1970 at age 27 took everyone by surprise, including his record company, but they wasted little time in gathering several of the tracks he’d recorded in 1969 and 1970 and releasing them on two posthumous 1971 LPs, “The Cry of Love” and “Rainbow Bridge.” Critics noted that while the former showcased Hendrix’s abilities as a songwriter, the latter highlighted his unparalleled guitar playing. “Room Full of Mirrors” combines both of these talents, featuring Jimi in full-blown virtuosity, exploring new territory as he sings about his need to smash the ego (and the mirrors that reinforce them) so the world around us can be better explored and appreciated.

“Lunatic Fringe,” Red Rider, 1981

Tom Cochrane, lead guitarist for the Canadian rock band Red Rider, was inspired to write this song in 1980 after becoming aware of a resurgence of anti-Semitism in the late 1970s. Coincidentally, he recorded the first demo of the track on the same evening John Lennon was murdered by a “lunatic fringe” loner. The tragic event galvanized Cochrane’s intention to have Red Rider release the song as a single, despite the protests of Capitol Records, who felt it wasn’t commercial enough. While it didn’t have Top 40 chart success, it reached #11 on Billboard’s “Mainstream Rock Tracks” charts, and VH-1 included it among the finest “One-Hit Wonders of the ’80s.”

“Heavy Water,” Jethro Tull, 1989

While Tull’s best work came during the ’70s, frontman Ian Anderson (with loyal guitarist Martin Barre still a pivotal part of the lineup) continued to write and record some substantial material on 1980s albums like “Broadsword and the Beast” (1981), “Crest of a Knave” (1987) and “Rock Island”(1989). The latter LP emphasized hard rock arrangements and lyrics that offered typically articulate commentary on weighty social issues. “Heavy Water,” buoyed by Barre’s biting guitar and Anderson’s ever-present flute, rocks along with driving force as it tackles the scourge of acid rain, which had become a problem in England at that time due to unchecked industrial pollution.

“However Much I Booze,” The Who, 1975

The Who in general, and Pete Townshend in particular, were going through some stormy times in 1974-75. They had just completed a triumphant but exhausting tour promoting their amazing “Quadrophenia” LP, and Townshend was feeling depressed about reaching 30 and whether he and the band would still be relevant in the years ahead. He was also drinking way too much, suffering from a writer’s block and feuding with the other band members. All this eventually came out in the downbeat songs that appeared on 1975’s “The Who By Numbers,” most notably “However Much I Booze,” which Roger Daltrey refused to sing (so Townshend sang it). The uptempo arrangement and cheery melody stood in dramatic contrast to the grim subject matter.

“Blaze of Glory,” Joe Jackson, 1989

Jackson emerged from London around 1977 as part of the punk/New Wave movement and brought forth an extraordinary breadth of great music on a half-dozen LPs, touring incessantly in support of them. In 1989, he came up with his richest, most diverse album, “Blaze of Glory,” which he described as “an examination of my generation as the 1980s were ending,” commenting on the optimism of their 1950s childhood (“Tomorrow’s World”), the politics of terrorism and the Cold War (“Rant and Rave” and “Evil Empire”), yuppies and materialism (“Discipline”) and rockers who wear out their welcome (“Nineteen Forever”). Best of all was the title track about tortured hero Johnny, sparked by a vibrant, majestic horn section.

“Try to Touch Just One,” John Kongos, 1972

Of all the great artists and records I’ve heard over the years that were criminally ignored in the U.S., I’d put John Kongos’s 1972 album “Kongos” near the top of that list.  Hailing from South Africa, Kongos moved to England in the late ’60s and worked with various bands and musicians before finally recording his solo debut, using many of the musicians Elton John used on his early records (guitarist Caleb Quaye, percussionist Ray Cooper, bassist Dave Glover, even producer Gus Dudgeon).  One song, “He’s Gonna Step on You Again,” got moderate airplay here, but the standout song for me is “Try to Touch Just One,” a quasi-suite that takes the listener through an entrancing mix of different tempos and instrumentations.

“Bad,” U2, 1984

They hadn’t yet released their breakthrough LP “The Joshua Tree,” but U2 were well on their way beyond the clubs of Dublin when they released the remarkable album “The Unforgettable Fire” in 1984, beautifully produced by Daniel Lanois. The standout track for me among many fine songs is “Bad,” developed from a riff The Edge came up with that the band built up in intensity as layers of sounds were added. Bono sang gently at first, then agonizingly, about the horrors of addiction that had claimed several people he knew. “I wrote the song for a friend of mine,” he said. “I also wrote it for myself, because you can be addicted to anything. And, you know, that song’s not just about heroin: it’s about a lot of things. None of our songs are about just one thing.”

“Keep On Growing,” Derek and the Dominos, 1970

The sessions for Eric Clapton’s classic double LP “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” were legendary for the serendipitous inclusion of Duane Allman on many of the tracks, but one I’ve always enjoyed, “Keep On Growing,” was just Clapton and the Dominos jamming on what was originally an instrumental. It almost was excluded from the record until keyboardist Bobby Whitlock came up with lyrics and a melody line. “They loved the song and what I’d done to it, so I told Eric, ‘Why don’t we do this like you sing a line, I sing a line, we’ll sing a line together.’ We did it like that and it worked out. That song was fresh picked, straight off the vine. What you hear on the album was the first take.”

“Take Me With You,” Santana, 1976

After Santana’s initial explosive success with their first three albums (especially 1970’s “Abraxas”), Carlos Santana felt the need to work with other musicians and try his hand at jazzier songs and arrangements. My interest waned during this period, but in 1976, the group reappeared with an entirely new lineup on “Amigos,” highlighted by an astounding instrumental called “Europa,” which reached the Top Ten in several European countries and got plenty of FM airplay in the US. Often overlooked was the two-part piece “Take It With You,” which begins as a ferocious Latin rocker and then morphs into a much mellower groove. Great stuff.

“Tickets to Waterfalls,” Jack Bruce, 1969

I’ve mentioned Bruce’s 1969 LP “Songs For a Tailor” several times before in this blog because it’s not well known and I’d like to change that. It was the bassist/vocalist’s first LP after the demise of the supergroup trio Cream, and it’s jam-packed with compelling songs by Bruce and lyrics partner Pete Brown. Side A is damn near perfect, with five superb tracks that mesmerized me upon first hearing and still do today. Here, I single out “Tickets to Waterfalls,” with Bruce’s inventive bass lines and powerful vocals captured beautifully in Cream producer Felix Pappalardi’s crisp production.

“She’s Changing Me,” Fleetwood Mac, 1974

In the 1971-1974 period, Fleetwood Mac was largely in the hands of guitarist Bob Welch, who wrote about half of the band’s material, with Christine McVie and Danny Kirwan pitching in on the rest. Welch wrote and sang some excellent tracks that hold up quite well all these years later — “Future Games,” “Sentimental Lady,” “Emerald Eyes,” “Bermuda Triangle” and the superb “Hypnotized.” On his last LP with the band, “Heroes Are Hard to Find,” he came up with the Beatlesque pop tune “She’s Changing Me,” which I always thought would’ve been a successful single for them. Welch left the band in late 1974, which cleared the decks for Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who changed the band’s sound and fortunes dramatically.

“What About Me,” Quicksilver Messenger Service, 1970

Everyone mentions the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane as the flag bearers of the San Francisco scene of the late 1960s, but knowledgeable fans of that period wisely include Quicksilver Messenger Service in the discussion. In 1969 and 1970, the group released four LPs that made the Top 30 on US album charts, two with charismatic lead singer Dino Valenti taking control of the microphone. Valenti was a stage name for singer-songwriter Chet “Get Together” Powers, who, under the pseudonym Jesse Farrow, wrote FM radio classics like “Fresh Air” and “What About Me,” both giving off a strong counterculture vibe.

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