Some songs, they just snuck right by me

If you’re anything like me, some days you want to pull out some old vinyl and bypass the well known tunes, instead refamiliarizing yourself with the deep tracks hidden on your favorite LPs.  They’re there, all right, waiting to be rediscovered.  Try “Jelly Jelly” on The Unknown-186Allman Brothers’ “Brothers and Sisters” album…or perhaps “Respectable” on The Rolling Stones’ “Some Girls” LP.

Even more rewarding is when you pull out a so-so album and fimages-102ind an amazing track you’d forgotten all about — like “Gypsy” on The Moody Blues’ “To Our Children’s Children’s Children” album…or maybe “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar,” a marvelous Bob Dylan track from his inferior “Shot of Love” LP.  (These aren’t included in the current batch, but they will be someday soon…)

I like to collect these lost classics and, every so often, put a dozen of them in front of you and see if you don’t agree they’re pretty great records.  Perhaps they won’t all appeal to you, but I’m willing to bet my track record will be more hit than miss.

Crank it up, kids!  Let’s rock!

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“Hitchcock Railway,” Joe Cocker, 1969

220px-JoeCocker!albumcoverThe great Donald “Duck” Dunn, a legendary bassist with the great Booker T and the MGs and an in-demand session musician at Stax Records and elsewhere, wrote this rollicking tune that Joe Cocker and His Grease Band turned into a real tour de force on his “Joe Cocker!” album in late 1969.  Carried along by Leon Russell’s barrelhouse piano, Henry McCullough’s biting guitar fills and one of the most relentless cowbells ever committed to vinyl, “Hitchcock Railway” has always been one of my favorite Cocker recordings, with Rita Coolidge and Merry Clayton providing soulful backing vocals.  Cocker regularly included the song in concert throughout his career, and there’s a superb live version to be found on his 1990 platinum LP “Joe Cocker Live.”

“Heaven Knows,” Robert Plant, 1988

Unknown-185When Led Zeppelin broke up in 1980, most people figured it would be Jimmy Page who would get the most attention as a solo artist, but it turned out to be Robert Plant who has been more active.  He started with two great rock albums — “Pictures at Eleven” (1982) and “The Principle of Moments” (1983) — and the “Honeydrippers” EP side project in 1984 that included Page on the hit cover of “Sea of Love.”  Plant has continued to release quality work on solid albums, with a revolving door of various collaborators, every two years or so, right up through the 2010s.  One of his consistently strong solo LPs is 1988’s “Now and Zen,” opening with the Middle Eastern-flavored “Heaven Knows,” which recalls the exotic feel of Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” with its prominent guitar and female backing vocals.

“Nobody,” Three Dog Night, 1969

images-101Three Dog Night — FYI, a phrase used in cold climates to connote how many dogs you need to sleep with when it’s particularly frigid — emerged from the L.A. club scene in 1968, with the trio of Danny Hutton, Chuck Negron and Cory Wells taking turns on lead and harmony vocals.  They made their mark singing original songs by a broad range of outside songwriters including Laura Nyro (“Eli’s Comin'”), Randy Newman (“Mama Told Me Not to Come”) Paul Williams (“Out in the Country”) and Hoyt Axton (“Never Been to Spain”).  On their first LP, there’s a great overlooked track called “Nobody” that captures the band chugging along nicely while the vocalists do their patented thing.  It should’ve been a hit, and was in fact released as their debut single, but it inexplicably stiffed.  They tried again with “One (is the Loneliest Number)” and watched it reach #5.

“I Would’ve Had a Good Time,” John Kongos, 1972

Unknown-177Of 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 “I Would’ve Had a Good Time,” which sounds uncannily like Elton and would’ve fit nicely among the songs on his “Your Song” album.

“Thing For You,” Supertramp, 1987

Unknown-178When Roger Hodgson, one of Supertramp’s two singer-songwriters, chose to leave the group for a solo career in 1984, some thought the band might not survive.  It was Hodgson’s songs and vocals, after all, that had been the most visible side of the group’s output (“Dreamer,” “Give a Little Bit,” “The Logical Song,” “Take the Long Way Home”).  But keyboardist Rick Davies was responsible for some of their best work (“Bloody Well Right,” “Goodbye Stranger”), and he came through with some great songs on 1985’s “Brother Where You Bound,” notably “Cannonball.”  On the underrated 1987 LP “Free as a Bird,” Davies wrote some beauties, like the mesmerizing “Thing For You” with the sexy sax solo.

“Never Let Me Down,” David Bowie, 1984

Unknown-181The late great “chameleon of rock” went through so many changes in his colorful career that it was often hard to keep up.  He would wow the critics with one style, then turn on a dime and try something radically different his next time out.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but as Bowie himself always said, “I make music for me.  If anyone else likes it, that’s a bonus.”  Following the commercially successful peak of 1983’s “Let’s Dance,” he did a couple acting projects, and upon his return to the studio, he opted for a techno/harder edged approach on 1987’s “Never Let Me Down.”  Years later, he dismissed it as “my nadir, an awful album,” and while it isn’t all that bad, it ain’t great.  I love the catchy title track, though; it sounds like it could’ve been an outtake from the “Let’s Dance” sessions.

“Bermuda Triangle,” Fleetwood Mac, 1974

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back cover group photo (Bob Welch at left)

It’s not an exaggeration to say that without Bob Welch providing songs, guitar and vocals on Fleetwood Mac’s albums from 1971 through 1974, the band very likely wouldn’t have survived, and we might have never heard of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who joined immediately after Welch’s departure.  Welch’s distinctive vocals and especially his catchy songwriting on the “Future Games,” “Bare Trees,” “Mystery to Me” and “Heroes Are Hard to Find” albums gave the group crucial momentum in the US market.  Songs like “Sentimental Lady” and “Hypnotized” became FM radio favorites, and deep tracks like “Bermuda Triangle” gave heft to counter the lighter melodies that Christine McVie was writing for these middle-era Fleetwood Mac LPs.

“Single-Handed Sailor,” Dire Straits, 1979

Unknown-180Following the surprise success of Dire Straits’ compelling debut album in 1978 and its enormous hit single “Sultans of Swing,” guitarist/songwriter Mark Knopfler and his band went to the Bahamas to record the follow-up, 1979’s “Communiqué.”  It reached #11 in the US and #5 in their native England, but for the most part, it seemed as if they were just treading water, with songs that were reminiscent of, but not as appealing as, those of the first record.  There are two notable exceptions:  the fantastic “Lady Writer,” which was released as a single and inexplicably stalled on the charts in the mid 40s in both countries; and the wonderful groove of “Single-Handed Sailor,” which features some of Knopfler’s prettiest guitar work.  These two tracks kept me interested until Dire Straits’ next album, the masterpiece “Making Movies” (1980), totally won me over.

“Three Roses,” America, 1971

Unknown-182I always thought critics gave this fine trio of acoustic guitar singer-songwriters a raw deal, claiming they were nothing more than “a poor man’s Crosby, Stills and Nash.”  While it’s true they modeled their sound after CSN, these guys wrote some mighty fine songs of their own, many of which appear on their stellar debut LP “America,” released in the U.S. in early 1972.  I never cared much for the big hit “A Horse With No Name,” which sounded like a ripoff of Neil Young, but there’s so much more here to enjoy:  their follow-up single “I Need You”; the acoustic workout “Riverside”; the electrified track “Sandman”; two introspective Dan Peek songs, “Rainy Day” and “Never Find the Time”; and particularly “Three Roses,” with its chooka-chooka-chooka beat and marvelous harmonies.

“The Bed’s Too Big Without You,” The Police, 1979

220px-Police-album-reggattadeblancThe first two albums by The Police, “Outlandos d’Amour” and “Reggatta de Blanc,” were considered to be “post-punk New Wave/reggae rock,” with the debut single “Roxanne” being a prime example of this melding of genres.  The British market responded enthusiastically, but the American music buyers were a bit slow on the uptake at that point; not until their 1980 LP “Zenyatta Mondatta” did the band make an impact on U.S. charts.  I suggest you revisit “Reggatta de Blanc” for the handful of craftily infectious tunes Sting contributed.  (Steer clear of the dreary Stewart Copeland songs, though.)  Besides “Message in a Bottle,” which became a big hit here later, there’s “Bring on the Night,” “Deathwish,” “Walking on the Moon” and the wonderfully insidious “The Bed’s Too Big Without You.”

“It’s Gonna Come Down on You,” Seals and Crofts, 1973

Unknown-183By the late ’70s, Seals and Crofts had become maligned (unfairly, in my view) as purveyors of the too-smooth “yacht rock” that people now make fun of.  At first, though, the duo wrote and recorded some excellent, thoughtful music, from hits like “Summer Breeze” and “Hummingbird” to “Diamond Girl” and “We May Never Pass This Way Again.”  They offered an envious blend of impressive acoustic guitar and mandolin playing, coupled with lyrics that tipped toward life-searching, spiritual concerns.  On 1973’s “Diamond Girl” album, there’s an amazing, rarely heard track (written by the duo, like most of their catalog) called “It’s Gonna Come Down on You” that ought to snap you to attention about the relative worth of these guys.

“Point Blank,” Bruce Springsteen, 1980

Unknown-184In 2015, The Boss said he regards “Point Blank” and “The River” as the two tracks that make up “the heart and soul” of the 1980 double album “The River.”  He regularly performed “Point Blank” on the 1978 “Darkness” tour, two years before it was officially released, with significantly different lyrics.  Roy Bittan’s heartfelt piano work, combined with Springsteen’s earnest vocal delivery, make it one of the very best songs in his entire catalog, in my view.  The lyrics deal with the conflict between dreams and reality, where he thinks he’s still with his former girlfriend, but then he wakes up and realizes she’s standing in the doorway “like just another stranger waitin’ to get blown away.”  It was released as a single in Europe but not in the U.S.

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Here in my book of memories

It’s time again for a search through some of the great LPs of the Seventies and Eighties for those long-forgotten album tracks that are well worth digging up and brought back into the light.

13418967174_7bbbde8a43_bMany in my generation will recall these songs because they owned or were familiar with the albums they came from, but younger generations have likely had no exposure to these 12 tunes because the radio stations wouldn’t dream of playing them these days.

I like to think I perform a public service by reminding my readers how much great music has been made in the last half-century.  It’s always been there, bubbling beneath the surface, just waiting to be picked up by our radar.

I hope you agree that these lost classics from the 1970s and 1980s, with an emphasis on songs from the progressive rock genre, are worthy of your attention, and I hope you enjoy them.

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“China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider (live),” Grateful Dead, 1972

19721105_0648No band enjoyed as loyal a following as The Grateful Dead did.  Thousands of “Deadheads” were known to hit the road and follow the band on tour, attending many dozens of shows, year after year.  Truth be told, The Dead’s performances were erratic, due in large part to the group’s voracious appetite for psychedelics, and their studio LPs, for the most part, were ho-hum affairs which failed to capture the band’s music at its best.  For that, you needed to turn to the best of their live albums, particularly the magnificent “Europe ’72” three-LP package.  The 13-minute version of “Truckin'” is pretty great, but I’m partial to the two-song combo of the Dead original “China Cat Sunflower” with the traditional blues tune “I Know You Rider.”  It may be the finest track(s) the band ever put down on vinyl.

“A Gallon of Gas,” The Kinks, 1979

KinksLowBudgetAfter several years of concept albums with lyrics recalling simpler times, The Kinks switched directions (and record labels) and started writing straight-ahead rock and roll with lyrics addressing contemporary issues like inflation, labor strife and the gasoline crisis.  On 1979’s “Low Budget,” the best of these is “A Gallon of Gas,” a slow-tempo, hard-rocking track which pointed out how, in some cities, it was easier to get drugs than gasoline.  “Low Budget,” which included the minor hit “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman,” turned out to be their best-charting LP ever in the US, peaking at #11.  It began a nice run of Top 20 albums in the early ’80s — “Give the People What They Want,” “State of Confusion,” “Word of Mouth” and a so-so live album, “One For the Road” — that kept the band viable and playing to arena-sized crowds for a while longer.

“The Cage,” Elton John, 1970

images-78From the very beginning, Elton John’s music has been a cross between melodic ballads and rollicking piano rockers.  Even his mostly ignored first album, 1969’s “Empty Sky,” offered both genres.  “Elton John,” the self-titled LP that Americans thought was his debut, included the iconic debut single “Your Song,” one of his very prettiest songs, and other strings-laden ballads like “Sixty Years On,” “The Greatest Discovery” and “First Episode at Hienton.”  But just as interesting were the tracks that leaned more toward the kind of swampy rhythm-and-blues his idol Leon Russell was famous for — “Take Me to the Pilot,” “Border Song” and the lost classic “The Cage.”  A rowdy arrangement of drums, bass, guitars and synthesizer complement Elton and his vocals on “The Cage,” hinting at what was still to come on his next several albums.

“It Can Happen,” Yes, 1983

b6ae0620295870be9bb2cb3070f39ad0When keyboard player Rick Wakeman and especially singer Jon Anderson left Yes in 1979, I thought that would be the end of one of the best of Britain’s progressive rock bands.  Instead, veterans Chris Squire and Steve Howe regrouped with a couple of ex-Buggles and kept the Yes ship afloat for another few years until Anderson, whose brilliant, high voice was crucial to the band’s identity, was eventually coaxed back into the fold.  Led by the enormously commercial #1 hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” the album “90125” became a #1 album as well.  Longtime Yes fans, at first skeptical, found a number of tracks that harkened back to the glory years, majestic tunes like “Changes,” “Leave It” and particularly “It Can Happen.”

“My God,” Jethro Tull, 1971

220px-JethroTullAqualungalbumcover-1When rock music reviewers labeled Tull’s “Aqualung” as a concept album, Ian Anderson protested, saying, “There were a couple of songs that commented on organized religion, but most of the album had nothing to do with that.”  The songs that took religious traditions to task were “Wind Up” — which criticized once-a-week churchgoers with the line, “He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays” — and the magnificent “My God,” a haunting piece that again taunts the hypocrisy and shallowness of many worshippers in the churches of 1971.  “My God” boasts a rather harrowing melody line, first on acoustic guitar, then with full electric band accompaniment and some of Anderson’s finest flute playing ever.  I would put this track in the Top 10 best Tull songs, out of a repertoire of 225 originals.

“Daughters of the Sea,” The Doobie Brothers, 1974

images-79From the early Tom Johnston singles (“China Grove,” “Listen to the Music”) to the later Michael McDonald hits (“Takin’ It to the Streets,” “What a Fool Believes”), The Doobies were always an accomplished band of stellar musicians who offered tight performances both in concert and on record.  Throughout their initial run (1972-1982), one of the group’s constants was guitarist/vocalist Pat Simmons, whose quality songs added so much to the band’s presence.  “Black Water” was his best known tune, but so many others made the list of The Doobies’ finest tracks:  “Clear as the Driven Snow,” “I Cheat the Hangman,” “Toulouse Street,” “Echoes of Love,” “South City Midnight Lady.”  Let’s not forget the dreamy “Daughters of the Sea,” a Simmons highlight from their 1974 LP “What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits.”

“Street Life,” Roxy Music, 1973

Roxy_Music-StrandedThe eclectic, eccentric music of Roxy Music was ahead of its time, and not to everyone’s taste.  Indeed, I didn’t care for it at all when I was first exposed to it, but I found that it has grown on me over the years.  Singer Bryan Ferry’s affected vocals certainly take some getting used to, and the unusual textures and alternately smooth and strident instrumentation Roxy Music utilized made for a broad palette of ideas and concepts.  Andy Mackay’s sax, Eddie Jobson’s synthesizers and Phil Manzanera’s guitar combined so well on a track like “Street Life,” which was a Top Ten single in the UK but ignored here in the US, as was its album, 1973’s “Stranded.”  In fact, their music never did well on the US charts but found a loyal audience that Ferry has enjoyed during his solo career since the band broke up in 1983.

“Rocket Love,” Stevie Wonder, 1980

220px-Hotter_JulyWhen you mention the 1970s, usually The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac are named as the dominant acts, but I think you can make a strong case for Stevie Wonder being every bit as influential.  The man won three Album of the Year Grammys in four years and charted numerous hit singles, not to mention the trail of imitators who came along in his wake.  His 1980 LP “Hotter Than July” reached #3 and featured the Bob Marley-inspired reggae rave-up “Master Blaster” and the country-tinged hit “I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It.”  I’ve always been partial to the deep track “Rocket Love,” which focuses on the romantic turmoil of a couple who curiously experience extreme highs and lows:  “You took me riding in your rocket, gave me a star, but at a half a mile from heaven, you dropped me back down to this cold, cold world…”

“The Same Old Sun,” The Alan Parsons Project, 1984

220px-TAPP-VultureCultureAfter six Top 20 albums on the US charts — “I Robot” (1977), “Pyramid” (1978), “Eve” (1979, “The Turn of a Friendly Card” (1980), “Eye in the Sky” (1982) and “Ammonia Avenue” (1984) — The Alan Parsons Project began falling out of favor with US audiences, who had always been more receptive to their music than fans in their native England.  Their 1984 LP “Vulture Culture,” which had been intended as the second half of a double album with “Ammonia Avenue,” fell off the charts pretty quickly, managing only #46, with no hit singles.  There were some great tracks on there, though, including “Days Are Numbers,” “Sooner or Later” and the album’s grand closer, “The Same Old Sun,” which starts quietly before building to a dramatic conclusion.  Eric Woolfson’s vocals and David Paton’s guitar solo are particularly strong.

“Squonk” (live), Genesis, 1977

220px-Genesis_-_Seconds_OutI admit I was late to the party when it comes to the music of Genesis, whose albums date back to 1969.  I never really paid attention until their 1976 LP “A Trick of the Tail,” which was coincidentally their first after the departure of frontman/lyricist/vocalist Peter Gabriel.  The group carried on admirably, with drummer Phil Collins stepping up and sounding uncannily like Gabriel on most tracks.  Keyboardist Tony Banks and guitarists Mike Rutherford and Steve Hackett wrote the eight amazing songs that comprise “A Trick of the Tail,” and four of them — “Dance on a Volcano,” “Robbery, Assault and Battery,” “Los Endos” and “Squonk” — appeared as in-concert versions on the double live album “Seconds Out,” released in 1977.  I actually prefer the live take of “Squonk” to the studio rendition.

“Darkness,” The Police, 1981

Ghost_In_The_Machine_cover-1By 1981, the reggae-punk rock oeuvre that marked The Police’s first three albums had evolved into a different style that made liberal use of keyboards, synthesizers and even horns.  On their “Ghost in the Machine” LP, the hit singles “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” and “Spirits in the Material World” sound far removed from the band’s earlier work, except for Sting’s mesmerizing vocals.  Buried late in the segue of songs is “Darkness,” a dreamy piece written by drummer Stewart Copeland.  It offers lyrics that touch on the dichotomy of light and dark, and how darkness can be a blessing when light brings the pain of reality into focus:  “I wish I never woke up this morning, life was easy when it was boring…”

“Scared,” John Lennon, 1974

205547da87eecb390c38836e4fbcb861In 1980, when Lennon sat for a lengthy interview for the first time in years and talked about all his past music, he praised the relatively unknown “Scared” as one of his favorites, and the best track on his 1974 LP “Walls and Bridges.”  He was in his period of estrangement, living and recording in L.A. many thousands of miles from Yoko, and although he was capable of churning out commercial hit singles like “Whatever Gets You Through the Night,” many of the songs he was writing dug much deeper, exposing and reflecting on his flaws and fears.  “Scared” deftly utilizes a few spooky wolf howls and a dirge-like pace to set the tone for lyrics about regretting past behavior and not wanting to be alone anymore.  Within a few months of this album’s release, John and Yoko reunited, and a happy John took a break from the business to raise his baby boy Sean.