The old songs never end

Whenever I dig back into vintage albums, I almost always end up rediscovering wonderful songs I’d forgotten about.  In rare instances, I even find great tunes I somehow never heard before.  Then, of course, there are the excellent tracks I’ve always Unknown-342enjoyed but the rest of you may need to learn about.

Sone of these songs, or the artists who recorded them, remind me of specific music-loving friends and family members who played an important role in introducing them to me or sharing a deep love for their music.  In this edition of Lost Classics (#22), I give credit where it’s due.  I have a lot of music-loving friends, so don’t be offended if I left you out.  I’ll no doubt include you in the next “lost classics” chapter.

Share the music!

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“Calling Elvis,” Dire Straits, 1991

Unknown-326Anything by Dire Straits or from the solo records of Mark Knopfler remind me of my friend Raj Sandhu, with whom I saw a fantastic Dire Straits show in 1991 at the old Richfield Coliseum outside Cleveland, Ohio.  It had been six years since their mega-platinum “Brothers in Arms” LP, and we were both thrilled when “On Every Street” was released, followed by a tour.  The opening track, “Calling Elvis,” is one of our favorites.  Knopfler has said the idea for the song came to him one day when he inadvertently left his phone off the hook and his brother-in-law tried repeatedly to get hold of him.  Upon finally doing so, the brother-in-law noted that Mark “was harder to get hold of than Elvis!”  At one point, the lyrics use Elvis song titles to creatively build a narrative about a fan who thinks Elvis is still alive:  “Well, tell him I was calling just to wish him well, let me leave my number, heartbreak hotel, oh love me tender, baby dob’t be cruel, return to sender, treat me like a fool…”

“Drowned,” The Who, 1973

Unknown-327The Who’s magnum opus “Quadrophenia” came out in the fall of 1973 when I was a freshman at the University of Cincinnati.  My friend Craig Cooper was the first to buy it, and he played it relentlessly in his dorm room, where several of us often congregated.  Pete Townshend initially wrote “Drowned” as an ode to the spiritual guru Meher Baba in 1970, and it later became one of the pivotal pieces of “Quadrophenia.”  Said Townshend:  “When the tragic hero sings ‘Drowned,’ it’s desperate and rather nihilistic, but really, it’s a love song.  God’s love is the ocean, and we are the drops of water that make it up.”  Townshend invited Chris Stainton, who played piano in Joe Cocker’s band, to make a guest appearance on this track, and the intro is actually lifted from the Cocker classic “Hitchcock Railway.”  In an amazing concurrence of events, the studio in which “Drowned” was recorded was flooded just after the song was completed.  “It was raining so hard in Battersea, where the studio was, that water was gushing in through the walls,” said Townshend.  “A glorious coincidence!”

“Old Brown Shoe,” The Beatles, 1969

Unknown-328The music of The Beatles reminds me of several different friends, depending on the album.  “Sgt. Pepper” and “The White Album” take me back to the days when my friend Paul Vayda still lived in Cleveland before his family moved to Hamilton, Ontario.  One of the last songs the band recorded and released before he moved was the single “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” an old fashioned rocker with Lennon’s controversial line, “Christ, you know it ain’t easy… They’re gonna crucify me.”  We were buying only albums at that point, not singles, so George Harrison’s lively rocker “Old Brown Shoe” on the B-side escaped our attention until nearly a year later when it was included on the US compilation album “Hey Jude.”  Harrison wrote the lyrics as “a study in opposites and duality.”  Musically, it makes use of the new recording equipment installed at Abbey Road studios a few months earlier, which made all the instruments really pop, especially the lead guitar solo and the bass part, both played by Harrison on this track.

“Shine On,” Heartsfield, 1974

Unknown-329Just a few days ago, my friend Lynn Rogers Vail picked Heartsfield’s “The Wonder of It All” as one of her “10 albums that influenced me” on Facebook.  I had never even heard of Heartsfield, which baffles me, because they sound like a cross between Pure Prairie League, The Eagles and The Grateful Dead, all of whom I like a lot.  They released four albums in the 1973-1977 period when the country/Southern rock genre was very popular, but they apparently didn’t chart very well or I would’ve turned on to them.  I spent a very pleasant couple of hours listening to Heartsfield’s music this week, and decided that I should share their music with the rest of you, too.  Lynn clued me in to her favorite songs by this band, and I have to say I agree especially with her choice from “The Wonder Of It All” called “Shine On.”  It starts acoustically but ramps up quickly with electric guitars and then some luscious three-part harmonies, finally settling into a full-band groove with dual lead guitars on top.  Fantastic!

“Can’t Take It With You,” The Allman Brothers Band, 1979

Unknown-330The A-Bros, as they’re lovingly referred to by fans, had a career arc that was every bit as long and strange a trip as any other band of the last 50 years.  When I hear the superb recordings of this group, I instantly see my friend Ed “Tobar” France playing air guitar as Duane Allman or Dickey Betts cranked up one of their amazing solos.  Although the group’s 1969-1973 period remains their most lasting, individual tracks from later albums are well worth your time.  After three years apart, The A-Bros reunited in 1979 with their “Enlightened Rogues” LP, which includes some ferocious blues and energetic country rock tunes featuring more of that great dual-guitar attack of Betts and new second guitarist Dan Toler.  The instrumental “Pegasus” is incredible, and their cover of B.B. King’s “Blind Love” beats the original.  But I’m also partial to the quintessential A-Bros classic groove of “Can’t Take It With You,” with a revitalized Gregg Allman nailing the vocal.  Here’s a weird footnote:  The song is co-written by Betts and “Miami Vice” actor Don Johnson!

“I Will Be There,” Van Morrison, 1972

Unknown-332I confess to having been slow on the uptake when it came to the wondrous music of Van Morrison.  Sure everybody knew “Brown-Eyed Girl,” and I became familiar with radio hits like “Moondance,” “Domino” and “Wild Night.”  But I didn’t fully get hip to most of his catalog until the early ’80s when my friend Mark Frank loaned me a half dozen Van LPs to peruse.  I was knocked out by so many of the songs on albums like “Moondance,” “Tupelo Honey,” “Hard Nose the Highway” and “Beautiful Vision.”  Morrison has dabbled in American jazz and Celtic folk, and has also shown a real flair for R&B and traditional blues.  On his “St. Dominic’s Preview” album, along with an amazing Irish soul rave-up called “Jackie Wilson Said,” Van the Man gives us “I Will Be There,” a piano-based blues love song that I’ve loved from the day I first heard it.  He has said he wrote this in the style of, and as a tribute to, the late great Ray Charles.  I can imagine this track being covered frequently in tiny blues bars all over Chicago.

“Pretty Persuasion,” R.E.M., 1984

Unknown-339The pride of Athens, Georgia, R.E.M. was one of the first “alternative rock” bands to become mainstream superstars, although it took them a few years.  My brother-in-law Jerry Gentile was a big fan early on and urged me to buy their second LP, “Reckoning,” and I liked the jangly guitars and Michael Stipe’s cool voice.  I was particularly taken with “South Central Rain,” “Don’t Go Back to Rockville” and “Pretty Persuasion,” with a sound that recalled The Byrds and Tom Petty.  Still, I didn’t pay attention to the next several albums, but thanks to my other brother-in-law John Gentile, who gave me the critically praised “Automatic For the People” album for Christmas, my appreciation for R.E.M. blossomed, and I ended up buying every album they put out from that point on.  Their 15-album catalog is pretty darn fabulous, from the frenetic “Radio Free Europe” on the debut LP “Murmur” in 1982 to the sumptuous “Walk It Back” from the “Collapse Into Now” LP in 2011 that proved to be their swan song.  Thanks, brothers, for taking me for a ride on the R.E.M. train!

“Talk of the Town,” The Pretenders, 1981

Unknown-334I didn’t immediately embrace the New Wave sound revolution of the early ’80s, but I was living in a house with a guy who was more receptive, and he would expose me to the latest LPs by great new artists like Joe Jackson, The Police and The Pretenders.  My former roommate and friend Stu Van Wagenen loved all three of these acts, and if not for his influence, it might have taken me a while longer to wise up to the great talent of Chrissie Hynde.  I recently read her autobiography, “Reckless,” an exhilarating read about her misadventures and victories, and it made me revisit and broaden my knowledge of the Pretenders’ repertoire.  Stu has continued to make sure I was aware of newer stuff like “I’ll Stand By You” from “Last of the Independents” (1994) and the excellent live unplugged LP “The Isle of View” (1996).  But there’s nothing like those first few albums, which featured tracks like the hard rocker “Message of Love” and the more seductive “Talk of the Town.”  Hynde’s vocals seem to match the tough-girl sneer of her stage presence.

“Scenes From a Night’s Dream,” Genesis, 1978

Unknown-340I knew virtually nothing about the music recorded by the early lineup of Genesis when vocalist/frontman extraordinaire Peter Gabriel was in the fold.  My first exposure came at a party in a Syracuse University dorm when I heard “Trick Of The Tail,” the 1976 LP on which drummer Phil Collins took over lead vocals.  Even though I enjoyed it, I didn’t buy it, instead waiting until the next release, 1977’s “Wind and Withering,” which I found disappointing.  A few years passed when my friend Barney Shirreffs admonished me for ignoring the three great Genesis albums that followed:  “And Then There Were Three” (1978), “Duke” (1980) and “Abacab” (1981).  As it happened, I had tickets to review an upcoming Genesis concert, so I immersed myself in these albums and came away an avid fan.  I’d heard the hits (“Follow You Follow Me,” “Misunderstanding,” “No Reply At All”) but soon preferred the deep tracks featuring Tony Banks’s inventive keyboards and Collins’s powerful voice.  “Scenes From a Night’s Dream” is one of my favorites.

“Remember My Name,” Toy Matinee, 1990

Unknown-337Some artists we learn about all on our own.  In the ’80s and ’90s, I was writing concert and album reviews for Scene Magazine, an entertainment weekly in Cleveland.  I’d stop by the editorial offices and riffle through the latest album releases to see if anything looked interesting.  Among the ones I took home with me, simply because I liked their name, was the debut (and, as it turned out, only) LP by a band called Toy Matinee.  Before I got around to listening to it, WMMS-FM in Cleveland and other album-oriented rock stations elsewhere started playing the catchy rocker “Last Plane Out,” a modest hit in late 1990.  I eventually played the rest of the LP and discovered a compelling, bright pop sound as exemplified in tracks such as “The Ballad of Jenny Ledge,” “Things She Said” and especially “Remember My Name.”  Toy Matinee was basically singer-guitarist Kevin Gilbert and producer-songwriter Patrick Leonard with backing session musicians, so when Gilbert wanted to tour but no one else was interested, that was all she wrote.

“Candy’s Room,” Bruce Springsteen, 1978

Unknown-335When I first started dating my wife Judy, we quickly bonded over a mutual love of great music, and we turned each other on to various artists the other didn’t know much about.  Judy gave me an education in early Genesis while I turned her into a big Joni Mitchell fan.  One artist we both thoroughly embraced was Bruce Springsteen, but even there, we had different preferences.  I learned about Bruce in the summer of 1975 when I first heard “Rosalita” from “The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle.”  She was most fanatical about the “Darkness on the Edge of Town” album, which came out as she was graduating high school.  (Obviously, we agreed fully about the magnificent “Born to Run.”)  I give her credit for reviving my interest in, and revising my opinion about, “Darkness,” which I found somewhat disappointing after “Born to Run.”  One of those hidden tracks I’d forgotten about was “Candy’s Room,” with its desperate lyrics and Springsteen’s wicked lead guitar passages.

“The Royal Scam,” Steely Dan, 1976

Unknown-338I was a huge fan of Steely Dan from the very beginning, when “Do It Again” was a hit single in late 1972, followed by “Reelin’ in the Years” in spring of 1973.  Donald Fagen and Walter Becker showed a keen talent for writing catchy tunes and creative arrangements, and they had fantastic guitarists like Denny Diaz and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter in the lineup to bring the songs to life on the “Can’t Buy a Thrill” and “Countdown to Ecstasy” LPs.  By the time of their third album, “Pretzel Logic,” Steely Dan was no longer a band, just Fagen & Becker and some of the best guitarists, drummers, singers and horn players in the business sitting in to play on individual tracks.  That routine continued for the remainder of Steely Dan’s recorded output.  In the spring of 1976, I was visiting my friend Chris Meyer at Miami University when we noticed their latest LP, “The Royal Scam,” had arrived in the record store.  We spent the next 72 hours playing it over and over, and agreed one of the best tracks was the haunting title song about the homeless in New York City.

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https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3VS9ljWXeMDkj1qPmD1Hvt?si=xFWd9OFpSV6O0Sik29UiQg

 

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, 1987

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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