Sitting back trying to recapture old days

It’s “lost classics” time again, as I take another deep dive into albums and singles from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

There was so much great music made back then, and only a fraction of it ever ended up on the radio or the top reaches of the sales charts.  The rest went under the radar of most record_collection_672_x_377_1024x1024folks.  Hack’s Back Pages is here to remedy that situation.

I find it a labor of love to listen to my LPs and CDs from days of yore, searching to find lost classic songs that you may have forgotten all about, or perhaps have never heard until I brought them out into the light to savor now for the first time.

As I customarily do, I have provided a playlist via Spotify so you can hear the songs as you read about them.  I hope you enjoy them!

Rock on!

***************

“The Nightfly,” Donald Fagen, 1982

Donald_Fagen_-_The_Nightfly-1Steely Dan went on hiatus after their seventh LP, 1980’s “Gaucho,” primarily because co-founder Walter Becker was struggling with personal issues.  His partner Donald Fagen stayed busy writing a cycle of songs that paid tribute to his recollections of growing up in New Jersey in the 1950s.  The album, “The Nightfly,” sounds every bit like a Steely Dan record, thanks to Fagen’s vocals and jazz-pop arrangements, and it earned a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year.  The single, “I.G.Y.,” reached #26.  I’ve always enjoyed the title track, which centers on Fagen’s memories of a hip disc jockey at an all-night jazz station he used to listen to when he found rock ‘n roll had become too repetitive:  “An independent station, WJAZ, with jazz and conversation from the foot of Mt. Belzoni, sweet music, tonight the night is mine, late line till the sun comes through the skylight…”

“Tenderness on the Block,” Warren Zevon, 1978

LLZevon was highly praised as a songwriter of strange, macabre pop songs with deadpan humorous lyrics, and when he teamed up with L.A. wonder boy Jackson Browne in 1978 on his major-label debut, “Excitable Boy,” the result was both commercial success and critical acclaim.  “Werewolves of London” and the title track may have received most of the airplay, but I found tracks like “Tenderness on the Block” (co-written by Browne) the most appealing.  Savvy lyrics about a teenage girl trying to find her way in a challenging world make it one of the standout tracks in Zevon’s catalog:  “She’s all grown up, she has a young man waiting, she was wide-eyed, now she’s street-wise to the lies and the jive talk, she’ll find true love and tenderness on the block …”

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

220px-TheDoorsTheDoorsalbumcoverThere are very few bands in the history of rock who came exploding out of the blocks with a masterpiece on their very first try, and The Doors are one of them.  In addition to the anthemic  “Light My Fire” and the ferocious “Break On Through (To The Other Side),” the album runneth over with one great song after another:  “The Crystal Ship,” “Back Door Man,” “20th Century Fox,” “Soul Kitchen” and the terrifying finale “The End.”  Easily overlooked is the penultimate track, “Take It As It Comes,” with Jim Morrison’s vocals alternately sweet on the verses and fierce on the choruses.  Keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore (and an uncredited Larry Knechtel on bass) played like a tightly oiled machine on this and every track.

“Lovers’ Day,” ‘Til Tuesday, 1986

51x216Uff6L._SY355_One of the best songwriters of the ’80s/’90s was Aimee Mann, who spearheaded the alternative rock band ‘Til Tuesday through the 1985-1989 period before she went solo.  The band won Best New Artist at the MTV awards in 1986 on the strength of their #8 hit “Voices Carry.”  On the group’s second LP, the excellent “Welcome Home,” Mann wrote several songs that veered more toward mainstream pop (“Coming Up Close,” “Will She Just Fall Down”).  One track, the mesmerizing “Lovers’ Day,” harkened back to the New Wave-ish debut LP, with lyrics that drove home the reality that “there’s no way to betray and still be true.”

“Supertwister,” Camel, 1974

192562094198-cover-zoomThis British progressive rock group, which dabbled in rock, folk, jazz and classical, played largely instrumental songs written by guitarist Andrew Latimer and keyboardist Peter Bardens.  The group never caught on much in the US, but English fans loved them, putting six of Camel’s first eight LPs into the Top 40 on the UK album charts, beginning with 1975’s impressive “The Snow Goose.”  Just before that LP came “Mirage,” which was very popular on West Coast FM stations.  One lively track, “Supertwister,” offers some dazzling flute work by Latimer that’s reminiscent of mid-’70s-era Jethro Tull.

“Trouble Man,” Marvin Gaye, 1972

marvingaye_troubleman12_89taWhen Marvin Gaye’s name comes up, many people gravitate to the many outstanding hits he churned out as a leader of Motown Records’ stable of recording artists in the 1960s, tracks like “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Ain’t That Peculiar,” and duets like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “It Takes Two.”  Others linger on Gaye’s brilliant early ’70s anthems like “What’s Going On” and “Mercy Mercy Me.”  Sometimes forgotten is a track like 1972’s “Trouble Man,” a dreamy piece written and recorded by Gaye for the somewhat cheesy crime drama film of the same name.  The song actually charted well, reaching #7 in early 1973, but you don’t hear it much anymore.  Until now.

“Train in the Distance,” Paul Simon, 1983

R-3188782-1319723769.jpegFollowing the unqualified success of the 1981 reunion event, “Simon & Garfunkel:  The Concert in Central Park,” the duo headed into the studio to collaborate on a new S&G studio LP, their first since 1970’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”  Garfunkel provided vocal harmonies to a handful of tracks before the duo had an acrimonious split (again), and Simon went on to develop ten songs as his next solo album, 1983’s “Hearts and Bones.”  A favorite from this mostly overlooked Simon project is “Train in the Distance,” one of three songs that delve into Simon’s short, stormy marriage to actress Carrie Fisher:  “Two disappointed believers, two people playing the game, negotiations and love songs are often mistaken for one in the same, everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance, everybody thinks it’s true…”

“King of Hollywood,” The Eagles, 1979

220px-The_Eagles_The_Long_RunComing up with a worthy follow-up to the mega-success of “Hotel California” proved an arduous task for The Eagles, particularly songwriters Don Henley and Glenn Frey.  They admitted that tour burnout and excessive coke use brought on a case of writer’s block that delayed recording sessions for many months.  Perhaps the best track that emerged on the final product, 1979’s “The Long Run,” was the Henley-Frey collaboration “King of Hollywood,” which criticized movie and record producers for their demands for sexual favors from struggling actresses and artists.  This one could’ve been about Harvey Weinstein:  “Now look at me and tell me, darlin’, how badly do you want this part?  Are you willing to sacrifice? And are you willing to be real nice? All your talent and my good taste, I’d hate to see it go to waste…”

“Fat Lip,” Robert Plant, 1982

1200x1200bbAll eyes were on Plant when he made his solo debut on the first post-Led Zeppelin album, “Pictures at Eleven,” in 1982.  Guitarist Robbie Blunt had big shoes to fill, and he contributed admirably with strong guitar riffs and helped Plant write the bulk of the songs.  The singles released from the album — “Burning Down One Side” and “Pledge Pin” — fared well on US Mainstream Rock stations but stiffed on the pop charts.  I think the better choice would’ve been “Fat Lip,” which offers an almost pop sensibility set against some Zep-like vocal acrobatics from Plant.

“Michelle’s Song,” Elton John, 1971

41LdDSwOU2LThe prolific songwriting team of lyricist Bernie Taupin and Elton John cranked out several dozen great songs in their early years together, most of which turned up on Elton’s debut LP (1969’s “Empty Sky”), the phenomenal “Elton John” album and the concept LP “Tumbleweed Connection,” both in 1970.  During that period, John and Taupin had also agreed to write songs for an obscure little French film called “Friends,” about a young pair of neglected teens who ran away to the French countryside, had a baby and attempted to start a life together.  The title song “Friends” was a minor hit with a wonderful sentiment (“If your friends are there, then everything’s all right”), but another tune from the film soundtrack I have always loved is “Michelle’s Song,” with a gorgeous melody line and a chorus that soars.

“The Lee Shore,” Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, 1971

913m0mfP6AL._SL1425_Following the March 1970 release of “Deja Vu,” Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were pretty much the hottest band in the country, with hits like “Teach Your Children” and the ripped-from-the-headlines “Ohio” on the charts as they toured the land.  Sadly, their egos and jealousies proved to be insurmountable obstacles, and they broke up only three months later.  In the fall of 1971, Atlantic Records released “Four-Way Street,” a double live album of acoustic and electric performances culled from that shortened tour.  Some tracks exposed how ragged their harmonies could be in a concert setting, but others were true diamonds in the rough.  The best, I think, is Crosby’s stunning, previously unreleased “The Lee Shore,” with just Crosby and Nash weaving a delicate harmonic web.

“Light Shine,” Jesse Colin Young, 1974

R-9281118-1477867152-2367.jpegIn the late ’60s, Jesse Colin Young and Jerry Corbitt co-founded The Youngbloods, a folk rock act that had success with the Chet Powers song “Get Together” (“Come on people now, smile on your brother…”) which became a bellwether of the Woodstock generation.  Young soon went solo and established himself as a superior songwriter and arranger of light pop/jazz tunes like “Ridgetop,” “California Child” and “Songbird.”  The title song from Young’s 1974 LP “Light Shine” picks up where “Get Together” left off, radiating positive vibes with lyrics that encourage peace, kindness and love:  “We all got a light inside, people how can we survive if we don’t let it shine on all night and day, you know the world is dark with fear, people scared to let you near, they need you to shine on, shine on all day…”

*****************

 

 

 

 

The radio reminds me of my home far away

Damn, I just LOVE foraging through my collection of vinyl (and CDs) from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s and unearthing those hidden gems that have been all but forgotten as time has rolled on…

23415249_2036943229872411_622328307341983055_oFortunately, many of these great “lost classics” are available today to those who didn’t hang on to their old records, or are too young to have been exposed to them in the first place.  Online music services provide a wealth of decades-old music — in fact, so much of it that you can be overwhelmed.  Where to start?

That’s where Hack’s Back Pages comes in.  Every so often, whenever the mood strikes, I dive deep and come up with a dozen selections that made their mark on me back in the day, and that I still find worthy enough to bring to your attention today.

Feel free to follow along on the Spotify playlist I’ve included at the bottom of this post.  I hope you find these tracks as satisfying as I do.  Enjoy!

****************

“Many a Mile to Freedom,” Traffic, 1971

traffic_lowfMusical wunderkind Steve Winwood and drummer Jim Capaldi formed Traffic as a quasi folk-jazz-rock hybrid outfit in 1967, with Dave Mason on guitar and Chris Wood on flute.  They earned praise in England for their first two records, but Mason soon left and Winwood spent several months in the hugely hyped side project called Blind Faith with his friend Eric Clapton.  Winwood then intended on unveiling his first solo LP but it turned into the reformation of Traffic (without Mason) and became the brilliant 1970 album “John Barleycorn Must Die.”  By 1971, the group chose to broaden its sound by adding Blind Faith’s Ric Grech on bass and violin, Derek and the Dominos’ Jim Gordon on drums and Rebop Kwaku Baah on percussion, and the result was their best selling album in the US, “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.”  The epic, haunting title tune justifiably got most of the attention, but another solid deep track not to be ignored is “Many a Mile to Freedom,” a delicious piece Winwood co-wrote with Jim Capaldi’s wife Anna that’s peppered with Chris Wood’s fine flute work and carried by Winwood’s top-flight vocals.

“Running Hard,” Renaissance, 1974

cover_21171122122007Renaissance was born in 1969 when two ex-Yardbirds (Jim McCarty and Keith Relf) had tired of blues-based rock and wanted to experiment with a blend of classical, rock and folk forms.  A revolving door of musicians came and went as the group struggled during their first three years, but eventually Renaissance found a solid core revolving around the astonishing four-octave voice of Annie Haslam and the accomplished piano playing of John Tout.  With guitarist Michael Dunford and poet/lyricist Betty Thatcher-Newsinger collaborating on the composing duties, Renaissance began its rise in popularity, with albums like “Prologue” and “Ashes are Burning” getting airplay in Northeast US cities like Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.  The 1974 album “Turn of the Cards” displayed a more dark, lush, orchestral sound, and that showed up most noticeably on the superb, nine-minute opening track, “Running Hard.”  The group’s successful hybrid of classical music, folk and rock served them well for another three LPs (“Scheherazade,” “Novella” and “A Song For All Seasons”) before dissolving in the mid-’80s.

“Dawning is the Day,” The Moody Blues, 1970

220px-QuestionofbalanceThe impressive run of seven albums that established The Moodies as pioneers of the burgeoning progressive rock genre are a veritable treasure trove of lost classics.  From 1967’s “Days of Future Passed” through 1972’s “Seventh Sojourn,” for every hit single you instantly recognize (“Ride My Seesaw,” “The Story in Your Eyes,” “I’m Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band”) you’ll find another five or six songs well worth checking out.  The group boasted five musicians who each brought something intriguing to the mix, from Ray Thomas’s flute to Graeme Edge’s gentle poem-songs, from John Lodge’s rocking bass to Mike Pinder’s Mellotron/keyboard pieces.  The most recognizable element of The Moodies’ sound, though, has always been the vocals and melodic songs of guitarist Justin Hayward.  On the band’s 1970 LP “A Question of Balance,” you can hear his work most prominently on the hit “Question” and the excellent “It’s Up to You.”  Hidden on side two (remember album sides?) is another Hayward beauty, “Dawning is the Day.”

“St. Charles,” Jefferson Starship, 1976

71rJXf0y2VL._SX355_The Jefferson Airplane didn’t so much crash and burn as peter out, but founder Paul Kantner always had his eye on reimagining the Jefferson name to further explore his passion for science fiction and fantasy.  First came his solo LP “Blows Against the Empire” in 1970, where the loose crew of musicians who participated was first referred to as Jefferson Starship.  On the 1974 LP “Dragonfly,” with guitarist Craig Chaquico, bassist Pete Sears, keyboardist David Freiberg, violinist Papa John Kreach and drummer Johnny Barbata joining Kantner and rock icon Grace Slick, Jefferson Starship was officially launched with stellar material like “Ride the Tiger,” “All Fly Away” and “Caroline.”  Airplane founder Marty Balin joined the lineup full-time on the #1 LP “Red Octopus” in 1975, which included the huge hit single “Miracles.”  The band played to sold-out arenas in 1976 when it toured in support of the follow-up LP, “Spitfire.”  My favorite track from that LP is the soaring “St. Charles,” featuring the vocal blend of Kantner and Slick.

“Angel Lady (Come Just in Time),” Boz Scaggs, 1974

scaggs_boz~_slowdance_101bScaggs got his start in the late ’60s as a guitarist in San Francisco as part of the original lineup of the Steve Miller Band, and by 1969, he was testing the waters with a self-titled solo LP that included the incredible “Loan Me a Dime” with Duane Allman guesting on lead guitar.   It wasn’t until 1976 when he had his commercial breakthrough with the outstanding “Silk Degrees” LP, a catchy collection of slick “blue-eyed soul” that got plenty of airplay (particularly “It’s Over,” “What Can I Say,” “Lido Shuffle” and the #3 hit “Lowdown”) in the age of disco’s rise in popularity.  Before that fame arrived, Scaggs released a strong but overlooked album of R&B-laced songs in 1974 called “Slow Dancer,” produced by Motown great Johnny Bristol.  “You Make It So Hard to Say No” and “Pain of Love” have Bristol’s soul imprint on them, but the finest moment here is “Angel Lady (Come Just in Time),” which compels you to get up and dance to its mid-tempo groove.

“Chestnut Mare,” The Byrds, 1970

THeByrdsUntitledThrough every phase of The Byrds’ recording career, it was Roger McGuinn’s plaintive vocals and songs that dominated the proceedings.  In 1969, following the pioneering country rock LP “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” McGuinn began a collaboration with Broadway impresario Jacques Levy for a country-rock stage production of Henrik Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt,” to be entitled “Gene Tryp” (an anagram of the title of Ibsen’s play).  Ultimately, the stage production was abandoned, but among the songs that McGuinn and Levy had written for the project, four ended up on the Byrds’ next album, curiously entitled “(Untitled) due to a misunderstanding by the record company.  It’s a double album, with one live disc and one with new studio tracks.  The best one, to my ears, is “Chestnut Mare,” a fine tune about an uncooperative horse who defiantly resists attempts to tame her.  McGuinn’s trademark electric 12-string and Clarence White’s country-style acoustic picking dominate the arrangement.

“Pretty Princess,” Loggins and Messina, 1976

R-2294733-1361926349-7879.jpegMany people may not be aware that Jim Messina was a staff producer at Columbia Records in 1970 when he was brought in to help mold an untested new talent named Kenny Loggins.  Messina contributed so much to Loggins’ debut (songwriting, singing, playing, arranging and producing) that it ended up being called “Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina Sittin’ In.”  That, in turn, resulted in the two men officially embarking on a six-year career as a duo, marked by five successful studio LPs, two live albums and a huge hit single (“Your Mama Don’t Dance”).  There’s so much great material to be found there, but I want to focus on “Pretty Princess,” a brilliant track from their final LP, “Native Sons.”  I’ve always been very fond of it, not as much for its musical beauty as for its lyrics, which tell a story that seemed to closely mirror a relationship I had shortly after the album’s release.  A man and a woman who had been merely friends found themselves growing into much more than that, despite the fact that she was beholden to someone else.

“Rosie,” Tom Waits, 1973

220px-Tom_Waits_-_Closing_Time-1Waits, with his gravelly voice and gritty songs about the underbelly of American society, has been around now for many decades but has never seen much in the way of sales or chart success.  He has a loyal cult following and has been widely admired by all kinds of musical icons like Bob Dylan and the late David Bowie.  He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011 and is on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time.  If you know nothing about Waits or his music, I urge you to spend some time perusing his catalog, and I would start with the album that started him on his way, the 1973 debut called “Closing Time.”  This is an album I love to put on when it’s a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon and I’m feeling a bit blue.  It’s hard to pick a favorite here, but I guess I’ll go with “Rosie,” full of angst and raw emotion about the girl who got away.

“All I Need,” Batdorf and Rodney, 1972

R-6138944-1532470854-7640.jpegAt the top my list of artists who should have been rewarded with much more commercial success is this duo of singer-guitarist talents.  John Batdorf wrote and sang most of the songs that appear on their two exemplary Atlantic LPs, 1971’s “Off the Shelf” and 1972’s “Batdorf and Rodney.”  Rodney provided the jazzy acoustic lead parts and chipped in on backing harmonies as well.   They were shepherded along by Atlantic guru Ahmet Ertegun, which makes their chart disappointment all the more puzzling.  Personally, I’d take the music of Batdorf and Rodney over many of the more commercially successful acts of that era.  “Can You See Him,” “Oh My Surprise,” “By Today,” “You Are the One,” “Home Again” — all of these tunes eclipse most of the work by Seals and Crofts or Bread, just to name two.  I’m particularly partial to “All I Need,” a thoughtful song from the second album.

“Buzzin’ Fly,” Tim Buckley, 1969

11420d188fd9a2be865c65756af9a104Born in New York state but raised in California, Tim Buckley was a singer-songwriter maverick, never fully comfortable with his talents nor the various genres with which he continually experimented.  His self-titled debut in 1966 and 1967 follow-up effort, “Goodbye and Hello,” showcased his early folk leanings, but for me, his best work can be found on the 1969 LP “Happy Sad,” which marked the beginning of his forays into jazz elements and freeform scat singing.  The 12-minute track “Gypsy Woman,” which became a mainstay of his live performances, is the best example of that style, which would become more pervasive over his next several albums, even though it seemed to alienate his original fan base.  Buckley’s recorded apex, in my view, is the dreamy “Buzzin’ Fly,” highlighted by the unusual vibraphone sounds of David Friedman and his friend Lee Underwood’s guitar.  Buckley died of a drug overdose in 1975.  His son Jeff was a highly acclaimed singer-songwriter too, until his drowning death in 1997.

“For You,” Bruce Springsteen, 1973

e94f4-6a0120a56c9e44970b019b051888b1970d-piBefore there was an E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen was signed by Columbia Records honcho John Hammond as a solo artist, in the Bob Dylan mold, largely because Springsteen’s earliest songs likewise featured an overabundance of lyrics, delivered over lively acoustic tunes.  Although he had his eye on becoming an all-out rocker with a full band, Springsteen relented and allowed his debut LP, “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.,” to feature more subdued material like “Mary, Queen of Arkansas” and “The Angel.”  In turn, Hammond gave in and permitted Bruce to record two uptempo tracks — “Blinded By the Light” and “Spirits in the Night” — that included sax man Clarence Clemons and the rest of the soon-to-be E Street Band.  Riding the balance between these two approaches were the three songs I admire most, which became staples in his live repertoire for the next few years:  “Growin’ Up,” “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” and the piano-based “For You,” which was often played at a much slower tempo in concert.

“See My Way,” Blodwyn Pig, 1969

R-855032-1278625766.jpegThanks to Cream and others, most aspiring British musicians in the mid-to-late ’60s became aficionados of the blues, or at least the blues-based rock that Cream had developed after hearing the original music of American bluesmen like Albert King, Buddy Guy and Robert Johnson.  One of these ragtag groups was Jethro Tull, whose debut LP, the presciently named “This Was,” offered mostly blues stylings.  But when flutist-singer-songwriter Ian Anderson pushed the group in a more rock/folk direction, original guitarist Mick Abrahams left the band and went off to form Blodwyn Pig to continue his interest in blues music.  Their debut, “Ahead Rings Out,” reached the Top Ten in England, carried by Abrahams’ guitar and Jack Lancaster’s wailing sax on tracks like “Dear Jill” and “It’s Only Love.”  The best song, in my opinion, was “See My Way,” which appears on the US pressing of the album but was left off the UK album and held back until the group’s second album, 1970’s “Getting to This.”

******************