The old songs never end

I just love doing these occasional posts about lost classics.

Radio has always failed us.   When it comes to keeping alive so many of the truly great songs of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s that appeared on albums but never got the appropriate amount of appreciation, it was always up to us.

Some of these spectacular tracks appeared on well-known albums, and they were merely underexposed against their more popular brothers.  But so many great tunes showed up on otherwise forgettable albums, and they were therefore in danger of being lost to the proverbial dustbin of history.

Until now.

One of my jobs here at Hack’s Back Pages is to shine a light on some of these amazing songs that escaped the attention of even the most ardent music fans of that period.

This week, I offer another dozen really strong recordings you should (and can) check out, via the Spotify list at the bottom of this entry.

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220px-Saynomore“Old Judge Jones,” Les Dudek, 1977

Dudek is unknown to all but the most dedicated rock enthusiasts.  Neither the singles nor the albums released under his name have made a ripple in the Top 40 waters, but he has been present for some of the great tracks of the 1970s with The Allman Brothers Band, Steve Miller Band, Boz Scaggs, Maria Muldaur and more.  Most notably, he’s the guy playing the harmonic lead guitar behind Dickey Betts on the 1973 huge hit “Ramblin’ Man.”  Although his solo career went nowhere, his underrated 1977 LP “Say No More” included the infectious “Old Judge Jones,” which got some FM airplay at the time but deserves far wider exposure.

Roger_daltrey_solo_cover“Giving It All Away,” Roger Daltrey, 1973

The Who’s titanic lead vocalist could very possibly have had a strong solo career outside The Who, but he seemed to prefer working with Pete Townshend and his enigmatic rock operas and street anthems.  Still, he dabbled in solo recordings through the years, beginning with “Daltrey,” recorded in early 1973 during a lull in The Who’s touring schedule, prior to the release of “Quadrophenia.”  Daltrey had met struggling singer-songwriter Leo Sayer, who provided a batch of songs co-written with David Courtney, the best of which was the dramatic “Giving It All Away.”  Daltrey’s powerful voice helped push the song to #5 in England, although it stiffed at #83 in the US.  Still, if you were to put this tune on a playlist of Who tracks, it would fit in beautifully.

john-stewart-bombs-away-dream-babies“Midnight Wind,” John Stewart, 1979

Stewart was a California-born singer-songwriter who joined the folk group The Kingston Trio in 1961, then wrote the well-known “Daydream Believer,” a huge hit for The Monkees (#1) in 1967 and Anne Murray (#12) in 1979.  Meanwhile, Stewart pursued a solo career bouncing around between multiple labels until he scored a hit in 1979 with the LP “Bombs Away Dream Babies.”  The single “Gold” (“People out there turning music into gold”) went to #5, which utilized the vocals and guitar of Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, but even more impressive was his song “Midnight Wind,” which also featured Buckingham and Nicks and reached a respectable #28 here.

220px-LeonRussellAlbum“Roll Away the Stone,” Leon Russell, 1970

Leon Russell was a huge figure in ’60s rock, having played keyboards and handled arrangements on dozens of Top 40 hits as a member of the famed “Wrecking Crew” gang of L.A. session musicians.  When he went out on his own, the masses didn’t exactly embrace him, but his work was widely admired by others, including Joe Cocker (“Delta Lady”), Rita Coolidge (“Superstar”), The Carpenters (“A Song for You”), George Benson (“This Masquerade”) and others, who turned his songs into mainstream hits.  Elton John so worshipped Russell that he teamed up with him in 2010 on the #3 collaborative LP “The Union,” which demonstrates Russell’s considerable skills.  His unmistakable vocal delivery on tracks like his early classic “Roll Away the Stone” made him an FM favorite.

1973-wake-of-the-flood“Eyes of the World,” Grateful Dead, 1973

The Dead had their legendary “Deadheads” following, who guaranteed packed venues wherever they played in the 1970s and 1980s.  Their albums, though full of great material, were never big sellers (except the #6 hit LP “In the Dark” with its #9 hit “Shades of Gray” in 1987).  Back in 1973, the group’s otherwise unremarkable LP “Wake of the Flood” included the bonafide gem “Eyes of the World,” which The Dead continued to play in concert for many years afterwards.  Jerry “Captain Trips” Garcia’s vocals and guitar are at their best on this marvelous song.

Bonnie_Raitt_-_Nine_Lives“Who But a Fool (Thief Into Paradise),” Bonnie Raitt, 1986

In the mid-1980s, Columbia Records chose to “clean house” of older artists whose work wasn’t selling as it once had, and Raitt, a reliable blues talent for a decade, was caught up in that purge.  She had just completed an album, but it sat on the shelves for nearly three years before Columbia belatedly released it, retitled “Nine Lives.”  It didn’t sell either, and she ended up changing to Capitol, where she won multiple Grammys for her “Nick of Time” LP in 1989.  On “Nine Lives,” though, there’s a hidden beauty called “Who But a Fool (Thief into Paradise)” that mustn’t be allowed to escape attention any longer.

surrealisticpillow“She Has Funny Cars,” Jefferson Airplane, 1967

In 1965, singer-songwriters Marty Balin and Paul Kantner worked their way through a few preliminary lineups for their band, The Jefferson Airplane, before settling on guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, bassist Jack Casady, drummer Spencer Dryden and singer Signe Anderson.  They cut one record before Anderson left to raise a family, and her replacement was the fiery Grace Slick, who brought two killer songs with her — “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.”  While those two tracks still get major airplay on classic rock radio, the rest of the “Surrealistic Pillow” album is overlooked these days, which is a shame.  In particular, “She Has Funny Cars,” the leadoff song, has the crucial elements of the Airplane’s trademark sound:  Kaukonen’s guitar work and the Balin-Slick vocal interplay.

Emitt_Rhodes_1970_cover“With My Face on the Floor,” Emitt Rhodes, 1970

This multi-talented instrumentalist got screwed by the record industry, plain and simple.  He’d been part of a failed ’60s band called Merry-Go-Round, but he was still tied to A&M Records when he took matters into his own hands and recorded a batch of songs at home on his own equipment (way before that kind of thing was common).  The demos were so good that ABC/Dunhill leaped on them, and the debut LP ended up at #29.  But still, most people remained unfamiliar with his work, which is tragic.  Check out the opening track, “With My Face on the Floor,” plus others like “Live Till You Die,” “Somebody Made for Me,” “Lullaby” and “Fresh as a Daisy.”  They sound like a cross between Paul McCartney and Eric Carmen.

R-1424836-1319782297-1.jpeg“Hurt,” Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, 1978

The late great Tom Petty and his band were still struggling early in their career, trying to move beyond the minor success of “Breakdown” on their debut LP the year before.  It wouldn’t be until the “Damn the Torpedos” album and its hit single “Refugee” that they would break into the big time in 1979.  But meanwhile, their second album, the criminally underrated “You’re Gonna Get It!”, slipped by in 1978, despite being chock full of great songs like “I Need to Know'” and “Listen to Her Heart.”  In my opinion, the most underrated track was “Hurt,” which deserves a place on any Petty setlist that’s being composed in the wake of his death in 2017.

Jethro_Tull_Songs_from_the_Wood“Velvet Green,” Jethro Tull, 1977

Although Tull was known as a band with progressive rock complexities and hard rock leanings, they always had an acoustic side as well, thanks to leader Ian Anderson’s fondness for delicate melodies.  The 1977 LP “Songs From the Wood” signaled a definitive left turn in that direction, with songs full of Elizabethan motifs and keyboard arrangements.  “The Whistler” and the title song featured prominent flute passages, as did perhaps the album’s best track, “Velvet Green,” which offered erotic and pastoral lyrical phrases to complement the gentler music.

KinksWordofMouth“Living on a Thin Line,” The Kinks, 1984

Singer/frontman Ray Davies wrote virtually all of the songs in The Kinks’ lengthy catalog (1964-1995), from the early raucous “You Really Got Me” to the prissy Brit number “Sunny Afternoon” to the transgender huge hit “Lola.”  But brother/guitarist Dave Davies wrote a handful, and “Living on a Thin Line,” his contribution to their 1984 LP “Word of Mouth,” is not only his best, but one of  The Kinks’ best tracks as well.  It has a wonderful groove, which saw a resurgence in 2001 when it was used to great effect in the celebrated “University” episode of “The Sopranos.”

“Skateaway,” Dire Straits, 1980  Sleeve_of_Making_Movies.svg

The huge impact of Dire Straits’ 1978 classic “Sultans of Spring” seemed to color everything they did afterwards, at least for a while.  But guitarist/songwriter Mark Knopfler had grander plans, and when he came up with the outstanding material that comprised 1980’s “Making Movies,” he was off and running, mostly due to the gorgeous “Romeo and Juliet” and the cinematic “Tunnel of Love.”  Often forgotten is “Skateaway,” a fabulous pastiche about an alluring rollerblading girl who clearly mesmerizes the songwriter, to a point where we’re all a bit entranced by her.

 

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Go ahead, bite the Big Apple

“New York, New York is so big, they had to name it twice.”

That pretty much describes the enormity of New York…which manifests itself in so many ways.

shutterstock_170076830So many films…so many TV shows…  So much of New York City — Manhattan, Broadway, Brooklyn — is ingrained in our popular culture, particularly for those who have never been there.

This is especially true when it comes to popular music.  Since at least the 1920s, New York has been a ripe field for lyricists.  If you look online at “songs about New York,” you’ll find more than 3,500 entries!

San Francisco has “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” and Starship’s “We Built This City.”  Chicago has “My Kind of Town” and Graham Nash’s “Chicago.”  Detroit has J. Geils Band’s “Motor City Breakdown.”

But New York — holy smokes, the list is damn near endless.  Of course, there’s Sinatra’s “New York, New York”…  Billie Holiday’s “Autumn in New York“…  And for crying out loud, there are 125 songs about Brooklyn!   There are 80 that refer to Broadway … and 30 just about Coney Island!

So when I decided I wanted to write a blog entry about New York songs, I was immediately overwhelmed.  How, pray tell, can I whittle down 3,500 songs to maybe 20?

42nd_pic5It’s interesting to note that New York City may be the only city that has had entire albums focusing on its life, people and culture.  The Rolling Stones’ “Some Girls” LP (1978), for example, makes many references to New York:

“I’ve been walkin’ Central Park, singin’ after dark, people think I’m craaaaazy…”

“What a mess, this town’s in tatters, I’ve been shattered, my brain’s been battered, splattered all over Manhattan, uh huh, this town’s full of money grabbers, go ahead, bite the Big Apple, don’t mind the maggots…”

joejackson_photo_gal_36503_photo_1961803463Even British New Wave artist Joe Jackson recorded two LPs — the Top Ten success “Night and Day” (1982) and the uncharting sequel “Night and Day II” (2000) — that were entire song cycles focusing on New York City:

“Uptown, downtown, no one’s fussy, I’m a target, day, night, black, white, no one’s fussy, I’m a target…”

“It’s a hell of a town, steppin’ out in a bulletproof gown, so get 220px-JoeJacksonNightAndDay2out of my goddamn way, I’m walking here, I’m talking here…”

Since I write about tunes of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, that immediately helped me.  But even within that limited scope, there are still hundreds of songs to sift through.

But somehow, I’ve assembled a setlist of 20 selections of representative New York songs of that period.  Two Spotify playlists are found at the bottom of this blog entry.  The first covers the songs I featured in this blog entry.  The other offers songs from the “honorable mention” list.

And here we go:

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cover-large_file“New York State of Mind,” Billy Joel, 1975

Born in the Bronx and raised on Long Island, Joel has been a New York booster all his life, and “New York State of Mind,” a dramatic classic from his 1975 LP “Turnstiles,” permanently installs him in the unofficial New York Rock Hall of Fame.  It has been covered by everyone from Barbra Streisand and Elton John to Tony Bennett and Alicia Keys.  He sings about the Rockies, Miami Beach and Hollywood, but ultimately, “I’m just taking a Greyhound on the Hudson River line, I’m in a New York state of mind…” 

1999-1982“All the Critics Love U in New York,” Prince, 1982

Prince wasn’t yet the superstar that “Purple Rain” would make him in 1984, but his “1999” album was popular enough, and this rock tune from that album is worth checking out.  Its lyrics belittle New York rock music critics, saying they’ll love anything as long as  it’s outrageously different:   “You can wear what you want to, it doesn’t matter in New York, you could cut off all your hair, I don’t think they’d care in New York, all the critics love you in New York…”

New_York_Minute“New York Minute,” Don Henley, 1989

During The Eagles’ 15-year break (1981-1995), it was Henley who found the most success, mostly because his songs and recordings were far superior to his colleagues.  On his excellent “The End of the Innocence” LP,  which featured singles like “The Heart of the Matter” and the classic title song, “New York Minute” stood out as an unheralded gem, with a sophisticated arrangement and literate lyrics that played on the lasting metaphor about the fleeting nature of a “New York minute.”

art-garfunkel-a-heart-in-new-york-cbs-2“A Heart in New York,” Art Garfunkel, 1981

This song is a hidden beauty.  Garfunkel’s solo work did pretty well on the charts — the “Breakaway” LP in 1975 reached #9, thanks to the shimmering remake of the Thirties classic “I Only Have Eyes for You” and S&G’s reunion single “My Little Town.”  But this song, written by Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle, perfectly captured the feeling of New York, and was warmly received when performed during the iconic “Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park” HBO special and Columbia CD in 1981/1982.

600x600“The Boy From New York City” — The Ad Libs, 1964

A nobody duo of songwriters, George Davis and John Taylor, came up with this doo-wop classic, which ended up as a #8 song in late 1964 by The Ad Libs, produced by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, one of the great songwriting teams from Brill Building fame.  The success of this tune inspired the California-bred Beach Boys to write and record a response tune, “The Girl From New York City” in 1965, which noted, “The California guys can’t peel their eyes from that girl from New York City…” (Check out both songs on the Spotify playlist)

 

Bob_Dylan_-_Bob_Dylan“Talkin’ New York,” Bob Dylan, 1962

His first LP was wildly uneven, and showed very little of the magnificence that would come bursting forth in his 1963-1966 period.  But tucked onto that first record is “Talkin’ New York,” a ragged folk song that describes his arrival in New York from the hinterlands of Minnesota, with references to Greenwich Village (his early proving ground) and how he was originally received: “Come back some other day, you sound like a hillbilly, we want folk singers here…”  

new-york-groove-57e10f6732992“New York Groove,” Ace Frehley, 1978  

Originally a #9 hit in the UK by the British teen glam-rock band Hello in 1975, “New York Groove” later became the only hit (#13 in the US) that emerged from the four mostly lame solo LPs released by the members of KISS in 1978.   Ace Frehley, a native of The Bronx, was Kiss’s lead guitarist, and he has said he chose to record “New York Groove” because it seemed to accurately describe his time in the late ’70s when he was hitting on Times Square hookers.

images-10“New York City Serenade,” Bruce Springsteen, 1973

One of his finest dramas, from his incredible “The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” LP (1973).   As a Jersey boy, Springsteen often looked across the river at the “Big City” and longed for the big stage.  He wrote “vignettes of urban dreams and adolescent restlessness” and this 10-minute track is one of the best examples of his early work, before he boiled his thoughts down to four minutes or less…

YardbirdsPR“New York City Blues,” The Yardbirds, 1967

If you’ve ever been to New York City, you know what I’m talking about, they got such pretty girls in that big town, make a man want to jump around and shout…”  The Yardbirds, then led by Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, recorded many blues-based tracks, some of which went on to become substantial hits, but this deep track wasn’t one of them.  Lead vocalist Keith Relf wrote this one, which appears on their “Greatest Hits” CD (although, curiously, it didn’t appear on any of their original studio albums).

maxresdefault-3“King of the New York Streets,” Dion, 1989

Dion DeMucci, one of New York’s true native rock talents, called his band The Belmonts because they rehearsed in a Brooklyn house on Belmont Avenue.  His early hits “Runaround Sue,” “The Wanderer” and “Ruby Baby” defined him as a doo-wop specialist, but his 1968 tribute “Abraham, Martin and John” showed he was capable of more.  His impact on other greats who followed gave him the cachet to be reborn in the late ’80s with solid songs like “King of the New York Streets.”

JOHN_LENNON_BOB_GRUEN_NEW_YORK_CITY_SHIRT_1974“New York City,” John Lennon, 1972

John & Yoko’s “Some Time in New York City” LP in 1972 was full of heavy-handed protest songs about the issues of the era, but musically, the tracks were widely disparaged as weak and disjointed, especially from someone with the credentials of Lennon.  But the Chuck Berry-inspired “New York City” wasn’t all that bad, with references to the Staten Island ferry and the Max’s Kansas City nightclub.

1127a80db5b3bfdaf79a8aa2da726c71.1000x1000x1“Daddy Don’t Live in New York City No More,” Steely Dan, 1975

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, the duo behind the wondrous Steely Dan, met in New York, and the city shows up in many of their songs (“The Royal Scam,” “Black Cow,” “Brooklyn”).  This infectious track from 1975’s excellent “Katy Lied” LP tells the sordid tale of a father crippled by alcoholism who shuns New York, preferring instead to “driving like a fool out to Hackensack, drinkin’ his dinner from a paper sack…”

…Nothing_Like_the_Sun_(Sting_album_-_cover_art)“An Englishman in New York,” Sting, 1987

The Police got bigger and better during their 1977-1983 period, but Gordon “Sting” Sumner, who wrote almost all of the band’s songs, headed out on his own in 1985.  By 1987, his multi-platinum LP “Nothing But the Sun” spawned numerous radio classics like “We’ll Be Together,” “Fragile,” “Be Still My Beating Heart” and Sting’s commentary on being a Brit living in the US, “An Englishman in New York.”

b-j-thomas-the-eyes-of-a-new-york-woman-vogue“The Eyes of a New York Woman,” B.J. Thomas, 1968

Houston-born Thomas went on to much greater fame with the 1968 hit “Hooked on a Feeling” (later made into a cringeworthy #1 hit by Blue Swede in 1974)  and the “Butch Cassidy” ditty “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.”   But to my ears, his greatest moment was “The Eyes of a New York Woman,” which peaked at #28 in 1968.  The lyrics say a lot:     “East side cafes, west side plays, uptown, downtown, I’ll be there, I’ll never have to look for more, I found what I’ve been looking for…  Deep in the eyes of a New York woman …

0828768957028“I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City,” Nilsson, 1969

Early on, critics and rival songwriters alike (including John Lennon and Paul McCartney) sang the praises of little-known Harry Nilsson, a Brooklyn-born wonder who moved to LA and found fame with songs like “Everybody’s Talkin’,” “Me and My Arrow,” “Without You,” “Jump Into the Fire” and “Coconut.”  Before all that, he wrote and recorded this New York tribute song that mirrors “Everybody’s Talkin'” in arrangement and melody.

the-bee-gees-nights-on-broadway-rso-2“Nights on Broadway,” Bee Gees, 1975

The Bee Gees had been a hit pop group, Australia’s first, with hit singles in the late ’60s (“Holiday,” “To Love Somebody,” “I Gotta Get a Message to You”).  After “Lonely Days” (#3 in 1970) and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” (#1 in 1971), producer Arif Martin suggested they retool their sound toward the coming disco craze, and the results brought astronomical fame and fortune.  “Jive Talking'” started the ball rolling, followed quickly by “Nights on Broadway,” helped along by Barry Gibbs’s newfound falsetto voice.

Simon_and_Garfunkel,_Bridge_over_Troubled_Water_(1970)“The Only Living Boy in New York,” Simon and Garfunkel, 1970

As Art Garfunkel began his acting career with the Mike Nichols film “Catch-22” being filmed in Mexico in 1969, Paul Simon remained in New York, writing more songs and preparing for what turned out to be the duo’s final album, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”  This stunning piece refers to Art as “Tom,” which was Art’s nickname when the duo marketed themselves as “Tom & Jerry” in the 1950s.  It was rather obtuse when released, but “The Only Living Boy in New York” all makes sense when you look at it years later.

R-7174503-1435398126-8836.jpeg“On Broadway,” The Drifters, 1963

You can’t possibly assemble a mix of songs about New York that doesn’t include this awesome classic, a rare collaboration of rival songwriting teams Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller.  Together, they finished off a song that had been left uncompleted so The Drifters could record it within the imposed deadline.  The result was not only a #9 song, it was covered by five or six dozen other artists over the next 25 years, including The Coasters, Bobby Darin, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra and Eric Carmen, and of course George Benson, whose jazzier cover version reached #7 on the US charts in 1978.

chicago-another-rainy-day-in-new-york-city-cbs-3“Another Rainy Day in New York City,” Chicago, 1976

Chicago brought a revolutionary, big brass sound to Top 40 radio in 1970, but by 1976, they had settled into a comfortable, light-rock sound that many fans found disappointing.  But the band still found themselves high on the charts with hits like this one from “Chicago X” (the chocolate cover), which also included the #1 hit “If You Leave Me Now,” rush-released after “Another Rainy Day” stiffed at #32.  Still, its lyrics paint an appropriate picture of life in the big city when the rains come: “Softly sweet, so silently it falls, as crosstown traffic crawls…”   

maxresdefault-4Arthur’s Theme (The Best That You Can Do),” Christopher Cross, 1981

If you’ve ever seen the film “Arthur” (and you really must), there’s no getting around the Oscar-winning theme song, sung by Christopher Cross and written by a songwriting team  comprised of Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager,  Peter Allen and Cross himself.  The film takes place in Manhattan, and the lyrics refer repeatedly to being “between the moon and New York City,” making it a no-brainer inclusion on this list.

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Honorable mention:

First We Take Manhattan,” Leonard Cohen, 1988;  “Paranoia Blues,” Paul Simon, 1972;  “Brooklyn Kids,” Pete Townshend, 1983;  “Wall Street Shuffle,” 10cc, 1974;  “Empire State,” Fleetwood Mac, 1982; “Funky Broadway,” Wilson Pickett, 1967;  “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” Elton John, 1972;  “Coney Island Baby,” Tom Waits, 1974;  “New York’s Not My Home,” Jim Croce, 1973;  “Looking for Love on Broadway,” James Taylor, 1977;  “Harlem Shuffle,” The Rolling Stones, 1985;  “Living for the City,” Stevie Wonder, 1973;  “Do Like You Do in New York,” Boz Scaggs, 1980.

Since 1990, New York hasn’t lost any of its lustre as a fertile ground for hit songs:

Marc Cohn’s “Ellis Island” (1998);  U2’s “New York” (2000);  Richard Ashcroft’s “New York” (2000);  Ryan Adams’ “New York New York” (2001);  The Cranberries’ “New New York” (2002);  R.E.M.’s “Leaving New York” (2004);   Elton John’s “Wouldn’t Have You Any Other Way (NYC)” (2006);  Stephen Bishop’s “New York in the Fifties” (2009);   Taylor Swift’s “I Love New York” (2014).