Hidden In Plain Sight Too: 10 More Albums That Don’t Get Their Due

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Who knows why these things happen? Some albums just can’t catch a break, and for a variety of reasons, don’t get the amount of critical or popular respect that they deserve. Here are ten that I think are worth a second listen and some serious reappraisal. Once again, I’m keeping this list to artists that are generally well-known enough that your mom might recognize the names…

beck - album
Beck * Mutations

Why it gets shorted: It came right after Odelay, which is pretty much Beck’s benchmark album. The introspective, dour songs prefaced the gloom and doom of 2002′s Sea Change.

What’s great about it: A very strong crop of songs that are effectively avant garde and poetic. It’s the aural equivalent of listening to a Salvador Dali painting.

Better than: Everything he’s done except Odelay, Guero, and The Information.

Paul Simon - album
Paul Simon * Rhythm Of The Saints

Why it gets shorted: This album came after his landmark album (note a trend, besides me using adjectives that end in -mark?) Graceland. No real hit singles to hang your hat on here.

What’s great about it: On the whole, a much more satisfying realization of the sound of Simon’s infatuation with African music than this album’s more popular counterpart. It has held up extremely well over time, while the overplayed singles on Graceland seriously date that album. [PS - note the great 'cut bin' hole on the picture - which I pulled from Amazon.com!]

Better than: Everything else in his catalogue, in my opinion.

PE - album
Public Enemy * Apocalypse ’91: The Enemy Strikes Black

Why it gets shorted: Yet again, it came right after their strongest work – It Takes A Nation Of Millions… and Fear Of A Black Planet. On balance, this album is angrier and more political than either of its more well-known brethren.

What’s great about it: A steady succession of hard-hitting songs about slave ships, liquor dealers and bringin’ noise make this – like Paul Simon’s Rhythym Of The Saints – the more perfect realization of the group’s vision than its more celebrated counterparts. And please note – this is the only blog on earth that dares to compare Paul Simon and Public Enemy.

Better than: Not better than their best work, but certainly as good as anything else they’ve done.

Gaucho - album
Steely Dan * Gaucho

Why it gets shorted: Perhaps I should have named this column “albums that came after artists’ best albums” – this one came after Aja, which people spend an unnecessary amount of time drooling over. Also, ‘Glamour Profession’ and the title track are pretty silly, unless you’re stoned.

What’s great about it: ‘Babylon Sisters’ is epic, for one thing. Also, this was the album when the ironic glint in the Dan’s eye dimmed a bit, and it was obvious that they were a group on the edge, and the party of the 70′s was over. Many critics damn this album for that reason, but that’s what makes it great to me. [In fact this was one of my staple albums from '95 to '97 and I practically wore out the grooves on my dollar vinyl copy.]

Better than: Again, not better than – but as good as – their best stuff.

Joni Mitchell - album
Joni Mitchell * The Hissing Of Summer Lawns

Why it gets shorted: While this did come after her uber-celebrated Court & Spark, it was a huge left turn away from that sound. This was where Mitchell began losing traction with her audience, and she steadily retreated into ever more musically obtuse corners.

What’s great about it: ‘The Jungle Line’ is absolutely incredible. This lush, pounding song sampled African drums in 1975 (take that Paul Simon!) and is worth the price of admission alone. And give her credit, she could have spent 20 years cranking out Court & Spark clones, but decided to take some chances instead. And for major bonus points, this is reportedly Prince’s (the artist & symbol) favorite album of all-time.

Better than: Everything in her catalogue but Court & Spark.

One For The Road - album

Willie Nelson & Leon Russell * One For The Road

Why it gets shorted: Willie cranks out about two albums each year, so it’s pretty hard for any but his most devoted fans to even keep up with his current stuff – let alone go dipping 30 years into the past.

What’s great about it: Willie & Leon = two great voices that sound great together.

Better than: Anything he’s produced in the last two decades.

Little Feat - album
Little Feat * The Last Record Album

Why it gets shorted: The cover art on this album is a poor sister to some of Neon Park’s artwork that is so associated with the group. Also, there’s nothing here that has ever troubled any of their ‘greatest hits’ albums.

What’s great about it: This is the sound of Lowell George and company locked into a solid groove, start to finish. There’s nothing even remotely unlikable on this album.

Better than: Sailin’ Shoes, which seems strangely overrated to me.

Van Morrison - album
Van Morrison * Into The Music

Why it gets shorted: Van was pretty uneven – to say the least – from the mid-seventies until the mid-eighties.

What’s great about it: A knockout set that finds Van The Man sounding loose, confident, and swinging. This is truly one of those ‘why don’t I listen to this more often?’ albums.

Better than: Anything else from his late-70′s/early-80′s period.

Muswell Hillbillies - album
The Kinks * Muswell Hillbillies

Why it gets shorted: Not nearly as good as their mid-60′s work, but not nearly as bad as the 70′s work that this album generally gets lumped in with.

What’s great about it: Lots of great songs, and the ‘concept’ around this album was loose enough that it didn’t weigh the whole thing down like most of their 70′s output, such as Schoolboys In Disgrace and Soap Opera.

Better than: Anything that came after, if you get right down to it.

Surf's Up - album
The Beach Boys * Surf’s Up

Why it gets shorted: This couldn’t be further from the sunshine and surfin’ good times that the 60′s Beach Boys represented.

What’s great about it: Exactly what repelled people from it back in the day. This is the sound of the sixties dying in a murky, oily mixture of pollution, police sirens, and indifference. ‘Feel Flows’ would have been the perfect song to play at midnight on December 31st, 1969.

Better than: Everything in their catalogue except Pet Sounds.

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8 Responses to “Hidden In Plain Sight Too: 10 More Albums That Don’t Get Their Due”

  1. Arlo Chingaderas Says:

    Here is a list of the first three cassettes I ever purhased:

    1. RUN-DMC/Tougher Than Leather

    2. DJ Quick/Quick Is The Name

    3. Public Enemy/Apocalypse 91…

    Good shite, man…

  2. Timmy Says:

    Nice Danny,

    ‘Nobody’s Fault But My Own’ from Mutations is one of my favorite Beck songs of all time. No, it’s one of my favorite cuts of all time. Spacey, morose, trippy lyrics, it’s definitely going on my Break Up playlist/CD club mix. (I’ll join one day)

    I’ll always remember hearing ‘Loser’ when it first dropped, when I was at party off Hillyard St. in Eugene (I was the Loser, Capital-L, hanging out with those undergrads youngins after well after graduating :)

    I was appalled initially, dealing with suicidal and homicidal consumers on a regular basis, and hearing “Why don’t you kill me” blasting out in to warm air of a outdoor party on a nice spring evening near the U of O campus.

    I lightened up pretty quickly and got into the groove of the next few cuts and always being on the search for good new music, I just had to ask the host:
    “I like that, who is it?”
    “Beck.”
    “You mean Jeff Beck?!”
    “Jeff Beck, who’s that? No just ‘Beck’, Dude.”

    Beck fan ever since.

  3. jkg Says:

    i gotta get that beach boys record. i think i heard it before and was blown away. thanks for the reminder.

  4. ianheath653 Says:

    Looking at this post, I noticed I own each of the first three albums listed here, but none after that. I’ll have to rectify that.

  5. Hidden In Plain Sight: 20 Albums That Don’t Get Their Due « dk presents… Says:

    [...] Read the second part of this post here. [...]

  6. pannonica Says:

    Look! A second comment from me, and this one’s also going to be a about Van Morrison. Go figure.

    Into the Music is quite simply one of his finest moments. I think of Side Two of this album as his version of Side One of Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it On. Whereas Marvin speaking to his lover is passionate, sexy, and smooth, Van is rapturous, intoxicated, somehow nostalgic and in the moment at the same time.

    If I had to pick a “forgotten” album of Morrison, though, it would be Veedon Fleece. To my mind it’s the one that best captures him as a complete artist. Much the way Moondance’s ‘Into The Mystic’ dramatically blends his rock/pop/soul side with his celtic/spiritual/mystic bent, Veedon Fleece does it seamlessly throughout its entire landscape. It’s a more mature version of Astral Weeks. Much as he needed the experience of the Them! years and the Bang! sessions to be able to produce Astral Weeks, he similarly had to make (wonderful) things like Moondance, His Band and the Street Choir, and Saint Dominic’s Preview before he could make Veedon Fleece.

  7. pannonica Says:

    Next. Little Feat. The Last Record Album really is pretty weak as far as I’m concerned. Lowell George had relinquished too much control and indulged the less-savory leanings of Payne and BarrĂ©re. The strong songs from this album are better presented on the live Waiting for Columbus, the medley of “Mercenary Territory” and “Spanish Moon” being a real highlight.

    I don’t think Dixie Chicken can be overrated as it’s such a strong and enduring work. That said, I might prefer its immediate predecessor, Sailin’ Shoes because it’s a little more raw and idiosyncratic. Not to take anything away from Gradney and Clayton, but Roy Estrada, being a Mothers alum, provided an additional dollop of weirdness that just works.

  8. dkpresents Says:

    Thanks once again for the detailed comments. I’m putting on Veedon Fleece right now…

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