Posts Tagged ‘Gene Clark’

Buried Treasure: No Other

18 June 2010

[Today: Lost and found…]

“Our destiny exercises its influence over us even when, as yet, we have not learned its nature: it is our future that lays down the law of our today.” Friedrich Nietzsche had a clear belief in the role of destiny upon life, but for most of the rest of us, concepts like destiny, faith and the human soul excite questions that aren’t easily answered. Gene Clark clearly had a lot of big questions, and his 1974 album No Other is a beautiful exercise in metaphysical star-gazing.

Clark was a founding member of The Byrds, and functioned as that group’s main songwriter until his departure in early 1966. He worked on various solo projects and re-joined The Byrds a couple of times, but by the early 70s he was unsigned and seemed to be yesterday’s news. Singer/songwriter friendly label Asylum signed him on the strength of a 1972 Byrds reunion, no doubt hoping to land an earnest folkie in the vein of Joni Mitchell. What they got instead was mellow, philosophical country/folk rock infused with gospel and strings. Much to Asylum’s consternation, No Other ran $100,000 over budget and sounded like nothing on the radio at the time.

This album has been dogged by persistent rumors that its production was fueled by mountains of drugs (Mojo called it a “cocaine classic”), but it sounds like it was driven by nothing stronger than green tea and a good ocean view. Clark claimed as much, saying “The whole album was written when I had a house overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Northern California. I would just sit in the living room, which had a huge bay window, and stare at the ocean for hours at a time.” The title track and ‘Life’s Greatest Fool’ are just two examples of the near-religious experience offered by this music. Both songs seem imbued with the pure light of truth, even as they wonder at the nature of things.

In spite of many heavenly moments, No Other received scant promotion, peaked at #144 on the charts, and was out of print by 1976. Puzzled by the album’s abject failure, Clark never really regained his artistic footing, and spent his remaining years soured by the poor reception of his magnum opus. But No Other represents an interesting intersection of art and life – it’s an album about destiny, but it’s also an album of destiny. While it wasn’t enthusiastically embraced upon release, it has slowly gained a now unshakeable reputation as a lost masterpiece. Destiny’s darling.

Listen: Life’s Greatest Fool

Listen: No Other

Listen: Silver Raven

Masterpiece: The Notorious Byrd Brothers

11 September 2009

[Today: A hippie manifesto…]

The Byrds | The Notorious Byrd Brothers

According to LSD guru Timothy Leary, “Hippies started the ecology movement. They combated racism. They liberated sexual stereotypes, encouraged change, individual pride, and self-confidence. They questioned robot materialism. In four years they managed to stop the Vietnam War.” The 60’s were a time of social upheaval, innocent idealism and plentiful drugs, and The Notorious Byrd Brothers is a timepiece – a veritable manifesto – of the hippie movement.

During these sessions, The Byrds themselves mirrored the turmoil of the times. David Crosby left the band before the album was completed, but not before contributing three of his better songwriting efforts with the group. Crosby’s place on the cover was taken by a horse, and as David Bolling drolly noted in his review of the album, “he was lucky that they faced the horse forward.” Meanwhile, drummer Michael Clarke was fired after the album was completed, and ex-Byrd Gene Clark rejoined the group briefly before splitting again. The Byrds weren’t just a band in flux during these sessions – they appeared to be falling apart at the seams.

But despite the conditions under which it was recorded, The Notorious Byrd Brothers features a soothing, cohesive batch of songs that serve as a concept album about the hippie state of mind. Almost every facet of the 60’s counterculture is touched upon here, including drugs (‘Artificial Energy’), peace (‘Natural Harmony’), activism (‘Draft Morning’), individualism (‘Wasn’t Born To Follow’), revolution (‘Change Is Now’), nature (‘Dolphins Smile’), community (‘Tribal Gathering’), innocence (‘Goin Back’) and outer space (‘Space Odyssey’).

This was also The Byrds’ first step toward the country sound that would dominate their next album, Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. The Byrds released several groundbreaking albums during their time together, but none better than The Notorious Byrd Brothers. Within these songs it’s almost possible to smell the incense and patchouli, hear the war protesters chant, and feel the good vibrations. The hippies of the late-60’s were attempting to create an island of calm in crazy times – on this album The Byrds achieved that goal.

Listen: Goin’ Back

Listen: Natural Harmony

Listen: Draft Morning

Weekend Playlist

23 February 2009

Here’s a sampling of what was in our ears over the weekend…

Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks
Sex Pistols | Never Mind The Bollocks

Woody Guthrie | Dust Bowl Ballads
Woody Guthrie | Dust Bowl Ballads

Downliners Sect | The Rock Sect's In
Downliners Sect | The Rock Sect’s In

Prince | Purple Rain
Prince | Purple Rain

Blackalicious | Nia
Blackalicious | Nia

Fred Eaglesmith | Lipstick, Lies & Gasoline
Fred Eaglesmith | Lipstick, Lies & Gasoline

Tom Waits | Swordfishtrombones
Tom Waits | Swordfishtrombones

Willard Grant Conspiracy | Everything's Fine
Willard Grant Conspiracy | Everything’s Fine

Old & In The Way | Old & In The Way
Old & In The Way | Old & In The Way

Lifesavas | Spirit In Stone
Lifesavas | Spirit In Stone

Groove Armada | Lovebox
Groove Armada | Lovebox

Minutemen | Double Nickels On The Dime
Minutemen | Double Nickels On The Dime

Nick Lowe | Basher: The Best Of
Nick Lowe | Basher: The Best Of

The Smiths | Hatful Of Hollow
The Smiths | Hatful Of Hollow

Joe Walsh | Look What I Did: The JW Anthology
Joe Walsh | Look What I Did: The JW Anthology

Mother's Finest | Not Yer Mother's Funk: The Very Best Of
Mother’s Finest | Not Yer Mother’s Funk: The Very Best Of

Various Artists | The Rhino Disco Box
Various Artists | The Rhino Disco Box

Lightnin' Slim | Rooster Blues
Lightnin’ Slim | Rooster Blues

John Prine | John Prine
John Prine | John Prine

Cold War Kids | Robbers & Cowards
Cold War Kids | Robbers & Cowards

Little Barrie | We Are Little Barrie
Little Barrie | We Are Little Barrie

Mazzy Star | So Tonight That I Migh See
Mazzy Star | So Tonight That I Might See

Terry Reid | River
Terry Reid | River

Gene Clark | No Other
Gene Clark | No Other

Wings | Wings Greatest
Wings | Wings Greatest

Bryan Sutton | Bluegrass Guitar
Bryan Sutton | Bluegrass Guitar

Manu Chao | Proxima Estacion... Esperanza
Manu Chao | Proxima Estacion… Esperanza

Massive Attack | Mezzanine
Massive Attack | Mezzanine

Outkast | Stankonia
Outkast | Stankonia

Various Artists | Brainfreeze Breaks
Various Artists | Brainfreeze Breaks

DJ Shadow | Endtroducing...
DJ Shadow | Entroducing…

Neu! | Neu!
Neu! | Neu! 75

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble | The Sky Is Crying
Stevie Ray Vaughan | The Sky Is Crying

R.L. Burnside | Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down
R.L. Burnside | Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down

Flying Burrito Bros | Gilded Palace Of Sin
Flying Burrito Brothers | Gilded Palace Of Sin

Sidestepper | 3AM (In Beats We Trust)
Sidestepper | 3AM (In Beats We Trust)

Dino Valente - Dino
Dino Valente | Dino Valente

John Legend | Get Lifted
John Legend | Get Lifted

Random Propaganda IX

5 June 2008

I haven’t done one of these in ages – and there have been way too many obituaries in this space lately – so here goes the music spinner…

Stones - album
8:38 pm… Rolling Stones * A Bigger Bang – ‘Rough Justice’ is a pretty good song, but the lyrics are just ridiculous. As a knighted, 65 year-old man, Mick Jagger probably oughtn’t be singing about his package so gleefully…

Rakim - album
8:42 pm… Rakim * Book Of Life – The MC of Eric B & Rakim inlcuded the greatest hits disc The 18th Letter (that’s ‘R’ for those of you with counting/spelling issues) with the release of his album Book Of Life. Hearing ‘I Ain’t No Joke’ – fine vintage beats and rhymes. This never, ever gets old… fine wine etc…

Lanegan - album
8:45 pm… Mark Lanegan Band * Bubblegum – I never been any kind of Screaming Trees fan, but I think Mark Lanegan’s solo stuff is uniformly excellent. It’s got a doom-laden, frayed cloth quality that I just can’t get enough of.

Radiohead - album
8:48 pm… Radiohead * In Rainbows – Yeah, ok, I didn’t pay anything for the cd copy – somebody passed it along on CDR (thanks Tony N). But I did shell out fifteen bucks for the LP version of the album, so there. I was surprised by how accessible this album is… I thought Radiohead had moved into an incomprehensible netherworld of burbles and blips, but this one was a welcome return to something approaching normal song structure.

Johnny Watson - album
8:52 pm… Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson * Ain’t That A Bitch – The title track. This album comes up every time I roll out a random propaganda. Johnny obviously has a nose for the spotlight. The cover of this LP is one of the low-taste moments in the pantheon of album art. This album is two parts sleaze, one part funk, and one part disco. Shake well and enjoy…

Ganja Reggae - box
8:57 pm… Trojan Ganja Reggae Box (Disc 2) – Some sort of stoney, dubby thing going on here… I think this album just set itself on jamaican auto-pilot. FYI, this box set is medicinally legal in the state of California, and works particularly well for glaucoma.

Dave Alvin - photo
9:01 pm… Dave Alvin * Live at Freight & Salvage, Berkeley CA, 6/28/07 – Incredible show. Here he’s covering Moby Grape’s ‘8:05′, a lovely version of a lovely song. According to Alvin, “There’s a rule in the musician handbook that if you play a Moby Grape song, you have to follow it with a George Jones song…”


9:05 pm… Yello * One Second – These guys were pumping the sound of 90’s electronica smack dab in the middle of the 80’s. They’re most well known for the song ‘Oh Yeah’ (which was featured in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), which is too bad, because that song only hints at some of the inventive sounds that these guys were throwing off way ahead of the curve… dark, exotic rhythms peppered with strings and electronic noises, featuring singers of many flavors – sounds to me like the playbook for any number of latter day electronica acts…

Kleptones - album
9:10 pm… Kleptones * 24 Hours (Disc 1) – The mashup maestros… great track here that features T. Rex’s ‘Ripoff’ laid over an instrumental version of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. It’s funky, fun, and pretty weird – in other words just like most of their other mashups. Available free online at www.kleptones.com – help yourself to plenty.

David Byrne - album
9:13 pm… David Byrne * Rei Momo – Excuse me while The P and I do the rhumba…

Don Letts - album
9:17 pm… Don Letts presents The Mighty Trojan Sound – We’re back on Jamaican auto-pilot, spinning off into dubby dubby dubstuff. Don Letts is widely credited with introducing reggae and punk camps to one another…

Ali Farka Toure - album
9:20 pm… Ali Farka Toure * The River – Potent African Blues.

George Pegram - album
9:25 pm… George Pegram * George Pegram – Raggedy Country Banjo.


9:28 pm… The BellRays * Grand Fury – The album title really sums this up. Frontwoman Lisa Kekula is a force of nature, as I mentioned here. The BellRays are definitely one of those bands that need to be seen live to be fully appreciated.


9:31 pm… Gene Clark * Flying High (Disc 1) – And now for something completely different. Clark was a founding member of The Byrds, and one of the most talented songwriters to go through that band. ‘Feel A Whole Lot Better (When You’re Gone)’ is up, which I believe is a Byrds track. This set is a two-disc career spanning best of.

Club Ska - album
9:35 pm… Various Artists * Club Ska ’67 – This uptempo ska collection from the Luv&Haight label is a crowd pleaser. Lots of jaunty horns and happy little grooves.

Doug Martsch - album
9:38 pm… Doug Martsch * Now You Know – The solo debut from the lead singer and guitar god of Built To Spill sounds an awful lot like… (wait for it)… Built To Spill. Which means, actually, that it sounds pretty good.

Zabriskie Point - album
9:41 pm… Various Artists * Zabriskie Point Soundtrack – A very strange mix of artists on this soundtrack to an obscure Italian movie. John Fahey, Pink Floyd, Youngbloods, Patti Page, Grateful Dead, Kaleidescope… oddly eclectic in its own way. Currently hearing the Fahey track, a solo guitar blues thing like what he does so well.


9:44 pm… Paul Weller * Paul Weller – Self-titled solo album from the former frontman of The Jam and The Style Council. The Jam – HUGE in the UK – never got their due in America, and may actually be more popular today in the states than they were in their heyday. Meanwhile, Paul Weller has just continued to crank out one great album after another. The guy is worshipped like a god in Britain, but most music fans here don’t have the foggiest idea who he is. Go figure.

9:50 pm… [silence]… [silence]… [silence]… oh I see… this Paul Weller album has one of those ’12 minutes of silence and then a hidden track’ gimmicks… perhaps this is why Mr. Weller hasn’t gone over so well in the good ol’ US of A… [fast-forwarding]

Joe Maphis - album
9:51 pm… Joe Maphis * Fire On The StringsMr. Maphis will provide the soundtrack for the closing credits for tonight’s program, with his distinctive brand of finger-picking, down-home, country-guitar, instrumental-delights.

From the P and I… so long and goodnight…

The 20 Most Overlooked Albums Of All-Time

15 April 2007

“Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.” – Miles Davis

*****

When a ship sinks, it can take a long time to go under. But once it starts to go, it will fall quickly and silently to the bottom of the sea, to lie undisturbed forever. There is a small chance it may be discovered by an intrepid diver who lives for the simple thrill of shining light on dark places, but far more likely, it will not.

An album can travel the same progression of futility: A lot of nothing – followed by a rapid descent to the bottom. And like a ship, it can take a lot of good people and precious cargo down with it.

There are so many forces at work that it’s impossible to say why some albums succeed where others fail (take a look at any Top 40 from the 1970’s and this mystery grows exponentially). But it is easy to see that many lousy albums do well (Mmmm Bop anyone?) and great ones don’t. Unfortunately the charts – like life – just ain’t fair.

Many of my favorite musical discoveries have been preceded by phrases like “the records on the floor in the back are all a buck” or “my brother was going to throw these out and I knew you had a turntable”. As Jacques Cousteau could tell you, the best stuff is often found where nobody is looking.

Of course, many more finds have come the old-fashioned way: by word of mouth. And for that I owe a debt of gratitude to my fellow subversives who are willing to look beneath the surface (or buy an outdated format) to find something unusual and worthwhile in a world full of too much shiny, pre-packaged junk.

In the spirit of passing it on, here are the albums and artists that I feel were most unfairly left to sink. The names may be unfamiliar, and the songs aren’t the soundtracks to anyone’s youth or commercials, but each of these records shine, like pearls hidden on the floor of a deep black ocean.

Paul K & The Weathermen | Love Is A Gas
Paul K & The Weathermen – Love Is A Gas (1997)

• Paul Kopasz has spent time in jail for heroin possession, and has drawn upon this checkered history to create a string of excellent and cynical albums. He has enjoyed marginal success in Europe, but his albums continue to be ignored in the States in spite of critical acclaim. Love Is A Gas contains no two songs remotely alike, but the whole thing works like a mad jigsaw puzzle, including lights-out covers of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Jesus Children Of America’ and Queen’s ‘You’re My Best Friend’.

Long Ryders | Native Sons
The Long Ryders – Native Sons (1984)

Native Sons has the unique ability to sound like a familiar favorite upon first listen. That’s because the seeds of all that would become alt-country are planted right here, and the list of bands influenced include R.E.M., Uncle Tupelo/Wilco/Son Volt, Whiskeytown, and dozens of others. In fact, the list of those drafting off The Long Ryders’ sound reads like a who’s who of 90’s rock, marking them as a hidden influencer on par with the Velvet Underground.

Dr. Feelgood | Down By The Jetty
Dr. Feelgood – Down By The Jetty (1974)

• This – their 1974 debut – put Dr. Feelgood at the forefront of the English pub rock bands that were later swept away by the rising tide of punk. As evidenced here, they brought raw energy and tight riffs to every one of their albums and live shows, and were one of the few bands outside of punk to actually earn the widespread respect and attention of punk artists.

The Stairs | Mexican R 'n' B
The Stairs – Mexican R ‘n’ B (1992)

• The classic case of the right sound at the wrong time, The Stairs’ raw, garage rock-meets-blues sound could have been (and eventually would become) the Next Big Thing. But Mexican R ‘n’ B was released at the height of grunge, and made no impact on any chart. This offbeat masterpiece has been out of print since shortly after going into print, which explains why you could fit everyone who knows it into a large elevator – a crying shame.

Radio Birdman | Radios Appear
Radio Birdman – Radios Appear

• Radio Birdman blasted onto the Aussie punk scene with their debut Radios Appear. Founder Deniz Tek hailed from Ann Arbor, MI (home to The Stooges and MC5), which helps partly explain the ahead-of-its- time velocity and swagger of this album. They waited a critical three years before following it up and dozens of bands rushed in to fill the punk product void. Birdman broke up after their second album was poorly received, and found themselves relegated to the ‘often cited but rarely heard’ bin. Tek would later form bands featuring ex-members of the Stooges & MC5, but never again approached this pure blue flame.

Wipers | Youth Of America
Wipers – Youth Of America (1981)

• Wipers – led by mastermind Greg Sage – have toiled away in self-imposed D.I.Y. obscurity for more than two decades. Their relentless, hard-driving sound is neither punk nor metal, but matches either for sheer determination and menace. Youth Of America’s 10-minutes-plus title track is a dark journey through barren wasteland, over a highway of broken glass. Wipers have pointedly avoided the mainstream, but their influence has seeped through nonetheless: a young Kurt Cobain was a big fan, and partly modeled the sound of his band (and consequently, his generation) on this.

Monks | Black Monk Time
Monks – Black Monk Time (1966)

• Henry Rollins likes Monks, and you should too. In the mid-sixties, these proto-proto-proto-punks decided to vent their spleen at being stationed as GIs in Germany by dressing in robes and shaving their heads like monks (imagine a flattop with a reverse Mohawk) and playing the most blistering music they could. The results are so undeniably punk that it’s hard to see why these guys don’t ever get mentioned in the same breath as other forefathers of that genre.

The Gun Club | Fire Of Love
Gun Club – Fire Of Love (1981)

• Gun Club rode a hybrid, slide-guitar blues-meets-punk sound straight into obscurity. This Los Angeles quartet, fronted by troubled singer Jeffrey Lee Pierce, counted many musicians and critics among their fans, but their tweener sound and Pierce’s struggles with drugs and alcohol were too much to overcome. Pierce launched an equally fruitless solo career in ’85, passed away in ’96, and Gun Club’s harrowing, ghost-out-of-hell albums – including this excellent debut – have slipped into the shadows.

ESG | A South Bronx Story
ESG – A South Bronx Story (1983)

• The Scroggins sisters – Deborah (bass, vocals), Marie (congas, vocals), Renee (vocals, guitar), and Valerie (drums) – formed ESG when their mother bought them instruments to keep them off the streets and out of trouble. In short order they went from a rough group of untalented musicians (alas, Ma Scroggins couldn’t afford lessons to go with the instruments) to a unique, female-driven funk act. They reportedly started writing their own songs so that audiences wouldn’t know when they messed up covers. And while ESG’s reputation grew during the 90’s because they were endlessly sampled, their own music was so generally ignored that they named a 1993 release Sample Credits Don’t Pay Our Bills.

Cymande - album
Cymande – Cymande (1973)

• Cymande was a highly influential but ultimately short-lived group featuring musicians from several Caribbean and African countries. Their self-titled debut is a perfect snapshot of its era, combining African rhythms with abundant percussion, sultry funk and quasi-politically aware lyrics. They barely cracked the Top 40, made just two more albums and called it quits. In recent years, Cymande has enjoyed critical re-appraisal, and many of their tracks have been sampled, but this nine-member funk dynamo should be known by more than just critics and beat-grafters.

IBB - album
Michael Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band – Bongo Rock (1973)

• The Incredible Bongo Band was formed to make a single track for the soundtrack to an early 70’s horror film. When that track went to #1 in Canada, the label (undoubtedly smelling money) asked for a full-length follow up. From there it should have been a short hop to obscurity, but a funny thing happened on the way to the dustbin; a house party DJ in the South Bronx named Kool Herc used 2 copies of the record as a way to keep his crowds moving – making it the first breakbeat album ever. The music from those parties is now considered to be the cornerstone of the hip-hop culture and sample-based music. Mojo calls it – no joke – “possibly the most influential album in the history of post-60’s popular music.”

Mutiny | Mutiny On The Mamaship
Mutiny – Mutiny On The Mamaship (1979)

• After Jerome ‘Bigfoot’ Brailey split from the Parliament/Funkadelic camp (he was the funky drummer on Mothership Connection and others) because of money disputes, he formed Mutiny and released this blistering indictment of former boss George Clinton that reaches the same highs as the P-Funk mob at their best. After this and a second album both tanked, Mutiny was suddenly without a record contract (a fate that would also befall Clinton around the same time) and disbanded in the early 80’s. This is the rarest of commodities – an overlooked funk diamond.

James Luther Dickinson | Dixie Fried
James Luther Dickinson – Dixie Fried (1972)

• Name-checked as a mentor by Dylan in Chronicles, Vol. 1, Jim Dickinson is the ultimate musician’s musician. In addition to playing as a sideman on countless classic albums, he’s produced artists as diverse as Primal Scream, Ry Cooder, and Mudhoney. Featuring an uncredited Eric Clapton on guitar, Dixie Fried is the very definition of hidden gem. Every track crackles with wit and energy, and Dickinson portrays myriad characters with a humorous tongue and sympathetic ear. This was his lone album until 2003’s Free Beer Tomorrow – which was 30 years in the making, equally brilliant and well worth the wait.

ZZ Top - album
ZZ Top – ZZ Top’s First Album (1970)

• Before the Santa beards, pimpin’ rides, sexy ladies, MTV videos and multi-platinum success of Eliminator, ZZ Top were once an honest to goodness – and damned impressive – Blues band with a capital B. The proof is right here on an album that’s as laid back and true as its title.

Michael Nesmith & The First National Band | Magnetic South
Michael Nesmith & The First National Band – Magnetic South (1970)

• Yes indeed, it’s true: Michael Nesmith of the Monkees was actually a pretty talented musician. His three albums with The First National Band mark him as a forefather of country-rock, quite possibly on par with Gram Parsons (your call whether this is a positive or negative mark). Nesmith kept the FNB together for just a few years before moving on to tend his business interests, which included helping to found MTV. But you have to wonder what might have been had he not been packing around the Monkees stigma way back when.

No Other - album
Gene Clark – No Other (1974)

• For an album allegedly made on transcontinental rails of cocaine, No Other sounds surprisingly focused and is bathed in an almost spiritual glow. The entire breadth of this ex-Byrd’s solo career is overlooked, but this is the album that should have made him a star in his own right. The fact that it didn’t was reportedly a blow (no pun intended) that he never recovered from.

Wolfking - album
John Phillips – John Wolfking Of LA (1970)

• Phillips panned this solo album in his autobiography Papa John, saying “The lead singer seemed groggy.” While the raw, ragged sound was the antithesis of The Mamas & Papas’ California sunshine, Wolfking is a fascinating and bracing journey through the dark side of the Laurel Canyon star scene of the early ‘70’s. Papa John explains its quick demise: “It was DOA in the record stores.”

Terry Reid | River
Terry Reid – River (1973)

• Reid is most well known for turning down the lead singer’s spot in a new band Jimmy Page was forming that would become Led Zeppelin (Reid also graciously recommended an unknown young frontman named Robert Plant). His soaring and beautiful River should have overshadowed that anecdote, but the album never found its audience. Though re-issued to raves on disc a few years back, it’s too little recognition far too late for this talented guitarist and top-flight, multi-octave singer.

Rodriguez | Cold Fact
Rodriguez – Cold Fact (1970)

• Sixto Rodriguez should have been huge. Blessed with a gritty yet warm voice, an acoustic guitar, and a whole mess of lyrics about how fucked up the world was, he had everything one could have wanted in a 70’s singer/songwriter. But his lone album – 1970’s Cold Fact – went nowhere, and he disappeared. He gained a strong cult following in Australia during the 80’s that enabled him to tour that country and somewhat revive his music career, but really, this guy should have been huge.

Dennis Wilson | Pacific Ocean Blue
Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue (1977)

• Beach Boys’ drummer Dennis Wilson was generally thought of as a skirt-chasing, boneheaded surfer and longtime rider of older brother Brian’s coattails. When he made this overlooked masterpiece, he promptly changed the mind of anyone fortunate enough to hear these mini-symphonies that are as inventive as anything his prodigy bro’ conjured up. Then he died in 1983, and left us with a lot of what-ifs and enough odds and sods for another, equally unrecognized gem, Bamboo.

Alexander 'Skip' Spence | Oar
Alexander ‘Skip’ Spence – Oar (1969)

Oar begs the question: can an album be called underrated so many times that it starts to become overrated? Ex-Moby Grape drummer Spence was in the midst of losing his mind when he recorded this rambling, epic, and sparsely beautiful ode to all and nothing. At times the songs lose their structure and way, but the net effect is nothing short of mesmerizing. It is reportedly the worst-selling album in the long history of Columbia records.

Fred Neil | Fred Neil
Fred Neil – Fred Neil (1967)

• Never quite emerging from the Greenwich Village folk scene that spawned Dylan and others, Fred Neil released just three proper albums in a four-year career. By the early 70’s he had dropped out of the music industry to live out his life in seclusion in South Florida, where he passed away in 2001. The fact that this incredible singer/songwriter and unique voice isn’t a household name (and is best known for Harry Nilsson’s cover of ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ for the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack) is a cultural travesty. If anyone’s music deserves a Volkswagen-ad boost yielding widespread rediscovery and overdue respect, it’s Fred Neil.

25 More That Deserved Better…

Swamp Dogg – I’m Not Selling Out/I’m Buying In
The Peddlers – Suite London
Graham Parker – The Mona Lisa’s Sister
Bauhaus – Burning From The Inside
Barry & The Remains – The Best Of
Marah – Kids In Philly
Temple Of The Dog – Temple Of The Dog
J.K. & Co. – Suddenly One Summer
Pretty Things – S.F. Sorrow
Hank Mobley – The Turnaround
Bonzo Dog Doodah Band – Gorilla
Various Artists – Wild Style Soundtrack
Josh Ritter – Golden Age Of Radio
Michelle Shocked – Short Sharp Shocked
Stereo MC’s – Supernatural
Shorty Baker/Doc Cheatham – Shorty & Doc
John Martyn – Solid Air
DJ Hurricane – The Hurrah
Gary Higgins – Red Hash
A3 – Exile On Coldharbour Lane
D.R. Hooker – The Truth
Roy Harper – Stormcock
Moby Grape – Moby Grape
Slaid Cleaves – Broke Down
Alejandro Escovedo – A Man Under The Influence

And 10 That Are Grossly Overrated…

• Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run • I’ve tried (and tried and tried…) to hear the unparalleled masterpiece the critics all rave about. Every time I read a superlative review, I get all jacked up about this, but in the end, all I ever hear is just a decent bar band taking 8 minutes to play 3 minute songs.

• Jimmy Buffett – Any album • Until somebody sits me down and explains how Jimmy Buffett is anything more than just the 70’s nautical version of Weird Al Yankovic (which, by the way, perfectly nails my beef with his music) I’ll have no clue how this guy can sell out a bar, let alone a 25,000 seat amphitheatre.

• The Eagles – Hotel California • The Eagles have always reminded me of the too-popular kids in class whose status was based 100% on style and 0% on substance (I’m guessing every school has a couple of these). Exhibit A in any prosecution of the 70’s as a bloated, soul-less, nothing of a music decade, this album has no business near a turntable, let alone any Best Of All-Time lists.

• The Who – Tommy • Easily the lamest “concept” album of all-time. Let’s see… a deaf, “dumb” and blind kid plays pinball? Bartender, make mine a double. Unless the hidden meaning here is that in the future, people will cringe and/or laugh at the thought of Rock Operas, there’s nothing terribly brilliant about any of this.

• Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness • Gish and Siamese Dream were epic slabs of 90’s rock at it’s best, but this lame follow-up reaped all the big sales (nearly 10 million) and critical acclaim. Billy Corgan whines throughout, and this sprawling double album has barely enough good songs for a single disc. You could cull it down to a listenable ep, but I won’t.

• Dave Matthews Band – Crash • Last fall I took a river tour of Chicago, and passed under the infamous spot where the DMB unloaded the contents of their tour bus bathroom on an unsuspecting boatload of people. The options are so plentiful that I’ll let you create your own metaphors for how that story relates to the music.

• Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica • Continually shows up on Best Of All-Time lists, and I can never figure out why. It’s an incomprehensible mess from start to (double-album!!) finish, and the Cap’n has a trio of other albums (Safe As Milk, Clear Spot, and The Spotlight Kid) more rocking and listener friendly. On the bright side, this album will clear your unwanted houseguests in a matter of minutes.

• Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP • Any critic that places this on their Best Of All-Time list ahead of Eric B. & Rakim (and too many have) should be stripped of their credentials – and pants. And I think Em would probably agree with the spirit of what I’m saying here (if only the pantsing the critics part).

• Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow • Contains a couple of good tracks, but overall this album sounds flat and has aged poorly. Grace Slick’s voice has always been like nails on a chalkboard to me, so maybe I’m not listening with the right set of ears.

• The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band • Greatest album of all time? It’s probably no better than the 6th (and quite possibly the 7th) best Beatles album (running behind the White Album, Abbey Road, Revolver, Rubber Soul, and Beatles For Sale – and neck-and-neck with the underrated Let It Be). Admittedly, that’s a murderer’s row of great albums, but until I can rent a time machine to experience its ‘cultural impact’ first hand, I’m calling it overrated.


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