Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Albums That Get No Love (Except Maybe From You)

Here are a few of mine, courtesy of the Wayback machine. Some of these albums got a fair amount of attention back in the day, but don't go looking for them on your favorite Oldies station. They're long forgotten now. And they shouldn't be.

The Brooooooce Wing

Broooooooce casts a long shadow, and his influence on the rock 'n roll of the late seventies and eighties is incalculable. There would probably be no Tom Petty without Bruce. There would almost certainly be no John Cougar Mellencamp. Here are some folks who stood in that shadow, and who stepped out to make some memorable music of their own.

Gary "U.S." Bonds -- Dedication, On the Line

Bonds had several R&B hits in the early '60s, and Bruce covered his "Quarter to Three" in almost every one of his concerts during the first few years of his superstardom. He repaid the favor in the early '80s by resurrecting Bonds' long-dormant career, producing and playing on most of the tracks (along with the rest of the E Street band), and contributing several new songs that wouldn't officially appear in the Bruce canon until the Tracks box set many years later. Bonds' versions of "Rendezvous" and "Love's on the Line" are better than Bruce's.

Iron City Houserockers -- Iron City Houserockers, Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive

Led by the incomparably named Joe Grushecky, this blue-collar Pittsburgh bar band made tough, literate rock 'n roll. It wasn't better than Bruce's early '80s work. But it was better than anything the Melonhead did, at least up until Scarecrow.

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes -- I Don't Want to Go Home, This Time It's For Real, Hearts of Stone

Pity poor John Lyon. Cursed to be from the same hometown as a rock 'n roll icon, his music was constantly compared to his better-known friend. Which is too bad, because Bruce wasn't really doing variations on classic R&B, and that's what Johnny did best. The albums started going south in the mid-'80s, but those first three albums are absolutely great. Hearts of Stone, in particular, is as good as anything Springsteen ever did. Five stars.

The Byrds Wing

Contrary to popular belief, REM did not invent jangly guitars. The Byrds did, with some admitted assistance from George Harrison on "Ticket to Ride." And these bands carried on in that grand tradition, often long after it was cool to do so.

Starry Eyed and Laughing -- Starry Eyed and Laughing, Thought Talk

The Byrds were has-beens when these albums were released in the mid-'70s. So these guys played Rickenbacker 12-strings and harmonized beautifully, and nobody cared. Disco and punk were on the horizon. But gorgeous songs with chiming guitar runs will never go out of style. These songs still sound as fresh to me as they did thirty years ago.

Guadalcanal Diary -- Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man, Jamboree, 2X4, Flip Flop

There was another hot band from Athens, Georgia out at the time these albums were recorded (the early '80s), so they mostly went unnoticed. They're great, and tremendously relevant examples of how to incorporate spiritual themes and Christian imagery into contemporary songwriting in a non-cheesy way. Plus, in one of their non-Byrdslike moments, they recorded an absolutely sublime punk cover of "Kumbaya." No kidding.

The Bangles -- All Over the Place

Yeah, I know. But I'm telling you, that first album, long before they hit their commercial peak, is absolutely great. There are jangly guitar songs galore, and the best "We Can Work It Out" knockoff (here called "Tell Me") not recorded by The Beatles.


Anonymous said...

You're one of the few people I know outside of my immediate family (not sure if all of them are aware) who's familiar with the Iron City Houserockers and Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive. They were so obscure that I was shocked that I even found the album. I think I still have the LP. Maybe I'll play it tonight. And yes, Southside Johnny deserved a better fate than being the other guy from Asbury Park.

I'm also reminded of Marshall Crenshaw. Remember him? Can't remember the name of his albums, but I remember really liking all of the ones I heard, which would have been his earliest (for all I know, they were his only albums).

Andy Whitman said...

Scott, I'm a big fan of those Little Steven albums as well, particularly his first album (I believe) "Voice of America." In a time when every songwriter wants to try his or her hand at writing a protest anthem against the Buish administration, and few are doing it well, I want to point people back to that Little Steven album. That's how you do it.

Bill, I played a few songs from "Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive" last night in your honor. It still sounds great. And sure, I remember Marshall Crenshaw. He's still making albums, and although I don't think he's ever quite managed to top his first eponymous album, he's still doing good work. I reviewed his latest album in Paste about a year ago. And he recently appeared as a background vocalist on Dar Williams' latest album "My Better Self."

Anonymous said...

For the record, I agree on Little Steven and Gary U.S. Bonds. Those LP's also made it into my collection, at least the earliest ones. I'll have to review my LP's for more lovable obscurities.