Great Underrated and Obscure Rock Albums

Although I still have a working turntable, a Kenwood that dates back to the early 1970s, I don’t get around to playing my old LPs much. It’s tough to play those old 12-inch vinyls in the car, although it amuses me to think of such a player. Some of my favorites I’ve replaced with CDs when I could find them.

There was a time when I would put an LP on the turntable, carefully angle the speakers in the left and right corners of the room, turn up the volume, lay down on the carpet and immerse.  I don’t do that very often anymore.

But all that music is still with me — it shaped my times and my sense of who I am and what’s important.  I’m going to go through a few of the greats in my collection and give them some honor.

Derek & the Dominos

Derek and DomAt the top of the list is Derek & the Dominos In Concert recorded in 1970 and released in 1973. This is Eric Clapton at the height of his powers, accompanied by Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon, who had all played with Clapton before in Delaney, Bonnie & Friends. There is no “Layla” on this double-disked live album, I’m happy to report, just because that song for me has been played to death, and, more unhappily, no Duane Allman.

But what there is, is some of the finest rock guitar you will ever hear. Clapton’s playing is passionate, even raging, and endlessly inventive. This is not some meandering rock jam noodling, but fire and brimstone with relentless work by Carl Radle on bass and Jim Gordon on drums.

Highlights include “Why Does Love Got to be So Sad” and “Got to Get Better in a Little While.”

Derek FillmoreThis album doesn’t seem to be available on CD, but what is more easily found is Live at the Fillmore which was taken from the same live sessions and includes six of the same cuts as on the In Concert album.

There is an especially tragic story associated with the band’s drummer Jim Gordon, who played with everybody from the Everly Brothers to Harry Nilsson to Steely Dan. He was later diagnosed with schizophrenia after murdering his mother in the 1980s. He is apparently still incarcerated.

Manassas

ManassasAnother underrated classic is Stephen Stills’ Manassas album, from 1972. Although this was viewed as a Stephen Stills’ vehicle, the band Manassas also included Chris Hillman of the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, the famed steel guitar player Al Perkins and drummer Dallas Taylor who played on Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s Deja Vu album.

In its original form on two LPs, each side was named and the songs thereon arrayed as a kind of suite. The sides were called “The Raven”, “The Wilderness”, “Consider” and “Rock & Roll is Here to Stay.”

Some of my favorite tunes are “Johnny’s Garden,” “It Doesn’t Matter” and the wonderful jam track “The Treasure (Take One).”

Manassas PiecesThis is rock, country, folk and latin music all rolled up in one. Unfortunately, the band did not survive for long. It broke up after a second album, Down the Road, said to be not very good, but which I’ve never heard.

But recently there’s been a compilation of some of Manassas’ material left in the studio, called Pieces which shows, as some have commented, what could have been the basis for a much better second album than the one they turned out. I got this the other day, and it reminds me how much this band meant to me.

Joe Walsh

I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to Joe Walsh’s The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get, but it has been a friend in good times and bad.

This was Walsh’s (with his band Barnstorm in the background) commercial breakthrough album in 1973 on the strength of “Rocky Mountain Way.”  Walsh shares the vocals and songwriting with drummer Joe Vitale, bassist Kenny Passarelli, and keyboardist Rocke Grace.

Walsh,-Joe-The-Smoker-You-Drink-The-Player-You-GetSome commentators have described the production and engineering of this album as impeccable, and it is a fine sounding piece of work on vinyl.

But it’s the songs of course that make it, and each one I find tremendously evocative.  But “Meadows” and “Bookends” really stand out. There is something so thoughtful about this album.  It’s up there with the best rock music coming out of this continent.

I’m out here in the meadow
Part of an old stone wall
Stand here because he said so
Waitin’ around to fall

It also illustrates to me what has been lost with the current regime of iTunes and mp3s. Although there is no obvious link between all the songs, they hang together as a single cohesive entity that most of the young whippersnappers these days won’t realize they’re missing given the current state of music (pardon me while I work on my old-fogie routine…. ).

Dave Davies

Dave Davies, of course, was lead guitarist, and singer along with his brother Ray of the great British band, the Kinks.

But in 1980 he went solo with the album Dave Davies (AFL1-3603), with the arresting image of a bar code (just then starting to appear everywhere) instead of a head on the cover. The album title alluded to its own catalogue code.

Davies AFL1-3603The music inside rocks. Just listen to “Nothing Left to Lose”: “Well if we’re all so clever and technology rules / Why is it we’re so scared / I’ve got a rockin’ psychosis / And my juke box’s blown a fuse.”

“Imagination’s Real” is a great rollicking song as well. I’m listening to it now, and it makes me want to stand up and move around.

There have been rumours for years of the Kinks getting back together, but they are all in their sixties, and there have been deaths and illness among band members. Dave Davies suffered a stroke in 2003 that took away his ability to play guitar, but he has apparently recovered. Ray Davies continues to perform.

Hound Dog Taylor and the House Rockers

One of the last LPs I ever bought was Genuine HouseRocking Music, a posthumous collection of Hound Dog Taylor’s I found in a remaindered sale many years ago. I had never heard of him before, showing my lack of true musical education, but his ecstatically laughing face on the cover led me true. I wish I’d come across some of his other albums such as Hound Dog Taylor and the House Rockers or Natural Boogie released on Alligator Records.

hounddogHound Dog was one strange dude, but a happy one, at least when he was playing his blues rock. Check out this video of him at an Ann Arbor music festival probably in the 1970s (he died in 1975). The video is poor quality but the spirit is there. (Here’s another from the same time, and yet another showing a TV presentable version….)

He was famous for having six fingers on his left hand.

Here’s an excerpt from the liner notes for the album (another feature of LPs sadly missing from the smaller format CDs) by Bruce Iglauer, the House Rocker manager:

taylor6“They were quite a sight on the bandstand. Hound Dog, perched on his folding chair, stomping both feet to keep time, grinning his millions-of-teeth grin, pausing between songs only long enough to light up a Pall Mall and to tell a totally incomprehensible joke (which he’d interrupt halfway through, cackling with laughter and burying his face in his hands), before tearing into another no-holds-barred boogie.”

His long-time bandmates were also characters. They all argued fiercely offstage and were prone to pulling knives and even guns on each other.

Hound Dog liked to say, Iglauer reports, that “When I die, they’ll say, ‘he couldn’t play shit, but he sure made it sound good!’ ”

The John Hall Band

Moving to the more obscure, I’d like to mention the John Hall Band’s 1981 release All of the Above. This is probably more radio-friendly rock-pop than some of what I like, but the lyrics, the harmonies and the feeling made this one I played a lot.

Singer/songwriter/guitarist John Hall got his start with the soft-rock band Orleans (with which I’m unfamiliar, although I recall their songs, “Still the One” and “Dance with Me”). He and his wife wrote the song “Half Moon” which Janis Joplin recorded.

TheJohnHallBand1981The John Hall Band’s only hit apparently was “Crazy (Keep On Falling)” which is on this album. But I actually like “Can’t Stand to See You Go” more and especially “Earth Out Tonight”, the latter sung from the viewpoint of someone returning from the moon to see the girl he hopes still cares.

He performed (along with many others) at Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday celebration in 2009.

John Hall became a U.S. Congressman in New York from 2006 until defeated in the 2010 election; he has been active in environmental and drug policy reform.

Instructions

Moving from the obscure to the enigmatic, the Canadian band Instructions produced one self-named album in 1980 and then promptly disappeared.

InstructionsFor years I didn’t know who the band was… thinking Instructions was an album by the Fleshtones, a band I know little about, but who apparently make very different music than what’s on here. On the back of this LP it says “the fleshtones would like to express their gratitude to the many machines which made this project possible…” However, it seems that they were playing off the machine-flesh dichotomy rather than referring to the name of the band.

The little I know of the band Instructions comes from “drprogensteinphp” on YouTube. Take a look and listen at the two mixes from the album that he’s put up: Instructions – The Factory / OK / Cleek / Wicked Heart (Vinyl) and Instructions – So You Learn From Computers / Suburban Dream / Don’t Say Love / Naked Deer (Vinyl) .

He says the band was “a short lived Canadian New Wave/Progressive Rock band” and that they “came across sounding a bit like an Ultravox/Devo/Cars hybrid.” He also mentions that Canadian guitarist Domenic Troiano, who played with the James Gang and Guess Who, performed on the album.

I find the music to be quirky and catchy, with lines like “so you learn from computers… it must be time to go” and “where did you get your new tie… it looks real… I think I’ll burn it.” It’s interesting stuff culturally from 30+ years on, and expresses a viewpoint shared by the Dave Davies album: we are losing our humanity and our imagination as the technocracy develops…

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11 Comments on “Great Underrated and Obscure Rock Albums”

  1. bloglily Says:

    “he couldn’t play shit but he sure made it sound good” is going to be my motto from now on. I loved this compilation. You’ve got such a great collection of records — and such a good memory. xo

  2. fencer Says:

    Hey bloglily,

    So nice to hear from you… Yeah, I like that quote alot too. Something evocative about life buried in there…

    Regards

  3. Ben Hoffman Says:

    Me and my stoner friends listened to that Joe Walsh album regularly back in the late ’70s. Fun times.

  4. fencer Says:

    Hi Ben,

    Yes, in certain frames of mind, shall we say… even more dimensions could be found in the music.

    Regards


  5. First heard Taylor when a radio station was playing his stuff the night he died. Have three of his records. May have been all he made. Nobody played jump blues like Taylor. He was the greatest. Oh no, old records never die.

  6. fencer Says:

    Mr. Beer!

    I envy your Hound Dog Taylor collection. Something about the guy really appeals to me in addition to the full-on boogies… from the six fingers to the crazy infectious grin. No pretense I think is what it is….

    Regards


  7. Aside his unpretentiousness, having guns drawn on you repeatedly has a way of reinforcing that, perhaps Taylor’s appeal is that he is so American and lovable at the same time. Try and find some music by Cedell Davis, he might just hit you the same way Taylor does.

  8. fencer Says:

    Hi Mr. Beer,

    Thanks for your tip on Cedell Davis… (I read up on him a little… another intriguing blues guy who uses a butter knife instead of a slide because polio crippled his hands)… Next time I order from Amazon I’ll get one of his CDs.

    I wonder if he or Taylor used standard guitar tuning or one of the tunings to facilitate slide techniques. I would guess the latter.

    Regards

  9. stillsfan Says:

    Your first four albums are some of my favorites. I’m not sure how the Clapton fared on the charts, but many people regard his work with the Dominos as his peak, myself included. The Manassas double album reached number four nationally, so it culled more attention than many realize. It’s a masterwork for sure. Good list.

  10. stillsfan Says:

    Hey, by the way, pick up ‘Down the Road’. It’s not as good as the double LP, but there are worthwhile tracks like ‘Isn’t It About Time?’ which Stills has been performing again recently, a great anti-war track, the title track, and ‘Pensamiento’ which appears in instrumental form on ‘Pieces’.

  11. fencer Says:

    Hi stillsfan,

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting… I would like to hear that Down the Road album… I should check and see if it’s available on Amazon….

    Regards


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