December 2003

Unknown Classics of Classic Rock

Pick your favorite band and you can probably name the five or so tunes you will hear on classic rock radio. With the Beatles, it’s almost always a track from Abbey Road or The Beatles. The Who: Something from Who’s Next, and “Love, Reign O’er Me.” The Stones: Nothing pre-Begger’s Banquet and only “Sympathy for the Devil” from that. The classic stations with a lighter approach may throw in “Norwegian Wood” or “Under My Thumb,” but when was the last time you heard “Whiskey Man” from A Quick One or “You’re Going to Lose That Girl” from Help! on the radio? Your hairline was further forward and you were wearing bellbottoms.

FM radio also ignores huge chunks of rock history. You’ll rarely hear such significant bands as the Yardbirds, Buffalo Springfield, Quicksilver Messenger Service (aside from “Fresh Air”), Them, or the Small Faces.  The Byrds made ten LPs, but unless you own them you won’t hear “Have You Seen Her Face” or “Mr. Spaceman.” Instead, we’re led to believe that a middleweight band like Boston actually made an important contribution to rock and roll.

What follows in the list below is my attempt to remind readers my age of some great records they may have forgotten and to suggest to younger music fans that there’s more to classic rock than radio’s narrow focus reveals. I’m excluding soul music for the time being, since I want to put together a list of essential soul records for another time. It should go without saying, however, that any significant collection of music from the classic rock era should include such important soul albums as Otis Redding Sings Soul BalladsWhat’s Going On, and There’s a Riot Goin’ On.

I’ve chosen not to list albums by the Who, the Rolling Stones, or the Beatles because most of us know which albums to go to in order to rekindle our interest. Whenever I hear “Jigsaw Puzzle” from Begger’s Banquet, I remember why I love the Stones. Jimi Hendrix’s records never seem to lose their power to astonish, even after years of constant play.  “Purple Haze” appeared only briefly in a car ad recently, but it must have soon occurred to the advertiser that the song distracted people from noticing the car. Still, one can wish radio played more “Bold As Love” and less “Foxey Lady.”

I’m probably overemphasizing the period from about 1967 to 1970. If I were to point out great records from the last 30 or more years, I’d have to include Big Star, Nick Lowe, Graham Parker, Squeeze, and a lot more. How many more records would Elvis Costello have sold if radio had bothered to play him?  My goal here is to take a key period in rock history and try to broaden the definition of what should be considered classic.  Odyssey and Oracle and Village Green Preservation Society are every bit as innovative and moving as Abbey Road. The difference is that Abbey Road is an acknowledged rock classic and the other two have been ignored and forgotten.

I won’t comment about each title, except to say that  Nuggets, a compilation of singles from 1965 to 1969, includes “Psychotic Reaction” by Count Five. Those three minutes of music inspired more great rock bands than Boston’s and Journey’s entire recorded output.

Nuggets - Various (1972)
Odyssey and Oracle -The Zombies (1968)
Moby Grape (1967)
The Band (1969)
The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968)
Astral Weeks - Van Morrison (1968)
Third - Soft Machine (1970)
Happy Trails - Quicksilver Messenger Service (1969)
Darlings of Wapping Wharf Launderette (anthology) - Small Faces
Forever Changes - Love (1968)
Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus - Spirit (1970)
Burnt Weeny Sandwich - The Mothers of Invention (1970)
Sailor - The Steve Miller Band (1968)
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn - Pink Floyd (1967)
The Yardbirds Ultimate! (anthology)
Sweet Child - The Pentangle (1968)
Kick Out the Jams - MC5 (1969)
Fun House - The Stooges (1970)
Stand Up - Jethro Tull (1969)
Gasoline Alley - Rod Stewart (1970)
Then Play On - Fleetwood Mac (1969)
Mott the Hoople (1969)
Younger Than Yesterday - The Byrds (1967)
Buffalo Springfield (1967)
A Salty Dog - Procul Harum (1969)

...Joseph Taylor