In Pursuit Of The Great White Whale
If you spend more time in dusty old record shops and on eBay than you should in the hope of finding long lost LPs from days gone by, then don’t worry, you’re not alone, as Neil Martin proves:
The great lost and forgotten artist or album has in recent years become something of a compulsive fixation for myself and many other obsessive music geeks. We trawl message boards, eBay, second hand and specialist record shops like bearded Ahabs hunting for our own personal Moby Dick – the record that for some reason everyone missed out on at the time and is now sitting there just waiting to be rediscovered and relaunched on a new audience. There are a lot of us out there and many have taken this task so seriously as to set up their own boutique record labels, such as Light In The Attic, 4 Men With Beards and Omnivore Recordings, specialising in tracking down and rereleasing these unheard gems.
Some of these albums are by recognised artists who tried to unsuccessfully step out from under the shadow of successful bands, some are established solo artists who just went too far out on a limb for the critics and the public of the time, some were successful at the time but had fallen out of print and been forgotten, some were never released in the first place due to fights with record labels or financial woes, some were obscure even then and suffered from small print runs resulting in original copies exchanging hands for extortionate prices until they were reissued.
What is it about them that excites some of us so much? Yes they are great records but is that simply it, or is there more to it? There is an element of snobbery to it, something of the elitist wanting to know about that obscure Brazilian tropicalia LP or that hard to find afrobeat album. I suppose the ease of access to most music now is also part of it, sometimes it’s nice to do a bit of work to find and find out about something. More than that though there is the thrill of discovery, the knowledge there is stuff out there that even the most anal of us might have missed. The possibility that my favourite ever album or song could still be out there just waiting to be heard. No matter how much music I listen to, there is still more to hear, more to learn and more to love.
Here are some of my own personal favourites plucked from the vaults of the 60s and 70s, which seem to have a never-ending supply of forgotten, ignored or never heard classics. Some of these are more lost and forgotten than others but all are fantastic albums that everyone should hear. The accompanying mixtape at the top of this post has something from all of these albums, so do check it out.
Jim Sullivan – UFO (1969)
Jim Sullivan’s VW Beetle was found abandoned in New Mexico in 1975. He has never been seen since. He left us with this phenomenal folk-rock masterpiece featuring Phil Spector’s Wrecking Crew as his backing band.
Darondo – Listen To My Song: The Music City Sessions (2011)
Incredible Bay Area funk soul from the early 70s. This compilation is made up of sessions that had been sat on by a record label for 40 years due to streetwise hipster William “Darondo” Pulliam falling out with the label owners.
Jim Ford – Harlan County (1969)
Described by Sly Stone as, “the baddest white man on the planet” Jim Ford’s Harlan County is an absolute monster of country funk. Ford was a gifted and renowned session musician but his solo work was somehow ignored by the mainstream.
Donnie & Joe Emerson – Dreamin’ Wild (1979)
Self released by the self taught Emerson brothers whose dad built a studio on their farm to enable them to make music. Weird psychedelic pop that is clearly a huge influence on the likes of Ariel Pink.
Michael Chapman – Fully Qualified Survivor (1970)
Dark stoner folk rock featuring some blistering spaced out guitar work from Martian Spider Mick Ronson.
Rockin’ Horse – Yes It Is (1971)
A one-off band formed purely for the studio to make the great 60s pop record. Unfortunately it wasn’t the 60s anymore and despite its brilliance it failed to win over the critics or public and sank without a trace.
Emmitt Rhodes – The American Dream (1971)
Recorded in 1969 as a contractual obligation but released in 1971 after 2 successful solo albums for his new label. The insanely talented Rhodes out McCartneys McCartney with an album of exquisite baroque pop music.
Gene Clark – No Other (1974)
An opulent and bloated, dark and paranoid country folk masterpiece that was a critical and commercial disaster that pretty much finished former Byrd Gene Clark’s career. Probably the closest anyone has come to actually realising Gram Parsons’ “Cosmic American Music” and quite possibly my favourite album of all time.
Judee Sill – Judee Sill (1971)
Bewitching and intricate folk pop from a tragic heroin addicted genius. Could have been huge but she faded as her heroin use increased and eventually died of an overdose, unknown, in 1979.
Chris Bell – I Am The Cosmos (1992)
Recorded over 2 years between 1974 and 1975 the only solo album from the less celebrated Big Star was finally released in 1992. Fragile, beautiful, dark and poignant pop that will break your heart.
Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue (1977)
The sexiest, darkest and most tragic of all of The Beach Boys as well as being the only one who actually surfed. Dennis’ only solo album is an incredible, complex, drug fuelled behemoth that foreshadows the likes of The Flaming Lips by more than 20 years
Bill Fay – Time Of The Last Persecution (1971)
Enigmatic progressive folk. Portentous and biblical, intense and introspective, Fay’s dark and haunting folk songs have found a significant audience 40 years on with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy being perhaps his most famous and vocal advocate.
John Phillips – John, the Wolf King of L.A. (1970)
Mamas & Papas mainman John Phillips released this magnificent country flavoured LP just after The Mamas & The Papas officially split but with lawsuits hanging over all of the band as this was released the label were discouraged from promoting it.
15.60.75 – Jimmy Bell’s Still In Town (1976)
Otherwise know as The Numbers Band are said to be the inspiration for Dan Ackroyd to form The Blues Brothers. One listen to this ferocious live album and you can see how anyone who heard them would want to form a band immediately. The greatest live album ever made.
Pastor TL Barrett & The Youth For Christ Choir – Like A Ship…(Without A Sail) (1971)
Righteous gospel soul album from Chicago pastor and activist Barrett accompanied by the glorious backing vocals of the Youth For Christ Choir. Barrett’s determination to keep children from Chicago’s mean streets resulted in this stone cold classic long revered by record collectors.
D.R. Hooker – The Truth (1972)
Messianic psychedelic lounge-core anyone?
Words by Neil Martin.