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11:31 a.m. - July 04, 2005
A Blue Letter - Not A Hit, No Reason Why
During the time I had off work after Kristin was born, I had some time to work on my iPod’s music collection. I went through the vinyl that I had in the storage room (my turntable died in the move from Zionsville to Crawfordsville – I gave it a proper and respectful burial) and looked to see what albums and tracks I should download on iTunes.

One record that I spotted was the self-titled “Fleetwood Mac” album. I had got that on vinyl, used, for about $3 but hadn’t played it much because I wasn’t really using my turntable that much for the past five years or so. I knew the hits and radio cuts (“Rhiannon, “Over My Head”, “Monday Morning”, and “Say You Love Me”) but hadn’t really paid much attention to the rest of the record.

iTunes allows you to sample bits and pieces of each song before you download it – now while I do believe that many albums is an artistic statements as a whole, the iPod’s strength is it’s ability to shuffle amongst your entire digital catalog. So I’ve rather much just cherry picked the best tracks off most of my CDs and put them on the computer, and when I download albums I usually give each track a sample listen before downloading.

On this occasion, I spun through the tracks and picked three others besides the four hits (sorry Stevie Nicks fans, “Landslide” wasn’t one of them because I use my iPod at work for the most part and I really need and desire the more up-tempo numbers). I downloaded them, put them in a couple of playlists I have for new purchases, and transferred the songs onto my iPod.

As I was listening to the playlist of new songs, “Blue Letter” off of that record came on. Immediately it caught my ear. It was a typical Lindsey Buckingham pop song, which meant it had an interesting construction, a strong melody, powerful and sweet harmonies, and a very catchy chorus. The song was put together very well. Sure, the lyrics may be a bit slight, but this is a simple, elegant, classic pop song. It is what it is.

This song soon became one of my favorites and I spun it all the time. I put it on several play lists (which means those of you who get CDs from me on a semi-regular or irregular basis should watch for this track coming soon!). I wondered what would have happened if the suits in the record company decided to release it as a single back in 1975. I am sure it would have been a super-spectacular smash hit.

Then I got to thinking again – there are songs like that on almost every record of quality and distinction. Hidden gems amongst the hits, waiting to be played, enjoyed and treasured. This is one huge reason why I hate current commercial radio and its regimented playlists – there’s no way to have a song break out of an album that’s not pre-ordained to be a hit. I’m sure if you stuck “Blue Letter” on an AOR station no one would care – heck people may relish something besides the same old same old.

And if people want the safety and security of the same old same old then they’re missing out.

Here’s a list of other songs I’m currently digging that are on some older records by groups that have some significant hits, but for some reason weren’t released as singles. Maybe you’ve heard them before – they are all worth seeking out.

I know this list doesn’t have songs listed by the more obscure, less popular artists (there are always hidden gems on those records because the album itself is hidden) but I just felt these cuts deserved some acclaim.

“Georgia” – Boz Scaggs. This is off of “Silk Degrees” which had some monster hits in “Lowdown”, “Lido Shuffle”, and “We’re All Alone”. (The smartass in me says this is the best album Toto ever did, since almost the entire band is playing on it, but they don’t sing or write any songs, they just play). This is a very classy, up-tempo song with some interesting horn charts and string arrangements, but it’s a punchy tune that could stand alone without the embellishments. And Boz nails a great vocal as well!

“You Can’t Hold On Too Long” – The Cars. Side two of “Candy-O” (boy, I’m showing my age, there, eh? Sides….heh!) has some great, mysterious songs on it, but this is currently my favorite. Ben Orr sings this little insidious number with the right amount of scolding and sneering. It has all of the typical elements of the early Cars (hot guitar lead, keyboard flourishes that accent the melody but don’t dominate the song)What clinches it for me is the instrumental transition between the chorus and the verse – the staccato notes that lead into a great drum fill by David Robinson. (I’ll never understand why they went to totally syn-drums later in their career).

“For No One” – The Beatles. It’s almost cheating to put anything by the Beatles on here. For every song that’s on the radio, there’s one just as good that is not. This cut, though; I feel gets shoved aside a bit. It’s on “Revolver” which has scads of groundbreaking tunes too numerous to mention. But this is Paul McCartney at his best, a level that he was unable to sustain after the Beatles broke up. The arrangement is simple and elegant, and the use of a classical horn is the clincher to my ears. “Eleanor Rigby” stole the thunder, but “For No One” is just as, or even more worthy of accolades.

“Secret Journey” – The Police. “Ghost in the Machine” was a huge smash, with two big hits. This was snuck out as a single, and only went to #46. It’s a moody piece, with an atmospheric intro, classic Police guitar riffs and bass lines, mysterious lyrics and a hooky chorus. It deserved a much higher chart status because it’s an excellent cut.

“Goin’ Back” – The Byrds. “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” really didn’t have hits, but the Byrds had plenty of hit singles. I can’t think of one of the hits that I like better than this one (and I just get a rush when I hear “Eight Miles High”). It’s a simple, pastoral song about youth and innocence, with a great pop arrangement. The vocal harmonies are stunning and stellar, made even more incredible due to the fact that it’s just Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman singing them – David Crosby flipped out and had left the band at the time.

“Moonage Daydream” – David Bowie. I knows that “Suffragette City” gets plenty of radio play on classic rock stations, and you once in a while hear “Lady Stardust” and “Starman” (the only single off the record), but this is the track for me off the “Ziggy Stardust” (no, I’m not typing in the entire title – I’m stubborn that way). It kicks off strong with insistent guitars, and then lopes into almost gentle arrangement full of pop flourishes.

“James” and “Restless” – The Bangles. Not many people know of the “All Over the Place” album, and if they do, they just know “Hero Takes a Fall”. But this record is packed with songs like this – and I waver between “James” or “Restless” as being the cream of the crop. Again, just simple pop songs but they’re catchy, well constructed, and have great harmonies and melodies. What more do you want?

“This Whole World” – The Beach Boys. “Sunflower” is the best Beach Boys album no one has heard. “Pet Sounds” is the greatest record known in the history of the world, but “Sunflower” is a strong record. This cut is absolutely stunning – a pop masterpiece in less than two minutes. It’s an impeccable Brian Wilson production with a strong, beautiful melody, a unique arrangement, and classic Beach Boys backing vocals. Why doesn’t anyone really know this song? I blame the time it was released (1970) and radio’s pig-headed reluctance to venture out and break out of the ordinary.

There are many more like this in my collection – and I’m sure you have your own list of hidden favorites. There’s nothing like a great tune on a summer day – and if you seek out these songs you’ll be sure to have a smile on your face for sure.

 

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