8:51 a.m. - March 03, 2007
As previously announced, my theme was “Songs That Should Have Been Hits”, and I made a double CD set after selecting, initially, over 120 songs that fit that criteria. The following two CDs are the ones that made the final cut. I tried to pick the songs based on if the song could have either been realistically a hit in its era, or is just filled with enough pop hooks and other goodness that it could have been a hit in some other era if the era that it was released in wasn’t favorable.
Or, if I liked it and sang along.
Well, it was tough narrowing down these songs. Some of them were on the Billboard Top 100 but very low down in the chart and not anywhere near the top 40. Some of the songs I had considered were in the top 40, like “Sugar On Sunday” by the Clique, which is a fabulous piece of bubblegum / sunshine pop by Tommy James that NO ONE remembers, really, but it hit #22 on the charts.
Anyway, here’s what I chose from my collection. Agree? Disagree? Let me know, but these are SONGS THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN HITS.
(This is LONG – OK. But it’s the weekend. You have time…)
1. The Train From Kansas City – The Shangri-Las. This was just a b-side of a single that hit only #99 on the charts, but it’s been rescued from obscurity by artists as diverse as Superchunk and Neko Case, of late. The production is as heavy as anything the group did, as Shadow Morton knew exactly what he was doing. Pop gurus Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich wrote this number, and if it had been released as a single, definitely would have been a smash.
2. I’ll Keep Holding On – The Action. A mod group from the UK that never got any chart action, the Action could have scored big with this one given different circumstances and a US release. The arrangement is great, with the group providing outstanding backing to Reg King’s pleading lead vocals. The band is tight as well, with a great bass line from Mike Evans (though it needed to be mixed higher up – but that was the 60’s for you) and solid drumming from Roger Powell. The Who and Small Faces garnered hits with lesser songs.
3. Sorry – The Easybeats. Now they had some hits in both the US and UK, but this was an Australian hit only. In fact, I think it was the last Australian single before they decamped to the UK. The solo rocks hard for a mid-60’s guitar solo, and the group sounds like they’re having fun, and that’s all you need in rock-and-roll.
4. One Day Week – The International Submarine Band. Yes, this is the band Gram Parsons formed before he went to the Byrds, and yes, their one album is pretty much country-rock (before they had a name for it), but this is a classic mid-60’s rock-and-roll tune with a great electric piano line, cool guitar fills and some great bass drum action. A smart record company could have gotten this song out there for the kids to frug to.
5. This Whole World – The Beach Boys. Sunflower was a criminally ignored album to begin with, but to not release this song as an a-side of a single (it was a b-side to “Slip On Through” a good Dennis Wilson tune but more geared to FM radio than AM pop radio) was a tragedy. What was Reprise records thinking? It’s only one of the best Brian Wilson songs ever, sang impeccably by Carl with Brian himself helping on the falsetto. The group vocals are also among the strongest ever, with Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston standing out.
6. Lucky Day – The Rascals. This was released in 1972, long after they had their run at pop success and teenage relevance, yet this song is everything you would want in a single at that time. A breezy melody, with a neat hook and an interesting arrangement draws you in, and soon you are singing along and tapping your foot. Mind you, the bass line is amazing (played by a studio hand, since the Rascals were just a duo at this time). Alas, this was ignored, as the album hit only #180 on the chart and this single never charted.
7. Only One Winner – The Nazz. There was probably no way that this song would have been a hit. For one, the band didn’t exist anymore. For two, it was released on an album (Nazz III) that was thrown out there to fulfill obligations. For three, the producers erased Todd Rundgren’s lead vocal and replaced it with Stewkey’s, who supposedly disliked Rundgren’s move to this kind of adult pop. Whatever, it’s a killer track that should have been a big hit, and I keep saying this, but SOMEONE on that darn American Idol show should claim it as their own.
8. When My Baby’s Beside Me – Big Star. In a different time and place, this would have been a big hit, but in 1972, this kind of smart pop-rock fell on deaf ears. Chris Bell sings a great lead, the backing is tight and the song is catchy and sounds like it definitely could have been blasting out on a transistor radio while you were catching some rays at the pool.
9. Blue Letter – Fleetwood Mac. I’ve wasted a lot of bandwith on this song in the past, but it’s still clear to me that had they released this as a single, it would have been a big hit. Great singing, the usual performance from John McVie and Mick Fleetwood, great solo from Lindsey Buckingham and great backing vocals from Stevie. You don’t need anything else.
10. Prime Time – The Tubes. I don’t think radio knew what the heck to do with the Tubes. They had some songs that definitely couldn’t be put on the air, and then they came up with this pretty much straight forward rock song, even though it came from a concept album.
11. Tomorrow Night –Shoes. They were one of the first DIY acts that actually went somewhere besides going to their day jobs at Hardees. Again, their sound was anachronistic for the times, but in several eras they could have had some hit songs. The harmonies are terrific, too.
12. James – The Bangles. Yes, they got hits later, but none of their later content matched their debut All Over The Place. This is a delicious little nugget that showcases the tight songwriting, playing and harmonies of the band as they were originally conceived. Debbi Peterson shines on guitar and backing vocals (as usual, and she wrote it, too) and Susannah Hoffs’ lead is strong and confident.
13. We Could Just Die – Permanent Green Light. Michael Quercio didn’t achieve chart status with the Three O’Clock, and Permanent Green Light was no doubt a lost cause as well, as they were signed to a small independent label. But, this has a great hook and tough and smart guitar sounds.
14. She’s Fine – The Stems. They were definitely a retro band, and with a name like the Stems, you wonder what they were really up to. Another act singed to a small label, and Australian to boot, if this was allowed on the radio in certain years I’m sure it would have sizzled up the charts because of the hook and all around goodness.
15. Ticket Booths And Turnstiles – The California Oranges. This song would just sound great coming out of a car radio. I like how the production is right there, in your ear, and the unique-sounding harmonies. It’s a great lost piece of recent power pop.
16. Rockin’ And Rollin’ With My Rock And Roll Rock And Roller – The Shazam. For one, the title is the best.title.ever. For two, the song is equal to the task. A great hook, with a hard edge and a sing-along chorus.
17. Wig Wam Bam – Sweet. Oh, this was HUGE in England, like all things glam. But, surprisingly, after “Little Willy” became a smash here in the States, this, a much better song, did NOTHING on the charts. “Try a little touch / Try a little too much / Just try a little Wig Wag Bam” – how could you resist? I think the record company and radio dropped the ball here.
18. Funky To The Bone – Freddi/Henchi and the Soul Setters. Speaking of dropping the ball, it seems that this was only issued as a PROMO single, and then withdrawn. Why? Was it just too funky for mass consumption? Oh, this had the guitar riff, the groove, the hook, everything. I love the grunty sounds of the organ under the vocals, and then the organ solo is just aces. Certainly, Sly and James Brown made the airwaves safe for funk, so this could have been a contender.
19. Just Can’t Wait – J. Geils Band. The opening track to the great Love Stinks album, this rather much stiffed as a single (#78) and it really shouldn’t have. It sounded new wave enough with Seth Justman’s synths, but had a great hook and a good solo by J. Geils. Heck, I don’t even think they played it on FM radio. Losers.
20. Echo Beach – Martha & The Muffins. This song was a hit in Canada and the UK (#10), but was only a cult fave here amongst those who dug that new wave groove. Was it the name of the band that game programmers pause? Dunno, but Martha Johnson was a pretty good lyricist and the sound was definitely not a generic new wave sound.
21. Fantastic Day – Haircut 100. Believe it or not, the second side of Pelican West was stronger than the side that had the hit singles in the States. This hit #9 in the UK and was another great slice of pop confection.
22. Sorry Again – Velocity Girl. Sure, it probably was hard for a tuneful semi-grungy band to get heard on the radio in the early 90’s, even if they WERE on Sub Pop records, but this song definitely should have been heard. Early Velocity Girl had a lot of atmospheric noise, mixing Bridget Cross’ great melodies and voice down low. But on Simpatico! her voice was brought up higher in the mix and the result is this could-have-been-a-contender.
23. Certain Kind Of Girl – The Producers. The only thing that people remember about this group was that the bald dude played the keytar. But they had their moments, including this piece of classic power pop with a riff, a hook, and a neat sound. They had a video for it, but it didn’t chart as a single, even though a lesser song on their debut did.
24. Oblivious – Aztec Camera. A very tuneful song that hit the top 20 in the UK, Aztec Camera were always just a cult band here in the US, but doggone it, this would have sounded great on the radio, you know. Roddy Frame was just 18 when he wrote this, too. Wow.
25. Love Action – The Human League. For years, I had thought this was a hit here in the US, since MTV played the video quite a bit. Guess not. This song was a #3 smash in the UK in 1981, a few months before “Don’t You Want Me Baby” hit. I dig the bass synth line – it reminds me a bit of some Motown lines in an odd way.
26. Passing Strangers – Ulttravox. This is an ultra cool track from Vienna that I thought could have been a great single to introduce Ultravox to the States, instead of the moody title track. Ah, what do I know? The Brits ignored this as well.
Disc Two (See, It’s A Long One. I told ya so!)
1. Wonder – The Gants. It’s hard to believe they were from Mississippi, because the singer does his best faux-British sound here. They were one of countless garage-rock bands that filled the scene during the British Invasion, but they had some talent and good original songs, as illustrated by this number. Yet their record company insisted they record mostly covers, so songs like “Wonder” were buried. It’s too bad.
2. Any Time You Want Love – The Dave Clark Five. They had plenty of hits, and a lot of their album tracks were definite filler, but not all of them were. They had the heaviest bass of any of the original British Invasion groups, and a great sense of humor and fun. I wish Dave Clark would allow his original albums to be re-released, because they were decent.
3. Roses And Rainbows – Danny Hutton. This was a minor hit single by Hutton, who was a member of Brian Wilson’s entourage. His group had the first crack at “Darlin’” by Brian Wilson, but Mike Love objected and the Beach Boys hurriedly cut their own version and released it as a single, undercutting Hutton’s group. That group later evolved into Three Dog Night. Oops. As for this song, it’s just a pleasant piece of sunshine pop that only hit #73 nationally.
4. Picture Book – The Kinks. At this time, the Kinks were pretty much ignored EVERYWHERE because they just weren’t in step with the popular trends in either the US or the UK. This is a cut off of The Village Green Preservation Society, and you may recognize it from its usage on a commercial for HP printers a few years ago.
5. Say Those Magic Words – The Birds. A band that had a couple of brief moments in the UK, but weren’t really given much of a chance to shine, really, except for a couple of TV shows and an appearance in The Deadly Bees, a wretched movie that’s been given the MST3K treatment. This coulda, woulda, shoulda been a hit had it been properly released and looked after, but noper, it wasn’t.
6. Nobody Knows – The Raspberries. The Raspberries had some hits, but a lot of their catalog was overlooked since they were ‘teen idols’, allegedly. This definitely wasn’t a teen idol song, but if released as a single it could have been a hit. It’s got a great hook, chorus, and harmonies, and that’s all you need.
7. Early Morning Cold Taxi – The Who. Not only was this not a hit, this wasn’t even RELEASED by the Who. And that is something I don’t understand. Was it because Roger Daltrey wrote this, and not Townshend? Well, probably not since the Who filled up A Quick One with songs by the other Who members in an effort to get them royalties. I guess for whatever reason it didn’t fit in with the rest of The Who Sell Out, but it could have been a non-LP single side, for sure.
8. New Kind Of Love – The Mysteries Of Life. Yes, they were a local band (or are, I guess they’re kind of still together in a sorta kinda way, maybe) but they were on RCA records, and they had some hipster cred, since Freda Love Boner was in the Blake Babies with Juliana Hatfield (remember when she had cred?) . Sure, this was on a stop gap EP released on an independent label, but it’s a darn nifty tune and should have been a hit, ya know. It has all of the elements, just not the pub.
9. You Won’t Be Happy – The Paul Collins Beat. Go figure, the Knack hit it big, and the Paul Collins beat languishes, yet Mr. Collins constantly wrote better songs, and his band was tighter and rocked harder than the Knack. I guess the little girls don’t always understand, do they? (Officially, they were just The Beat, but there was a great band in the UK with that name as well, so hence the Paul Collins appendage)
10. Every Word Means No – Let’s Active. A catchy chorus, a neat hook, and you can sing along to it even if it contains the word ‘anathema’. Of course, if you Google the words, they’re wrong, because those bozos in Smashmouth, who covered this song in a ham-fisted way for the TV show Friends couldn’t make out the right lyrics. Mo-ron.
11. Half A Heart – Tommy Conwell. Well, his band was called “The Young Rumblers” and I loved an independent release that circulated amongst us college radio types. He came out of Philly on the heels of the Hooters, but his first album was a bit overproduced at times, and the song that I loved as a college radio DJ was marred by an overdone introduction. This was the second song on the album, and could have been a smash in the era of Bruce Springsteen and the Hooters.
12. Twist Of The Knife – The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Fate and fame are fickle beasts. The T-Birds released four great albums (not on iTunes) before finally hitting with “Tuff Enuff” and “Wrap It Up”, and then slid into “let’s make sure we sound JUST LIKE the hits” mode. When that proved a dead end, and Jimmy Vaughn left, Duke Robillard and Kid Bangham come on board, and this was the first track on Walk That Walk, Talk That Talk. If “Tuff Enuff” was a hit, this definitely could have been one too. It slides into a great groove, and Kim Wilson’s vocals are dead on.
13. Loved One’s Lies – The Jupiter Affect. Hey, it’s the same guy from Permanent Green Light! Yep, it sure is, still writing and recording power-pop gems that would sound great on the radio, and still releasing them to a small cult following. Ah, well. Blast it out on your computer speakers anyway, and hopefully someone will hear it and want to know who it is!
14. Flavor Of The Month – The Posies. Oh, they could have had a gazillion hit singles if I had my way, but this would have fit in perfectly during the grunge years. It was tuneful enough for the radio, but had that grungy crunch as well. Oh, and it’s got some cowbell lurking in the deep background, and you know what the doctor ordered? More cowbell!
15. Across The Tracks – Nils Lofgren. His career is full of could-have-had or should-have-had hits, first as the leader of Grin, and then on his own. He made a name for himself by jumping on a trampoline in concert, but his songs were pretty nifty, though. Yet he’s mostly known as a sideman to Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. Ah, well.
16. Earn Enough For Us – XTC. While they had plenty of hits in the UK, XTC was always just a cult band here in the States, due to the quirkiness of their sound and lyrics. Yet, on this release, Todd Rundgren smoothed all of that out while still keeping the good stuff, and this could have been a breakthrough had radio cooperated.
17. Never Say Never – that dog. No, it doesn’t hurt to be the daughter of a record executive, but it also doesn’t hurt that Anna Waronker could write and play great pop – rock songs. She’s a surprisingly loud guitarist, given her sometimes sweet voice and gooey subject manner. The Haden sisters (oh, Petra…Petra…Petra…) provide great backups and this song has a great riff and a neat synth hook. Wasn’t radio (OK, mainstream radio) paying attention?
18. This Time – INXS. The first two INXS records that were released in the US had hits (“The One Thing”, “Original Sin”) but they really didn’t burn up the charts. When Listen Like Thieves came out, this was the opening single. While I thought it was a very worthy song, it stalled at #81 and I thought their goose was cooked. Then “What You Need” came out as a single. Shows what I know. This is still a great song that sounds good on the radio and deserved better than that paltry chart showing.
19. You Thought – The Go-Go’s. Talk Show’s hits sounded claustrophobic, really. Sure, they were great songs but the production was very limiting. This was just thought of album filler, written by bassist Kathy Valentine and drummer Gina Shock, but it’s got a more open sound, with a melancholy sounding synth line opening the record, and great backing vocals behind one of Belinda Carlisle’s best lead vocals. However, I think Charlotte Caffey’s lead is a bit too distorted, but that may be because she was using distortion to cover up her smack addiction.
20. Awful – Hole. Say what you will about Courtney Love, and I know EVERYONE has something to say about her, she can write a good tune. This got a pretty good chart rating on “Modern Rock Tracks”, but you know that’s not the Hot 100, right?
21. Better Than Nothing – Jennifer Trynin. I do know MTV played this song ONCE in a while, because that’s where I heard it. This got some play at some alternative and college radio stations, but its pop goodness combined with guitar crunch could have definitely translated over to mainstream radio. You know, if they cared about things like that.
22. Kate – Sambassadeur. You may have heard this on a commercial, but still it’s kind of obscure. Yet, it’s a great little pop nugget that deserves a greater hearing. I mean, they’re a lot better than Roxette, Aqua, and Ace of Base, ya dig?
23. Second Choice – Any Trouble. A British group on Stiff Records, they never really broke through but recorded a lot of little pop gems like this faux-ska / reggae tune that sounded great then and still sound great today.
24. Date Stamp – ABC. The Lexicon Of Love had some many great tunes that some were destined to be left aside, but this one definitely could have been a big hit had the record company decided to put it out there as a single. The intro is moody and atmospheric, and then it kicks into a middle tempo groove that has a great funk bass line and typically erudite lyrics from Martin Fry. The Trevor Horn production is terrific as well.
25. I Got News For You – Jane Child. Remember her? Crazy looking chick who had a big synth-pop hit with “Don’t Wanna Fall In Love”? Well, her debut record had this gem as well, which could have definitely stormed the pop chart. Perhaps they only wanted one single from a person with that nose-chain thing deal bit?
Well, there you go. A two-CD set full of goodness that could have been hits! Well, they are in the Smediverse, and that’s OK by me!