Our Ten Best- Episode Three: Top Ten Underrated and Unknown Recordings of the Classic Rock Era
When analyzing the classic rock era, major band releases like The Who’s “Tommy,” Led Zeppelin’s “Runes album,” The Beatle’s “Sgt. Pepper,” The Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers,” The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s” Are You Experienced” and Pink Floyd’s, “ Dark Side of The Moon” and a host of others stand out. These masterpieces have stood the test of time and still sound fresh and unique today. The quality of the musicianship, brilliant lyrics and timeless melodies are what makes them a part of the classic rock lexicon.
But what about the bands that got lost in the shuffle? Due to an incredibly fertile and creative period for album rock, many lesser known bands, despite incredible talent, didn’t have major commercial success, but are nonetheless worth looking at and listening to. I could compile a few lists, but here is my countdown of the recordings that fell through the cracks, but deserve to be recognized.
1- Elf-“Elf” (1972)- This first effort by Ronnie James Dio’s hard rocking unit predates his tenure with Rainbow. Dio – whose real name is Ronald Padavona – played bass and sang on this blues-based good time rock and roll album. Two other releases followed, but they do not measure up. “Hoochie Coochie Lady” starts it off with Doug Thaler’s” Faces” –like rollicking piano and Dio’s strong and self-assured vocals leading the way. David Feinstein’s lone guitar attack, as second guitarist Nick Pantas had died in an automobile accident before the recording of “Elf,” complements underrated tracks like “Never More” and ‘Gambler, Gambler” and Dio’s vocal range and depth are out front on “Dixie Lee Junction.” This CD rocks from beginning to end with varying styles of rock and is a harbinger of things to come for the great Ronnie James Dio. To top it all off, this classic rock masterpiece features a scary elf on the cover.
2-Silverhead- “16 and Savaged” (1973)- Led by vocalist Michael Des Barres, who later married Pamela Des Barres – author of groupie tome “I’m With The Band”— and fronted the Jimmy Page produced Detective, this heavy glam rock, guitar-oriented unit should have hit the big time. “Hello New York” has a Rolling Stones feel, “Bright Light” rocks with intensity and the odd-timed “Heavy Hammer” is inventive and intricate in its construction. Des Barres later starred on “WKRP in Cincinnati” and Robbie Blunt (Robert Plant’s guitarist) and Nigel Harrison(bassist for Blondie) cut their teeth on this effort and a 1972 self-titled album.
3-Klaatu- 3:47 E.S.T. (1976)-Named after a character from the film “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” this Canadian trio’s release was shrouded in mystery and rumor spread that it was in fact the reunited Beatles under a different name. Backwards guitar and other psychedelic hallmarks plus well-crafted songs and first-rate vocals added to this myth. “Sub-Rosa Subway” has a Beatle pedigree, but most tracks are far removed from the Fab Four sound. “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft,” the most famous track (which was also covered by “The Carpenters”), is a breathtaking listening experience, while “California Jam” is original yet reminiscent of The Beach Boys. A friend of the group created the album’s artwork, a shining sun with band’s logo above it. The group enjoyed modest success in the U.S.A. because of the Beatle rumor.
4- Riot-“Rock City” (1977)-This scintillating, hard driving rock and roll album by a Brooklyn-based band (which I featured in my top ten-concert list) is A+ in terms of musical quality and expert musicianship. Guy Speranza’s dynamic vocal range and Mark Reale and Louie Kouvaris’ blistering guitar attack make this CD a must for rockers young and old. There is not a bad song on the disc. The title track is intense yet hooky, while “Warrior” and “Overdrive” are rock primers that do not let up. A second release with this line-up (“Narita”-named after a Japanese airport) also rocks hard.
5-Dust-Hard Attack (1972)- Another undiscovered Brooklyn-based gem featuring Kenny Aaronson on bass (Stories, Derringer), Marc Bell on drums (Richard Hell and the Voidoids and the Ramones) and Richie Wise on guitar and vocals. The band’s lyricist, Kenny Kerner, later co-produced Kiss’ “Kiss” and “Hotter than Hell” with Wise. There are intense rocking tracks like “Suicide” and the Led Zeppelin influenced instrumental “Ivory” with its scorching guitar. ”Thusly Spoken” is an acoustic piece accompanied by strings that provides a nice contrast to the hard rocking songs on the CD. This underground metal classic should have been commercially viable, but the strong vocals, sludgy yet technically proficient guitar work and a killer rhythm section tell the story.
6-Stretch-“You Can’t Beat Your Brain for Entertainment” (1976)-The second release by this English band fronted by Elmer Gantry (not his real name) and Kirby(Graham Gregory-guitar and vocals) takes us on a musical journey that traverses many styles of rock, from boogie to country to straight ahead, in your face blues rock. “That’s the Way the Wind Blows” is a rocking gem. This unit enjoys a place in rock trivia history. Mick Fleetwood, Fleetwood Mac’s drummer was going to take Stretch out on the road as an alternate for his band to fulfill contractual obligations, but reneged on the deal leaving the band in the lurch. They went out on the road anyway and fans soon noticed that this facsimile was missing a female singer that the “Mac” employed. There was tepid response to their shows at first, but soon some concertgoers realized these guys could rock and warmed up to them. They eventually wrote “Why Did You Do It,” a knock at Fleetwood, which appears on Elastique (1975).
7-Geordie-“Hope You Like It” (1973)- This band, from Newcastle, England, was the first recording venture for diminutive rock screecher and second AC/DC lead vocalist, Brian Johnson, featuring 50s retro style rock, pub rock and glam rock elements on this release. The record company wanted the band to fully embrace the glam rock trend in their appearance and stage show, but the band was resistant. Johnson’s effortless power and range shine through on such undiscovered classics like “Keep on Rockin,’” Strange Man” and” Give You Till Monday.” The band had two subsequent albums that are weaker. Johnson’s hoisting of guitarist Vic Malcom on his shoulders was a feat he employed later with ACDC axe-slinger Angus Young.
8-Hard Stuff-“Bulletproof” (1972)–This CD is one of the rarest hard rock collectables and is almost impossible to find, as it’s only available as an import. This English power trio employs an aggressive guitar attack along with intricate changes within songs. The band features two former members of the progressive band “Atomic Rooster” (John Cann, guitar and Paul Hammond) and John Gustafson, a future member of Gillan. Bluesy “Sinister Mister,” “Taken Alive” and the heavy “Time Gambler” are standouts. This band was on Deep Purple’s record label and members Ian Gillan and Roger Glover co- wrote “Monster in Paradise” with Gustafson.
9-Hydra- “Hydra” (1974)- This Southern rock unit ranks with other more famous outfits like Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Blackfoot. “ It’s So Hard” has Allman Brothers written all over it, while” Glitter Queen,” “Good Time Man” and” Warp 16” are up tempo good ole’ boy romps. “Miriam” closes out the CD in a mellow mood. The guitar work is melodic and gutsy throughout and Wayne Bruce’s vocals are earthy and true.
10-The Scruffs-“Wanna Meet the Scruffs?” (1977)-Last but certainly not least; this power pop band in the mold of the “Raspberries” and “Big Star” never achieved the success they so richly deserved. Their melodic vocals, 60s styled guitar licks and song hooks are catchy and memorable. “Break the Ice,” “My Mind,” “You’re No Fun” and “Frozen Girls” are standouts that will keep you humming along and dancing.
We hope you enjoyed this trip to the recesses of rock history. Give these CDs a listen (if you can find them) and be prepared to be pleasantly surprised by the quality of some priceless rock and roll artifacts.
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