When you think about it, the seventies were quite a long time ago. Not long in geological time, but in cultural and human time, those years are now dusty and hazy. What lives on is memories, if you were alive then – or what’s been preserved through art and media. We’ve got photos, writing, movies, and music to carry the 70’s onward into today, and tomorrow.
The problem with this, in many cases, is that it’s primarily the big things that come to symbolize or be associated with the past. Star Wars, Saturday Night Fever, Jaws, Dark Side of the Moon, “Stairway to Heaven”, the Eagles – all worthy emblems of the decade, but only part of the complete picture.
The Internet is great as a museum of what would in many cases be long-forgotten music, books, and film. I sometimes think, with music especially, that there was an almost “shadow” or alternate 70’s music scene. The same could be said for any time period, of course, but the 70’s seem especially rich in undiscovered gems these days. Album reissues and movies (such as the recent documentary Searching for Sugar Man, about singer/songwriter Rodriguez) celebrating some of these forgotten artists have all been popular the last few years. For every Rodriguez, though, there are more under-the-radar discoveries awaiting reassessment.
I’ve made a mix [up at Mixcloud] of some of these dusty, hazy seventies tracks I’m especially fond of. Though I was just a kid in the 70’s, many of these tracks evoke that time for me more than the million-sellers of the day, even though I never heard them then. Some of this is due to the romanticism of the past that comes with time and age, but many of these songs are miniature works of art with or without my particular predilections and tastes in music (without my baggage, you might say!). You can hear echoes of some of these songs in the music of today, as well. As Bob Marley said: “In this bright future you can’t forget your past.”
Track list with notes:
1.Terry Reid- “Faith to Arise”
Famous for turning down the lead singer spot in Led Zeppelin and recommending Robert Plant for the job. By the early 70’s was living in the mountains outside of Los Angeles and recorded what is probably the best loved of the few solo albums he’s released- Seed of Memory (from whence this track comes).
2.Danny Kirwan- “Misty River”
Volatile ex-Fleetwood Mac guitarist put out three mellow, sun-drenched solo albums which had songs that, if he had had better promotion (and a better mental state) could have been hits.
3.Lesley Duncan – “Everything Changes”
One of my favorite voices. She’ll always be remembered as the author of Elton John’s “Love Song” (which she also recorded). Her music is always filled with a serene depth – this one is the title track from her second, out in 1974.
4.Robert Lester Folsom – “Ginger”
His one album, from 1976, was reissued last year, along with a CD of demos as well. Folsom was from rural South Georgia and recording a lot of his smooth soft rock on his own.
5.Ian Matthews – “Tigers Will Survive”
Matthews was part of Fairport Convention for a while, then had a hit with a cover of “Woodstock” with his band Matthews Southern Comfort. He’s still recording, and has a had a long career in music.
6.Relatively Clean Rivers – “Hello Sunshine”
I think I’ve read somewhere that Jeff Tweedy of Wilco likes this band a lot. A very Grateful Dead-like song. I think the Allmusic Guide says it best: “Overall, the album almost gives the impression of documenting the dying embers of a band of hippies who’ve found refuge in one of the last safe places for souls of such a mindset, clinging to their credo as their species awaits oncoming extinction.”
7.Danny O’Keefe – “Magdalena”
A songwriter’s songwriter, had some success with 1971’s “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues” and when Jackson Browne covered his song “The Road”.
8.Tom Jans – “Why Don’t You Love Me”
Strange how some artists slip into total obscurity. Jans was involved with Joan Baez’ sister Mimi Farina and put an album out with her before a series of albums under his own name. This song is a great candidate for rediscovery.
9.Kenny Rankin – “Creepin”
A jazzy, light rock troubadour with a wide vocal octave range. He put out a lot of records, but I’m not sure who his audience was. His songs were too “light” and informed by jazz for the rock crowd, but too pop and singer/songwriter for the jazz crowd. He was good at what he did though!
10.Dane Donohue – “Casablanca”
Very radio-ready, but he only released one album. He had friends in high places, with Stevie Nicks and members of the Eagles guesting. This track is laid-back in a Steely Dan way and features a nice xylophone solo (and why not?).
11.Silver – “Trust in Somebody”
Also with just one album to their name, and a very mixed album for that matter. Some really nice stuff reminiscent of America and the Eagles, and some songs which didn’t quite make it. The band is notable for two of it’s members – future Grateful Dead keyboardist Brent Mydland and Tom Petty / Mudcrutch sideman (and brother of Eagle Bernie Leadon) Tom Leadon. It’s Greg Collier’s songs (such as the one here) that are the best of the lot, though.
12.Ian Thomas – “Evil in Your Eyes”
His America/the Eagles pastiche “Painted Ladies” still receives heavy airplay on Canadian radio 40+ years after its first release. This track is kinda lost on the same album as “Painted Ladies”, but is a nice one with a beautiful harmony-filled chorus…despite the paranoia of the lyrics.
13.Judee Sill – “I’m Over”
Sill’s life was just too bizarre and intricate to cover in a couple of sentences. She was, at times, a bank robber, a heroin addict, a jazz clarinetist, a gospel pianist, and a troubled explorer of Christianity [more info]. This track, a demo, is musically a bit uncharacteristic of her style, but very home in the country rock of the day.
14.Tom Rapp- “Harding Street”
Leader of 60’s band Pearls Before Swine, the sensitive and insightful (and often humorous) Rapp issued a few solo albums in the early and mid 1970’s before becoming a human rights lawyer. He had a small comeback in 1999 with the jauntily titled album A Journal of the Plague Year.
15.Bronco – “Bumpers West”
Bronco’s lead singer Jess Roden was a U.K. soul-rock singer in the 1960’s similar to his countryman Terry Reid. Like Reid, he went in a more acoustic, country-rock direction as the 70’s dawned. The “bumpers” of this song’s title probably refer to a type of shoe popular at the time, not car bumpers.
16.Steve Ashley – “Farewell Green Trees”
Ashley was a musician and graphic designer active in the late 60’s/early 70’s U,K. folk scene. He recorded Stroll On (which houses this song) with members of Fairport Convention and Pentangle. In 1973, Melody Maker magazine called him “one of the finest singer-songwriters in Britain, if not the entire English-speaking world”…quite a proclamation!