Here at The Press we are counting down the top 10 remarkable songs off 10 relatively forgettable albums by any given artist, with the intention to uncover some hidden gems along the way we may have otherwise sidestepped. So enjoy this selection of most excellent songs that shine as the killer track on a largely underwhelming record.
Various Artists – 10 Remarkable Songs Off 10 Unremarkable Albums mp3
10. Love Field – Elvis Costello and the Attractions
A fine tune off the much maligned (even here) Goodbye Cruel World (1984). Elvis Costello’s records ceased being an automatic purchase at this point, and when Goodbye Cruel World came out the album was universally panned not only by the critics but even by Elvis himself: the liner notes reading “Congratulations you’ve purchased our worst album yet“. Maybe is was the direction change, or the embracing of the 80s production values, but truth be told the album holds up well today and is a better listening experience than it’s inferior companion piece Punch the Clock (1983). The brilliance of album highlight Love Field stands out on this soulful set, and sits comfortably among the best songs of Elvis Costello’s wide and varied career.
9. Sat Singing – George Harrison
This album is not George’s finest hour, in fact it’s much worse given the fact that the incredible Sat Singing didn’t even make the cut for Somewhere in England (1981) for reasons that aren’t clear. Recorded at a time when George was increasingly frustrated with the music industry and his record label Warner Bros. who had rejected his initial offering. Several very good tracks were dropped from the original line-up (including Sat Singing, recorded in March 1980) and some less than stellar commercial material was included at Warner’s behest, (including the very good originally-for-Ringo Lennon tribute All Those Years Ago) but the final result was middling at best. The little-known yet truly gorgeous Sat Singing displays everything great about George Harrison and his singular gift with melody and brilliant slide guitar work. A keeper.
8. Seven Days – Sting
Ten Summoner’s Tales (1993) is a good album of mature jazz-inflected pop, but if we’re talking forgettable, let’s not pretend this is up there with the likes of Zenyatta Mondatta or Synchronicity by The Police. Relative to Sting’s solo work, it even lacks the gravity, lyricism, and power of his previous solo albums Nothing Like the Sun (1987), and to a lesser extent The Soul Cages (1991) however this reggae-hybrid track is as sharp and melodic as anything he has created: so magnificently written, played and beautifully constructed and executed, it deserves this special call-out. The chemistry of the band is evident here too where drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (Zappa) delivers an in-the-pocket 5/4 groove along with some breathtaking fills.
7. Cleaning Windows – Van Morrison
The overall feel of 1982’s Beautiful Vision was as if Van Morrison was aiming for radio success, as the overall feel and production of the album is tight, slick, and a little ‘generic 80s’ sterility tends to creep in, perhaps an attempt to reach out (unsuccessfully) to a wider audience at the dawn of the decade. All the chances he took on the few previous albums had been effectively abandoned. There are moments however when the tight arrangements and production are reminiscent of some of his finest works, and that moment is best encapsulated on this all time Van classic, the skipping light-R&B track that became one of his latter-day concert standards, and the album’s most charming moment by a long way: the ultra-funky Cleaning Windows.
6. Under Control – The Strokes
Appearing a couple of years after the seminal classic that was Is This It?, the New York quintet’s follow-up Room on Fire (2003), remains something of a career misfire for The Strokes. What was going to measure up to their showstopping debut? Could they scale the same rock heights? In a word, no. It was a hard act to follow, but follow it they did with this enjoyable yet sleepy sophomore effort. The album’s highlight is this soulful album cut, buried at track eight, Under Control, where vocalist Julian Casablancas is all payphone vocal, woozy croon and romantic simplicity, rather than the smirking cool of some his other lyrics. The immediately catchy melody is both exultant and heartbreaking, and as good as anything this great band ever recorded.
5. Another Tricky Day – The Who
The first post-Keith Moon album, Face Dances (1981) gets short shrift by fans of The Who, and released at a time the band wasn’t considered “relevant” anymore by most mainstream rock critics. A few months after Moon’s death, the Who announced that Kenney Jones, formerly of the Small Faces and the Faces, would be their new drummer, and he joins them here. The fact that this album is a minor instalment in The Who’s formidable canon has nothing to do with the new drummer. Essentially it’s an average Pete Townshend solo record with Daltrey on vocals delivering Pete’s lyrics without much subtlety, rendering their power impotent. The lead single You Better You Bet is memorable, but the only track that contains all of the old fire is the album closer: Another Tricky Day. Roger’s vocals sounding better here than on the rest of the album, and a very simple but effective Townshend power-chord guitar line drives the song forward.
4. Fading Lights – Genesis
Essentially the last Genesis album featuring what was left of the classic line-up, the faceless We Can’t Dance (1991) is a highly forgettable affair. Released after Phil Collins had invented adult contemporary, it’s overlong, overblown and includes way too much Tony Banks’ keyboards high in the mix. And it’s Phil’s last gasp. An album full of middling pop-rock, it has a last saving song that almost redeems it. If you make it through the hour-long duration, your tolerance is rewarded with the tremendous 10-minute closing track, Fading Lights, the most vital, all-out prog number they’d done since, say, Los Endos of 1976’s A Trick of the Tail. Not just one of the best Genesis tracks of their streamlined era, but one of the best Genesis songs ever.
3. No Promises – Icehouse
Released in April 1986, this was Iva Davies’ great mullet years. Despite being one hugely talented rock star with enough classics under his belt by now, he had every right to aim for the US market with this album. There was flowing hair, catchy tunes (Paradise, Baby You’re So Strange, Cross the Border), expensive videos, and have I mentioned an abundance of hair? But all of that’s ok because it was the mid-80s and Davies was concurrently working on a very good ballet soundtrack called Boxes where the Bowie-affiliated No Promises originally appeared. As far as Icehouse albums go, Measure for Measure is in the lower echelon of generic 80s synth rock, but this sumptuous classic was a suitable opener for the hideously packaged US pressing.
2. Bonzo Goes to Bitburg – Ramones
Attempting to update their sound to line up with the commercial conventions of the day, this, and the grungy Somebody Put Something In My Drink, are the only decent tracks on the Ramones’ ninth best left forgotten studio album Animal Boy (1986). For the Ramones, the song is a departure: an emotionally charged commentary on the Bitburg controversy from earlier that year, when Ronald Reagan (Bonzo) paid a state visit to a German World War II cemetery where numerous Waffen-SS soldiers were buried. The song, one of the band’s most clearly political statements, remains relevant and rocking. In 2003, the film School of Rock featured it with its full title, My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg).
1. The Moon Struck One – The Band
By Cahoots (1971), The Band’s multi-instrumental prowess and ability to provide controlled and compelling live performances had descended into rock-star bad habits. They were Robbie Robertson and his ‘so-called’ friends. Drug and booze addictions, personal problems, internal strife, and decadence, had all but invaded the group, and the release of this minor effort marked the end of an era. The album’s cover is not their best and the recorded performances are good, but its a step down from Stage Fright (1970); the songwriting sounds laboured and several of the songs come across as either forced or half-baked and lacking in structure. However their last album of original material for four years does hold a musical treasure. One of The Band’s best ever slow-moving mini-ballads featuring the superb narrative songwriting of Robertson and one of the more haunting Richard Manuel vocals: The Moon Struck One.