Underration: Some underrated Albums.

Underrated albums….

What are the most underrated rock albums?  It’s a tough definition, and one that lends itself to subjectivity immediately.  I mean, The velvet underground with Nico didn’t SELL much, but critics all get on their knees and face east whenever the name comes up, so… it’s out.

After much thought, the definition became simple: an underrated album is a record that discerning musical fans should have in their collection but for some reason many of them don’t.

So here are a few.

-It’s hard to say that a Stones album doesn’t get enough love. But with ‘Exile’, ‘Sticky Fingers’ ‘Let it Bleed’ and ‘Some Girl’s’ getting most of the attention, ‘Black and Blue’ gets lost in the shuffle.

The Stones were replacing Mick Taylor at the time and Keith Richards calls the album basically an “audition for guitar players”.  Alabama born Wayne Perkins is all over the record and was considered before deciding on fellow Brit Ronnie Wood.

Stylistically, ‘Black and Blue’ embraces funk with “Hot Stuff”; reggae with their cover of “Cherry Oh Baby”; and jazzy blues with “Melody”, featuring the talents of Billy Preston.  Musical and thematic styles were merged on the seven-minute wonderful “Memory Motel”, with both Jagger and Richards contributing lead vocals to a love song embedded within a life-on-the-road tale.

– Billy Joel sold more records with ‘The Stranger’ and ‘Glass Houses’ but for my money his best (and almost only record that stands up as timeless today) is ‘The Nylon Curtain’. It opens with “Allentown,” a bittersweet lament about Pennsylvania’s factory workers. Joel makes it clear with this opening track that the lyrical element on this record will be different than what you’re used to from him.

-Elton John became a superstar with ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ but his third album ‘Tumbleweed Connection’ should have made him one already.

There was no single released from this album, which is why it’s usually unjustly forgotten in compilations. As it turns out, it’s one of Elton’s absolute best, with nary a filler song among the multiple gems.  The record was the first indication of that absolutely mad creative rush that would characterize the man’s work for the next five years.   It’s sort of a very loose concept album dedicated to the topics of the Old Wild West, with more than half of the songs dealing with outlaws, confederates, missions and so on.  Musically, though, Tumbleweed Connection is not that much removed from its predecessor – piano ballads and piano rockers with a strong guitar presence, but on certain tracks there’s definitely a strong American roots-rock influence, such as the steel guitar and fiddle on ‘Country Comfort’, for instance.

-In the aftermath of the Beatles, John Lennon had classic albums like Imagine and Plastic Ono Band, Paul McCartney had Wings and Band On The Run and Ringo had . . . well, Ringo had Barbara Bach. The silent Beatle’s solo career, like his stint in the most famously analyzed and studied of bands, was dwarfed by the attention paid to Lennon & McCartney. But Harrison had the first classic among them with ‘All Things Must Pass’.  Harrison’s first true solo effort is unquestionably his most triumphant.  The record’s success comes from its combination of ‘Let it Be’ era songs like All Things Must Pass, fresher material like What Is Life and Wah Wah.  My Sweet Lord is a sonic masterpiece and both versions of “Isn’t it a Pity” will break your heart. Harrison’s comment on releasing a THREE record set was that it was like he had been “constipated” for years with The Beatles.  He could finally….well you know.

An underrated album by the underrated Beatle.

-The seventh album by Harry Nilsson, ‘Nilsson Shmillson’ has to be on the list as well.  Eclectic as it’s artist, it showed off the range of one of the world’s greatest vocalist.  Consider the difference in the three singles released from the album:  the soaring over the top emotion of Badfinger’s “Without you”, to the jokey calypso number using one single chord (C7) “Coconut”, to the raucous, screaming “Jump into the fire”.    Unfortunately his lifestyle caught up with him after this and it was basically all downhill from here.

Quick lists:

-Badfinger:  ‘Straight Up’.  It defines power pop

-Anything by Lucinda Williams.  If you don’t have one her records, do yourself a favor….

-Traveling Wilburys:  With the star power of this band, and all the completely effortless songs, why aren’t they a staple on classic rock radio?

– Keith Richards:  ‘Talk is Cheap’.  I’m not saying it proved who the heart and soul of the Stones were, but Mick sure wanted to get back together pretty quick after this….

– Izzy Stradlin And the Ju Ju Hounds:  I am saying it here.  Heart and soul.  Okay, Slash is no slouch, but damn!

-Bad Company: ‘Run with The Pack’.  Best album they made, and probably the least owned.

-Buckingham Nicks:  ‘Buckingham Nicks’.  The “lost” album.  Bootlegs are out there but it’s not available on CD or download.  A brilliant record that was a commercial failure, even though it secured a spot for the two of them in Fleetwood Mac.

-LATE ADDITION:  Something/ Anything from Todd Rundgren.

If The Beach Boys‘ Pet Sounds was the landmark studio pop project of the sixties, then Something/Anything is the early-’70s equivalent. Rundgren’s pop hooks were his bread and butter, and the three hits from the record, ‘I Saw The Light’,  ‘Hello, it’s me’ and ‘It wouldn’t have made any difference’ only touch at the double record sets’ ambition and coolness.

Like I said, subjective as can be.  So you MUST have your own list….


13 responses

  1. Shawn Ryan

    I would pick Elton John’s Honky Chateau over Tumbleweed Connection.
    I didn’t really like Side Two (wow, does that date me or what?) of Billy Joel’s The Nylon Curtain. I would put his Turnstiles on the list.
    Kansas’ Masque, the one that came right before Leftoverture was as good as Leftoverture.
    Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic gets all the press, but the follow-up Rocks was the best thing Aerosmith ever did.
    Chicago V, the first single album they ever did is one of my favorites from the group, although I’m a big fan of their 4-disc Live at Carnegie Hall set and some hardcore fans hate it.
    Tommy and Who’s Next top a lot of lists but my favorite Who album is Quadrophenia, I think it’s brilliant from start to finish.
    Scorpions hit it big with their 10th album, Love at First Sting, but their second and third albums — Fly to the Rainbow and In Trance — were far better.
    Queen’s Night at the Opera was their breakthrough, but I prefer Queen II.

    March 13, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    • Joey

      Honestly I always thought “the Elder” From KISS was very underrated. The original release came out with 2 tracks out of order. And it’s really an album you need to hear all the way through in order.

      It gets Lampooned but it was really one of my favorites. It And Creatures of the Night are very under appreciated.

      March 13, 2011 at 4:02 pm

  2. Dave Evans

    I wholeheartedly agree on Keef’s “Talk is Cheap.” Great album. Love “Coulda Stood You Up” and “Take is So Hard”

    As for other, I think Aerosmith’s “Rocks” album is a masterpiece, both sonically and musically. But it’s Toys in the Attic that usually gets mentioned as their best.

    March 13, 2011 at 7:27 pm

  3. Allen Barlow

    Buckingham Nicks would be at the top of my list as well.

    Beck – Midnight Vultures. Pure genius. Had a couple of hits w/ Sex Laws and Mixed Bizness. Debra was on that album too. Who puts banjo, synth, and a horn section on a tune and pulls it off tastefully? Beck does!

    Jeff Buckley – Grace. This album, like Buckingham Nicks, has become legendary after the fact. This guy has influenced an entire generation of artists but died tragically before he could reap the benenfits of his own success.

    Van Halen’s darkest album “Fair Warning” would be there as well. Best tone Eddie ever caught on tape. Some of Roth’s better lyrics too. Even seemed sincere at times 🙂 with tunes like Mean Street, Push Comes to Shove, Dirty Movies.

    It’s hard to say that a Zeppelin album would be underrated, but Physical Graffiti is their most versatile album stylistically.

    I could go on, but that’s the first off the top of my head.

    March 14, 2011 at 4:28 pm

  4. Bob Dylan-Planet Waves

    The Who-By Numbers

    Rush-Caress of Steel

    Neil Young-Hawks and Doves

    The Eagles-The Long Run

    There. I said it.

    March 14, 2011 at 4:37 pm

  5. Oh, yeah…Led Zeppelin-Presence

    March 14, 2011 at 4:38 pm

  6. sivadselim

    Chicago Transit Authority

    March 14, 2011 at 6:02 pm

  7. MikeL

    All of the above are worthy…What about Queen “A Night at The Opera”, or Queen 2.

    Fleetwood Mac Rumors

    WOW I could think about this for days !!!

    March 15, 2011 at 12:44 am

  8. randy walker

    I never understood why the “Wilburys” didn’t get more credit. The best of three worlds.”Wish You Were Here”, Pink Floyd, was always a favorite that never did catch on. Buckingham/Nicks is on everybodies list. “Live Rust”, Neil Young, is one of the best live albums ever recorded and you NEVER hear of it. And then there’s “Mind Games”, John Lennon, some of his best work. Damn that was tough!

    March 15, 2011 at 2:07 am

  9. Kel

    Here’s a strange one…
    School of Fish (self titled album)
    90’s alternative power pop at it’s finest, yet nobody’s ever heard of it.

    March 15, 2011 at 7:52 pm

  10. Dave Evans

    Ok, I thought of some more

    English Settlement- XTC (The Import Version)
    The Import version was a double LP studio album. Sonically, vastly superior to the US version, and of course, you get several songs not featured on the US version. This album to me, IS XTC. The LP is one of the top 5 albums I have ever heard as far as beautiful SOUND is concerned. I put it right there with Steely Dan- Aja, and Supertramp- Breakfast in America. The songs are SO uniquely XTC. This is one band that can’t be categorized, and I think it is their best work. Some of the most amazing guitar-work I have ever heard. This album is heard best via headphones. “No Thugs in Our House”, “Fly on the Wall”, “Yacht Dance”, “Senses Working Overtime”, “Jason and the Argonauts”, “Ball and Chain”…wow. Just wow.

    Everywhere at Once- The Plimsouls (Peter Case)
    Great songwriting, great performances and excellent production. It’s one of the best bands nobody has ever heard of. Unless, of course, you are a big fan of the movie “Valley Girl.”

    Thunder and Fire- Jason and the Scorchers
    Their ferocity captured. Unfortunately it wasn’t the original lineup on this one, but the best of their lengthy, unheralded career. From the haunting “Bible and a Gun” co-written by Steve Earle, to the blistering “Six Feet Underground” this album rocks. And of course you get a dose of Jason’s twang on every tune. Guitars, guitars and more guitars. A little harp here & there, and Perry Baggs fist-pumping drumming makes this one near the top of my list.

    March 15, 2011 at 11:56 pm

  11. Don’t leave out Todd Rudgren something anything lp , Or Kansas Leftoverture or Hearts Dreamboat Annie..

    March 17, 2011 at 6:09 am

    • Put in Todd as a late entry. Don’t know how that one could have gotten by…..

      March 17, 2011 at 12:02 pm

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