What took you so long? For the artists and bands in this list, the answers include poverty, market indifference, drug addiction, and catastrophic hearing loss. They took up jobs in architecture and art therapy, tabloid journalism and coffee farming — but most often, of course, they kept gigging. There are, perhaps, a small number of reasons why one would want to make records, but even more reasons why one would stop. But these 64 acts — like the 48 in our original article — did not stop, not completely.
I touched on a few explanations in the first piece: the rise of festival culture, the emergence of digital distribution, and the reduced cost of recording. (A nice benefit of that last one is the ability to collaborate via email, all the better for far-flung or estranged bands.) To varying degrees, these all encourage acts to record new material, rather than coasting on the hits. In researching this batch, I realized I missed another factor: the rise of crowdfunding. Quite a few acts here used websites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and PledgeMusic to subsidize the cost of recording, mastering, and distribution.
But that’s more of the how, not the why. Six comebacks on this list occurred in the ’90s, 14 in the 2000s, and 44 this decade. Since the last article, we’ve gotten long-awaited long-players from solo rock legends (Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, Roger Waters, David Crosby), noise-pop darlings (Ride, Slowdive, the Dream Syndicate), and cult acts (Emitt Rhodes, Shirley Collins, the Rezillos, Flamin’ Groovies). I had to revamp this piece after four acts announced 2018 comebacks. And as big as it ended up being, this article doesn’t include a host of acts who missed our arbitrary cutoff: The Jesus And Mary Chain, Steven Van Zandt, Gas, Boss Hog, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Royal Trux, At the Drive-In, Bell Biv Devoe, American Football, A Tribe Called Quest, Letters To Cleo. Something’s happening.
In an age of vanished album revenues, we’re going to see more and more veterans of music’s middle class and fringe leverage their most appreciable asset: name recognition. We’ve seen this happen in film for years; since the first installment of this series was published, television has joined the onslaught. Reboots and revivals of Twin Peaks, Will & Grace, Hawaii 5-0, Dynasty, Charmed, Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, American Idol, and Roseanne have dropped, with versions of Murphy Brown, Roswell, Charmed, and Cagney And Lacey on the way. No one expects any of these shows to hit their previous numbers; in a practically infinite channelscape, they offer a baseline. And so it may be with the acts in this list.
A comeback is often as humbling as it is triumphal. It’s exceedingly rare for a band to play the same arenas they once sold out. Much more common is a return to smaller crowds in festival tents and intimate clubs, to a vocal tribe of genre devotees, to diminished expectations and smaller paychecks. Compound that with the profound toll of growing older: There’s a new matrix of industry names and venues, different familial and professional obligations for everyone involved. Forget relearning the classics: If you’re mounting a comeback, can you relearn how to coexist? Can you deal with everyone comparing the new record to the last one? To the best one?
Last week, Parliament released their first album in 38 years, which seems an apt occasion to recognize some other artists who went decades between records. What follows is a list of 64 more acts (following our 2015 list) that let 20 or more years elapse between studio albums. While I maintained no illusion about being comprehensive the first go-round, y’all came up with some notable omissions, some of which are covered here. In calculating gaps, we didn’t count archival releases, operatic works, EPs, collaborative albums, or live sets. Between the two lists, I’ve documented over 100 comebacks, and not a one was a waste. From passion projects to sneering sellouts: there is always something to hear, some ennobling or dire or fun or just plain interesting aspect of being human. Even the most trying album was, in its way, illuminating. Here’s hoping all of our best work is yet to come.
The Kossoy Sisters: Bowling Green (1956) / Hop On Pretty Girls (2002)
Though their speciality was close-harmony renditions of Appalachian folk ditties and murder ballads, identical twins Ellen and Irene Kossoy grew up in Queens. Inspired by their mother and aunt, the sisters developed their harmonies through a steady diet of old-timey tunes. Their introduction to contemporary folk came at age 15, when Pete Seeger visited their upstate summer camp. Returning to the city, they became a regular sight in the Greenwich Village folk scene, occasionally performing with Erik Darling. Darling was a member of the folk group the Tarriers (along with a young man named Alan Arkin), whose take on “The Banana Boat Song” hit the pop Top Five the same year Darling joined the Kossoys on their debut album. Bowling Green is a fine survey of mountain folk, made more impressive by the players’ precocity: They accompany their Louvin-like harmonies on guitar and five-string banjo.
The Kossoys continued performing together through college — even landing a slot at the first Newport Folk Festival — but went their separate ways after graduation. Though they each sang and performed on their own, reunion performances were limited to yearly visits. In 1997, Rykodisc (which had acquired their old label) reissued their debut, and the sisters discussed the possibility of a new project. The planning kicked into high gear after Ellen took her son to see the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? She was gobsmacked when she heard the Kossoys’ recording of “I’ll Fly Away” in the movie. They sought out the soundtrack, but while “I’ll Fly Away” was listed, it did not cite their version. Instead, it was Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch’s. Apparently, producer Ethan Coen (who had been gifted a copy of Bowling Green) opted to replace Krauss and Welch’s version with the Kossoy Sisters’ at the last minute. Though Irene and Ellen received a flat fee for their inclusion — a consequence of their original contract — the additional exposure raised the profile of Hop On Pretty Girls, another old-timey excursion made richer by a century of combined experience.
Dean Gitter: Ghost Ballads (1957) / Old Folkies Never Die (2014)
Gitter secured his musical legacy when he produced Odetta’s solo debut Sings Ballads And Blues. Trained in opera, she fell into the folk milieu while touring with a musical theater company. Her vocal power and facility of expression made waves among folkies; in a Playboy interview, Bob Dylan claimed that listening to Sings Ballads And Blues as a teenager inspired him to swap his electric guitar for a Gibson acoustic. Gitter comprehended Odetta’s force — in the album’s liner notes he wrote that “[t]his album is an important milestone in the history of folk-recording… it would be foolhardy to assume Odetta has yet reached the height of her musical powers.” Gitter recorded a few other acts that year, including the only album from noted graphic designer/typographer Raphael Boguslav, before setting to work on his own record.
Ghost Ballads is just Gitter, his guitar, and a vague Scots-Irish accent, picking out a set of eerie folk tunes. It’s a fun listen, but if the record’s ever discussed, it’s usually due to the Charles Addams cover art. Afterward, Gitter pursued his other passion: property development. A graduate of the Harvard Business School, he converted a Cambridge movie theater into an arthouse, the Orson Welles Cinema, in 1969. (The first house manager was Tommy Lee Jones.) During a showing of Oh, Calcutta! in 1970, Gitter and eight other employees were arrested on two counts of “immoral and obscene entertainment.” The Cinema closed in 1986, when a popcorn machine caught fire and caused irreparable damage. Gitter managed an ashram for a few years before turning to resort and hotel development. In 2014, the same year he moved to New Mexico, he released his long-gestating follow-up, Old Folkies Never Die. With the floodgates now open, he just released a third album: a collection of Carl Sandberg compositions.
Nathaniel Mayer: Going Back To The Village Of Love (1963) / I Just Want To Be Held (2004)
Mayer’s interregnum is cloaked in mystery. His son contributed a lot of background for a Michigan music site, but I couldn’t find a lot of the info verified elsewhere. (Though the stories about Mayer scrapping with Arthur Alexander and introducing Billy Stewart to “Summertime” are pretty great.) What I can verify is that Mayer was the real deal, an electrifying stage presence who wrote many of his own indelible R&B sides. But he had the common misfortune of recording for a label without many resources, and his output was too early (and not close enough to what we now think of as soul) to draw the attention of revivalists. A precocious talent, the Detroit-born Mayer wormed his way into the Fortune Records fold as an adolescent. At 18, he landed his first and biggest hit with 1962’s “Village Of Love,” a livewire R&B track spiked with doo-wop. The single was big enough that Fortune used United Artists for distribution. Eventually, it got so big that the label decided to release subsequent Mayer material in-house. It was the wrong decision, though. Mayer toured and released great singles throughout the ’60s, but he never came close to his early success.
He left music, got his GED, and lapsed into legend. A 1980 single was credited to “Nathaniel (Nay Dog) Mayer And The Filthy McNasty Group Plus Free Style,” but you can’t find it. More than two decades later, New York’s Norton Records issued an unheard Mayer track, the James Brown soundalike “I Don’t Want No Bald Headed Woman Telling Me What To Do.” This was the kind of rare funk the marketplace craved, and Mayer began playing shows around Detroit. One evening, he hit it off with original Detroit Cobras bassist Jeff Meier, recruiting Meier and his band the Shanks to back him on the Fat Possum release I Just Want to Be Held. His teenage howl had long since shifted to a smoky rasp, but his studio sense was impeccable. He followed that with Why Don’t You Give It to Me?, an ambitious set of reverberating rock’n’roll, R&B and funk co-produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. Health issues sidelined his second act, and he died in 2008 at the age of 64.
Harry Taussig: Fate Is Only Once (1965) / Fate Is Only Twice (2012)
There were a couple major strains of American folk music in the 1960s. One was populist, and the other was literally of the people. They intersected any number of times, but perhaps none more fascinatingly than when retired guitarist Elizabeth Cotten, working in a department store, helped return a lost child to the composer Ruth Crawford Seeger. Seeger, stepmother of Pete, hired Cotten to provide domestic help and Cotten’s time with the very musical family inspired her to play again. A Folkways release of her recordings — taped by Pete’s half-brother Mike — had a massive influence on what would become the Greenwich Village scene and American folk at large. One of her converts was Harry Taussig. A physics student at UC Berkeley who chanced upon Cotten on the radio, he immediately began approximating her playing style, which involved picking basslines with her fingers and the melody with her thumb (she played a right-handed guitar upside-down). After graduation, he recorded some of his repertoire (some covers, some originals) for Fate Is Only Once, a private-press effort. His rough-hewn instrumentals — a mixture of received and avant-garde approaches — put him firmly in the American Primitive camp, whose scoutmaster John Fahey tabbed Taussig for a 1967 compilation LP, alongside bold names like Robbie Basho and Bukka White.
Though he stopped recording, Taussig became a person in full. For a time, he worked for the defense industry; after that, he published guitar instructionals, got his doctorate in biophysics, exhibited his photography around the world, and taught visual arts at a community college. In 2005, Josh Rosenthal — a one-time VP of alternative music marketing for Sony — bought Fate Is Only Once. He contacted Taussig, and the album was reissued on Rosenthal’s new Tompkins Square label the next year. Taussig had always noted that Fate contained a number of mistakes — wrong notes and fumbles — but the record showed his curiosity and openness, and it sold as well as these things do. In 2012, the label released his follow-up, recorded on a laptop. Two years ago, Oneida’s Kid Millions dropped Beyond The Confession, a collection of Taussig recordings overdubbed with drone-rock instrumentation.
The Creation: We Are Paintermen (1967) / Power Surge (1996)
A singles band when rock music was shifting to the LP format, the Creation made their biggest impact posthumously. A product of England’s mod movement, the North London group began life as Kenny Lee & The Mark Four around 1962, soon shortening their name to the Mark Four. They maintained a typically hectic touring schedule — including the requisite German club residency — and released a handful of singles. After a number of lineup changes (including losing bassist John Dalton to the Kinks), the group hired future Charisma Records founder Tony Stratton-Smith as their manager. He promptly suggested they get a new name. The newly dubbed Creation found a sympathetic ear in producer Shel Talmy, who had helped hone the Kinks’ punch when he was in his mid-20s. The Creation’s original lineup lasted two singles, but what a pair: “Making Time” has a blunt riff with a coppery aftertaste, and “Painter Man” (the band’s only UK hit) put bow to guitar before Jimmy Page. A shakeup left lead singer Kenny Pickett out of the group, so bassist Bob Garner switched to vocals. Popular on the continent, the band issued a cheapo LP (We Are Paintermen) that padded a few new cuts with old singles. A spate of defections led to the band calling it quits in early ’68.
But Europe still hungered for Creation content, so drummer Jack Jones assembled a Mark III, adding future Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood on guitar and bringing Pickett back as singer. They released one single (the psychedelic “Midway Down”) before imploding once again. Bassist Kim Gardner had a fluke Top 40 hit with “Resurrection Shuffle“; the rest of the band settled into various stage, production, and performing roles. In 1978, the Jam included a pic of the “Biff Bang Pow” single in an insert for their record All Mod Cons, instantly minting a new Creation fan in teenager Alan McGee. Within a few years, McGee had named a band after the song and a label after the band. Creation Records made history (if not consistent profits) releasing work from the likes of Primal Scream, the Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Oasis — and the Creation. 1996’s Power Surge saw old hands like Pickett and Garner return for a victory lap. But the biggest Creation news of late was last year’s Numero Group compilation Action Painting, the latest and most ambitious collection of the band’s incendiary mod sound.
The Standells: Try It (1967) / Bump (2013)
Anyone subjected to ESPN’s interminable Red Sox/Yankees broadcasts will be familiar with “Dirty Water,” a garage-rock trashing of Boston lobbed from the safety of the Standells’ native Los Angeles. In fact, none of them had visited Boston before the song broke — their producer wrote the song after being mugged by the Charles River — but they’d definitely been around. Their first major gig was a residency on a Hawaiian variety show; the band lived on Waikiki Beach and performed in a revue with strippers and comedians. When the Standells returned to California, they sacked their drummer, replacing him with Gary Leeds. Leeds soon left to join the Walker Brothers and enjoy a long career in England. His replacement was Dick Dodd, a surf-rock vet, one-time LA session musician, and original Mouseketeer whose first drum was a $20 snare he bought off Annette Funicello. Like Leeds, Dodd was a singing drummer; he quickly became the Standells’ lead singer, introducing a proto-punk edge to the group. Their early successes were televisual: The group was frequently cast in teensploitation films, one time appearing in the same film as keyboardist Larry Tamblyn’s brother Russ, an actor/dancer best known as Riff in West Side Story. In 1965, they attained trash-rock nirvana by appearing on The Munsters. They played themselves, which makes the show’s song selection (a cover of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and something called “Come On And Ringo”) inexplicable.
They finally impacted radio with “Dirty Water,” a sour mid-tempo snarl with an immortal, jaunty guitar/organ riff. It hit the Top 20, but not before Dodd left the band. He crawled back when the song started its ascent, which meant the group had to dismiss another famous drummer: Dewey Martin, who wound up in Buffalo Springfield. A tour with the Rolling Stones followed, but the Standells couldn’t build on their momentum. The title track to their horn-heavy 1967 LP Try It was banned by several stations, and the resulting fight sapped the band’s resolve. The core members reunited for an odd show and released an independent single (“60’s Band”) in 1984. In the ’90s, a bunch of Boston professional and college teams began playing “Dirty Water” at games, boosting the Standells’ profile. In 2011, the band (now comprised of Tamblyn, bassist John Fleck — who joined the Standells after leaving Love — and drummer Greg Burnham) made a successful pitch on Kickstarter to fund a new record, citing “a little-known indie punk rock group named Arcade Fire” as an inspiration. Bump isn’t great, but “Boston Badass” sounds like KISS with a $40 synth.
James Carr: A Man Needs A Woman (1968) / Take Me To The Limit (1991)
Carr is sometimes regarded as the greatest soul singer there ever was, but for most of his life, he was more ghost than legend. Born in Mississippi and raised in Memphis, he had worked in a furniture factory and sung in a gospel group when he was recruited by a new soul label, Goldwax Records. Founded by a pharmacist and a co-founder of Hi Records, Goldwax was an enterprise consciously indebted to the success of the hometown heroes at Stax. After a couple of years sporadically releasing singles, Carr hit in 1966 with “You Got My Mind Messed Up,” which reached the top 10 of Billboard’s R&B chart. Two more modest hits followed, and Goldwax issued his debut LP You Got My Mind Messed Up. Widely considered one of soul’s best full-lengths, Carr’s fully inhabited baritone animates a set that runs from country-soul weepers to uptempo cuts in the Hayes/Porter mode. It also contains the original take on “The Dark End Of The Street,” a Dan Penn/Chips Moman ballad about creeping around at all costs. While I prefer Percy Sledge’s take, “Dark End” is quite possibly America’s greatest standard. It’s been recorded in excellent, disparate forms by Dorothy Moore, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and Diamanda Galas, among many others. For what it’s worth, Penn considers Carr’s version to be definitive.
Carr had the material and the vocal touch to hit the big time, but it wasn’t in the cards. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Carr struggled with depression and a lack of ambition; even after he left Goldwax, he used to make one of its founders attend his recording sessions, because he didn’t feel comfortable otherwise. It’s quite possible that his fitful recording schedule was the reason that his second record had to be padded with two cuts from his first. Like Southern soul contemporaries Sam & Dave and Bettye Swann, he jumped to Atlantic Records in the early ’70s, but was dropped after one single. An infamous 1979 concert in Japan (the worst reports allege he had gone into a catatonic state) was the last real notice he received. He returned to his family in Memphis, re-emerging on a rebooted Goldwax for 1991’s Take It To The Limit. Though producer Quinton Claunch expressed regret that he hadn’t gotten a full band — he said he didn’t know Carr would sound so good — the album’s synthesized textures and Saturday Night Live-style sax placed it firmly in the orbit of modern Southern soul, even if the singer’s anguished tone was starkly, gloriously out of fashion. One more album and a spate of gigs followed before Carr died in 2001.
Joe Pesci: Little Joe Sure Can Sing! (1968) / Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just For You (1998)
At five years old — long before Elvis cut his first demos — Joe Pesci was acting in stage productions; years later, he was a cast member on NBC’s variety show spinoff Startime Kids. After his stint on television, he followed in his mother’s footsteps and began cutting hair in his native New Jersey. By the early ’70s, he had his own shop: Studio 548. “Joe would always interrupt the cutting of hair to act out a story or tell a joke or practice his routines,” a former customer noted to Entertainment Weekly in 1992. “Took a long time to get a haircut, though.” He was still in showbiz’s orbit: He had a five-second cameo in Hey, Let’s Twist!, a 1961 teensploitation film starring Joey Dee & The Starliters. (According to lore, he later joined the band as a guitarist, a role later filled by Jimi Hendrix.) He and his first wife spent their honeymoon hanging with the Rat Pack. He was also gigging as a lounge musician, eventually connecting his bandmate Bob Gaudio with a couple of old friends, Tommy DeVito and Frankie Valli, who promptly became the Four Seasons. Pesci’s own break came in 1968, with the release of Little Joe Sure Can Sing. He didn’t quite fulfill the title’s promise; nevertheless, he provides some delightfully oozy covers of Bee Gees and Beatles hits. Soon afterward, Pesci found a regular gig with a Jersey City drummer named Frank Vincent. Live music was a declining draw, so they rebranded as a comedy act. (In 1972, they released the novelty 45 “Can You Fix the Way I Talk For Christmas.”) They did well enough to tour for six years, finally splitting in 1975.
The next year, Pesci landed a role in a low-budget mafia pic, The Death Collector. He brought Vincent aboard; the movie didn’t do diddly, but their performances caught the attention of a 26-year-old Robert De Niro. In 1979, he and director Martin Scorsese called Pesci, offering him a role in 1980’s Raging Bull. In just his second credited role, Pesci nabbed an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor as the volatile, jealous brother of De Niro’s Jake LaMotta. And like that, Joseph Frank Pesci was a star. True to his roots, he booked both comedies and dramas, but his most memorable work was with Scorsese. He finally won an Oscar for his indelible role as a wannabe made man in 1990’s Goodfellas. His character was named Tommy DeVito — no relation to the Four Seasons singer — and Pesci’s acceptance speech (“It was my privilege. Thank you.”) is one of the shortest on record. Eight years later, he released Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just For You, a profanely indulgent set of in-character wiseguy anthems. He announced his retirement from acting in 1999, though there remained some opportunities (De Niro’s The Good Shepherd, a Snickers commercial with Don Rickles) he couldn’t refuse. In 2003, singing as “Joe Doggs,” he released a record with jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco. His next Scorsese collaboration, The Irishman, is scheduled for 2019.
Strawberry Alarm Clock: Good Morning Starshine (1969) / Wake Up Where You Are (2012)
Strawberry Alarm Clock are best known for “Incense And Peppermints,” their druggy, draggy #1 hit. But in a sense, it wasn’t exactly the Clock’s song. “Incense” was first issued by Thee Sixpence, which had just absorbed new players from fellow LA act Waterfyrd Traene (I know). The music was written by Ed King of Sixpence and Waterfyrd’s Mark Weitz. The lyrics were the province of Denver garage rocker Tim Gilbert and John Carter, who would join Atlantic’s A&R department and eventually work with the likes of Bob Seger and Tina Turner (he produced “Private Dancer”). To make things even more convoluted, the song was sung by a 16-year-old ringer: Greg Munford, lead singer of the Shapes.
As “Incense” took off in late ’67, Thee Sixpence renamed themselves Strawberry Alarm Clock. They were a perfect reflection of their era, psychedelic and sunshiney in equal measure, releasing songs with titles like “Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow” and “Sit With The Guru.” They hit the Top 40 one more time with “Tomorrow,” a Buffalo Springfield soundalike. The constant shuffling of band members scrambled their sound; 1969’s Good Morning Sunshine codes as blues-rock from the first glimpse of song titles like “Off Ramp Road Tramp” (I know) and “Hog Child.” But the title track was a selection from the musical Hair: it peaked in the lower fourth of the Hot 100 as William “Oliver” Swofford’s version climbed to #3. That was it for the Clock as a recording unit, though they did appear in Russ Meyer’s Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls. Befitting their history, a revolving cast of musicians frequently convened to play the oldies circuit until releasing Wake Up Where You Are in 2012. Half covers, half originals, it’s a well-recorded effort performed with studio-vet panache.
Paul Jones: Crucifix In A Horseshoe (1971) / Starting All Over Again (2009)
Paul Jones’ life and career have intersected with a number of British pop-rock luminaries, but no meeting was more fabled, perhaps, than the time Brian Jones asked him to join a band he was forming. As he told the Telegraph in 2009, though: “This is what would have happened. Brian and I would have had a band. Mick and Keith would have started another band. And that band would have become the Rolling Stones.” In any event, he quickly landed a decent replacement gig fronting Manfred Mann. The band, named after its South African-born keyboardist, notched their first UK #1 a few months after the Rolling Stones did theirs. Manfred Mann’s hit was “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” a bubblegum-soul take on the Exciters’ original. Itching to branch into acting, Jones left Manfred Mann in the mid-’60s, and the band soldiered on with Mike D’Abo before becoming Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. Jones quickly landed a choice role, starring in 1967’s Privilege as Britain’s most popular pop singer (and tool of the state), three years before Mick Jagger’s lead turn in Performance. In the real world, he also notched a few UK pop hits before turning his full focus to acting.
In the ’70s, he was an infrequent guest actor on the ITV stable of networks, including a role on the first series of Space: 1999. He also trod the boards in a number of London productions. His most famous role from this period may be Juan Perón, which he originated on the 1976 cast recording of Evita (though Joss Ackland played the part when the musical was first staged in 1978). Towards the end of the decade, he resumed recording with the awfully named Blues Band, which released a number of records in the ’80s. While starring as Sky Masterson in a 1982 production of Guys And Dolls, he met the actor Fiona Hendley. In 1984, at Cliff Richard’s invitation, the two attended an evangelical service led by Argentinian-American pastor Luis Palau. (Richard, who was singing at the event, had once debated Jones on television. The subject was Billy Graham.) By the end of the service, Jones had proposed to Hendley, and the two soon put their faith in Christ. Around this time, Jones began hosting an R&B show on London’s Jazz FM, eventually moving to BBC’s Radio 2. Having formed the Manfreds in 1991 (a Manfred Mann spinoff act featuring both Jones and Mike D’Abo, but not — quizzically — Mr. Mann), Jones took advantage of a canceled tour to record his first solo record since 1971. In spite of — or perhaps due to — the presence of guests like Eric Clapton and Percy Sledge, Starting All Over Again is a rote affair, certainly not as compelling as Jones’s gauche 1978 cover of “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker.”
Bob Lind: Since There Were Circles (1971) / Finding You Again (2012)
In 2015, Goldmine asked Lind how he would characterize his career. “Like those old westerns where the guy gets his foot caught in the stirrup while the horse is at full gallop,” he replied. A folk rocker with a voice as plain as his name, Lind struck gold with his debut single “Elusive Butterfly.” Only that wasn’t the song that was supposed to hit. He rated the song as the worst to come from his recording session with famed producer Jack Nitzsche. Lind’s label World Pacific chose “Cheryl’s Goin’ Home” as the A-side, with “Elusive Butterfly” as the flip to prevent split airplay. “Cheryl” went nowhere, but a DJ gave the B-side a shot, and the song caught on. “Elusive Butterfly” hit #5 in the US and UK, and inspired some fine covers. His sudden success led to clashes with his label, as he refused to take input on his recording and writing choices (he was also in the grip of substance abuse). After two LPs, he left World Pacific — and music generally — moving to New Mexico. Capitol Records coaxed him back for Since There Were Circles, a hateful little record with shades of country-rock. When that flopped, Lind was finally done.
He moved to Florida, got clean, and while he was still writing songs, he also penned a little of everything else. He took the top prize in the 1991 Florida Screenwriters’ Competition, published a few novels, and entered tabloid Valhalla for writing the original Bat Boy story for Weekly World News. His profile got a boost when Pulp released “Bob Lind (The Only Way Is Down)” on 2001’s We Love Life. He was reportedly flattered. Some time after, Arlo Guthrie coaxed Lind back to the stage, and he released a live album in 2006. Six years later, Ace Records’ Big Beat imprint released Finding You Again, produced by the Spongetones’ Jamie Hoover, who had released an EP of Lind covers a few years back. Hoover’s power-pop background seeps into the arrangements, but the sound belongs to the elusive Bob Lind.
Shelagh McDonald: Stargazer (1971) / Parnassus Revisited (2013)
Of all the artists I’ve written about, no one’s absence was as definitive as Shelagh McDonald’s. Like Vashti Bunyan, McDonald interrupted a promising — if still modest — folk career in the early ’70s. Unlike Bunyan, once McDonald left London, she disappeared. Born in Edinburgh, McDonald moved to London during the initial bloom of British folk-rock. Shortly after arrival, her performances caught the attention of fellow folkie Keith Christmas, who helped her secure a record deal. 1970’s Shelagh McDonald Album featured the likes of Christmas, King Crimson collaborator and free improviser Keith Tippett, and future Islamic graphic designer Ian Whiteman. It was a lovely and patient debut, the highlight of which is a cover of Gerry Rafferty’s “Look Over The Hill And Far Away,” featuring a craggy, downcast organ solo. The next year’s Stargazer caught the attention of Britain’s music mags, who fired Sandy Denny and Joni Mitchell comparisons indiscriminately into the air. A heady mix of spare folk and adult contemporary, Stargazer sold well enough, with tracks like “Liz’s Song” (whose subject spends “too many months in London town” and takes a northbound train) serving as unwitting foreshadowing. McDonald was poised for some form of stardom. But as quickly as she had arrived, she was gone.
Friends from London traded rumors of a bad trip. McDonald was well-liked both for her artistry and her bright spirit, making her disappearance all the more mysterious. Her royalties sat untouched for decades; her first and only two records were reissued by Mooncrest around the turn of the century, then compiled (along with demos and outtakes) by Castle Music in 2005. The set (titled Let No Man Steal Your Thyme) garnered great reviews and spawned a series of investigative pieces, including one in the Scottish Daily Mail. A few days after the Mail’s article, they had to issue an update — McDonald had dropped by their offices after reading it. It was, she said, “like looking at your own obituary,” and she decided to fill in the gaps. The rumors were essentially true — a dose of LSD stayed with her for days and days; starving and in poor health, she flew back to her parents in Scotland. The trip stole her singing voice, and she held a series of jobs in Glasgow until meeting antique bookseller Gordon Farquhar in 1981. The two fell in love and fell off the grid, moving from house to house — from Scotland to Canada and back again — sometimes living out of tents for stretches, including the next few years after the interview. After Farquhar died in 2012, McDonald tentatively resumed performing and recording; her long-delayed third record, Parnassus Revisited was available at concerts before vanishing.
Linda Hoyle: Pieces Of Me (1971) / The Fetch (2015)
Affinity — the English jazz-rock band Linda Hoyle fronted from 1968 to 1970 — are notable for two things: the nuclear-winter pastel tones of their only album, and a Shredded Wheat jingle that was insanely popular but not currently on YouTube. Hoyle met the band when they were university students in Sussex; they called themselves the US Jazz Trio, which was quite fortunate, as Hoyle had devoured a great deal of pre-war American jazz as a child. She occasionally sat in with the Trio, and when they decided to forgo studies for a pop career, she became their singer. 1970’s Affinity frequently codes as hard rock with horns — like a beefier Blood, Sweat & Tears — although Hoyle turns in a bravura performance on a stately cover of the Everly Brothers’ “I Wonder If I Care As Much” (Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones arranged the strings). After three years, Hoyle left Affinity, releasing her solo debut Pieces Of Me in 1971.
Though her holler is in fine fettle, Pieces Of Me is also noteworthy for two things. The first is her composition “Hymn To Valerie Solanas,” a piano-led raveup dedicated to the woman who shot Andy Warhol. The second is the album’s rarity — legend has it that Vertigo only pressed 300 copies, and the album’s median price on Discogs is $800. In 1972, Hoyle moved to Canada with Nick Nicholas, her husband and an original member of the US Jazz Trio. She got a psychology degree and established a career as an art therapist. In the 2010s, she rejoined with Affinity for a couple of performances, and bassist Mo Foster convinced her to give the studio another shot. The result was 2015’s The Fetch, a dreamy, proggy work that showcases Hoyle’s clear, considered vocals.
The Free Design: There Is A Song (1972) / Cosmis Peekaboo (2001)
The Free Design, a sibling group from Western New York, existed on the translucent end of sunshine pop, an industry attempt to digest the folk revival. As with all genres, sunshine pop is pure enchantment at its best. At its worst, it’s like staring into a five-hour sunrise. The Free Design’s oeuvre was a typically trebly concoction of glee club vocals, cautiously picked guitar, and easy-listening strings. Yet their insularity and baroque vocal arrangements could contain more mystery than the headiest psych offering. Music seemingly suffused the Dedrick kids’ every waking hour: Their father was a jazz musician and their mother directed the church choir. Bruce, Chris, and Sandra Dedrick moved to New York City and began performing as the Village Fare. Their father funded a demo for Chris’ composition “Kites Are Fun,” and the brand-new Free Design signed to Enoch Light’s Project 3 label. A string of TV appearances followed, but large-scale success didn’t, and the Dedricks retired the Free Design soon after Chris (the band’s primary songwriter and arranger) moved to Toronto, where he became a prolific composer for TV and film.
In time, Sandra, Ellen, and Stefanie Dedrick joined him, and they formed the core of the Star-Scape Singers, a choral ensemble founded by Canadian pianist/metaphysicist Kenneth G. Mills. Through the ’90s, the Singers toured their grandiose vocal pieces around the world. Around this time, sunshine pop was getting a second shot from acts as far afield as Stereolab, the Elephant 6 Collective, and Cornelius, whose Trattoria label was the first to reissue Free Design records (Light In The Attic issued the entire catalog on CD in the 2000s, and also put together a remix album). In 2000, the Free Design accepted a spot on the Marina Records compilation Caroline Now, a Beach Boys tribute. The label offered to release a full-length, and the result was Cosmic Peekaboo, featuring the original trio. In 2010, Chris passed away, 11 years after his sister Stefanie.
Jerusalem: Jerusalem (1972) / Escalator (2009)
The tale of Jerusalem is something of a Nabokovian farce. For starters, there’s some dispute over whether Escalator is a Jerusalem record, or a usurpation. Things were much simpler at the end of the 1960s, when three schoolboys in Salisbury, England caught the blues-rock bug and began hashing out their own original material. Two of the boys — bassist Paul Dean and drummer Ray Sparrow — stuck with it, eventually recruiting a couple guitarists and a singer, Lynden Williams. Now a five-piece, Jerusalem (named for the famed Hubert Parry chorale, which Dean was fond of in school) now sought a recording contract. For this, they had an ace in the hole: Paul’s sister Zoe, a television presenter in London and the then-girlfriend of Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan. At her urging, he checked Jerusalem out, and got them signed to Decca Records’ Deram offshoot. He also produced their debut album, a raw pile of bloozy chuck that’s been, correctly, likened to garage rock. Gillan noted as much in the liner notes, arguing that “whenever possible, the work of writers and players in their formative stages should be recorded; before inhibition and self-consciousness set in, before fire and aggression die down.”
And yet for years, Gillan’s documentary efforts were limited to Jerusalem (who soon broke up) and Pussy, a power-trio spinoff featuring Dean, Sparrow and Jerusalem lead guitarist Bob Cooke. Pussy released one single before splitting, though Dean and Sparrow revived the band to track an album that went unreleased until 2011. While many ex-Jerusalems remained in Salisbury, Dean maintained a professional relationship with Gillan, recording the Rocks On! album in 1984 with Gillan’s sister Pauline. As often happens, an email opened a new chapter in Jerusalem’s book. Around 2010, the website Rockadrome informed Dean of his band’s continued popularity, which spurred him to reissue Jerusalem. But this wasn’t the comeback; Lynden Williams had already jumpstarted the band with Geoff Downes (the Buggles, Yes) and Nick D’Virgilio (Spock’s Beard). Pretty much wherever 2009’s Escalator is discussed on the internet, you’ll see a comment from pauldean1 or jerusalemrockband minimizing Williams’ earlier contributions and condemning the new record as a sham. If Lynden’s response exists, I have not found it. While Dean defends Jerusalem’s legacy on a band website and in a number of blog interviews, the new incarnation keeps issuing material: Black Horses in 2014, and Cooler Than Antarctica in 2016.
Nancy Sinatra: Woman (1973) / One More Time (1995)
With one single, Sinatra sliced the knot that could’ve tied her career down. Father Frank was King Of The Squares, but Nancy didn’t have the inclination (or the pipes) for the softer stuff. To forge a successful career in a modern pop landscape, though, could be tricky for someone carrying a pre-rock surname (Dean Martin and Desi Arnaz’s sons did away with the surnames entirely, landing a couple hits as two-thirds of the group Dino, Desi & Billy. Gary Lewis — son of Jerry — and his Playboys steered into the skid by recording immaculate Merseybeat. Gary won Cash Box’s Male Vocalist Of The Year in 1965, beating out… Frank Sinatra). A light-BDSM breakup anthem with a queasy bass earworm, 1966’s “These Boots Were Made For Walkin'” sat at #1 for just one week, but remains a go-go classic. Artists that have polished this particular touchstone include the Supremes, Megadeth, KMFDM, Loretta Lynn, Crispin Glover, and Parquet Courts. “Boots” was written by peat-voiced weirdo Lee Hazlewood, whose subsequent collaborations with Sinatra form their own cultish discography (“Some Velvet Morning” is a sluggish, pretentious twaddle, but “Sugar Town” is a lovin’ spoonful of acid, and “Big Red Balloon” plays like a divorce song written by Roald Dahl).
After a fruitful half-decade that included a Bond theme (“You Only Live Twice”) and a terrible #1 duet with her dad (“Somethin’ Stupid”), Sinatra’s career began to cool. She signed to RCA in 1971, releasing a couple LPs (one with Hazlewood, one without) that missed the charts entirely. The solo LP (Woman) operates at the intersection of country and folk-pop. The major highlight is “One More Time,” a hoedown strutter with some terrific slide-guitar stabs. She went on hiatus afterward, releasing one tepidly received duets record with Mel Tillis and publishing a biography of her father in 1985. Ten years later, she issued One More Time, a poignant collection of ragged AOR pop-rock. A number of records followed, including a third full-length collaboration with Lee Hazlewood.
Tom Rapp: Sunforest (1973) / A Journal Of The Plague Year (1999)
As a name, Pearls Before Swine would appear to tell you a lot about how the band saw itself, and how it saw us. Mostly, though, Pearls Before Swine was Tom Rapp’s escape from Melbourne, Florida. A fan of Joan Baez and the Fugs, Rapp mailed his high school band’s tape to the Fugs’ label ESP-Disk in 1966. ESP’s owner let Pearls Before Swine stay in his Upper West Side home, and the band — just exiting their teens — had access to ouds and celestes left by other ESP acts. As a studio-only outfit with an artsy bent, they were ghosts. They wrote allusive songs about the Crimean War and spelled “fuck” in Morse code. They also wrote wave-splashed ballads and a song that Noxagt once pounded the words out of. They supposedly turned down a Woodstock invite (Rapp was in Holland), and instead of putting themselves on their album covers, they used details from Brueghel and Bosch works. One popular rumor held that the band was a bunch of folkies in their 60s. After two albums and approximately zero share of the profits, Rapp took PBS to Reprise. A new version of the band finally started touring, but even then it was clear whose band this was, and Reprise credited their final record (a mix of older and newer compositions) to Tom Rapp.
Taking the hint, he released two proper solo records on Blue Thumb. But upon realizing that he’d been cheated out of his royalties and publishing, he quit music. His last gig was in 1976, opening for Patti Smith. He took a job in a Cambridge, Massachusetts theater, working his way up to projectionist. At the same time, he was commuting to Brandeis University, where he obtained a law degree. He spent nearly two decades as a civil rights attorney in Philadelphia before moving back to Florida. In 1997, Phil McMullen, the editor of the British zine Ptolemaic Terrascope, called with the news that some Pearls Before Swine albums were selling well as CD reissues. Encouraged by this, Rapp agreed to play a brief solo set at Terrastock, an annual Rhode Island festival organized by McMullen. This led directly to A Journal Of The Plague Year. The long gap left his voice in fine fettle, as, with the help of Damon & Naomi, he unveiled stately tributes to Silver Apples, Kurt Cobain, and living on Mars.
Emitt Rhodes: Farewell To Paradise (1973) / Rainbow Ends (2016)
A popular industry parlor game after Let It Be was identifying the next Beatles. Sometimes the candidates were bands, like Klaatu or Badfinger. Sometimes they were solo acts, like Harry Nilsson or Emitt Rhodes. Like Paul McCartney, Rhodes was a formalist who could be the whole band if the situation called for it. And as far as he was concerned, the situation always called for it. While he’d had local success in a couple LA groups, he preferred quality control and retired from banddom as a 19-year-old. Four songs recorded on an Ampex at his parents’ house led to a contract with ABC/Dunhill. The terms called for six albums in three years, which he presumably thought was a cinch. His self-titled debut — boasting an astounding one-two guitar-pop attack — was a minor hit, but his self-contained recording style delayed the release of 1971’s limiter-heavy Mirror. Despite the “Dear Prudence” homage “Golden Child Of God” and the power-pop “Really Wanted You,” the album stiffed. Part of that may be due to A&M Records, which capitalized on his debut’s glowing reviews by issuing some tracks from the Merry-Go-Round (his old band) as a Rhodes solo release. The third proper record arrived two years later; he added violin and a general ’70s looseness, but it was an arid effort that led him to stop recording at just 23.
Elektra Records hired him as a studio jack-of-all-trades. He produced actor Gabe Kaplan’s Welcome Back, Kotter cash-in single “Up Your Nose,” and engineered the unreleased third record from the holy Judee Sill. Twice he had solo projects scrapped: in 1980 and 2000. Enter Chris Price, musician and co-producer of Linda Perhacs’ decades-overdue second album. He struck up a friendship with Rhodes, who eventually handed over a set of demo tapes. Recording in Rhodes’ home studio, Price fleshed out these compositions with some all-star collaborators: Nels Cline, Roger Manning Jr., Jon Brion, Jason Falkner, Aimee Mann, and Susanna Hoffs, who had once unsuccessfully petitioned Rhodes to produce the Bangles. Fernando Perdomo, Price’s co-producer on the Perhacs record, played bass. The result was Rainbow Ends, a relaxed and retrospective record, West Coast AOR in the mold of Jackson Browne.
Traffic: When The Eagle Flies (1974) / Far From Home (1994)
Traffic were elected to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2004, their 11th year of eligibility. Ostensibly, the group is well regarded, but as a kid, the only Traffic tune I can recall hearing on classic rock radio is the torporific “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” (The state of rock radio being what it was, it was years before I learned who recorded it.) Their best-known album (John Barleycorn Must Die) began life as a Steve Winwood solo joint, and their best-known composition (the Dave Mason-penned “Feelin’ Alright?”) wasn’t a hit until Joe Cocker got his sweaty hands on it. An English group that sold much better in America, Traffic are usually praised for keeping the music paramount or whatever, but in practice that meant a lot of restless tunes papered over with Steve Winwood’s soul vocals. Winwood was 18 when he formed Traffic with Mason, Jim Capaldi, and Chris Wood, but he’d scored real pop hits as the frontman for the Spencer Davis Group. The pop success looked to continue with his new band, and Traffic landed three tunes of childish psychedelia in the UK Top 10. Agitating for a new direction, the band fired Mason before a 1968 tour. When the tour ended, Winwood left everyone else in the lurch, ghosting to join Blind Faith.
The split wasn’t long at all: John Barleycorn (recorded as a trio of Capaldi, Winwood, and Wood) was released in the summer of 1970. Opening with a sax-heavy, seven-minute instrumental, the album was a major hit on progressive stations. A revolving cast of band members (Dave Mason completed his third and final stint during this time, while two other members ended up in Can) and Winwood’s health issues kept things interesting, but Traffic kept racking up Top 10 albums in the States until disbanding in 1974. And then everyone went pop. Winwood, of course, became a pop/adult contemporary juggernaut. Capaldi scored a British hit in 1975 with his disco cover of “Love Hurts.” While America preferred Nazareth’s version, he made the US Top 40 with 1983’s “That’s Love,” featuring Winwood on backing vocals and synths. Mason’s 1977 soft-rock classic “We Just Disagree” was an even bigger hit. Beset by drug and alcohol addiction, Chris Wood died while recording his only solo record — it was shelved until 2008. Winwood and Capaldi decamped to Ireland in 1994 to record a new Traffic album (Mason was in Fleetwood Mac at the time), which ended up sounding like a shaggier Winwood solo CD. Mason got his due, though: At Traffic’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony, he led an all-star performance of “Feelin’ Alright?”
Coven: Blood On The Snow (1974) / Jinx (2013)
The implication of genres like proto-punk, proto-house, and proto-metal is that there are clear demarcations between this and that: Energies collide in the underground, waiting to be harnessed and turned into something classifiable by the true visionaries. Coven’s very existence puts the lie to this Great Band theory: They released Black Sabbath before Black Sabbath, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge before Van Hagar, and the devil horns before Gene Simmons. For a thorough rundown, I can’t do any better than People’s Alex Heigl, who profiled the band in 2016. Suffice to say that Coven began life in the late ’60s as a schlocky psych-rock project; their debut album Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls implies a repudiation of evil, but the liners boasted of the first-ever recorded black mass, and the gatefold depicted a woman on an altar, surrounded by men throwing the horns.The music of Witchcraft couldn’t match the hellish trappings — it’s basically organ-heavy hard rock with wheedly guitar — but a stray mention in an Esquire article about Charles Manson led Mercury Records to pull the album from circulation. That should have been the death of Coven. But in 1971, co-founder and lead singer Jinx Dawson hit the Top 30 with the anti-war chestnut “One Tin Soldier,” released on the Billy Jack soundtrack. Though Dawson was the only member on the string-swept pop tune, she insisted that the song be credited to Coven, and the song’s success led to two more records. Despite repurposing Louis-Léopold Boilly’s illustration “Tartini’s Dream,” 1974’s Blood On The Snow is easygoing pop-rock, the piano having exorcised the organ.
The band remained on good terms — after drummer Steve Ross almost joined Rainbow, he and Dawson formed the Equalizers, a live-only New Wave act. Ross also backed Dawson in Heaven Can Help, an unreleased 1989 film co-starring Dawson and Dianne Copeland, who I believe was in Surf Nazis Must Die! Throughout this time, Dawson was designing clothing for her own fashion line. She also founded Nevoc Musick, a clearinghouse for past and unreleased Coven recordings. Though rock history had reduced them to a curiosity, Coven still had acolytes, among them Dutch occult heshers the Devil’s Blood, Indianapolis’ We Are Hex (who recorded with Dawson a few years ago), and Riktor Ravensbruck of the Electric Hellfire Club and Wolfpack 44. It was Ravensbruck who enlisted Dawson as a guest vocalist, which led to a full-on reunion record. 2013’s Jinx reunited Dawson with Ross, guitarist Chris Neilsen, keyboardist Rick Durrett, and bassist Oz Osborne (seriously). The We Are Hex collaboration made the record, as did a reworking of 1969’s “Wicked Woman.” Forty-plus years of metal history informs Jinx, a delightfully doomy encore.
Fanny: Rock And Roll Survivors (1974) / Fanny Walked The Earth (2018)
The title of Fanny’s comeback album is a remarkable combination of grandiosity and assertion. It’s a worthwhile reminder: They were the first all-female band to release a major-label record. As drummer Alice DeBuhr said in Claire Fallon’s fantastic 2017 article on women in rock, “We didn’t think of ourselves as the beginning of or part of a tradition of women musicians. Because there weren’t any.” Fanny’s story began in the Philippines: Jean and June Millington were the children of a Filipina socialite and an American naval officer. The girls took up the ukulele to entertain the family; when June heard another girl at her boarding school playing guitar, everything came into focus. By the time the Millingtons moved to California in 1961, the sisters had picked up six-strings. They met a drummer from another Sacramento high school who wanted to start her own band, and June switched to bass. Their band, the Svelts, worked a repertoire of girl-group and Motown hits at military bases and frat parties for a few years. When the Svelts’ lead guitarist Addie Lee Clement and final drummer DeBuhr started a new band called Wild Honey, the Millingtons signed on. An LA gig caught the attention of Warner Brothers, who inked the act to their Reprise imprint. During the sessions for their first record, the group (now a five-piece with the addition of keyboardist Nickey Barclay) christened themselves Fanny. The name might’ve been a touch risque in the States — and radioactive in Britain — but for the band, the name connoted a benevolent female spirit.
Their 1970 self-titled was full of pop-rock nuggets (with June and Jean’s “Candlelighter Man” the highlight) but they didn’t land a hit until their sophomore record, the deliciously punny Charity Ball. The title track hit #40 on the Hot 100, due to its canny proto-glam/Motown fusion. The same year Charity Ball dropped, the band contributed vocals to a Barbra Streisand record; the Millingtons provided instrumental backing as well. Like clockwork, Fanny produced three more albums in the next three years. After 1973’s Todd Rundgren-helmed Mother’s Pride (which, aside from the meta power-pop of “Solid Gold,” was solidly MOR), June and Alice DeBuhr left the group. They were replaced by Patti Quatro (sister of Suzi) and ex-Svelts drummer Brie Brandt for Rock And Roll Survivors. By the time the record’s one hit (“Butter Boy“) reached the Top 30, the group had disbanded. Brandt married composer James Newton Howard; Barclay dropped off the face of the earth; DeBuhr worked as a label marketer. Jean and June revived the Fanny name for touring purposes, but the former had a main gig as an herbalist, and the latter produced Cris Williamson and Holly Near in-between solo efforts. DeBuhr’s official Fanny website kept the gospel alive, helped by testimonials from David Bowie (“Revivify Fanny. And I will feel that my work is done.”) and NPR (who included 1972’s Fanny Hill in last year’s list of the 150 greatest albums made by women). In March, the Millingtons and DeBuhr — now dubbed Fanny Walked The Earth — released an eponymous set of sturdy, gutty classic rock.
Curved Air: Airborne (1976) / North Star (2014)
Curved Air is one of a few acts — like Rites Of Spring, or Seether — who named themselves after an immortal musical work. Organist Francis Monkman participated in the first British performance of Terry Riley’s seminal In C, and a Riley album evoked more potential (and less struggle) than the name his band was previously using: Sisyphus. Sisyphus’ roots lay in a chance meeting of Monkman (of the Royal Academy Of Music) and violinist Darryl Way (of the Royal College Of Music) at an amplifier shop. Their greatest claim to fame was serving as the accompaniment for a Galt McDermott musical. It was either McDermott or Sisyphus’ manager who recommended the addition of Sonja Kristina — a onetime member of Strawbs and the star of the London production of Hair — as the lead singer. One of the first vinyl picture discs, Curved Air’s debut Air Conditioning sold well, and Second Album spawned an improbable hit in the psych droner “Back Street Luv.” The song hit the UK Top Five, which would’ve been great news for a band where everyone was hoping for that sort of thing. Monkman, though, wanted to make sprawling, Riley-esque works; after two albums with Way’s and Monkman’s compositions separated by side, the band split.
Now it was Kristina’s time to make the band in her image. She and guitarist/bassist Mike Wedgwood recruited a new Curved Air lineup and issued the more straightforward Air Cut, which did not chart. The band broke up again, only to reform with most of the original lineup after their label sued them. A brief tour and live album got the group into the black, and they split yet again. And yet again, they reunited! This time, Way rejoined the fold; he brought his manager Miles Copeland III, and his manager’s brother Stewart, who became Curved Air’s drummer. Two frustrating and unsuccessful LPs later, Way was done. The rest of the band followed, with Kristina trying a solo career and Stewart Copeland giving pop success a go with the Police. (The two married in 1982.) The usual one-off reunions occurred in the intervening decades, until most of the original lineup finally agreed to properly resurrect Curved Air. Monkman bowed out in the embryonic stages, and Way left before 2014’s North Star, a collection of new and redone tracks. Original drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa announced his departure last fall.
Shirley Collins: Amaranth (1976) / Lodestar (2016)
It began with an American picture. Shirley Collins was 12 or 13 when she saw Glamour Girl in a Sussex movie theater. A 1948 American production starring Virginia Grey and drummer Gene Krupa, the film (renamed Night Club Girls in the UK) featured a folk singer who was elevated to stardom. Suddenly, Collins knew what she would become: not a star, but a folk singer. It wasn’t until 2007 that she learned the identity of the actress: Susan Reed, an actual folkie and zither player whose work was praised by Alan Lomax. Collins knew Lomax — she lived with him for a time, and he helped record her first two albums. In 1959, she traveled to the Southern United States to assist him with field recordings. Upon Collins’ return, a series of full-lengths and EPs established her as a peerless transmitter of English folk.
She had a hand in several innovations: 1964’s Folk Roots, New Routes combined American and English folk texts with Davy Graham’s bluesy guitar workouts. A series of collaborations with her sister Dolly — who played a replica of a 17th century pipe organ and arranged many of Shirley’s songs — injected an Early Music sensibility into English folk. Their landmark work was Anthems Before The Fall, a song cycle tracing the encroaching horror of World War I and the blood-bought knowledge of the working class. At the end of the 1970s, she developed dysphonia after a series of personal and professional setbacks. Her second husband and frequent collaborator Ashley Hutchings (a founding member of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span) left her and her two children. Her sister Dolly had a child of her own, and could not spare much time for recording. Collins worked in shops, gave talks about English folk history, and toured a book about her work with Lomax. After years of gentle urging by David Tibet of Current 93, Collins returned to both performance and the studio, releasing the towering Lodestar two years ago on Domino.
Gary Wilson: You Think You Really Know Me (1977) / Mary Had Brown Hair (2004)
Like me, Gary Wilson was a young Beatles nut with a dad employed by IBM. Unlike me, Wilson headed to the recording studio, cutting the “Move On/The Freak” single as the organist for Lord Fuzz (Gary was in eighth grade). By the end of the 1960s, Wilson got majorly into John Cage, whom he considered a forefather in antagonism. Having shopped his home demos — to no avail — to the New York label ESP-Disk, Wilson got the attention of Robbie Dupree (of later “Steal Away” fame). Dupree produced a handful of Wilson’s songs at Bearsville Studios, a Woodstock-adjacent recording complex founded by Albert Grossman, Bob Dylan’s manager. When Dupree’s availability ran out, Wilson decamped to his parents’ house, where he’d installed a home studio in his basement. The result was You Think You Really Know Me, a hypnotic blend of deft soft rock (like his father, Gary gigged as a lounge musician for many years), aleatoric sound effects, and horned-out brattiness. It was a New Wave prophecy, but despite Wilson’s best promotional efforts, he couldn’t land a bite. By this time, a number of his lounge-music bandmates had landed in San Diego, and in 1978 he joined them.
He split his time between solo pursuits and the working musician’s life. At home, he was a member of the Big City Blues band, backing the likes of Charles Brown and Percy Mayfield. On the road, he and his compatriots the Blind Dates tore up CBGB. He released a four-song EP, but it didn’t land, and by the early ’80s Gary Wilson and the Blind Dates split. But as happens with many private-press records, what’s dead can never die, and Gary Wilson’s weirdo sex jams took on a new life in the irony-riddled ’90s. The folks at Sub Pop liked to namecheck him as an influence, and Beck gave him a shoutout on “Where It’s At.” At the beginning of the decade, the venerated Philadelphia Record Exchange gave You Think You Really Know Me a limited-edition reissue, but the real breakthrough came a decade later, when Motel Records hired a PI to track Wilson down. Still in San Diego, supplementing his income at a combination video store/erotic theater, Wilson assented to another You Think reissue, which led to his first solo shows in two decades as well as a deal with Stones Throw Records. Mary Had Brown Hair was the result, a vintage set of brittle funk sketches. More records followed, as did a guest slot on The Tonight Show and a cameo during a Jimmy Kimmel Live performance by Earl Sweatshirt, who had sampled him on “Grief.”
Lee Hazlewood: Back On The Street Again (1977) / Cake Or Death (2006)
Even by the standards of the anarchic ’60s — in which the popularity of self-contained writing, production, and performance units melted the industry gates — the success of Lee Hazlewood is peculiar. A Dust Bowl kid and Korean War veteran, Hazlewood notched his first successes in flyover country. While working as a DJ in Phoenix, Hazlewood wrote and produced hit records for Sanford Clark and Duane Eddy. A hotshot named Phil Spector spent some time at Hazlewood’s studio, learning production tricks and meeting some of the players that would later join his Wrecking Crew. Briefly considering retirement as he entered his mid-30s, Hazlewood’s fortunes were jolted after meeting Nancy Sinatra. He instructed the singer to drop into her lower register (his apocryphal instructions were to sing like a 14-year-old who fucks truckers). He also wrote her a tune, “These Boots Were Made For Walking,” which became a #1 hit. More hits followed, as did a couple duet albums beloved by cultists. The blonde bombshell and the mustachioed old dude with a bowl cut made an odd pair, but the success was undeniable. Hazlewood dabbled with Ann-Margret and dozens of quickie singles on his new label Lee Hazlewood Industries, but he couldn’t match his success with Sinatra, and he moved to Sweden in the 1970s.
He released music throughout the decade — good stuff, too, like the funky horn-pop of “You Look Like A Lady” and the countrypolitan blessing of “A House Safe For Tigers.” On 1977’s magisterially cheap “A Rider On A White Horse,” he even showed a deft hand for synthesizers. That track appeared on Back On The Street Again, Lee’s last solo effort for some time. Not until the 1990s did he truly begin to comprehend what he had made. The first big jolt was Billy Ray Cyrus’ cover of “These Boots” on his 1992 blockbuster album Some Gave All (Lee earned a gold record, which he dutifully hung on his wall). A couple years later, he guested at a number of Nancy Sinatra concerts and was surprised at the younger generations’ interest in songs he’d practically forgotten. Still, his profile was low: All he recorded in the ’90s was a duet album with Finland’s Anna Hanski and a standards album with the Al Casey Combo, whose leader supported Duane Eddy in those Phoenix years. The latter record was issued on Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley’s label, along with a number of Hazlewood reissues. He moved back to Phoenix, then Vegas, surfacing for the odd concert. In the 2000s, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, but was still able to complete a third duets record with Nancy, as well as 2006’s Cake Or Death, a set of original tunes titled after the famous Eddie Izzard bit. Wry and impassioned, it was a fine valedictory message; he died the next year.
Emmanuelle Parrenin: Maison Rose (1977) / Maison Cube (2011)
Like all nations, France has regional musics that can be classified as “folk,” but the idea of a folk revival was a bit longer in arriving than in America or England. A big step towards praxis occurred in the 1960s, when scholar/performers (and spouses) Catherine Perrier and John Wright founded Le Bourdon, France’s first venue dedicated to folk. Around 1970, Emmanuelle Parrenin fell into the club’s orbit. The daughter of violinist Jacques Parrenin, she once bummed around England with the Yardbirds and Eric Clapton. She became a fixture at Le Bourdon, collaborating on a number of albums in a traditional vein, and making field recordings throughout France. As Parrenin told The Quietus, though, she was less interested in the music than in meeting its makers. Parrenin finally released her solo debut in 1977, and it was stupefying; Maison Rose cracked the purity of the French folk scene into a dozen delicate crystals.
Having made the music she’d always envisioned, Parrenin transitioned into modern dance, though not before she stunned a Parisian crowd in 1981, as the Clash’s opening act (a collection of songs she wrote in the ’70s and ’80s for choreographers was released for last year’s Record Store Day). In 1989, she suffered damage to her inner ear, losing her hearing. As Parrenin tells it, she left Paris for an Alpine cabin, and over time — by playing the harp and singing — she could hear again. She remained in the region for a decade, working as a musical therapist for children with autism. Parrenin continued this work after returning to Paris in 2002. Her son put her in touch with songwriter/label owner Flóp (born Francisco López), and the two began writing what would become Maison Cube, which introduces pop rhythms and modern electronic touches to her arsenal.
The Rezillos: Can’t Stand The Rezillos (1978) / Zero (2015)
The Rezillos always were a little different: How many bands have had three members become architects? The Crass Records crew was black and white, the Pistols were garish neon. The Rezillos had the color palette of a comic book, which was fitting as they nicked their name from a club in DC’s The Shadow. The band was hailed as the exception to punk’s nihilism, but as they told Louder Than War, they saw their frantic joy as its own kind of nihilism: Fuck everything, let’s pogo. In grand British tradition, the Rezillos began as an art-student party band, a collective of players in and around the Edinburgh College Of Art. An early incarnation had seven members, but they thinned the ranks by the time of debut single “I Can’t Stand My Baby.” Lured by the prospect of being the Ramones’ labelmates, the Rezillos signed to Sire Records, which flew the band to New York to record Can’t Stand The Rezillos.
If you haven’t heard it, the album is a blast, punk rock draped on a New Wave scaffold. There’s a Dave Clark Five cover, which is par for the punk course, and a pre-Buckingham/Nicks Fleetwood Mac cover, which is absolutely not. The Rezillos’ consumer breakthrough came when their snide “Top Of The Pops” reached the Top 20, earning them an appearance on the show of the same name. Already on edge from their protracted recording schedule, the band dissolved after co-lead singer Fay Fife developed vocal cord scarring, scuttling a tour. Primary songwriter Jo Callis jumped to the Human League in time for Dare. Fife and her co-lead Eugene Reynolds founded the Revillos, which lasted as long as their romantic relationship — which is to say, until 1985. In 2001, with the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra unavailable to play Edinburgh’s Hogmanay festival, the Rezillos stepped in. Worldwide concerts followed, as did Jo Callis’ second departure. Fife and Reynolds soldiered on, releasing the hard-edged Zero in 2015.
Chuck Berry: Rock It (1979) / Chuck (2017)
It seems incredible that Chuck Berry went so long between records. Perhaps it was a matter of bad association — the day ATCO released Rock It, he was scheduled to enter federal prison on convictions of tax evasion and filing false returns. It had been a decent decade until then. An improvisational touring act with a rigid setlist, Berry flew from town to town with little more than a Gibson, confident that he could scare up a band that knew his songs cold. He was, as a rule, correct. His American mythos was the accelerant for the rock ‘n’ roll brushfire, permeating everything from the Rolling Stones to “Radar Love.” While white acts robbed the bank with his vision as the weapon, Berry had to scour the country for every bag of bills he could find. Rock ‘n’ roll turned into Rock, but he maintained his locktight approach.
His concerts were frequently rote, but he always had an audience hungry for the original stuff. A rapturous 1972 live recording of the puerile “My Ding-A-Ling” — a rewrite of an old Dave Bartholomew tune — became his only pop #1 (eat that, Jerry Lee Lewis). He played himself in the 1978 Fran Drescher/Jay Leno vehicle American Hot Wax, and days before he was found guilty, he performed (in a tuxedo) at the White House (Amy Carter was a huge fan). After his release, he resumed his touring schedule, eventually settling into a once-a-month residency in his native St. Louis, backed by a band that included his children Charles Jr. and Ingrid. That’s the band that backs him on last June’s posthumous release Chuck, the culmination of decades of declarations that he was squirreling away new material. In a 2016 press release, he dedicated the record to Themetta Berry, his wife of 68 years. He says, “My darlin’, I’m growing old! I’ve worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes!”
Nektar: Man In The Moon (1980) / The Prodigal Son (2001)
Progressive rockers with a pop sensibility, Nektar cracked American FM radio in the mid-1970s but couldn’t quite make it to the other side. Like countless British acts of their era, Nektar’s story began in Hamburg, where guitarist Roye Albrighton joined forces with the band Prophecy. Though comprised of Englishmen, their home base was Germany, and they were largely considered a continental European band. In 1970, Nektar signed to a small American label, and they flew to Boston to cut an album that never got released. After waiting out their crappy contract, the band signed to a local German label, releasing the “space opera” Journey To The Centre Of The Eye in late ’71. They were, by all accounts, a highly entertaining live act, thanks to Mick Brockett’s extensive light show (according to lore, their New York debut was marked by immediately blowing the venue’s fuses — but Albrighton later claimed a roadie hit the wrong switch). They made the upper reaches of the Top 200 with 1973’s concept LP Remember The Future, and the lower reaches of the Hot 100 with 1974’s boogie-woogie encomium “Astral Man.” Blocked by the band’s label from recording a solo album, Albrighton quit Nektar, which then enlisted American Dave Nelson as frontman for their major-label debut. 1977’s Magic Is A Child (which cover featured a teenage Brooke Shields) edged closer to pop-rock, but it didn’t connect. Even with the reintroduction of Albrighton, the band soon packed it in. It wasn’t a lost year, though. In November, they partied with actor Sherman Hemsley, a major proghead who sneaked their music (and merch) onto The Jeffersons.
A couple years later, Albrighton — who hadn’t gotten around to recording that solo album — reconstituted Nektar with keyboardist Taff Freeman and a new rhythm section. 1980’s Man In The Moon, released in Germany, is less progressive than full-on hard rock in the vein of REO Speedwagon or Foreigner (“Too Young To Die” and “We” are the highlights). And that was it — Albrighton formed AOR trio Grand Alliance, which released one album on A&M around the time Iron Maiden covered Nektar’s “King Of Twilight” on the “Aces High” single. Freeman dropped off the radar. In 2000, Nektar reunited as a trio (Albrighton, Freeman, and new drummer Ray Hardwick), releasing The Prodigal Son in 2001 and hitting the prog-rock festival circuit. In 2002, Albrighton finally released that solo record, the heavily synthesized The Follies Of Rupert Treacle. Three more Nektar albums followed before Albrighton died in 2016.
Seals & Crofts: The Longest Road (1980) / Traces (2004)
Tragically, the rich-hippie anthem “Summer Breeze” is a joke at this point, but it could be worse; The Simpsons could have ripped into Seals & Crofts instead of John Denver. Though their music reeks of Southern California, Jim Seals and Dash Crofts met as gigging musicians in north-central Texas. (Seals was part of an impressive musical lineage: his brother was the Dan in England Dan & John Ford Coley; his cousin Troy Seals is a Hall Of Fame country songwriter, and another cousin, Brady Seals, fronted Little Texas.) Multi-instrumental hotshots, the two joined the Champs (of “Tequila” fame) in the late ’50s. Former Champ Glen Campbell recruited the two as backing players, and while Glen Campbell And The Gee Cees didn’t make an impact, after a few more years as studio writers and musicians, Seals & Crofts released their self-titled debut in 1969. They were typically proficient but also unfocused; after jumping to Warner Bros., they put everything together. “Summer Breeze” was the first of three #6 singles, and established the pair as purveyors of crystal-draped, sunset-dappled takes on interpersonal relationships.
They hit a snag with the obnoxious title track to 1974’s Unborn Child, written by their engineer’s wife. Coming just a year after Roe v. Wade, the hectoring anti-choice anthem drew major fire. Later accounts overplay the backlash — Seals & Crofts continued to score hits through the end of the decade — but the furor didn’t deter these adherents of the Bahá’í Faith, known for rapping about religion with all comers after their concerts. Seals & Crofts’ fortunes waned with soft rock’s, and Warners dropped them after 1980’s The Longest Road. Seals moved to Costa Rica and began operating a coffee farm while Crofts wound up back in Texas. The two remained amicable, reuniting for various Bahá’í-related causes. They tracked a handful of songs with film composer James Newton Howard in the ’90s, but that went nowhere, though they did return to the pop charts when Busta Rhymes sampled “Sweet Green Fields” for “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See.” In 2004, the two returned with Traces, which combined six remakes with four new tracks.
Funkadelic: The Electric Spanking Of War Babies (1981) / First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate (2014)
Given P-Funk’s sprawling membership and discography, picking the two records for this entry was tough. George Clinton and company recorded By Way Of The Drum in 1989, but it wasn’t released until 2007. In 2008, Westbound Records — Funkadelic’s original label — issued Toys, a collection of unreleased tracks from the early ’70s. Ultimately, it’s best to follow the band’s lead: First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate boasts 33 cuts, one for every year since The Electric Spanking Of War Babies. For this crew, 33 years was several lifetimes: I count just seven players who appear on both albums — a half-dozen if you exclude Sly Stone. As Nate Patrin noted in his wonderful P-Funk Counting Down entry, Sly’s inclusion on Electric Spanking added musical (and extra-musical) pressure on George Clinton. On the one hand, their co-write “Funk Gets Stronger (Killer Millimeter Longer Version)” is palpitation on wax. On the other hand, both men were arrested in LA for freebasing in a car. Overall, the record wasn’t nearly as dynamic as its title. It spawned no pop or R&B hits, and Clinton shuttered both Funkadelic and Parliament to pursue a solo career.
Success came fast — 1982’s “Atomic Dog” topped the R&B charts while somehow missing the pop charts entirely. But this oddity was eventually corrected by a heap of rappers and singers. In 1993 and 1994 alone, Dr. Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Hammer, BLACKStreet, Ice Cube, and NKOTB hit the Hot 100 with songs that sampled or interpolated “Dog.” And, of course, mobb music and G-funk practically made Parliament-Funkadelic synthwhine a production cliché. A 2010 lawsuit against the Black Eyed Peas notwithstanding, Clinton has maintained a genial attitude towards sampling. Instead, he turned his legal eye toward P-Funk’s former publisher and law firm. While it was ruled that he turned over his publishing rights in the early ’80s, he also reclaimed some P-Funk masters and opened the books on unauthorized reissues. Meanwhile, his fellow cosmic lights began to dim. Eddie Hazel died in 1992, Ray Davis in 2005, Cordell Mosson in 2013, Jessica Cleaves in 2014, Bernie Worrell in 2016, and Junie Morrison in 2017. Small wonder, then, that on First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate Clinton gleefully wallows in the present. With numerous family members — genetic and musical — in tow, it jumps from smoked-out funk to nü-metal to pop-crunk experiments.
Crispy Ambulance: The Plateau Phase (1982) / Scissorgun (2002)
Alongside TV On The Radio and Echo And The Bunnymen, Crispy Ambulance are high on the shortlist of good bands with awful names (Factory Records founder Tony Wilson supposedly said it was the worst band name he’d ever heard until signing Thick Pigeon). Graham Massey — then of Biting Tongues, later of 808 State — coined the name, figuring it would yield no clue to the band’s sound. The British music mags, though, were pleased to fill you in. The Crispies were frequently compared unfavorably to Joy Division; the band signed to Factory Records three months after singer Alan Hempsall replaced Ian Curtis for one show, as the latter was suffering from epilepsy. The switch — dramatized in the 2008 film Control — didn’t go over well with fans, but after Curtis’ death his bandmates offered Hempsall a tryout to become New Order’s vocalist. Hempsall declined.
In any event, one listen to The Plateau Phase (shunted off to Factory Benelux) should show that the Crispies were experimental, rather than exorcizing. Large stretches of the record — in particular, the languid instrumental “Death From Above” and the softly chugging “We Move Through The Plateau Phase” — are positively arid. So is Hempsall’s voice, mixed at the same volume as everything else. In 1990, Factory Benelux reissued the album as a CD, appending the excellent 1981 singles Live On A Hot August Night (actually not live at all) and “Sexus.” By 1982, the band decided it had run its course and retired the Crispy Ambulance name. Yet they still kept at it for a little longer. In 1985, the same lineup, now named Ram Ram Kino, released the “Advantage” single on Psychic TV’s Temple Records. That was it until 1999, when the four Crispies reunited to play in support of a CD reissue project. They enjoyed themselves enough to record Scissorgun for California’s Darla Records. This time, they tilted to the “punk” side of post-punk — Hempsall frequently bellows like a Mancunian Jack Grisham. Three more albums followed, including two on a revived Factory Benelux.
Pagan Altar: Pagan Altar (1982) / Lords Of Hypocrisy (2004)
The doomy Pagan Altar were ostensibly part of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, but you could barely see them from the beach. Despite a mega-theatrical live show (replete with hooded monks, lit candles, and bloody coffins) and a full-length demo, no one bit. And the demo is good as hell — it’s an occultic document with fantastic dynamics, lead flurries, and the stomp of early Sabbath. Metal’s vaunted tape-trading network led the demo to America’s West Coast, where one-time Heathen vocalist Sam Kress published a rave review in his metal zine Whiplash, along with the band’s address. The band wasn’t equipped to capitalize on the interest; Kress dangled the chance to support a hot new act called Metallica, but Pagan Altar could barely afford to mail demos to America, let alone tour there. Bootlegs of Pagan Altar were soon circulating through the tape-trading bloodstream. After a couple more years, the band called it a day.
Smash cut to the Internet Age, when brothers Alan (guitar) and Terry (vocals) Jones discovered — as Vashti Bunyan before them — that dubs of their record were fetching exorbitant prices. They promptly issued an expanded edition of Pagan Altar (retitled Volume 1) on Oracle Records. Six years after that, a reconstituted band (with drummer Mark Elliot subbing for John Mizrahi, an Israeli native who kind of vanished) released Lords Of Hypocrisy. Crafted from unreleased, decades-old compositions, Lords adds a few more synths and a banjo, but it’s still the same haunted heavy metal people missed the first go-round. A third record followed in 2008, and Terry Jones died of cancer in 2015.
Levon Helm: Levon Helm (1982) / Dirt Farmer (2007)
The Band — of which Helm was the only non-Canadian member — shifted from myths to stars to legends with startling velocity. They worked with Bob Dylan during two of his most scrutinized periods: his switch to raucous rock ‘n’ roll arrangements and a recuperative spell in Woodstock, New York after a gnarly motorcycle accident. A deft bar band before hooking up with Dylan, the group (originally the Hawks, then Levon And The Hawks) took on their patron’s freewheeling style. Their ’68 debut Music From Big Pink bowled the nascent rock press over, but the public came around after the self-titled follow-up. The Band saw Helm (their drummer and occasional mandolinist) come to prominence as a lead singer, and his barrel-aged honk graced future standards like “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Up On Cripple Creek,” “Ophelia,” and “The Weight.” Creatively spent and ragged from the lifestyle their newfound wealth afforded, the Band released just one album of all-original material from 1972 until their first breakup in 1977.
Helm might well have enjoyed a fruitful career as a solo musician and actor (he played Loretta Lynn’s father in Michael Apted’s 1980 film Coal Miner’s Daughter), had the Band not reunited in 1983. This incarnation, free of Robbie Robertson, lasted longer than the first run, but its tenure was marked by tragedy: Richard Manuel killed himself in 1986, and in 1999 Rick Danko died in his sleep, after which the Band broke up for good. Still skirmishing with Robertson (Helm never cottoned to his bandmate’s outsized presence in the lauded documentary The Last Waltz, and he maintained that he deserved songwriting credit for a number of Band cuts), Helm opted out of the group’s induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. By the end of the ’90s, Helm had been diagnosed with throat cancer. The treatments damaged his vocal cords, and to defray his medical costs, he began hosting Midnight Rambles at his Woodstock home. The shows were all-star affairs — with special, family-friendly versions for his neighbors — and did much to raise Helm’s profile. Originally, he would just play the drums, but as he recovered his voice, he began singing again. He was well enough to issue Dirt Farmer in 2007. Co-produced by his daughter Amy, it was a mix of traditional tunes and modern folk covers. It won a Grammy, as did the subsequent efforts Electric Dirt and Ramble At The Ryman, a live set. His last Ramble took place in March 2012; he died the next month.
Sweet Pea Atkinson: Don’t Walk Away (1982) / Get What You Deserve (2017)
As Sweet Pea’s own biography notes, the man was too young for the Golden Age Of soul, but too old for the ’80s R&B scene. Nevertheless, he carved out a fine career backing a host of luminaries, while still spending some time in the lead-singer spotlight. Born in Detroit in the final year of World War II, Hillard Atkinson began his career on a Chrysler assembly line; in his spare time, he fronted local acts like the Exquisite Singing Group and High Energy. It was the latter’s rehearsal that caught the attention of Don Fagenson, a local kid working in the next studio room over. The soon-to-be-rechristened Don Was recruited Sweet Pea as a lead singer for a new project called Was (Not Was). Throughout the ’80s, Atkinson provided a dignified sheen to Don and David Was’ unconventional dance-pop tunes, including a pair of Top 20 hits in “Spy In The House Of Love” and MTV favorite “Walk the Dinosaur.” In 1982, Island and ZE Records released his solo turn Don’t Walk Away, co-produced by Don and David. It’s a phenomenally funky effort: I’m partial to the rock-inflected “Someone Could Lose A Heart Tonight,” but it’s all great.
Meanwhile, Atkinson padded his bank account providing backing vocals to any number of major projects, many of which were produced by Don Was. He popped up on Grammy-winning smashes like Bonnie Raitt’s Nick Of Time, puzzling follow-ups like Bob Dylan’s Under The Red Sky, and ’90s efforts from fellow Detroiters like Iggy Pop’s Brick By Brick and Bob Seger’s The Fire Inside. He struck up a longstanding artistic relationship with Lyle Lovett and issued a few albums with Detroit funk concern the Boneshakers. In 2008, he rejoined Was (Not Was) on their comeback album Boo. Four years later, Don Was transitioned from his massively successful production career to helm the venerable jazz label Blue Note. He booked Sweet Pea — by then in his seventies — for his long-awaited sophomore record. Keb’ Mo’ handled the bulk of the production, and the record is chockablock with old collaborators, from saxophonist Mindy Adair to Boneshakers founder Randy Jacobs to Don and David Was. Across a set of 10 covers, Get What You Deserve splits the difference between gutbucket blues and smooth pop-soul.
Bobby Bare: Drinkin’ From The Bottle, Singin’ From The Heart (1983) / The Moon Was Blue (2005)
Though he never attained fame anywhere approaching that of one-time roommate Willie Nelson, Bobby Bare’s catalog is nearly as wide-ranging and just as vital to the so-called outlaw movement that spurned Nashville’s pop-friendly milieu. Ironically, Bare’s first single was a pop smash. “The All American Boy” (inspired by Elvis Presley) was a demo Bare cut for his friend Bill Parsons. Bare couldn’t do anything with it — he had been drafted by the U.S. Army, just as Elvis had — but Parsons lip-sync’d the demo all the way to a Billboard #2 in 1959. When Bare finished his service, he aimed for pop success under his own name. He hit the Top 40 a few times in the early ’60s, earning a Grammy in ’64 for Best Country & Western Recording with “Detroit City.” Like so many folkies, Bare was taken by rock ‘n’ roll’s new sounds: He recorded two Bob Dylan covers on 1965’s Constant Sorrow, and headed to England to record 1967’s Ringo-licious The English Country Side with Liverpool country act the Hillsiders. That same year, he released A Bird Named Yesterday, an early country concept record. In 1973, Bare kicked off a fruitful collaboration with author/songwriter Shel Silverstein, just missing the Top 40 with “Daddy What If,” a single recorded live with his eight-year-old son, Bobby Jr.
Despite being billed as country’s answer to Bruce Springsteen by his manager — the legendary Bill Graham — Bare’s career lost traction, and after 1983’s Drinkin’ From The Bottle (written by Silverstein), he more or less retired from recording. But he didn’t drop off the map; that same year, he kicked off a five-year run hosting Bobby Bare And Friends on The Nashville Network, interviewing his songwriting and performing peers. In the ’90s, he formed the Old Dogs supergroup with Waylon Jennings, Jerry Reed and Mel Tillis. 1998’s Old Dogs, recorded live, saw the advanced foursome tear into a meaty set of Shel Silverstein originals. By this point, Bobby Jr. had begun his own career as an alt-rocker, and he coaxed his pa into the studio. The result was 2005’s The Moon Was Blue, a laid-back set featuring Silverstein’s “The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan,” originally recorded by Dr. Hook And The Medicine Show, and made a hit by Marianne Faithfull. Two more albums followed, but Bare made his most fascinating stylistic leap in 2012, submitting his composition “Things Change” into Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix, a competition to determine that year’s Eurovision entrant. The song finished second.
Bauhaus: Burning From The Inside (1983) / Go Away White (2008)
Though they tasted pop success in their native England, the g-word did much to preserve Bauhaus’ standing as a cult act. Recording on 4AD and Beggars Banquet for the majority of their career, Bauhaus could’ve made a decent go on Factory. There was the name, first off: an homage to the modernist German school of unadorned, functional design. And there was the scraggly guitar of Daniel Ash, scratching and prodding like a scour brush at the twitchily triumphant compositions. Truthfully though, any chance of avoiding the “Gothick-Romantick” camp (as the NME once put it) was snuffed with the band’s debut single. Released in 1979, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” was a nine-minute, live-to-tape spare spooktacular wherein the band scavenged the remains of a Gary Glitter chord progression. The press was cool on 1980’s debut LP In The Flat Field, but 1981’s Mask contained two fair-sized pop hits in “The Passion Of Lovers” and the polyrhythmic workout “Kick In The Eye.” As the band gained their studio footing, their grooves became stouter and they incorporated the odd saxophone and Syndrum.
Their third album The Sky’s Gone Out was an even bigger seller, but some of that is due to a Top 20 cover of “Ziggy Stardust” that dropped a month prior. Just before Bauhaus were set to start recording Burning From The Inside, singer Peter Murphy contracted pneumonia. His bandmates proceeded without him — David Ash and bassist David J. Haskins nabbed a lead vocal apiece — and the result was some of the band’s most streamlined and sentimental work to date. They split upon Burning’s release: Ash and drummer Kevin Haskins made their side project Tones On Tail a main gig, then rejoined David J. to form the beloved alt-rock act Love And Rockets. Murphy notched a #1 US Modern Rock single in 1990 with the violin-soaked “Cuts You Up” and two years later moved to Turkey and became a practitioner of Sufism. Concurrent with the release of 1998’s two-disc retrospective Crackle, the band reunited for a worldwide tour. The response was ecstatic, but they would not appear onstage again until a famous 2005 performance at Coachella, which began with Murphy singing the entirety of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” while dangled upside-down. An unexplained incident split the group for good (they say), but not before they released Go Away White, a barely mixed collection recorded in 18 days. As a rhythm section, the Haskins brothers are in lockstep, and the band gleefully indulges their formative love of glam.
Visage: Beat Boy (1984) / Hearts And Knives (2013)
The brainchild of Steve Strange and Rusty Egan, Visage had their share of pop hits in the first half of the ’80s. But the duo’s larger legacy may be their role in the New Romantic movement, a reactionary glamour that rebuked punk aesthetics. In 1978, Strange and Egan began hosting Bowie-themed nights at the London club Billy’s. They moved to the Blitz the following year, but not before recording a demo with Midge Ure, Ultravox’s Billy Currie, and three former members of Magazine. By the time their debut single “Tar” was released, Egan was Blitz’s DJ and Strange worked the door (Spandau Ballet and Boy George made the cut, but Mick Jagger didn’t. Whether it’s because he was drunk, wearing jeans, or the club was full is still a point of contention). The ultimate confirmation arrived in 1980, when David Bowie recruited Strange and other Blitz regulars for his “Ashes To Ashes” music video. Later that year, Visage’s single “Fade To Gray” hit the Top 10 all over Europe. Though Strange claimed input, the song was credited to Currie, Ure, and Gary Numan keyboardist Chris Payne, much to Strange’s annoyance.
Visage scored two more hits (“The Damned Don’t Cry” and “Night Train”) from their sophomore album The Anvil, but were shedding members due to internal clashes and outside opportunities. After a spell touring with Thin Lizzy, Ure became Ultravox’s lead singer in 1979 and Billy Currie joined him full-time in 1984. Guitarist John McGeoch left both Visage and Magazine for Siouxsie And The Banshees, just in time for that band’s most fertile period. By the release of Beat Boy, Strange and Egan were the only original members left. After Visage, Egan focused on production and DJing. Strange struggled with heroin addiction for more than a decade, re-emerging into the public consciousness with Blitzed!, a candid autobiography. He revived Visage for an ’80s package tour — he was the only original member until he and Egan reconciled in 2011 for a one-night-only show at a new Blitz. Egan did not, however, have a hand in the comeback effort Hearts And Knives. Steve Strange died in 2015 on holiday in Egypt; Boy George and members of Spandau Ballet served as his pallbearers. The coffin was topped by Strange’s hat and decorated with pictures of his visage.
Dexys Midnight Runners: Don’t Stand Me Down (1985) / One Day I’m Going To Soar (2012)
In 1983, the typical American purchaser of “Come On Eileen” — recalling a music video peopled with shirtless men in overalls, thumping at banjos and washtub basses — likely thought they were subsidizing some Irish hillbilly concern. In reality, the Birmingham-based Dexys were heavily indebted to Northern Soul, a British term for black American floorfillers — the peppier and more obscure the better — played in clubs and dancehalls deep into the ’80s. In fact, the song’s chorus was Motown by way of Jamaican soul singer Jimmy James, and the band’s name referenced dancers high on Dexedrine. The origin of Dexys lay in the punk band Killjoys, which released exactly one single before splitting. Bassist Gil Weston joined Girlschool on Lemmy Kilmister’s referral; Kevin Archer and Kevin Rowland recruited a horn section and dressed everyone like Mean Streets extras. Despite their name, the band was abstemious, the result of Rowland’s managerial hand (Archer, who left after the first album, was renamed “Al” because Rowland reckoned, probably correctly, that a band can have but one Kevin).
EMI signed Dexys on the strength of their debut single “Dance Stance.” Their next single rewarded the label mightily: “Geno” was a #1 single, and Searching For The Young Soul Rebels was regarded as a classic debut. Regardless, Rowland’s drill-sergeant routine and distaste for interviews cost him every band member save trombonist Jim Paterson. As Kevin was Irish and Paterson was Scottish, Rowland dubbed the duo “the Celtic soul brothers,” and they set about writing a pop album for a new Dexys lineup. The result was the platinum-selling Too-Rye-Ay, boasting two Top Five singles in “Eileen” and a cover of Van Morrison’s “Jackie Wilson Said.” Ever the perfectionist, Rowland pared the band and embarked on a costly recording process (by one estimate, £500,000) for 1985’s Don’t Stand Me Down. Reviews were mixed, and Rowlands’ reluctance to issue a single torpedoed the LP’s prospects. After one non-album single (“Because Of You”), Dexys were done. Subsequently, Rowlands juggled reunion ideas and solo efforts. He was also dealing with depression and cocaine addiction; he got clean in the mid-’90s. A mixture of new and old Dexys contributed two new songs to a 2003 greatest-hits record, and Rowlands kept the band going through tours and sporadic recording sessions, finally releasing One Day I’m Going To Soar in 2012. A covers record followed in 2016.
The BBC Radiophonic Workshop: Doctor Who: The Music II (1985) / Burials In Several Earths (2017)
The Workshop weren’t really a group. They were more like a sonic R&D department. Yet their work reached more people than all but the biggest pop stars. Keen to establish an in-house source for the kind of musique concrete employed by French broadcasters, Daphne Oram and Desmond Briscoe established the Workshop in 1958. Their supervisors viewed the department as a curiosity, imposing a three-month employment limit (to ward off the damage they assumed would result from exposure to all the electronics) and restricting equipment requisition to items junked by other departments. As synthesizers weren’t really a thing at the time, the Workshop generated most of their sounds by manipulating the pitch of tapes and employing a series of cadged oscillators. And they made beautiful things with them. Delia Derbyshire (perhaps the most famous — relatively speaking — Workshop alum) created the original Doctor Who theme in 1963 from analog composer Ron Granier’s one-page memo. Without access to multitracking, she fed her effects and melodies into three separate tape machines, starting them simultaneously.
By the ’80s, a few generations of producers had cycled through. Each track on Doctor Who: The Music II is credited to one composer and each piece was recorded within the previous two years. Peter Howell and Roger Limb joined the Workshop in 1974. Howell had played in the cult psych act Agincourt, and Limb was a former BBC broadcaster and avid tinkerer. Veteran Malcolm Clarke’s dissonant analog synth work on a 1972 Doctor Who serial was the last Workshop score for the show until 1980. Jonathan Gibbs was the newest member, having joined in 1982 after four years as a BBC Radio studio manager. This would be the final collection of new Workshop music under the BBC’s aegis. In the 1990s, John Birt became director of the BBC, and he allowed his content producers to use outside sources. As the Workshop’s services had a set cost, the writing was on the wall. A shift away from science fiction resulted in the department spending a lot of its remaining time removing noises from broadcasts, rather than adding them. The Workshop shuttered in 1998, but a revived version (comprising Howell, Limb, Dick Mills, Paddy Kingsland, and Mark Ayres) released Burials In Several Earths, a non-commissioned set of synth improvisations.
Missing Persons: Color In Your Life (1986) / Missing In Action (2014)
Like all great love stories, Dale and Terry Bozzio’s starts with Frank Zappa. Dale Consalvi had studied drama at Emerson College; she also worked at Boston’s Playboy Club, eventually becoming the city’s Bunny Of The Year. Having met Zappa on a tour date and looking to break into acting, Dale moved to Los Angeles right as Zappa was working on his rock opera Joe’s Garage. Terry had been Frank’s drummer since Bongo Fury, but by this point he had been relegated to vocals only. Nevertheless, Dale and Terry were smitten with each other on sight and got married in 1979, the same year Joe’s Garage was released. The next year, the Bozzios and guitarist Warren Cuccurullo formed Missing Persons. Their fervent local following led to a deal with Capitol Records and the Spring Session M record (the title of which was an anagram for the band’s name). Dale’s outre outfits made the group a natural for MTV, but all the video play in the world couldn’t land them a hit single. Remarkably, Spring Session M spawned three New Wave evergreens (“Words,” “Destination Unknown,” and “Walking In L.A.”), but none of them reached the Top 40.
Missing Persons released their third and then-final album, Color In Your Life, in 1986, the same year the Bozzios divorced. Having gotten wind that Duran Duran’s Andy Taylor was going solo (with a backing group that included Terry Bozzio), Cuccurullo sent a tape to the band. After Duran Duran figured out what the hell was going on, they enlisted him as a session guitarist for Notorious, making him a full member some time after. Prince recruited Dale to his Paisley Park label, and he wrote “So Strong” for her solo debut, 1988’s Riot In English. In the late ’90s, Cuccurullo oversaw some Missing Persons live and studio reissues; after Duran Duran sacked him, he re-formed Missing Persons with both Bozzios. Terry was only in the group for a minute — on his website, he cites “the weirdness” as the reason he left — but Warren and Dale kept the group going as a live act for another few years. In 2013, Dale Bozzio released Missing In Action, credited to “Missing Persons featuring Dale Bozzio.” In truth, the record was just Dale on vocals and one-time Yes member Billy Sherwood playing all instruments (Sherwood also wrote the bulk of the album). There’s a fine acoustic version of “Walking in L.A.”
The Dream Syndicate: Ghost Stories (1988) / How Did I Find Myself Here? (2017)
Of the LA bands in the ’60s-indebted Paisley Underground scene, the Dream Syndicate were the ones cut from Velvet. Frontman Steve Wynn’s previous band was called 15 Minutes, and the Dream Syndicate itself was a reference to the La Monte Young-founded experimental group that claimed John Cale as an alumnus. Unfortunately, the Syndicate’s four-album run was even more fraught than their idols’, and each album was released on a different label. The first record, 1982’s The Days Of Wine And Roses, is by far their best-known. Draping Velvets-style howl and drone (courtesy of Wynn and lead guitarist Karl Precoda) over a brittle frame, Days also boasts the exuberant sneer of “Tell Me When It’s Over,” maybe the best college-rock A1 of the decade. Bassist Kendra Smith exited before the Dream Syndicate moved from Slash to A&M (right after this, she co-founded Opal. She left the band in 1987 and was replaced by Hope Sandoval. Soon after that, Opal was renamed Mazzy Star). 1984’s Medicine Show, produced by Blue Öyster Cult’s Sandy Pearlman, was more like postgrad barroom rock. When A&M dropped the band, they went on hiatus.
They returned with 1986’s Out Of The Grey — their one-time producer Paul Cutler replaced Precoda on lead, and the record was marginally more radio-friendly. Unfortunately, their label folded, and the Syndicate called it quits again. Again, it didn’t stick; Enigma Records persuaded them to give it one more go, releasing the full-throated Ghost Stories in 1988. The third time was the charm, it seemed, and post-Syndicate, Wynn released a slew of solo records. Precoda released the occasional experimental album with his band Last Days Of May (named for a Blue Öyster Cult song), and is now an instructor in cinema studies and dramaturgy at Virginia Tech. After nearly a quarter-century away, the Dream Syndicate reunited in 2012 for a Spanish music festival. This lineup (Wynn, bassist Mark Walton, lead guitarist Jason Victor, and drummer/band name coiner Dennis Duck) played dozens of shows over the next few years before announcing a new record, How Did I Find Myself Here, to be released this month on ANTI. The album will close with a song written and sung by Kendra Smith; the title track, released in June, is a wah-heavy eleven-minute jam that plays like a tribute to ’70s Miles Davis.
The Vaselines: Dum-Dum (1989) / Sex With An X (2010)
Swap Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly with Buckingham and Nicks and it’s quite possible that the Glaswegians stick around for Tusk and the Americans call it a day. Not anticipating a windfall, though, the Vaselines broke up when McKee and Kelly did. Their legacy was modest; In three years, they produced two EPs and an LP of scuzzy, wide-eyed indie pop on Stephen “Pastel” McRobbie’s 53rd & 3rd Records. Kelly quickly regrouped, forming Captain America with BMX Bandits’ Gordon Keen. But the universe was not yet done with the Vaselines. McRobbie had a trans-Atlantic correspondence with K Records’ Calvin Johnson, whose band Beat Happening toured England with the Vaselines in 1989. A tape from that tour caught the attention of Johnson’s frenemy Kurt Cobain. When Nirvana toured England in 1990 — their first tour with new drummer Dave Grohl — Cobain asked the Vaselines to reunite for an Edinburgh show. They obliged, supporting Nirvana alongside Shonen Knife, another act Kurt idolized.
Famously eager to spend his cultural capital after the release of Nevermind, Kurt’s constant raves about the Vaselines’ songwriting led to Sub Pop releasing the retrospective album The Way Of The Vaselines in 1992. In time, Nirvana would cover 15% of the band’s original output, “Molly’s Lips” and “Son Of A Gun” on the Hormoaning EP, and “Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam” (retitled “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam”) on the MTV Unplugged album. Cobain was also frequently photographed wearing a Captain America shirt, which helped Kelly’s band (now named Eugenius after Marvel raised a stink) ink a deal with Atlantic. All this love was nice — Kelly has noted that Nirvana-fueled royalties paid his mortgage — but the Vaselines remained well and truly defunct, and McKee and Kelly only really interacted when renegotiating contracts or licensing their old songs. On a whim, the two performed acoustic renditions of Vaselines tunes in 2006. A set for Sub Pop’s 20th anniversary followed, and when that went well enough, they issued Sex With An X in 2010, a typically stomping collection of hormonal rock ‘n’ roll. Four years later, they released V For Vaselines on their label Rosary Music.
Paul Shaffer: Coast To Coast (1989) / The World’s Most Dangerous Band (2017)
Next to his 33-year tenure as the leader of David Letterman’s house band, the recording career of Paul Shaffer — the pride of Thunder Bay, Ontario — barely registers. Mention “Paul Shaffer” and “record,” and most trivia heads will recall “It’s Raining Men,” the exquisite Hi-NRG gazer that Shaffer co-wrote and eventually handed to the Weather Girls. But he garnered a Grammy nomination in 1990 for “Late Night,” a Stax-meets-library-music take on Letterman’s theme song, off the Coast To Coast record. (There was another record after this, an all-covers LP with cameos from Letterman, George Clinton, Phil Spector, Richard Belzer, and Joe Walsh. We’re not counting it.)
Though Shaffer led the World’s Most Dangerous Band, his most transgressive act was becoming the first person to say “fuck” on Saturday Night Live, on which he briefly served as musician and bit player. His SNL connections went way back — a 1972 stint in a Toronto production of Godspell put him in contact with future SNL stars Gilda Radner and Martin Short, and he later served as musical director for Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi’s Blues Brothers project. After landing the Late Show gig, he moonlighted in Robert Plant’s Honeydrippers project (scoring a #3 hit on the Hot 100) and had a small part as Polymer Records promoter Artie Fufkin in This Is Spinal Tap. He reprised the role last March as a promotion for his new record, a workmanlike pop/rock effort with assists from Jenny Lewis, Bill Murray, Dion, and Valerie Simpson.
Game Theory: Two Steps From The Middle Ages (1989) / Supercalifragile (2017)
When Eric Garland infamously announced on Twitter in December of 2016 that “it’s time for some game theory,” music geeks of a certain age range (or of particular downloading habits) immediately started posting favorite songs from Scott Miller’s ’80s alt-rock project. Renowned as “literary” even within their twitchy, smart-ass milieu, Game Theory made pop songs that sprawled. They’re sometimes labeled “power-pop,” which I’ve never understood: None of Miller’s drummers had the thump, and while he was a fabulous — if weedy — melodician, he rarely sung you from point A to point B. His peculiar sense was honed in his native Sacramento, where he fronted two bands in succession: Lobster Quadrille (which recorded but rarely played his originals) and Alternate Learning. He kept the latter going after enrolling at the University Of California — Davis, where he roomed with Steve Wynn, later of the Dream Syndicate. Having released a 7″ and an LP, Miller ended Alternate Learning in 1982. He recruited ALRN synth player Nan Becker to Game Theory, formed later that year. Miller produced the group’s first few efforts, but Mitch Easter entered the picture with 1985’s Real Nighttime. Now that Easter was brightening the corners, Miller was free to isolate a particular strain of post-grad ennui, from breaking up with a more vibrant partner to strumming “Stairway To Heaven” for laughs.
Miller moved the crew to San Francisco in time for 1986’s The Big Shot Chronicles, which stomped the overdrive pedal and spawned their first college-radio hit, the New Pornographers-predicting “Erica’s Word.” The next year, Game Theory dropped their headiest record, the double album Lolita Nation, which alternated brief sketches with dense, thudding compositions. Their final LP was 1988’s 2 Steps From The Middle Ages, reportedly one of C.C. DeVille’s favorite records. It’s punchy and relatively straightforward and boasts their best opener ever. But their label shuttered shortly after its release, and Miller’s next lineup managed a few demos and supplemental tracks before folding in 1990. The next year, he began recording as The Loud Family with ALRN (and late-period GT) drummer Jozef Becker, Nan’s brother. After that band’s breakup, he began work on 2010’s Music: What Happened?, a book of blurb-length reviews of his favorite songs stretching back to 1957. Miller died in 2013; shortly afterward, his label noted that he had begun work on a new Game Theory album. After a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund pressing costs, Supercalifragile was released in August of last year. Produced by Ken Stringfellow and mixed by Mitch Easter, the record features contributions from former Game Theorists, as well as alt-rock luminaries like Aimee Mann, Peter Buck, Doug Gillard, Ted Leo, and Will Sheff.
Hot Tuna: Pair A Dice Found (1990) / Steady As She Goes (2012)
Like Jefferson Starship, Hot Tuna were an offshoot of Jefferson Airplane. Tragically, they did not shorten their name to Tuna in the ’80s. Founded during a gap in the Airplane’s concert schedule, Hot Tuna was an outlet for Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen’s stripped-down blues excursions. The band started opening for the mothership, and Paul Kantner and Marty Balin often joined them for electric sets. In short order, the band signed to Jefferson Airplane’s label RCA, but not before changing their name from Hot Shit. Their self-titled debut was an unassuming acoustic live set, but they soon moved to a more plugged-in sound. They also wrote more originals, although every record through 1974’s The Phosphorescent Rat had a Reverend Gary Davis cover. In 1972, Jefferson Airplane were grounded due to substance abuse and intraband fighting, freeing Casady and Kaukonen to turn Hot Tuna into a jammy concert concern. By 1975’s Yellow Fever, the band had turned into a Capricorn Records-style hard rock act, a path they hoed for a few more years before breaking apart.
There was no real decision for this — Kaukonen was pursuing a solo path and tending to an ill spouse, and Casady wanted to leap into the Bay Area’s New Wave scene. Alighting on a demo tape for an act called Airplay, he started gigging with the band, which renamed itself SVT after Casady’s bass amp. Though Hot Tuna reunited as a live act in the mid-1980s, it was a Jefferson Airplane reunion that really kicked the band into gear. 1989’s Jefferson Airplane got Casady and Kaukonen recording together, and the Airplane’s reunion shows made time for Hot Tuna acoustic showcases. The band signed to Epic and released Pair A Dice Found in 1990. The record touches all of Hot Tuna’s sonic phases: blues-rock workouts, hard rock rigidity, acoustic interludes, and AOR pap. Casady, Kaukonen, and a rotating cast of players then became a permanent live act, pinging between electric and acoustic presentations. At the suggestion of Kaukonen’s label, the band entered the studio for 2011’s Steady As She Goes, a rootsy set that largely eschews the harder stuff. There’s even two Reverend Gary Davis covers.
Mike Dunn: Free Your Mind (1990) / My House From All Angles (2018)
Dunn was a little late to the supernova scene of Chicago house, but he found his shine soon enough. Growing up on Chicago’s South Side as the oldest of six kids, he had access to his parents’ record collection and their state-of-the-art stereo equipment. Mike took to both the waves (especially his mom’s collection of disco twelve-inches) and the wires: He still reads his manuals every day. Discovering his neighbor’s mixer gave him the DJ itch, and he started throwing parties with a crew of like-minded souls that included future house luminary Tyree Cooper. They mostly stuck to a local venue called the Courtyard, but Dunn found himself drawn to the Muzic Box, the Warehouse offshoot featuring Ron Hardy behind the decks. Cooper made the studio leap in 1986; Dunn followed the next year, releasing the classic “Dance You Mutha.” The track was a smash, but it was a Marshall Jefferson joint that truly propelled Dunn. As was the style at the time, Jefferson liked to make rough mixes that he’d give to fellow DJs. Lil’ Louis got ahold of the bleepy, booming “Video Clash”; noting how well Louis’s edit played, Cooper and Dunn cut their own versions. Dunn’s (titled “Magic Feet“) was, according to lore, the biggest seller of the three.
In 1989, Dunn and Armando Gallop (for whom Dunn had engineered the acid house classic “Land Of Confusion” with a preset 303 bassline) founded Muzique Records. They had some hits (including Steve Poindexter’s raw debut “Work That Mutha Fucker“) and some misses (Dunn passed on releasing Lil’ Louis’ “French Kiss,” which became a global smash). 1990 saw the release of Dunn’s debut LP, Free Your Mind, a mix of smooth house, hip-house, and acid. He also kept up a steady release schedule under aliases like the MD Connection and the MD X-Spress. The latter incarnation scored a major club hit with 1994’s reminiscing “God Made Me Phunky“; four years later, he struck further gold with “Phreaky MF.” In 2012, Dunn joined the Chosen Few collective, a crew founded by Wayne Williams in the ’70s and beloved for their annual Chosen Few Picnic & Festival in Chicago, held since 1990. Dunn and company received the ultimate establishment nod when President Obama expressed his videotaped regrets that he wouldn’t “be home with all the house heads” for the Picnic’s 25th anniversary. Earlier this year, Dunn dropped My House From All Angles, an acid-soaked summation of his grand career.
Rigor Mortis: Rigor Mortis Vs. The Earth (1991) / Slaves To The Grave (2014)
In the ’80s, Capitol Records’ roster included a few thrash metal acts. Their most notable signings were Megadeth and Exodus, both West Coast heavyweights whose albums on the indie label Combat sold enough for the majors to take notice. By contrast, Rigor Mortis hailed from the unheralded Dallas-Fort Worth scene and had only released a single demo. But that demo caught the attention of A&R rep Rachel Matthews — who went on to ink Exodus a couple years later — and Capitol gave the band $100,000 to record 1988’s Rigor Mortis. It’s what folks call a “minor classic,” with dextrous riffage, strangulated solos free of neoclassicism, and — shades of the industrial acts regularly recorded by producer Dave “Rave” Ogilvie — liberal use of horror-film samples. Guitarist Mike Scaccia had tremendous chops, and the band’s lyrical devotion to splatter flicks should’ve made for an interesting video, at least. But the band swapped lead singers and began descending the industry ladder.
1989’s Freaks EP was distributed by Capitol but recorded for Metal Blade, and right after 1991’s punk-inflected Rigor Mortis Vs. The Earth (complete with a Ramones cover), Scaccia jumped to Ministry. Scaccia remained in Al Jourgensen’s orbit for a few years, while bassist Casey Orr strapped on some fake abs as GWAR’s Beefcake The Mighty. They stayed in touch, though, and in 2005 the classic lineup (Scaccia, Orr, drummer Harden Harrison, and lead singer Bruce Corbitt) announced the short “Reanimate Tour.” In 2012, the four began work on a new Rigor Mortis record at Ministry’s El Paso studio. A few days after Scaccia finished recording his contributions, he died of heart disease during a hometown Rigor Mortis show. Stunned, the band eventually pieced the record together. However, without a touring component, everyone they shopped the record to passed. Orr turned to crowdfunding, and after a successful campaign, Slaves To The Grave was released to backers in 2014.
The Beach Boys: Summer In Paradise (1992) / That’s Why God Made The Radio (2012)
Draw a line and extend it to the horizon. Eventually, you will reach the point where every Beach Boys record is considered good. While we wait for Summer In Paradise’s due, at the moment it’s mainly noteworthy as the only Beach Boys studio album without Brian Wilson (who was busy extricating himself from the conservatorship of Dr. Eugene Landy), and the only Beach Boys studio album with John Stamos. Stamos put promotional material for Summer in the background of his hit sitcom Full House. Even further synergy was achieved when the band performed “Summer Of Love” on Baywatch… in 1995. Despite these Herculean efforts, Summer In Paradise was the only Beach Boys record not to chart on Billboard’s Top 200 (Producer Terry Melcher claimed it sold just 1,000 copies in its first week). Just three years after “Kokomo” became the band’s biggest single ever, they were out of hits.
But 1992 wasn’t a total loss. After Brian was awarded $25 million from a lawsuit over lost royalties, Mike Love sued his cousin for proper songwriting credits, eventually garnering a chunk of the settlement. As was now standard for the group, they spent their time splitting and reconfiguring. A Don Was-produced reunion album never got off the ground, and the group settled for Stars And Stripes Vol. 1, a cash-in record that dipped a bunch of the band’s hits in contemporary Nashville batter. Brian recorded demos with Andy Paley, but the other Beach Boys weren’t feeling the material, so he focused on his solo career. After Carl Wilson’s death in ’98, the non-Brian members sued each other for the rights to tour as the Beach Boys — and Mike Love and Bruce Johnston prevailed. In the end, milestones won out; Brian and Al Jardine toured for the 40th anniversary of Pet Sounds, and 2012 brought all the surviving Beach Boys out for a 50th anniversary tour. As a bonus, Brian produced That’s Why God Made The Radio, a touching collection that’s notable for being guitarist David Marks’ first Beach Boys release since 1963.
Martha Wash: Martha Wash (1992) / Something Good (2013)
Martha Wash is a general in the war over credit. Born into a religious household in San Francisco, Wash quickly found her calling in church choirs, taking solos and touring across the world. On the sly, she kept tabs on secular music. In 1974, she caught a Billy Preston show, but she was particularly taken by the talent of his opener, an LA transplant named Sylvester who performed Aretha Franklin in a sequined gown. As she recalled in Joshua Gamson’s The Fabulous Sylvester, he was a vocal powerhouse; at that moment, he was also a “big, beautiful woman.” For days afterward, he was all Wash could think about. Two years later, she successfully auditioned to be his backing singer, recruiting her singing partner Izora Armstead (née Rhodes) as well. The singers dubbed themselves Two Tons O’ Fun, and supported Sylvester as he established himself as the Queen Of Disco, a once-in-a-lifetime blend of talent and empathy. After striking out on their own, Two Tons O’ Fun scored two #2 dance hits before changing their name to the Weather Girls for their recording of the Paul Jabara/Paul Shaffer composition “It’s Raining Men.” It was a modest hit on the Hot 100, a massive hit in US clubs and in Europe, and eventually a cultural touchstone. The Weather Girls supplemented their career with guest spots for the likes of Franklin and Bob Seger, finally disbanding in 1988.
Wash continued as a session singer, working with the Girls’ old musical director David Cole, as well as the Italo house collective Groove Groove Melody. The work with Cole turned into the album Nothing Matters Without Love, credited to a post-hoc trio called Seduction, whose first hit single was sung by Wash. The GGM work ended up released by Black Box. Before a show, Wash happened upon the video for Black Box’s “Everybody Everybody”; a model was lip-synching her vocal. Having already seen this shit happen with C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),” Wash filed two lawsuits, one against Black Box and RCA, another against A&M Records and both Cs: Cole and co-producer Robert Clivillés. She claimed she had recorded her vocals believing they would be on demos for other singers. Instead, they were on official releases, with her credit buried with background singers. Both labels settled out of court: RCA’s parent company Sony relabeled the “Gonna Make You Sweat” video, giving Wash vocal credit and attributing the model with “visualization.” After class-action lawsuits related to the MIlli Vanilli fiasco, the majors standardized giving proper vocal credit. In the aftermath, Wash scored an album deal with RCA, releasing her club-centric solo debut in 1992. (She was prominently featured in the videos.) An icon by this point, she graced clubs and OutGames ceremonies and Pride parades, releasing the occasional track on her imprint Purple Rose Records. In 2013, Purple Rose issued Something Good, a full-length of high-octane adult contemporary, including her cover of Aerosmith’s “Dream On.”
Keith Richards: Main Offender (1992) / Crosseyed Heart (2015)
Twenty-five years of monogamy is quite a lot. For Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, it was several lifetimes. The Rolling Stones snapped a commercial lull with 1978’s Some Girls; from then until the conclusion of their Atlantic Records deal in 1983, they notched four American top-10 singles, three #1 albums, and completed the highest-grossing tour of their career. CBS Records won the Stones sweepstakes, offering them a reported $28 million (breaking Kenny Rogers’ previous record) for four albums. What made the deal especially sweet for Jagger was the clause allowing for solo records. To Richards’ chagrin, Mick exercised that right with 1985’s She’s The Boss, a candy-colored pop-rock affair whose promotion pulled him away from the Dirty Work sessions. As a consequence, Ronnie Wood landed four writing credits and Keith sang lead on an unprecedented two songs. Jagger nixed a supporting tour, though, citing Charlie Watts’ struggles with addiction as the reason. Richards suspected Jagger’s solo success (including a garish #1 duet with David Bowie) was also to blame. After Jagger wrapped his second album Primitive Cool, Richards struck out on his own.
Recorded and written with Dirty Work producer Steve Jordan, 1988’s Talk Is Cheap is by far the best of the Glimmer Twins’ solo efforts. Freed to record with players instead of co-workers, Richards lets loose his modest pipes and immodest riffmanship over 11 careworn cuts. As a bonus, the effort involved in planning, directing, and fronting the project gave him a better understanding of Jagger. The two reconciled before writing the Stones’ Steel Wheels, and the next round of solo records (Wandering Spirit for Mick, Main Offender for Keith) passed without obvious animus. The Stones rediscovered the joy of touring — specifically, the joy of hundreds of millions of dollars — earning a record $320 million in ’95, then breaking that record twelve years later. In the 2000s, Keith made headlines for falling from a tree on vacation, making in-joke cameos in the Pirates Of The Caribbean film series, and confessing that he’d snorted some of his dad’s ashes. At the end of the decade he published Life, a freewheeling memoir that set a new standard for the rock-star autobio. Five years later, he unveiled Crosseyed Heart, a record pieced together over a few years with his Talk Is Cheap/Main Offender crew.
Roger Waters: Amused To Death (1992) / Is This The Life We Really Want? (2017)
After departing Pink Floyd in a hail of filings, Roger Waters resumed doing Roger Waters things. Under his guidance, the Floyd converted themselves from a galactic probe to an orbiting satellite, placidly (and profitably) reporting on the human condition from an astounding height. 1984’s The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking, his first solo venture, was a concept his bandmates once rejected: a man drives around California, musing about existence and fantasizing about someone he’s picked up. Structured as a real-time document — each track title begins with a timestamp — it’s a rough predecessor to the KLF’s Chill Out. Next came Radio K.A.O.S., a winsomely insular record about a Welshman in L.A. trying to solve the Cold War with his mind. A major salvo in that war — the liberalization of Europe’s Eastern Bloc — inspired him to dust off The Wall, the concept Pink Floyd chose to record instead of Hitch Hiking, and to which Waters retained the rights. Eight months after the Berlin Wall was dismantled, he mounted a massive, simulcast performance of The Wall near the city’s Brandenburg Gate. The numbers were staggering — 200,000 paying attendees, a 35-foot-by-240-foot prop wall, a broadcast shown live in 25 countries. Above all, it was a massive reclamation of the Pink Floyd legacy.
Amused To Death, released in 1992, tackled the typically grand themes of war and mental anaesthetization through television, but it also found time for pettiness. There’s some backmasked yelling about Stanley Kubrick here — who, blessedly, once rejected Waters’ request to sample HAL — and a song wherein Andrew Lloyd Webber (who allegedly lifted from Pink Floyd) is crushed by his piano. Waters’ bandmates barely escaped notice; legend has it the original artwork depicted three men drowning in a martini glass. Amused To Death sold well, but Waters was unwilling to mount a proper money-losing tour, and he took a break from recording. He spent his time doing what rich rockers do: selling animation cells from The Wall, writing an opera, and talking shit about Mick Jagger. When he switched back to non-operatic music, he released singles, not albums, although for a time he did tease a possible project called Heartland. He rejoined Pink Floyd for a brief set at 2005’s Live 8 benefit, then toured The Wall once again, to obscene receipts. Last February, he announced a new album, produced by Nigel Godrich.
David Crosby: A Thousand Roads (1993) / Croz (2014)
The paradox of Croz is that the man did so much great work in collaboration, but couldn’t help but drive his musical partners insane. A founding member of the Byrds, Crosby was key in getting the industry’s attention, and his gift for harmonies provided a high-flown, mystical cast to the band’s folksy chime. But in a group of putative equals, with several members writing and singing lead, Crosby chafed. After agitating against the idea of recording a cover for 1968’s The Notorious Byrd Brothers (which, coincidentally, would free up a slot for “Triad,” his homage to threesomes), the Byrds let him go. The cover made the record, “Triad” didn’t, and another Crosby composition (“Draft Morning”) appeared with Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman credited as co-writers. Croz decamped for South Florida and bought a sailboat, upon which he wrote “Wooden Ships” with Buffalo Springfield’s Stephen Stills and Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner. “Ships” became the first fruit of the Crosby, Stills & Nash project (later Crosby, Still, Nash & Young), a massively popular totem of bucolic hippie excess. Clashes with Stills led to a bitter breakup in 1970, though three- and four-man permutations of the band persisted into the ’90s.
Between CSNY’s first end and the drugged-out torpor of their diminishing return in 1974, Crosby released his debut album If I Could Only Remember My Name. A meandering, insular set, these days it’s mostly known as the Vatican’s second-favorite record. Around this time, Crosby recorded a couple albums with Graham Nash, and the two sang on records by the Everly Brothers, Joni Mitchell, and Art Garfunkel. In the 1980s, Crosby made headlines for two jail stints stemming from drug possession and drunk driving. The second trip helped him kick his dependence on hard drugs, but the damage was done: In 1994, he underwent a liver transplant after contracting hepatitis C. (Phil Collins, for whom Crosby had sung backup, paid for the procedure.) Six years later, Crosby appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone with Melissa Etheridge and her then-partner, filmmaker Julie Cypher. The accompanying article revealed that Crosby was the biological father of the couple’s two children, ending three years of ridiculous speculation. In time, Crosby reunited with both Nash (releasing a double album in 2004) and CSN/Y as a whole. When Nash severed his friendship with Crosby, that was the end of both projects. In 2014 Crosby released Croz on a label jointly founded by Crosby and Nash. Like 2016’s follow-up Lighthouse, it was recorded with longtime collaborator James Raymond, Crosby’s son.
Flamin’ Groovies: Rock Juice (1993) / Fantastic Plastic (2017)
The Groovies were perpetually out of both place and time. While their San Francisco peers were exchanging folk-rock for the strange currency of psychedelia, the band stuck to strains older than both: R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, ragtime. In time, they did just enough to become legendary in power-pop circles, but that work was too early for the genre’s Knack-led revival. The Flamin’ Groovies’ story begins in the mid-’60s, with a clutch of childhood friends including bassist George Alexander, guitarist Tim Lynch and singer/guitarist Roy Loney. The addition of 15-year-old Cyril Jordan on lead guitar provided the spark. Seeing the Beatles’ final paid concert at Candlestick Park was the accelerant; the day after, the band had changed their name from the Lost And Found to the Flamin’ Groovies. A self-released EP led to a 1969 Epic full-length, a consciously throwback effort that sold bupkis. The group moved to Kama Sutra and released two LPs, the second of which (1971’s Teenage Head) became a cult masterpiece of garage raunch. Frustrated with both the band’s and Jordan’s trajectories, Lynch and Loney departed. Loney’s spot was taken by the 18-year-old Chris Wilson.
The Groovies were stuck in neutral for the next few years: They recorded some singles with Dave Edmunds, but couldn’t get a proper LP release. That changed when they signed Bomp! Records founder Greg Shaw as their manager. He got them signed to Sire Records, who flew them to Wales to record 1976’s Shake Some Action. The title track — a melding of Byrdsy jangle with mod intensity, shot through with saudade — became a power-pop touchstone. The band were a briefly a hit on the UK circuit, but couldn’t build momentum. Their July 4, 1976 London show jump-started the British punk scene, but that’s mostly due to their opening act, the Ramones. The Groovies recorded two more covers-laden albums for Sire before getting dropped. Wilson left soon after and joined another power-pop act, the Barracudas. The Flamin’ Groovies largely spent the ’80s as a live act before a grueling tour exploded them in 1991; Jordan and Alexander cobbled 1993’s Rock Juice from abandoned demos. Various Groovies reunited for members’ solo efforts or short tours. One of those tours, opening for Australia’s Hoodoo Gurus, led to a full-fledged reunion, culminating in last year’s Fantastic Plastic, an expectedly mature power-pop effort.
China Crisis: Warped By Success (1994) / Autumn In The Neighborhood (2015)
These guys are the answer to a really neat trivia question: What was Walter Becker’s next band after Gaucho? For their part, Kirkby, England’s Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon kept Steely Dan in mind when they founded China Crisis at the end of the ’70s. Their sensibility was minimal pop: There wasn’t a shred of punk, or even post-punk, about ‘em. Still, they were not frivolous; their debut single “African And White” (recorded as a three-piece; they soon numbered five) was a condemnation of apartheid, and it led to a record deal with Virgin. Their debut LP yielded a #12 hit with “Christian,” a deliberate twinkler with Landscape’s Andy Pask contributing lovely fretless bass. They cracked the Top 10 with what would be their best-known song, “Wishful Thinking.” For third record Flaunt The Imperfection, Daly, Lundon, and company scored Becker behind the boards. After the Dan dissolved, Becker moved to Hawaii where he chanced upon China Crisis’ first album in a Maui record shop. When Warner Bros. approached him about producing someone on their roster, he chose China Crisis for his comeback.
It was a mutually beneficial arrangement: Becker learned about making a record with an actual deadline, and China Crisis learned how to form a C chord. The band was so thrilled to work with their idol, they listed him as an official member on the album. They reconnected for 1989’s Diary Of A Hollow Horse, this time partially recorded in Maui. The record sounded great, as you’d imagine, but it didn’t have hits, and Virgin dropped the group in 1990. China Crisis rebounded for one final studio LP, 1994’s indie release Warped By Success. Lundon and Daly tried to put some more material together immediately after, but ultimately opted to make China Crisis a concert act only. In 2013, the pair announced a PledgeMusic fundraising campaign for a seventh studio album. They met their goal, and Autumn In The Neighborhood was released to backers two years later. These days, China Crisis (now including a couple of Lundon’s music students) frequently participates in ’80s tour packages, one of which was their first American tour in over a quarter-century.
The Obsessed: The Church Within (1994) / Sacred (2017)
The one constant in the Obsessed is Scott “Wino” Weinrich, a DC metalhead back when the prevailing aesthetic was go-go and Dischord. When Wino was 12, he and friend Mark Laue attended a Black Sabbath concert in Baltimore. They caught the bug, and in time founded Warhorse (a lo-fi and essential high school concert is available on YouTube). In 1980, a rechristened Obsessed began hashing out an aggro doom sound. They didn’t record a full album for five years, but they continually gigged on the periphery of the punk scene, playing with Iron Cross and Bad Brains — Wino’s friend Ian MacKaye was frequently in attendance. The Obsessed recorded a demo album for Metal Blade, but it got shelved, and with no momentum, the band split. A stray remark from MacKaye led to Weinrich seeking out doom pioneers Saint Vitus after a DC concert; soon after, Wino replaced vocalist Scott Reagers. The Wino-era Saint Vitus released two albums on SST and one on Hellhound — when the latter label finally issued the Obsessed’s demo in 1990, Weinrich rebooted his old band.
Obsessed Mark II were up and running in no time: Lunar Womb was released on Hellhound in 1991, and featured a brand-new rhythm section in Scott Reeder and Greg Rogers. Reeder left for Kyuss before the Obsessed signed to Columbia, for whom they released the excellent stoner/doom hybrid The Church Within. Columbia released a music video for “Streetside,” but the album underperformed to expectations, and Wino took several songs intended for a follow-up to a new project, Shine. Renamed Spirit Caravan (after an Obsessed track), the band released two albums of dope groove metal. When that ran its course, Wino rejoined Saint Vitus for sporadic concerts. After numerous delays, Saint Vitus’ Lillie: F-65 dropped in 2012. Around this time, Wino was playing Obsessed shows with the Church Within lineup. The high-energy Sacred — recorded, for tradition’s sake, with a brand-new rhythm section — followed in 2017.
Mr. Fingers: Back To Love (1994) / Cerebral Hemispheres (2018)
Maybe the best argument for American governance is the fact that Larry Heard bought a synth and drum machine using his Social Security Administration paycheck. The resulting work tore open a new wormhole for house music. Preferring the studio to the stage, Heard’s reclusivity did not prevent him from becoming a dance-music icon. As a teen in Chicago, Heard grew up loving disco; he learned a succession of instruments before settling on drums. He was more of a gigger than a club rat: He spent his free time in a fusion cover band, and first learned about house music from the Warehouse crowds he could see outside work. He acquired his gear in 1984, and within a few days had tracked “Can You Feel It” and “Mystery Of Love.” Credited to Loosefingers, then Mr. Fingers, both became landmarks in the nascent genre of deep house: the placid synths and splashing hi-hats of “Can You Feel It” are basically musical SSRIs, and “Mystery Of Love” boasts one of dance music’s most memorable basslines. The latter was remade by Heard’s group Fingers Inc, a three-piece featuring vocalists Ron Wilson and Robert Owens.
Heard wasn’t especially prolific, although his tendency to release the odd record anonymously contributed to the perception. Perhaps his most famous alias is Gherkin Jerks, the name he used for a couple hermetic, experimental EPs in the late ’80s. UK’s Jack Trax released a Mr. Fingers full-length in 1988, but its provenance (a compilation of Heard’s work under that name, allegedly issued without the man’s consent) is dubious. Still, it sounds just like the cover looks, and remains an indispensable survey. The first proper Mr. Fingers release was the 1992 MCA effort Introduction, which makes Heard’s fusion roots explicit. The follow-up Back To Love made more concessions to current R&B production, but is typically deep. By this point, Heard was releasing records under his given name. Ever the studio artist, Heard’s sporadic DJ forays were cut back in 2011, when he became unable to hear higher frequencies. His music, of course, was always around. He crossed into pop-culture consciousness in 2016, when Kanye West sampled the “Mystery Of Love” bassline for “Fade.” After releasing the Mr. Fingers-credited Outer Acid EP that same year, Heard dropped a full-length project, Cerebral Hemispheres, in April.
Brutal Juice: Mutilation Makes Identification Difficult (1995) / Welcome To The Panopticon (2016)
Snatched up in 1994 by Interscope, Brutal Juice released one record for the label. But Jesus, what a record. Mutilation Makes Identification Difficult — the title was cribbed from a headline in the Austin American-Statesman detailing a then-unsolved murder in a local park — was an Earth-flattening brew of acid punk and stoner metal, garlanded with impeccable harmonized screams. It’s wickedly funny, terribly evil, and a front-to-back killer. Brutal Juice came together in the early ’90s in the musical hotbed of Denton, Texas (this isn’t a slight, the town is home to the University Of North Texas, whose college of music has drawn future heavyweights like Roy Orbison, Norah Jones, Don Henley, and Meat Loaf). Their name referenced an old Hertz commercial: Arnold Palmer says “Brutal, Juice” to O.J. Simpson. They had no idea what was coming. Their debut was How Tasty Was My Little Timmy?, a cassette so rare I’m begging you to send me a copy, and they spent the next few years playing shows in the States and Europe with fellow travelers like the Toadies, Alice Donut, GWAR, and the Meatmen.
Brutal Juice were playing with house money on Interscope. Somehow, they were able to discard their album’s working title Everything’s Coming Up Toilets for something way more heinous. The lead single was “Ugly On The Inside,” a precision pop-punk missile strike titled “The Vaginals.” Album closer “Whorehouse Of Screams” is basically the ’90s’ “Marquee Moon,” 11 minutes of jangly, leering horror that builds and builds until they dispel the mirage. Brutal Juice released one more single (on Man’s Ruin Records out of San Francisco), then called it a day. The five members weren’t exactly scattered to the winds — each of them played in various projects, often North Texas-based, and sometimes with other Brutal Juice alumni. A couple years after the split, they played a reunion show. Though they still considered the band broken up, Brutal Juice shows became a semi-regular thing throughout Texas. The reunion officially began in 2012; an Indiegogo campaign didn’t meet its goal, but raised enough funds to complete Welcome To The Panopticon. Guitarist Gordon Gibson crafted the album’s spine, then sent the tracks to his bandmates for their contributions. Inspired by David Icke and other underrock conspiracy dwellers, Panopticon rolls the original formula in some groove metal tar for a typically bracing listen.
Slowdive: Pygmalion (1995) / Slowdive (2017)
As Nitsuh Abebe once suggested, shoegaze at its height felt like a return to shape after the elastic snap of punk. Even bombastic practitioners like My Bloody Valentine came off as unhurried, whether by label demands or by standard running times and tempos — by anything, really, other than the vibrating violet envelope around them. Slowdive were founded by five teenagers from Reading and named after a song from singer/guitarist Rachel Goswell’s beloved Siouxsie And The Banshees. They signed to Creation Records, and their anguished languor wowed critics initially. Melody Maker awarded “Single Of The Week” honors to 1990’s Slowdive EP, whose title track sounds like sunshine pop at half speed (much of their subsequent catalog sounds, without any pejorative implied, like the Smiths at half speed).
Still, in the absence of a statement album or an expanding dimension, the British press would turn. Brian Eno declined the band’s invitation to produce their second full-length, Souvlaki (named, wonderfully, for a line in a Jerky Boys prank call), but he did spend time in the studio with singer/guitarist Neil Halstead. Subsequently, Halstead began exploring electronic music, culminating in the post-rock ambience of 1995’s Pygmalion. It was Slowdive’s prettiest and most enigmatic work yet. But given Souvlaki’s tepid reception (Melody Maker’s Dave Simpson claimed he, “would rather drown choking in a bath full of porridge than ever listen to it again”), to say nothing of the cresting wave of laddish, nationalist Britpop, the album stiffed. This was a problem for Creation, which had expressly directed Slowdive to go pop. A week after Pygmalion dropped, so was the band. Goswell, Halstead, and drummer Ian McCutcheon formed the decidedly folksier five-piece Mojave 3, while guitarist Christian Savill resumed his Monster Movie project. In 2014, the band reunited for a well-received set at Spain’s Primavera Sound festival. Like their first EP, their latest work is a self-titled effort. I’ll note that “Star Roving” was one of the best singles of 2017. As for the rest of it, you should read Ryan Leas’ review.
Quicksand: Manic Compression (1995) / Interiors (2017)
Like pretty much all “post-” genres, post-hardcore represented not just a stylistic break, but a career change. As the kids in America’s densely knotted hardcore scenes became adults, a number of them converted their sloganeering into koans, and refitted their breakdowns to span the whole song. Though they didn’t release much, New York City’s Quicksand converted their unimpeachable hXc cred into music that was every bit as bracing, but simmered where it used to burn. The band’s roots lie in Moondog, a creative outlet for Queens native Walter Schreifels, a scene vet who served as bassist for beloved youth crew (an offshoot of hardcore, but more posi and way more moralist, if you can imagine) bands Youth Of Today and Gorilla Biscuits. Schreifels was Gorilla Biscuits’ primary songwriter, but he wanted to sing, and sing something that deviated from hardcore’s strict template. Around 1990, he recruited Sammy Siegler (the Biscuits’ drummer), Beyond guitarist Tom Capone, and Collapse bassist Sergio Vega. Though Moondog only played one show, Capone’s bandmate Alan Cage was in attendance, and he took Siegler’s lineup spot. Now Quicksand, the band released a four-song EP on seminal youth crew label Revelation Records, which led to a contract
A remarkably cohesive work, Slip moved in ways that were both steely and beautiful. Quicksand’s approach was a blueprint for anyone hoping to build on hardcore punk, and also a host of reflexively reviled nu-metal and modern rock acts that nonetheless managed to root pop diamonds from their muck. Unlike, say, Fugazi — who seeded their take on post-hardcore with grooves cribbed from roots reggae grooves and an acidic playfulness — Quicksand were all angles. Polydor was incorporated into Island in 1994, and the band released Manic Compression the next year. The title was a reference to the mixing job: Though the songs were still great, they’re dropping from dry mouths. Though Quicksand was tabbed for the first Warped Tour incarnation (and Renée Zellweger famously jammed to “Thorn In My Side” in the film Empire Records), they called it quits in late 1995. Schreifels moved on to Rival Schools, Cage jumped to Seaweed, and Vega eventually joined Deftones full-time after Chi Cheng’s death. In 1998, the group reunited for a tour and some aborted recording sessions. That was all until 2012, when they convened on the final night of Revelation Records’ 25th anniversary concert series. The festival circuit beckoned, and in 2017 the band released their third record Interiors on Epitaph. Capone — who was not involved in the recording — left the band after being arrested for shoplifting.
Belly: King (1995) / Dove (2018)
Major label execs may think of Belly — if their memories extend that far back — as an alt-rock cautionary tale: a sharp blast without the sustain. But their first two full-lengths were crucial chapters in the story of Tanya Donelly, one of America’s best songwriters. The child of hippies, Donelly spent the first few years of her life pinging between California and her birth state of Rhode Island, where her family eventually settled. When she was 8, she met a Georgia transplant named Kristin Hersh. The two became best friends, and — after Hersh’s mother married Donelly’s father — family. The two shared a room for a few days every week, spending the time learning guitar. In high school, they formed Throwing Muses, signing to 4AD just a few years later. Towards the end of the ’80s, Donelly — who contributed a couple poppy tracks to every Muses LP — found another outlet with Kim Deal’s Breeders. Like Hersh, Deal held the majority of the writing credits, and Donelly exited before their breakthrough effort Last Splash. Her fallback was, finally, a project of her own. Featuring two hardcore vets (brothers Tom and Chris Gorman), Belly was named after one of her favorite words: “It’s pretty and ugly at the same time,” she
Belly’s debut album Star was, for an alternative act in 1993, an absolute smash. Single “Feed The Tree” hit the UK Top 40 and scraped into Billboard’s Hot 100; Star ended up outselling the entire Muses discography on its own. In 1994, the band was nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy. (The award, rightly, went to Toni Braxton.) At that point, Belly had a gold record, a new bassist — Rhode Island punk rocker Gail Greenwood — and enormous expectations. They landed the Rolling Stone cover in April 1995, just after the release of King, produced by classic-rock legend Glyn Johns. Johns had the band record live, which helped Donelly’s hooks poke farther through. King sold less than half what Star did, and Donelly brought the ride to a stop the next year. She promptly embarked on a solo career, releasing a number of great, knotty records on 4AD. The Gormans launched a photography business; Greenwood joined L7 and Bif Naked’s touring band. (To make ends meet, Donelly also worked as a lactation consultant and postpartum doula.) They remained in touch, and around 2016 decided to reunite. The plan was to drop an EP and tour. But the tour (scheduled around Greenwood’s recovery from cancer) went so well — concert tickets were snapped up so quickly that Donelly felt obligated to clarify that the Belly tour wasn’t for the rapper — that they scrapped the EP. Funded on PledgeMusic, Dove conjures a bygone era, right down to the hidden track.
Thornetta Davis: Sunday Morning Music (1996) / Honest Woman (2016)
Thornetta Davis’ debut record Sunday Morning Music was an anomaly in the Sub Pop catalog, whose R&B offerings have pretty much been Davis and… THEESatisfaction, I guess. But Seattle was just one point on Davis’ round-trip journey from her hometown of Detroit. While in high school, her group Jas won a talent show with an à cappella rendition of the Jones Girls’ “I Close My Eyes.” The exposure led her to work with local groups Chanteuse and Lamont Zodiac & the Love Signs. When Lamont left the Signs, the group rebranded as the Chisel Brothers featuring Thornetta Davis. By this time, Davis had transitioned from poppy R&B to the blues, winning Best Blues Vocalist honors from Detroit’s Metro Times alt-weekly in 1991 and 1992. She was tasting mainstream success by now: Fellow Detroiter Bob Seger recruited her to sing backup on 1991’s The Fire Inside, and when local grungers Big Chief — for whom she sometimes sang — signed to Sub Pop, she joined them. After two Big Chief LPs, the band backed Davis on her debut EP (1994’s Shout Out) and Sunday Morning Music.
Sunday Morning Music was a voracious, lived-in melange of gospel, blues, and rock that foreshadowed the soul/funk revival that the Daptone crew led a few years later. After the record dropped, though, Davis returned to a backup role, contributing vocals to songs from Seger, the Howling Diablos, and Kid Rock — the last of whom she also supported live. In 1999, her Sunday Morning Music cut “Cry” found a new audience when it appeared in the Sopranos episode where Tony takes lithium and hallucinates a breastfeeding Italian woman. Two years later, she was inducted into the Detroit Music Hall Of Fame. After the passing of Alberta Adams in 2014, Davis was crowned Queen of the Detroit Blues in a ceremony attended by Adams’ family. Having toyed with the idea of a new project for years, Davis finally released Honest Woman in 2016.
Ride: Tarantula (1996) / Weather Diaries (2017)
Like Slowdive, Ride were classified as shoegaze, whether they liked it or not. And while Slowdive moved into the thinner climate of ambient, Ride opted for psychedelia. The band’s arc is archetypal: The four members met as college students, developed a cacophonous live show (their first gig was as replacements for a metal act called Satan Knew My Father), signed to Creation through word of mouth, and released a few EPs. Oh, and there were also the Peel Sessions and the music-press anointment. Their best-known album is still their first, 1990’s slab of surging noise-pop Nowhere. This is due in part to the ominous ridge of a wave on the cover. It’s also due to “Vapour Trail,” a chiming, string-chased love song that wasn’t a hit, but enjoyed a remarkable afterlife nonetheless. Sophomore album Going Blank Again was, in compositional terms, a step beyond — the choirboy harmonies were foregrounded, tracks got sunnier, and the rhythm section hung further back in the pocket. Going Blank Again went gold, spawned a top-10 hit in “Leave Them All Behind,” and generally quelled concerns of a fall-off.
The goodwill dissipated upon the release of Carnival Of Light, named (I assume) for the legendary unreleased Beatles song. Previously, the band hashed songs out as a group. Now, singer/guitarists Andy Bell and Mark Gardener entered the studio with nearly complete compositions. Carnival wasn’t a disaster, but it drags, and the addition of horns and Rhodes organ can’t mask the laggardly singing. Just prior to the release of fourth album Tarantula, Gardener quit during a band meeting. Creation deleted the album — written primarily by Bell — from its catalog after one week. Gardener went on to form Animalhouse with drummer Loz Colbert and Bell served as Oasis’ bassist for a decade. In 2002, Ride convened for a Sonic Youth documentary, improvising a track that was released as a limited-edition EP. A series of reissues and compilations maintained the band’s profile, and after doing the obligatory mid-decade festival circuit, they recorded the just-released Weather Diaries.
The Monkees: Justus (1996) / Good Times! (2016)
Debuting on NBC exactly two weeks after the Beatles’ final paid concert, the Monkees plugged what could have been a major pop gap. Once an effervescently sardonic presence, the Beatles were by now worn smooth from an endless (and controversial) touring and promotional cycle. In stepped Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork: four silly surrealists whose every televised utterance was cleared in advance. It also helped that the Monkees offered a little more morphological variety — there were short boys and tall boys, slender boys and stout boys. Thanks to Davy, there was even an English boy. They were two musicians who could act and two actors who could sing, but the studio decided who would play which instrument on TV. Letting them write songs was out of the question, at least at first. The plan succeeded wildly, and in their first two years the Monkees had four #1 albums — three in one year alone! — and five Top Five singles.
Though the band was eventually able to perform their own material and scuff up their image (most notably by starring in the inscrutable, Jack Nicholson-penned film Head), they succumbed to the same sense of demand that got the Fab Four. Tork was the first to quit, followed by Nesmith. Dolenz and Jones released the band’s final album in 1970. With the Monkees done, the two returned to acting. Jones was nominated for a Tony and Dolenz played Arthur on the cult animated series The Tick, among other things. Tork gave it a go as a musician and producer, but after a number of setbacks (including a prison stint), he spent a few years teaching in California. Nesmith enjoyed a distinguished career as a country rocker, but is most noted for his contributions to the music-video medium. He produced clips for Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, won the first long-form music video Grammy, and developed a proto-MTV show called PopClips for Nickelodeon. Things came full circle when MTV started airing episodes of The Monkees — the reruns were so popular that the non-Nesmith Monkees mounted a successful reunion tour. Nesmith joined his old mates for 1996’s Justus. It was a middle-aged pop/rock passion project and it stiffed. For the 50th anniversary, the surviving Monkees (Jones died in 2012) issued Good Times!, helmed by power-pop king Adam Schlesinger and featuring new songs from Ben Gibbard, Noel Gallagher, and Rivers Cuomo.
Dr. Octagon: Dr. Octagonecologyst (1996) / Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation (2018)
Like Daniel Dumile and Teren Delvon Jones, Keith Thornton was a Golden Age MC who blazed a bizarre path to 21st century relevance, racking up name changes and top-notch collaborations along the way. Of the three, Dumile was the drunkest on pure wordsound; Jones had the highest pop-culture profile; and Kool Keith was by far the most gonzo, overhauling concepts and vibes on practically every project. The Bronx-born Thornton came to prominence with his crew Ultramagnetic MCs, whose 1988 debut Critical Beatdown remains a titanic artifact of sampling and off-kilter lyricism. After dropping some of rap’s best baseball references on 1994’s The Four Horsemen, Keith called it quits and moved to California. One of his solo demos reached producer Dan (The Automator) Nakamura, who signed on for what would become Dr. Octagonecologyst. Credited to the diabolic Dr. Octagon, it’s a batshit scatalogical romp that channels Jerry Lewis and makes heavy use of porno dialogue. Though Dr. Octagonecologyst became an indie-rap touchstone — launching Nakamura into a series of high-profile collaborations with DJ Shadow, Del The Funky Homosapien, and Prince Paul — Keith opted to follow it up with 1997’s Sex Style, a jizz-stained project he was working on before Dr. Octagon took off. Like Octagonecologyst, Sex Style wasn’t a hit, but it did sample my favorite jazz cut, Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “Seasons.”
Keith did achieve pop-culture ubiquity that year via abrasive English rave act the Prodigy, who made one of his UMC couplets the centerpiece of their hit “Smack My Bitch Up.” Keith donned a series of alter egos over the next few years before returning to the Octagon persona. The result was bogged in controversy: Keith signed to a no-profile country label, giving them the rights to remix the Doc Oc material he’d demoed with producer Fanatik J. The label largely ignored Fanatik’s contributions, creating a new imprint (OCD) to build a record mostly around old Keith vocals. By the time The Return of Dr. Octagon dropped in 2006, Keith had disowned the project and cut ties with Fanatik. Early the next year, a reunited Ultramagnetic MCs released The Best Kept Secret, with Keith co-producing as Underwear Pissy. Five years after Kool Keith spawn Eminem referenced him on “The Monster,” Keith and Nakamura dropped a proper Dr. Octagon followup. The throwback Moosebumps reunited Thornton with DJ QBert (who scratched on the first record) and featured Del.