Friday, September 26, 2008

Weekend Listomania (Special They Coulda Been a Contender Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental flunky Hop-Sing and I are off to Washington, D.C. for a post bail-out cocktail party at the home of Ben "He's the Man With the Weird Beard" Bernanke. As a result, posting by moi will necessarily be somewhat fitful for a few days, or until the 700 billion check comes through, whichever comes first.

But until then, as always, here's a fun project for you all to contemplate:

Best Post-Elvis Pop/Rock Band or Solo Act That Should Have Had a Mega-Career But For Whatever Reason Didn't!!!

Okay, we're talking one-hit wonders, groups or acts who had a couple of records that may have been critically acclaimed but sold negligibly, or just people that nobody ever really heard of but were fricking fantastic anyway. This is, admittedly, even more subjective than usual. Do the MC5 count? Everybody knows they were great, but they never sold that many records and broke up after three albums. How about Nick Drake? Until that car commercial made him a sort of household word, he'd been basically an obscure dead guy for decades.

Like I said, it's subjective. For me, then, I think the pornography standard applies -- i.e., I know a beautiful loser when I see one.

And that said, my top of my head Top Ten would be:

10. The Monks

These guys only made one studio album, which wasn't even released in their home country until 25 years after the fact. But as the above live clip from their fabulous 1999 reunion show demonstrates, they invented Blank Generation punk rock when Richard Hell was still in junior high school.

9. Brinsley Schwarz

The Band with pop songs, and, as you can see, one hell of a live act. IMHO, of course, they should be considered gods for no other reason than giving the world the original version of "What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding".

8. The Records

It is perhaps not an exagerration to say that if it wasn't for these guys and this song the blog you're reading now wouldn't exist.

7. Kevin Salem

My favorite hard-rocking guitar-wielding singer/songwriter of the 90s. Why he remains obscure when, say, a nit like John Mayer walks the streets a free man is, frankly, beyond me.

6. The Wonders

Let's be honest -- if these guys had been an actual band rather than a fictional construct for a movie, they would have made the Hall of Fame years ago. Incidentally, that clip isn't in the film proper -- isn't it fabulous?

5. The Merry-Go-Round/Emitt Rhodes

Another powerpop god who inexplicably slipped through the cracks. Fortunately, one of the best tracks from his 1970 solo album featured prominently in the soundtrack of The Royal Tennenbaums, thus reminding people (besides the Bangles, who covered one of the songs above) of just how good he is.

4. The Remains

These guys ruled New England in 65-66, appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and opened for the Beatles at Shea Stadium. So why aren't they in everybody's pantheon? The answer can be found in the fantastic, just released documentary "America's Lost Band", which I'll be reviewing over at Box Office shortly. Bottom line: If it plays in your neighborhood, pounce.

3. The Rising Sons

Featuring the rather awsome talents of Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal. The above cut is actually the weakest thing on their sole album (which wasn't even released in their lifetime) -- if you haven't heard the rest of it, trust me, you need to. Get over to iTunes now and start with "2:10 Train" if I haven't already convinced you.

2. Television

The greatest guitar band in history, I think. Seriously -- I know a lot of really hot guitarists, and every one I've ever played this song for has listened to Richad Lloyd's opening riff and said "How the fuck is he doing that?"

And the number one "they should have been huge" act, it's obvious and unarguable so don't even bother to suggest somebody else or I swear to god I'll take a hostage, is ---

1. Moby Grape

They all sang (gloriously), the all wrote (brilliantly), their lead guitarist was one of the most innovative American players of the decade, and their debut album is a timeless masterpiece that deftly mixes rock, country, blues, gospel, and psychedelia. So why aren't these guys as famous as, oh, Crosby, Stills and Nash? Uh, God....hellooooo?

Awrighty then -- what would your choices be?

[Shameless Blogwhore: My parallel Cinema Listomania (movies adapted from non-traditional sources) is now up over at Box Office. As always, if you go over there and leave a comment, an angel gets its wings.]


Brooklyn Girl said...

You mentioned my first choice: Television. I just don't get why they weren't huge.

Another one is Terry Reid ... an amazing singer who, as you mentioned months ago, turned down the gig that was then handed to Robert Plant, and instead opted for a solo career that inexplicably went nowhere.

And, of course, Procol Harum ... who, btw, were the subject of the first post I ever read over here.

Dave said...

#1 for me is Marshall Crenshaw. His first album is like a greatest hits collection, one of the greatest debuts in rock history.

There were personal issues involved, but Left Banke should have been bigger.

Darlene Love is a cult favorite, and had huge success as a backup singer, but she should be a superstar.

Jim said...

Great call on Moby Grape.

This will sound geographically motivated, but I'll say Donnie Iris (see also The Jaggerz). And Joe Grushecky (Iron City Houserockers).

spike said...


FeralLiberal said...

I'm nodding in agreement with a number of those, Steve, and gotta check out a couple I'm not familiar with.

I'd like to add Chris Whitley - his debut album was consistantly good from start to finish.

And they're catching some buzz with new releases since they reformed, but it took way too long for the Subdudes to get the recognition they deserved.

TMink said...

Why did the Meatpuppets get the bucks while the Minutemen were overlooked?


Gummo said...

The Ramones
The Ramones
The Ramones

I mean, "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker," "Rockaway Beach," "I Wanna Be Sedated," "Rock'n'Roll High School."

Why these weren't hit singles I'll never understand.

Definitely Television; the Monks were 10 years ahead of their time; but I've never gotten the Moby Grape worship -- they've always had a pretty generic San Francisco sound to me, not bad by any means, but nothing special.

Sal Nunziato said...

I vote for World Party. "Ship Of Fools" was even on MTV, damnit! But it seems like with each record---all solid---he disappeared further and further into oblivion, aneurysm notwithstanding.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


sightunsaw said...

Savage Grace,,and their cover of 'All alone the Watchtower'.

Jim said...

Norm Nardini? I've been out-Burghed! Nice!

Anonymous said...

graham parker & the rumour
the church (aussie band)

cuddlefish said...

The Prisoners
Giant Sand
Tiny Lights
The Reivers
Sort Sol
The Nerk Twins

Anonymous said...

to jim
guess you know norman nardini's bro was in the iron city houserockers ---

Anonymous said...

psychedlic furs -

MJConroy said...

Graham Parker (sans Rumor) - he's still cranking out great stuff

Dwight Twilley - should've been huge

Rockpile - following in the Brisnley mold

Michael Stanley (a nod to my geographical roots)

Anonymous said...

the members
the yachts
the sinceros
the late kirsty maccoll
sandy shaw
southside johnny and the asbury jukes

Anonymous said...

The Alarm
The Replacements
The Blasters
The Fall
Buffalo Springfield
Velvet Underground

Mike said...

Martin Newell / Cleaners From Venus
Nick Lowe (I know he's reached a certain level of fame, and is well regarded by his peers and the public, but IMO, he should be in the pantheon with the likes of George Martin)
Jonathan Richman
The Beat Farmers
The Model Rockets (part 2 here)
Bob Segarini

MBowen said...

Good call on Kevin Salem - "Soma City" should have been huge.

Television didn't stand a chance of breaking through with Tom Verlaine's vocals - hell, they put me off for years.

Speaking of Emmitt Rhodes, here's a great cover featuring the inarguable #1 contender for this list: Richard Thompson. Why Eric Clapton has been feted throughout the last 40 years while Thompson only broke through to the cognoscenti, I have no idea.

There have been some good mentions upthread, including Marshall Crenshaw, Kirsty MacColl, The Blasters, and Graham Parker, but the one that I particularly agree with is The Replacements, who should have been as popular as R.E.M.

Others who should be better off than they are: Los Lobos, Sam Phillips, Marti Jones, Amy Rigby (if nothing else, covers of her songs should be big country hits), and The Old 97s.

There are other acts that are obviously not going to be mega-stars, but still should get more credit than they do: The Loud Family (the best band of the 1990s) should have gotten the same amount of cred as Sonic Youth or Pavement, and Spearmint and Hefner should have been as popular as Belle & Sebastian.

steve simels said...

Marti Jones.
The Loud Family?

You guys are so cool...

steve simels said...

Marti Jones.
The Loud Family?

You guys are so cool...

Anonymous said...

About 1/2 of my record collection?

My main man Alejandro Escovedo. Crenshaw. Wire. Blasters, and solo David Alvin. Jim McMurt. Marah. Loud Family. Continental Drifters. Kelly Willis. Bottle Rockets. NRBQ. Mekons/Waco Brothers. Primal Scream.
Any band that ever crashed on my floor. (And I could probably name about 100 others...)
- bill buckner

Mister Pleasant said...

The Merry-Go-Round were the real deal. There is an Elliott Smith vibe to some of Emitt's songs - complicated chord changes underly many of his songs.

Bless your heart, Brooklyn Girl. Though I'd say Procul Harum came closer to stardom than the other bands mentioned here, they should have been much bigger. Just give a listen to Trower's white hot puncuations throughout Shine On Brightly for a reminder of what a great band they were.

I second MJConroy's Dwight Twilley mention. I'm On Fire has a killer ending chorus (Susan Cowsill sings backup on this live version).

Anonymous said...

The Broadcasters
Tonio K
Cheri Knight/Blood Oranges


steve simels said...

Bill Buckner:

Continental Drifters.


TMink said...

You know, it is funny, I am so damn insulated I thought some of the people mentioned WERE succesful because I think so highly of them. I am reading it thinking "But I love Graham Parker, Squeezing Out Sparks was HUGE." Definitely a lack of perspective problem on my part.


steve simels said...

Trey --

Absolutely right. I mean, in my house, the Records played Madison Square Garden.

Oh wait -- they didnt?

The Kenosha Kid said...

Snakefinger - died too young and unfortunate record company disputes keeps him out of print


The Innocence Mission

and I want to second X.

Anonymous said...

What -- no Sandy Denny?

melior said...

For the record, I am especially fond of the appellation, "Adulterous Senile Gigolo".

emma said...

The Grays

Both were lush powerpop that went away, The Grays after one album, Jellyfish after 2 or 3.

Noam Sane said...

I must have seen NRBQ 30 or 40 times in the 80s. They were an unbelievable live band, with the classic line-up (Big Al Anderson, Terry Adams, Joey Spampinato, and Tom Ardolino - one of the greatest rock drummers ever, period).

Never got the hit single they deserved; they got a good screwing by Bearsville, like so many others on that label, that killed whatever momentum they had at the time.

I'm truly sorry for anyone who didn't catch one of those gigs when they were in their prime; they're often described as a great bar band, but in fact they were one of the five or ten greatest rock bands ever.

Anonymous said... mention of Richard Thompson, very surprising

I'd like to second (or third) Dave Alvin

and only because their live show was among the most entertaining I've ever witnessed I'll throw in The Fabulous Poodles

steve simels said...

I once danced with the woman who photographed and/or designed the cover of the first Fabulous Poodles album.

How's that for an encounter with greatness?

Anonymous said...

Cheri Knight/Blood Oranges

Cheri's 2nd album is just great - think anybody outside of New England ever heard it? And Les Blood Oranges are my homeboys - good call.
And how could I forget Mike Ireland and Holler's "Learning How To Live" - a classic slab of country heartbreak that I believe sold about 2000 copies? (Released on Subpop, of all places, at the height of flannel and fuzz, and so
different from amything else on the
label that they had absolutely no idea what to do with it.)A pretty raw chronicle of Ireland's painful divorce, and instrumental in my getting through one of my own...

- buckner (slight return)

spike said...

Paul Collins Beat
Buffalo Tom
Paul Kelly
The Smithereens
The Undertones
The Windbreakers
Material Issue
The Bongos
Eleventh Dream Day
The Vulgar Boatmen

Marsupial said...

Game Theory. (Yes, I know, Loud Family has been mentioned, but, no. Game Theory.)

Marsupial said...

A couple more, limiting myself to bands that haven't been mentioned:

Let's Active
Camper Van Beethoven

And my personal fav band of all-time: SPARKS! Seriously -- 40 years and they barely have enough U.S. 'hits' to count on one hand??

steve simels said...


I am so with you on Material Issue. I think I've mentioned this before, but I was much more upset over Ellison's suicide than Cobain's. It's probably a weird generation gap thing, but MI just meant more to me personally than Nirvana, great as they were.

And a big yes on the Windbreakers. BTW -- one of those guys comments here occasionally, so you've done a mitzvah.

spike said...


I was lucky enough to see Material Issue perform 2 times in my hometown of Rockford, Illinois. You could just tell that Jim was meant to be on the stage. He had such an infectious energy. Total bummer.

Joshua Mooney said...

The Urban Verbs--- D.C.-based, yet with a Pittsburgh connection (Roddy Frantz)!

Anonymous said...

Marshall Chapman

Willie Nile

Anonymous said...