Friday, November 28, 2014

Weekend Listomania's Greatest Hits: Special They Coulda Been a Contender! Edition

[I originally posted this one back in 2008, and frankly I can't remember anything else I did that year; I assume I was having fun and being reasonably productive, but I can't prove it. In any case, as is my wont, I've changed a couple of entries and done some cosmetic re-writing, just so you don't confuse me with Marlene Dietrich singing this.

Enjoy, if possible. -- S.S.]

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 exaggeration 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.

5. The Merry-Go-Round/Emitt Rhodes

Another power pop 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 Rising Sons

Featuring the rather awesome talents of Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal before they got famous. The fact that this track languished unreleased in the vaults of Columbia Records for nearly three decades before it was finally unleashed on the world is pretty convincing proof of the non-existence of God, IMHO.

3. Marah

Their template was The Replacements doing Bruce Springsteen covering the entirety of Exile on Main Street. It is not an exaggeration when I say that I would cheerfully cut off both of my testicles for the chance to have played on a song as great as the above. And almost everything on the album it's from is as good, BTW.

2. 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?

And the number uno band that time forgot and should be currently relaxing on the Riviera inhaling cocaine and Cristal absolutely is....

1. The Floor Models

Come on -- like I really have to explain this?

Alrighty, then -- what would YOUR choices be?


Phil Cheese said...

This is a great list. Mine would have included the Flammin' Groovies too. Dwight Twilley as well, if the readers agree he is not too famous.

Squints said...

I have to confess I love all the non-title songs from the "You Do That Thing" soundtrack. EsPECially "Dance With Me Tonight." Ripping little number.

Tommy T said...

The Oneiders!!

Alzo said...

I'd like to know Steve's thoughts about Argent. The link between the Zombies and the latter-day Kinks– too pop for the prog crowd and too prog for the glam crowd. They had one massive (tho ponderous) hit single and more than a few that should have been.

cthulhu said...

Phil, I also nominate Dwight Twilley; he's still pretty obscure.

The late Chris Whitley
Tonio K
Richard Thompson
The Fabulous Poodles
Nick Lowe (independent of Brinsley Schwarz)
The Blasters, X, Los Lobos (the trinity of early '80s LA)
The Plimsouls (more early 80s LA)
Warren Zevon (he really only had one hit)

steve simels said...

I really like the very first Argent album, actually.

In particular, t
here's a song on it called "School Girl" that could have been a Zombies hit -- absolutely gorgeous.

side3 said...

If you like The Wonders, the lead vocals on those songs were done by Mike Viola. He is fantastic, with and without his band, Candy Butchers.

Anonymous said...

Jesus, Steve - You're talking about at least half of my record collection!
The obvious one to me would be Marshall Crenshaw. Still around, still touring/recording. Widely-hailed early work, never hit it big. Is kind of bitter about it.
LOTS of guys like that: Tommy Keene. Freedy Johnston. Smithereens. Bottle Rockets. Alejandro Escovedo is the best live rock performer I know, and he never draws more than a handful. My old friends The Blood Oranges were at least a decade ahead of the alt-country wave, and were a damned sight better than a lot of the bands that followed.
And there are so many that slipped between the cracks and are now mostly forgotten: I'm talking about your Beat Farmers and Rainmakers and Liquor Giants and so on. (Were you not also a fan of the sublime Continental Drifters?)Heart and soul of the music, really. Don't even get me started on the local and regional stuff... - bill buckner

steve simels said...

Bill--agree with your entire list, except for Escovedo, who for some reason I have never really listened, even tho I know I should.

The Blood Oranges...I swoon.

pete said...

Barry. And. The. Remains.

Anonymous said...

Lots of good suggestions. Since I listen to them all the time, they all seem like big stars to me! Oh, did I say Big Star? Surely no one things they were successful in their time. But thanks, at all events, for suggesting Kevin Salem. Never heard of him, but I am going to find all his music.

Cotton Mather - go listen to Kontiki, their best album.

A guy

M_Sharp said...

The Bottle Rockets
Go To Blazes
The Hoodoo Gurus
Toni Price - forget about a tour, she rarely leaves Austin

M_Sharp said...

Forgot -

The Move
Roy Wood

Anonymous said...

Oooh, Cotton Mather - GOOD CALL! And how could I forget The Mekons and their numerous offshoots - best fucking rock 'n roll band that most normal people have never heard of? I'm with you on the Kevin Salem, Steve, and don't know what became of him. He used to gig around here all the time... - bill buckner (again)

Anonymous said...

Crash Vegas & The Broadcasters!

Capt. Al

Alzo said...

I never even considered Dwight Twilley for this list because he's always in heavy rotation at my house. Sadly, the general public knows him, if at all, as a one-hit wonder. Odd that his buddy Tom Petty went global and Dwight didn't (despite having a better voice, good looks and scads of great songs). Some people have all the luck, indeed.

Alzo said...

Oh- and don't snigger- but I nominate Status Quo. On this side of the pond they're known for one psychedelic chestnut. In Old Blighty, they are an institution with Stones-level sales over a long career. They're also probably the best nominees for title of 'the band that Spinal Tap was modeled on.'

The Anonymous DB said...

Seconding the nomination of Mike Viola. Amazingly inventive pop, and the stuff about his own downfall and reclamation moves me every time one of those songs comes up on the ol' iPod.

His writing buddy, Adam Schlesinger, should be famous with Fountains of Wayne as well.

Off the pop track, but Cross Canadian Ragweed made great rock that sounded a little like country or vice versa. Impossible to slot the band, but they rocked hard and well.

Among current obscure power pop bands, The Sun Sawed In 1/2 sounds like radio pop magic, if only radio played such things these days.

Mark said...

I second the comment of Anonymous 1, "Jesus, Steve - You're talking about at least half of my record collection!"

I can't argue with any selections here, and in particular The Records and Moby Grape, but let me add the following.

Anything Scott Miller, including Game Theory and The Loud Family.

Anything Dean Wareham, but especially Luna.

Anything Pat Fish, including The Jazz Butcher and The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy.

Anything Ike Reilly, including the Ike Reilly Assassination.

Spottiswoode And His Enemies.

Anything Scott McCaughey, including The Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5, and The Baseball Project.

Anything Steve Wynn, and especially Dream Syndicate.

Anything Stan Ridgway. Anything.

2 Skinnee J's, Pierce Turner, The Odds, The Feelies, Stackridge, The Nails, Meat Puppets. The Dandy Warhols.

And current bands Real Estate and Elephant Stone.

Anonymous said...

re Blood Oranges, i picked up another copy of Cheri Knight's "The Northeast Kingdom" in the budget bin this weekend. I buy every copy I find - though I'm running out of people to give them to - because someday there may not be any more available.

Starling Electric
Code Blue
Tom Jans
Jenny Toomey

Voxtron said...

I was just going through this and ASSUMING Shoes would be #1 on this list. I guess not.

Anonymous said...

The one for me is Jason and the Scorchers. I used to have your review of the Esential Scorchers CD on my fridge.
Reader others comments I have to add also the Blasters and Marshal Crenshaw.

Paul said...

I always learn about good music here. Between what Steve posts and what the comments bring up - not quite half is my record collection but all are things I need to go find and listen too. Nice to have Powerpop around!

Anonymous said...

I'm always late to these comment sections.

As an Atlantan, I must mention The Producers for pure power pop greatness. Guadalcanal Diary has some fantastic moments as well. Both had a little success, but not nearly enough, imo.

Dave in Atlanta

Marsupial said...

Always late to the comments... I think I said this six years ago: Game Theory/Loud Family/Scott Miller in general. And this time around, Scott is dead and it will never happen. (& I am bitter about this.)