Ten Great Albums Nobody Talks About When They Talk About Great Albums BUT SHOULD!

Grand Prix - Terraplane Twilight (2007)

With a singer who recalls Echo & The Bunnymen singer Ian McCulloch in his early prime, album opener "Always Beginning" sounds like it could have just as easily been recorded in 1957, but soars with a modern vitality. "Gasoline" is a moody lounge rocker in search of a David Lynch film. "Zhang" is a Link Wray surf rocker in search of a Tarantino film. "Satellite Camera" is the song Chris Isaak's been trying to write since "Wicked Game" forever labelled him a retro balladeer.

So who the fuck are these guys and why are they not even a blip on your radar? They're from New Zealand. Oh, and they seem to consider themselves "alt. country", which is a shame because what they're doing is so much bigger and better than that. As talented as a real "alt. country" legend like Robbie Fulks might be, he's never given us an album as fucking inspired as this. Album came out in 2007, but, hey, it's new to you! You're welcome.

Til Tuesday - Welcome Home (1986)

Their rise to success played like an after-school special - band enters Boston radio station battle-of-the-bands after being together only six months and wins, their demo of "Love In A Vacuum" gets heavy radio rotation, and they sign to Epic Records.  The band then scores a Top 20 hit with "Voices Carry" from their debut album of the same name.

The reality was that singer/songwriter Aimee Mann was already growing weary of the hit-making machine and Welcome Home was her attempt at creating the album she wanted to make.  Of course, there is no "Voices Carry, Pt. 2" to be found here.  Instead, listeners are treated to some of the most pristine baroque pop in the form of the haunting refrains of "Coming Up Close" and "Will She Just Fall Down".  Of course, such a subtle and nuanced record as this stuck out like a sore thumb next to Starship's "We Built This City" and Sly Fox's "Let's Go All The Way".  It's all academic now, of course, but Welcome Home is the perfect rainy day album that lovingly dabbles in the grey areas of the human condition instead of throwing big bold day-glo slogans against every wall.  For that alone, this masterful album deserves to be heard.

Love Tractor - Themes From Venus (1989)

Thanks to R.E.M. hogging the limelight, these Georgia rockers never got their due. Their 1987 masterpiece came out on the indie DB Recs after their deal with Bigtime/RCA yielded only one album (1986's This Ain't No Outerspace Ship). Despite the limited budget - not to mention the fact that it was only their second album to feature vocals, this album is better than it has any right to be.

Landmark singles abound as the band mixes influences at will; the Beach Boys (think "sandbox in the living room" period) one minute, Sparks (during their L.A. new wave phase) the next, and then there are songs like "I Broke My Saw" and "Crash" that are just Love Tractor being Love Tractor, which is fine by me.

Thankfully, Cosmicmedia re-issued the band's discography last year, thereby making this album available for the first time in, you know, TWENTY YEARS!

Specimen - Wake The Dead (2013)

As leaders of the early '80s goth scene revolving around the UK club Batcave, Specimen had but a single six-song EP on Sire (long out-of-print) as their calling card. The band released a couple more singles on here-today-gone-later-today indie labels, but to little fanfare. Heck, there was even a moved to L.A. that included keyboardist Gere Fennelly prior to her joining Redd Kross. Cleopatra collected most of their recorded output on CD in 1997, but then the band reunited minus singer Ollie Wisdom in 2007 and made a horrible industrial record that shamed the legacy.

 Even with my expectations raised by the news that Youth would be producing the album, I've got to say, these guys really fucking bring it. I mean, this record is a completely inspired goth romp that's as fun as it is dark and Youth's production is absolutely mesmerizing. Working on all those Killing Joke albums has made him a pro at delivering some of the beefiest guitar sounds in the biz. "Wake The Dead" does just that with crunchy guitars flying at you from all angles. "New Religion" and "Demons Are a Ghoul's Best Friend" show the band straying from their trademark sound (if such a thing exists) with great results.

Dr. Hook - Sloppy Seconds (1972)

Cheech and Chong get all the meat-head glory, but there was nobody better at subversive drug humor than Dr. Hook, whose album Sloppy seconds is ten times funnier than "Up In Smoke" and complete musical joy from beginning to end. When they aren't making you laugh so hard that people start looking at you funny, they're tugging at your heart strings with the plaintive "Carry Me, Carrie"and laying down some of the finest grooves this side of the Mississippi.

Thing is, with all of the between and during-song banter, this is the sort of album that has to be heard in its entirety. My recommendation is to earmark this album for your next road trip with the buds. Put it on and just wait for someone to perk up and ask you who the heck this is and mark my words, they will. My prediction is that it'll happen right around the time "Get My Rocks Off" starts to play. Did I mention Shel Silversein wrote most of their material?

Kwamé - The Boy Genius featuring A New Beginning (1989)

For all the accolades thrown at guys like Kanye and Jay-Z for making music for folks who don't actually like music, it's nice to be reminded that hip-hop was once vital and fun and didn't take itself so damn seriously. In fact, if one listen to the Atlantic Records debut by then-16-year-old Kwamé Holland and his backing band (yes, that's an actual band laying down those funky-ass grooves) doesn't restore your faith in hip-hop, nothing will.  It can be musical, it can be fun, it can be boastful and front like a mofo, and, at the end of the day, everybody has a good time. 

There's just no way this album came out 24 years ago, as the tracks sound FRESH as hell.  Even the cougar-hunting lothario of "The Man We All Know And Love" seems playfully innocent all these years later, but the real treasure to be found here is the sonic thump of the musical production, which bristles like a busy street corner, with a seemingly endless plethora of grooves and melodies coming at you from all directions.  This is real music and might just wake you up.  

Devo - Something ELSE For Everybody (2103)

This is the album Devo should have released two years ago after they re-signed to Warner Brothers and issued the misguided and ultimately disingenuous Something For Everybody. Maybe they realize their error and are trying to make amends, maybe they knew what they were doing all along and are playing us like a fiddle. Either way, this is an inspired Devo album that shuns trends and ignores the superfluous. Best of all, its an amazing guitar album and not the overly processed synth record you were expecting. I mean, "Raise Your Hands" is good enough to be a hit...for Katy Perry...sigh. Wanna remember why you fell in love with Devo in the first place? Get this album.

Soft Boys - Underwater Moonlight (1980)

As a huge Robyn Hitchcock fan circa Elements of Light, we dove into his musical past expecting to find slight variations on his unique brand of trippy psych pop. With our curiosity further piqued by the involvent of then-Katrina And The Waves guitarist Kimberly Rew, we purchased an import copy of Underwater Moonlight. The idea of Hitchcock and Rew - two guys from seemingly different musical worlds - co-existing in the same band...well, no wonder they broke up, right?


By the time "I Wanna Destroy You" had finished joyously ravaging our ear-holes with repeated plays, all expectations had already been surpassed. By second cut, "Kingdom of Love", we were already mourning the loss of this great band. And the way "I Got The Hots" builds layer-by-layer like a musical Mount Everest makes me wonder why this album didn't, you know, sell a few copies when it came out. In that sense, they were a sort of British Big Star.

77's - 77's (1986)

It's been well-documented that Island forgot about everyone else on their roster the minute The Joshua Tree began taking off in 1987. As a result, the 77's equally amazing record got completely lost in the shuffle. At the very least, U2 could have tapped their label-mates as an opening act, but such was not to be and this album has fallen between the cracks, known about and adored by a small but rabid audience of rock fans.

Listening to it today, one is left wondering how a stone-cold anthem like "Do It For Love" didn't end up being a Top 40 smash for somebody, much less this deserving foursome. Even the confessional tone of "I Can't Get Over It" and "The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes And The Pride Of Life" doesn't lessen the fact that both songs sounds like they were made to be played on the radio.

The Blue Nile - A Walk Across The Rooftops (1984)

Calling them the UK version of Boston might seem a bit derogatory to some, but those who found their way to the band's masterful debut album, originally recorded as demos and released by upstart UK label Linn Records without any additional studio fixing will see the correlation.

Others will hear singer Paul Buchanan's sadly soulful vocals on tracks like "Heatwave" and "Automobile Noise" and realize which album must have influenced Peter Gabriel on later albums So (1986) and Us (1992).  Considering the band's limited musical skills (something to which they would freely admit), the album itself is as polished and well-executed as any Steely Dan record, but there has been nobody before or since who sounds quite like The Blue Nile.  Shame more people aren't privy to this well-guarded secret.

For a really insightful documentary on the band, check out "Flags And Fences":

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  1. re: "... there has been nobody before or since who sounds quite like The Blue Nile..."

    Check out the very hard-to-find Glasgow contemporaries of The Blue Nile, "Lies, Damned Lies." Best discs of the era: 1) "Lamentations," 2) "Flying Kites," & 3) "The Human Dress." For more up to date work by them, consider the excellent "Last Place on the Map." One listen to "Love's Own Language," off Kites and you may agree; I think they're actually better than The Blue Nile.

  2. 77's are certainly one of the underrated bands of all time. Solid through and through. "Sticks and Stones" is a great piece to experience with some of the same tunes as 88's. Ping pong over the abyss has some classic pieces. Having the more relevant introspective lyrics gets shunned for the least common denominator stuff. Most people don't like to be challenged. Those who do often favor more bizarre stuff that can be interpreted in a variety of ways.

  3. So pleased to see 77's on your excellent list! I played the cassette to death and lost count of the number of times people asked 'who is that?' when it was playing in my car. Truly an classic overlooked band.

  4. Well done remembering the genius of 77's. Still my favorite group. Love, love, love "Sticks and Stones". You're dead on with your analysis of "Do it For Love" and "The Lust..." Great, great call.