Monday, April 25, 2011

Not the Hits-Great songs off the album.

By Nick
These are just a few good songs from albums that didn't become radio hits. Sometimes the hits by a band are good: Chicago's album songs are often unbearable. In other cases, such as The Fray and OneRepublic, the album cuts are the best songs. These songs are in no particular order.

"Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite." by The Beatles. The Sgt. Pepper's album had a lot of good hits on it--scratch that, every song on that album is good. The Beatle's musical diversity was so great that they could write a circus music song with lyrics taken from a circus flyer from the 1800s, and it was still good.

"Reflections" by the Charlie Daniels Band. I don't know if this song was a hit or not. You can find it on the 3-disc collection of his music. Songs like "The South's Gonna Do It Again" and "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" were good. This one is great. It's a tribute to musicians who have passed on, specifically Elvis, Janis Joplin, and Ronnie Van Zandt of Lynyrd Skynyrd (The most underrated of classic rock bands). "Heaven should be proud."

"Hundred" by The Fray. The Fray is best known for their hits, "How To Save A Life", "Over My Head." Those songs are awful compared to the cuts from their first album. Unlike many piano-pop bands, The Fray actually has a talented pianist, and this ballad shows him off at his best ability. All the other album cuts are very good too.

"Oh My God" by Jars of Clay. Off the Good Monsters album. Probably the best song on a life-changing album. I can't describe it, just listen to it. I will warn, however, that it makes more sense in the context of the album than listened to on its own.

"Four Walls of Raiford" by Lynyrd Skynyrd. A lost Skynyrd track, and their best song. Most of the Skynyrd songs that get played on the radio are either not that good to begin with, or played to death (There should be a moratorium on Sweet Home Alabama). This song is about a Vietnam vet who is thrown into prison for a crime he didn't commit, and is escaping. It's heart wrenching.
And in an A.D.D. moment, another great Vietnam vet song is "Rooster" by Alice in Chains, which is definitely in the top five patriotic rock songs of all time.

"All Fall Down" by OneRepublic. OneRepublic's best music is hidden. This one is an acoustic-guitar driven song, complimented by some tense strings. Despair never sounded so good, except on the other good despair songs, but that's a topic for a later post.

"Why Not Smile" by R.E.M. From the Up album, although I have never heard it in the context; I know it from a compilation. The first R.E.M. song I heard, a haunting acoustic ballad. Michael Stipe doesn't even sound like Michael Stipe on the song.

"Dearest" by Buddy Holly. The best Buddy song, free from the mindless rockabilly of his earlier music, or the mindless syrupy fluff of his later music. Buddy had a unique voice, was a great stylist, and definitely had not reached the peak of his potential when he died. If he had continued to write songs like this, he would be even more remembered.

"Life In Rain" by Remy Zero. From the Villa Elaine album. I don't know why, but most of these songs are ballads. I guess it is because the record companies pick out the fast, catchy songs for singles. This song is particularly relevant because it has been raining a lot around here lately. If you listen to it, you can feel the rain.

"The Dangling Conversation" by Simon and Garfunkel, off the Essential album, one of the songs put in as padding in between the songs like "Sounds of Silence", "Scarborough Fair", and that gospel song. Simon and Garfunkel were the first to write rock songs with intelligent, thoughtful lyrics. Bob Dylan, who came around the same time period, wrote songs with all the hallmarks of intellectualism except for intelligibility. Anyway, this song shows what good lyric-writing should be. I think Paul Simon was right in choosing Robert Frost.

"Lady Jane" by The Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones at their worst turned out crass, stupid pop music, were personally vulgar and snotty, stole music from authentic black American musicians, and sang in a stupid fake Southern accent. At their best they did songs like this, a pseudo-elizabethan ballad. The mellow Stones beat the loud and rowdy Stones or the old and ugly Stones any day.

"On Fire" by Switchfoot. From the Beautiful Letdown album. Switchfoot's ballads are killers (in a good way, not in a Jack-the-Ripper kind of way), and this is one of the best. Still not sure what it's about, but the passion in it makes up for my confusion.

"Sooner or Later (Soren's Song)" by Switchfoot. From the New Way To Be Human album. Coming in the tradition of Paul Simon (see above), Jon Foreman writes a rock song about a philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard. And it's a really good rock song, too. Coincidentally, the song "Leaf" by mewithoutYou also mentions Kierkegaard's book Purity of Heart is to Want One Thing. It seems that Christian Existentialism is a popular theme in intelligent Christian rock music, and this should be explored more deeply.

"Red Hill Mining Town" by U2. From The Joshua Tree. You gotta love the good old sorta Christian liberals. The multi-millionaire rock star Bono knows so much about the working class. I mean, he's got pink glasses, so he must know everything, right? In all seriousness, this track from U2's breakout album is good, despite the fact that it probably has some sort of "share all your money" theme behind it. Back in the day, before they became big time rock stars, U2 was capable of writing lots of very moving songs. They still are, occasionally.

Do you have any favorite songs by artists that weren't radio singles? Post a comment and tell us.
Currently Listening: Abandon Kansas EP, Abandon Kansas.


  1. You bet. Tumbleweed Connection, in my view the best Elton John album ever, and recorded early on (his second or third) - before I knew what a sleeze he personally was, so I could enjoy with a clear conscience. That ablum had no real hits, but did have FM airplay back in the early 70s. Come Down In Time is flawless.Burn Down the Mission, though anti-Christian essentially, is compelling. Ballad of a Well Known Gun, with a sort of gospel sound is great. Where to Now St. Peter, one of my favorites, and the first EJ song that ever really made me think this guy had something. It's all great, but compared to his later work, relatively obscure. Now, a few other groups and songs, mostly from the 70s (ofcourse, what else??): King of the World and Bodhisattva and My Old School, Steely Dan. M.O.S. and Bod. were sort of FM hits I guess, so maybe ought not be in this list. Bright Side of the Road, Van Morrison. Heaven Only Knows, ELO (ok, I know it's pop mush, but I love it anyway)From the same ELO ablum: Calling America and Is It Alright. Oh and Jungle by ELO, quite sure that was not on the radio. English Sunset and Never Comes the Day - Moody Blues. Barabajagal, Donovan. Actually, looking back at your original question, perhaps some of these were (minor) radio singles, I'm not sure. I do not listen to Christian music stations, but I doubt anything from the ablum Invention from 1997 was played much. Phil Keaggy, Wes King and Scott Dente together. Watch my Back, River of Life (Beatle-ish)and Something, Somewhere - great efforts. As the Ruin Falls, Phil Keaggy. Dissapointment, Phil Keaggy. Break Away, Save Me - Wes King.

  2. Excuse me sir, please research and listen to a little more Rolling Stones before you make such absolute negative statements about almost every song they've written. Sometimes the world needs a bad attitude and shamelessly poppy rock n roll (you should at least understand the latter as someone who listens to The Fray and One Republic......and the beatles.) At least the stones aren't pretentious. Also They were HUGE admirers of the black musicians they LEARNED from... However i wholeheartedly agree with your choosing "The Dangling Conversation" and "Red Hill Mining Town." But go back and listen to Exile on Main St. in its entirety about 3 times and you'll understand what i mean about the stones.

  3. Nick,

    I agree with Bodeen, don’t be so hard on the Stones. They are terrific writers, sloppy players and have endured through the ages. While they can be unfortunately raunchy and gratuitously sinful, they can also be touching, poignant, beautiful and they make me want to fly. Sort of like the characters in a Rick Bragg novel. Not someone you would want to emulate, but you understand them.

    I like the idea behind this post and I would say that more than not, the great songs by great songwriters were NOT “hits”. I think EVERY track on Joshua Tree is terrific, including Bullet The Blue Sky & Running to Stand Still. I will mention stuff that I am presently listening to (or have recently) that is well worth checking out but never made the hit list. Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love CD. This one is often overlooked or misunderstood within the Boss’s larger corpus, but it is a beauty. Like most of his best work, it is haunting, aching, gorgeous and leaves me thinking, Yeah……what did he say? In particular on TOL, check out Cautious Man (which sounds like an outtake from his classic Nebraska CD), Walk Like a Man & One Step Up. Then there is Death Cab for Cutie’s Photoalbum with stand out tracks such as A Move Script Ending & Blacking out The Friction. You can never go wrong with Josh Ritter. His album The Animal Years is stellar from beginning to end. Perhaps his strongest work to date. Finally there is The Brad Mehldau Trio, Live @ The Village Vanguard. These are not only jazz players performing at the zenith of their genre, but they are doing something that has largely been lost on the current generation of otherwise admiral jazz musicians. What is that you ask? They are playing and improvising with current pop tunes. On this phenomenal live 2 disc set you find this stellar trio not only playing original compositions , standards & classic jazz tunes (John Coltrane’s Countdown), but they also play a song by Oasis (Wonderwall) and a song by Soundgarden (Black Hole Sun). This cd is well worth the effort of listening to and will yield it’s riches upon repeat listening.

    Jason P – Franklin, TN

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  5. Nick says,
    The reason I'm so hard on the Stones on this blog is because I'm trying to counter the almost universal idea that the Stones are "the best rock and roll band ever", and I kind of swing the pendulum back, maybe a little too far. I do enjoy ripping into some of rock's sacred cows, i.e. The Stones, The Beatles, AC/DC, Joplin, but that doesn't discount the fact that I do like quite a bit of music by those groups. Most of the Stones songs I know were radio singles, and I like quite a few of those, especially Get Off My Cloud, Sympathy for the Devil, Ruby Tuesday, and Jumpin' Jack Flash. So if, in the future, I make some broad, sweeping, derogatory statement about a classic band, I'm probably exaggerating a little to make a point, and that doesn't mean I hate every song that they wrote or something.
    And bodeen, the Stones WERE pretentious, albeit in their own sort of way. Mick Jagger was a London School of Economics Student, but would often try to make himself more "authentic", especially by acting like he was poorer than he was and singing in a fake accent. Then again, pretty much every rock musician tries to act like a member of the working class and sings in a fake accent, so whatever. I just think it's interesting that the Stones and the Who invaded America in the 60s and sang with fake American accents, and the Ramones invaded Britain in the 70s and sang with a (sort-of) fake British accent.

  6. Ben says,
    There is no way that I will ever bring Nick along when I visit you in Franklin. You two will have too much to talk about regarding music, without ever mentioning my kind of music. I would have to sit in a lonely corner and read.

  7. Ben,

    Sit in a lonely corner & read, you say? Sounds like your kind of time, huh?

    I believe it was Luther who said that other than the bible, music was Gods greatest gift to the world. Here, here. I second that notion!


    As I said at the beginning of my previous response, many of the great songs by great songwriters never made the hit list, but they are every bit as endearing & rich as those tunes that did make them rich. As far as the Stones go, check out Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup & Some Girls. These albums (cd's?) are remarkable for the variety of songsmith. Beware that they are not rated G. You will certainly have to hold your nose at points, but when you hit the high ground, the grass is thick and the air is sweet.

    Jason p - Middle Tennessee