· By Jason Smith
Songs of the Unsung with Jason Smith of Traindodge
Songs Of The Unsung. We all get into listening ruts with music. Your favorite songs are still your favorite songs but inevitably, you slowly lose some of the excitement. Songs you’ve worshipped your whole life aren’t as shiny after hundreds of listens when you know what’s behind every corner. My own silly, decades-long journey with this has led me to one unshakeable truth: sometimes you just need to hear something new that sounds old. And I’ve searched a lot. With that, here are a few ancient songs, ranging from not very obscure to pretty obscure, that I've found myself returning to recently for fresh inspiration.
1. Hard Stuff - "Jay Time"
English group that existed from only '71 - '73. Two of them quit Atomic Rooster to form Hard Stuff. Sadly, this entire band has passed away. This jam opens the '72 debut and it's such an unusual groove but it absolutely works. Very easy song to like. And I do.
2. Budgie - "In For The Kill"
There were a bunch of Budgie songs I could've picked but I went with this one because the main riff is just such an undeniable winner (starts at :20). Like many my age, I know this band because of Metallica's covers. 'Black Sabbath meets Rush' is the common thing lazy journalists say but I think that actually sells them short - they were quirkier than both. This song takes an inexplicable two and a half minute detour that completely sounds like it was recorded as a separate track and just crammed into the middle of this song just for the sake of doing it. Different tempo, different drum sounds and everything. And then like it's no big deal, they just clip back to the main riff again at the end. They absolutely had their own rulebook when it came to arrangements. I highly recommend their first seven albums if any of this sound enticing. Last factoid: Van Halen used to cover this song during their club days.
3. Tucky Buzzard - "Time Will Be Your Doctor"
British band that managed to crank out five studio albums between 1971 and 1973. The is from the self-titled second album. If the intro is too jammy for you, the fun starts around :40. Very heavy and inventive riff for 1971. And luckily, the song's fantastic. The lyrics and melody rule. Trivia nugget: Bill Wyman of the Stones produced everything they did.
4. Streetwalkers - "Downtown Flyers"
Another short-lived English band that ran from '74 to '77. This is from the '75 Downtown Flyers album. A young and future Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain is behind the kit and delivers the goods. Members of UK progressive cult heroes Family sprung off to get this band going. The main riff is hard-hitting but off-kilter. It hooks you right in for the rest of the song.
5. Ethel The Frog - "Firebird"
This band was part of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Only managed to put out one album in 1980. The intro riff is enormous and thankfully, the song’s really cool and dovetails into several variations of the main theme. Lots of Thin Lizzy-ish twin leads here, too, which I’ll always welcome.
6. Highway Robbery - "Promotion Man"
A California trio with a Native American guitarist who wrote everything - though, interestingly, the drummer handles all the vocals. They fizzled because their label was constantly trying to get them to update their sound. This is a pretty raging song for 1972. Victorious factoid: they once opened for Cheech & Chong.
7. Truth And Janey - "The Light"
Another American trio. And another short career. Iowa band. They split up in the late 70s, went their own separate ways, either trying various other things that fizzled or just straight up leaving the music industry behind altogether. Their No Rest For The Wicked album from 1976 has been reissued a few times and is worth getting if this song grabs you at all.
8. Hot Tuna - "Easy Now"
I have to credit my uncle Dave for this one. Growing up, our family would go visit his family's house in Wisconsin for 4th of July every year. Once I saw his music collection, I started packing bricks of blank 90 minute TDK tapes in my backpack and would dub anything that looked or sounded interesting - Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, Ziggy Marley. This was also one of the finds. All I could find out back then was that it was two guys who broke off from Jefferson Airplane and formed this band for fun. Never fully decided if it was too hippie-dippy for me but it was just 'classic rock' enough for my 17 year old sensibilities so I got on board. The guitar & bass playing is fairly wild on this album - The Phosphorescent Rat, check it out.
9. U.K. - "Caesar's Palace Blues" (Live)
Going easy on the prog but I couldn't exclude this. Wild story here. U.K.’s '78 debut is a well-respected classic. But after losing their hotshot guitarist and drummer (Allan Holdsworth and Bill Bruford, respectively), the other half of the band make the bold choice to soldier on. They end up not even replacing the guitarist - instead, violinist/keyboardist Eddie Jobson steps up his duties and effectively covers the missing parts. With Zappa drummer Terry Bozzio now on the kit, they have a new power trio dynamic happening. It oddly works. This song closes their 1979 live album 'Night After Night.' Ex-King Crimson bassist John Wetton (you likely know his voice from Asia's Heat of the Moment) sings and plays like the band hasn't missed a step. His bass note choices over the solo section/outro are awesome and truly thoughtful. From about 2:40 onward, the entire band just smokes. Heroic performances.
10. Pretty Things - "Remember That Boy"
Incredibly storied English band whose beginnings go back to the early 1960s. Far too messy of a history to get into. This is from 1976, their eighth album. They'd already broken up and reformed. They were on Zeppelin's label, Swan Song (Peter Grant even managed them) and Jimmy Page was a massive fan. This song goes hard. You'll hang on until the end. There's an awesome proggy break around 1:53 with some wild guitar harmonies. It's so weird but also thankfully, the raucous nature of the song never lets up.
11. Cactus - "One Way Or Another"
NYC band that originally ran from 1969 to 1972. This is from their One Way Or Another album from 1971. Whole band's great but drummer Carmine Appice (ex-Vanilla Fudge) destroys on this.
12. Stories - "Hey France"
Another New York band existing only between 1972 to 1974 but managed to crank out two pretty solid albums. I recommend both, they're not hard to find. This one is from their 2nd, 1973's About Us (1972's self-titled debut is the other). A fairly poppy band but not unlike Queen, they attempt a lot of styles and usually succeed at everything they try - still keeping a certain explosiveness to everything. Really cool production on everything, too, considering the year. Side note: this album closes with "Brother Louie" which is what Louis CK used as the theme song in his series 'Louie.'
13. Captain Beyond - "Mesmerization Eclipse"
Technically, an "American" supergroup even though they included original Deep Purple singer Rod Evans (that's him on "Hush") - members of Iron Butterfly and Johnny Winters band round things out. Another short first run, going from 1971 to 1973. This is from their self-titled debut. Trippy, proggy, heavy - this entire album is a trip. The second album is mellower and fairly acoustic but I love it and would recommend that as well. But definitely start at the debut album if you like this.
14. Jeff Beck - "Led Boots"
Jeff Beck's an institution (R.I.P.). Loved this 70s fusion era. I originally paid attention to him because Eddie Van Halen always namechecked him in interviews. As a 14-year old, that was good enough for me. Jan Hammer was usually always involved with him too, which if you're old enough to remember when Miami Vice was originally on the air, you know he's an absolute studio/soundtrack legend. Such a commanding riff - apparently, the 'Led' in the title was their nod to Zeppelin. The riffs basically reflect that. Such a smoking song. This album has gotten us through many a van ride. 1976's Wired - get it now!
15. Mountain - "Tired Angels"
America rarely gets a nod with heavy music in the 1970s but you have to give it up to Mountain for cranking out such heavy, spacious albums so early. This is from their second album, Nantucket Sleighride from 1971. A curious, almost non-committed riff starts it but then the song dives into a supremely bizarre chord progression with lyrics and vocal melody gripping enough to keep you on board. I always liked how this song was somber and sorta proggy at the same time. R.I.P. Leslie West. Check out this album and Climbing! from 1970.
16. Hawkwind - "Opa-Loka"
I've also been playing bass for Rainbows Are Free since 2017. Hawkwind is a big deal in that camp and I've had to become a bigger fan than I already was. I hadn't heard much other than the Space Ritual live album but this knocked me out when I first heard it. This song made me connect the dots between heavy psychedelic rock and krautrock. Funnily enough, I'm a big Motorhead fan and Lemmy absolutely hated this song and claims he didn't even play on it.
17. UFO - "Mother Mary" (Live)
British legends. Look 'em up. Michael Schenker (a one-time Scorpion and brother of still-Scorpion Rudolph Schenker) more or less makes the majority of their 70s output worth a listen. For a shredder, he's incredibly melodious. His solos all have hooks and you actually look forward to them. Check out the live Strangers In The Night album from '79. It contains most of their classic songs and it sounds fantastic.
18. David Gilmour - "Short and Sweet"
We're enormous Pink Floyd fans. Gilmour's guitar parts from Dark Side of the Moon through to The Wall especially loom large. This is from his first solo album from 1978 which was right in the thick of that period. My favorite songs of his are ones like this where the root note of the song rarely changes but he knows every possible killer chord that works underneath. This song does this to the hilt. The tempo is perfectly hypnotic, too, which keeps you in. Crazy vocal harmonies as well. Beautiful song. Lots to marvel at.
19. Sir Lord Baltimore - "Hard Rain Fallin'"
Yet another NYC band. Trio with singing drummer. They had an album from '70 and another from '71. This is from the debut. They broke up in '76 but their legend grew over the decades as both their albums began getting namechecked by modern stoner bands.
20. Golden Earring - "Snot Love In Spain"
Before their 80s hit "Twilight Zone" and after their ancient, early 70s breakthrough hit, "Radar Love," there was this fertile run of the late 70s for this Dutch band. Enormous history which began in the early 60s. This is their fourteenth album. They called it a day in 2021 ending a fifty year run. Anyway, this is an odd song about getting into trouble far from home when you're young. There's a harmonica going almost through the entire thing and it actually drones and adds a bizarrely ambient element to the song's chorus. The instrumentation is pretty interesting in this song - I can't tell if there's a dobro here or not but I've stolen chords from this chorus and used them in Traindodge songs.