Sadly, because of the way the music industry works to market musical artists, albums, and songs to the mass market with the goal of generating a profit, creativity and non-conformity are often lost in the corporate shuffle.
This is not to say that the artists that have learned to fit within the mainstream concept of marketability lack creativity, or innovation. I am a fan of mainstream popular music like everyone else. If there had been no mainstream music industry, we would have never met The Beatles, or heard Elvis, and the musical landscape would be much different than we know it today. However, the downside is that there are many songs released to little or no fanfare or publicity. Unless you actively seek out musicians and songs through alternate means such as alternative radio programs that play obscure musical artists, and rarely heard songs, specialty record stores, garage sale bargain bins, and that limitless resource – the Internet, many of these songs and artists will be lost or forgotten forever.
Do you have any favorite songs of your own that you think have been unjustly ignored or lost over the years? If you do, please post them in the comments section at the end of this article and maybe I will include them in future articles to give them the recognition they deserve. I am always in the discovery phase of my musical appreciation and would love to increase my musical library.
In the words of Jack Black from The School of Rock, “Dude, I service society by rocking, OK? I’m out there on the front lines liberating people with my music!”
The following ten songs may have been overlooked. Click on the linked titles to take a listen to what you may have missed and become liberated by the music.
Jonathan Toledo – The Toll.
I first heard this hard driving song with its Jim Morrison like rant in the late ’80s and I was instantly a fan. For me, it filled a void in the music of the time. It rocked and it had a message. It serves as an angry depiction of the exploitation and the abuse of Native Americans. It is a powerful reminder to everyone in this age of using immigration as a political and emotional hot button topic that unless we’re Native American ourselves, we’re all immigrants in this country.
“How far has the white man gone
to drive the stake into the ground?
Soldiers stoned in monuments
while chiefs of wood, hold cheap cigars…”
Little Rock Star – Lucinda Williams
This is a haunting ode to all of those rock stars who achieved the highly coveted goal of stardom and fame, and for whatever reason gave up and threw it all away through reckless or self-destructive behavior. This idea is profoundly and emotionally conveyed by Lucinda Williams. Being a musician and having attained a certain level of prominence herself, she knows first-hand the potential trappings of fame and stardom, so it gives this song added potency.
“Will you ever know happiness of a rock star?
Was your death wish stronger than you are?
Will you go up in flames like the torches that are carried for you?”
This is the Sea – The Waterboys
I have always thought of this song as a cautionary tale, cinematic in its scope and atmosphere. It’s an emotionally vivid, panoramic image about being at a crossroads trying to run away from what seem to be monumental problems, yet being aware that even though the current situation may seem dire and hopeless, it may be nothing compared to what you will face if you try to outrun the problems instead of facing them. The future could bring bigger problems piled on top of the issues from the past that were never resolved. This is a situation we have all faced in our lives, which thanks to great lyrics and instrumentation by The Waterboys adds to the poignant impact of this tune.
“You’re trying to make sense
of something that you just don’t see
You’re trying to make sense now
and you know you once held the key
But that was the river
this is the sea.”
Things the Grandchildren Should Know – eels
This is a touching song that will strike a chord with parents, especially parents watching their own mom and dad getting older and performing their role of parent and grandparent simultaneously. The concept that you are following closely behind your parents on that journey of life, as your own kids get older each day and closer to adulthood, is a weighty concept to ponder. This song makes it a little easier to accept, by entertaining the idea that you will be able to pass on to your kids, like your parents have to you the wisdom of your years and hopefully they will listen and give your years of living a noble purpose.
“I’m turning out just like my father
Though I swore I never would
Now I can say that I have a love for him
I never really understood
What it must have been like for him
Living inside his head…”
Clementine – Sarah Jaffe
There is power in the paradoxical quality of Sarah Jaffe’s voice in this song and how it sounds fragile and hardened by experience at the same time. It is this trait that adds depth to this song about a jaded soul burned in multiple relationships and wishing and pleading to be delicate again instead of the cynical person she has become. This song is able to recognize the hardened heart in us all and remind us we have a delicate side to our heart that we should never let go of.
“All that time, wasted
I wish I was a little more delicate…”
Sex and Music – David Wilcox
This sultry tune was made to be on this list. It tackles the whole idea of selling and compromising oneself, whether it’s in pursuit of carnal activity, or musical stardom and the literal and figurative marketing elements involved with each. David Wilcox satirically equates the music business with sex and the motivating factors and end results for both. It’s really no mystery to me why this song may be one of those songs you might not have heard. Its message and subject matter might be a little too honest for mainstream listeners and the music business.
“See, sex and music are much the same,
we feel with hearts and skin
And what you are going to get out of them both
is just what you put in…”
My Melancholy Blues – Queen
This song showcases the vocal range of Freddie Mercury, more known for his operatic rock, than the lounge singer/piano bar persona he assumes for this redundantly titled tune. Whenever I hear this song’s opening lines, I think how cathartic it would be to play this song in situations you sometimes find yourself in when you have company over and they won’t leave, even though it’s obvious the evening is drawing to a close. I don’t know, it just seems that even after hearing Freddie Mercury wail the opening lines of this song, if your guest still don’t get the hint, then they never will. You may just have to start shutting off the lights throughout your house and undressing as you make your way to the bedroom while this song slowly plays its way out. It just has that simultaneously sad and humorous closing time sound that would fit a situation like this perfectly.
“Another party’s over
And I’m left cold sober
My baby left me for somebody new
I don’t wanna talk about it
Want to forget about it
Wanna be intoxicated with that special brew...”
New York City Serenade – Bruce Springsteen
Bruce has a way of painting a mental picture through song. This love song to New York City is no exception. I have never been to New York City, but having listened to this song and experienced the vivid characters and scenery that inhabit this musical canvas I feel as if I have. Not many songs can accomplish this feat without an accompanying music video.
“It’s midnight in Manhattan, this is no time to get cute
It’s a mad dog’s promenade
So walk tall or baby don’t walk at all…”
Photograph – Donora
This song, as suggested by its title is a quick musical snapshot of emotion that puts you in a reminiscing frame of mind and gets you wondering about how many important, fragile moments in your life have not been captured for posterity except for in your heart and your memory, which sadly don’t last forever. If this song does nothing else, it should remind you to treasure and savor the important moments in life as they occur.
“It was supposed to last forever
Every feeling we ever had
We said we’d remind each other
When we’d forgotten the lives
The lives we had…”
Tweeter and the Monkey Man – The Traveling Wilburys
This song is one of my favorite by the group Traveling Wilburys, made up of rock and roll legends Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison (Orbison unfortunately did not sing on this song) Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne. It is a contagious rock crime ballad that is either a nod of admiration or a poke of fun a Bruce Springsteen and his recurring themes, imagery, and motifs. Either way, this song, like the Springsteen songs to which it pays tribute through numerous references to actual Springsteen song titles, grabs you with its larger than life narrative and takes you along for an enjoyable ride.
“Next day the undercover cop was hot in pursuit
He was taking the whole thing personal
He didn’t care about the loot
Jan had told him many times it was you to me who taught
In Jersey anything’s legal as long as you don’t get caught…”
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