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Mining the back catalogs for classic rock that doesn't suck
June 19, 2012 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Classic Rock recommendations: I'm looking to go deep into the back catalogs of some of the more well-known names in classic rock (read: tired, overplayed, worn out, trite) to find rock that really rocks.

For example:

Elton John generally sucks, except for Mad Man Across the Water, Gray Seal, etc.

Rod Stewart generally sucks, except for Every Picture Tells a Story (which might be one of the great albums in rock history).

Chicago generally sucks hard, except for their first album, Chicago Transit Authority.

Genesis without Peter Gabriel: sucks; Genesis with Peter Gabriel: awesome.

Eric Clapton: sucks; Cream: awesome.

Van Morrison: kinda sucky, but I'm sure there is some awesomeness hidden somewhere.

So, what are you recommendations for tired, worn out classic rock acts that have some surprising gems in their back catalog?
posted by slogger to Media & Arts (58 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
Van Morrison: kinda sucky, but I'm sure there is some awesomeness hidden somewhere.

The name of that somewhere is Astral Weeks.
posted by Beardman at 10:27 AM on June 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


People keep telling me that early Bob Seger is amazing but I have not checked for myself.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:29 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Van Morrison - Astral Weeks and His Band and the Street Choir don't suck.

You should listen to proto-band Buffalo Springfield beyond For What It's Worth.
posted by Miko at 10:30 AM on June 19, 2012


Rod Stewart generally sucks, except for Every Picture Tells a Story (which might be one of the great albums in rock history).

See also the album Truth by the Jeff Beck Group.
posted by The World Famous at 10:30 AM on June 19, 2012


Also, if you don't like Stones being hoary and bombastic, you'll probably like their very early records, which are much more straightahead blues/R&B and much less...theatrical. I also think Let It Bleed it is a great album.
posted by Miko at 10:32 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and you like Cream and early Genesis, so you probably will also like Traffic. And maybe earlier Yes.
posted by Miko at 10:34 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I really love hearing "Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd" front-to-back. Even though half the tracks are radio overkill, they seem fresh and satisfying in their 100% Skynard-y context.

In fact, I think I'm going to do it now!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 10:35 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Genesis without Peter Gabriel: sucks; Genesis with Peter Gabriel: awesome.

The defense wishes to present the following counter-arguments: A Trick Of The Tail, Wind And Wuthering, and Duke. Duke is actually kind of on the edge; but if you like it, you'll also like ....And Then There Were Three.... which came before then (I left it out initially because most "Genesis sucked when Gabriel left" usually point to its hit single, "Follow You Follow Me", as evidence of the suck.)

Van Morrison: kinda sucky, but I'm sure there is some awesomeness hidden somewhere.

Seconding the Astral Weeks recommendation and adding Moondance and Tupelo Honey.

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:35 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you like Rod Stewart then check out Faces.
posted by bongo_x at 10:39 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fleetwood Mac before Buckingham/Nicks joined the band.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:43 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Rolling Stones' Exile on Mainstreet. Essential listening, IMHO -- many consider it their best work, and it still sounds very fresh, many of the deeper tracks rarely see air play, and it definitely rocks.
posted by mosk at 10:44 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, if you don't like Stones being hoary and bombastic,

I came in to say something similar, but about Exile on Main Street, which is generally regarded as one of the greatest albums ever. The thing about it is, aside from "Tumbling Dice", you've probably never heard any of the songs from it on the radio, and it's a double album with 18 tracks. Sides 2 and 3 start getting really murky and dark. Side 4 starts being a little more rockin'.

Rod Stewart: just about the only song of his I like is "You Wear it Well".

Are you familiar with Big Star? Their first two albums can be had as one cd, or even bought electronically packaged as one album, and they're both great.
posted by LionIndex at 10:45 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Rod Stewart generally sucks, except for Every Picture Tells a Story

Seconding The Faces.

Griel Marcus' famous comment RE: Stewart (“Rarely has a singer had as full and unique a talent . . . rarely has anyone betrayed his talent so completely") is driven home by everything he did with Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane.

Also, all of Van Morrison's records with Them and his album T.B. Sheets are well-worth checking out.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:45 AM on June 19, 2012


The early Rush album Fly By Night is pretty straightforward rockin' in a way that the later explorations of Ayn Rand and weird time signatures are not. And Ted Nugent's first two solo albums are solid, as is most of the Amboy Dukes catalog (albeit trippier).
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:45 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you like the roadhouse rock thing, Bob Seger's first two albums as "The Bob Seger System" are indeed worth checking out. I think KISS's first (three) album(s) is pretty great. Oh, and the Scorpions first album, "Lonesome Crow."
posted by rhizome at 10:46 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


My father would want me to mention that if you're sick of ZZ Top because all you think of is the big-red-car/Eliminator stuff, track down Tres Hombres or Fandango!, put on the songs "Tush" and "La Grange," and re-think them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:49 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eric Clapton: sucks; Cream: awesome.

I completely agree. Another band Clapton was in where he couldn't screw everything up: Blind Faith.
posted by LionIndex at 10:52 AM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Neil Young's album On The Beach is quite good. I hadn't heard any of the tracks on it on the radio.

Foghat's Stone Blue.

Try to forget for a moment how sick you are of Smoke on the Water and/or Highway Star, and check out the rest of Deep Purple's Machine Head album. (Or Fireball, or In Rock... pretty much anything by the mark I and mark II line-ups of Deep Purple. The first mark III album, Burn, is also vastly underrated.)

Seconding Kiss up through Love Gun, and possibly including Dynasty if the disco flavor doesn't cause you to break out in hives. (Difficulty if you don't have built-in nostalgia for them: Overlooking the often-ridiculous lyrics and Gene Simmons' general skeeviness.)
posted by usonian at 10:56 AM on June 19, 2012


Everyone recommending the Faces is absolutely correct. They were the band Rod sang with when he wasn't recording/performing solo work during that period (and they all play on various songs on Every Picture Tells a Story, actually). Best single-disc intro to the band is Good Boys... When They're Asleep, and the box set, Five Guys Walk Into a Bar (produced by Ian McLagan, their keyboardist) is stellar. (And if you'll excuse the self-link: more about the Faces and various associated acts here.)
posted by scody at 10:57 AM on June 19, 2012


My two favorite Rolling Stones albums are perhaps their most underplayed: Between the Buttons and Their Satanic Majesties Request (both released in 1967).

Thirding the Faces. For more obscure Clapton, try John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds, and Casey Jones and the Engineers.
posted by eenagy at 11:02 AM on June 19, 2012


The Who's Live at Leeds is also worth a listening to in its entirety, as it both sounds great and rocks hard, but doesn't get much airplay these days. This album has been reissued periodically and each reissue has included more tracks from the actual concert, as the above Wiki link demonstrates.
posted by mosk at 11:09 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just about everything Jackson Browne wrote before Running on Empty is worth listening to; Late for the Sky is generally regarded as his best. Most of his work after 1980 makes me want to barf, and I'm not a fan of Running on Empty either.
posted by timetoevolve at 11:13 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Fleetwood Mac. 'Bare Trees' and 'Mystery to Me' are fantastic for pre-Buckingham/Nicks era, and 1980's 'Tusk' is a double album and it is wall-to-wall amazing, all 20 songs. I got owned so hard by that album I cannot even lie.

Yes's 'Fragile' and 'Close to the Edge' are basically perfect albums.

Aaaand Steely Dan. It's difficult to go wrong with any album, but I guess 'Pretzel Logic' and 'Katy Lied' are good places to start. Steely Dan is one of those that a lot of people think they hate because they heard the radio hits and they sounded cheesy. But if you pay attention to the lyrics a little bit you begin to see the dark humor and then it all comes clear, and you can just sit back and enjoy an incredible string of 7 or so albums with basically no bad songs. Fuck yeah.
posted by TheRedArmy at 11:19 AM on June 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Fleetwood Mac and Yes both went on to produce some highly questionable recordings later on in their careers, unfortunately.
posted by TheRedArmy at 11:20 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Kinks are great, of course, but you never hear songs from the really great The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society on the radio.

Likewise, you might have ever heard only three songs by the Zombies, but pretty much anything off their first two albums is wonderful.

I have friends who swear by the Bee Gees's pre-disco stuff, especially Odessa. I haven't taken the full plunge yet, but I like this British Invasion minor hit.

The Nuggets compilations are great for garage rock singles, and many of the bands included have great albums to explore, like the 13th Floor Elevators or Love.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:25 AM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Aaaand Steely Dan. It's difficult to go wrong with any album, but I guess 'Pretzel Logic' and 'Katy Lied' are good places to start.

You forgot Aja.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:26 AM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Most people who hear Queen's first album are kind of surprised that they're listening to Queen.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:29 AM on June 19, 2012


Jethro Tull can and did once rock. Check out This Was, Stand Up, and Benefit. For later Tull that rocks you'll have to mine for that one rocker on many of their later albums. In fact the new TAAB2 has an 8 minute opus called "A Change of Horses" that "prog" rocks.

Steeley Dan's "The Royal Scam". The entire album is frikkin awesome.
Brian Eno is kinda sorta not rock unless you look at "801 Live!" which is labeled a Phil Manzera album, but really is all about Eno.
Speaking of Eno. "Third Uncle", "Seven Deadly Finns", and "Poor Boy" (with David Byrne)
posted by Gungho at 11:51 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you like Madman Across the Water," you might like the rest of the album, "Tumbleweed Connection."

By that I am saying you should play it often.
posted by emelenjr at 11:54 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you like Cream, have you tried the various Clapton follow up projects: Blind Faith, Delany and Bonny and Friends, Derek and the Dominos? None of these lasted long because of coke (allegedly) but each of them had some of Clapton at his best.

More Creamy goodness: Ginger Baker's post-Cream career: Ginger Baker's Airforce and the Baker Gurvitz Army see him sort of moving away from pure rock to more interesting music, but still firmly grounded in rock conventions. I like those a lot.

If you like those, you can follow those Gurvitz boys back in their careers, to Three Man Army and Gun, two moderately successful groups whose most famous song, Race with the Devil was largely made famous by eighties NWOBHM group Girlschool.

More American, I love, love Jo Jo Gunne ever since I've first heard them a year or so ago, some of whose members early had been part of prog rock group Spirit. Where the latter was noodly and esotheric, Jo Jo Gunne was uncomplicated but well done rock.

Free: Fire and Water despite/because the AOR hit All Right Now is quite good.

Black Oak Arkansas's first album, especially When Electricity Came To Arkansas.

The Golden Earring albums Eight Miles High, Golden Earring, Seven Tears and Moontan are word a listen (ObNederrock plug).

ELO's first three albums?

Gerry Rafferty's City to City?

Early Wishbone Ash?

And if the first two Bruce Springsteen albums sound like another band, that's because it was.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:57 AM on June 19, 2012


McCartney, Sir Paul's first solo record, is kinda great.
Blue by Joni Mitchell, and also Miles of Aisles, a truly great live record.
Crosby, Stills and Nash, the first one, with them sitting on the porchcouch.
The Band, Live From Big Pink.
posted by thinkpiece at 12:01 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Early Bob Seger IS amazing. And Eric Clapton's earlier stuff is really fantastic too.

Other awesome stuff:
- Free
- Bad Company (only the Paul Rodger era stuff)
- The Who
- Led Zeppelin
- Blue Oyster Cult (some of it is awful, but stuff like Cities On Flame With Rock and Roll is great)
posted by gwenlister at 12:02 PM on June 19, 2012


Thanks for all the kickass suggestions! I always forget that when I ask a music question, it usually ends up costing me $50 or more at iTunes. This thread might cost me $500.
posted by slogger at 12:02 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you like Rod Stewart then check out Faces.

If you like Faces then check out Small Faces.
posted by Beardman at 12:11 PM on June 19, 2012


Here's a great semi-obscure album I recently fell in love with: Thin Lizzy / Bad Reputation.
posted by davebush at 12:23 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bruce Springsteen Nebraska
posted by at the crossroads at 12:31 PM on June 19, 2012


Nthing Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart's Truth.

If there is such a thing, I always thought Axis: Bold as Love was the underrated and most overlooked of Hendrix's albums with The Experience.

Bowie's Man Who Sold the World, basically the same band as The Spiders From Mars, great very heavy, early '70's bluesy rock.

Early Bob Seger: Back in '72 and Mongrel. Also Live Bullet, growing up in Michigan in the 1970's I think we were all issued that album around eighth grade. Also serves as a good greatest hits package of his pre-Night Moves career.
posted by marxchivist at 12:32 PM on June 19, 2012


Seconding the pre-1984 ZZ Top and particularly adding Deguello to the recommendations for Fandango and and Tres Hombres. Also, always remember that Waitin' for the Bus and Jesus Just Left Chicago are properly one song.

For Steely Dan, I own the box set with the first seven albums and the first six (up to but not including Gaucho) are pure gold.
posted by immlass at 12:35 PM on June 19, 2012


The Bee Gees really were quite different in their earlier days. I have a weakness for Every Christian Lion-Hearted Man Will Show You.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:40 PM on June 19, 2012


The Bee Gees really were quite different in their earlier days.

Main Course was something like their 13th album, and the first time that they used falsetto.
posted by bongo_x at 1:06 PM on June 19, 2012


The Outlaws, The Outlaws.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:12 PM on June 19, 2012


If there is such a thing, I always thought Axis: Bold as Love was the underrated and most overlooked of Hendrix's albums with The Experience.

Kick ass? Yes. Overlooked? Not so much.

I can't second Blind Faith and Traffic enough. For the record, I just can't do Clapton solo stuff. Nobody screws up a JJ Cale song like Clapton.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:13 PM on June 19, 2012


NRBQ, at Yankee Stadium which was neither live nor at Yankee Stadium. Greatest bar band ever! They rock(ed).
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:29 PM on June 19, 2012


Zappa. Hot Rats. Overnite Sensation.
Procol Harum, first three albums. (eponymous, Shine on Brightly, A Salty Dog.)No kidding. A bit of a guilty pleasure, perhaps, but damn can that boy Robin Trower play the gitbox.

And can we get some love for Joe Jackson, please? His first album, Look Sharp!, was pure New Wave genius. (His later live album, Big World, also has moch to admire. His bands are always excellent.)
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 1:38 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you can call any of Zeppelin's catalogue surprising, I love their more blues-y stuff: Bring It On Home, When The Levee Breaks, Travellin' Riverside Blues, Since I've Been Lovin' You

Hendrix: Red House, Little Wing

Floyd: Shine on You Crazy Diamond (again, don't know how obscure it is, but it doesn't get played on the radio much because its so long)
posted by dry white toast at 1:46 PM on June 19, 2012


Willy and the Poor Boys by CCR is the one that holds up for me, even today.
posted by Danf at 1:47 PM on June 19, 2012


And can we get some love for Joe Jackson, please? His first album, Look Sharp!, was pure New Wave genius.

"I’m the Man" is pretty freakin fantastic as well.
posted by bongo_x at 1:50 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


It doesn't really fit your criteria exactly, but "The Secret Life of Plants" is an incredible record by Stevie Wonder.
posted by at the crossroads at 1:55 PM on June 19, 2012


I've always liked Jackson Browne's "Late for the Sky."

He's not as well known but Leon Russell's "Carney" is a good album.
posted by honey.orange.honey at 2:27 PM on June 19, 2012


AC/DC: Pretty OK. AC/DC If You Want Blood (You've Got It) recorded live in Glasgow in '78: will give you heart palpitations and you may require medical assistance. Should be required listening for budding young rock stars.

Another guy worth listening to is Joe Walsh. Meadows, Rocky Mountain Way, Turn to Stone.
posted by snsranch at 4:47 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll second The Kinks recommendation by mentioning "Lola versus Powerman and the Money-Go-Round, Part One": "Lola" gets the airplay, but the rest of the album is a jewel.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:47 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cosign on the Faces, early Seger ("Mongrel" is particularly good), and for Van Morrison, if you're legit about wanting rock, classic rock (which folks suggesting Steely Dan or Tusk are totally ignoring), the Van Morrison you want is Them's "Angry Young Them."

The Kinks rock best in "Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One" — my favorite album from them is Village Green, but that's not a rocking album (outside of the steam powered train).

One band that gets overlooked is Black Sabbath — they were a lot more than just "Iron Man," and their first four albums are all stellar and deep.

I'd also recommend Golden Earring's "Moontan," The Yardbirds' "Over, Under, Sideways, Down" (which I think is more consistently than "Roger the Engineer," though there's a lot of overlap because of how albums were assembled then), Steppenwolf's "Steppenwolf the Second" can be goofy as fuck, but hits the boogaloo psych rock epitome — that led to music like Blue Öyster Cult ("Tyrany and Mutation" is particularly classic, but "On Fire With Rock and Roll" is a 100 percent classic comp.). Queen's "Sheer Heart Attack" is when they became an awesome rock band, and worth listening to if you've only heard the Highlander soundtrack.

I've been assuming that you want album rock, not compilations, because if you're just looking for a sound, the Nuggets compilation is a really seminal collection of garage rock and full of bands worth a delve into their catalogs, like The Seeds, The Amboy Dukes (Ted Nugent before he sucked!), The 13th Floor Elevators, The Electric Prunes, and Nazz (Todd Rundgren's first band, whose first album is pretty alright).
posted by klangklangston at 9:04 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a current band called Blitzen Trapper that does one hell of a job of channeling Led Zeppelin-- try their album's "Furr" (2006?) and this year's "American Goldwing" for their best.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:06 PM on June 19, 2012


Willy and the Poor Boys by CCR is the one that holds up for me, even today

Yeah, that album is awesome. My fave though is Cosmo's Factory. The first song is "Ramble Tamble". You've never heard it unless you own the album. Your mind will be blown.
posted by LionIndex at 9:42 PM on June 19, 2012


Little Feat's Waiting for Columbus
Stones' Exile on Main Street
Elton John's Tumbleweed Connection
The Band's The Band
posted by imjustsaying at 3:42 AM on June 20, 2012


Black Sabbath, the first (eponymous) album is dark and satanic, but the second, Paranoid, is for me, the definative "hard rock" album.

See also the first link in this post.
posted by hardcode at 6:24 AM on June 20, 2012


The Who's Quadrophenia is, yes, a rock opera, but by the time you get to Track 2, "The Real Me," all of your concerns will melt away. Holy shit is that a good song. There are other gems on there too.
posted by invitapriore at 8:57 AM on June 20, 2012


Blow Your Face Out by the J. Geils Band was mandatory at most of the parties I went to back in high school. Totally unlike the band that gave us "Centerfold."
posted by marxchivist at 7:42 PM on June 21, 2012


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