As Springsteen’s ‘Promise’ reminds us, great songs don’t always make it onto an album

[17 November 2010]

By Steve Johnson and Mark Caro

Chicago Tribune (MCT)

Those who follow music have their own candidates: great songs inexplicably left off of albums at the time they were recorded.

The release this week of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Promise” highlights the accidental genre, collecting two CDs’ worth of outtakes and didn’t-make-its from the lengthy recording sessions for the landmark 1978 album “Darkness on the Edge of Town.”

In Springsteen’s case, the many fine songs he left behind mostly didn’t fit his theme for the record.

Other times, though, artists get too close to a song and stop hearing what’s good about it. Or they think it’s too simple, or not really their style.

Now digital music makes it easy to put out anything and everything recorded, but for a long time one of the pleasures of being a music fan was knowing about, and trying to get hold of, that one great song available only on a bootleg or the back side of an Australian single.

Here are some such tunes:

—“Surf’s Up,” The Beach Boys. Brian Wilson scrapped the crazily ambitious “Smile” album in 1967, but the songs lived on, some trickling out on subsequent albums, all finally being remade on Wilson’s 2004 version of “Smile.” “Surf’s Up,” that album’s centerpiece, also emerged on the Beach Boys’ 1971album of the same name, combining the original backing track, an old Wilson solo performance on piano, newly recorded vocals and instrumental parts, with the coda borrowed from another “Smile” song, “Child is the Father of the Man.”

—“I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Marvin Gaye. This 1966 Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong composition was first recorded by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles and nixed as a single by Motown chief Berry Gordy, then recorded with whispery soulfulness by Marvin Gaye and shelved, then recorded in an upbeat version by Gladys Knight & the Pips and released to hit status in 1967. Gaye’s version was added to his 1968 album “In the Groove” and finally released as a single late that year, staying at No.1 for seven weeks and becoming the singer’s and label’s biggest hit to date.

—“I Can’t Stand It,” The Velvet Underground. The Velvet Underground recorded more than an album’s worth of unreleased material in 1968 and 1969, with the rocker “I Can’t Stand It” among three songs that surfaced on Lou Reed’s self-titled 1972 album. But the deeper-grooved original kicked off 1985’s 10-track “VU,” widely embraced as the Velvets’ great lost fourth album.

—“Hey, Hey, What Can I Do,” Led Zeppelin. This infectious folk rave-up about a wronged lover didn’t make the “Led Zeppelin III” final cut but nonetheless achieved legendary status on FM radio as a special Zeppelin track. Released as the B-side to “Immigrant Song” in 1970, and on a 1972 Atlantic Records compilation LP, it did not join Zeppelin song collections until the boxed sets began coming out.

—“Silver Springs,” Fleetwood Mac. One of the most beloved of Fleetwood Mac songs, probably in part because it was left off of the mega-selling “Rumours,” appearing only on the flip side of the “Go Your Own Way” single. But it’s also beloved for its wonderful slow burn, a sense of deep regret and lingering passion that by song’s end can no longer be contained. After appearing in boxed sets and the record “The Dance,” it finally made it onto “Rumours” in its 2004 reissue.

—“Waiting on a Friend,” The Rolling Stones. “Plundered My Soul” was a celebrated “Exile on Main Street” leftover released this year, but some true classic Stones songs were longtime dust-gatherers as well. The 1981 album “Tattoo You” was almost entirely made up of reworked leftovers, including “Start Me Up” (a reggae song from the “Black and Blue” sessions remade for “Some Girls”) and “Waiting on a Friend,” the instrumental tracks of which dated to the 1972 sessions for “Goats Head Soup.”

— “Blind Willie McTell,” Bob Dylan. Dylan is notorious for leaving great songs off albums — “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar” should have been on “Shot of Love,” and “Red River Shore” mystifyingly missed the “Time Out of Mind” cut — but the most famous may be this haunting six-minute ballad recorded for the 1983 album “Infidels.” This dark travelogue evoking slavery, bootlegging and an early 20th century bluesman was officially released in 1991 on Dylan’s “The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991.”

—“Bad Day,” R.E.M. Initially recorded during the sessions for “Lifes Rich Pageant” (1986), this motor-mouthed precursor to “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” was remade for the band’s 2003 greatest hits album “In Time” and released with a TV-news-spoofing video.

—“Bob George,” Prince. The Purple One recorded a nasty funk album, “The Black Album,” as his follow-up to the landmark “Sign o’ the Times” but had a change of heart and recalled it just before its scheduled 1987 release. (He recorded the tamer “Lovesexy” instead.) The most extreme of the squelched songs was “Bob George,” a foul-mouthed, violent rap from the point of view of a guy whose girlfriend has been seeing Prince’s manager. Warner Bros. finally released — and quickly deleted — “The Black Album” in 1994.

—“Ordinary People,” Neil Young. Young has no shortage of long-shelved songs and projects, but right up there in legendary status was this epic, originally recorded for the 1988 album “This Note’s for You” and performed rarely before being abandoned. It finally showed up, all 18-plus minutes, on Young’s 2007 “Chrome Dreams II” album.

—“Yellow Ledbetter,” Pearl Jam. Recorded for the band’s debut album, “Ten,” this left-off tune redolent of Jimi Hendrix would go on to become a concert favorite and even a modest college radio hit. It was the B-side to the “Jeremy” single and finally landed on “Rearviewmirror,” the 2004 greatest hits record.

—“Acquiesce,” Oasis. Chicago Tribune rock critic Greg Kot called this the British band’s best song ever, and many in its fan base apparently agreed. A B-side to the 1995 hit “Some Might Say,” it was popular right away and was the lead track three years later on “The Masterplan,” a collection of outtakes.

—“Sorry and Sad,” Patty Griffin. “Silver Bell,” Griffin’s legendary lost album from 2000, went unreleased when her record label, A&M, essentially decided to drop her without putting it out. A couple of the songs helped seed the Dixie Chicks’ megaplatinum CD “Home,” and Griffin would put out some on her own later records. But to get, for instance, the first-rate “Sorry and Sad,” you’ll have to find one of the “Silver Bell” bootlegs readily available on the Web.

—“A Magazine Called Sunset,” Wilco. In the pantheon of stray Wilco tracks, some fans prefer the emotional directness of “One True Vine.” But it’s hard to deny the pure pop pleasure of “Magazine,” which didn’t make it onto “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” but was made available on “More Like the Moon,” a download-only EP “YHF” buyers could get on the band’s Web site.

—“Lenin,” Arcade Fire. A more straight-ahead pop song than much of the Montreal group’s oeuvre, “Lenin” boasts a boppy, almost children’s-choir feel on the chorus. It found its way to daylight on “Dark Was the Night,” a charity record compiling indie-rock superstars.

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Greg Kot, Steve Mills, K.C. Johnson, Christopher Borrelli, Kevin Pang and Amy Guth contributed to this story.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/133770-as-springsteens-promise-reminds-us/