Sad About the Times—the latest compilation album from Anthology Recordings—is made up of 21 obscure songs from the 1970s. Trailing the 2017 release of Follow the Sun, a compilation of 20 Australian tracks from the 1970s, Sad About the Times is its North American counterpart, curated by Mikey Young (Total Control / Eddy Suppression Ring) and Keith Abrahamsson (founder of Anthology Recordings and head of A&R).
There’s something distinctly familiar about the songs that comprise Sad About the Times. They may have you scratching your head, wondering where you know the songs from, even if you don’t really know them. Perhaps it’s because some of these songs were played on the radio at the time, but were eclipsed by the hits that dominated the airwaves. Or perhaps it’s that the album encompasses many of the musical genres popular in the ’70s, including soft rock, folk, pop, and psychedelic rock.
“Here Comes the Sun” by Oliver Klaus is reminiscent of something by the Byrds with its exhilarated harmonies and jangly guitars, while “N.Y. Survivor” by Randy and the Goats conjures frolicking hippies. Both songs fall on the psychedelic side of the spectrum. Meanwhile, on the folk-rock side, “Paula’s Song” by Emmet Finley evokes Neil Young. Kevin Vicalvi’s “Lover Now Alone” could be mistaken for Crosby, Stills and Nash with its fingerpicking and swelling harmonies. “If You Can Want” by Canadian band, Perth County Conspiracy is a buoyant tune that sounds like Paul McCartney had a baby with America and this was the result.
Several of these songs sound like something else that was big at the time, but because we’ve all already heard something that sounds similar, they resemble songs we already know. However, there is one track that stands out because it isn’t immediately familiar. “Wolf” by Antonia Lamb is an interesting banjo-festooned melody that calls to mind Appalachian folk music, rather than something that would have been played on the FM airwaves in the ’70s.
The album is comprised of tracks that echo the glum atmosphere advertised by the compilation’s title. “Tomorrow Is Gone” by Jode is a mopey, psychedelic-meets-easy listening tune with downtrodden vocals. “Absolute Zero”—a somber folk song by Hoover (who wrote songs recorded by big names like Tina Turner and Waylon Jennings)—sounds like a classic rainy day Jim Croce. “Maybe Someday/Maybe Never” by Dennis Stoner is a measured, waltz-like track that would make great background music for any pity party. Similarly, “Another Lonely Day” by Jim Spencer (publisher of early 1970s underground magazines, including Freek) is a sparse ode to loneliness. And finally in the title track when Michael Stewart, lead singer of West, sings: “I can see we’re heading for a fall. Nothing matters at all”, the listener is reminded that the title is reflective of the gloomy times we are presently living in.
Despite the title and a few low-spirited tunes, the record is sprinkled with feel-good jams that bring to mind the relaxed, euphoric soundscape of the 1970s. In a press release, Mikey Young describes the joy of sharing music and keeping in touch with the enchantment that music can provide.
“Doing these comps with Keith seems like the logical progression of what I’ve always loved doing. They are the most tangible, most fulfilling experiences I’ve had discovering and sharing music. I’ve learned a ton and heard songs that make me feel as ecstatic as I did when I first heard songs that made me feel ecstatic. That’s maybe the best thing about doing these, realizing that can still happen.”
For many of us, this elated feeling originated in the 1970s when we heard our first favorite songs. Listening to Sad About the Times is a lot like experiencing those songs all over again, but with new, vaguely familiar tracks, instead.