What Is The Greatest “Not Officially Released” Album?

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There’s something about unreleased songs and albums which is wholly intriguing. An unreleased record taunts us whilst unheard, causing divine despair for the days that are no more, or whatever the poet said. Never mind the fact that the artist or record company thought the release of such excrescence might cause irreparable harm to the career of their stars… sometimes, but not always, the passage of time can reveal those judgements can be flawed.

Whilst a couple of unheard Beatles songs surfaced on the Anthology compilation (and a couple of similarly obscure or unfinished tracks appear on The Esher Demos), The Beatles’ “Carnival of Light”* is their holy grail. It has never been heard, despite some attempts at a forgery…

Fabled by some to be a fourteen minute experiment of musical concrete, I rather suspect it might sound more like perhaps a cement mixer, falling rubble or similar building materials. Like Cilla Black, it is something that becomes more popular whilst it remains unheard. Along similar lines, perhaps is Judas Priest’s collaboration with Stock Aitken and Waterman. Or, indeed, anything, ever, by Stock Aitken and Waterman, which we can only wish had always remained unheard.

Cilla: Best seen and not heard, albeit that's Hobson's choice judging by these trousers...

Cilla: Best seen and not heard, albeit that’s Hobson’s choice judging by these trousers…

As I mentioned a little while back, Neil Young has more than one unreleased album dating back to the mid-seventies which is as good if not better than the ones that did get released.

Similarly Grail-like for a time was Bob Dylan’s output with The Band known as The Basement Tapes. These songs were recorded whilst Dylan recovered from his motorcycle accident and have been widely bootlegged. I have 100 plus tracks over seven CDs of these sessions and whilst they contain gems such as “The Mighty Quinn” and “This Wheels On Fire” and it’s Dylan and The Band recording a history of American music etc etc, is it churlish of me to wish they’d used a slightly better tape recorder?

The Rolling Stones – with recent re-releases of “Exile on Main Street” and “Some Girls” have hidden away for decades entire albums of rejected material from each album’s sessions both of which have scrubbed up better than the likes of “It’s Only Rock n Roll” which actually did get a release. Led Zeppelin’s forthcoming re-releases also promise “new” material unheard for 45 years.

So much for the big guns. What about the lesser lights of the musical world?

Whilst reissued CDs now come laden with a dowry of remastered tracks and studio out-takes, this only appears to be interesting for a certain kind of artist and album. I’m guessing that despite their legions of fans there are few requests for One Direction studio out-takes. Video out-takes perhaps, but not audio. Listening to outtakes of a pre-auto-tuned T-Pain or whoever is about as appealing as being stuck in a lift with Solange Knowles.  Whilst Michael Jackson has just gone to number one in the UK with his second posthumous release, Xscape, I can’t imagine many people wanting to hear a deluxe version of Bon Jovi’s 7800 Fahrenheit ** unless they are suffering from an acute bout of insomnia.

Stoner rock godfathers Masters of Reality are one of my favourite bands and they have an unreleased album called “The Ballad of Jody Frosty”. Whilst some tracks have since surfaced on other records, this was an example of a record company refusing to release a record, and it thus remaining in treacle. It took me a long time to track down a copy, believe me and I am none the wiser why it was held back.

And then there’s The Black Crowes.

Now before you click over, yawning,  to Instagram or something else on Twitter, I know The Black Crowes may not be everybody’s cup of tea. But bear with me. Because The Black Crowes have a special place in my record collection, and quite a rich history of albums unreleased and side projects shelved. What many fans consider to be their best song was unreleased for twenty years, only heard in occasional live shows.

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This is a band that has not once but twice rekindled my interest in music. At least one of their albums is amongst the best rock albums of the last thirty years. And the story of how they have done that also tells a story of how our listening habits have changed over the years. Quite how I’m going to make that an entertaining read whilst linking back to unheard albums I’m not sure, but they did (and still do) have unreleased songs and records, and over the next few blog posts I’m going to talk about them… That’s just how we roll here.

In the meantime, whilst I scratch my head and think of what to write, why don’t you tell me what your favourite bootleg album is, and which unreleased tracks would you most like to hear?

* Not to be confused with Elton John’s Disney epic “Circle of Life” which nevertheless shares similar characteristics of being more fondly regarded if unheard.

* Cue the knowledgeable ERTAS readership telling me there already is one…

Categories: Music

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29 replies

  1. Great article loved the the bout of insomnia in regards to 7800 Fahrenheit !
    Still laughing at that one.
    Looking forward to your Crowes writings.
    I have always been amazed at some bands that say they have no stuff and they over the yrs material keeps on trickling out case in point Zeppelin.
    I was 13 when Zep called it a day back in 80 so when they put Coda out back in 82 I think I remember at the time reading this is all we got for unreleased stuff….great sales pitch I bought it and so did many others and than by the box set release in 90 here’s another another track Travelling Willside Blues(I think that’s what it’s called) and here we go now with the upcoming reissues ….cool but man they manipulated me as 13 yr -15 yr old …hahahaha


    • *Riverside* I think.
      You may have mixed up Travelling Wilburys with Travelling Riverside Blues!
      You are right about Coda – they said for years afterwards that was all there was. However, I had a bootleg of the making of Stairway ( pastel coloured cassette sleeve from the local bootleg seller at the market) so it was clear they may not have been entirely straightforward.
      I guess the party line now is that Jimmy has been rooting through his archives and “discovered” all this stuff…..


  2. Judas Priest – Twin Turbos.

    I made my own pseudo-Twin Turbos set a few weeks ago, but there are still at least two songs from it that have never been released. That’s one I’d love to finally get to hear — the original Twin Turbos, as envisioned by Judas Priest as a double album. Been waiting a long time.


  3. In or around 1996, 70s rock legends Boston put out the Mission Aborted album which was first, songs that never made it to their first two albums or original versions of songs from the first album. The second half featured all of their unreleased third album. Then there was Desperado featuring the likes of Dee Snider, Bernie Torme and Clive Burr. Apparently the band was dropped from the label before the Bloodied But Unbowed album was released.


  4. What about the Beach Boys’ “Smile”! Are you not including it because of the 2011 release? That has to be one of the great unreleased albums, if not the greatest.


  5. Prince’s Black Album got a lot of hype and I bought a copy at a record fair (yes, still the days of vinyl). it wasn’t that good to be honest. I think the best music does get released. Because it’s the best.


  6. Jon Brion’s production of Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine. Demoed around 2002-3ish, illegally saw the light around ’03-’04, caused a lot of hype and theories of Epic shelving her. Fiona feeling abused by whomever leaked Jon Brion’s version because it was not the final product…

    All of that caused the “Free Fiona” “movement” causing Epic to release her album, she redid it with Mike Elizondo, HER WAY and BOOM, rave reviews and practically in every “Albums of the year” lists.

    HOWEVER, Joh Brion’s production was FAR superior, shame for the low quality.

    iTunes Originals’ has a fantastic interview track (“The Making of Extraordinary Machine”) in which Fiona details everything and how Epic tried to force her into possibly editing her songs to bring the pop out of it. She fought them and won that battle.

    It’s a very interesting story of how labels have no idea of what to do with some of their artists nowadays.


  7. Don’t forget all those pesky (usually) American ‘radio promotion albums’ which abounded in the 80s. I have fantastic sets by Talking Heads which were issued in this form. They refused to release them officially so the bootlegers just did a clever copy! Indeed does anyone these days know what the concept of a bootleg is given that everything every recorded is likely to have been uploaded for free somewhere.


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