The rock n roll memorabilia market has discovered how to turn old tat into cold hard cash. As Craig Brown’s “One Two Three Four” explains, one of John Lennon’s teeth, given to his housekeeper, sold in 2011 for £19,000. A single brick taken from the ruins of The Cavern sold in Los Angeles in 2019 for £896.
So too have record companies discovered that far from being unlistenable dross, clips of a bass player tuning up in the studio are now “priceless insights into the recording process”, ready to be released as super-deluxe versions of favourite LPs, for a suitably super-deluxe price, natch.
The downside of this may be that every landfill indie band of the last thirty years is going to have their archives scraped by desperate record companies seeking to monetise sub-par outtakes of songs that didn’t even make the extra tracks on a band’s least popular CD.
On the other hand, if you’re a fan of that band, this may be exactly what you want to hear. Perhaps there was a piece of magic on take seven that compensated for the fluffed note found elsewhere that brings something new to a familiar song?
And then there is the phenomenon of an entire album being shelved. Whether because of record company disagreements, artistic changes of mind or differences or the simple fact that the A&R guy can’t hear a single, even the most blue-chip of artists have shelved entire records, and it is these lost recordings and rare takes that are the subject of this article and the accompanying Mixcloud mix where you can hear all the songs mentioned for yourself.
How blue chip? Well, even David Bowie once had trouble getting a record released…
Bowie recorded the album Toy in 2001 or thereabouts, and filled it with a mixture of new songs and re-recordings of old unreleased demos, but his record company (EMI/Virgin) appeared uninterested in releasing it, which appears extraordinary now. Bowie subsequently left Virgin/EMI and released 2002’s follow up LP Heathen on his own label.
Two songs from Toy appeared on Heathen in different form – “Uncle Floyd” (re-named “Slip Away”) and “Afraid” while most of the others have surfaced on b-sides or subsequent compilations. Stand out tracks such as title song “Toy (Your Turn To Drive)” and “Shadow Man”, a gorgeous ballad originally recorded in 1971 during the Ziggy Stardust sessions, were eventually released on the Nothing Has Changed compilation, but the original 1969 version of “Hole in the Ground” has only just surfaced as a demo in 2019’s “Conversation Piece” box set and the Toy version remains unreleased.
To add to the intrigue, there are those who say the track listing of “Toy” that did find its way online is not the “actual” version intended for release…
Neil Young is possibly the only artist to have officially released an album that is a sequel to an unreleased one. 1977’s Chrome Dreams was one of several albums that stayed in the locker, with 1975’s Homegrown only being released in 2020.
Chrome Dreams reached acetate stage and versions of most of its tunes were eventually released on later albums, but such tunes! Had it been released in 1977 it might have been Young’s strongest album of the seventies. “Stringman”, a piano ballad, has still not been released, although Young did revive it for his Unplugged performance, which means this is the only version you can hear without irritating “whoops” of faux-recognition from members of the audience determined to highlight their superfan status, something which so littered Young’s Unplugged show.
Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash got together to record in February 1969. They jammed, recorded over a dozen songs, wrote “Wanted Man”, which Cash premiered at Folsom Prison a week later and duetted on “Girl From The North Country” which appeared on Dylan’s Nashville Skyline LP. The rest of the recordings languished in bootlegs for many years until finally surfacing officially in Dylan’s Bootleg Series #15 last year. There was plenty of material worth the wait, including this nice version of “Ring of Fire”.
The Black Crowes are no strangers to ditched albums, the squabbling siblings providing the ideal breeding ground for such things. A double CD of shelved recordings – the “Lost” and “Tall” Sessions was released to prove it. Rarer still are the unreleased recordings made in 1993 by lead vocalist Chris Robinson (without brother/fellow Crowe Rich Robinson), Marc Ford, Craig Ross of Lenny Kravitz’s band and bassist Jimmy Ashurst of Ju Ju Hounds, alongside Jellyfish personnel.
The “Sweet Pickle Salad” sessions were described by Chris Robinson as sounding like “a cross between CSNY and Pink Floyd” but they aren’t a million miles from The Black Crowes with added flute, Hammond organ and gospel-flecked backing vocals. It’s all good, the eleven-plus minute “One Man’s Anger” especially but in the interests of brevity I have chosen the also excellent “Can’t Let Go” for the mix.
By the time The Beatles had split George Harrison had amassed a huge stockpile of songs that hadn’t passed muster with Lennon and McCartney. The “Beware of ABKCO!” demos are an acoustic run-through of songs that would later form a good portion of “All Things Must Pass”. Harrison recorded the songs at Abbey Road on 27 May 1970 for the benefit of Phil Spector – he talks to “Phil” as he introduces the songs – so the overall effect is of George Harrison “auditioning” his new songs for Phil Spector.
Of the songs that didn’t see the light of day on All Things Must Pass, “Nowhere To Go” was co-written with Bob Dylan. “I get tired of being pushed around” says Harrison, referencing drug busts, and “I get tired of being Beatle Ted” although perhaps my favourite of these songs is the acoustic run through of “Run of the Mill” which I vastly prefer to the Spector-produced final version.
Alongside Neil Young, perhaps Prince is the king of unreleased albums. At one point in the mid eighties it seemed there were more shelved albums that official releases, and legend has it the Paisley Park vaults are stuffed full of unreleased material from the prodigiously prolific pint-sized purple pop performer. LPs Dream Factory, Camille and The Black Album all bit the dust, in some cases just a week or so before release, and many of the tracks subsequently worked their way onto other albums and b-sides, or in the case of the Black Album, a full release seven years later.
Of these albums perhaps the most intriguing was 1986’s Camille, which was intended to be released under a female persona with no clue as to the association with its creator. Prince experimented with pitch-shifting his vocals to make them sound more feminine, but there is little mistaking his involvement when you hear the still unreleased banger “Rebirth of the Flesh”.
Sign o’ the Times later included the Camille tracks “Housequake”, “If I Was Your Girlfriend“, and “Strange Relationship” and other tracks found the light of day on Prince b-sides, but Camille is a truly lost album.
The first posthumously released Amy Winehouse compilation omitted the song “Procrastination” and a number of other tunes apparently at Winehouse’s request. However, the song had already leaked online while she was still alive, and it’s a fine song. “Everyone who hears Procrastinate loves it” said Island records executive Ted Cockle, but added “If you ever hear Procrastinate you have my permission to come to my offices…and fire me”.
Consider it done.
Noel Gallagher made an album with Amorphous Androgynous in 2011 after they remixed Oasis’ final single “Falling Down” into an epic 22 minute wig-out. The album was never released in full amidst a certain amount of acrimony, with Gallagher claiming he destroyed the master tapes because “it became apparent they weren’t making a record for me but I was making a record for them. You know me, that’s not going to work”. He also destroyed it because in his words “I know it’s sh—, and that’s the end of it”.
For their part the duo behind Amorphous, Gaz Cobain and Brian Dougans disagree and feel very let down the collaboration was never released.
Of two tracks that have been released, “Shoot a Hole Into The Sun” ended up on RSD release “Songs From The Great White North” in 2012. As for the rest, I can’t help feeling Gallagher may just be waiting for the right time to search down the back of his sofa for those tapes…
Speaking of which, in the late nineties, and in between the release of The White Stripes debut album and the follow up De Stijl, Jack White was still making a living as an apprentice upholsterer in Detroit when he formed a band with his drummer friend (and upholstering boss) Brian Muldoon called (appropriately enough) The Upholsterers. The band released a three song single in limited numbers (100) for the Detroit label Sympathy for the Record Industry and White hid several copies of another single, called “Your Furniture Was Always Dead…I Was Just Afraid To Tell You” (and various messages, poems) in the furniture he was repairing. Just two of these have been found, any others languishing undiscovered in various Michigan-based futons and chaise-longues, but for now we can listen to the prototype White Stripes of Willie Dixon’s “I Ain’t Superstitious” from the “Makers of High Grade Suites” single. (And if you are a record collector in Michigan, you could do a lot worse than put up a wanted ad for twenty year old yellow, white and black sofas just to see if there is hidden treasure in it).
As well as “lost” albums we also have the phenomenon of the “What if?” album. For example, when Beck and the Flaming Lips toured together in 2002 and The Flaming Lips were Beck’s backing band, what if Wayne Coyne hadn’t taken Beck’s illness on tour as diva behaviour and subsequently described Beck as a d—k, resulting in something of a falling out?
Their KCRW session showed what the combined might of The Flaming Lips and Beck might have sounded like had they stuck around to make an album or two. Beck’s “Little One” – a track from his Sea Change album – is given a suitably haunting Flaming Lips backing.
And finally, Radiohead, like the Beatles before them, have a large and enthusiastic fan base with a seemingly insatiable appetite for new snippets of songs. In 2019 the band suffered the indignity of having sixteen hour-long minidiscs of unreleased OK Computer studio sessions leaked online which was exhaustively inhaled and analysed by their fans, many of whom saw sixteen hours of studio noodlings as a dream scenario. Radiohead’s every soundcheck and live show is hungrily devoured by the devoted, and one such as yet unreleased song is “Open The Floodgates”, recorded circa 2009/10. It features a solo Yorke on piano a la King of Limbs’ “Codex”. Whether we will eventually hear a version of this song on a future LP is anyone’s guess…
If you have a favourite unreleased or lost album or recording, let me know what it is in the comments section below, and in the meantime I hope you enjoy listening to the Mixcloud mix on the player above or by clicking this link.