These are my thoughts and comments regarding the groupings of some obscure albums I listed here. So make sure you’re familiar with that for context.
In total, that list contains over 500 albums from the ’65–’75 period. I dont ever foresee any further additions; I think Ive found enough stuff to add to my playlist and hunt for on vinyl for the next decade at least. And if I ever get bored with the Keepers, I have a sizable back catalog of stuff that was good enough to at least warrant a second chance someday. Plus, towards the end I really started to feel like I was scraping the bottom of the barrel. Out of the last ~100 albums in the queue, only like two ended up becoming keepers, maybe 5~10 were worth another listen, and the rest just weren’t for me.
Here’s some general musings on my part, now that I can analyze everything that was in my longstanding queue as a whole.
Overall, the majority of obscure albums fell through the cracks for a reason. But there’s still a very large amount of them which were very good and deserve more recognition than they currently receive. Even within the pool of albums I didn’t like, I could see how they would appeal to others—many just plain weren’t my style. And as often as not I found at least one track I liked enough to add to my playlist. It’s well worth your time to explore a bit, especially if you’re like me and get bored just listening to the Doors and the Beatles for the millionth time.
You have your music, your title and your cover art. Most albums excel at one of those, some at two, and only a very small handful (think Dark Side of the Moon and Forever Changes) get three. So basically, if you see an album with a great name AND great cover, it’s very likely the music is going to suck. This is just a weird correlation I’ve noticed, but by no means a hard and fast rule.
Sundazed is a saintly label that makes it their business to rerelease amazing but forgotten albums, such as the United States of America and Genesis by Wendy and Bonnie. If you see that an album is a Sundazed release, check it out because it’s almost certainly going to be good. This rule has only let me down once.
Generally speaking, albums with covers of other artists, ESPECIALLY Beatles covers, suck. There are some very notable exceptions to this rule but more often than not this observation holds true. And the more covers on an album, the probability of it sucking increases exponentially. Also, it’s amazing how often the Beatles in particular are covered as compared to other contemporary bands. The next most covered is probably Bob Dylan, and the gap between the two is huge. I’ve only ever seen one album with a Beach Boys cover, for reference’s sake.
1967 truly was the golden year for music. When you see an album from that year, check it out, because it’s likely very good if not amazing. I’ve found that most of the disappointments tend to come from 1969 for some weird reason—I guess because progressive rock was still ironing out the kinks and psychedelic rock was mostly dying out by then. Obviously, that’s not to say ’67 doesn’t have a few stinkers and ’69 doesn’t have some standouts.
Harmonicas are the worst instrument ever. Whenever one of those is used, you know you’re in for a terrible album. Unless you like scratchy, unrefined, garage-y/country flavor in your psych/prog rock. If you do, thats awesome. But for me, it’s not.
Women vocalists are a lot rarer than men. And within the pool of albums with a female lead vocalist, they tend to be good more often than not. I personally prefer them. I think women singers are able to capture a sweet spot between serene, sensual and commanding that guy singers don’t often match.
The first song on ~75% of these albums is the best, because in those days the first song on each side were usually the single. SO MANY TIMES in this search, I would put on an album, the first song comes on, and I’d think “yeah this is gonna be great!” and then it all goes downhill from there.
The self-titled one offs are either the best or the worst of the bunch. Examples of the former—USA, Toad, Ptoof. Examples of the latter—Incredible Hog, Velvet Fog, Marshmallow Way. There’s also a lot of them.
Some uploaders label the genre of music in the title. I never knew what “acid rock” was before embarking on this journey. I was just mostly keeping to psychedelic and progressive, since those are my favorite genres. And I’ve affirmed that those really are my favorite genres now. I don’t think there was even a single “garage rock,” or “acid rock,” or “heavy prog/psych” that I really liked. For reference, “heavy” tends to mean louder and less refined in my experience. A good number of the stuff in my reject pile is because it was one of those four genres I just don’t particularly care for—but Im sure they’re great as far as that goes and you might like them. I apologize for not keeping track of genre in this list. Like I said, I never intended to share my findings here until someone specifically asked me to. And by that time I was already mostly done with it.
“Albums” that are really just old demos or live performances that were never released at the time of recording were more likely than not left unreleased for a reason. They don’t tend to be BAD however, so much as bland and uninteresting. The two biggest examples of this are Baby Grandmothers and Lemon Drops, but there are several other examples of this phenomenon on the list. They can be interesting listens, but if you’re looking for something that’ll blow you away and become a staple of your collection, you can safely skip them.
Ive gained a new appreciation for the Beatles and several other bigger bands after doing this. I originally sought out so much buried music due to a belief that the Beatles and other bands, while great, weren’t better than a lot of other bands at the time that just didnt catch on. While I did find a lot of great music that deserves more attention than they got, I will concede the Beatles got to be #1 for a reason. Listening to them after several dozen subpar obscure albums in a row was like a breath of fresh air.
This is just me being bored and trying to make sense of nothing, but I propose there are five categories of “rarity/obscurity” in the album pantheon:
1. The top tier is stuff that both record collectors/rock critics and the general public know and respect. This includes the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Pink Floyd, etc. We might call this group “The Classics.” Any casual fan of pop music has at least heard of the stuff in this category.
2. You’ve also got your groups/albums that are well known to record collectors/rock critics, but not so much by the general public. In this group you’d find your Procol Harum, 13th Floor Elevators, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Moby Grape. We might call this group “The Rarities.” If music were wine at a fine restaurant, these would be the “off menu” items only certain people know about.
The next two groups could be considered subcategories of group 2:
3. Then you have groups that were big at the time but fell through the cracks as the years went by. Here you have Country Joe, Spanky and Our Gang, Arthur Brown, Strawberry Alarm Clock. We might call this group “The Time Capsules.”
4. Then you have the opposite—albums that were never popular in their own time but were later rediscovered and praised due to their quality. Here resides your United States of America, Gandalf, Wendy and Bonnie, Forever Changes. These are “The Vindicated” and many of them have been rereleased by Sundazed.
5. Finally you have the stuff that isn’t widely known by record collectors/rock critics and is all but totally lost to the general public. They may have their fans, and they may genuinely be great albums. But they just didn’t catch on in their own time and haven’t been reevaluated since, so they remain largely overlooked. Some might have never even been released on any format except vinyl. This makes up the vast majority of stuff I’ve sorted through the past 3 years, including your Grapefruit, Critters, St John Green, Silver Apples. These are “The Unknowns.” The really great music you’ll find in this group are your true “Buried Gems,” and you should be proud for discovering them. That’s the stuff you really had to go digging for, that couldn’t be found in an opinion poll or music forum—only through word of mouth from a friend/curator or painstakingly sampling hundreds of albums to sort the good from the bad. 📷 That’s how I found Sweet Smoke, Third Rail, Bonnie Dobson and more.