Lost in America
When you flip through the CD racks and see compilations of who-cares Eighties bands such as Wire Train and Translator, it's tempting to think that nearly every sound and aural nuance ever committed to Edison cylinder or magnetic tape is now available on digital plastic. You'd be wrong. Some very worthwhile songs are lost -- oddities that appeared only briefly as the flip sides of singles before vanishing. Some of these are highlighted below, on what I guess could be called a personal wish list. For what it's worth, though, I've got 'em all already. But some of them make a mighty crackling noise when played, sounding like a skillet full of morning bacon, each pop reminding me that records don't last forever and that the current CD reissue boom hasn't unearthed every lost treasure.
The Replacements, "If Only You Were Lonely." The A-side was "I'm in Trouble," one of Paul Westerberg's greatest anti-love songs and a highlight from the 'Mats' '81 debut LP Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash. Flip it over, though, and you get a love song/drinking song worthy of George Jones, delivered in Westerberg's cracked croon with honky-tonk acoustic guitar accompaniment. Immortal line: "Ten pushups this morning/That was half of my goal/Tonight I'll be doing pullups/On the toilet bowl." If only he were this good today.
Pete Townshend, "Magic Bus." I'm glad he's on the road to good health and all, but the fact remains that once Townshend stopped his boozing and drugging in the early Eighties, he became the quintessential rock and roll bore. Except here, on this inexplicably crazed and manic solo acoustic raveup of the Who's best Bo Diddley rewrite, recorded live in 1985 and stuck on the B-side of "Give Blood," a lousy song from the lousy album White City A A Novel.
The Fall, "Firey Jack." This chronically overrated art-punk group has released about a thousand albums and singles, many of which are preserved on compact disc for anyone who wants to wade through them. Never, though, was the group better than it was on this long-goner, the A-side of a 1979 single. It's hyperactive punked-up rockabilly the way no one -- not even the Cramps -- has done it before or since. The song was later included on the 1981 compilation Early Fall 77-79, all copies of which apparently are being hoarded by Jimmy Hoffa.
Richard "Dimples" Fields, "If It Ain't One Thing . . . It's Another." A wonderful piece of Eighties soul by a jive-ass crooner who got it up for this cut and this cut only. It's a classic tale of self-pity in which our whiny hero has to work a "funky two-bit job," deal with an "ugly woman named Sadie," and try to quit smoking. Despite its continuing relevance, the song has disappeared from record racks and radio stations.
Marshall Crenshaw, "You're My Favorite Waste of Time." Everyone's got their favorite power-pop jangle boy, and Crenshaw's mine: He's savvy enough to mix rockabilly into his three-minute nuggets, and nearly all of his records are good enough to make you think of the Beatles without actually missing them. This one-man living-room recording -- credited to Crenshaw and his Handsome, Ruthless, and Stupid Band -- was the flip to his huge '82 hit "Someday, Someway." Catchy and charming in its own crude way, this is why you should always turn over those singles once you've committed the plug side to memory.
The Rolling Stones, "Let It Rock." The only Stones bootlegs worth the money are the ones taped during the band's 1971 tour, just before the release of Exile on Main Street, one of their few albums from that decade deserving promotion. This freight-train cover of Chuck Berry's classic was recorded on that tour and issued in England as the legit flip to "Brown Sugar." It's a big, boozy brawl between Keith Richards's jumbo-boogie riffs and Charlie Watts's jumbo-boogie beat, with Ian Stewart's jumbo-boogie piano lines dancing between them like a referee at a Mississippi juke joint.
Patti Smith, "Hey Joe." A 1974 version of the garage-rock parable handed down from the Leaves to Jimi Hendrix to Smith, in which the young, angry poet casts Patty Hearst in the lead role and wonders just what the hell her father was thinking when he saw his little girl on the news with a gun in her hand. Ignored only because the A-side -- "Piss Factory" -- was so good.
Bootsy Collins, "1st One 2 the Egg (The Screwin' Up Mix)." "Who's gonna get on down?" asks the funk maestro on this drastically revamped version of the sex-ed single from the 1988 masterwork What's Bootsy Doin'? Before you can even say his name, Bootsy blows a massive blast of phase-shifted bass all over the monstrous hip-hop groove, making you glad you plunked down the five bucks for the twelve-inch, which is the only place you can find this essential remix.
Ramones, "Carbona Not Glue." A sequel of sorts to the band's huffer anthem "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue," this under-two-minute gem was yanked from the Ramones' '77 album Leave Home after the Carbona folks raised a stink. It was replaced by "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," a better song, no doubt, but one that was already available on Rocket to Russia. It's a sure bet that the song will never be issued again, which is a shame, for no Ramones fan should be deprived of hearing the gloriously stupid couplet "I'm not sorry for the things I do/Carbona not glue."
Sex Pistols, "Did You No Wrong." This B-side, from the "God Save the Queen" seven-inch of '77, was so good that ex-Pistols guitarist Steve Jones returned to it during his late-Eighties biker-rock days. He blew it, though, by turning the song's raw, emotional fury into just another damned hard-rock stomp. Like other lost Pistols tracks, from "I Wanna Be Me" to "Satellite," this one has yet to surface stateside.
Bruce Springsteen, "Incident on 57th Street." When the young, Dylan-esque troubadour originally waxed this grandiose epic back in '73, he rushed it, losing the Scorsese-worthy story line of a street hood in a blur of verbal drama and wordplay. On this live version from '80, however, Springsteen nails it, slowing down the tempo so the saga of Spanish Johnny is set to the beat of real life, with the Spectorian climax of crashing drums and ringing piano becoming thunderous. This one surfaced in 1987 as the B-side to "Fire," and actually saw CD release that same year in Japan on the Live Collection I EP. Sadly, both have been relegated to the high-dollar confines of the collector's world.
Elvis Costello and the Attractions, "Blame It on Cain"/Mystery Dance." When the Rykodisc label began reissuing Costello's Columbia catalogue in 1993, they included not only B-sides relevant to each release, but equally relevant outtakes and demos. When assembling ephemera for My Aim Is True, they somehow overlooked this blazing live pair from 1977, which appeared on the bottom of the "Watching the Detectives" single. Unlike the LP versions, here both songs sound nothing but mean, full of the venom, spit, and sexual frustration that Costello and his band never fully captured in the studio.
R.E.M., "Catapult." They've made some fine albums, sure, but for anyone who heard them in person during their formative years between the "Radio Free Europe" single and Reckoning, R.E.M.'s studio recordings are somewhat disappointing. Too much from those early shows is missing on the albums: the kinetic energy of the rhythm section; the minimalist jabs and slices from the guitarist; the nervous, melodic energy of the vocalist. It's all here, though, on a live version of a Murmur highlight, recorded in 1984 and thrown away on the flip of "(Don't Go Back to) Rockville."
The Who, "Baby Don't Do It." The Marvin Gaye Motown classic done up white-boy style in a molten-metal cover culled from a '72 concert and released that same year on the B-side of "Join Together." How this escaped the compilers of '94's Thirty Years of Maximum R&B box is a mystery.
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