PopMatters Editor Evan Sawdey condenses a lifetime spent in bargain bins into a one-hour playlist of hidden pop gems.
In Spotify Essentials, the Daily Dot curates custom playlists created by some of our favorite artists, staff writers, and Web community leaders. This week, PopMatters Editor Evan Sawdey condenses a lifetime spent in bargain bins into a one-hour playlist of hidden pop gems.
In all likelihood, the single greatest pop song to have been written since the Beatles’ “Yesterday” probably didn’t show up on a Sugar Ray album.
But what if it did?
What if one of the members of Sugar Ray (let’s say guitarist Rodney Sheppard for the sake of argument) had a strange, funny little chord progression that somehow made its way into the studio, got thrown on an album, and against all odds, actually turned out to be one of the greatest songs ever penned—every note perfectly in place, the hook instantaneous, the sentiment eternal?
Of course, it would never be recognized as such or be taken even remotely seriously (as is the curse of having Mark McGrath as your frontman), but the truth of the matter is the fact that no matter who the band or artist is, and no matter what kind of esteem they’re held in, there is probably a one-off minor pop miracle buried deep on an album that has long overstayed its welcome in the 99-cent bin at your local record store. It may very well be the one song that totally “gets” you right down to your very soul, but it’s never gonna find its way there because who has time to listen to every single song that Natalie Imbruglia’s ever done?
Ever since I really started getting into music as a teenager, it was those absolute moments of pop nirvana that I actively sought out. Being raised on ‘90s alternative rock certainly titled the scales in a particular way at first, but hearing Train’s “Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)” on three different radio stations at the exact same time really started forcing me to discover artists on my own—occasionally catching strange one-off music videos on the pay-per-view channel The Box (why hello there Beth Orton), occasionally picking up something off of a really good CMJ blurb (like Day One). Yet as DJ Shadow gave way to Aesop Rock and Oval (somewhat inexplicably) gave way to Phantomsmasher, those glorious one-off pop moments of glory that used to be buried deep on albums seemed to ebb slowly away in pop-culture consciousness, and through a never-ending barrage of mix-CDs for friends, I actively kept them alive.
In other words, I have listened to all of these albums and done all the bin-hunting for you. Below are some absolutely incredible pop masterpieces that have long since been forgotten, but thanks to the numerous licensing joys that make streaming services what they are, it’s time to journey straight into the musical heart of darkness.
Some of the selected tracks below are seemingly easy targets: one-hit wonders like Primitive Radio Gods, Wheatus, and the barely visible Dovetail Joint. While we all probably vaguely recall their original hits, the flute-and-guitar strummer “Gotta Know Now” from the Primitive Radio Gods is a marked change of sound from them. Likewise, for all the playful snark that laced Wheatus’s “Teenage Dirtbag,” the band’s remarkably fresh and straightforward cover of Erasure’s “A Little Respect” tragically got lost amidst the group’s 15 minutes of fame.
Only in the ‘90s and early 2000s could Everclear release an overarching concept album about divorce (from which their single greatest song ever, “Unemployed Boyfriend,” is culled) and Savage Garden’s Darren Hayes could put out a double-disc set of new songs about time machines on his own label (in which you can find his tender ballad “I Just Want You to Love Me”).
Yet dig even deeper and you find the surprises beginning to multiply. Back in 1977, there was rampant speculation that the Beatles had reunited and were putting out an album on the sly, all under a pseudonym and the whole thing very hush-hush. The band was called Klaatu, and as we later learned, the group was actually a trio of Canadian songwriters who just happened to have a lot of ‘60s albums influence their sound. They never shot down the rumors, which caused the public to harshly turn on them when it was discovered that they were not the Fab Four reunited, but public opinion does little to rock the group’s remarkably honed pop skills, and the groovy “California Jam” from their 1976 disc 3:47 EST shows a group that could have very well stood on their own.
A similar fate happened to the band known as the Flying Machine, a group that actually was around during the Beatles hey-day and had put out a long series of singles that tragically never made much of an impact—at least until 1969 when they put out a song called “Smile a Little Smile for Me,” which wound up hitting the Top 5 in the U.S. The group was immensely talented and not afraid to get psychedelic, but their legacy got lost in the post-Beatles shuffle. (The worst part? Their big hit wasn’t even written by them; it was instead written by the team that wrote Edison Lighthouse’s “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes).”) The band’s penultimate single, the groovy fun that is “The Devil Has Possession of Your Mind,” is presented here.
At times you have to climb through some weird albums to find some great tracks, be it Joni Mitchell’s critically derided, Thomas Dolby-produced 1985 disc Dog Eat Dog (where the experimental yet oddly resonant “Smokin’ (Empty, Try Another)” is housed) or Frank Sinatra’s wildly misunderstood 1970 rock opera Watertown (where you can discover the stark, minimalist character study that is “She Says”). Sometimes even great albums like Jefferson Airplane’s generation-defining Surrealistic Pillow (still best known for its two big hits, “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love”) contain songs that everyone forgets about, in this case the vulnerable desert ballad “Today.”
The digging could go on forever, but we’ll stop here, leaving you to draw your own opinions about the thunderous rock of Longwave’s “Sirens in the Deep Sea,” the positively Lennon-esque 46-second Badly Drawn Boy piece “Imaginary Lines,” the incredible ballad “Pike St./Park Slope” by Harvey Danger (itself culled from 2000’s endlessly quotable King James Version), and the stuttery dance-pop of Sufjan Steven’s “Joy! Joy! Joy!”
Sugar Ray’s guitarist may never get his day in the sun (and sure as hell ain’t on this list), but these rarely-thought-of songs are orphaned, needing a new pair of ears to live in. With any luck, they just may find home in yours.
Photo by ~!/Flickr
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