Underrated Albums

Here are 25 albums that failed to get the love they deserve. These albums have taken a backseat in the artist’s catalog, perhaps without benefit of a charting single or surrounding a band lineup change. It may have gone out of print or the rights became tied up. Quality music fails to connect for a variety of reasons.

It’s Only Rock and Roll (1974) – The Rolling Stones. It was the end of an era, guitarist Mick Taylor departed and it ushered in a change of direction. This album is uneven, but the high points are summits.

Who By Numbers (1975) – The Who. After Tommy, Live at Leeds, Who’s Next and Quadrophenia, The Who downshifted at the height of their creative success. The album has a live feel and the songs are intimate and downbeat. There were some fine songs and some average songs, and the production did not help with air play. I like he album, but only serious Who fans enjoy it.

Walk Into Light (1983) – Ian Anderson. Wanting to do a solo album for years (A was supposed to be a solo album), Anderson set aside Jethro Tull and got firmly into 1980s musical electronics. Anderson teamed up with his new Tull keyboard player, John-Peter Vettese, on a moody, synth-heavy, Euro-sounding album. “Looking for Eden” and User Friendly” are quite good. This album fit in the musical arc of Anderson’s early 80s, but most Tull fans will ignore it.

Stampede (1975) – Doobie Brothers. The band was riding a crest of popularity and stability when they released this album. It sold moderately well and placed two top 40 hits. It was more adventurous than past albums and was the first appearance of Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, guitarist and nuclear arms theorist (true). The next album would be Takin’ it to the Streets, with the deletion of leader Tom Johnston and the addition of Michael McDonald. In the band’s legacy there are two distinct eras, the guitar-riff era and the soulful keyboard era. This album is the bridge and is often forgotten.

Equinox (1975) – Styx. Hard to believe this was Styx’s fifth album, and hey had not broken through yet. They were two years away from The Grand Illusion, which would put them in the major league of rock bands. Equinox was the beginning of the transition, and improving songwriting. The best songs were “Loreili”, “Light Up” and Suite Madame Blue.

Thirty-Three and a Third (1976) – George Harrison. A clever title, the speed of an LP and his age. In the first half of the 1970s, Harrison spent a lot of time in court: the Beatles breakup, his divorce from Patti, wrangling over the Concert for Bangladesh proceeds, and a pesky lawsuit over plagiarism involving “My Sweet Lord”. Harrison’s last two albums were commercial disappointments, so it was surprising when he returned with such an upbeat album, including “This Song”, satirically written about his plagiarism lawsuit.

On the Border (1974) – Eagles. The band’s third album and an improvement over Desperado, returning with the energy and attitude of their debut album. The band still performs “The Best of My Love” but their are better, grittier songs. Most of this album never gets any mention and that’s sad. This was the band before they turned into the rock star version of Thoreau.

Mystery to Me (1973) – Fleetwood Mac. The Bob Welch era was coming to an end. This was before the Buckingham/Nicks arrival. Mystery to Me had a variety of styles and was the most pop album of the band to this point. “Hypnotized” was the best-known song on the album. This album is deserving on its own.

Infidels (1983) – Bob Dylan. Produced by Dylan and Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits), this album is quite accessible and melodic. This was easily Dylan’s most commercial album in recent years. Joining Knopler in the sessions were Mick Taylor and Sly & Robbie on drums and bass.

Western Stars (2019) – Bruce Springsteen. I might be one of the few who loved the album enough to see the film. I have written extensively about this album, even though many fans based on it. I still don’t get it. This was not a traditional Springsteen rock or folk album. This was a 1960s Burt Bacharach/Jimmy Webb imagined set of soaring songs, vignettes about the lonesome Western highway of life.

Echo – Tom Petty. Released during what even Petty described as a low point, as he was involved in a divorce and bass player Howie Epstein was mired in substance abuse that would claim his life. The album sold well, but was part of the trilogy of She’s the One, Echo and The Last DJ, representing a difficult and less successful period. Echo has a lot of melancholy songs and is quite raw at times. Of the trilogy, this is the best.

Everyone Loves a Happy Ending (2004) – Tears For Fears. The last group album of new material to date. This set is as strong as anything they’ve released, but where was the audience?

No Reason to Cry (1976) – Eric Clapton. Life in the 1970s was up and down for God. This album is my no means a classic, but it helped Clapton rebound from a low period. He got a ton of help on this album as players and songwriters. “Hello Old Friend” and “Black Summer Rain” were two of Clapton’s contributions, both good songs. The album is generally forgotten, but was solid for Clapton.

Where the Action Is (2019) – The Waterboys. This band, especially Mike Scott, has been around since 1983. Their sound has changed styles like Madonna changes boyfriends. In recent years, Scott has landed on a mashup of retro 1970s dance and modern hip hop. Whatever the recipe, the result are very upbeat, melodies that sound nothing like the Scottish folk of the band’s 1980s and 1990s discography.

Dumbing Up (2000) – World Party. The last album of new World Party material, a top notch effort that was ignored by the public. Each album got better, but by this release, the world seemed like it was partied out. Too bad.

Straight Up (1971) – Badfinger. The story of Badfinger is well-known. Discovered and signed by the Beatles, this band had great success as a power-pop quartet, but ended up as collateral damage in the Beatles breakup. Straight Up went through three producers before the album was finished. “Baby Blue” and “Day After Day” are the most well-known, but the entire album is solid. It was out of print for decades as the Beatles business empire was in litigation and Badfinger was a forgotten memory. It’s available now, take a listen.

Dragonfly (1974) – Jefferson Starship. The first album under the new name, the band of remnants of the Airplane. “Ride the Tiger” and “Caroline” we’re the singles. The album is uneven, but the new sound is there. The multi-platinum Red Octopus would be next.

Days Like These (1995) – Van Morrison. This guy’s career has been all over the place, and a lot of his audience had moved on. This was his highest selling album in years, though critics were split, some calling out Morrison for being lazy in his effort. About half of these songs are incredibly good, several are okay and a couple are questionable – but this is his best set of melodic, yet moody songs in years. The best album from the second half of his career.

Along the Red Ledge (1978) – Hall and Oates. This duo was still building their sound. This was their most complete album of songs to date and featured a more polished rock sound with help of producer David Foster. In a couple of years, Hall and Oates would own the charts. This album was a building block.

Sunflower (1970) – Beach Boys. Post Pet Sounds, the band drifted. The failed Smile project nearly did Brian Wilson in, sending him on a downward spiral that lasted many years. In the meantime, the band soldiered on playing concerts and releasing albums increasingly ignored by the public. Instead of an LP filled with Brian Wilson or Wilson/Mike Love written songs, the band had to come up with a good portion of the songs. Sunflower represents such an effort and a decent one. What is surprising is how good the material was from brother Dennis. Listen with an open mind and you may be pleasantly surprised.

Drama (1980) – Yes. The saga of the ever changing band lineup. This is a long story, but cutting to the chase, Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman departed, Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes came onboard. Progressive rock meets new wave, and the result was darn good, yet it still is debated by Yes fans. This lineup only lasted a year and one album, although Downes is now in the band again, and Horn pops up occasionally as producer.

Marathon (1979) – Santana. This was a transition album after a lineup change. The 1980s would be a harder rock sound, less Latin-flavored. This album is left out of discussion about the group’s mid-period success. The musicianship is top-rate and the songs are solid, but it lacked a hit single.

Looking Forward (1999) – CSN&Y. For years and years, fans hoped for new music from these four. When it came, few gave a darn. This is hardly Deja Vu, don’t be fooled. Take it as four old friends come together and share what’s on their minds. While not a classic, it is hardly forgettable.

Down Two, Then Left (1977) – Boz Scaggs. How do you follow up a multi-platinum album that landed several high charting singles and crossed over to several charts? The follow up to Silk Degrees was earnest, using the same formula, slickly produced and played, but it did not have the reception of Silk Degrees. For a blue-eyed soul singer, this album tries, but hasn’t the soul of its predecessor. It’s still very good, just not a classic.

Motherlode (1974) – Loggins & Messina. This was towards the end of their partnership. This was a jazzy folk album, moody with a lot of introspective songs. There were no big hits, but every song is solid and well-played. There most complete and mature set of songs.


One thought on “Underrated Albums

  1. The ones that jump out for me are the Doobies’ Stampede and Loggins and Messina’s Motherlode. I’d argue that they might be the best album in each artist’s catalog. Badfinger’s Straight Up is a fan favorite, it just was unavailable for a long time. Infidels is one of the better post-60s Dylan releases.

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