One of the most pleasant aspects to the music industry’s self-immolation has been the willingness of labels and artists to reconsider putting out records fans had all but given up on ever being able to buy in a store. Last decade, for instance, we saw the releases of Brian Wilson’s SMiLE, Guns ‘N Roses’ Chinese Democracy, and Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II – each of which had been languishing on the shelf for over a decade by the time they finally made it to retail. Of course, these releases represent a miniscule fraction of the total number of gems still in the vaults – today, we’ll examine seven notorious records which have yet to see the light of day.
Bruce Springsteen, The Electric Nebraska
Critics (correctly) hailed Bruce Springsteen’s bleak, pessimistic Nebraska as a masterpiece upon its release in 1982 – but it’s certainly not the record the Boss set out to make. Nebraska started life as simple home recording; the plan was always to revisit the tracks at a later date and polish them up before offering them for sale. Along the way, however, Bruce came to appreciate the haunting, stripped-down sound of the demo tracks and convinced his label to release the demo as the finished product – but not before recording a full, allegedly-rockin’ version of Nebraska with the E Street Band. Sadly, no tapes of any of these sessions – dubbed The Electric Nebraska by diehard Springsteen fans – have ever surfaced, and Springsteen’s camp is always quick to shoot down rumors of a release whenever the subject comes up in interviews. Then again, maybe that’s for the best – after all, would “State Trooper” really be improved with a Clarence Clemons sax solo?
Robin Gibb, Sing Slowly Sisters
Time has been certainly kind to the Brothers Gibb: not only have their chart-conquering disco smashes become an inextricable part of the pop lexicon, but a groundswell of appreciation for their pre-disco catalogue has been building among critics and cultural gatekeepers – particularly for Odessa, the sprawling double-LP 1969 magnum opus which led directly to the group’s first creative hiatus. While the group was broken up, Robin Gibb – accurately known as “the ugly one” – attempted to pick up as a solo artist where the band had left off, quickly recording two very good albums of baroque, classically-informed pop songs. While the first of these, Robin’s Reign, would find minor success (“Saved By the Bell” went to #2 on the UK charts), the label decided to shelve the follow-up, Sing Slowly Sisters, when the Gibbs buried the hatchet and got the band back together. Thankfully, diehard Bee Gees fans have managed to cobble together a bootleg of the album from demos and studio outtakes, and while the end result isn’t nearly as cohesive or compelling as Odessa, it’s still worth a listen for fans of baroque 60s pop music like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Song Cycle. Download it here.
Few artists in pop history have taken such palpable delight in pissing off cultural conservatives as Prince. The Paisley One spent the first half of the 80s scoring hit after hit with explicit songs like “Controversy” and “Little Red Corvette”, much to the consternation of uptight prudes like Tipper Gore (who formed the Parents Music Resource Center after hearing her daughter singing along with “Darling Nikki”). Never one to back down from a challenge, in 1986 Prince began recording tracks for his most outrageous project yet: Camille, a bawdy eight-song LP to be sung by an up-and-coming female vocalist named Camille – in actuality, a pseudonym for Prince, who recorded all the vocal parts himself and sped them up until he sounded suitably female. Unfortunately for fans and curiosity-seekers, Prince ultimately shelved the album (no great surprise there – this list could have easily been composed entirely of albums which Prince recorded and then abandoned), although most of the tracks eventually surfaced in other forms on later records, most notably “If I Was Your Girlfriend”:
Diana Ross and the Supremes, Sing Disney Classics
Much like Wu-Tang, Diana Ross is for the children. In 1967, Ross – then the leading light of the Supremes – convinced Motown to allow the group to record an album of Disney songs for kids (creatively titled Diana Ross & the Supremes Sing Disney Classics) featuring standards like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Someday My Prince Will Come”. The label’s faith in the project certainly seemed substantial, as work on the album continued even while the Supremes replaced founding member Florence Ballard with newcomer Cindy Birdsong. Somewhere along the way, however, Motown lost confidence in the record, sticking it in their formidable vaults without even issuing it a catalogue number. Nearly twenty years later, a Disney compilation finally brought 11 of the album’s 14 songs out into the light of day, but “Chim Chim Cher-ee”, “A Spoonful of Sugar”, and “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” remain lost.
The Klaxons, untitled 2nd album
After the Klaxons crashed the British pop charts in 2007 with the release of their debut album Myths of the Near Future, pop pundits quickly began wondering aloud just how the band would cope with their newfound popularity. Unlike many of the decade’s Young British Rock Saviors – the Libertines, Starsailor, even Bloc Party – the Klaxons had roots in an abrasive noise-rock background with little interest in courting, much less sustaining, audience acceptance; moreover, the band had accepted a smaller contract when signing with Polydor on the condition that they, not the label, retain control over their work – or so they thought. In the spring of last year, the lead singer confirmed to the NME that Polydor had forced the band to scrap part of its still-untitled follow-up album for being commercially unsuitable, claiming “[W]e’ve made a really dense, psychedelic record. We’ve made a really heavy record, and it isn’t the right thing for us… First and foremost, we’re a pop band. I haven’t thought about that for a long time, and now it’s in the forefront of my mind.” Surprisingly, none of the “difficult” abandoned tracks have even found their way onto the internet yet, although fan-cam videos of the band playing new tracks live are starting to spring up.
Johnny Mathis, I Love My Lady
Although Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards are better known today for all the peerless singles they released as Chic (“Everybody Dance”, “Le Freak”, “Soup For One”…), the pair deserve almost as much acclaim for the albums they produced for other artists such as Sister Sledge’s We Are Family or the aforementioned Diana Ross’ diana. Unfortunately, one album – alleged by Rodgers to be one of the group’s best – remains unreleased to this day: Johnny Mathis’ I Love My Lady. Recorded in 1981 in the wake of the surprise comeback hit with Deinice Williams “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late”, I Love My Lady was Mathis’ attempt to hitch his wagon to the hottest producers working in pop at the time in the hope of reinvigorating himself artistically (think Nelly Furtado, Timbaland, and Loose), and by all accounts the project was a complete success; Rodgers would spend the next three decades claiming songs like “Go With The Flow” and the title track were some of the best things he ever recorded. Due to Sony being a bunch of bitches (to use the scientific term), however, we’ve had to take Rodgers at his word for most of the last three decades; the record was shelved before its release for being “too daring” for Mathis’ fanbase of blue-haired old ladies (whom Mathis proceeded to alienate the next year anyway when he came out as a practicing homosexualist). Thankfully, I Love My Lady has gradually started leaking out, with long clips and substantial snippets turning up on the internet in recent years. ChicTribute.com have been doing the Lord’s work and keeping RealMedia streams of all the clips to surface on their site; the songs are good enough to justify the installation of RealPlayer, and that’s really saying something. Listen to some song samples here.
50 Cent, The Power of the Dollar
In 2010, 50 Cent is little more than a full-time spokesman for Curtis Jackson’s ongoing attempts at self-branding and hackish sell-outery – but ten years ago, 50 was one of the hungriest, funniest, and all-around most exciting young rappers coming up at the time. We’re talking about a man, after all, who launched himself onto the scene with “How To Rob”, a scathing, name-calling, frequently hilarious song about robbing other figures in the rap game (“Run up on Timbaland and Missy the pound/Like, ‘you – gimme the cash; you – put the hot dog down”). Regrettably, that attitude eventually got him in trouble with decidedly humorless drug dealers once he started naming names and distinguishing characteristics of local crack barons in “Ghetto Qu’ran”, a track for his forthcoming debut album The Power of the Dollar; shortly before the album’s release, 50 would be cornered and shot 9 times by nameless assailants believed to be associated to Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff, a dealer named by 50 in the song’s first line. While the would-be assassin’s bullets failed to kill 50, they definitely killed his album; The Power of the Dollar was quickly shelved by Columbia Records after finding out that their newest rap star was (gasp!) associated with violence. Of course, the record was already complete when the label pulled the plug and it wasn’t long before any bootlegger worth his salt could get you a copy; these days, it’s easily available through the in-tor-netz, thereby guaranteeing that Columbia can/will never make a dime off of this album.
Sadly, The Power of the Dollar would be the best record ol’ Curtis would ever release (or whatever); each of his subsequent albums would be plagued with ever-increasing volumes of crappy chart-seeking ballads and off-putting cock metaphors. But it’s not all bad news for fans of 50 the Smack-Talker; he’s just taken his game to the medium of web shorts: