The 10 Best Songs Not on Classic Rock Radio
Classic rock began life as an album-oriented genre, heard primarily on what were called underground or alternative radio stations that were among the first to populate the FM dial when that medium was young. It was there that you would hear things like Pink Floyd’s The Wall in its entirety, or an hour of songs based on a central theme.
Since today’s typical classic radio playlist consists of the songs that got mainstream radio airplay back in the day, there are plenty of gems that you’re not likely to hear on the radio. Here are some of the best.
It’s hard to imagine the concept of mellow hard rock without actually hearing it. Wishbone Ash perfected it, and strongly influenced the sound of bands including Lynyrd Skynyrd, Steely Dan, Thin Lizzy, and Eagles. They had fairly decent album sales success in the U.K. and U.S. in the ’70s, but with no singles charting in either country, never had mainstream radio success. “Jail Bait” is from the band’s second album, Pilgrimage, released in 1971.
When the name of the band sounds more like song title, you can pretty well bet that they were part of the late ’60s San Francisco music scene. Thus it was with David LaFlamme’s group, It’s A Beautiful Day. “White Bird” never broke into the Top 100, but it was a staple of psychedelic-leaning FM stations. The song was the first track on the band’s self-titled 1969 debut album. (Purchase CD)
Alan Parsons was an engineer on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, and The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Let It Be. Eric Woolfson was a singer, songwriter, and producer. Their collaboration, Alan Parsons Project was a series of concept albums that utilized a large stable of vocalists that included Colin Blunstone of The Zombies and Gary Brooker of Procol Harum. “The Raven” is a good example of APP’s technical innovation, featuring Parsons speaking lyrics through a digital vocoder. There were ten APP albums produced between 1976 and 1987. “The Raven” is from the first one, Tales Of Mystery And Imagination.
Procol Harum practically invented the symphonic rock that would evolve into the template for progressive rock. They are best known for their “Whiter Shade Of Pale,” one of only three singles that charted in the U.S. (“Conquistador” and “Homburg” were the others) but they have a large catalog that offers many lesser-known gems. “Power Failure” is from 1971’s Broken Barricades. (Compare CD Prices)
The Chambers Brothers (who, interestingly enough, actually were brothers) were a soul band, but the long (11:03) version of this song was an underground radio favorite because of its psychedelic sound and antiwar theme. The use of sound effects like cowbells and clocks and vocal effects of bombs dropping and people screaming was unique and captivating. Mainstream radio listeners heard only a shortened three-minute version. The track is from the 1967 album Time Has Come.
Canadian hard rockers Moxy also found some regional success in the U.S. in places like Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis and San Antonio. The band released an album a year between 1975 and 1978. The first one featured Tommy Bolin (Deep Purple) on guitar. “Midnight Flight” originally appeared on the band’s self-titled debut album in 1975.
The Remains were a Boston garage band who had several regional hits, appeared on network TV (Ed Sullivan Show and Hullabaloo) and opened for The Beatles during their 1966 U.S. tour. But in spite of being talented musicians with a well-produced album, they were never able to catch on nationally. The band was the subject of a 2008 documentary, America’s Lost Band, and has recently been in demand for live performances in the U.S. and Europe. Their self-titled 1966 album was recently remastered and reissued with 10 bonus tracks not on the original album.
Uriah Heep’s distinction was (and is) the ability to deliver progressive hard rock with harmonies more like the Beach Boys than your typical headbanger. Heep has been wildly popular in Europe since they first started laying down licks in 1969, but, with the exception of some album sales success in the early ’70s, have never been able to develop much more than a cult following of Heepsters in the U.S. “All My Life” is from the 1972 Demons And Wizards album.
Coming out of San Francisco at the same time as bands like Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead provided Moby Grape a degree of attention they might not otherwise have had. But a couple of early marketing blunders and the absence of a “star” performer doomed them. The band’s five members rotated lead vocal and songwriting duties, so there was no identifiable “front man” to peg promotion on. Columbia Records resorted to things like releasing five singles from the first album simultaneously, and packaging the next two albums together at a two-for-one price. “Soul Stew” comes from Moby Grape ’69.
Unfortunately, the fact that they had only one hit single (“Resurrection Shuffle” – Listen / Download) branded Tony Ashton, Kim Gardner, and Roy Dyke as one-hit wonders, rather than as an album- and live performance-oriented power trio. They were early adopters of the horns and organs that would be used with much greater commercial success by groups such as Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago. “Can You Get It” originally appeared on the band’s self-titled 1969 debut album.