Every top-tier artist has hidden gems: an album track considered “filler,” a demo, an alternate version, a live take. Many of these songs stand up to scrutiny as well as any chart-topping hit. They demonstrate the artist’s true talent for consistent quality, or maybe they’re relics of a period we’d rather forget. Either way, they add to, or tell another side of, that artist’s a musical story.
An intricate CSN cut stripped of all its harmonies and gloss. Crosby has always been my favorite songwriter of the trio, and this demo is one of his best recorded performances. Scatting over acoustic guitar works way better than you’d ever expect.
Aside from low-charting single “Walls (Circus),” the other songs Tom Petty wrote and recorded for the 1996 soundtrack to She’s the One went mostly unnoticed. But “Angel Dream (No. 2)” is a sublime gem. It braids the instrumental simplicity of a Dylan folk song with the emotional complexity of a Brian Wilson song.
My absolute favorite ABBA song, and that is saying a lot. “The Day Before You Came” is the last song the group ever recorded, released as the B-side to their last single. I can’t get enough of the light baroque vibe of the music, the strange, hopeful-yet-melancholic atmosphere of the lyrics, or the epic proportions of the song’s harmonic structure.
This posthumous song stuck with me as a young kid diving into classic rock. I loved how personal the song felt. Channeling the lyrical style of Bob Dylan circa Highway 61 Revisited, Hendrix uses a mix of colorful descriptors and turns of phrase to talk about the struggles of being lonely when you’re famous and on the road: “And eh sometimes it’s not so easy, baby / Especially when your only friend / Talks, sees, looks and feels like you / And you do just the same as him.”
Hardcore Devo-tees should know this one already, but more casual fans familiar only with “Whip It” may be surprised by this cover. It’s a timely tune to revisit, too, given the recent passing of the song’s original author, Charles Manson. One of the nascent band’s very first 4-track basement demo recordings circa 1974, Devo’s version transforms Manson’s “Mechanical Man” from an acoustic acid-psych jam into something depressively robotic yet synthetically playful. It sounds like something the Akron, Ohio new wave subversives might have written themselves.
Most people know the 1975 for their catchy, ’80s-inspired pop singles, but if you dig a little deeper into the band’s discography, you’ll find a handful of beautifully produced, emotional songs that cast the group in a completely different light. “Medicine” is no exception. The song’s lush, hazy production is the perfect backdrop for Matty Healy’s unique voice, making it clear that the group is more than just neon signage and a cool aesthetic.
If you let the last song on the Roots’ 2004 album The Tipping Point, “Why (What’s Goin’ On?),” run for a while, a hidden track reveals itself. The band covers George Kranz’s off-kilter, skat-infused, proto-beatboxing dance single “Din Da Da.” De facto leader Questlove beatboxes and injects tasteful and tricky drums licks in a playful back and forth. When the full band kicks in, the tempo slows to inject some creamy funk. This is a party track that dutifully pays homage to the original, while remaining worthy of today’s dance floor.