Travis Ishikawa and Other One-Hit Wonders

Travis Ishikawa, who won the last round of the National League playoffs for the San Francisco Giants last year with a game-ending home run, was designated for assignment by the club a few weeks ago. You can never count this guy out considering how often he’s been up and down (and not just with the Giants) for the last ten years, but he’s probably finished in San Francisco, especially since it’s the second time he’s been DFA’d this year. (He has subsequently hooked on with the Pittsburgh Pirates.)


I happened to be at the game in late June marking his first time at bat in the big leagues since last year’s postseason, and typical of how this year’s gone for him, he struck out. He’s never gotten much playing time since his first call-up in 2006, and there’s no place for a subpar outfielder on a club with two guys ahead of him at his real position, first base. Sure, he helped the team win the World Series last year, especially with his mighty playoff blow. But as the chairman said in that Monty Python sketch where an accountant is fired for embezzling a penny, “There’s no room for sentiment in big business.”

Ishikawa’s demotion did get me thinking about how many players in major league history with otherwise undistinguished careers are known just for one hit, or one game, or even one play. No doubt there are interesting instances absent from the list below, especially from baseball’s early years. Here, however, are a few of them, some by players who compiled much more impressive career records than Ishikawa, and some who were yet more marginal.

Howard Ehmke: It’s a pretty well known story in World Series lore: how a veteran pitcher, on the verge of getting released, got the first start of the 1929 World Series and excels, setting a record (since broken, but which stood for many years) by striking out 13 batters. His team, the Philadelphia A’s, went on to win that series, in part because of a miraculous comeback from an 8-0 deficit with a ten-run inning in one game.


Some colorful retellings have it that Ehmke convinced manager Connie Mack to start him, telling him he had one good game left in his arm, Mack sending him to scout the Chicago Cubs hitters in advance. Actually, however, Ehmke had pitched very well (if seldom) during the regular season, going 7-2 with a 3.29 ERA in a hitters’ era. He won a couple games in September, too, making it doubtful he was on the verge of getting let go. This article at has a lot of interesting detail exploding the myths around Mack’s decision to start Ehmke, which was likely a shrewd, if risky, hunch that his delivery would be tough on the Cubs’ hitters.

When this tale is told, the impression is sometimes given that it was Ehmke’s last game. That would make for a great story, but again, it wasn’t the case. He also started the last game of the series, and didn’t do nearly as well, getting removed in the fourth inning (perhaps the Cubs were on to his delivery by then), though the A’s won the game. He also pitched in three regular season games for the A’s in 1930, getting bombed to the tune of an 11.70 ERA before leaving the bigs for good.

Ehmke was actually a pretty good pitcher, with a career record of 166-166, sometimes for pretty bad teams. His other big claim to fame, though not nearly as celebrated as his 13 strikeouts, is nearly pitching two no-hitters in a row in 1923. In the no-hitter, a batter hit what seemed to be a double, but was called out for missing first base; in the one-hitter that followed, an apparent error was called a hit by the official scorer.

Floyd Giebell: When a close three-way race for the American League 1940 pennant came down to the final three games, the Detroit Tigers needed to win just one of the three they were playing against the Cleveland Indians (also in the race) to clinch. Pitching for the Indians in the first game was Bob Feller, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, and perhaps the best pitcher in the game at that particular time.


It was assumed the Tigers would pitch one of their front-line guys, like Bobo Newsom, Tommy Bridges, or Schoolboy Rowe, all among the better pitchers of the era. Instead they selected Floyd Giebell, a 30-year-old rookie whose major league experience consisted of 24 innings. As Tigers outfielder Barney McCosky remembers in Cobb Would Have Caught It (a fine oral history book of vintage Tigers stories), “We didn’t want to throw one of our best pitchers against Bob in the first game. So we had a meeting. We had Newhouser, Hutchinson, and a young guy called Floyd Giebell. We took a vote and we picked Giebell.” In Baseball When the Grass Was Real, Feller speculates the Tigers wanted to have all of their best pitchers available for the last two games, and were willing to concede the first, figuring it was unlikely to best Bob.

One of the finest relatively obscure baseball books is this oral history of the Detroit Tigers from 1920-1950.

One of the finest relatively obscure baseball books is this oral history of the Detroit Tigers from 1920-1950.

And guess what? Giebell pitched a shutout, and the Tigers won, 2-0, clinching the pennant. Giebell had pitched a complete-game victory nine days before (when the team had to play doubleheaders on two consecutive days), in his only other appearance that year. But he’d joined the club too late to be ineligible to pitch in the World Series (which the Tigers lost), and after 34 innings with a 6.03 ERA and an 0-0 record the following year, he never played in another major league game. “We stopped down in Virginia once to see if he was still there,” said McCosky in Cobb Would Have Caught It. “We looked in the phone book, but no luck.”

As another odd footnote, during this memorable game, as Richard Bak wrote in Cobb Would Have Caught It, “Indian fans peppered their guests with obscenities and trash. [Catcher] Birdie Tebbetts, minding his own business in the bullpen, was knocked out when someone in the upper deck dropped a basket of empty beer bottles and garbage on him.”

Bill Bevens: It’s a surprise to me that the fourth game of the 1947 World Series doesn’t show up more often on lists of the greatest baseball games ever played. The ending, at least, couldn’t have been more dramatic. For Yankees pitcher Bill Bevens was just one out away from a no-hitter, only to lose it – and the game – on the very last pitch, when Cookie Lavagetto doubled in two runs to win it for the Brooklyn Dodgers, 3-2.


The game’s often been written about, but here are a couple things sometimes forgotten about:

Bevens, who’d had a couple pretty good years for the Yankees in the mid-1940s, never pitched in the majors after 1947, when he wasn’t so great (with a 7-13 record). However, this loss wasn’t the last game he ever pitched in the big leagues. He redeemed himself with two and two-thirds innings of scoreless relief in game seven of the world series, which the Yankees won, though Bevens wasn’t the winning pitcher.

Lavagetto might not have ever gotten to the plate if it wasn’t for yet another hero-for-a-minute, reserve outfielder Al Gionfriddo, stealing second as a pinch runner in the bottom of the ninth. Gionfriddo is mostly known for robbing Joe DiMaggio with a big catch later in the series, but his steal set up the Yankees’ controversial intentional walk of a hobbling, injured Pete Reiser. That put the winning run on base, another pinch runner (Eddie Miksis) scoring that on Lavagetto’s double.

Great graphic showing the motion and positioning of players on the field when Cookie Lavagetto broke up Bill Bevens's no-hitter with a game-winning double.

Great graphic showing the motion and positioning of players on the field when Cookie Lavagetto broke up Bill Bevens’s no-hitter with a game-winning double.

Part of the reason he was struggling to win a no-hitter in the first place was that he’d walked ten batters. Had Bevens finished the no-hitter, it would still be the record for most walks in a no-hitter in any major league game (or at least tied for the record, Jim Maloney walking ten batters in a 1965 no-hitter during the regular season).

I can’t find the source for this quote, but I remember watching a special on the 1947 World Series on public television as a young teenager back in the mid-1970s. If I remember correctly, as the story was told on the program, one of the announcers of the game apologized to Bevens the next day for jinxing the no-hitter by letting listeners know it was happening as it was in progress. Bevens told the announcer that the announcer hadn’t lost the game; the bases on balls had lost the game.

Al Gionfriddo: The 1947 World Series was quite the series for unlikely heroes (and goats). Gionfriddo is solely remembered for robbing Joe DiMaggio of an extra-base hit with a catch near the fence in the sixth game. The memory was ensured by a shot of DiMaggio, at a time when games such as these were just starting to be filmed and broadcast, kicking the dirt in anger in a rare display of public emotion. This was indeed Gionfriddo’s final major league game; he didn’t play in game seven, though as noted above he had a crucial role in winning game four.


Cookie Lavagetto: The guy who hit the double that broke up Bevens’s no-hitter actually had a fair major league career, with several seasons as the Dodgers’ regular third baseman (including 1941, when they also lost to the Yankees in the World Series). He was an infrequently used reserve in 1947, however. Like Bevens and Gionfriddo, he didn’t play in the majors after 1947. But although his double was his last big-league hit, it wasn’t his last big-league appearance, Lavagetto going hitless in four at-bats later in the series.


Nippy Jones: Skipping ahead ten years, in 1957 Nippy Jones was a seldom-used pinch-hitter/backup first basemen for the Milwaukee Braves. He’d seen some regular playing time for the Cardinals in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and batted .300 one year, but didn’t have enough power to stick with the big club. He didn’t even play in the majors from 1953 to 1956.

Game four of the 1957 World Series was an incredibly tense one that would be much better remembered if it was a game seven. Leading 4-1 against the Yankees with two out in the ninth, Hall of Famer Warren Spahn gave up a three-run homer to Elston Howard. The Yankees went ahead 5-4 in the top of the tenth, and Jones pinch-hit for Spahn to lead off the bottom half.


Tommy Byrne’s first pitch went by Yogi Berra, and Jones argued that it had hit him in the foot. He wouldn’t have won that argument if he hadn’t shown umpire Augie Donatelli a mark that his shoe polish had made on the ball. He took first base and left the game for a pinch runner—and he’d never appear in another major league game.

Which wouldn’t mean much, except the pinch runner scored, setting up a game-winning home run by Johnny Logan. Here’s something I didn’t know until reading the chapter on Tommy Byrne in the recent book Bridging Two Dynasties: The 1947 New York Yankees: “Byrne said that if Berra had thrown the ball back to him instead of holding onto it for Donatelli, Byrne would have marked it up so that nobody could spot the shoe polish.”

Incredibly enough, in the final game of the 1969 World Series, a very similar scenario played out with another player named Jones. The New York Mets’ Cleon Jones claimed a ball had hit him on the foot; manager Gil Hodges showed the shoe-polish mark on the ball to the umpire; Jones took first base; and a home run followed, starting their comeback from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Orioles. The game-tying home run the next inning was by light-hitting utility infielder Al Weis, who might also qualify for this list, although he had a pretty lengthy career and some other moments of note in that series (in which he hit .455).

Dick Nen: Nen only had one hit as a Dodger, but it was a big one: a pinch-hit home run that helped win a crucial game in the 1963 pennant race. It was also his first hit in the major leagues.

Dick Nen got a 1964 rookie card after hitting a key home run for the Dodgers in 1963, but never played another game for the Dodgers in 1964 or any other year.

Dick Nen got a 1964 rookie card after hitting a key home run for the Dodgers in 1963, but never played another game for the Dodgers in 1964 or any other year.

I’d wondered whether the importance of this hit had been blown up over the years, since the Dodgers did win the pennant by six games that year. At the time, however, it did seem that way. They went into a three-game series in St. Louis in mid-September leading by just a game. If Nen’s home run hadn’t tied the game in the ninth (the Dodgers went on to win 6-5 in 13 innings), they would have left St. Louis just two games ahead with nine to go.

Although Nen had some decent years in the minors, he never did play that regularly or well in the majors, where he spent a few years with the Washington Senators (and one with the Cubs). Ken Harrelson’s memoir Hawk tells of how Nen was embarrassed to be getting the opening day start in 1967 ahead of Hawk, who wasn’t getting along well with Senators manager Gil Hodges. To Giants fans, Dick Nen’s most known for being the father of Robb Nen, their relief ace from 1998-2002.

Moe Drabowsky: After faring rather poorly as a starter for his first few years, Drabowsky had a pretty good career as a reliever for the final half or so of his time in the big leagues, though he was never an ace. His best years were for the Orioles in the late 1960s, and though he was lost to the Royals in the expansion draft, he came back to Baltimore during the 1970 season to contribute to their world championship that year.


His contribution to their 1966 World Series win, however, was far greater and more memorable. In the first game of the series, he relieved a struggling Dave McNally and struck out 11 batters (including six straight at one point) in 6 2/3 innings, giving up just one hit. That would be an excellent start, and as a relief appearance, it’s easily the most impressive in World Series history. All 11 strikeout victims went down swinging.

Other than for this game, Drabowsky is most notable as one of baseball’s most notorious practical jokers. Some of these (like giving the hotfoot or scaring teammates with snakes) aren’t all that interesting to read about. But his best one—impersonating (while he was with the visiting Orioles) Kansas City A’s’ manager Alvin Dark on calls to the A’s bullpen, getting A’s pitcher Lew Krausse to needlessly warm up—is classic.

Billy Rohr and Gary Waslewski: The Boston Red Sox’ “impossible dream” pennant victory of 1967 has lots of interesting stories, two of which belong to some of their least successful players. On April 13, rookie Billy Rohr almost got a no-hitter in his very first major league game, the Yankees’ Elston Howard breaking it up with a single with two out in the bottom of the ninth. One pitcher in the modern (post-1900) era has thrown a no-hitter in his first big-league start (Bobo Holloman in 1953), but to this day, no one has done so in his first game. But that was his main contribution to the team that season. He began the year as the Red Sox’ third starter, but pitched poorly after that sensational debut, getting sent down to the minors a couple months later after just one more victory, and winning only three games total in his major league career.

Although Bill Rohr got a 1968 Red Sox rookie card (still being a few innings short of losing his rookie status), he didn't pitch for the Red Sox in 1968 or any year after that, though he appeared in some games for the Indians in 1968.

Although Bill Rohr got a 1968 Red Sox rookie card (still being a few innings short of losing his rookie status), he didn’t pitch for the Red Sox in 1968 or any year after that, though he appeared in some games for the Indians in 1968.

Rohr didn’t pitch for the Red Sox in the World Series, but a barely more experienced hurler ending up starting a crucial game. Gary Waslewski was a seldom-used rookie on the team that year, compiling a 2-2 record in twelve games, eight stars, and 42 innings. He was only eligible for the series because another pitcher, Darrell Brandon, had to be replaced due to an injury. He hadn’t started since July 29. But on October 11, with the Sox facing elimination down three games to two against the Cardinals, Waslewski, who’d pitched well in relief in a loss in game three, got the ball to start. He didn’t do great, but he did well enough, getting into the sixth and keeping the Red Sox in the game, which they won 8-4 (though Gary didn’t get the victory, and the Sox lost the series in game seven).


Waslewski bounced between a few teams over the next five years, never pitching more than 130 innings in a year, and ending his career with a 12-26 record. Is that the least impressive career won-loss record for any World Series starter?

Jim Qualls: On July 9, 1969, in the midst of the Miracle Mets’ run toward the World Series, ace Tom Seaver brought a perfect game into the ninth inning against the team they were chasing for the Eastern Division lead, the Cubs. With one out, a little-known rookie reserve outfielder named Jim Qualls stroked a clean single to left field. It remains his only claim to modest fame, Qualls finishing the year with a fairly poor .608 OPS in just 124 plate appearances. He did play a bit for the Expos and White Sox in 1970 and 1972, but with even less distinction, going 1-19 post-1969, and ending his career without a home run.


“When I got to first base, I was never booed so bad in my life,” said Qualls in this article on him for the SABR Baseball Biography Project. “We got back to Chicago and I got all this hate mail. You could tell by the handwriting it was just kids, little Mets fans: ‘You bum, don’t show up in New York.’ I don’t get any letters like that anymore.” The only subsequent meeting between Qualls and Seaver came less than a week later when they crossed paths while running in the outfield, Seaver telling Qualls, “You little (bum), you cost me a million dollars!”

Seldom remembered, incidentally, is that the batter before Qualls, Randy Hundley, had tried to bunt for a base hit, though the Cubs were down 4-0. Bunting for a base hit to break up a no-hitter is still considered violating an unwritten law, and would have probably sparked enormous controversy had Hundley beaten it out. The Mets got their revenge in early September when one of their runners was called safe at the plate in a key close game against the Cubs, despite Hundley’s furious protests.

The darkness to Qualls’s light, perhaps, was supplied the previous day by another Cubs rookie outfielder, Don Young. Young remains known almost solely for misplaying a couple flyballs in the ninth inning of a game against the Mets on July 8, helping lead to a come-from-behind 4-3 victory for New York. The misplays also stirred up controversy in the Cubs clubhouse after the game when All-Star third baseman Ron Santo and manager Leo Durocher harshly criticized Young to the press (Santo subsequently apologized to Young in prive and public), though the Cubs’ true collapse didn’t start until about a month and a half later.

Dave Augustine: In one of the weirdest key pennant-race games of all time, Pirates rookie reserve outfielder Dave Augustine appeared to have put Pittsburgh ahead of the New York Mets on September 20, 1973 with a home run in the top of the thirteenth. The ball landed at the very top of the fence, but took a freak bounce back to outfielder Cleon Jones, and via a relay from third baseman Wayne Garrett, Pirates runner Richie Zisk was thrown out at the plate. The Mets went on to win in the bottom of the inning, and win, narrowly, the Eastern Division, going on to win the pennant before losing the World Series in seven to the A’s. This was a big game, bigger than the one Dick Nen won in 1963; had they lost, the Mets (who won the division by a game and a half) would have been two and a half games out of first with eight to go, instead of just a half game back.

In the cruelest footnote, not only was Augustine denied his Dick Nen moment. Having come as close as possible to a home run (in one of only seven at-bats he had in 1973) without getting it, he never did hit a home run in his big-league career, which lasted just 29 games and 29 at-bats.


After his 1973 near-homer, Dave Augustine got rookie cards in both 1974 and 1975, but didn't come close to getting enough at-bats to lose his rookie status.

After his 1973 near-homer, Dave Augustine got rookie cards in both 1974 and 1975, but didn’t come close to getting enough at-bats to lose his rookie status.

Bucky Dent: Probably the most famous instance of a player-known-for-just-one-thing—even more so than Bill Bevens—is light-hitting Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent, whose three-run homer keyed their dramatic 5-4 one-game playoff win over the Red Sox to win the 1978 Eastern Division. Dent actually had a respectable twelve-year career, though he was known more for his defense than his offense, hitting .247 lifetime with just 40 home runs (and only five in 1978). Volumes have been written about that game, and season, some participants and observers (especially Red Sox fans) viewing it as a cheap homer over Fenway Park’s notoriously short-distance left-field wall. But hey—the Red Sox also had chances to hit homers there that game.


It’s sometimes forgotten that Dent had an excellent World Series that year, hitting .417, driving in seven runs, and winning the series MVP award. The even unlikelier hero of that series, however, was…

Brian Doyle: Rookie Brian Doyle had an undistinguished year for the Yankees in 1978, hitting .192 in 52 at-bats with no extra-base hits or walks. Regular Yankees second baseman Willie Randolph got injured before the post-season, however, and Doyle got most of the playing time at the position in the World Series. And he delivered, going 7-for-16 with, most dramatically, four hits in the series-winning victory in game six, including a double—his first extra-base hit in the majors.


Doyle did play for three more years in the majors, but not well, ending up with a .161 average in 199 at bats, and just four extra-base hits (though one of them was a home run). He is, incidentally, the younger brother of Denny Doyle—who, though he had a better and much lengthier career as a second baseman, is also most famous for a World Series game, though in a negative way. Denny Doyle’s error on a potential inning-ending double-play ball in the seventh game of the 1975 World Series set up a two-run homer by Tony Perez, in a game the Red Sox lost by one run.

Mark Brouhard: One of the least familiar names on this round-up, reserve outfielder/DH Brouhard is perhaps the greatest one-game wonder in postseason history. In game four of the 1982 American League playoffs, he hit two doubles and a home run, leading the Brewers to victory over the Angels in a five-game series they won after being down 2-0. Playing in place of injured outfielder Ben Oglivie, Brouhard somehow never got in another game either that series or in the World Series, which the Brewers lost in seven games.


Brouhard did have a six-year career as a part-timer, and not such a great one, with a .705 OPS and 25 home runs. “It was frustrating at the time,” Brouhard told the Los Angeles Times in 1991 of his failure to appear in the World Series. “I felt that I deserved a chance to play some in the World Series. I felt like I had earned it.

But (manager Harvey Kuenn) felt that this might be the veterans’ one shot to play in the World Series and he went with them…As it turned out, we lost anyway.”

Tom Lawless: For a player with such an unremarkable career as a multi-position reserve, Lawless has had some remarkable highlights. One, if you can call it a highlight, was being traded for Pete Rose late in the 1984 season, near the end of Rose’s time as a player. Another was hitting a home run in the 1985 World Series, after a season in which he’d gone 2-25 for an .080 batting average. It was his only hit in ten at-bats that series, which his Cardinals lost in seven games to the Twins. He wasn’t much better over the course of his playing days, chalking up a measly .521 OPS and two homers in eight years, during which he accumulated just 590 plate appearances.


On the brighter side, he was 53-66 lifetime as a base stealer; in fact, between 1986 and 1989, he was a rather splendid 28-30. He also managed the Houston Astros for 24 games last September, though it was just an interim position for the luckless Lawless.

Billy Bates: Bates had the least distinguished career of any player on this list. He appeared in 25 games as a pinch-runner and second-baseman, hitting .125 with one extra-base hit (a double) in 48 at-bats. But the Reds picked him up for some roster depth at the end of 1990, which made him eligible for the World Series that year. In game two he delivered his only hit in a Cincinnati Reds uniform (he’d gone 0-5 for them in the regular season) by beating out an infield single as a pinch-hitter, scoring the game-winning run in a series the Reds swept from the A’s.


A la Nippy Jones, Bates never played in a major-league game after scoring this run (though he at least got to stay in the game after reaching base). Another strange footnote: it was his only hit against a right-handed pitcher in his career, coming against Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, no less.

Gene Larkin: The seven-game 1991 World Series between the Braves and the Twins is pretty well-remembered. So is Gene Larkin, though even some fans who watched the series forget that he’s the guy who delivered the single that won the game for the Twins in the bottom of the tenth inning of the seventh game.


Larkin had a pretty nondescript career as a multi-positional player for the Twins from 1987-1993. He never quite established himself as a regular, had a .723 OPS, and only made twelve plate appearances in the 1987 and 1991 postseasons. His game-winning hit, over a drawn-in outfield, would in most situations have been an average flyball (if deep enough to score runners from third). But, more than almost any player in baseball history, he was in the right place at the right time.

“I was a role player,” he acknowledged to Baseball Digest in 2002. “An average player at best. If I didn’t get this hit, I’d be just another player who had a so-so career.” But as the article reported, “It doesn’t matter here he goes or what he’s doing…shopping, eating, playing golf, or just going for a walk. People are always shaking his hand or patting him on the back. ‘Every time I play golf, it happens. Just a few days ago, a gentleman I didn’t know said, “Thanks a lot for ’91.” People want to thank me, congratulate me or tell me how happy that hit makes them feel.’”

Francisco Cabrera: A reserve catcher and first baseman for the Atlanta Braves in the early 1990s, Cabrera had just 374 at-bats over the course of a five-year career. He wasn’t that bad, hitting 17 home runs in that span, and posting an okay .747 OPS. He was never good enough, however, to get regular playing time, and had just ten at-bats in the Braves’ 1992 pennant-winning season.


He still got on their playoff roster, and was the pinch-hitter chosen when the Braves were one out from elimination against the Pittsburgh Pirates. With his team down 2-1 and two out in the bottom of the ninth, he hit a two-run single that won the pennant for Atlanta and sent the Pirates home.

There’s some speculation, incidentally, that had a superstar on the other team been playing the game more astutely, the outcome could have been very different. Wrote Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams in Game of Shadows, when Cabrera came to the plate, “Andy Van Slyke, the Pirates’ centerfielder, whistled to Bonds, then signalled with his glove for him to move in and to his left. Bonds looked at Van Slyke, but didn’t move. Instead, he stayed just where he was, deep, guarding the left-field line. Until he won his first MVP in 1990, Bonds had been paid less than Van Slyke, and he still resented it. Bonds called him ‘the Great White Hope.’

“Cabrera slapped a base hit to left field, about where Van Slyke had tried to get Bonds to play. The runner on third, David Justice, trotted home with the tying run. On second for the Braves was the slow-footed Sid Bream, a former Pirate who once said that everybody in the Pittsburgh clubhouse had wanted to punch Barry out at one time or another. As Bonds played the ball, Bream rounded third and lumbered home. Bonds’s throw was strong, but it was up the first base line. Bream scored, and the Braves were in the World Series.”

Chad Curtis: An unhappier ending was in store for Chad Curtis, an outfielder with a ten-year career that was better than Larkin’s, but not much. He did manage to clear 100 homers and 1000 hits, with a .745 OPS. And though his 1999 season wasn’t that special (five homers and a .767 OPS in 245 plate appearances), in game three of the World Series he hit two home runs for the Yankees, the second winning the game in walk-off fashion.


Right after the game, Curtis was interviewed on national TV by sportscaster Jim Gray. Well, not quite interviewed: Curtis told Gray, on-camera, that he wouldn’t speak to him because of a critical interview Gray had done with Pete Rose before game two. At that moment, it was hard to decide who was more unlikable, Curtis or the characteristically irritating Gray.

While his refusal to be interviewed had no negative consequences on his reputation as far as I can tell, an off-field incident many years later did. On October 3, 2013, Curtis was sentenced to seven to fifteen years in prison for six counts of criminal sexual misconduct, stemming from accusations of sexual harassment from several female students at the high school where he was coaching.

Geoff Blum: The 2005 World Series is disdained by those who want higher-profile matchups than the Astros vs. the White Sox, or seven-game series, not four-game sweeps. Actually, however, this series was about as exciting as four-game sweeps got, with close games and quite a bit of drama and strategy. The crucial blow in the most exciting game was a two-out homer in the top of the 14th inning by Geoff Blum, an infielder (for the most part) for 14 years, and several teams, without ever quite gaining a regular job. He had a lifetime .694 OPS and 99 home runs – 100, however, if you add that World Series shot.


Blum only had 99 plate appearances for the White Sox that year (and just one home run in the regular season for the team), and would never play for the Sox again. What’s even more notable about his home run than its timing, however, is that it was his only World Series appearance, for the White Sox or anyone else. He is, incidentally, not the only player to hit a homer in his only World Series at-bat, the other being the yet more obscure infielder Jim Mason, who hit his for the Yankees in the third game of the 1976 World Series. The Yankees were swept in that series, and Mason was one of the worst players in this roundup, with a lifetime OPS of .534 and 12 home runs in nine years of mostly part-time service.

DeWayne Wise: Most of the players on this list performed their heroics or near-heroics in the post-season or the heat of the pennant race. Here’s an instance, however, of a spurt of brilliance that happened in a regular season game, and not a particularly meaningful one. On July 23, 2009, Mark Buehrle’s perfect game was saved in the ninth inning by reserve outfield DeWayne Wise, who was in as a defensive replacement and robbed the Tampa Bay Rays’ Gabe Kapler of a home run. To quote Wikipedia, “To thank Wise for his play Mark Buehrle gave him a bottle of Crown Royal XR in a cloth bag embroidered with his name and the date of the perfect game.”


On the strength of his defense and base-running, Wise scratched out an eleven-year career despite a subpar .645 OPS. Another perfect-game saving play was made a few years ago by Giants outfielder Gregor Blanco, who made a spectacular diving catch in the seventh inning to preserve Matt Cain’s June 13, 2012 gem. That’s probably what Blanco will be most remembered for, though he’s building a career as a modestly useful Giants reserve outfielder.

Yusmeiro Petit: As long as we’re talking Giants, the last name on this list is a teammate of Blanco’s and, for that matter, Travis Ishikawa (or at least he was a teammate of Ishikawa before this month). Yusmeiro Petit, on the Giants’ staff as I write this, has had a journeyman career, with a lifetime ERA of 4.72 and a win-loss record of 20-27. He’s had his moments with the Giants, however, losing a perfect game on September 6, 2013 with a 3-2 count and two out in the ninth inning.  The following year, he set a major league record by retiring 46 batters in a row (over the course of eight appearances). More memorably, he pitched six scoreless innings out of the bullpen to get the win in an 18-inning playoff game against the Nationals in 2014, with seven strikeouts and just one hit allowed—not as impressive a performance as Moe Drabowsky’s, but still an amazing one, given the circumstances.


In this post, I haven’t cited the numerous players who are known primarily for an on-field failure. And there are many: Mickey Owen’s dropped third strike in the 1941 World Series, Fred Merkle’s failure to touch second base on a (nearly) game-ending single in a key game in the 1908 pennant race, Donnie Moore giving up Dave Henderson’s home run to erase what seemed a certain victory in the 1986 playoffs, etc. Maybe those will be a subject for a future post. Because the infinite possibilities of how baseball games play out will certainly leave room for more remembered-only-for-this feats in the future, good and bad.

Records I Have Not Known (Or At Least Right Away)

We all know—or at least most of the readers of a blog like this know—that scene in High Fidelity where the record store clerks don’t sell a copy of Captain Beefheart’s Safe As Milk to a customer, just because they don’t like him. (That scene’s not in the book on which the film’s based, by the way.) No doubt that scenario has played out somewhere in the real world, but it hasn’t happened to me, though I’ve been to many, many record stores. At least a few of those clerks must not have liked me, or thought me hip, but no one’s refused to take cash just because of that.


Reading the book Record Store Days—a book that generally focuses on the kindler, gentler, most positive side of record retailing—recently brought back some of my weird record shopping experiences. There have been three instances where I was actually unable to buy a record displayed in a store, or at least some resistance was mounted to my purchase. Each of them involved rare LPs, and while not many people in the general public would care about those circumstances, they’ll probably be familiar to at least a few people reading this sort of blogpost. Right?

The first of these instances was both the only one in which I succeeded in buying the LP, and the only one where some sort of resistance was given against my completion of the purchase. This took place about 30 years ago in a San Francisco record store where the owner and staff made a big deal out of constantly telling the customers, “Anyone need any help? If you want to hear something, let us know and we’ll play it.” One of them made a big show of chatting me up about the three-volume Chocolate Soup for Diabetics series of rare UK ‘60s psych on display, though I didn’t have the money to buy them (I eventually did, though not at this store).

Not being the kind of guy who enjoys gratuitous banter with salespeople in any retail establishment, I’d patronized the shop for a year or two without taking advantage of their incessant offers to play LPs if you wanted to hear them. Until one day I spotted a rarity for $3. This was Buffalo Springfield’s self-titled debut album—but not the edition I already had. This was the first pressing, with one song, “Baby Don’t Scold Me,” that was replaced by “For What It’s Worth” (after that song became a hit) on most editions of the record—and never subsequently issued on a vinyl release.

The back cover of the first pressing of Buffalo Springfield's debut LP, listing a song, "Baby Don't Scold Me," that was removed from subsequent editions. The rest of the track listing was slightly different than the more common subsequent editions as well.

The back cover of the first pressing of Buffalo Springfield’s debut LP, listing a song, “Baby Don’t Scold Me,” that was removed from subsequent editions. The rest of the track listing was slightly different than the more common subsequent editions as well.

I wanted to be sure that the fairly beat-up copy played okay, and also—since the order of the songs, as listed on the back cover, was scrambled from the version I was used to—that “Baby Don’t Scold Me” actually did play when you put the needle on the record, and not “For What It’s Worth” or some other track I already had. So I went to the counter, which happened to be staffed by the owner on a weekday morning on which no other customer had yet entered the store. I asked him if I could hear just one track, “Baby Don’t Scold Me.” He acted as if I’d interrupted his lunch to ask him if I could eat the rest of his sandwich.

“I’m making a tape,” he grumbled.

I explained that I did really need to hear the song, as it was the only one I was buying the LP for, and I had to be sure it was on the record and played without a skip. I also explained that this was the edition of Buffalo Springfield’s debut that had a song that was not on any subsequent pressings, which is why I need to hear that track in particular.

“I always thought that was a lousy song,” chipped in someone else on the staff. “I’m actually glad they replaced it with ‘For What It’s Worth.’”

What customer service! What salesmanship!

They did reluctantly play the one song, and I did buy the LP. And I never went out of my way to recommend the store again. It, like most stores of that sort, went out of business quite a few years ago, though it looks like the owner might be doing some sort of mail-order, according to a website that hasn’t been updated since 2000.

“Baby Don’t Scold Me,” incidentally, has been readily available—though only in its mono version—since 2001 on the four-CD Buffalo Springfield box set. It had also been bootlegged since at least the mid-1980s, as well. And it’s not a lousy song, though it’s not as good as “For What It’s Worth.”

Buffalo Springfield's "Stampede" bootleg includes "Baby Don't Scold Me."

Buffalo Springfield’s “Stampede” bootleg includes “Baby Don’t Scold Me.”

So does the official Buffalo Springfield box set, which won't win any awards for imaginative cover design.

So does the official Buffalo Springfield box set, which won’t win any awards for imaginative cover design.

Across the bay, and also in 1983 or 1984, I had my only record store visit where I could not buy a disc I asked to purchase that was physically in the shop. This was in Rasputin’s on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley (a few blocks north of its current location), which at that time was indisputably the best store in the Bay Area (a position it no longer holds). While browsing, I heard a record by the Move playing over the sound system—but it wasn’t any Move record I’d ever heard before. It was a live recording, and in pretty good fidelity.

I went up to the counter to take a look at the record, which was a Move bootleg I’d never seen before, and have never seen since. In fact, I’ve rarely seen any Move bootlegs, and certainly hadn’t seen one before hearing this LP. It’s so rare, in fact, that I can’t find an image of it on the Internet.

The poster for the Move's 1969 shows at the Fillmore did not boast especially memorable artwork.

The poster for the Move’s 1969 shows at the Fillmore did not boast especially memorable artwork.

I think it had a price tag of $10, which was a lot of money for me then. Still, I asked if I could buy it. The guy behind the counter told me it was not for sale. My guess is it had just come in with a batch of used LPs, and he was keeping it for himself. At least he was polite about it.

There was a happy ending, sort of, to this failure—though I had to wait almost 30 years for it to play out. For in 2012, material from the Move in concert at the Fillmore in 1969—some tracks of which I’d heard, just once, on that bootleg—finally came out legitimately on Live at the Fillmore in 1969. This official release likely had better fidelity than the bootleg, and, as a double CD, had more music than the bootleg LP offered. And I got a review copy, though only as a CDR with a PDF of liner notes. My request for a finished copy when the album came out was ignored—until, a full two years later, it arrived in the mail. That’s the only time that’s happened to me either.


As an aside, it probably isn’t that rare for owners or staff of stores that sell used records to keep prizes from used buys for themselves, though it’s not common for them to actually play such finds in the store. The only time I can recall a staffer actually telling a customer he was keeping a record he’d bought—not from this specific customer, but a customer earlier in the day—was in 1982 at a store in Northeast Philadelphia. The record the owner was keeping for himself? The Blasters’ 1980 debut LP, American Music, on the small independent Rollin’ Rock label—which was indeed already rare even by 1982 (having been pressed in a run of just a couple thousand copies), though it finally got issued on CD (with bonus tracks of course) in 1997.


The Move aren’t a well known band (at least in the US), but the third and final time I had a hard time actually buying an album that was in the bins, the item in question was far more obscure than even a Move bootleg. If I remember correctly, this took place around 1990 in New York’s Soho district in Rocks In Your Head—yet another store, beloved in its day, that’s been gone for years, closing in 2006. I wasn’t expecting to find anything I particularly needed, but there was the first LP by Kahondo Style, 1985’s My Heart’s in Motion.

Kahondo Style’s second album, 1987’s Green Tea & Crocodiles (which I did already and still own), was a quite idiosyncratic and unclassifiable fusion of rock, pop, jazz, new music, art songs, Cole Porter, middle eastern-like chanted background vocals, and more. I knew they’d put out an LP before that, but I’d never seen it. Even a personal visit to its (now also long-gone) US distributor, New Music Distribution Service (within walking distance of Rocks In Your Head), had failed to land a copy.


So I brought the sleeve to the counter, quest fulfilled at last. And guess what? They had the sleeve, but not the actual LP. It was one of those stores that, probably to eliminate shoplifting and other such crimes, only put the covers on display, keeping the discs behind the counter. And they couldn’t find the disc.

So I left the store empty-handed. I haven’t seen My Heart’s in Motion since. I haven’t even heard it—not even once. As limited as the market must be, is anyone going to reissue this?

This is the Kahondo Style LP that I *do* have.

This is the Kahondo Style LP that I *do* have.

San Francisco Financial District Public Open Spaces

Like most San Franciscans, I seldom take official guided tours of my own city. There are the usual excuses – I’ve lived here for many years, I see lots of what’s special about the city on an everyday basis, I don’t want to be mistaken for some out-of-town rube taking in the superficial highlights, there are lots of things to do outside of the city itself in the Bay Area, etc. But as with any great city, even the densest, most overcrowded parts of San Francisco have corners that you’d be very unlikely to detect if you didn’t have someone point them out to you.

The rooftop garden at 343 Sansome Street in downtown San Francisco.

The rooftop garden at 343 Sansome Street in downtown San Francisco.

That’s even the case with the city’s downtown Financial District, as I found out when I recently took the San Francisco City Guides “City Scapes and Public Places” tour. The Financial District is more a place to rush through than linger, with more suits-per-capita than any other neighborhood in the city, sidewalks overpopulated with professionals hastening to and fro, and a skyline dominated by skyscrapers. But there are some areas designated as “public places” that provide some calm and even some offbeat quirkiness, though you’ll sometimes have to look hard for the official plaques that mark them.

I was a little disappointed that there weren’t more such rooftop spaces on the tour – only a couple, in fact. The first of these, on top of the Crocker Galleria, is easy to access through just a few flights of stairs, even if the ones marked “Rooftop Garden” aren’t exactly prominently signposted. Climb that flight, however, and you reach a relatively quiet space, with this unexpected landmark of sorts:

The sundial on top of the Crocker Galleria.

The sundial on top of the Crocker Galleria.

Some wags might remark that it’s a waste of space to have a sundial in a city that’s fogged in at least as often as it’s sunny. Fortunately it was a brilliant sunny morning when I took the tour, though that’s a forecast you can’t count on.

The same sundial in close-up.

The same sundial in close-up.

The other rooftop on the tour is more impressive, and in such a relatively anonymous building that it’s doubtful anyone would come across it by chance. Take the elevator to the 15th floor of the building at 343 Sansome, and you find this rooftop garden, a popular lunch spot for downtown workers:


Look to the northwest, sort of, and you’ll see a building with three odd figures perched on a nearby roof, not visible from street level:


If your camera has a zoom lens of sufficient strength, zero in to find these three angel-of-death-type figures:


The City Scapes and Public Places tour also goes through quite a number of ornate bank lobbies/entrances. Bank lobbies generally aren’t such exciting places to hang out, but a couple of them boast surprisingly arty and humane touches. Take this public open space at the Citigroup Center at 1 Sansome Street:

Palm trees in the court/entrance to the Citigroup building.

Palm trees in the court/entrance to the Citigroup Center.

Odd statue in the Citigroup Center court.

Odd statue in the Citigroup Center court.

Weirder is the lobby near the elevators on the ground floor of the Merchants Exchange Building at 465 California Street. Sculptures of heads of some of San Francisco’s founding financial fathers line the walls, though some of them succeed in making them seem more shifty than trustworthy:


Would you trust these guys with your money?

Would you trust these guys with your money?

The tour ends up near the Transamerica Building, itself one of downtown San Francisco’s most famous landmarks. No, there’s no public open space on the roof; you can’t even pay to go on the roof. Many visitors and residents, however, remain unaware of the nice, if tiny, Redwood Park just a few yards away, with frogs in the fountain:

Fountain in Redwood Park.

Fountain in Redwood Park.

Frogs in the fountain.

Frogs in the fountain.

The Puddle Jumpers sculpture in Redwood Park.

The Puddle Jumpers sculpture in Redwood Park.

The City Scapes and Public Places tour is given at 10am and 1:30pm every Friday, meeting at the Native Sons Monument at Montgomery & Market Streets in downtown San Francisco. Tours are free, though donations are appreciated. More information at (It looks like they might be adding 1:30pm Wednesday tours on a regular basis; check the website’s calendar.) San Francisco City Guides also offers tours of many other areas in San Francisco.

I’m No Country Fool: The True Origins of the Who’s First Single

I wrote a book called Unknown Legends of Rock’n’Roll. I could also write a book called Urban Legends of Rock’n’Roll, meaning those myths about rock history that get perpetuated so often that they’re often repeated as fact. Some of these are major—that rock’n’roll died between Buddy Holly’s death and the arrival of the Beatles in the US, for instance, or that the Beatles failed their Decca Records audition because they were forced to play popular standards (though those comprised only four of the fifteen songs on their audition tape). Maybe the myth addressed by this post will be considered minor in comparison. But the matter of what one side of the Who’s first single was based on is usually misreported, and has become an unusually persistent error.

Advertising for the Who's first single, though they were billed as the High Numbers when "I'm the Face" and "Zoot Suit" were paired on a July 1964 single.

Advertising for the Who’s first single, though they were billed as the High Numbers when “I’m the Face” and “Zoot Suit” were paired on a July 1964 single.

Here’s the basic genesis of the story: in mid-1964 the Who, who had briefly changed their name to the High Numbers, recorded their debut single. Released on July 3, 1964, it featured two songs bearing the songwriting credit of Pete Meaden, a mod then involved in the group’s management. These were, however, in fact blatant rewrites of American blues and soul songs, putting rather contrived—borderline exploitative, even—lyrics celebrating the mod lifestyle to note-for-note copies of US records.

Pete Meaden.

Pete Meaden.

The more famous of the two sides is “I’m the Face,” owing to its wider availability (as it was first reissued as part of the Who’s 1974 Odds & Sods compilation) and having sometimes been reported as being the A-side. (In another mini-myth, as the inner label of the original 45 makes clear, it was the B-side, not the A-side.) The source of the tune is obvious: it’s based on the great Louisiana bluesman Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It,” using a very similar melody and shuffling, irregular rhythm. Though not exactly famous, the song would have been well known to London R&B aficionados by mid-1964—the Yardbirds, with Eric Clapton, had already recorded it for their first LP (though it wouldn’t come out until December), and the Kinks put a cool raveup version on their first LP (released in October).

"I'm the Face" was based on Slim Harpo's "Got Love If You Want It."

“I’m the Face” was based on Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It.”


Both the Yardbirds and the Kinks covered "Got Love If You Want It" on their first LPs.

Both the Yardbirds and the Kinks covered “Got Love If You Want It” on their first LPs.

The other side of the 45—officially, the A-side, though it’s often reported as the flip—was “Zoot Suit,” which had a much more unusual, winding minor melody. Many sources, such as the first big Who biography (Dave Marsh’s Before I Get Old, from 1983), report that this is a cover of “Country Fool,” the B-side of the Showmen’s small 1961 US hit “It Will Stand.” (Note, too, that although “It Will Stand” would soon become revered as one of the greatest odes to rock’n’roll, it was a small hit at the time of its release, not a big one, peaking at #61 in the national charts.) This is also stated in the most recent notable Who book, the excellent Pretend You’re in a War: The Who & the Sixties (2014), in which author Mark Blake writes that “the B-side, ‘Zoot Suit,’ was another Meaden-composed mod anthem, based on the song ‘Country Fool’ by the New Orleans doo wop group the Showmen.”

Although this ad for the Showmen, oddly, doesn't name either of the songs on their "It Will Stand"/"Country Fool" single, it prominently quotes a lyric from "It Will Stand"—"some folks don't understand it" (meaning those adults who slagged rock'n'roll in its early days).

Although this ad for the Showmen, oddly, doesn’t name either of the songs on their “It Will Stand”/”Country Fool” single, it prominently quotes a lyric from “It Will Stand”—”some folks don’t understand it” (meaning those adults who slagged rock’n’roll in its early days).

Since it was the B-side of a hit record that proved unusually durable on oldies radio for many years despite its modest initial chart placing, “Country Fool” has never been hard to find. And in 2015, it’s really easy to find—online, if you must, though it’s come out on several CDs, including the superb four-CD compilation Crescent City Soul: The Sound of New Orleans 1947-1974 (which also includes “It Will Stand”). Even these liner notes add to the chorus of confirmations that “Country Fool” was turned into “Zoot Suit” by the Who/High Numbers, Alan Warner writing that “the rambunctious ‘Country Fool’ was sabotaged in 1964 as ‘Zoot Suit’ by a British group called the High Numbers, who would later find fame as the Who.”

"Country Fool" was issued in the UK, as shown on this single on the London American label.

“Country Fool” was issued in the UK, as shown on this single on the London American label.

But guess what? “Country Fool” doesn’t sound like “Zoot Suit.” Play the two songs back-to-back if you don’t believe me.

And guess double what? Play the Dynamics’ “Misery,” which almost made the US Top 40 (peaking at #44, and reaching the Top Ten in their native Detroit) in late 1963. Except for the lyrics, it sounds exactly like the Who’s “Zoot Suit.”

(It’s on at least a couple CD compilations if you want a hard copy, incidentally, including The Big Top Records Story: Classic New York [sic] Pop 1958-1964. “Misery” is also correctly cited as the source for “Zoot Suit”‘s tune in the revised 2005 edition of Andy Neill and Matt Kent’s excellent Anyway Anyhow Anywhere: The Complete Chronicle of The Who 1958-1978.)

"Misery" was also issued in the UK, and also on the London American label.

“Misery” was also issued in the UK, and also on the London American label.

How could such an obvious mistake have been made—and how can it continue to be made—about who the Who were essentially “covering” on “Zoot Suit” for more than 30 years now? The source turns out to be the “writer” of “Zoot Suit” himself.

For on November 17, 1979, the New Musical Express ran an interview with Pete Meaden (conducted by Steve Turner) in which he was asked about “Zoot Suit.” (Meaden died in July 1978, but the two interviews combined in the NME piece were done shortly before his death.) His response was quite thorough, if in part inaccurate:

“‘Zoot Suit’ was the fashion record of all time—it pinched the backing track of ‘Country Fool’ by the Showmen, which was the B- side of ‘It Will Stand.’ The Showmen are now known as Chairmen Of The Board and ‘It Will Stand’ is the rock’n’roll tribute anthem of all time. I heard the melody, and the night before the session I dreamt up the lyrics, and I wrote them all down—I wrote them down on speed. The actual words were ‘I’m the hippest number in town, And I’ll tell you why’ and it goes on to ‘I wear a Zoot Suit jacket with side-vents five inches long’ and it’s a great song, man…”

Meaden—who, as even that quote confirms, was a heavy amphetamine user, and a patient in a mental hospital when Turner tracked him down in 1975—must have been misremembering the single he’d “pinched.” Obscure US soul singles were almost as prized as pills on the London mod scene, and Meaden must have owned or had access to the 45 of the Dynamics’ “Misery.”

And who were the Dynamics? There’s an amazing amount of detail about the original record, and the Detroit soul group that cut it, on this page on the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends site. This article poses this challenging question: “If Meaden simply rewrote the words, shouldn’t one or both of these songwriters be getting credit for the melody?”

Interestingly, the songwriting credit on the Dynamics’ “Misery” goes to their manager (George “Ernie” Stratton) and voice coach (Anthony Wilson). Yet this article also states that original Dynamics member Fred “Sonny” Baker “said that somehow the credits were listed incorrectly on the record labels resulting in their manager and vocal coach being given undeserved songwriting credits on both sides of the single. Baker vows that he and Warren Tippett wrote ‘Misery.’”

Were the Who aware of any of this when they recorded “Zoot Suit” back in June 1964? Probably not. And the Dynamics almost certainly weren’t either, since “Zoot Suit”/“I’m the Face” was a flop, Accounts of exactly how many copies it sold vary, but total certainly failed to even reach four figures. Only a thousand copies were pressed, and Meaden told Steve Turner that “I bought 250 records off the record company, off Fontana, to get it into the charts.”

An ad for the High Numbers single offers more confirmation that "Zoot Suit" was the A-side, as it's the only song plugged, and "I'm the Face" isn't mentioned.

An ad for the High Numbers single offers more confirmation that “Zoot Suit” was the A-side, as it’s the only song plugged, and “I’m the Face” isn’t mentioned.

So next time you see “Zoot Suit” described as a rewrite of “Country Fool”—and there probably will be a next time, given how many times it’s been reported as such—be aware that the true source was something quite different. And quite cool—“Misery” is a pretty nifty 45, in large part due to that odd winding minor melody. And even if the rewrite wasn’t all that kosher, “Zoot Suit”’s a pretty cool record too—if nowhere near as distinctive and original as the record that would launch the Who into the British charts in early 1965, the Pete Townshend-penned “I Can’t Explain.”

But could they explain where "Zoot Suit" came from?

But could they explain where “Zoot Suit” came from?

The Rolling Stones: Covering the Covers

When you teach a course on the Rolling Stones, as I’ve done three times now for a couple adult-education programs, you talk a lot about their influences. As the Stones covered so many songs by other artists in the 1960s, that often means discussing and playing some tunes they interpreted. Even for someone like me who’s been a fan for forty-five years or so, that leads you to think about and listen to some things that haven’t crossed your mind for a long time, and even to hear and learn some new stuff.

This compilation of songs the Rolling Stones covered was given away with the August 2012 issue of Mojo magazine.

This compilation of songs the Rolling Stones covered was given away with the August 2012 issue of Mojo magazine.

Of the dozens of songs they covered (especially when you count demos, outtakes, and BBC sessions), it’s now struck me that there are a few instances where the Stones probably didn’t hear the original version, learning the material from an actual cover by someone else. This isn’t that rare; the Beatles, for instance, almost certainly learned “I Got to Find My Baby” (which they did twice on the BBC in 1963) from Chuck Berry’s 1960 recording, not the early-1940s original by Doctor Clayton (or even Little Walter’s 1954 version), as you can read about in one of my earlier blogposts. Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” was based not so much on the Big Mama Thornton original (which he was aware of) as a crass Bill Haley-like 1955 cover by early, now-almost-forgotten rock’n’roll group Freddie Bell and the Bell Boys. There must be countless other examples.

Of the covers the Rolling Stones placed on their official recordings (and even counting the high-quality unofficial ones), it strikes me that there are five that they likely learned from covers, rather than the originals. One of them is perhaps their most commercially successful cover version; another is perhaps the most obscure cover they placed on one of their albums. The three others have less interesting paths to the band, probably coming in all cases via their single biggest influence, Chuck Berry. Let’s start with the most obscure such item, Robert Wilkins’s “Prodigal Son,” which appeared on their 1968 album Beggars Banquet.

After the Stones covered "Prodigal Son," this Robert Wilkins LP was reissued to hype that fact on its cover.

After the Stones covered “Prodigal Son,” this Robert Wilkins LP was reissued to hype that fact on its cover.

As has often been stated by historians, Beggars Banquet marked a return by the Stones to a much bluesier sound than they’d favored since starting to write the bulk of their own repertoire around 1965 (and certainly a much bluesier sound than they’d gone for on their 1967 psychedelic LP, Their Satanic Majesties Request). While the band had occasionally gone into acoustic blues of the pre-World War II variety (as on the early Mick Jagger-Keith Richards composition “Good Times, Bad Times,” used on the 1964 B-side of “It’s All Over Now”), Beggars Banquet also went into more Delta-style acoustic blues than any of their previous releases.

All of the Stones would have known something about the form, but the biggest kick in this direction was probably supplied by Keith Richards, who told Guitar Player in 1977, “During that long recording layoff after [the 1967 album] Between the Buttons, I got rather bored with what I was playing on guitar—maybe because we weren’t working, and it was part of that frustration of stopping after all those years and suddenly having nothing to do. So my playing sort of stopped, along with me. Then I started looking into some Twenties and Thirties blues records. Slowly, I began to realize that a lot of them were in very strange tunings.”

This might have been a time when he listened to Robert Wilkins, who made his first body of recordings between 1928 and 1936. One of those recordings (performed in 1929) was “That’s No Way to Get Along,” which musically is nearly identical to the song Wilkins would later—much later—record as “Prodigal Son.” Lyrically, however, it’s totally different. Where “Prodigal Son” is almost a narrative of a, well, prodigal son, “That’s No Way to Get Along” has very basic words about being treated bad by low-down women; crying and falling into self-pity as a result; and telling the basic tale to his mama. The only strong lyrical similarity to “Prodigal Son,” in fact, is in the title phrase “That’s No Way to Get Along,” which is repeated with some variations at the end of the verses.

Amazing original ad for Robert Wilkins's 1929 single "That's No Way to Get Along."

Amazing original ad for Robert Wilkins’s 1929 single “That’s No Way to Get Along.”

Like many of the Delta bluesmen who recorded in the ‘20s and ‘30s, Wilkins was rediscovered during the folk revival of the early-to-mid-‘60s, relaunching a recording and performing career after decades without any discs. In the intervening years he’d become much more religious, in both his life and his music. He was now playing a sort of blues-gospel, reworking “That’s No Way to Get Along” with biblical lyrics. The result was “Prodigal Son,” a ten-minute epic where “That’s No Way to Get Along” had lasted just shy of three.

It’s been reported that the Stones learned, or based their version of, “Prodigal Son” on Wilkins’s version on the compilation The Blues at Newport 1964 Part 2, recorded at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1964. That would make sense; Newport was the biggest folk festival of the time, and the albums recorded there were pretty widely heard by folk and blues fans. It’s also possible, however, that they heard it first, or also heard, the version Wilkins recorded in the studio slightly earlier (in February 1964) for the Piedmont Records LP Reverend Robert Wilkins—Memphis Gospel Singer. By 1964 the Stones were going to the US and had a lot more money than they’d ever had before. It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if Richards and/or some other guys in the band found the Piedmont album in an American record store, or even in a London store that imported folk and blues LPs; Dobell’s, on Charing Cross Road in Central London, was especially known for doing so.

The two 1964 versions are pretty similar, but no matter which one you hear (and both are pretty accessible now), it’s interesting how much the Stones condensed the lyrics. The Stones almost certainly wouldn’t have considering putting a ten-minute blues cover of any kind on a 1968 LP, and knocked “Prodigal Son” down to three minutes, mostly by eliminating a lot of repetition—cutting to the chase, almost. Where Wilkins made whole verses out of singing the same line over and over, Mick Jagger combined the lines into verses. Nonetheless, it’s often still not all that easy to make out the words he’s singing.

Were the Stones even aware that “Prodigal Son” had evolved from the 1929 Wilkins recording of “That’s No Way to Get Along”? Possibly not; in the late 1960s, early blues records weren’t nearly as easy to get (or hear) as they are now. Yet they quite possibly were aware of “That’s No Way to Get Along,” as it had been reissued in 1963 on the Origin Jazz Library compilation LP Mississippi Blues 1927-1940—not exactly common fare at most record stores, but almost certainly in the bins at some record stores the Stones visited.


A more intriguing question is: were the Rolling Stones aware that Wilkins had, in 1928, recorded a number titled “Rolling Stone Blues” (in parts 1 and 2, no less)? It’s pretty well known that the Rolling Stones named themselves after a Muddy Waters song titled “Rollin’ Stone,” first issued on a 1950 single. Here’s guessing, however, that they hadn’t heard “Rolling Stone Blues,” which in 1962 was very hard to find or hear, especially in the UK. It wouldn’t even get reissued until the 1967 compilation Mississippi Blues Vol. 1 (1927-1942). The term “rolling stone” had already been in slang use by the time Wilkins recorded “Rolling Stone Blues,” but that might well be the first time it was used in a blues song.

As a final footnote to the “Prodigal Son” saga, the song was mistakenly listed as a Jagger-Richards composition when Beggars Banquet was first released. This was changed on future editions, this fine March 1, 1969 Rolling Stone article by Tony Glover  (of the US blues-folk act Koerner, Ray & Glover)  detailing how the matter was brought to the attention of the group and their record label. Wilkins, stated Peter Kuyendall (who owned the song rights) in the piece, “seemed quite happy that people will be hearing his song. It couldn’t bother him that a rock group has done it.”

If “Prodigal Son” was one of the more obscure covers the Rolling Stones released, “Time Is On My Side” was arguably the most famous. Certainly that’s the case in the US, where it became the band’s first Top Ten hit in late 1964 (though it wasn’t released as a single in their native UK, where a cover of “Little Red Rooster” was issued instead, making #1 in the British charts). The group learned the song from New Orleans soul singer Irma Thomas’s more gospel-flavored version. But Thomas’s rendition, as good as it was, wasn’t the original. The original, rather weirdly, was by famed jazz trombonist Kai Winding, who put it out as a single on Verve Records in October 1963.

Though the vocals on Kai Winding's version of "Time Is On My Side" were handled by well-known soul singers, they were only credited as "Vocal Group" on the label.

Though the vocals on Kai Winding’s version of “Time Is On My Side” were handled by well-known soul singers, they were only credited as “Vocal Group” on the label.

The choice of material wasn’t as strange as it might first appear. In an era where off-the-wall instrumental hit singles were not uncommon, Winding had scored one a few months earlier with “More.” In truth, that hit was more memorable for the lines played by Jean-Jacques Perry on the Ondioline (which sounded like a high-pitched, keening organ) than it was for Winding’s low-profile trombone. But when it came time for a follow-up that might likewise make the pop charts, songwriter-producer Jerry Ragovoy was contacted. He passed on one of his compositions, “Time Is On My Side.” (Ragovoy would become most famous for co-writing the soul songs “Piece of My Heart,” “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder),” “Get It While You Can,” and “My Baby,” all of which were covered by Janis Joplin.)

After being used to the Stones’ version for fifty years, it’s a shock to hear Winding’s single. The melody is all there, and are the words to the chorus and the parts of the verse where the title is sung. But nothing else is there word-wise, the singers credited only as “vocal group” on the 45 oohing wordlessly as Winding plays trombone. It’s as if they’ve recorded everything for a full vocal number, but simply forgotten to dub or punch in those parts of the verses (and there’s no spoken rap in the middle, that being an instrumental break again dominated by trombone). For all its incomplete feel, the “vocal group” really wails with soul near the end. And no wonder – the group were top New York session singers Dionne Warwick (actually by then a star), her sister Dee Dee Warwick, and Cissy Houston (mother of Whitney).

The missing words weren’t a mistake. Ragovoy simply hadn’t written any. In a way, it’s like numerous easy listening arrangements of popular hits in the 1960s, where those pesky verses were ignored, the anonymous session singers only bothering with the title and chorus. The strategy was employed on numerous early reggae covers of British and American hits too. If nothing else, it must have saved on the typesetting bills for the lyric sheets used at the recording sessions.

In most respects, however, Kai Winding’s arrangement is fairly similar to the one used on Irma Thomas’s cover. When she did her version in 1964, however, the verses were filled in with more lyrics, as was the instrumental break (with a spoken rap). Those words were devised by Jimmy Norman, which is why the writing credits are for Norman Meade and Jimmy Norman. But who’s that Norman Meade? That’s a pseudonym for Jerry Ragovoy. Got all that? And when the Stones covered Thomas’s cover, a near-instrumental for a jazz trombonist somehow became a British Invasion hit for a blues-rock band.


The last few cases in which the Rolling Stones probably didn’t hear the original aren’t as interesting as “Prodigal Son” and “Time Is On My Side,” but still worth noting. “Confessin’ the Blues,” on their second US LP 12 X 5 in 1964 (and also on the UK EP 5 X 5 that year), is a fairly slow and standard blues that’s one of their less celebrated early tracks. It was first done as a piano-dominated shuffle way back in 1941 by jazz-blues pianist Jay McShann, with Walter Brown on vocals. Chuck Berry did a peppier blues-rockin’ version on his 1960 album Rockin’ at the Hops, which had no less than three other songs the Stones would record: “Bye Bye Johnny,” “Down the Road Apiece,” and “Let It Rock.” (Not to mention “I Got to Find My Baby,” which as noted earlier was done by the Beatles on the BBC.)

One would think the Stones would be far, far more likely to be familiar with Berry’s version than McShann’s. In his fine 1976 disc-oriented career overview The Rolling Stones: An Illustrated Record, Roy Carr doesn’t seem to think so, noting that “surprisingly, the Stones keep to McShann’s slower interpretation.” My guess is, however, that the Stones did base their version on Berry’s, simply slowing the tempo way down, from rock to blues. One other piece of evidence in favor of Berry being the model is that while the Stones omit lyrics that appear in Berry’s interpretation, there are even more lyrics in McShann’s that Mick Jagger doesn’t sing. And Mick sticks much closer to the order of Berry’s lyrics than the order of McShann’s. The order’s exactly the same as Chuck’s version, in fact, though one of the verses Berry uses is axed. (It’s also possible the Stones were influenced by harmonica great Little Walter’s midtempo arrangement of the song, which he recorded for a single in January 1958.)


Along the same lines, there’s probably no one who doubts the Rolling Stones found “Down the Road Apiece” (on their 1965 LPs The Rolling Stones Now! in the US and The Rolling Stones No. 2 in the UK) through Chuck Berry. It was first done, however, in 1940 as a piano-based boogie by the Will Bradley Trio. Keith Richards copies Chuck Berry’s intro riff pretty much note-for-note, so there’s really no question the Stones took Berry’s interpretation as their model. Berry is also certainly the source for “Don’t Lie to Me,” first done as a piano-guitar blues with a kazoo solo in 1940 by Tampa Red, and redone on Berry’s 1961 album New Juke Box Hits, Fats Domino having done a cover in 1951 as well. The Stones recorded this in June 1964, but didn’t put it out until the 1975 outtake collection Metamorphosis, by which time the title had somehow changed from “Don’t You Lie to Me” to just “Don’t Lie to Me.”


The Rolling Stones learned, performed, and recorded quite a few songs from the above two Chuck Berry LPs.

The Rolling Stones learned, performed, and recorded quite a few songs from the above two Chuck Berry LPs.

New Juke Box Hits was also where the Rolling Stones learned “Route 66,” one of the most popular tracks on their 1964 debut album. Written by Bobby Troup, it was a big hit in a far more polite, jazzy version for Nat “King” Cole in 1946, back in the days when he led the King Cole Trio. But the weirdest intermediary version you could imagine helped the Stones learn the lyrics, though not the way they played it (which was taken from Berry’s version, as is obvious again from how the band does a more guitar-oriented variation of the opening piano-dominated riff of Chuck’s track).

For according to the memoir of Jimmy Phelge—the same “Phelge” who was honored by half of the Nanker-Phelge pseudonym used on early Rolling Stones group compositions—they learned the lyrics not from Berry’s version, but…Perry Como’s. Phelge shared a flat with Mick, Keith, and Brian Jones in 1963, and when he moved in, he brought with him a Perry Como LP. After the founder Stones were done laughing at him, they noticed that “Route 66” was on it. According to Phelge’s book Nankering with the Rolling Stones: The Untold Story of the Early Days, Jones then suggested to Jagger, “Why don’t you get the words down?”

Wrote Phelge, “Mick played it three more times until he had finished writing all the words down. When Mick had finished Keith leapt over to the record player. He hastily removed the Como album then said, ‘Thank Christ, let’s have some Chuck Berry.’”

From Robert Wilkins to Perry Como…you never thought we’d get there. Did you? But there’s one thing that links them together—recordings they did influenced cover versions done by the Rolling Stones, if in the most different ways imaginable.

The Perry Como version of "Route 66" from which Mick Jagger wrote down lyrics could well have been on this LP.

The Perry Como version of “Route 66” from which Mick Jagger wrote down lyrics could well have been on this LP.


The Top Ten Unreleased Albums From the Mid-1960s Through the Early 1970s

In late 2014, the release of a six-CD box set of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes got some people thinking about major bodies of rock recordings that, for whatever reasons, were not released at the time they were made. And, in some cases, still aren’t released, or had to wait decades to be made officially available.


For those unfamiliar with rock history, the Basement Tapes might seem to be a singular event. Why would a top rock icon not put out music which he’d obviously invested a lot of time in, and which could certainly have been made into a releasable album had some more effort been put into the project when it was recorded? Was there some sort of one-of-a-kind accident involved, or some legal obstruction?

As it turns out, however, lots of artists from the 1960s and early 1970s had albums they didn’t put out, didn’t finish, or didn’t even start despite conceiving grand plans for them. In fact, it seems like almost every big rock act from the period had an unreleased album in their history, including the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Who, Kinks, David Bowie, and others. Not a few of them had more than one unreleased album or project that never came out, including Dylan himself. It’s almost like having an unreleased album was a rite of passage, or one more badge confirming your status among rock’s elite.

That did get me to thinking: what were the best unreleased albums of what we might call the dawn of classic album-oriented rock, from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s? Especially if we count not just unreleased albums that were actually finished and could have come out as-was (of which there actually weren’t too many), but also material from sessions that were working toward an album; live and demo recordings; and even projects for which not a note was recorded, but an ambitious album definitely envisioned?

What follows is my Top Ten list of such albums, ranked according not only to their quality, but also to their historical significance and the potential of their importance had they been completed and/or released. Certainly it doesn’t include every such record—there are at least fifty such things if you count artists of major and minor note, and no doubt thousands if you count everyone who recorded an unreleased album, or tried to. But it does have some of the most famous ones, as well as a few endeavors that might be unknown even to many big classic rock fans.

1. The Beach Boys, Smile

The top four albums on this list are, I would guess, identical to or close to the top four albums most likely to be selected by many fans and critics, though the order might differ according to the listener. Smile could well be the most famous of these, and—like each of the other three records—has even inspired a book, or at least (in the case of the Who’s Lifehouse) half a book.


So to reduce the epic story to a paragraph seems a bit minimalist, but here goes: after the Beach Boys’ 1966 masterpiece Pet Sounds, head Beach Boy Brian Wilson wanted to make a yet more ambitious LP, one that might have them challenge the Beatles’ position as the top band in the world. Many sessions were laid down in the last months of 1966, and the first few months in 1967, that found Wilson (and, at least as participants in the sessions, the Beach Boys) venturing into territory far more avant-garde than any they or most of their peers had explored. For many reasons, including Wilson’s increasing instability; frustration that the Beatles and other competitors were moving ahead while the project foundered; reluctance of the other Beach Boys, particularly singer Mike Love, to follow Wilson’s visions; and disorganization that hindered the tracks’ completion, the album was abandoned in 1967.

Almost immediately, some excerpts from the sessions appeared on Beach Boys records; the #1 1966 single “Good Vibrations,” after all, was part of them, as was the smaller hit “Heroes and Villains.” Starting in the early 1980s, bootlegs of unreleased sessions appeared, some of them attempting to simulate what might have been Smile’s contents and running order. In 2011, an official box set, The Smile Sessions, finally appeared, one of the discs being a more or less official version of what the album would/should have sounded like.

My own feeling is that the best of the Smile sessions—including not just the most accessible songs a la “Good Vibrations,” but also some of the most structurally daring and experimental—are glorious, especially in those sections incorporating melodies of almost classical beauty, and vocal harmonies as daring in their sophistication as almost any in pop music. Yet I also feel that the tracks would not add up to an album comparable in worth to the more concise, focused Pet Sounds. And, despite the officially sanctioned version of Smile, they never sound to me like something that A) was totally finished or B) would add up to the most coherent whole. And some of the humor, which was an important ingredient to the project, is pretty corny and not-so-funny.

The "new improved" 1985 version of the Beach Boys' Smile bootleg, with liner notes by "Nancy Reagan."

The “new improved” 1985 version of the Beach Boys’ Smile bootleg, with liner notes by “Nancy Reagan.”

Also, I never felt as if the official version, or the many unofficial simulations, got the track sequencing or “final cut” selections right. It’s strange when some Smile bootlegs I’ve heard seem to have a better flow than the official 2011 one, but that’s how it comes off to me. In part that’s because it, like most of the records listed here, actually was never finished. Had it somehow been seen through to completion back in 1967, probably all sorts of things would have been different, from the running order and song selection to the mixes.

Still, Smile, for all its warts, is the Beach Boys—and it is a Beach Boys record, not a Brian Wilson solo project—aiming for their highest heights, and sometimes coming close or succeeding. Indeed, it’s pop-rock as a whole aiming for its highest heights, and sometimes coming close or succeeding. For those reasons, it is the most significant unreleased album of all time, if one that never quite captured what Brian Wilson had in mind, perhaps because its scope might have been beyond what mere humans could attain.

2. The Beatles, Get Back

The Beatles were working toward an album that would have been called Get Back in January 1969. But like Smile, the tapes recorded for it (and subsequently bootlegged, perhaps more than any other body of recorded work) were more an accumulation of sessions than a completed LP. And, by the Beatles’ matchless standards, Get Back wouldn’t have been one of their best albums, or even one of their better ones, although it did have some great songs, like “Let It Be,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” and “Get Back” itself.

The Beatles got as far as taking a picture in early 1969 for a projected "Get Back" album, whose cover (subtly re-creating/satirizing the photo and cover designed used for their first LP, "Please Please Me," in 1963)  probably would have looked something like this.

The Beatles got as far as taking a picture in early 1969 for a projected Get Back album, whose cover (subtly re-creating/satirizing the photo and cover designed used for their first LP, Please Please Me, in 1963) probably would have looked something like this.

For even more reasons than Smile, Get Back never appeared. The Beatles were unhappy with the January 1969 sessions in general, never really agreeing on whether they should be assembled into an LP, or how they should be assembled into an LP. The project was hindered by simultaneous plans to film a documentary of the sessions (to become the Let It Be movie) and return to live performance (an idea that George Harrison in particular nixed, though they did so, in a limited way, on the Apple headquarters rooftop concert that concludes the film).

Had they pulled off what was originally planned—getting back to their roots by recording live without overdubs, and even making the album a concert LP comprised of wholly live performances of new material—Get Back would have been quite interesting. Or great, had all the songs been as great as “Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” and “Let It Be.” But with material that was more good than great, and a lack of enthusiasm (and even fighting) within the group, the Beatles couldn’t summon the will to polish it off. Abbey Road came out before the Beatles, or some of them, enlisted Phil Spector to produce an album drawn mostly from the sessions, Let It Be, which in turn would finally push Paul McCartney to announce his departure from the band.

There were versions of Get Back that probably came close to getting released, particularly on acetates cut by engineer/producer Glyn Johns that were subsequently bootlegged. There was even a cover shot for the album, originally planned for early 1969 release before getting delayed, and before Abbey Road took precedence. It’s not the best Beatles, but even imperfect Beatles is better than almost anything else. And, because it’s the only close-to-unreleased-album of sorts in the catalog of the best rock group of all time, it’s one of the most important unreleased albums by anyone, even if it doesn’t quite make #1 on my list.

The "Get Back" sessions are thoroughly described and analyzed in this book.

The Get Back sessions are thoroughly described and analyzed in this book.

Critical description of all known unreleased Beatles recordings, their most crucial unissued film footage, and more. Updated with 30,000 more words to reflect newly circulating material and additional information that's come to light since the original edition. Click here or on the cover image above to order through Amazon.

I wrote much more extensively on the Get Back”sessions in my book The Unreleased Beatles; Music and Film.

3. The Who, Lifehouse

Lifehouse is a little different than Smile and Get Back, as by the time sessions including the material got underway in earnest, plans were waning (and then abandoned) for the ambitious album that was the original intention. If not the intention of the Who as a whole, it was certainly the intention of principal songwriter Pete Townshend, who wanted to make a concept/story album of sorts after the success of 1969’s rock opera Tommy. In some respects, Lifehouse would have been more ambitious, incorporating more media than just sound recording and performance.

This bootleg of Lifehouse material uses an outtake from the photo session for Who's Next on the cover.

This bootleg of Lifehouse material uses an outtake from the photo session for Who’s Next on the cover.

A much fuller back story, if I may advertise myself for a minute, is in my book Won’t Get Fooled Again: The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia, which covers the Who’s career in the early 1970s, focusing on their Lifehouse and Quadrophenia projects in particular. But to boil down an impossibly complicated scenario to a few sentences, Townshend envisioned a rock opera of sorts built around a future in which the population, in the wake of environmental devastation, is controlled by a totalitarian government that doles out necessities accessible by “experience suits.” Rebels in opposition to the regime plan and stage a rock concert in defiance of the authorities. At the concert, performers (probably the Who) and audience merge into one and transcend the trials of this bleak world into a more enlightened state.

But Lifehouse wouldn’t just have been an album (probably a double album, like Tommy was). It would also have been a movie, probably starring the Who, and probably incorporating actual concert sequences. And Townshend and the Who, he hoped, would get inspiration by workshopping the material in front of real-life audiences, whose feedback and participation would provide grist for songs, and whose personalities could even be converted into patterns that could be programmed through synthesizers.

It was all too much for even the supportive fellow Who members to handle, or even understand. After some aborted sessions in New York in March 1971, the Who started their next album back in London. Under the advice of engineer/producer Glyn Johns, it was determined to scrap the double-LP concept idea (which in truth was on the verge of being abandoned anyway) and concentrate on an album of unconnected songs. Most of the songs selected for that album, 1971’s Who’s Next, had indeed been written for Lifehouse, but it didn’t add up to a story or opera, and many Lifehouse songs were not included.

You could make a good argument for switching the order of Lifehouse and Get Back on this list, as the Lifehouse songs that did make it onto Who’s Next were considerably more significant to the Who’s career than the Get Back material was to the Beatles’. The failure of Lifehouse to exist in even an approximately finished album (as Get Back did), however, is a strike against it, and the Beatles’ status as the #1 rock group (though the Who rank up near the top) a blow in favor of Get Back.

There's much more information about Lifehouse in my book Won't Get Fooled Again: The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia.

There’s much more information about Lifehouse in my book Won’t Get Fooled Again: The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia.

Had Lifehouse been completed, it would have been the realization of one of rock’s most ambitious projects, bar none. It didn’t get completed, however, for some of the same reasons Smile didn’t: it bit off more than it could chew, and it never really got organized into a coherent sequence of songs. In addition, not many people point out another flaw in the enterprise: the best half of Lifehouse’s songs (most of which would make Who’s Next) are, with a few exceptions, far, far superior to the worst half of Lifehouse’s songs (most of which have come out, in dribs and drabs, on various Pete Townshend solo projects and Townshend/Who archival releases).

4. Bob Dylan, The Basement Tapes

Plenty of critics, and some fans, would put these recordings—which have actually “come out” in several iterations—at #1 on this list, not #4. Some might even judge it one of the greatest bodies of recorded work of all time, not just one of the greatest bodies of unreleased work. Some have certainly championed it as one of the most influential in its rebuff of psychedelia for eccentric roots rock. At the time they were recorded in 1967, though, their influence was mostly limited to acetates of a dozen or so of the best songs, which were passed around to some other artists to hear and sometimes cover (and which were bootlegged, though not immediately).

One of many bootlegs of the Basement Tapes, now made obsolete by the 2014 release of The Complete Basement Tapes.

One of many bootlegs of the Basement Tapes, now made obsolete by the 2014 release of The Basement Tapes Complete.

To reprint what I wrote in my mini-review of the six-CD box set The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 in my list of top ten reissues of 2014 (where I also placed it #4, as it happens):

“While I don’t find this as godhead as many critics and Americana bands do, this six-CD box rounds up everything usable known to have survived from the quirky 1967 recordings Dylan made with the Band. This found the musicians working counter to most trends in rock music that year, mixing folk, country, blues, gospel, and rock’n’roll on idiosyncratic original Dylan material (sometimes written with help from Band members). They also ran through many covers, some quite obscure, though these have a rather loose, informal warm-up feel. So do some of the originals, many of which seem casual toss-offs or frustratingly incomplete. The most fully formed and celebrated songs—generally, the ones that also appeared on the 1975 Basement Tapes double LP—are available on a two-CD distilled version of this box, The Basement Tapes Raw.”

A whole three months later, my opinion’s unchanged. If you want a much longer review I wrote of the box set, it’s in the winter 2014 (#6) issue of Flashback magazine. Part of it offers an assertion I realize will not be universally popular among Dylan devotees:

“The basement tapes that were recorded and eventually excavated have often been hailed as a necessary antidote to the indulgent psychedelia that was threatening to remove rock music from the roots that had made it such a potent force since the mid-1950s. That’s one view, but it can also be fairly observed, I think, that if Dylan was deliberately turning his back on psychedelia, he was also missing out on a lot of exciting innovations. The Basement Tapes might have a more straightforward, no-nonsense approach than Sgt. Pepper, The Doors, and Surrealistic Pillow, but it doesn’t match the peaks of those albums either, or even the peaks of Dylan’s more recklessly risky mid-‘60s electric LPs. Canonizing the Basement Tapes as the sessions that brought rock back to its senses again and pointed the proper way forward, as a number of past and recent critics seem to do, seems to me a thoughtless dismissal of much great music of the same era, and an inaccurately revisionist distortion of the Basement Tapes’ actual impact and significance.”

If you want to read a book-length history of the Basement Tapes by a respected musician and critic who likes them more than I do, I recommend Sid Griffin’s Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, The Band, and the Basement Tapes. Whatever one’s opinion of the material, it would be interesting to know what effect they might have had if the best of the material had been officially released as a single or double LP back in late 1967 or early 1968, whether instead of or in addition to the Band-less Dylan LP that did appear, John Wesley Harding. But that’s one question we’ll never have answered.

Sid Griffin's book Million Dollar Bash has a wealth of info about the Basement Tapes.

Sid Griffin’s book Million Dollar Bash has a wealth of info about the Basement Tapes.

5. The Velvet Underground, The Lost Fourth Album

Here we reach a group of songs that, unlike the previous four, don’t seem to have been recorded with a specific purpose in mind. Even the Basement Tapes served the function of getting Dylan back into music-making after his 1966 motorcycle accident; getting some compositions into circulation for other artists to cover, which he said at least once was the motivation behind their creation; and working on some new material with the Band. And the recordings that resulted did get a name, even if they didn’t come out in any album form until the mid-1970s.

In contrast, the tracks that Velvet Underground recorded for MGM in the studio in 1969 just seemed like a stack of random sessions, rather than something intended to be grouped into an LP. They never did get a name, even though all the known ones have come out on archival releases, beginning with the 1985 outtakes compilation VU (some had been bootlegged earlier). They’re not even colloquially known as “the lost fourth album”; each of these entries needs a title, and that’s about the best one I could come up with.

"Foggy Notion" was one of the songs recorded by the Velvet Underground in 1969 for their possible "lost" album.

“Foggy Notion” was one of the songs recorded by the Velvet Underground in 1969 for their possible “lost” album.

But considering the Velvets’ status as one of the greatest bands of the ‘60s, and one that (unlike the previous four artists on this list) didn’t release that many albums, any grouping of unreleased songs recording within a five-month or so period is significant. And between May 6 and October 1, 1969, they cut about 15 songs—enough to make an album with a little left over. As I wrote in my book White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day:

“What would a fourth MGM Velvet Underground album have included, had the label released it? Four decades later, we can only guess, but the tracklisting might have been something like this: ‘Rock & Roll,’ ‘Ocean,’ ‘Lisa Says,’ ‘One Of These Days,’ ‘She’s My Best Friend,’ ‘I Can’t Stand It,’ ‘We’re Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together,’ ‘Andy’s Chest,’ ‘I Found A Reason,’ ‘Foggy Notion,’ ‘Ride Into The Sun,’ and ‘I’m Sticking With You.’ It might not have been a record as good as the first three VU LPs, but it would still have been a pretty good one, and perhaps even better than that, had the group later added some of their newer songs from the fall of 1969 [as heard on live tapes from the time], such as ‘New Age’ and ‘Sweet Jane,’ to the mix.”

The material was generally lighter and more good-natured in tone than their first three albums, leading to speculation that perhaps they were saving their best new songs for an album that would appear on another label. As I also wrote in White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day:

“[VU manager] Steve Sesnick might [have] already [been] maneuvering, as he later claim[ed], to get the band off MGM; maybe the band in turn [were] walking the fine line of making it look like [they were] working on a record, but making sure the recordings [weren’t] in good enough shape to be released. And yet Sterling Morrison [would] later claim to have been under the impression that the Velvets were working on a fourth album, while as Maureen Tucker puts it in the Peel Slowly And See [box set] liner notes: “As far as I knew, and know, we were making a record. I also believe we were trying to get out from MGM. I don’t know what the plan was. Maybe it was just to not finish it enough. Some of those tracks don’t even have [finished] vocals on them. Maybe we were doing it just to keep them from saying ‘We need a record!’ I’m sure the way we did all those tracks had to do with trying to get away from MGM.”

There's more info about the VU's "lost" fourth album in my book White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day.

There’s more info about the VU’s “lost” fourth album in my book White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day.

What the Velvets and MGM were planning with this album of sorts—and how the Velvets managed to get off MGM and sign to Atlantic to do their 1970 album Loaded, despite having signed a contract to MGM running through May 1, 1971—remain among the more interesting unsolved mysteries of 1960s rock. At least the 1969 recordings themselves are no longer a mystery to the public; all of the known ones are on the super-deluxe box set edition of their third album, as well as getting strewn (sometimes in different mixes) throughout other archival releases.

All of the known 1969 studio recordings that might have been considered for the Velvet Underground's "lost" album are on this deluxe edition of their third album, which was simply titled The Velvet Underground when it came out in early 1969.

All of the known 1969 studio recordings that might have been considered for the Velvet Underground’s “lost” album are on this deluxe edition of their third album, which was simply titled  The Velvet Underground when it came out in early 1969.

And as some consolation, a double album of live unreleased recordings from late 1969, including some versions of songs they’d cut in the studio earlier that year, did come out in 1974. And that double LP, 1969 Velvet Underground Live, is not just one of the greatest Velvet Underground records, or one of the greatest concert records, but one of the greatest records by anybody. So what the Velvets were up to in 1969 was pretty much properly documented, and reflected better by these live recordings than their studio ones of the same year, even if it took five years for 1969 Velvet Underground Live to get released.

6. Jimi Hendrix, First Rays of the New Rising Sun

In late 1968, just a couple years into his career as a bandleader, Jimi Hendrix issued his third album, Electric Ladyland—a double LP, no less. He’d have about two years left to live, but he never did manage to put out another studio LP, although his 1970 concert album Band of Gypsys did include some new original material. The absence of a new studio album was all the more frustrating given that he recorded prolifically during this period. Yet he couldn’t seem to get it together to finish the record, decide on the running order, conclude his tinkering with the tracks, and so forth.

Much confusion continues to hover over what Jimi Hendrix would have issued as his fourth studio album, and indeed over what it would have even been called. As early as a January 1969 BBC interview, he announced two albums that were in the pipeline, one to be called Little Band of Gypsys (presumably the origin of the name of his Band of Gypsys group in late 1969) and the other First Rays of the New Rising Sun. “The Americans are looking for a leader in their music,” he declared. “First Rays of the New Rising Sun will be about what we have seen. If you give deeper thoughts in your music then the masses will buy them.” By contrast, Little Band of Gypsys, he told NME, would be a “jam-type” affair.

Although it’s thought that the fourth album would have most likely been a double LP, in fact Hendrix had enough material by the summer of 1970 to consider a three-disc set. Typically of his mindset in his final days, however, he couldn’t decide on either which songs to include or the size of the release. Even the title was uncertain, with People, Hell and Angels and Straight Ahead also under consideration.

Hendrix did compile a handwritten selection for three LP sides of First Rays of the New Rising Sun that surfaced in 1994, and was reprinted in the November 1994 issue of the French magazine Folk & Rock. This would have gone as follows:

Side A: “Dolly Dagger,” “Night Bird Flying” (though he wasn’t totally sure where to place this), “Room Full of Mirrors,” “Belly Button Window,” “Freedom”

Side B: “Ezy Ryder,” “Astro Man,” “Drifting,” “Straight Ahead”

Side C: “Drifter’s Escape,” “Coming Down Hard on Me,” “Beginnings,” “Cherokee Mist,” “Angel.”

While an album titled First Rays of the New Rising Sun was assembled from these sessions and released on CD in 1997, it’s important to note that this was not a ready-to-go record that Hendrix had finished, but an approximation of what it might have sounded like and which songs would have been selected. No such record could be posthumously compiled, as no one knew with absolute certainty what songs he would have included, and what additional production work he might have done on the ones he’d laid down in the studio, no matter how complete they might have seemed to others. It doesn’t even follow the order, even approximately, of his handwritten list for three LP sides, and doesn’t include some of the songs from that list (such as “Drifter’s Escape”), adding a few (like “Stepping Stone”) that were not on his list:


If there’s to be a collection of such material, however, First Rays of the New Rising Sun is undoubtedly the best one that’s yet been produced. At 68 minutes, it’s considerably longer than the ten-track LP from March 1971, The Cry of Love, that represented the first attempt to make something of these sessions. First Rays of the New Rising Sun has all ten of the songs heard on The Cry of Love and adds seven more, including a few of the more notable ones from this era, such as “Room Full of Mirrors,” “Dolly Dagger,” “Stepping Stone,” and “Izabella.” And it (as well as The Cry of Love) is certainly preferable to the similarly intended 1995 CD Voodoo Soup, which had less songs and new overdubs by Knack drummer Bruce Gary on a couple tracks.

More important than the packaging and speculation as to what Hendrix was up to, however, is the music. And though it inevitably doesn’t hang together as well as his three actual studio albums, or contain material quite as impressive, First Rays of the New Rising Sun does offer what for the most part are decent songs with imaginative production, often with a more upbeat mood than you’d expect given the reports of his internal anguish in his final days. “Angel” and “Dolly Dagger” are the standouts, but there’s some welcome cosmic humor and wistfulness in “Astro Man” and “Belly Button Window,” and generally pleasing uplifting spiritual qualities to some of the rest without forsaking his blues-rock base. Some of the tracks nonetheless skirt nondescript blues-rock or riffs that haven’t quite fully developed into songs, but in hindsight this collection offers hope that Hendrix was easing his way back toward discovering his songcraft without abandoning his technological wizardry.

This isn’t a complete overview of the songs Jimi was working on post-Electric Ladyland, missing, for instance, “Message to Love,” which he was featuring in concert. If it’s considered even an approximation of his fourth album, there’s also a slight sense of letdown in that there isn’t nearly the sense of creative advancement as there’d been with each of the LPs he did with the original Experience. It’s a highly worthwhile encapsulation of his final group of studio outings, but it’s not on the level of Electric Ladyland or Are You Experienced?

A common thread that runs through several of these albums—Smile, Get Back, and Lifehouse—is a seeming inability to complete or follow through on an album blueprint that had obvious promise, or possible genius. Perhaps these failures were attributable to some combination of over-perfectionism, self-doubt as to the worth of the material, or inability to stick to the original concept. Hendrix’s fourth album might not have had as definite a concept as the above-mentioned trio of records, but likewise seems to have fallen prey to some of the same difficulties.

The book Black Gold goes into detail not on the material recorded for The FIrst Rays of the Rising Sun, but all of Hendrix's unreleased material.

The book Black Gold goes into detail not on the material recorded for The FIrst Rays of the Rising Sun, but all of Hendrix’s unreleased material.

7. The Byrds, Unrealized 1968 Double-LP Concept Album on the History of 20th Century Music

I realize the above title sounds like a put-on, but though this project was never titled, Byrds leader Roger McGuinn did want to make a record like this. It’s unlike any other item on this list in that there’s no actual unreleased album of music associated with the concept, or even sessions of unreleased music associated with the concept. It is, however, to me the most interesting of ideas for albums by major bands that were at least discussed and considered, but never actually embarked upon, let alone completed. Here’s the story:

For the Byrds’ follow-up to The Notorious Byrd Brothers—their fifth album, and their last done with David Crosby, who was fired partway through its recording—McGuinn had planned an ambitious double album that would cover no less than the entire history of twentieth-century popular music. As McGuinn noted in Johnny Rogan’s massive biography Byrds: Requiem For the Timeless: Vol. 1, “It was going to be a chronological thing. Like old-time bluegrass, modern country music, rock’n’roll, then space music. It was meant to be a five-stage chronology.”

Adds Rogan in the book, “McGuinn spoke about his plans, confident that he had the full consent of the other members [who were, at that point, original Byrd bassist Chris Hillman, new drummer Kevin Kelley, and new singer/guitarist Gram Parsons]. They planned to cut 25 or 30 tracks, culminating in a double album which he promised would be released by early summer [1968].” A small sampling of what the final leg of that journey might have sounded like, the outtake “Moog Raga,” was eventually issued more than 20 years later. There was no rock or country in this instrumental experiment by McGuinn to fuse Indian ragas with the latest (although it now sounds primitive) in synthesizer technology.

Unusual poster for a Byrds concert at a benefit for presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, shortly before he was assassinated in 1968.

Unusual poster for a Byrds concert at a benefit for presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy on May 24, 1968, less than a couple weeks before he was assassinated.

His double-album dream would be unfulfilled, however, as both Hillman and David Crosby’s replacement, Gram Parsons, lobbied successfully for an all-out country album. “That was more Roger’s deal,” Hillman told me [when interviewed for my book Jingle Jangle Morning: Folk-Rock in the 1960s] of tracks like “Moog Raga” and Younger Than Yesterday’s “C.T.A.-102,” which had matched another proto-country-rock track with weird electronic simulations of space alien voices. “I would play on it, but it wasn’t something I was involved in, other than as the bass player. He had that side of him, musically, that was not my style of music. It really wasn’t something that I loved that much. But I was a player, and that’s his piece of material, so I supported it. But I sort of dragged him into the country stuff, so it works both ways. And he performed quite well with that [country] stuff.”

Hillman, unlike McGuinn, has no regrets that the double-album history of twentieth-century music never happened. “With all due respect, I didn’t want a bunch of ‘C.T.A.-102’s or ‘Moog Raga’ or whatever that stuff is. He had that Moog synthesizer; then, it was like owning a computer in 1955. It took up the whole room. It made a lot of noise. It wasn’t really musical. It was like a toy, a gadget. But it was interesting. I respect him; he was following something that intrigued him, and he likes electronics.

“It didn’t work for me, and I’m glad it didn’t happen. ’Cause it would have made no sense at all. Although there weren’t that many strong parameters then; you could sort of do those kind of projects, record company budget willing, on that end. But to put the two of them [traditional and electronic styles] together would have been a little crazy. It would have been an interesting separate project, but either I didn’t understand what he was doing, or I just didn’t like it. I’m glad we did the Sweetheart [of the Rodeo, the 1968 country-rock LP they recorded instead] as it was.”

“I couldn’t get anybody to support me on that,” acknowledged McGuinn when I interviewed him for the same book. “Chris was behind Gram, and Gram wanted to do straight country, and that was it. It would have been fun if we could have pulled it off. I agree it was extremely ambitious, and it’s almost doubtful that we could have done it. But I would love to have tried, at that time. Basically, we did do it, not just in one album, but in a series of albums. We’ve done old-time music, and almost every genre you can think of.”

Single with a couple outtakes from Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the album the Byrds recorded instead of Roger McGuinn's ambitious two-LP history of twentieth century music.

Single with a couple outtakes from Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the album the Byrds recorded instead of Roger McGuinn’s ambitious two-LP history of twentieth century music.

Here’s one of my many opinions that isn’t universally popular, especially considering that Sweetheart of the Rodeo is considered a groundbreaking classic by some: I wish the Byrds had done McGuinn’s concept album instead. I think it would have been much more interesting. As for Roger’s comment that the Byrds did do it over a series of albums, that reminds me a little of Lou Reed’s comments that if you wanted to hear what the Velvet Underground would have sounded like had the John Cale-Nico lineup stayed together longer, you could hear it spread over Reed, Cale, and Nico’s solo albums. There was some good stuff on those records, but it wasn’t nearly the same as having all the musicians play it at once in concentrated doses.

Likewise, the Byrds covering all of this territory over the course of one double-LP concept record seems much more interesting than spreading it over the course of several albums recorded by different lineups. It might be, however, that the early-’68 Byrds lineup wasn’t suited for this experiment, especially as Gram Parsons (and Chris Hillman) really wanted to do country music instead of messing around with all that other stuff (especially the electronics). The previous lineups that did their 1966 and 1967 recordings were really the ones that could have handled it. But some of the same tension that drove the Byrds’ greatness during those years also pulled them apart, and since the tension between Crosby and the other Byrds in particular was so great, it’s hard to imagine that he could have stayed with them for even the six additional months or so necessary to launch this double LP.

8. Bob Dylan, Live May 17, 1966

As many of you reading this no doubt know, this was officially issued in 1998 under the awkward title The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966: The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert. As many of you doubtless also know, this wasn’t actually recorded at the Albert Hall, but in Manchester. The “electric” half of it was, however, for many years bootlegged as an Albert Hall concert. Who knows what it might have been called had it actually been released in 1966 or 1967. It certainly wouldn’t have been given its 1998 title, however, the bootleg series (and rock bootleg LPs) not yet existing back then.

The official release of Dylan's May 17, 1966 concert.

The official release of Dylan’s May 17, 1966 concert.

Unlike every other item listed here, this recording has officially come out in its complete form—not in an abridged version, a reconstructed one by the artist, or guesses as to what the track selection/mixes/sequences might have been. For that matter, it adds more material, putting the “electric” rock part of the concert (with the Hawks, later to evolve into the Band) on one CD, and the solo acoustic part on another. The sound quality on the electric part’s better than the bootlegs, especially on the opening “Tell Me, Momma.” A win-win situation for fans, then, other than having to wait 32 years for its appearance.

So what’s it doing here, if it’s easily available in all its splendor? Well, for many years, it was a hugely significant missing piece of Dylan’s oeuvre, and not only because of the quality of the music. It was the only relatively hi-fi document of the most controversial juncture of his career, when he moved from folk to not just folk-rock, but loud rock. There were other live recordings from major ‘60s acts that were not released at the time, and have since been issued or heavily bootlegged: the Beatles’ Hollywood Bowl shows, the Rolling Stones Liver Than You’ll Ever Be from the 1969 US tour, the Who’s 1968 Fillmore East concert, and the Velvet Underground’s live gig at the Gymnasium in 1967. But none are as of comparable importance, both within the career of the artist and in the history of rock itself, as this one.

The story behind this concert is more well known than the histories of most of the items in this post, so here are a couple bits that aren’t so well known, from Paul Cable’s 1978 book Bob Dylan: His Unreleased Recordings. As to how the electric half got into circulation and bootlegged in the first place, he writes, “Legend has it that a young man greatly impressed with the concert simply wrote to CBS to ask them if they would send him a tape of it. According to the legend, they answered him most mysteriously—i.e., they sent him a tape—and the rest is history.” Also, in the brief period in 1973 and 1974 when Dylan left Columbia for Asylum, “There was a widespread rumor that Columbia were all set to release an entire ’66 gig as their follow-up to [the 1973 outtakes collection] Dylan. It has also been suggested that by the time they got Dylan back they had got as far as printing the covers.”


A couple of the many bootlegs of material from Dylan's May 17, 1966 concerts, which usually misidentified the location as the Royal Albert Hall.

A couple of the many bootlegs of material from Dylan’s May 17, 1966 concerts, which usually misidentified the location as the Royal Albert Hall.

Cable also points out that had Columbia been waiting for a chance to put out this May 17, 1966 recording (or many other unreleased Dylan tapes that could have been considered) when it didn’t conflict with one of his new albums, “The rainy day came—two lots of rainy days came. On the first occasion [in 1967, when Dylan withdrew from the music business for about a year and a half following his mid-1966 motorcycle accident] they put out Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits and on the second occasion [when Dylan left Columbia for Asylum in 1973] Dylan. Strange, isn’t it?”

9. Dave Davies, Hidden Treasures

Here’s another case in which a legendary unreleased album has come out—though it’s probably not exactly in the shape it would have taken back in 1969, and in fact the shape it would have taken isn’t really known, since it wasn’t really completed. Kinks lead guitarist Dave Davies had occasionally sung and written Kinks songs since the group started, and in 1967 vaulted into greater prominence when a track from the band’s Something Else By the Kinks album, “Death of a Clown,” became a big UK hit when released as a Dave Davies solo single. A few other Davies solo singles followed in 1968 and 1969, one of which, “Susannah’s Still Alive,” was a mid-size UK hit. In late 1968, plans were made to make a Dave Davies solo album, though in a way it would have been a Kinks side project, since the Kinks backed him on his “solo” tracks. More or less enough material was completed for (when combined with previously released singles) an entire LP, but it didn’t come out.

The Hidden Treasures album contains most or all of what would probably have come out on Dave Davies's 1969 solo album, along with a lot of extra material.

The Hidden Treasures album contains most or all of what would probably have come out on Dave Davies’s 1969 solo album, along with a lot of extra material.

Understandably considering principal Kinks singer/songwriter Ray Davies’s talents, Dave didn’t get nearly as much space on the band’s releases to sing lead and present his own compositions. But the tracks on which he did were nice complements to Ray’s brilliance, Dave delivering earthier, quirky, usually wistful songs with a voice so much coarser than Ray’s that you wouldn’t suspect they were brothers. Dave’s songs sometimes had a pretty folky bent, too, that sometimes verged on rustic, though he could still unleash some of the ferocious guitar work for which he was most renowned, as he did on the wobbly Hawaiian lines on the 1969 B-side “Creepy Jean.”

On July 2, 1969, a tape was submitted to Warner Brothers that contained most of the tracks from Dave’s solo singles (and one, “Mindless Child of Motherhood,” that came out on a Kinks B-side). It also had a few that hadn’t been released anywhere, among them a couple Ray Davies compositions that Dave sang. It was kind of a hodgepodge, but did still altogether make for an interesting showcase of Dave’s talents as a singer and songwriter. Some of the unreleased tracks were pining, yearning ballads (“Crying,” “Do You Wish to Be a Man,” and “Are You Ready”) that Dave has said, in retrospect, reflect his unhappiness at being pressured to make an LP when he was unsure of whether he wanted to do so. He also had mixed feelings about putting out solo records when he was so committed to the Kinks. This could explain the nonappearance of the LP (which never got a title), to the disappointment of fans who wanted to hear more of what he had to offer as a frontman.

“I think Robert saw it as a way of me getting my own solo career going,” he told me in a 2014 interview (printed in full in the fall/winter 2014 issue—issue #38—of Ugly Things). “But the strange thing was, I never really wanted to have a solo career. I thought on that first album that I did, after ‘Death of a Clown’ and ‘Susannah,’ I felt like I was being forced to do something that I didn’t really want to do. And that’s why that first album was half-hearted, because my passion, my heart wasn’t in it.” In addition, “I didn’t like that studio at Polydor [where sessions were recorded for the album]. The Kinks had been recording in these lovely Pye [Records] studios, and I thought they were kind of undermining me.”

Added Dave, “I think [Kinks co-managers] Robert [Wace] and Grenville [Collins] did realize that I could have been a solo artist in my own right. But I was so bloody attached to family. I felt it was important for me to be around to support Ray and help the music. And I didn’t really feel that comfortable being out on me own that much. I think that comes from growing up in a big family. You’re in a family, and then you’re in the public eye. It seemed like the audience were just an extension of your own family. It was like I had this family thing all inside me, and I didn’t feel at that time comfortable being out in the front all the time.”

My entire interview with Dave Davies is in the fall/winter issue (#38) of Ugly Things.

My entire interview with Dave Davies is in the fall/winter issue (#38) of Ugly Things.

Interestingly, one of the Kinks’ managers felt Dave had considerable potential as a solo artist in the US. “The Kinks have been recording a lot of new material for the last few weeks and you will have a new album by them within the next ten days, also an album which will feature Dave Davies as a soloist backed and accompanied by the Kinks,” wrote Robert Wace to Reprise Records executive Mo Ostin on June 18, 1969. “I feel that this could be a particularly successful album and should probably be released after they have been in America or around the time that they are there, because although I have not heard all the material, Dave’s approach seems to Reprise Records be more underground than the Kinks. They are very excited about the possibility of getting into America in September, and I do hope that Warner Bros. are going to give us the support that we need.”

It’s odd that Wace felt “Dave’s approach seems to be more underground than the Kinks.” Without denigrating either the Kinks’ output or Dave’s solo output in the least, it’s hard to judge one as being more “underground” than the other. And when Wace wrote his memo, the Kinks didn’t need a Dave Davies solo record to cement their status as an underground act—their records hadn’t done well since 1966, and their Stateside following was being kept alive by a fanatically dedicated cult of fans and critics.

The unreleased album did finally come out—though the unreleased tracks among these had long been bootlegged, in lower fidelity—in 2011 on Hidden Treasures. It’s surprising how little attention that CD got considering its historical interest, appearance on a major label, and—most importantly—high quality. Note that it’s not exactly the album that would have appeared in 1969, whose track list was probably never finalized anyway. The CD expands whatever-the-album-would-have-been to 27 tracks by adding most of the Dave Davies compositions from mid-to-late-‘60s Kinks releases, including such highlights as “I Am Free,” “Love Me Till the Sun Shines,” and “Funny Face,” as well as less essential mono versions; a demo of “Hold My Hand” that only came out on a Dutch compilation; and the 1967 outtake “Good Luck Charm,” a cover of a Spider John Koerner good-time blues number. Taken as a whole, it’s an eminently worthy summation of Dave’s 1960s recordings on which he took the spotlight as singer-songwriter—a talent that was sadly underutilized, both at the time and on post-‘60s Kinks releases.

Some, but by no means all, of the material that would have appeared on Dave Davies's 1969 album was on this 1987 compilation LP.

Some, but by no means all, of the material that would have appeared on Dave Davies’s 1969 album was on this 1987 compilation LP.

 10. David Bowie, Early 1969 Demo Tape

Not a very descriptive name, I know. But it’s still unclear exactly when, where, or for what purpose this ten-song demo tape was made, though Kevin McCann dates it as having been done on March 8, 1969 in his book David Bowie: Any Day Now: The London Years: 1947-1974. The purpose was almost certainly to arouse record company interest in the between-deals Bowie, and probably specifically meant for Mercury Records, which did sign David.

Bootleg LP that contained nine of the ten songs from David Bowie's early-1969 demo tape, missing "Lover to the Dawn."

Bootleg LP that contained nine of the ten songs from David Bowie’s early-1969 demo tape, missing “Lover to the Dawn.”

Unusually, this captures Bowie at a point in his career where he was a folky, or at least folk-rocky, singer-songwriter. As hard as it might be to believe, he—with backing by second guitarist/harmony singer John Hutchinson—sounds something like a British Simon & Garfunkel here. The songs, of course, are quite different from those of Paul Simon even at this early stage in Bowie’s development, and include acoustic versions of highlights from his 1969 and 1970 releases like “Space Oddity” (with a primitive Stylophone effect), “Conversation Piece,” “Janine,” “Letter to Hermione,” and “An Occasional Dream,” the last of which is one of the greatest unreleased Bowie performances (and most overlooked Bowie songs, period) of all.

Other songs aren’t as impressive, and some, particularly “When I’m Five” and “Ching-A-Ling,” are kiddie-like leftovers from his overly theatrical phase. But even the minor tunes include some neat oddities, like a cover of Lesley Duncan’s “Love Song” (done slightly later by Elton John on Tumbleweed Connection) and the haunting “Lover to the Dawn,” which never made it onto a Bowie release, though it evolved into a song that did, “Cygnet Committee.” And you get to hear Bowie and Hutchinson unexpectedly segue into the chorus of “Hey Jude” near the end of “Janine.”

Another bootleg of material from the 1969 demo tape.

Another bootleg of material from the 1969 demo tape.

Aside from being the only document of that brief period in which Bowie and Hutchinson worked as a duo, I find this of even greater importance for capturing what might have been the true personal Bowie—or at least as personal a Bowie as he could summon given his chameleonic nature. Sincerity is not a quality we usually associate with him, but if there was any time where he meant what he sang, instead of writing as a character (or writing about other characters), this might have been it.

I asked Hutchinson if he’d agree with that assessment when I interviewed him about his memoir in 2014. “Yes, I would say, in those days he was just himself,” Hutch responds. “David Jones [Bowie’s birth name] and David Bowie were the same person. Whereas when Ziggy happened, it got a lot more complicated, and he was singing as somebody else. He was third person or removed, or whatever it is. He’d written songs for this alter ego or other person to sing. He could sing whatever he wanted them to, he could write whatever he wanted them to say, and maybe it wasn’t sincerity from him. But I don’t think he had a lot of that going anyway. I think it was all performance.”

“When you say you ‘don’t think he had a lot of that going,’ are you referring to the singer-songwriter approach?” I clarified.

“Yeah, I don’t think he had very much of that going at all. He was playing a part, and writing his stories, as the character that he’d created. So I’m agreeing with you, I suppose, that he was much more honest during those ‘Space Oddity’ days, if you like, the acoustic days. I think he was totally honest then, and it’s just that the way that he wrote and performed changed when he realized he could invent a persona. You know, David Bowie was just a stage name. But Ziggy Stardust was a character.”

Two of the performances from this tape, “Space Oddity” and “An Occasional Dream,” show up on the bonus disc of the 2009 CD reissue of the 1969 David Bowie album (titled Man of Words/Man of Music and then Space Oddity in the US). Some post-production cleanup/tampering seems to have gone on, however, especially on “Space Oddity,” which has a rudimentary blast-off effect missing on the bootlegged version. It would be great if the whole tape could be issued without any messing about, especially as the bootlegs—issued under various titles, such as the one pictured here, The Beckenham Oddity—have wobbly low fidelity that could presumably be much improved by accessing a better copy.

Read more about David Bowie's music in early 1969  in John Hutchinson's memoir, Bowie & Hutch. My full interview with Hutchinson appears in the winter 2014 (#6) issue of Flashback magazine.

Read more about David Bowie’s music in early 1969 in John Hutchinson’s memoir, Bowie & Hutch. My full interview with Hutchinson appears in the winter 2014 (#6) issue of Flashback magazine.

While it wasn’t too hard to narrow down the list of unreleased albums (or quasi-albums) from this era to my personal Top Ten, there were many others of interest, often with their own fascinating stories. Just some of the most notable ones that missed the cut would include Neil Young’s Homegrown (which might have made the list if we could actually hear the thing, though he recently intimated he’d like to finally put it out); Gene Clark’s Sings for You; Buffalo Springfield’s Stampede (which even got as far as getting a cover made); Joni Mitchell’s concert recordings from early 1969, which were given serious consideration for being selected as her second album; the Yardbirds’ March 1968 live recording in New York’s Anderson Theatre, which actually briefly came out in 1971 before Jimmy Page put a stop to it; Jackie DeShannon’s mid-1960s publisher demos; the numerous halted attempts at a Modern Lovers album in the early 1970s; Robin Gibb’s unreleased second solo LP, 1970’s Sing Slowly Sisters; the album cult acid folkie Dino Valenti cut with producer Jack Nitzsche…the list goes on, and maybe I’ll do a post detailing my picks from #11 to #20 in the future.

Could you write a book on these, and many others? Sure. And one day I’d like to do it, if any publishers are interested.

The protagonist in Lewis Shiner's excellent book Glimpses is an obsessive rock fan who develops the ability to travel back in time through his dreams, where he tries with mixed success to help the Beatles, Brian Wilson, the Doors, and Jimi Hendrix complete their unfinished masterpieces.

The protagonist in Lewis Shiner’s excellent book Glimpses is an obsessive rock fan who develops the ability to travel back in time through his dreams, where he tries with mixed success to help the Beatles, Brian Wilson, the Doors, and Jimi Hendrix complete their unfinished masterpieces.

Candlestick Park & the Candlestick Point Recreation Area

Now that the demolition process of Candlestick Park’s begun, it’s likely many fewer Bay Area residents will be making it down to the area in which most of the park still stands. To many from outside the Bay Area (and many who actually live in the Bay Area), Candlestick Park’s only known as the place where the Giants used to play baseball and (until very recently) the 49ers used to play football. To non-sports fans, it’s mostly known as the location that hosted the Beatles’ last official concert on August 29, 1966. Almost everyone who’s heard of the stadium knows its reputation as one of the windiest places to see public events of any sort.

Candlestick Park as it looked on August 14, 2014, right after the finale of the Paul McCartney concert, the last major event to take place in the stadium.

Candlestick Park as it looked on August 14, 2014, right after the finale of the Paul McCartney concert, the last major event to take place in the stadium.

I hadn’t been down to Candlestick Park since a Paul McCartney concert more or less officially closed the facility in August 2014. On the second Sunday of April 2015, I took advantage of the Bayview neighborhood’s annual “Sunday Streets” event—which closes most of 3rd Street, the main non-freeway route to Candlestick, to traffic—to bike down to the park. Or what’s left of it, as you see in this photo:

Candlestick Park on April 12, 2015, its demolition partly underway.

Candlestick Park on April 12, 2015, its demolition partly underway.

That’s quite a contrast to how it looked in its heyday, or even last summer. Soon it will be gone and so will, some might think, any reason to go to this area at all. But many remain unaware that Candlestick Park is actually situated in an area with an actual park, Candlestick Point Recreation Area. And that park—a real park, not a ballpark—remains very much available for use, just across the street from where the Candlestick Park stadium stood.

One of many bayside views at Candlestick Point.

One of many bayside views at Candlestick Point.

While the recreation area can’t compete with Golden Gate Park or many better known sites in San Francisco for beauty and culture, there’s something to be said for the occasional visit. It’s quiet, for one thing, with some nice bay views:



It has some semi-beaches that, if not good for swimming, are good places for family picnics, of which I saw a few on this afternoon:


Of course not every view is as scenic or natural as others:

The crane in the background is one of numerous industrial structures that can be seen from various spots in Candlestick Point.

The crane in the background is one of numerous industrial structures that can be seen from various spots in Candlestick Point.

But it’s a nice break from the urban congestion of San Francisco, and parking’s easier here than it is almost anywhere else, whether at a park or not. And it’s a good workout on bike from the city, if you need a destination other than, say, Ocean Beach, Lake Merced, Marin County across Golden Gate Bridge, or other frequently-biked routes. But if you want to see what’s left of Candlestick Park stadium, go soon.


Star Trek and ’60s Rock

In some ways, Star Trek seemed part of the zeitgeist that fueled so much warp-drive change in music, the arts, and society in the last half of the ‘60s. Here was a TV program that, to quote its opening voiceover, went “where no man has gone before,” just as rock music was going into wholly unexpected and even unsuspected territory. There were stories that, overtly or subtly, slipped in messages about pacifism, multicultural diversity, tolerance, and greater social roles for women, though these were often diluted or compromised by the need to stage television action drama. There was even some sex and drugs, at least by the standards of late-‘60s network television. But not, alas, much rock and roll.

Spock jams with space hippie on "The Way to Eden"

Spock jams with space hippie on “The Way to Eden”

Perhaps wisely, very little actual rock music was heard on Star Trek. (This post, to be clear, only refers to the original series’ 79 episodes as broadcast between 1966 and 1969, not the numerous movies and spin-off series from subsequent decades.) It was hard enough to predict what technological advances would be made, and how men and women would act, a few hundred years in the future. Had anyone tried to predict the rock of just ten years into the future in 1966 and 1967, they would have gotten it miserably wrong.

The one exception to the non-use of rock in Star Trek, and a notorious one, is the third-season episode “The Way to Eden.” In that installment space hippies, under the direction of a cult-like fanatic, come perilously close to taking over The Enterprise. The necessary distraction is supplied by an honest-to-god “space jam” between Spock and one of the hippies, played by Deborah Downey:

Another angle on the space jam.

Another angle on the space jam.

Listen to/watch the clip (you’ll know where to find it, even if fans aren’t supposed to post it), with Spock on Vulcan lute and Downey on what looks and sounds like a psychedelic bicycle wheel. Brief and purely instrumental, if it has any parallel in the world of psychedelic rock, it’s to the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s pioneering 13-minute 1966 instrumental “East West,” with soaring guitar solos by both Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop.

"East West" was the title track of this 1966 Paul Butterfield Blues Band LP.

“East West” was the title track of this 1966 Paul Butterfield Blues Band LP.

The rhythm and choked chording to whatever Spock and his friend (and Spock was the crew member who communicated best with the visitors) are playing is a little similar to the riffs that—if as an underlying bed rather than up front—open and run throughout “East West.” Rock criticism is filled with pundits complaining that whites ripped off blacks to reap a greater share of rock’n’roll glory than they deserved. Here, if Spock knowingly “arranged” “East West” for his own purposes (and his knowledge of Earth history and culture was quite deep), we have a little-acknowledged instance of Vulcans ripping off Earthlings for their own artistic advantage, without proper credit.

The space hippies perform a few hippie folk vocal numbers in “The Way to Eden” which have been justly chastised as pretty dire, epitomizing the stereotypes of the worst actual hippie folk music in their clumsy, self-consciously hip naïveté. Interestingly, at least some of this material was written by some of the actors playing the hippies, Charles Napier and Deborah Downey. Downey even put one of the songs, “The Way to Eden,” on an album of hers titled Painting Pictures, though I haven’t been able to hear any of the record, or even find an image of the cover.

There were, as even some casual Star Trek fans know, spin-off records by a few of the series’ stars. Leonard Nimoy did most of these, voicing some of the tracks in the Spock character; others were frivolous novelties, one particularly amusing clip surviving of Nimoy (not in Spock makeup) performing the Hobbit-inspired “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.” William Shatner’s scenery-chewing Shakespearean readings of “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” are, of course, notorious from their broadcast on Dr. Demento episodes and inclusion on compilations of celebrity novelty discs.

Leonard Nimoy sings "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" on TV, late 1960s.

Leonard Nimoy sings “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” on TV, late 1960s.

Nichelle Nichols, who besides playing Lt. Uhura occasionally actually sang in Star Trek episodes, did an album while the series was on the air, Down to Earth, which was disappointingly middle-of-the-road jazzy fare. Spock, incidentally, did sing (and not just play his Vulcan harp) on the series, just once, when he croaked his bizarre self-penned medievalesque ballad “Maiden Wine,” aka “Bitter Dregs,” in the “Plato’s Stepchildren” episode. Performed only under manipulation from aliens with super-powers in this fictional scenario, it was actually released on Nimoy’s 1969 LP The Touch of Leonard Nimoy. I haven’t listened to all of Nimoy’s records by any means, but I don’t know whether it’s a compliment or insult to say this is the best track of his I’ve been able to hear.

Spock sings "Maiden Wine" in the "Plato's Stepchildren" episode.

Spock sings “Maiden Wine” in the “Plato’s Stepchildren” episode.

"Maiden Wine" was included on Leonard Nimoy's "The Touch of Leonard Nimoy" LP.

“Maiden Wine” was included on Leonard Nimoy’s “The Touch of Leonard Nimoy” LP.

There was very little rock or soul in any of these cast members’ records; they were a bit older than the ‘60s rock generation, and not really in tune with the counterculture, as much as some may read some anti-establishment sentiment (often engineered by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry) into some of the series’ scripts. There were, however, two very direct connections to major figures in ‘60s rock and the era’s counterculture that I was unaware of until reading Marc Cushman’s recent three-volume book series These Are the Voyages. Huge in scope (running more than 1500 pages in all), these are something of the Star Trek equivalent to Mark Lewisohn’s Beatles tomes, with Cushman’s access to original memos, scripts, and production notes yielding incredibly thorough behind-the-scenes documentation of the 79 episodes from the original series. Among these accounts are the stories of their guest stars, which yielded this pair of surprising revelations:

Chekov’s love interest in “Spectre of the Gun,” in which several regulars from Star Trek’s bridge find themselves forced to re-enact the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, is played by Bonnie Beecher. That’s the same Bonnie Beecher who hung out with Dylan in Minneapolis in the early 1960s, before he went to New York to become a folk star. Some sources have it that she was the inspiration for one of his first standout compositions, “Girl from the North Country.” It was in her home that some of Dylan’s first decent-sounding recordings (taped in Minneapolis in 1961, and long bootlegged, though dates for these vary according to the source consulted) were made; one of his Minneapolis tapes from the time includes a song in which she’s specifically named, “Bonnie, Why’d You Cut My Hair?” Another early Dylan composition, “Song to Bonny” (sic) (for which a manuscript survives, though no recording), was a number that, as Clinton Heylin wrote in Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973, “appears to be Dylan’s first serious attempt to put a real girl into one of his own songs.”

Bob Dylan bootleg bills this material as having been recorded in Bonnie Beecher's apartment in December 1961.

Bob Dylan bootleg bills this material as having been recorded in Bonnie Beecher’s apartment in December 1961.

Unlike some of Dylan’s other early muses, there’s footage of the woman herself, not on some obscure bootleg DVD, but in a widely viewed network TV series. And it wasn’t the only series in which she appeared; she also had been on Gunsmoke, Peyton Place, and The Fugitive. She didn’t continue with her acting career after Star Trek, however, marrying comedian/activist Hugh Romney, aka Wavy Gravy.

Bonnie Beecher with Ensign Chekov (played by Walter Koenig) in the Star Trek episode "The Spectre of the Gun."

Bonnie Beecher with Ensign Chekov (played by Walter Koenig) in the Star Trek episode “The Spectre of the Gun.”

The other Star Trek guest star with a connection to ‘60s rock, though a bit less direct, was Sabrina Scharf. She plays the woman Captain Kirk marries—though only after he’s suffered amnesia on a planet inhabited by Native American-like residents—on “The Paradise Syndrome.” The match didn’t last, though not for lack of love; Kirk regains his memory around the same time Scharf, playing the character Miramanee, suffers fatal wounds in a stoning.

Sabrina Scharf with William Shatner in the Star Trek episode "The Paradise Syndrome."

Sabrina Scharf with William Shatner in the Star Trek episode “The Paradise Syndrome.”

You wouldn’t guess it from watching the episode, but Scharf also plays the woman who hooks up with Peter Fonda (named Sarah) in the commune in the 1969 movie Easy Rider, filmed around the same time she co-starred with Shatner in “The Paradise Syndrome.” Did Scharf sing, in either Star Trek or Easy Rider? No. Was Peter Fonda a rock star (though he did issue an obscure 1967 single, “November Night,” written by a then-obscure Gram Parsons)? No. But Easy Rider was the first film to effectively use a soundtrack of contemporary rock recordings by artists not in the movie itself, including songs by Jimi Hendrix, the Byrds, the Band, the Holy Modal Rounders, and others. It was also one of the first films to reflect the actual hippie counterculture—much more so than Star Trek (even on “The Way to Eden”). And Scharf was a part of both. Who knew?

Sabrina Scharf with Peter Fonda in one of the commune scenes in "Easy Rider."

Sabrina Scharf with Peter Fonda in one of the commune scenes in “Easy Rider.”

A couple years after I posted this, another connection between Star Trek and ’60s rock came to my attention that’s been surprisingly overlooked, considering it invovles a musician with a huge cult following. One of the most popular, and notorious, early Star Trek episodes was Mudd’s Women, memorably described in These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One as about a “rascally space trader who, in reality, is a pimp traveling through the cosmos with a cargo of prostitutes.” One of the beauties boarding the Enterprise in this episode was Maggie Thrett, who was just nineteen when it was filmed in June 1966.

Maggie Thrett with Spock and Captain Kirk on the set of Mudd's Women.

Maggie Thrett with Spock and Captain Kirk on the set of Mudd’s Women.

Besides having already appeared in TV and film productions, Thrett had also issued a rock’n’roll single on Bob Crewe’s Dynovoice label in May 1965. Most famous for producing and co-writing the Four Seasons’ biggest hits (with Bob Gaudio of the Seasons), Crewe also worked on hits by Mitch Ryder, Diane Renay, and Freddie Cannon. He produced and co-wrote Thrett’s sole 45, “Soupy”/”Put a Little Time Away.” It was arranged by Charlie Calello, who would arrange and produce Laura Nyro’s classic second album, 1968’s Eli and the Thirteenth Confession.


For all the big names involved, however, “Soupy” isn’t that good. It’s a generic rock/R&B dance number, Thrett yelp-singing the novelty lyrics with considerable stridency. I haven’t heard the B-side, “Put a Little Time Away.” But Thrett’s role in rock history wasn’t quite done.

In 1970, Gram Parsons—then in the Flying Burrito Brothers—was in a serious motorcycle accident in Bel Air, and injured so badly the Burritos had to cancel a visit to London. Riding in the motorcycle ahead of him was John Phillips, late of the Mamas & the Papas, and Phillips’s future wife Genevieve Waite. Riding with Parsons was—Maggie Thrett, who managed to escape unharmed.

Gram Parsons (right) in the Flying Burrito Brothers.

Gram Parsons (right) in the Flying Burrito Brothers.

The Origin of the Beatles’ “I Got to Find My Baby”

With the super-abundance of information about the Beatles out there, it’s always a surprise, and for the most part a pleasure, to come across a bit of interest that hasn’t often been previously reported. No, we’re not talking anything on the order of the real reason Pete Best got fired, or a recording of a previously unknown Lennon-McCartney original. We are talking about of the roots of one of the songs the Beatles covered in their early days.

The Beatles' June 1, 1963 performance of "I Got to Find My Baby" was issued about three decades later on Live at the BBC.

The Beatles’ June 1, 1963 performance of “I Got to Find My Baby” was issued about three decades later on Live at the BBC.

“I Got to Find My Baby” is one of the most obscure songs of which a good-quality recording by the Beatles exists. Like some of the other “most little known” songs they did, they performed it on the BBC, taping it on June 1, 1963 (the track eventually making it onto the Beatles’ Live at the BBC compilation). It’s pretty clear this jovial, bluesy number with a John Lennon harmonica solo – one of the bluesiest items they ever did, in fact – was learned from Chuck Berry, John introducing it as “Chuck Berry’s ‘I Got to Find My Baby’” on the broadcast. The Beatles even did it a second time on the BBC on June 24, a performance that’s now available as a download on iTunes’ Bootleg Recordings 1963.


Berry did indeed put out a version of “I Got to Find My Baby” as the A-side of a flop single in August 1960. Live at the BBC credits Berry as the songwriter. But he certainly wasn’t the first person to record it.

Muddying these blues waters more, blues harmonica great Little Walter recorded “I Got to Find My Baby” as a single on May 22, 1954. It’s not exactly the same as Berry’s “I Got to Find My Baby,” but in many parts, it is exactly the same. Quite a few years ago, I seem to remember even reading it stated that Little Walter did the original of the song performed by the Beatles as “I Got to Find My Baby.” The only compilation on which I have Little Walter’s version, Confessin’ the Blues, credits Willie Dixon—who wrote many blues classics, especially for artists on Chess Records—as the songwriter.



It turns out, however, that the roots of the tune go yet deeper. For in the early 1940s, Doctor Clayton put out a record, “Gotta Find My Baby,” that is in all respects the same song as the one Berry put on his 1960 single. The arrangement’s much different, of course—the chief instrument is piano, and there are no electric guitars or drums. It’s an easygoing early urban piano blues. But the tune, and most of the lyrics, are the same.


One important difference: a verse that goes as follows was not used in Berry’s version:

When my head starts aching

I grab my hat and coat

‘Cause cocaine and reefer

Can’t reach my case no more

That last line might not seem to make much sense, but that’s how it sounds. The line with cocaine and reefer, however, is definitely in Clayton’s version. And Chuck Berry, for all his boundary-pushing, was not about to sing about cocaine and reefer, especially not in 1960, when he was appealing a jail sentence for violating the Mann Act.

It seems unlikely to me that the Beatles would have even known about Clayton’s version. They were huge Chuck Berry fans; they weren’t prewar blues collectors. Which makes it less likely still that they had any notion they were performing a song that, in its original incarnation, made more blatant references to drugs than almost any song they or almost any other leading rock group performed in the 1960s.

As a final footnote, the song “Gotta Find My Baby” also lived on through the late 1960s, in the repertoire of a band that fed two members into Led Zeppelin. In 1968, the Band of Joy, featuring a pre-Led Zep Robert Plant and John Bonham, did the song on an unreleased tape that’s circulated. Check it out in the usual places we can’t name.

The Band of Joy, including Robert Plant and John Bonham.

The Band of Joy, including Robert Plant and John Bonham.

Sweeney Ridge Trail in Pacifica

Considering it’s just south of San Francisco, Pacifica doesn’t get nearly as many visitors as some other communities neighboring the big city, like Berkeley, Oakland, and much of Marin County. A few weeks ago I went to a birthday party at the southern tip of Pacifica, however, and on the way down, I took the opportunity to do a hike I’d heard about but never done.

Ocean view from Sweeney Ridge Trail.

Ocean view from Sweeney Ridge Trail.

The first challenge in walking Sweeney Ridge Trail is getting there in the first place. Since it’s right off the road the runs by the ocean, Highway 1, you’d think that wouldn’t be such a big deal. You can’t turn right into the entrance if you’re heading south on 1 from San Francisco, though, and even after you make a U-turn and retrace your steps, the steep short road toward the trail is so sharp and short that you’ll easily miss it if you don’t know exactly where to turn. Look for the Shelldance Orchid Nursery sign when you’re going south – it’s actually much easier to see from the ocean side of the highway – and steel yourself for turning sharply and immediately when you see the sign after doing the U-turn, though that sign’s almost hidden from sight when you’re driving north.

The Sweeney Ridge trailhead, in the back of the Shelldance Orchid Nursery parking lot.

The Sweeney Ridge trailhead, in the back of the Shelldance Orchid Nursery parking lot.

After you drive up the steep, narrow, short hill and park behind the nursery, the next challenge is getting up the steep path. Hikers in reasonable shape should not have a problem, but many casual weekend walkers might cower at the sight of the path veering upward as soon as you set foot on the trail:


And it’s not as if you scamper up that bit and then level out, or take a leisurely wind up to the peaks. Seems like it keeps on going up and up, usually at a fairly-to-quite-steep grade, for a good half hour or so:


By keeping on the trail as it veers right and starts to near the 1,000-foot-elevation mark, you come across a most unexpected, and not entirely welcome, landmark:


This is one of the abandoned buildings from the Nike Missile base, one of about a dozen scattered throughout the Bay Area (there was also one on Angel Island, near Marin County and Alcatraz). It’s quite jarring, this ugly reminder of the cold war right in the middle of a hike otherwise dominated by rolling hills on almost every side:

Abandoned shed in the Nike missile site on Sweeney Ridge Trail.

Abandoned shed in the Nike missile site on Sweeney Ridge Trail.

Nike buildings aside, are there views, of both the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the San Francisco Bay to the east? Sure, but they’re not the most unspoiled ones:

Small lake and San Francisco Bay, viewed to the trail's east

Small lake and San Francisco Bay, viewed to the trail’s east

That's the San Francisco airport, on this slightly different view of the bay from the trail

That’s the San Francisco airport, on this slightly different view of the bay from the trail.

You’re really not that far from civilization here, and even Highway 1 is often visible from the trails:


As another reminder of man’s intrusion onto this natural space, albeit almost two centuries before the missiles briefly planted themselves here, there’s this monument to the spot where European explorers first discovered the San Francisco Bay:

The inscription on this monument reads: "From this ridge the Portola Exhibition discovered San Francisco Bay November 4, 1969"

The inscription on this monument reads: “From this ridge the Portola Exhibition discovered San Francisco Bay November 4, 1969”

Yet there are spots where the highway, the housing, and even the airport are hidden, and you can revel in the ocean view:


You can take walks of quite varying lengths from the trailhead, though going about five miles or so roundtrip (about a mile past the Nike missile site, and then back), as I did, makes for a pretty full to two to three hours. For more information, check or