The beauty of the bootleg, rarity or lost song, and, in turn, this article with a bit of luck, is that they can creep out from the shadows of your favourite artists back catalogues as a brand new song, just like a birthday gift that got lost in the post. What’s more, when you open the package, it reveals something new, offering just a little more illumination of what the artist was working on at the time.
The king of the lost song is most likely Bob Dylan who had a spell so prolific that half of the songs he wrote he would simply leave lying around and forget about them. However, he is not alone; a great many of the tracks gathered up from the darkness in the list below will leave you scratching your head wondering why such a gem never made it onto a record to rightfully call home and the answer is often entwined with the inherent chaos of rock ‘n’ roll.
Thus, without further ado, let’s take a look at ten incredible songs from the likes of David Bowie and PJ Harvey to mysterious figures who floated into the industry and out of it just as quickly.
Ten incredible “lost” songs:
‘Sunshine Woman’ by Led Zeppelin
Following the release of a BBC Sessions LP in 1997, Jimmy Page began hearing a bootleg of a track that had never been attempted on an album doing the rounds in the rare records circuit. He investigated further and discovered that it was from a BBC Session in 1969. He liked what he heard but the BBC was no longer in possession of the master tape, thus he had to think outside the box.
Ultimately, he managed to find someone who had taped it off the radio during the session. “From what I’m led to believe, it was recorded off the radio by someone in Eastern Europe,” Page told Rolling Stone of the set. “It managed to travel around.” And somehow it made its way to Page.
The song is Led Zeppelin at their rhythmic blues best, jamming along on a heavy riff with the nuanced touches that gave them an edge. Regarding the track, known as ‘Sunshine Woman’ which came out of March ’69 Session for the BBC World Service, Page added, “We did something that we made up on the spot, from a guitar riff. It was done, I guess, for amusement really — although we were playing very seriously.”
‘Conversation Piece’ by David Bowie
A posthumous boxset release of the same name brought a slew of long-forgotten Bowie songs back to life in 2019 and chief among them was the folky gem that is ‘Conversation Piece’.
Bowie may have struggled to find any sort of fame or acclaim during his fallow early spell but tracks like this show that he was always a burgeoning talent.
Not a great deal is known about this track even now. There are drums, a cello and what sounds like an oboe in the mix, but the players remain uncredited. If anything, the obfuscated origins of the hidden song add another layer of mystique to the twelve-string beauty of Bowie’s unfurling poetry.
‘The Palace of the King of the Birds’ by The Beatles
In the early 1970s, a band called Klaatu caused quite an underground stir as many devoted Beatles fans thought they had uncovered the latest psychedelic guise of their recently split favourites.
Of course, it turned out to be a red herring, but what added creditability to the initial claim was how truly chameleonic The Beatles could be. This psychedelic jam sees them float into trippy terrain on a spring breeze of mellowed-out instrumentation. There is an awful lot of joy to sponged out from this gentle shimmering Let It Be session track. It’s the sort of effervescing melody that you could listen to all day.
‘Over You’ by the Velvet Underground
Nick Cave once said: “[Lou Reed] taught me that you can put the most sonically aggressive music and put it side by side by some of the most beautiful ballads that anyone has ever written.” As it happens, ‘Over You’ may well be one of the most beautiful songs that Lou Reed ever wrote and very few people have actually ever heard of it.
Taken from a live recording in 1969, the band are in stirring form as Sterling Morrison delivers the sweet sort of guitar solo that brings to mind a chorus of chirping birds while Lou Reed concocts a melody of such honeyed lustre that contentment is inevitable for any listener.
Somehow, this YouTuber who uploaded it seems to have captured the tone perfectly with the sepia-toned Simpsons thumbnail that accompanies.
‘Fire By The River’ by Harumi
The story of Harumi is one of ethereal mystery, befitting of this song. It is not so much the story of a lost song and more the tale of a long lost musician. The record sprung forth from the ether sometime in 1968 and then the artist disappeared back into it just as quickly. The album is the product of eternally enigmatic Japanese artist Harumi Ando, it was crafted in New York and little else is known without an explorative deep-dive into a past riddled with dead ends.
You can pull apart the eclectic influences and meddle in the melee of sounds from Eastern Folk to psych all you like but what is most notable about this oddity is just how wonderfully listenable it proves to be. Aside from all the complex stylistic embellishments, what we are left with is a deeply melodic piece of hypnotic pop, and it’s just about as gorgeous as it is mysterious.
‘Silver Springs’ by Fleetwood Mac
Back in the day, a standard album was limited to around 45 minutes of audio. That was simply all you could fit on a normal 12 inches worth of vinyl, thus unless the record label was willing to foot the sizable bill of a double-album, many tracks sadly ended up on the cutting room floor.
Whilst you’d be a fool to mess with whatever magic is at play on Rumours, Stevie Nicks’ ‘Silver Springs’ is one of the few songs ever written that could certainly be in contention to make a substitute appearance, at least. In the end, it came down to a straight shoot-out with ‘I Don’t Want to Know’, and the rest is history. As the album’s co-producer Richard Dashut once described it as, “the best song that never made it to a recorded album”.
The song itself is yet another silver lining to the sad Nicks / Buckingham break-up. “I’ll follow you down till the sound of my voice will haunt you,” Nicks achingly croons. In 2009, she told Rolling Stone: “It was me realising that Lindsey was going to haunt me for the rest of my life, and he has.”
‘Forget About’ by Sibylle Baier
Technically, Sibylle Baier’s songs were not lost, they were merely sheltered from the gaudy light of the mainstream to preserve their pillow-propped belle in the beauteous comforts of stowed away box of nostalgia.
The German artist recorded the tracks on the album Colour Green using a reel-to-reel tape machine in her family home. The recordings themselves seem intimately wrapped in the duvet-trapped dreaminess from which they were conceived and chronicled. She handed out a few of these deeply personal tapes to friends and retired the masters to a box in the basement. Thereafter, she got on with the business of living. 30 years later, her son discovered the tapes and there’s simply no imagining the billowing of emotions and wonderment he experienced when he first hit that fateful play.
This song, in particular, is a singular masterpiece wrapped up in the miasma of sincerity and pleasure that surrounds it. Almost impossible to replicate owing to the gentle embalming of the backstory, it resides as a piece of music that genuinely seems to have been fished from the floating firmament—impossible to reproduce and entirely singular in its dainty humility.
‘Kansas City’ by The New Basement Tapes (Bob Dylan)
Using unearthed handwritten lyrics and melodies The New Basement Tapes rehashed scraps of Dylan’s source material into ensemble pieces of music, all helmed by the sui generis sonic force that is T Bone Burnett. This particular single sees Johnny Deep, Jim James, Marcus Mumford, Rhiannon Giddens, Taylor Goldsmith and Elvis Costello all join forces.
Burnett would later give The Daily Telegraph his interpretation of the track, stating: “In 1967, he had gone, in five years, from being an obscure folk singer to an international rock ‘n’ roll icon of the highest magnitude. And, in the process, his original supporters turned on him and it seems like he’s saying: ‘Just how long can I keep singing the same old song?’.”
Adding: “There’s a great line: ‘You invite me into your house, then you say you got to pay for what you break.’ I think that resonated very strongly with Marcus, because he has had a similar trajectory,” Burnett added. “He came out of the box very strong, became internationally successful and suffered an extreme backlash. Kansas City is his song as well.”
‘Smashing’ by The Libertines
When it comes to lost songs, quite often they were first misplaced through sheer chaos. The tumultuous times of The Libertines meant that a lot of good work was lost in the welter as things went far beyond the acceptable reaches of creative frolicking.
This early demo is taken from their Nomis Studio sessions for Rough Trade back when they were trying to get the green light on Up The Bracket. For one reason or another, it never made the cut and it was condemned to the ash heap of history, but it has something of the John Lennon about it that makes it soar since it was subsequently unearthed and it has become a favourite among mega-fans.
‘Claudine, The Inflatable One’ by PJ Harvey
With ‘Claudine, The Inflatable One’, PJ Harvey takes on a similar sketchy, atmospheric soundscape that Tom Waits crafted in his Rain Dogs era and transposes a tale of perverted preferences over dark scratchy guitars.
The song is taken from a BBC John Peel session from 1993 from a period in between Rid of Me and To Bring You My Love. However, the show is seemingly the only time that the song has ever been heard. It was never recorded as part of the subsequent sessions and nor has it ever been performed live. Even the instrumentalists on the track remain shrouded from the performance. In the end, maybe it is simply befitting that the song has remained under lock and key given the kinky tale it tells.