In the highly subjective world of music, you’d still be hard pushed to find someone who disagreed that back end of the sixties and the early seventies, brought about some of the greatest music in history. The swinging peace and love jaunt was always going to be a tough act to follow, but, in truth, any love in the zeitgeist had been bashed about by tumult and 1970 rang out like a great music dirge to the loss of innocence that once was. In fact, the end of an era was almost biblically heralded by the break-up of The Beatles and, if Bob Dylan could have broken up with himself, then he would have followed suit.
Flower power may have been changing into something new, but it certainly produced some glorious sounds. A Bridge Over Troubled Water became the sort of iconic classic that wound up in the record collection of anyone with ears regardless of usual tastes, Bitches Brew gloriously upset jazz purists and The Velvet Underground flopped once again with what is, for my money, their best album and one of the greatest albums ever – Loaded.
Fortunately, The Velvet Underground have since received nothing but lauded acclaim. However, in this feature, we aim to shine a light on singles that still remain shrouded. While George Harrison was proving he could do it on his own with All Things Must Pass and everyone was getting off with each other listening to Van Morrison’s Moondance, these little guys were pushed to one side. As ever, we’ve wrapped them up in a feature at the bottom of the piece, but from now let’s take a look at some underrated gems from 1970.
The 13 most underrated songs from 1970:
13. ‘Dambala’ by Exuma
Perhaps the best insight into the Bahamian musician known as Exuma comes from a quote of his given in an interview with Record World upon the release of this sing: Exuma said the “‘electrical part’ of his being ‘came from beyond Mars; down to Earth on a lightning bolt'”. He then described his songs as “all music that has ever been written and all music not yet written. It’s feeling, emotion, the sound of man, the sound of day creatures, night creatures and electrical forces.”
In truth, there is indeed something otherworldly and timeless about his. output and that is far from limited to the berserk drum sound on this track. ‘Dambala’ is a song that boldly ventures towards profundity, and it does so in sweet sonic style.
12. ‘Ride Captain Ride’ by Blues Image
While Exuma’s output might understandably avoid typical radio play, ‘Ride Captain Ride’ is such a quintessential seventies jam that its fade to obscurity seems frankly inexplicable.
The song itself is inspired by the number of keys on the band’s singer and chief songwriter, Mike Pinera’s piano. “OK, I need a first word,” he once said, “And what came into my head was ’73.’ I liked the rhythm, and I went, ’73 men sailed up, from the San Francisco Bay.’…The song sort of just wrote itself from there.”
Rarely has an origin story been more befitting, ‘Ride Captain Ride’ is a song with such an easy rhythm that sounds like it was written in five minutes flat, but in the best possible way.
11. ‘Whitey on the Moon’ by Gil Scott-Heron
“One small step for man, one giant leap mankind,” was a pretty difficult line to stomach for the millions needlessly suffering. To many, it seemed more like a sideways step for mankind in a ‘my cocks bigger than your cock battle’ between America and The USSR. This is the argument that Scott-Heron put forward in his famous song-poem ‘Whitey on the Moon’.
This iconic piece of work showed that he had a humanised approach to his work that allowed it to resonate with so many. Despite the poignant subject matter, there is a dark humour to this piece that illuminates the insanity of such vast societal disparities in the ongoing human comedy.
Rarely has a point been made so forcefully while artfully avoiding the full brutal bludgeon of the nose.
10. ‘The Letter’ by Joe Cocker
Joe Cocker has a voice that could benevolently rattle trapped free from your lughole after a day at the beach on ‘The Letter’ he is in full one-man-opera swing.
Once again, ‘The Letter’ captures the fantastic early seventies style of concocting a cacophony of instruments together in an easy sounding sonic wall. Originally written by the Box Tops, Cocker lends the original a coat of glossy golden paint as his gravel and glue vocals take the track to the next level in silky style.
9. ‘Malibu People’ by John Phillips
Simply put, ‘Malibu People’ is a perfect song. By perfect I don’t mean to thrust it towards the top of some sort of gilded chart, but rather to express how there is not one sonic hair out of place. It was self-evident from his days with The Mamas and the Papas that he had the knack of crafting classics on a whim, and he once again achieves brilliance seemingly at a saunter.
The song rolls by on such a sanguine breeze that it has to imagine his life was beset with such controversy. If you’re after a track to soundtrack a trip to the beach, then this should worm its way to gladdening heavy-rotation.
8 ‘Son of a Lovin’ Man’ by Buchanan Brothers
Very few pieces of music capture the zeitgeist of the era quite as perfectly as ‘Son of a Lovin’ Man’. Quentin Tarantino popped the track in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood for that very reason. Something about the song simply brings forth fondue parties like they’re going out of fashion.
The record is also one that was seemingly fished from the most obscure depths by the director. So little is known about the record that it could basically reside in a museum of the era like some unknown relic, but boy oh boy is it a toe-tapping jam worth visiting.
7. ‘We Have Laid Here’ by Bill Fay
Bill Fay is another paradigm of why this feature exists. His work is now revered for its wholesome and wholehearted brilliance and paradoxically playful poignancy by an ever-growing cult of fans but he was dropped by his label in the early seventies and it wasn’t until the late nineties that his work gained recognition.
‘We Have Laid Here’ from his fantastic self-titled debut album is a glowing example of the soft folk he majestically crafted. Fay couples exposed lyrics with melodies of wistful pillow-propped contentment in a way colours stark harsh realities with a dreamy comfort, and it’s got bundles of charm to boot.
6. ‘Half Baked’ by Jimmy Campbell
As Nick Cave once said: “Songwriting is about counterpoint. Counterpoint is the key: putting two disparate images beside each other and seeing which way the sparks fly.” In this little-known break-up, Jimmy Campbell takes that message to the extreme.
For the first section, he wallows in the melodrama of post-break-up despair, before immediately breaking into full rock ‘n’ roll swing. The belting chorus after that sobbing verse is like that text you get from a mate who has just split from his girlfriend and announces he has “ran to Windsor.” With only 1600 views, this song clearly hasn’t received the love it deserves.
5. ‘Shoot Out on the Plantation by Leon Russell
Over the years, Leon Russell’s work has been celebrated by everyone from Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys to Elton John for his effortless ability to craft toe-tapping grooves which came from working with likes of The Ronettes, The Crystals, Glen Campbell, Gary Lewis & The Playboys and Frank Sinatra before Russell went solo.
‘Shoot Out on the Plantation’ is an almost barmy sounding piece of music as Russell mixes boogie boogie rock ‘n’ roll with country overtones and lays down a wildly overblown Southern vocal take. The song drives at 100mph towards the brink of bizarro without ever going too far over the edge. If this song doesn’t rattle some endorphins loose then a visit to your doctor is due.
4. ‘Chimacum Rain’ by Linda Perhacs
There’s underrated songs, then there’s songs so underrated that the perfection achieved goes so unnoticed that the songwriter has to return to being a dental nurse and depart the industry. Fortunately, for everyones sake, Linda Perhacs was rediscovered by reissue enthusiasts in 1998 and she’s back making music after years win the wilderness with her 2014 release The Soul of All Natural Things.
The title of that 2014 album offers a great insight into the sort of folk psychedelia that she writes. There is a poignancy to her music that the narrative of her life only imbues further.
3. ‘Synthetic World’ by Swamp Dogg
Swamp Dogg has always had a cult following for his carefree ways and propagation of offbeat humour and eccentric promotional style. Recently, he has rightfully enjoyed a well-deserved resurgence, having worked alongside the likes of Bon Iver.
With ‘Synthetic World’ he achieves the sort of soulful swing so sweet and effortless that its like cutting butter. The organ sound is euphonic and the melody waltz along with self-assured swagger. What’s more, it may well contain the best croon of the word “Bayou” ever put to record.
2. ‘Dayton Ohio, 1903’ by Harry Nilsson
With Nilsson Sings Newman, what you have is one of America’s greatest ever singers in Harry Nilsson singing the songs of one of America’s greatest ever songwriters in Randy Newman, and somehow it extends beyond the sum of its parts. Both artists share such an expert knowledge of their craft that they can afford to be naturally playful with it, and the result is one of the greatest records of the ’70s full stop.
‘Dayton Ohio, 1903’ stand out on the record as the epitome of what it’s all about. In less than two minutes it whisks up a lullaby that could rock a can of Red Bull to sleep, offer a hug to a cactus and gently blow the rain away from a wedding. Nilsson’s pipes are in perfect order, but they don’t have to be pushed to pretentious possibilities and Nilsson song is a thing of subtle self-contained perfection. A genuine gem for everyone to enjoy.
1. ‘Crucify Your Mind’ by Rodriguez
Thanks to the wonderfully life-affirming documentary, Searching for Sugarman, Rodriguez’s music is little-known no longer. That being said, a list that delves into the golden year’s unchartered depths and doesn’t include a track from the man who formerly thought he hadn’t shifted more than about ten albums would seem desperately incomplete. Rodriguez might not fit the bill anymore, but his initial failings were so symptomatic of an era congested with greatness, that it wouldn’t seem right not to squeeze him in, particularly when it comes to a song as astoundingly brilliant as ‘Crucify Your Mind’.
In short, the timeless beauty and profound wisdom of the songwriting on display here makes it one of the most underrated songs of all time, not just 1970.