1973 was the year of the UK’s three-day week, the year the Watergate hearings rocked the world and Sydney Opera House graced Circular Quay with its astounding presence. Amid all this tumult and turmoil was some truly glorious music.
Amongst the classics released that year was David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane, Pink Floyd’s 45 million+ unit shifting Dark Side of the Moon, The Who’s scooter propaganda with Quadrophenia and the proto-punk self-titled debut from New York Dolls.
But all of those records have had their moment in the sun, and to be frank, some of them are overrated. With such looming giants in the charts, what became of those that were shrouded in shade. In the latest edition of unlucky for some, we’re picking tracks from the gutter and polishing them up.
Some of the songs are from bigger names that nevertheless deserve a higher standing in their respective back catalogues and others never got off the ground to such an extent they’re practically subterranean, but all of them are tied up nicely in a playlist at the bottom of the piece.
The 13 underrated gems from 1973:
13. ‘What is Hip?’ by Tower of Power
Tower of Power had been rumbling in the Oakland underground since around 1968, but it wasn’t until funk freed itself up in 1973 that the horn-based band really got blasting.
‘What is Hip?’ soars on glorious attitude, taking Curtis Mayfield’s Super Fly vibes and amping them up the next level. With Lenny Williams taking up vocals for the record the band are energised with a befitting vocal conduit to focus the horns. It’s the sort of track that gets you out of PJs and into dancing shoes before it’s even halfway through.
12. ‘Journey’ by Duncan Browne
‘Journey’ was little-known English folk musician Duncan Browne’s Bob Dylan inspired opus. It reached number 23 in the charts but nevertheless, the was deemed a commercial failure and he was dropped to the ranks of a session musician thereafter.
There is a strange sort of youthful edge to the music that you don’t often get with folk and the psychedelic flourishes embellish the Appalachian-Esque track with total originality. But with only 5260 monthly plays, it’s a crying shame that not more people are enjoying his very singular folk ways.
11. ‘I Got a Name’ by Jim Croce
There aren’t many directors with a better eye for a tune than Quentin Tarantino. For Django Unchained he seized upon the inherent montage-like movement trapped in the meandering country melody of Jim Croce’s ‘I Got a Name’.
In truth, it couldn’t be more befitting of a western either. The song conjures up imagery of a lonely rider weaving the winding roads on a trusty stead and the be frank, we all need that sort of theatre of the mind escapism every now and again. For that reason, the atmospheric track simply can’t be begrudged.
10. ‘Nobody’s Fool’ by Dan Penn
There was a certain sort of sound dominating studios in the early 1970s. It was a sort of layered symphonic sort where horns and strings whisk in from nowhere and boy it was glorious. ‘Nobody’s Fool’ sees this quintessential ’70s music trifle at its absolute tastiest.
Often working behind the mixing desk rather than in front of it, Penn’s is a name that will crops up on many more vinyl sleeves than you’d imagine, from Aretha Franklin to the Box Tops, but this solo piece of slinky soul is a thing to behold.
9. ‘She’s Gone’ by Hall & Oates
There is a snooty circle of music that would happily scoff at Hall & Oates but let them cynically judge away while the rest of us bask in this Saturday morning shower pop perfection.
Somehow this sumptuous piece of music only peaked at number 60 in the US charts, and with such toe-tapping perfection to its name, it’s hard to see why. The song is a perfect piece of music for the background and that is not to besmirch it if it slinks its way to the foreground, it’s just that it has such a glorious soundscape there’s no real need to delve into the finer details of the piece.
8. ‘Such a Night’ by Dr John
Dr John was New Orleans Voodoo king. He took the blues and reintroduced the kaleidoscopic Haitian colours that helped to spawn it. ‘Such a Night’ is like Otis Redding’s Bay-based classic had it been set in the sultry streets of the French district instead.
The song ripples with laidback evening vibes, and inherent sense of fun. Waltzing along on a mellowed bass riff, Dr John lends a Van Morrison like vocal take and captures fizzing feel of a hot afternoon in the city.
7. ‘Killing Me Softly’ by Roberta Flack
While The Fugees version of this song might be a ubiquitous classic to such an extent that a touch of its glory has eroded in the rain of the overplay, the original retains its unblemished soul.
The song begins and gives off the impression that Roberta Flack is haunting an empty music hall with her emotional entreaty. Echoes and reverb create an almost eerie atmosphere that is quickly comforted by perfectly understated instrumentation and a vocal performance that always retains its class.
6. ‘Swimming Song’ by Loudon Wainwright III
Certain songs attach themselves to a time and place, whether that be a sort of metaphysical chapter of your life whereby a track provides a bookmark or simply a season and occasion that fits like a glass slipper. ‘Swimming Song’ does both, soundtracking a summer drive to a lake even if there isn’t one within a hundred miles of you.
Wainwright has been covered by the likes of Johnny Cash and he has a son and daughter (Rufus and Martha) in the music industry so his legacy is assured, but considering the brilliance of his songwriting, perhaps he should be better-known.
5. ‘In Every Dream Home a Heartache’ by Roxy Music
This is the sort of song that drives the getaway car itself. Somehow within Roxy Music’s gilded back catalogue this masterpiece gets left out.
The song teeters to a crescendo akin to heist movie heights. The guitar work is scintillating and the lyrical philosophy that gets you there is a piece of brilliance that often gets overlooked once the swarming tail-end really gets going. In the very first edition of Unlucky For Some, I dubbed Aphrodite’s Child’s ‘The Four Horsemen’ as a classic just waiting to feature on-screen and lo and behold it was on an advert a few months later, could be a coincidence, but if the prying eyes are out there then this is another song just waiting to adrenalise a visual pairing.
4. ‘Sailing On’ by Toots & The Maytals
For my money, not enough time and effort has been poured into finding the perfect hangover cure. They are an awful affliction and without them, life would be infinitely improved. However, Toots & The Maytals have at least offered up a sonic balm.
The song is sanguine in its flip-flop shuffling feel that it just makes any situation that little bit sunnier without ramming the good vibes down your throat and testing a sensitive gag reflex. I often don’t know what the hell he’s saying, but I know for certain it’s beautifully carefree.
3. ‘It’s Not Easy’ by Ofege
On the liner notes to Nigerian band Ofege’s album Try and Love is the extraordinary story of how a group of teens made a chronically overlooked. (at least globally) psychedelic classic.
“There was the school’s band with electric amplified instruments we would beg to be let into, borrowing their drummer who was bluffy all the time,” writes frontman Melvin Ukachi Noks. “In one of the times with the musical instruments, a shy, quiet, strange and completely unknown and unseen classmate of ours appeared from nowhere and sat on the drums and played. I was bowled over at the end of the song.”
The band then began to take shape and the ‘Ofeged’ (which means to go AWOL) from school and ended up recording a classic.
2. ‘I Lost Something in the Hills’ by Sibylle Baier
Technically, there is no knowing whether this track was recorded in 1973, as the best guess Baier can place on it is between 1970-73. 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.
‘I Lost Something in the Hills’, 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 and by no way is it a stretch to say that it taps into something profoundly mystical.
1. ‘Didn’t I’ by Darondo
Darondo has a voice that could shift clouds. On ‘Didn’t I’ his lived-in vocals purr with experiential perfection. At no point in the song is this utterly amazing vocal take anything less than utterly sincere, the impression that there is nothing performative about his soaring singing simply never dips. That is before you even get onto the groove, so silken and perfect that it could shake up and pour out the Negroni itself.
During the 1970s Darondo was a Bay Area numen, but like some spiritual deity, he seemed fated to stay there and never achieve global acclaim. This track sold 35,000 copies mostly in California and it was played extensively on local radio. But remarkably one of the greatest hard-luck soul songs ever written never seemed to travel.
Fortunately, Darondo doesn’t seem to have minded, he was content opening for James Brown and cruising around white Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, in his fur coay and snakeskin shoes.