Every year thousands of albums are released – most of the good ones find their audience some way or somehow, but every so often a gem falls through the cracks.
We’ve compiled a list of 15 such lost albums here.
While you may have heard some of these records, they have all eluded mass critical appeal and commercial success; they don’t make it onto the ‘Greatest Ever’ lists of music publications, and they are not widely known.
But they definitely should be.
Bettye Swann – Make Me Yours (1967)
The vaults of old soul record labels have been raided a lot in recent years, leading to reappraisals of many forgotten artists of the era and overdue critical acclaim for the likes of Imra Thomas and Bettye LaVette among others. All of which makes the continued relative obscurity of Bettye Swann even more puzzling.
Swann scored a few minor hits on the Money label in the late ’60s, most notably the title track of this debut album. A mixture of originals and covers, all of which are great songs, acts as the canvas for Swann’s stunning voice which sparkles with emotional range alongside the kind of rich soul instrumentation that it is impossible not to love. Unfortunately Swann has now retired from the music industry and has made only a handful of appearances in the last 25 years.
Standout track: I’m Lonely For You
Laura Nyro – New York Tendaberry (1969)
Laura Nyro might be the least recognisable name to have been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. However, for a time during the ’60s she was massively popular among artists and musicians thanks to her emotive but non-linear songwriting. Yet after retreating from making music in her later life she seems to have been largely overlooked by the history books.
This album is the second part of a trilogy of records which many critics consider Nyro’s best work. It’s bursting with ideas and emotion at every turn, songs which are beautifully vivacious and heart-breakingly sad in the same note – it’s easy to see why Nyro is so revered by those familiar with her work.
Standout track: Captain For Dark Mornings
Clouds – The Clouds Scrapbook (1969)
Clouds might be the most influential Scottish band you’ve never heard of. Formed in Glasgow in the mid ’60s, originally as The Premiers and then later 1-2-3, the trio shaped their own unique mixture of pop, rock, jazz and blues music. Favouring an organ driven sound rather than the more popular option of guitar, their sound has been cited as an influence on David Bowie, Yes and Keith Emerson, and is considered by some to have paved the way for the progressive rock movement of the 1970s.
While Scrapbook may sound a bit dated in parts now, the verve and imagination of the songs still shine here; with a potent mixture of upbeat cheeky tunes like ‘Grandad’ and gorgeous swooping balladry such as ‘The Colours Have Run’ and ‘I’ll Go Girl’. This is one album which is well overdue a reappraisal.
Standout track: Scrapbook
Judee Sill – Heart Food (1973)
Judee Sill is one of the greatest American folk singers which nobody ever talks about. She only released two albums before dying of a drug overdose aged 35. Time seems to have forgotten Sill though, instead favouring many of her contemporaries – but Heart Food, her second album, still sounds incredibly fresh, and way ahead of its time.
Sill’s music makes novel use of heavy overdubs on her vocals and string arrangements, often putting her voice in rounds to add a layered sound which much of that era’s folk music did not have. It’s the songs themselves which elevate this record though, and particularly Sill’s knack for seemingly simple but powerful lyrical imagery.
Standout track: The Donor
Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue (1977)
Brian Wilson wasn’t the only troubled genius of The Beach Boys; his brother and drummer Dennis had a brief solo career which produced this criminally overlooked masterpiece of ’70s US rock.
Recorded over a period of seven years, Pacific Ocean Blue was intended to push beyond what Dennis perceived as the restrictive boundaries of The Beach Boys sound. The result is a wonderfully textured ode to ’70s California full of pockets of darkness and bursts of colour. The album was well received at the time, but it never achieved commercial success, and while the legend of The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson has grown, this album seems to have faded from the collective memory.
Standout track: Farewell My Friend
The Chameleons – Script of the Bridge (1983)
The Chameleons were a post-punk band from Manchester, whose debut album is one of the lost gems of the genre. The range and consistency of Script of the Bridge is staggering; combining the frantic energy of Joy Division, the hooks of Echo & The Bunnymen, and the textured goth undertones of The Cure without ever losing its own sense of identity. They produced another two albums during their first phase, both excellent, and it’s genuinely astounding that The Chameleons are so rarely discussed in the pantheon of influential British guitar music.
Despite splitting in 1987, the band reformed and produced another original album in 2001. They recently completed a farewell tour of the UK under the name ChameleonsVox.
Standout track: Pleasure And Pain
Cocteau Twins & Harold Budd – The Moon & The Melodies (1986)
Cocteau Twins may have garnered a fair deal of acclaim for their bewitching run of albums throughout the ’80s and ’90s, all of which still sound utterly unique, but this album is often overlooked. A full length collaboration with avant-garde/minimalist composer Harold Budd, The Moon and the Melodies is a stunning collection of reverb drenched elegance. The American composer’s minimal piano phrases melt perfectly into Robin Guthrie’s hazy guitar parts and Liz Fraser’s otherworldy vocals are as breathtaking as ever. A gorgeous album to get lost in.
Standout track: Eyes Are Mosaics
Mary Margaret O’Hara – Miss America (1988)
Despite only ever releasing one album, Mary Margaret O’Hara built a very dedicated cult following without ever achieving commercial success, and it’s easy to understand why when you hear that one album. This is stunningly beautiful off-kilter pop which avoids the status quo without ever being difficult or inaccessible.
O’Hara’s voice is the real star of the show, wavering to just the right level without ever breaking down around what are essentially pop songs, constructed of piano and guitar, which have been disassembled and put back together not quite right. It’s a sin that there has never been a follow-up album.
Standout track: Body’s in Trouble
Mulatu Astatke – Ethiopiques Vol. 4 (1998)
The term ‘Ethiopian Jazz’ might not inspire much excitement, but this record is packed full of incredibly good fun tunes. Astatke’s distinctive style has seen him dubbed the father of Ethio-Jazz. Although this collection was only released in 1998, the recordings date from 1969 – 1974.
You may well recognise ‘Yègellé Tezeta’ which appeared in Jim Jaramusch’s Broken Flowers and multiple other films since. These tracks more than stand up on their own though, spanning a range from vibrant big band style jams to noirish brass ruminations. This is a staggeringly evocative record which stands up very well all these years later.
Standout track: Netsanet (Liberty)
The Lucksmiths – Naturaliste (2003)
Australia’s The Lucksmiths were the indie-pop band’s indie-pop band throughout the ’90s and early ’00s – much beloved by peers and with a humble but devoted following. Across a 16 year career and nine studio albums they perfected their own brand of jangly C86 style melodic pop which sparkles with wit and introspection.
Naturaliste, their seventh album, represents the optimum representation of their sound and all of its myriad subtleties; there is buoyant indie-pop on ‘Camera Shy’, understated folk on ‘The Sandringham Line’ and understated melancholy on ‘Stayaway Stars’. Fans of indie-pop will wonder how they ever managed without it.
Standout track: Stayaway Stars
David Thomas Broughton – The Complete Guide to Insufficiency (2005)
David Thomas Broughton has the voice of a honeyed bear and the fingers of a far more nimble creature. The combination is striking on this one of a kind release, which was recorded live in a Leeds church, in one take, with a mixture of pre-written songs and improvisations – the result is a transcendent collection strung with wry humour and pathos from a truly unique artist. The constituent parts may be familiar, but the mixture of non-linear acoustic guitar ruminations, Broughton’s incredible baritone voice, and his opaque but peculiarly moving lyrics makes sure there is nothing else quite like it.
Broughton’s latest release was a wonderful collaboration album with the Juice Vocal Ensemble, released last year on Edinburgh label Song By Toad.
Standout track: Ambiguity
Jetplane Landing – Backlash Cop (2007)
Jetplane Landing have been one of the most under-appreciated rock bands of Britain throughout the ’00s, despite finding some minor crossover success in the early part of the century they seem to have faded completely from the indie mainstream consciousness in recent years. That’s a real shame, because they are that extremely rare breed of rock band who are only getting better with age.
This 2007 effort is one of their best, infusing their skewed post-hardcore with subtle jazz and blues influences, name-checking the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Sam Cooke. The combination of crunchy riffs with slick choruses makes for their most satisfying album to date, and something which sounds refreshingly different in a genre often devoid of new ideas.
Standout track: Song for Sonia Sanchez
Motohiro Nakashima – We Hum on the Way Home (2009)
This album by Motohiro Nakashima is one I’ve returned to consistently since discovering it through the wonderful Japanese label Schole (home to many other underrated ambient gems) almost five years ago.
We Hum On The Way Home is one of the most beautiful ambient/modern-classical albums of the last decade and really ought to be held in higher regard alongside the best of the genre. A combination of lush electronics, pastoral folk guitar intricacies and punctuations of cello, trombone and piano; put on these wonderfully slow paced compositions and hear the world melt away.
Standout track: Tragedy of our Field
Lazarus Clamp – Against Entitlement (2009)
Lazarus Clamp exist in the wilderness of British independent music, defiantly DIY and bafflingly unheard of despite multiple albums worth of marvellous exploratory guitar music. You do get the impression that their relative anonymity suits them just fine though, and they’ve continued to follow their own wistfully skewed instincts. This album represents some of their best work, with equal parts angular guitars, scorched vocals and lovely strings with sparse guitar lines which touches on everything from post-rock to post-punk to post-folk.
The sixth Lazarus Clamp album, The Bird is Not the Metaphor, was released in April 2015.
Standout track: Canon
Joel Alme – Waiting For The Bells (2010)
In a different era it seems entirely possible that Joel Alme would be an international superstar, rather than being only moderately known outside of his native Sweden. The singer-songwriter crafts the kind of huge bruised soul songs which sound utterly timeless; Waiting For The Bells is stuffed full of huge weeping string sections, wallowing brass and bursting with the kind of melancholy lyrics which will instantly tug at your heartstrings.
Standout track: If You Got Somebody Waiting