What’s Your Favourite “Unknown” Album?

Before I begin, let me define what I mean by “unknown”… I’m not talking about new material by an unsigned band or artist. I’m not referring to some niche-market, obscure release by a band who never made the charts either. No… by “unknown” I mean an album (or even a whole body of work) by a band who were pretty much household names at the time, but have subsequently been collectively forgotten.

This kind of thing happens all the time it seems. Not only in music, but there have been some fantastic TV shows & films which were pretty well known when they were “current” but people nowadays seem never to have heard of. Most people who were around at the time, (or even those who weren’t) recall 70s TV shows like “Blake’s 7”, “When The Boat Comes In” or “The Six Million Dollar Man”.

I would wager that most folks who gave a nod of recognition to those titles would scratch their head in a bemused fashion at the mention of “The Fantastic Journey”. No, I don’t mean that film where a bunch of scientists, including Raquel Welch, get shrunk to microscopic proportions and get sent on a mission inside the body of a cold war defector to foil an assassination attempt. That was called “Fantastic Voyage”. Nor do I mean the Disney tale about a bunch of domestic pets who cross the wilderness to be reunited with their owners – that was called “The Incredible Journey”. No, “The Fantastic Journey” was a US sci-fi series, shown on Friday evenings, getting huge prime time ratings in the UK in the mid-late 70s. Here’s the premise of the show, courtesy of Wikipedia…

“The series concerns a family and their associates who charter a boat out into the Caribbean for a scientific expedition. After an encounter in the area of the Bermuda Triangle with an unnatural green cloud the group find themselves shipwrecked on a mysterious uncharted island from which they are unable to escape.”

The point is that this was a pretty popular show at the time, getting audiences as big as many shows which are remembered to this day, but for some reason, this show dropped out of the collective consciousness.

As I said, the same thing happens with music too. The mid-late 70s (very much my era, as you may have gathered by now) was responsible for many musical trends which endured… punk, disco, the beginnings of synth-pop, the resurgence of ska to name but a few. Anyone remember the ‘50s rock ‘n roll revival from that era too? OK, so you do. Fair enough, which band was at the vanguard of that movement? I bet you’re thinking of Showaddywaddy, aren’t you? And it’s true, they were a massively popular band back then, but I bet you didn’t think of these guys…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtsvuPOh4_M 

They were huge back then & even now still play to happy doo-wop loving audiences all over the country, albeit with one or two line-up changes since those heady days. They even counted a certain Mr “Rotten”, John Lydon among their fans. However nowadays, I’d all but guarantee they’d fail to appear on any 70s compilation CD or even an entire box-set of music from that era. For some reason, they have been airbrushed out of the “official” collective memory of the 70s music scene, as defined by the nostalgia industry. As much as I love this band, they aren’t responsible for MY personal favourite “unknown” album (they were very much a singles act, anyway). No, the honour of being the huge selling album no-one has heard of (at least when I mention it) goes to… (drum roll)…

“The Snow Goose” by Camel.

See, I told you that you wouldn’t have heard have heard of it didn’t I? I won’t go through the whole Wikipedia entry here, as I’m sure you’re capable of doing so yourself if you’re interested. Suffice to say it’s a good old fashioned bit of indulgent ‘70s prog rock. An entirely instrumental rock band-meets-orchestra work based on the novella of the same name by American author Paul Gallico. It is an utterly beautiful piece of music from beginning to end (in the best prog tradition, each track morphs into the next). It attained a respectable chart position in the UK, reaching the top 20 in the album sales chart, so it’s hardly “an underground classic” qualifying for “cult status”, to coin a couple of clichés. No, this was pretty much mainstream stuff at the time. Here’s the band themselves from an Old Grey Whistle Test session playing excerpts from the album:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTVnCyDoQlQ 

The only time I’ve heard any of this album in the media recently was, of all places, on Top Gear. The Stig often listens to odd choices of music when doing fast laps in whatever supercar is being tested that week. I caught an old repeat on Dave (a UK TV channel) the other week & he was listening to a track from The Snow Goose as he blasted round the track. Jeremy Clarkson explained that The Stig was going through a “Prog Rock Phase” which would explain it. It comes to something when the only other person who seems to have heard of your favourite album is a mute anonymous, “tame racing driver”. Still, such is life, I guess. Do feel free to post your own much-loved but largely forgotten albums in the comments section. I’d love to know I’m not the only person this has happened to.

John Robson Guitar Tuition & Musicianship Coaching

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1 Comment

  1. Being a fan of Camel, I’m with you on ‘The Snow Goose’; it’s a lovely melodic suite. The game you are suggesting is tricky to the extent that one person’s ‘lost’ is another’s ‘No not that again’. For example, I posted last week on the classic Yes album ‘Close to the Edge’ to mark the anniversary of its release in ’72. Several readers commented that they ‘loved Fragile’ but did not know ‘Close to the Edge’. Fancy that!
    Anyway, my contribution is the marvellous “801 Live” with Phil Manzanera, Brian Eno and others.

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