The history of popular song is littered with unreleased albums. The explanations for these albums being unreleased can vary from record label apathy, recording facilities just not being up to scratch, or the act simply having a change of heart / musical direction at the eleventh hour.
There are of course a number of legendary unreleased albums. The Beach Boys’ Smile is perhaps chief among these, with fanciful tales regarding it’s creation and content swirling around even after Brian Wilson finally released his re-recorded version in 2004. While the 2004 version of Smile answered some questions, Beach Boys fans continue to await an official release of the Beach Boys 1960’s sessions.
Another act whose unreleased material is almost as famous as those albums he has released, is Neil Young, who has made a regular habit of scrapping albums that were partially, or sometimes even fully, complete. It’s even something that Young himself has poked fun at, with the official release of 2007’s Chrome Dreams II, a follow up to his most infamous unreleased album, 1977’s Chrome Dreams.
More often than not though, unreleased albums wallow in obscurity, either never seeing the light of day, or being released years after their creation. Here then are half a dozen lesser known unreleased albums worthy of investigation, the material from which have either been scattered throughout the act’s career through the years, or released in semi-complete form as archive releases.
Jethro Tull – The Chateau D’Isaster Tapes – Recorded 1973 – Released 1993
After the unexpected success of Thick as a Brick catapulted Jethro Tull temporarily into rock’s big leagues, they headed to the semi-legendary Chateau D’Herouville studios as favoured by the likes of Cat Stevens and Elton John to record a similarly lighthearted album.
Sadly a combination of maladies ranging from technical limitations of the recording facilities to illness and home-sickness resulted in such disillusion that Tull retreated back to their usual recording studios having recorded just the bare bones of the planned double album. Some of the material would be re-recorded over their next few albums, with a number of instrumental passages being repurposed on the dark and moody A Passion Play released later in 1973, and a couple of songs re-recorded in their entirity for 1974’s War Child.
Lyrically the material from the original sessions is generally more spontaneous than a lot of Tull’s material, with some of the lyrical conceits being more playful than Ian Anderson’s usual writing, though doubtless it would be tightened up if it had ever seen a full release. Although the recording of the intended double album was never completed, the material that has subsequently been released hints that if they had persevered, it could potentially have been one of the highpoints of the band’s career.
Where to hear it now
Some of the abandoned sessions (now catchily retitled The Chateau D’Isaster Tapes) were released as part of a box set celebrating the band’s 20th anniversary, but it wasn’t until 1993, that the majority of the sessions were released as part of the Nightcap compilation. Due to the incomplete nature of the recordings, a lot of the material was instrumental, with Anderson re-recording some of the flute parts, but unwilling to record new vocal parts as his voice had changed so dramatically in the intervening 20 years. More recently Steve Wilson oversaw the resurrection of more of the material from the sessions, which was combined with the material that had already been retrieved from the vaults and included as part of the 40th anniversary reissue of A Passion Play.
Frankie Miller – High Life – Recorded 1974 – Released 2011
Diminutive Scot Frankie Miller had been treading the boards with a number of bands that failed to find a sizeable audience before he signed to Chrysalis Records as a solo artist. His solo debut, Once in a Blue Moon, found him backed by pub rockers Brinsley Schwartz, but once again it had failed to reach the ears of a receptive audience.
One person who was receptive was New Orleans songwriting and production legend Allen Toussaint. Upon hearing Once in a Blue Moon, Toussaint sought out Miller and offered to work with him. With one of the big name in RnB giving him such a vote of confidence, Miller took the chance and recorded and album which blended Toussaint penned material with his own. With Miller’s vocal talent and Toussaint’s production nous, they recorded High Life, arguably the best album of Miller’s career.
For reasons still unclear, Chrysalis failed to hear the brilliance of the album. Without consulting either Miller or Toussaint they commissioned a full remix of the album and released it with a different running order. The result was an album that sounded compromise and it failed to have the desired effect as sales were again far lower than anyone had hoped. Quite what might have been achieved if Chrysalis had displayed a little more faith in Miller and Toussaint’s judgement, is a matter of debate, but what is unraguable is that the original mix is considerably more interesting.
Where to hear it now
The original Allen Toussaint mix of High Life wasn’t officially released until 2011, when it was included, along with the Chrysalis endorsed remix, in the exhaustive four disc compilation Frankie Miller… That’s Who. It doesn’t take a Frankie Miller enthusiast to recognise that Toussaint’s mix was far superior.
Kirsty MacColl – Real – Recorded 1983
After a couple of singles for Stiff Records released in 1979, the refreshingly wilfull Kirsty MacColl signed to major label Polydor in late 1980. Although the much celebrated single “There’s a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis” hit the charts in 1981, parent album Desperate Character failed to meet commercial expectations. Much of this was down to the fact that because MacColl resisted their attempts to market her as a girly pin up, Polydor had no idea how to market her.
Unbowed by Polydor’s lack of effective marketing of Desperate Character, MacColl headed back into the studio to record the follow up with a number of different bands, collaborating with such luminaries as Jools Holland and Pino Palladino. The resulting sessions resulted in a set of synth-heavy material for a new-wave flavoured album which was provisionally called Real, however Polydor had no interest in promoting MacColl, or her new album, so Real was shelved and MacColl resigned to Stiff Records, however the label was in it’s final days. Although she would enjoy a number of medium size hit singles through the 1980s, Kirsty MacColl wouldn’t release another full album until 1989’s Kite for the Virgin label.
Where to hear it now
The Real sessions have never seen the light of day as a full album, although five songs from them were released as part of 2005’s posthumous From Croydon to Cuba anthology. They’re a fascinating listen, especially as they show a side to Kirsty MacColl’s muse that few realised ever existed.
The Cult – Peace – Recorded 1986 – Released 2000
In 1985 “She Sells Sanctuary” was the breakthrough hit for The Cult and Love was its parent album that mixed gothic psychedelia and hard rock. Feeling they were on to a good thing, the band decided that they wanted to record an even more paisley patterned follow up called Peace with tried and trusted producer Steve Brown, however after recording an album’s worth of material, they started losing confidence and approached the fast rising Rick Rubin to remix the mooted first single “Love Removal Machine”. Rubin talked The Cult into re-recording the whole album, resulting in the more straightforward and more streamlined Electric, which saw the band making significant inroads into the American rock market.
The Cult would continue down this route for the next few years, becoming one of the biggest hard rock bands on the planet as the decade closed, before getting too big, losing their way and splitting up by the mid 90s. They’ve since reformed, split up again, reformed again and somewhere in the middle of all that they realised that Peace wasn’t the dud that they’d originally written it off as.
Where to hear it now
Originally included as part of 2000’s now discontinued Rare Cult boxed set, Peace saw the light of day again in 2013, released alongside a remastered edition of its replacement, Electric, and unlike the majority of albums on this list, the snapily titled Electric-Peace remains widely available.
XTC – Apple Venus – Recorded 1998-99
A stand off between XTC and Virgin Records had effectively seen the band go on strike from shortly after the release of their wonderful Nonsuch album in 1992. The deadlock remained until Virgin eventually backed down and the band were able to head to the studio to record the material they had been stockpiling for the majority of the decade.
Andy Partridge, effectively XTC’s creative dictator, decided that their comeback album should be a double, however his bandmates Colin Moulding and Dave Gregory apparently disagreed, and wanted the material to be split between two single, punchy, albums.
A series of calamities, including the departure of longterm bandmember Gregory, saw the planned double album downsized to a single, the career-best Apple Venus Vol. One. Gregory, one of the great underrated enlgish rock guitar players, had seemingly become disillusined with the orchestral direction of the new album, and after one too many disagreements with Partridge, had left the studio never to return, reducing XTC to a duo for the first time in their career. Ironically, Apple Venus would be followed up by XTC’s most guitar-heavy album for years, Wasp Star (or Apple Venus Vol. Two). Alongside a clutch of power-pop classics was material left over from the double album sessions.
Where to hear it now
You can’t, at least not in the originally intended form. A provisional tracklisting was outlined in Neville Farmer’s book XTC Song Stories (published in 1998), so if you’ve got both volumes of Apple Venus on iTunes and the book, you can pull it together as a playlist.
Half Man Half Biscuit – The Peel Sessions – 1986-2003
Where every other album on this list was at least intended, HMHB’s Peel Sessions release is an album in potential only.
While there was The Peel Session’s EP released in 1988 on the Strange Fruit Records label and 1987’s Back Again in the DHSS contained the result of a Peel session, there seems to be no solid plans to compile Half Man Half Biscuit’s Peel Sessions on one release, like so many other acts associated with the great man already have. Over the years the gleefully amateur vaguely semi-official HMHB website (cobweb.businesscollaborator.com/hmhb/) have made a number of the sessions available for download on the understanding that they are for personal use only, and there’s more than enough material to make a double CD more than feasible.
There’s a school of thought among some Half Man Half Biscuit fans that they lost an element of their original appeal when someone in the band learned to tune a guitar, howver, the bare bones nature of HMHB’s Peel sessions mean that some of that original flavour returns, as even the band’s modest level of studio production is stripped away. There’s also the added bonus of the delightful repartee between Peel and HMHB main man Nigel Blackwell, in which they effortlessly elevate the mundane to previously unexplored levels of fascination.
Over their dozen sessions for John Peel, HMHB promoted almost every album they released until 2005’s Achtung Bono (the exception being 1995’s Some Call it Godcore). They also recorded a number of exclusive tracks for the sessions, which have never been released on any of their albums or EPs, including the Dave Stewart-baiting “Mars Ultras (You’ll Never Make the Station)”, the infamous “Mr Cave’s a Window Cleaner Now” and the celebrated “Epiphany”. Best of all though is their joyous cover of “Song to a Siren”, complete with a glorious segue into “Vatican Broadside”.
Where to hear it
Patience is required here. The website does keep changing which sessions are available to download, so they can be acquired from time to time, however it’s a long-term label of love. Perhaps the best we can hope for is for Blackwell and the BBC to come to an agreement to release a double CD, however given Blackwell’s ambivelance towards any sort of career development, we could all be waiting for some time.