I suppose every serious rock lover with a serious album collection could come up with a list of favorite recordings they think everyone else should enjoy as well. That’s just what Greg Prato has done in his Overlooked/Underappreciated: 354 Recordings That Demand Your Attention. He might be right. Of his 354 choices, I think I’ve heard maybe 50 or so of his listings, heard of perhaps 200 of the other bands, and know absolutely nothing of the rest.
To be fair, Prato and I are of two different generations. He was apparently still in high school when David Lee Roth left Van Halen in 1985. When I got my diploma in 1971, L.A Woman, Pearl, and Tapestry were just being delivered to the record store shelves. So Prato cut his teeth on heavy metal and hard rock and much of his listening to older material occurred years and decades after the recordings’ original impact. Nothing wrong with that at all, but for Prato, the ’60s barely happened.
Having written 12 books so far, Prato certainly knows his stuff about music of the ’80s and beyond, and he could give Eddie Trunk a run for his money on That Metal Show. But it would be unfair to say Prato’s choices are limited to metal men as he has favorites from jazz/rock (Billy Cobham, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report), soul (Curtis Mayfield, Sam and Dave), and lots of punk (New York Dolls, The Stooges). He likes some novelty records as well like those by Morton Downey Jr., of all people, and good old William Shatner. On the other hand, he admits he finds blues and blues/rock repetitious, so few founding fathers, other than Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley, are represented.
Perhaps the best way to demonstrate the format of the book is to provide an example. I opted to present a choice I wholeheartedly agree with:
The Modern Lovers – The Modern Lovers [Beserkley: August 1976]
Discovery: I found myself discovering/enjoying many proto-punk bands
circa the late ’90s/early 21st century (Stooges, MC5, etc.), so it was only a
matter of time until I asked for the Modern Lovers’ self-titled debut from
Scrutiny: When half of your band went on to join subsequent acts that
sold millions (keyboardist Jerry Harrison/Talking Heads and David
Robinson/The Cars), how could your band miss? Well, it certainly wasn’t
due to the quality of the material, as heard throughout the Modern
Lovers’ self-titled debut. Recorded in September 1971 and March 1972
(but not released until 1976), the album is full of quirky alt-pop
ditties…before such a term as “alt-pop” even existed.
Similarity: Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Television
Keepers: “Roadrunner,” “Pablo Picasso,” “She Cracked”
Follow Up Listening: Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Rock ‘n’ Roll with the Modern Lovers, Modern Lovers ‘Live’
Tidbit: The song “Roadrunner” has been covered by several renowned
punkers, including the Sex Pistols and Joan Jett.
In every entry, there’s a “Discovery” sentence or two for us to learn where, when, and why Prato picked up the album in question, and frequently that he is exploring music released before his time. The “Scrutiny” is his capsule analysis of the album, usually comparing it to others of a similar bent. (In the case of The Modern Lovers, it’s a bit odd he didn’t mention that John Cale produced their debut album as he has nice things to say about the Velvet Underground vet elsewhere.)
I especially appreciated the “Similarity” listings as those are very good clues to whether or not the album in question is likely to appeal to my tastes. I wasn’t sure the “Follow Up Listening” mini-discographies are all that useful as they seem merely names of albums by the same artist. In the case of The Modern Lovers, for example, none of Jonathan Richmond’s subsequent releases sounded remotely like the Cale produced debut largely because Cale wasn’t involved and Richmond moved further and further into quirky pop. “Marching Martians in the Laundromat,” anyone?
Were I to work up a book like this, I’d of course be drawing from artists of different vintages and sub-genres. I’d be touting Eric Burdon, the criminally neglected Steppenwolf, Ten Years After, The Pentangle, Spirit, Solomon Burke, and countless singer/songwriters not part of Prato’s scope. I was glad to see The Shadows get a plug and Leslie West, The Bongos, Uriah Heep, and The Tubes getting mentions. I don’t know about Jamming With Edward! as that was an album quickly relegated to bargain bins when it came out and you couldn’t give it away after that. To each his own.
But that’s one of the pleasures of books like this. Comparing your own favorites with Prato’s suggestions is simply fun to do, and likely readers of Prato’s generation will enjoy it most. I’m glad to have the book in my collection and likely will indeed sample some of what Prato praises. You’re never too old to rock, or learn more about it.
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