Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multiverse.
-- Cosmologist Bernard Carr
The best job I ever had was reviewing singles for the trade magazine Record World in the early '70s. It was a thrill when a record I picked became a smash and disappointing when a track stiffed after I predicted it was heading for the Top 10. When a record I loved didn't make it for reasons having nothing to do with its quality -- say the band disbanded or the label's promo man was tardy with the payola -- I'd imagine a parallel universe in which it soared to No. 1 with a bullet and sold a million copies.
It's fun to conjure a world in which Graham Parker has had Bruce Springsteen's career; Jesse Winchester, Paul Siebel or Eric Andersen was its James Taylor; the late Judee Sill its Joni Mitchell; and Van Dyke Parks its Randy Newman. This is not to take anything away from the brilliance of The Boss, James, Judy or Randy -- I just don't need to hear Born to Run, You've Got a Friend, Both Sides Now or I Love L.A. again anytime soon.
If the multiverse theory holds, there's a land far, far away exactly like ours except that the following cuts -- which never made it to American pop charts -- would be as much a part of our musical DNA as the songs endlessly repeated in movies, oldies radio and commercials in our neck of the cosmological woods.
1. Kenny Vance and the Planotones, Looking for an Echo. There are so many doo wop records that should have been hits -- Memories of El Monte by the Penguins and Comes Love by the Skyliners to name two. But this one is especially special because its lyric captures the fleeting wonder and mystery of the music itself. So what if it's got the same tune as that other paean to pop nostalgia Those Oldies But Goodies?
2. Judee Sill, The Kiss. Sill, who died in 1979, scored with Jesus Was a Crossmaker (also covered beautifully by the Hollies). Record World's review, by Fred Goodman, was short and sweet: "Jesus Is a Chartmaker!" The Kiss is a deep, sweeping ballad that rewards the multiple listenings a hit record requires.
3. Graham Parker, Heat Treatment. Parker was as good as it got in the late '70s but never received the promotional support he needed from Mercury Records. (His revenge was the biting track Mercury Poisoning.) Heat Treatment is just one of many Parker tracks -- here's another -- that achieved rock & roll -- but not chart -- greatness.
4. Carlene Carter, Me and the Wildwood Rose. Listen to this and you will cry. Carlene is known to many as the daughter of June Carter and step-daughter of Johnny Cash -- or the ex-wife of Nick Lowe -- but this nostalgic stunner is dedicated to her grandmother, legendary country star Mother Maybelle Carter, and her late sister, Rosey Nix, aka the wildwood rose.
5. Eric Andersen, Is It Really Love At All. From 1972, when singer-songwriters were a dime a dozen, this tender tune transcends genres.
6. Bessie Banks, Go Now. Anyone who thinks Go Now is the property of the Moody Blues -- who began their recording career by taking the song to No. 1 -- is in for a treat. Like so many other British Invasion bands, the Moodies hit chart paydirt with a tune that was done earlier and better -- by an otherworldly soul singer.
7. Dante & The Evergreens, Dreamland. This group charted with a cover of The Hollywood Argyles' Alley Oop. But they were more than a novelty act, as proven by this piece of pop nirvana.
8. Del McCoury Band, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning. As perfect a song as the great Richard Thompson ever wrote, and its best cover might be this one, by these bluegrass icons.
9. James Hunter, Walk Away. A jaunty heartbreaker in which our hero -- in the great tradition of Herman's Hermits' Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter all those years ago -- tries but doesn't quite succeed in maintaining his British stiff upper lip.
10. Al Kooper, Going, Going, Gone. From his 2007 CD Black Coffee. Who'd'a thunk the Zelig of '60s rock and roll could come up with such a beautifully bitter ode to the old days?
Big hat tip to Gregg best-ears-in-the-business Geller.
Next week in Part 2: Drive By Truckers, The Move and eight more.