The Ten Best Songs You’ve Never Heard

(Not to be confused with the ten best albums you’ve never heard, which you can find here)

Many of us have had the experience of buying an album (or CD) primarily because of one song and finding that after a few listenings, the song you bought the album for isn’t even your favorite anymore.  In fact, your “best” song often was never even released as a single, or even on the flip side of a single (okay, The Curmudgeon is really dating himself with talk of singles and flip sides, isn’t he?).

Buried on flip sides and on albums built around very popular songs are some great tunes, including these:  the ten best songs you’ve never heard.  None of them ever were a hit and few, if any, have ever been heard on the radio – but that doesn’t mean they’re not great songs.

Now, presented in no particular order:

Paul Winter – “Icarus.”  Paul Winter has worked solo and with his own Paul Winter Consort and has recorded “Icarus” a number of times.  Written by Consort member Ralph Towner, “Icarus” may be the most beautiful three minutes of instrumental music ever recorded.  At the very least, it will give you a new appreciation and respect for the cello.

Art Garfunkel – “Wooden Planes.”  This song was written by Jimmy Webb – he of “MacArthur Park,” “Up Up and Away,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “All I Know,” and many others fame.  For once, Garfunkel doesn’t lean too heavily on the sweetness of his voice, there’s some terrific and haunting piano playing, and perfect use of a synthesizer (high compliment from someone who thinks the best synthesizer is an unplugged synthesizer).  It’s the last song on the album, and that’s only appropriate, because after you hear it there’s no point to listening to anything else.

Stevie Nicks – “Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You.”  This has only recently become The Curmudgeon’s favorite Stevie Nicks song; it recently slid ahead of “Beauty and the Beast” because the lyrics actually seem to mean something.  A bonus:  you can actually make out those lyrics, which isn’t always true when Stevie sings.  Also, pay attention to the three piano chords played repeatedly throughout much of the song; they create a very haunting effect.

Crosby and Nash – “To the Last Whale/Wind on the Water.”  The Curmudgeon heard this song once in the late 1970s and then not again until last year.  It’s just plain beautiful music sung by two guys who harmonize better than anyone not named Paul or Art.

Carly Simon – “Haunting.”  Great singing, great playing, great arrangements.  Lovely lovely lovely.

Joe Jackson – “Drowning.”  Try this on for size:

I don’t love you
But I’m lost
Thinking of you
And the ghosts
Of so many special moments
That passed so quickly at the time
And now they come and track me down
And echo round and round and round
And time goes quickly
Or disappears completely
And I feel like I fade away
Like drowning

I don’t need you
But it’s so hard
To be without you
Though you’re not far away
I censor my emotions
And tell myself to bide my time
But every time you come around
You batter my defenses down
But so gently
Like some sweet hypnosis
And the world just slips away
I’m drowning

Add to it another verse, stellar piano playing, and that wonderful sense of vitality that Jackson’s voice naturally evokes and you have a great, great song.

Harry Chapin – “The Shortest Story.”  Chapin was a popular singer-songwriter who drove like a maniac and died behind the wheel.  One of his passions was helping to feed the hungry, and in this song, which he sings with a growl as bells toll ominously in the background, he tells of one particular hungry infant:

I am born today, the sun burns its promise in my eyes;
Mama strikes me and I draw a breath and cry.
Above me a cloud softly tumbles through the sky;
I am glad to be alive.

It is my seventh day, I taste the hunger and I cry;
my brother and sister cling to Mama’s side.
She squeezes her breast, but it has nothing to provide;
someone weeps, I fall asleep.

It is twenty days today, Mama does not hold me anymore;
I open my mouth but I am too weak to cry.
Above me a bird slowly crawls across the sky;
why is there nothing now to do but die?

If you listen to this song and the goose flesh doesn’t rise on your arms, you have Chandler Bing disease and are dead on the inside.

Kate Bush – “Moments of Pleasure.”  Bush has always been quirky and peculiar, and this song is no exception.  Consider this:  have you ever heard a song that mentions Douglas Fairbanks?  Bush has always been great on the piano, a string section helps immensely, and when she sings “Just being alive, It can really hurt, And these moments given, Are a gift from time” her voice soars and a chill runs up your spine.  Last year Bush released a CD that consists of reworkings of some of her older songs, and this song was among them.  She knew, though, that she could never top her performance of those lines, so the remake skips them entirely – proving, as we all know, that sometimes, what you don’t say is as important as what you do.

Marti Jones – “Inside These Arms.”  Simply the best hair brush song ever – ever!  (Now if only The Curmudgeon needed a hair brush!)

Rosanne Cash – “Paralyzed.”

I picked up the phone, you were both on the line.

Your words to each other froze me in time.

A lifetime between us just burnt on the wires

Dissolved in a dial tone, consumed in your fires.

 Between the poignant lyrics, the manner in which Cash pounds on the keyboard, and her usual great but underrated singing, you can just feel the pain.  An amazing song ­– and one with which anyone who has ever been cheated on can identify.

The Curmudgeon also would like to nominate two songs for special “honorable mention” status.

Steely Dan – “Charlie Freak.”  “Charlie Freak” isn’t even among The Curmudgeon’s top ten favorite Steely Dan songs, but it’s here because he finds its sound so incredibly original and distinct.  In general, The Curmudgeon believes that only three modern-era performers/bands have truly distinct, original sounds:  the Beatles, Abba (I see that smirk; knock it off), and the Cranberries.  That none of them are from the U.S. is not a coincidence, he believes.  “Charlie Freak” fits in perfectly with those bands as having a distinct sound that you won’t hear anywhere else, and for that reason alone it’s worth a listen or three.

Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante.”  Okay, The Curmudgeon knows what you’re thinking:  “What the hell?”  And it’s even worse than that:  this song is from – are you ready? – an opera.  That’s right:  AN OPERA.  It’s from Carmen, which you would recognize some songs from without necessarily realizing they’re from an opera or from Carmen.  This song, also known as “Micaela’s Aria,” is absolutely, positively thrilling.  Listen for yourself; it’ll be worth the five minutes, but if you think listening to five minutes of an opera song might kill you, fast forward to the thirty-five second mark and listen for one minute.

Happy listening!

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