As far as I understand it, the modern “indie” or “independent” music movement grew out of the late-70s punk bands who chose to manufacture and distribute their own albums, freeing themselves from the decision-making process of the existing record labels. When bands like the Buzzcocks and Crass began to take pride in the fact that their music was being created independently it made the idea of independent production into something to be proud of, not ashamed of, and that is the artistic ideal of many “indie” artists who have followed in their footsteps. But in the 1960s and 1970s it was only the most desperate and driven artists who took the step to self-manufacture their own recordings, artists who were often too strange or too unprofessional to be signed to a record label. These artists and the records they made are often called “Private Press,” meaning they had their albums pressed privately, paid for out of their own pockets, and often in very small print runs, perhaps making as few as a couple hundred or even a couple dozen copies of their recordings. Usually they made up a record label name, but these record labels were not what you might think of as an official label, and usually only existed for the purpose of putting out one or two records made by the same people who paid to press the albums. Millions of these albums exist, and more are being made every day, although there were fewer in the decades before “punk” and “indie” were things to be proud of. The vast majority of these privately made albums are indeed bad or unmemorable, but among the millions of mediocre records there are inevitably a few rare and special gems that rise up above the others, albums which can bring listeners incredible enjoyment but have almost no chance of being heard by very many people. As music lovers it is our job, when we find a gem, to help other people to hear it! So here are some of my personal favorite gems among the lost recordings, some privately pressed albums which were never manufactured in high quantity and were never heard by many people, but are some of my favorite albums of all time. I’m picking three examples from the original “private press” era (before punk) and three examples from the modern era.
THREE FROM THE EARLY ERA:
Dandelions – Dandelions
Apparently the real name of this 1970 band was “The Children of Sunshine” but on the album sleeve it looks like the band name was “Dandelions.” In any case, the album itself is titled Dandelions, and this song is called Dandelions, and the band was two young girls on guitars, with some drums and bass provided by grownups. The album is totally delightful, and until it is officially reissued you will have to find out more about it from http://www.dandelionsalbum.
Virgin Insanity – Seeking Truth
The first Virgin Insanity record is the best, and it is called “Illusions of the Maintenance Man,” pressed in an edition of 200 copies around 1971 in Texas. They had two other albums which were never released until recently, and this track comes from one of those later albums. However, if you like this song I think you should try to buy their first album, which has more of this sort of feeling. Their best work is very moving, but almost disturbing in its intensity and its lo-fi atmosphere. For more info you can try contacting the original guy at BobLong@VirgrinInsanity.com or BobLong@VirginInsanity.com (it is spelled wrong on their website, and I don’t know if that was on purpose). You can order copies of all of the existing Virgin Insanity recordings, on CD, from their Japanese reissue label P-Vine here.
D.R. Hooker – The Sea
This is the best track on D.R. Hooker’s first album “The Truth” (pressed in 1972 in Massachussetts) but there are some other really good tracks on that record as well, and the second D.R. Hooker album “Armageddon” is also excellent if you like this sort of thing. The photo of D.R. on the album cover makes him look like Jesus carrying a guitar, with beard and robes, walking alone on a hill. Although there are many songs about religion on the albums, the peaceful solo portrait on the first album cover gives you no warning as to the full-band sound you’re about to hear, which is sometimes jazzy and cheesy and sometimes rocking, and when it rocks it rocks pretty hard, like on this track. You might like the lounge-jazz songs too. You can get re-issues of the albums here. D.R. Hooker is dead now, but maybe some of his band members are still alive.
THREE FROM THE MODERN ERA
Grey Revell – Glass Hammer
Grey Revell recorded three albums from 1998 – 2000 that I consider lost classics. This song is from his third album, “The Green Train,” from 2000. He was a songwriter who moved to New York City from Los Angeles and began to make a name for himself with his small concerts and self-released albums but he got married and left the city and mostly vanished from the music scene, never having done a single tour, and leaving behind only a handful of CDRs to be remembered by. His music blends folk and rock and psychedelia, with a beautiful sense of lyric and melody, and often a much higher quality of arranging and production than most privately made albums. When you hear these tracks you will not believe that they have only been heard by perhaps less than 100 people – this is not “strange, lost music,” this is popular indie music which has simply never been heard because of circumstance. I just did some searching on the internet and found that all of Grey Revell’s albums, including some recent recordings which I have never heard, are available to download very cheap from Bandcamp here. I recommend you support this lost artist, where ever he is.
Prewar Yardsale – Turn On (live Peel session)
A rough and raw and strange antifolk duo, this band has had a very big influence on me. I once wrote a ten-page essay about their lyrics. The music seems simple and crude, just an acoustic guitar and a bucket for a drum, with the occasional use of a distortion pedal, and strange simple lyrics, but it all adds up to very smart and evocative songs that sound different than anything else I have ever heard. Some similarities to Beat Happening and the Velvet Underground, but even more minimal – most Prewar Yardsale songs are all the same two chords, sometimes three chords. Amazing to make an entire 15-year career out of only using the A and E chord, with just sometimes another chord or two. I have some amazing unreleased recordings that I bootlegged form live shows or got from their home demo recordings, someday maybe I will try to release an album of the unreleased stuff, which is all insane and excellent. As for the officially released material I recommend the first Prewar Yardsale album “Lowdown” but you can find all of their albums here.
Gentlemen’s Relish – Third In A Knife-Fight
People give me a LOT of home made albums at my concerts and in the mail, but this one is the best I’ve ever got. The album is called “An Early Bath for… Gentlemen’s Relish” and it’s very strange. The freakish album cover, a crude drawing of what seems to be a viking in a bathtub, gives no clue as to the sound of the album. It still sounds like nothing else I’ve ever heard, I don’t even want to know anything else about it because that might defuse some of its chills and disturbing charm. Despite the sort of 80s/”New Romantic” angle of it, it somehow fits in well with any collection of underground weird collector’s item “private-press” stuff from the 60s-70s. If you were having a nightmare about Morrissey, these are the songs he would sing in your nightmare, and it would be very hard to recall them when you woke up so you would need this album to help you remember. You can find the full album for sale here. Or you can contact the artist directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.