I have a Spotify playlist called Hidden Gems and it’s one of my favorites to return to a couple times a year. There’s no genre distinction, no particular theme; these are just great songs that are generally unknown. There are killer songs from well known artists who weren’t as popular at the time of release, amazing tunes from artists who flamed out before they ever got over, forgotten gold, little heard gems from stalwarts, and just damn good songs not many people have heard. I’m going to pick a few of these from time to time to spotlight.
The Broken West - “Down in the Valley”
Holy shit, what an introduction! When I heard this song, I thought this band was destined for greatness. Power pop with some Americana influence, and a MASSIVE hook, swagger, and all kinds of “It” factor, this should surely have made them a household name. Sadly, it didn’t happen. In the very least, “Down in the Valley” should have been a big hit in some format. That didn’t happen either. I have no idea why. It’s a damn ear worm. The Broken West only released 2 proper albums and broke up. What might have been… with better promotion and the right ears hearing it. They’d fit in perfectly today with pop inspired rockers like White Reaper and Rookie.
Krizz Kaliko - “Bipolar”
Part of Tech N9ne’s hip-hop collective, Strange Music, Kaliko is both a skilled rapper and a talented vocalist. “Bipolar” features the latter, and it’s a strangely catchy look into a difficult upbringing. Dealing with childhood mental illness, it's a bracing story with an addictive piano riff and an oddly sing-along chorus. The contrasts make this a memorable tune. And for those who think hip-hop is just brags over beats, this is a narrative filled with true emotional candor. A real hidden gem.
Whiskeytown - “Choked Up”
I know Ryan Adams’ name is verboten these days, and with good reason, but I’m slowly coming around to allowing myself to listen to a few of his songs again (at least if they come up in a shuffle, I don't skip), particularly the best of the best. This is one of them. Adams’ vocals are chilled out, letting the killer melody and tasteful harmonies take the lead. It’s a sweet pop-folk tune that sounds like something you’d hear in the background of an early 00s teen drama that you’d rush to buy on iTunes after the show, but one that stands the test of time. It was recorded during the Pneumonia sessions, but left off that record. To my knowledge, the only release of this song was on Lost Highway’s compilation album Lost and Found, Volume 1.
Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise - “Once Upon a Time”
“Once Upon a Time” was a minor hit on MTV in 1996 but has been lost to the sands of time. It’s a soulful, nostalgic look back at the days of Marvin Gaye and ’72 Chevys. Bradley’s gritty voice is the centerpiece, and I was hooked immediately. A blind soul singer finding success in his latter years leading a garage rock band was quite the marketing hook, but this band backed it up with moving music. Although I had my doubts, I’m happy to report that Bradley is still alive and recording music. Wikipedia lists the band as still active, though they have not released an album since 2008.