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 successful, forgotten gold, little heard gems from stalwarts, and just damn good songs not many people know about. I’m going to pick a few of these from time to time to spotlight.
Goodman County - Anarchy in the Southern States
Hell yeah. This song is just batshit country punk chaos and I love it. Hailing from Mississippi, this alt-country outfit only lasted 1 album and a few years, and probably could’ve made it slightly bigger if they’d gotten in touring with some bigger boys like Lucero, but maybe the van life wasn’t for them. Anyway, this tune is a short blast of exhilaration. The end of it makes you want to run through a wall. The whole album is worth a listen if you’re into Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, Two Cow Garage, or Lucero.
BettySoo - Just Another Lover
This one is a deep cut that cuts deep. In it, BettySoo laments being in an uneven relationship where the guy’s only in it for sex. Her pure and sweet voice rolls out such harsh words as “another piece of skin you can get close to.” He’s reduced her to an object and she’s not quite to the point of hating him for it, but it’s on the way. In a song full of gut-punch lyrics, “enough to get you by, not enough to cling to” maybe the saddest. The whole song is an iron fist in a silk glove.
Urban Dance Squad - Deeper Shade of Soul
In hindsight, probably a forebear of rap-rock, Urban Dance Squad only had this minor hit but it’s a fun one. Blending funk, rap, dance, and rock, this tune grabbed me from the start on the Dial MTV video countdown, amidst the hair metal of the era. It’s catchy, bouncy, and atmospheric. This song screams “late 90s” with its blending of styles and embrace of alternative music vibes, but this came out in 1989. And it’s way too much fun to feel the guilty part of “guilty pleasure.”
Pinmonkey - Let’s Kill Saturday Night
When one ponders the “should have beens” of the early 2000s, one thing’s for sure: Pinmonkey should have been. Encapsulating everything from country to folk to soul to 70s rock, Pinmonkey was ahead of its time and maybe a little too good for country radio (even back when country radio was more listenable). “Let’s Kill Saturday Night,” a slightly more radio-friendly cover of Robbie Fulks’ original, peaked at #44 in 2004, but it and the band - now defunct - deserved so much more. Just try not to tap your foot.
Arliss Nancy - 40s
Another country punk tune, “40s” is a sad sack summary of a sad sack life. “Everything I could’ve changed won’t matter now” sings frontman Cory Call, unsatisfied with where his choices have led him, but accepting of his role in it. You can read this song as a celebration of despair or a drunken lament. Either way, it’s an invigorating song that oddly makes you want to sidle up next to him on the lake shore with a 40 ounce.