By Alex Distefano
By Daniel Kohn
By Aimee Murillo
By Nick Schou
By Nate Jackson
By Nate Jackson
By Dave Lieberman
By Daniel Kohn
Some of the most evil people in the world work at giant record labels, where their only duties are to subvert artistic aspiration and make fragile geniuses cry, and they are extremely good at what they do. The great discography in the sky has hundreds if not thousands of entries that don't exist here on Earth: albums that for one reason or another (but mostly due to record companies) were put to tape and then left in shallow graves. These weren't just demos or sketches—these were entire albums, never released while the bands that made them actually existed, or in some cases, never ever officially released. It's a helluva business: piss a year of your life into a tape canister and then let some dudes in suits just walk off into the sunset. Here are eight greats that never got a chance to make it.
THE BEACH BOYS,SMILE (recorded 1967, released 2004)
Smile was supposed to be the Beach Boys' career-capping masterpiece, but it only got as far as some cover art and the "Good Vibrations" single before maestro Brian Wilson collapsed under the pressure of what he had intended as a "teenage symphony to God." Wilson was both inspired by and determined to outdo the Beatles, whose Sgt. Pepper album had set new standards for rock & roll ambition, but the Smile sessions pushed him into a devastating nervous breakdown and the album was abandoned. Isolated tracks were leaked in altered form on subsequent Beach Boys records and bit by bit, Smile crept out of the vault: as elaborate but incoherent bootlegs, as box-set bonus material, and finally as an official release in 2004, marking a renaissance in the reclusive Wilson's career.
THE KINKS,FOUR MORE RESPECTED GENTLEMEN(recorded 1968, released in pieces throughout the 1970s)
Another casualty of Sgt. Pepper: the Kinks were all set to turn in their seventh full-length, Four More Respected Gentlemen, but a last-minute flash of inspiration derailed the entire project. When Ray Davies finished the song that would become "The Village Green Preservation Society," he knew he had the concept for a concept album of his own, and at the Kinks' direction, Respected Gentlemen—which had 11 songs ready to go—was scrapped. Half the tracks were salvaged and inserted into Village Green ("Johnny Thunder," "Animal Farm" and more) but wild rockers like "She's Got Everything" and "Misty Water" sank into mystery. Most tracks trickled out years later in box sets or Kinks Kompilations; the most convenient batch came as bonus tracks on the recent remastered reissue of Village Green.
ELVIS PRESLEY,THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET(recorded 1956, released 1990)
Sun Records got a publicity orgasm with this one: Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis rolling live-to-tape for who-knows-how-long on an impromptu walk-in jam session in 1956. But the only thing the public ever got out of the experience was a famous photo in the Memphis press, and it took almost 30 years before the million-dollar tracks—so named for the potential legal costs involved in clearing a reissue made up mostly of covers of other people's songs—made it to the record stores.
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, UNTITLED FOURTH ALBUM (recorded 1969, released in pieces during the 1980s)
The Velvet Underground was already feeling the chill from their original label MGM in 1969, but before they would switch to Atlantic for their last album, Loaded, they recorded 14 songs—including recognized signatures like "Foggy Notion" and "Rock & Roll"—at New York's Record Plant. The songs stayed stuck when the band jumped labels, mired in a copyright tar pit, and though the Modern Lovers and Rocket From the Tombs were already learning cover versions from bootleg tapes—what better indication of fan demand could there have been?—there were no official releases until the 1980s.
THE LARGE PROFESSOR, THE LP(recorded 1993, released 2001)
Large Professor gave Nas his first verse on his group Main Source's first album and handled most of the beats for Illmatic, but in between he recorded an LP of his own—a record that could have been something of a golden-age hip-hop landmark, including a standout early appearance by Nas—that never made it past the promo stage. The LP would have been the follow-up to Main Source's Breaking Atoms that never really existed, and lucky DJs even got copies of singles "IJUSWANNACHILL" and "Mad Scientist," but the full album stayed frozen for years for reasons unknown, finally meeping into life as a free giveaway CD on the Internet.
OS MUTANTES, TECNICOLOR(recorded 1970, released 2000)
Brazil's Beatles went to France to redo the first half of their careers in English, hoping that North Americanized versions of their famous South American songs (Mutantes sang mostly in their native Portuguese) would lift them to truly global fame. But the producer—says Mutante Rita Lee—split with a week's worth of recordings and the album was presumed dead until an archive search in 2000 turned up the tapes. Tecnicolor doesn't supplant any of Mutantes' canonical recordings, but it's more than just a curiosity: tracks that would become fuzz-guitar monsters ("Sarava") on later and less-appreciated albums appear here in fluffier form, and the rush-job recording circumstances caught Mutantes in tight touring condition, making Tecnicolor less a straight studio record and more the best live Mutantes bootleg going.
RANDY HOLDEN, POPULATION II(recorded 1970, apparently never officially released, though bootlegs exist)
Randy Holden was the guy who left Blue Cheer because they weren't heavy enough, and his 1970 stoner-rock ur-text Population II was a sonic black hole: recorded with a Stonehenge stack of amplifiers, it was too dark, deep and dense to ever see release. Holden's definitive proto-metal statement of identity didn't even get a chance to fizzle, suffocating in company vaults until a years-later reissue—and even that was so sketchy that Holden almost didn't discover his own record was finally out.
K.M.D., BLACK BASTARDS(recorded 1993, released 2001)
Now-legendary metal-faced MF Doom was just Zev Love X when his first group K.M.D. recorded Black Bastards, an album that their label Elektra was too scared to release. The cover art—Sambo getting lynched—and fierce songs like "What a Niggy Know?" spooked the company execs, though Zev Love's agile flow and production landing somewhere between the best of Black Sheep and Buckwild would have made Bastards a textbook classic. Before a compromise—if one was possible—could be reached, Zev Love's brother and group member DJ Subroc was killed in a car accident. Zev Love retreated for years and resurfaced later with a mask and a new name, and Black Bastards—still unfinished after Subroc's death, though it doesn't suffer for it—wasn't released until eight years after it was recorded.