Seven seventies cult albums that should have made it big

The quality of these cult albums should have brought them wider success
Little Feat Live In USA
Little Feat Live In USA / David Tan/Shinko Music/GettyImages

Do cult albums always coincide with cult musicians? Often, that depends on how you define things, but, cult albums, the ones that get a staunch following (involving the audience, critics as well as other artists) sometimes also come from artists that have made their name in one way or another, and not solely from cult artists.

At the same time, it is often the case that the number of cult albums created and released in the decades when the word of the music critics in the printed press or radio or simply the word of mouth, where the key source of information for the fans is larger than those released in these more modern times. Although, the over-abundance of information today can create a similar situation, that is possibly a theme for another discussion.

Back in the seventies, the development of rock and rock albums was in full swing, music press and radio stations playing rock were possibly at its prime. Still, for some albums and their artists, a great review, solid airplay, no matter how good the music was and how much wider attention it deserved, didn’t make such a big difference with a wider audience.

It was left for audiences in the later decades to possibly discover quite a few of those underrated gems, particularly seven presented here.

Crabby Appleton - Crabby Appleton (1970)

Maybe it was the fact that this band took its name from a cartoon character, or maybe the problem was that it was the time when rock fans were mainly concentrated on prog rock of the era, but neither a solid success of the albums single “Get Back,” nor the high quality and diversity of this self-titled album, akin to the one of Moby Grape’s debut from the previous decade, propelled this album to a wider recognition it deserved.

As was the case with many cult albums, it was the subject of a number of (deserved) reissues and re-evaluations later on. Their follow up album (“Rotten To The Core”) was weaker, and the band fell apart soon after.

Captain Beefheart - Spotlight Kid (1972)

If there ever was a rock musician with a staunch hardcore following, then it was Captain Beefheart, mostly due to his unique (to say the least) vocals and two among the most avant-garde rock albums ever-recorded, with one of those (“Trout Mask Replica”) usually finding its place on practically any ‘best rock albums ever’ lists.

Yet, it was that same voice and the experimental musical inclinations that prevented Don Van Vliet, the man behind the moniker to find wider audiences he deserved. With this album (and a few that followed), van Vliet decided to present his vision of what more commercial music should sound like, in this case, his vision of blues-infested boogie rock that was brilliant, but still too left-field for many.

John Cale  Paris 1919 (1973)

When John Cale left Velvet Underground, he was in many ways an established name in rock circles. He started out his solo recording career with a series of albums that featured complex, sophisticated pop (“Vintage Violence”)to collaboration with modern classical composer Terry Rile (“Church of Anthrax”).

This, his fourth solo release was in many ways a summation of everything he has done up to that moment and presented one of his best visions what modern pop-pock should sound like (then and now). At the same time, it was, and still is one of Cale’s most accessible records, which still didn’t do it much good with a wider audience at the time.

Little Feat - Last Record Album 1975

Throughout Little Feat’s career at the time, the incredible songwriter and guitarist Lowell George was around, they had the support of every music critic around, presented what are considered some of the best live shows around, and had a series of incredible, complex, but at the same time accessible albums that should have sold tons. Yet, that only brought the band a strong fan base, growing to this day, but sales never matched up.

The title of this album was a misnomer in one way (it wasn’t their last album, after all), but it was surely the last one with strong contributions from George, who presented some of his best songwriting here (“Long Distance Love” and quite a few others), with the band’s playing at its height in every way.

At the time, it made no difference with a wider audience.

Big Star - Third/Sister Lovers (1975-78)

Being one of the prime movers for what is now known as power pop, and having two incredible albums under your belt didn’t help Alex Chilton and the rest of Big Star reach a sizable audience at the time.

Lack of success, substance abuse, and what not else led to the recording of songs for this album, that has possibly as many versions as The Beach Boys never released at its time album ’ Smile.’ Nobody still nows which songs were supposed to be included, their playing order, or the version that was supposed to be included.

Yet this, supposed shambles produced some, stark, dark, beautiful music, some dubbed as “the saddest album in rock.” The lack of success at the time was no surprise, as is no surprise that its quality of music was the subject of so many reissues, all falling short with wider audiences.

Starz - Starz 1976

If the name of this band recalls that of the one above, it just might not be a simple coincidence. After all, their discography, from this, their self-titled debut, to albums they kept on recording through decades, favored the power side of power pop, combining the melodicism of Cheap Trick with the hard edges of Aerosmith.

Was it all heard before? Sure, but Starz took it a few steps further with the quality of songwriting and playing, with the full-throttle success not on a horizon for them, even with the slick and bombastic live shows they had in store.

The Modern Lovers - The Modern Lovers 1976

Everybody knows Jonathan Richman, but how many people buy his albums nowadays? Possibly, because they are all-acoustic affairs, initially caused by electrocution on stage that Richman suffered early in his career.

Yet, while he was still using an electric guitar, Richman, and then his band Modern Lovers (that at the time included one Jerry Harrison, later of Talking Heads fame), were fully in love with the early sound of Velvet Underground.

They recorded a series of songs that were included in this album and have presented possibly the best set of Velvets songs that Lou Reed and his band didn’t either write or record.

Possibly, for, or any set of others, Richman doesn’t recognize this album as his first solo effort, which doesn’t make it any less a subject of a solid cult fan following to this day.

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