Digging for jewels in a mountain of crap is no tiny task. When you start making your way through some of music history’s most notoriously awful albums hoping to uncover a hidden treasure, you’ve got to wade through a lot of unsavory stuff. More often than not, albums with rotten reps got them for a good reason, especially where major artists are concerned. It’s no big event when an artist of little renown discharges a stinker, but once you start diving into the nitty gritty of infamous career-killers like The Clash’s Cut the Crap or Blondie’s The Hunter, there’s nary a redemptive moment to be found.
But just because great songs on awful albums are a rarity, that doesn’t mean they’re non-existent. And when you do come across them, their anomalous quality only makes them seem all the more special. Sometimes, you’re dealing with low-hanging fruit; it’s no mystery why “Under Pressure” is the only track 99.9 percent of the planet knows from Queen’s otherwise unsalvageable Hot Space, for instance.
It take a lot more fortitude to find the real under-the-radar moments on wretched records. For the most part, the forbidding confines of albums like Bob Dylan’s double-length clunker Self Portrait or The Velvet Underground’s sad swan song, Squeeze (featuring zero original members) are enough to make the hardiest soul long for sudden deafness. But then you come across Bob’s own unhinged version of “Quinn the Eskimo,” best known by Manfred Mann’s cover version, or the Lou-less VU’s “Louise,” which could sit comfortably on a late-’60s Kinks album. And suddenly, the world seems a little sweeter for your valiant sonic spelunking.
But just so you don’t have to go trawling through the refuse yourself, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you here, exposing estimable moments from albums that otherwise ought to be swiftly forgotten. Just don’t try this at home.