Tell a certain kind of serious-minded music fan that Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ isn’t perfect, and he’ll give you an uppercut to the jaw. And he’d be right to. I love that album more than is probably healthy. Yet even a tragic Fleetwood Mac nerd like me would admit that it could have been better.
This morning, during a rain-lashed trudge to work, ‘Oh Daddy’ came on my iPod – the closest thing ‘Rumours’ has to a filler track – and I thought, What, you included this, yet you rejected Stevie Nicks’ astonishing, hymn-like ballad ‘Silver Springs’, a song that positively bellows: Rousing Album-Closer?
Fortunately, that song was rescued from obscurity when it was included on the 2004 reissue. It’s now a live favourite. But it makes you wonder what on earth was going through the band’s coke- and heartbreak-addled minds back in 1977. It also set me thinking about other brilliant songs that, inexplicably, never made it onto albums.
On the ‘Bends’ tour in 1996, Radiohead regularly played a jaw-droppingly anthemic song called ‘Lift’, which featured some of Thom Yorke’s most personal and emotive lyrics (“You’ve been stuck in a lift/We’ve been trying to reach you, Thom”). Sadly, this live version doesn’t quite do it justice, and the original has disappeared from file-sharing sites.
Stirring and expansive, ‘Lift’ would have been Radiohead’s ‘Yellow’: a universal, lighters-aloft arena-filler. Except they decided they hated it, and left it off ‘OK Computer’. Now, ‘OK Computer”s obviously a titanically great album – but is ‘Climbing Up The Walls’ really a better song than ‘Lift’? Did they really need to include ‘Fitter Happier’? (Even Thom Yorke is embarrassed by that track nowadays).
Similarly, we now think of ‘Hallelujah’ as being the standout track on Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’. But that wasn’t the original plan. Right up until the very last moment, the album’s big commercial hit single was slated to be the lush, Led Zeppelin-esque ballad, ‘Forget Her’, a spiteful kiss-off to a former lover, Rebecca Moore.
Unfortunately, Buckley then got back together with Moore, which made the song a touch ticklish. So he replaced it with the dreary, Sting-like ‘So Real’ – to the chagrin of his label, Columbia.
Meanwhile, Buckley’s labelmate Bruce Springsteen could fill entire albums with tracks he initially rejected.
In fact he did, with the ‘Tracks’/’18 Tracks’ box-sets, which included such phenomenal offcuts as ‘The Promise’, a sort of heartbroken inverse of ‘Thunder Road’, using some of the same chords and lyrics as that song, but exposing the awful blankness of the open highway, rather than its thrilling possibility. A truly staggering lyric – yet, bafflingly, it was left off ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’.
Which other amazing album rejects are there?