The Lost Records
by Karigan Wright
Artists are constantly creating new art, whether it be composing music, recording albums, writing songs, writing novels or poems. But how often is it released to the masses?
The music community is starting to see more and more often the concept of “The Lost Records” of an artist. We’ve seen it with Bob Dylan, Elvis, even John Coltrane, but were these lost records meant to be released, and if so, why were they not originally? Of course, in some cases, records aren’t released at the time they are recorded as the result of outside factors, such as political climate, the popularity of artists, access to the public, or even just bizarre instances of all recordings but one or two accidentally being destroyed.
Coltrane, an iconic jazz musician active from 1945 well into the late 60s, just made headlines with his postmortem release of “Both Directions at Once: The Lost Albums” over 50 years after its original recording. The members of Coltrane’s quartet stayed consistent under the label Impulse! with Coltrane on the brassy and raw tenor and soprano sax, McCoy Tyner on the dynamic piano, Jimmy Garrison on the deep and captivating bass and Elvin Jones on the rhythmic drums.
“Both Directions at Once” was met with excitement and awe from the jazz community. NPR’s Nate Chinen referred to the album as a “window into his pursuit of the impossible.” Coltrane was among many other renowned musicians of his era, including Duke Ellington, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, and many more. Coltrane’s most famous albums were remarkably recorded on a single day in 1963, right in the middle of the increasingly popular jazz craze.
The album is a skillful and vast one, with 14 tracks, and with multiple takes of the same song, like “Impressions”, which is listed on the album as “Take 1,” “Take 2,” and “Take 4”. This raw yet smooth album shows why Coltrane was held to be at the forefront of jazz throughout the 50s and 60s. We’ve heard a lot of Coltrane’s lost albums in recent years, most likely attributed to the move of Impulse!, from New York to L.A. as speculated by Pitchfork. Though we may never know exactly how his albums were lost, we know that the only reason Coltrane’s albums have been released should be attributed to them being found by Coltrane’s first wife, Juanita Naima Coltrane’s family.
The 1960s weren’t just dominated by jazz, they also acted as a musical breeding ground for rock and roll. The Beach Boys fall under the umbrella of rock music, alongside other brilliant bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. In 2011, we saw the release of “Smile,” an unfinished album recorded by The Beach Boys from 1966 into 1967.
Capitol Records announced they planned to release “Smile,” by the end of 2011 which was met with elation from Brian Wilson, the band’s co-founder. NME quoted Wilson with “I’m looking forward to this collection of the original recordings and having fans hear the beautiful angelic voices of the boys in a proper studio release.”
The album opens with track one, “Our Prayer,” the choir of the boys’ harmonic and gentle voices becoming instantly recognizable as those of Brian Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Carl Wilson, Mike Love, and Al Jardine. Though many, if not all of the songs are ones that had been released prior to the recording of “Smile,” these versions are raw and uncut, reminding us music lovers how skilled these California boys were.
With a piece of art as breathtaking as “Smile,” it unearths the question of why so many of these incredible albums are being lost or not released until decades later.
The trend of lost records even reaches far less known bands, including the R&B soul group, The Edge of Daybreak. The band was formed in Powhatan Correctional Center by a group of convicts all serving their sentences. The group recorded an eight-track album in one day in 1979, titled “Eyes of Love”.
The album opens with “Eyes of Love,” a smooth and harmonic song, featuring the incredible voices of these men, making the best of their situation. The album is energetic and groovy, to say the least, each song likely to make your parents get up and dance like they’re in Saturday Night Fever.
Met with a ton of attention from the media and public, the band broke up when each member began to be released from the prison complex. The Edge of Daybreak was one of the instances in which a bizarre incident occurred, a flood destroying all unsold copies of the album. The album wasn’t re-released until 2015, where critics didn’t describe as it being one of the best albums from the 70s, but they did express their awe in the one take day-long recording session.
Perhaps the community of music lovers should be held responsible for assuring that these albums be released, especially in the case of the Edge of Daybreak. The media was covering it and they certainly had fans, yet no one seemed to do anything about the albums being destroyed, and therefore allowed the music to stay in the past until 2015. A critical question to answer is whether or not it is our responsibility to make sure these lost albums are released.
One of the things that makes music so universal is its flexibility and malleability. Although it’s unfortunate that many of these incredible artists passed before the release of their lost albums, it certainly defines the music community and just how much we are willing to commemorate and remember. The relationship between musician and audience is truly something special, as the eagerness to pay our respects to our favorite musicians is shone through our passion for releasing their lost work that unfortunately wasn’t recognized at the time of the albums being recorded.
It truly is amazing how the iconic voices of performers nearly 60 years ago are still playing through our speakers, being remembered long after they have passed. One thing is certain: music is adaptable, and people are still resonating with music from what seems to be a completely different time. We have a special kind of connection with lost records, perhaps we even feel the responsibility to our musical heroes to celebrate the music that failed to be celebrated at the time. No matter how much time goes by, it seems discernable that the music community is more than willing to take on the responsibility to honor and share the lost work of our favorite musicians.