“Rocket 69” by Lee Harvey Oswald Band
In the realm where glam rock meets 70s punk meets 80s metal, Lee Harvey Oswald Band is not only King—they might be its only inhabitants. And it’s not because no one else wants to live there. I’d guess anyone who ventured close got shot by megalomania, burned by tomfoolery, and fucked to death by rock and roll. The hard-to-find album Blastronaut contains five of the best songs you’ve never heard and has been rated by other rock anthropologists as “the second best rock album of the Nineties.”
So how is something this good so underrated? Because, again, no one’s fucking heard of it, save for rock nerds. The band never performed live, and released very little biographical information, most of which is as accurate as anything you’ll see on Fox News. The side project of a quiet genius for whom the word “cocksure” was invented, L.H.O.B. created gems like the insanely fun “Rocket 69” and then disappeared into the ether.
“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And like that—poof. He’s gone.”—Keyser Soze on Lee Harvey Oswald Band
“Beat’s So Lonely” by Charlie Sexton
Charlie Sexton managed to record one of the Eighties’ most popular rock songs by the age of sixteen. I was sixteen in the 80s, too. The biggest thing I accomplished by then was a world record 42nd viewing of Teen Wolf.
By twenty, Sexton had toured or recorded with David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan, the Velvet Underground, and Keith Richards, among others. But his own albums, while critically well received, were lost in the wasteland of hair metal and technopop that had become the late Eighties.
Peaking at #17 on the Billboard charts, “Beat’s So Lonely” surfed the same waters as Bruce Springsteen, but its weird feedbacky edge gave it a New Wave distinction that set Sexton apart from the heartland rockery of the Boss.
A recent (and bizarre) performance with Justin Timberlake on the Hope for Haiti Now album put Sexton back on the charts after 25 years (the second-longest gap between Hot 100 debuts in Billboard history). This gives me hope that my Teen Wolf watching record is ripe for a comeback.
“Love by Numbers” by Ash Wednesday
While you may not be familiar with Australian experimental keyboard nerd Ash Wednesday, you may have heard of some of the musicians he’s played with, like the Models, Nina Hagen or Einstürzende Neubauten. If none of that rings a bell, call up Professor Moog and go back to synthesizer school.
In the meantime, make sure and track down a copy of his solo release, “Love By Numbers.” It’s playful, catchy and you’ll have no problem learning the lyrics. It’s counting. That’s it. It’s fucking counting. It starts at one and ends somewhere around a hundred and three and it never really goes anywhere else, which is kind of its genius. There’s sort of a chorus, but for the most part it’s bouncy keyboard pop with simple robotic counting. It makes no sense, and yet there’s nothing to understand. It’s hard to like and impossible not to love.
“Achoo” by Sparks
The U.S.A. never caught on to Sparks, despite a brief period of notoriety in the early 80s when “Angst in My Pants” and “Eaten by the Monster of Love” made it onto the Valley Girl soundtrack. Brothers Ron and Russell Mael had more of an indirect cultural impact, as influencers of better known bands like Depeche Mode and New Order. With the cleverest of lyrics, impossibly danceable melodies and album covers that belong in the Fuck Yes Museum of Art, the band has been making underrated music for four decades.
It was hard to choose which Sparks song was the most underrated. It’s not Sophie’s Choice hard, but I probably spent more time weighing my options than Sophie did. I decided that “Achoo” doesn’t have the confidence of “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us” or the catchy alliteration of “Moustache”. But it ranks pretty high on my list, particularly because I like to change the words to “Hot Jew” when I sing along. And that’s pretty under-ratable in my book.
“Your Dump or Mine” by Evil Superstars
I’m not sure how successful Evil Superstars were in Belgium, but in the U.S.A. you are all like, “Who?” And let’s face facts: even the most popular Belgian recording superstar could still be pretty underrated, in general. Two songs, “Your Dump or Mine” and “Miss Your Disease”, from the 1996 album Love Is Okay make it to the top of my list, mostly because they’re the two sung in
But when I say “English” let me be clear: the band’s front man, Mauro Pawlowski, either graduated from the worst foreign language school ever, or has purposefully crafted the world’s most beautifully odd metaphors. For example:
“Excuse me but your pudding it tastes like penguin sweat … ” or “Stars, gnome puke and soap, Your zits kaleidoscope, Your drag racing divine. Tell me what we gonna eat, ah your dump or mine…”
This guy makes Björk look like Dave Matthews.