Note: Read the post below this one first, or don't read at all. You've been warned.
One thing that occurs to me while combing through these hidden gems is that it's possible in 20 years or so this might be a lot harder to compile. The music industry is more singles-based than ever. In fact, the hip-hop genre seems to be exclusively singles-based. The #1 song in the country right now is by a rapper named Flo-rida. How many songs has he recorded? One. He doesn't have an album.
It would be a real shame if that happened to the rock genre (contemporary country, btw, can go straight to hell). Some of my favorite albums recently have been thematic, such as Green Day's American Idiot or My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade. Of course if you go back through the history of rock you find seminal thematic rock albums by The Who, Pink Floyd, and The Beatles. So hopefully, there will always be a place for that, even if people are downloading them instead of buying cd's.
Ok, back to the list. Since I just mentioned MCR, let's start with them. The Black Parade was my favorite album of 2006, and in my top 10 ever. My favorite song on it, "Disenchanted" never took off as a single, for whatever reason. It's one of those amazing, anthematic power ballads that you can't help but sing along to.
Speaking of anthems, it's always pretty ballsy to put the word "Anthem" in your song title. It's even ballsier just to name it "Anthem." But that's what Blink 182 called the last song on Enema of the State, and it lives up to its billing. Ironically, it wasn't as popular as the follow up, "Anthem Part II" from their next album, which wasn't as good.
Going back to thematic albums, one that gets overlooked is Hole's Celebrity Skin. I know there were some well-known singles (such as the title track), but the whole thing was pretty damn good. I guess people looked at the combination of Courtney Love and Billy Corgan (who produced some of the tracks) as an unholy spawn of egos. Too bad, because they missed the pure pop joy of "Boys on the Radio," the most enduring tune on the album.
Cake's first album was played pretty heavily on Sacramento radio stations when I was at Davis, but I doubt it was much of a phenomenon anywhere outside of their hometown. Unless people have gone back and purchased their debut Motorcade of Generosity or seen them in concert, they wouldn't know my favorite Cake song, "Jolene." For obvious reasons, "Satan is My Motor" the first song off Prolonging the Magic never popped, but it's frickin' great. The title track off Comfort Eagle is one of the least Cake-like songs they've ever done, with its driving rhythm and dark, cynical tone, but it's brilliant.
I played the first Counting Crows cd so much that I wore the spots off it, but so did most radio stations. Out of all the songs on August and Everything After, I suppose "Anna Begins" most closely qualifies as a great song but not a hit. It seems every album since then has been pr0gressively worse than the last, but "I Wish I Was a Girl" was a splendid ditty off This Desert Life.
Another band that saw its best days in the 90s (I need to get some new cd's, apparently) was Everclear. I love nearly every song on their superlative sophomore effort, Sparkle and Fade. The first song, "Electra Made Me Blind" and the angry, nihilistic "Twistinside" were both better than a few of the four or five singles off that album.
This leaves two of my favorite bands for last. The first is Jimmy Eat World, who have quietly carved out a role of the nicest, ugliest band in rock, while putting out four straight albums of soul-enriching beauty. None of the songs off their breakthrough album Clarity are very well-known, except by JEW fans, but "For Me This is Heaven" is probably the best. Their next album (self-titled) is probably their most commercially successful to date, mostly on the strength of their biggest hit, "The Middle." Ironically, I find this song annoying and can't listen to it because it's so played out. However, I can always find time for the last song on the album, "My Sundown." Speaking of end-of-album tunes, if someone DID put a gun to my head and made me pick my favorite song of all time, my first instinct would most likely be to go with "23," the staggeringly beautiful epic about finally being mature enough to handle a relationship. It's no coincidence I listened to it A LOT in the days leading up to my wedding. It's too long to play on the radio, thank god, because I feel like it's MY song. It's the one song I don't think I can ever get sick of. It's on Futures, but you should all just stay away from it because it's MY ISLAND.
On to what I consider my favorite band of all time, Pearl Jam. Like U2 and REM, most of their songs have been played on the radio at one time or another. The best one off their first album, Ten, that didn't receive much airplay is "Porch." Is it about abortion? I dunno, but I do remember Eddie Vedder getting up on his stool during an "Unplugged" performance of the song and writing "pro choice" down his arm. There isn't anything off the next two discs, Vs. and Vitalogy that wasn't played to death, with the possible exception of "Rearviewmirror." One of my favorite Pearl Jam anthems was released as a single, which would seem to run contrary to my whole thing here. But "I Got Id" came out just as some of the shine was beginning to come off the PJ apple, and it didn't get all that much attention, considering what a sweet song it is. Again, none of these are exactly unknown, but they're certainly not overplayed.
Pearl Jam started to lose some mo with its next album, Yield, and with increasingly fewer hits to step around, I'll go with "In Hiding." A lot of people HATED No Code, but I thought it was fairly decent. I never figured out why "Smile" didn't get more airplay, since it was exactly the sort of soaring-chorus anthem that made PJ popular in the first place. I own both Binaural and Riot Act but have use for neither. Those were dark times. They then returned to form a bit with a B-sides double album titled Lost Dogs. Perhaps it made them remember who they were, as "Down" was vintage Pearl Jam. They might not be all the way back yet, but the "avocado" album was a huge step in the right direction, with two legitimate hits. Neither of those were "Come Back," the last song on the record, and my favorite PJ song in a long while, replete with Vedder's signature wail. Come back, indeed.
If you read all this self-indulgent nonsense, congratulations. Sound off on it. What are your hidden faves? Which of mine do you dig? How many suck total hairy balls? Let me have it.