The rock and roll landscape is littered with album projects that have been abandoned, shelved or even stolen. Most such projects are lost forever, consigned permanently to the dustbin of history. In the case of major artists, however, these albums occasionally attain a near-mythic status, inspiring fans to wonder if in fact a heretofore unheard masterpiece might one day surface. To varying degrees, the “lost” albums below have acquired just that sort of reputation.
Bruce Springsteen – Electric NebraskaBruce Springsteen’s bleak, darkly acoustic Nebraska album was hailed as a monumental work upon its release in 1982. Fact is, however, The Boss’s original intent was that the disc be a full-on rock and roll effort. To that end, Springsteen recorded Nebraska’s songs with his E Street Band, replete with amped-up arrangements, before deciding his homemade demos would better serve the message he wanted to convey. Drummer Max Weinberg later described the electric versions of the songs as “hard-edged” and “killing.”
Neil Young – HomegrownThis mostly acoustic country-rock album – recorded by Neil Young in 1974 – was so close to being released, the cover art already had been designed. Young has described the album as “the missing link between Harvest, Comes a Time, Old Ways and Harvest Moon.” Many of Homegrown’s songs centered on the deteriorating relationship between Young and his then-girlfriend, actress Carrie Snodgrass. In the end, Young deemed the songs too personal and opted to release Tonight’s the Night instead.
Prince – CamilleIn 1986, Prince began work on an album intended to showcase his strange (even for him) new obsession: speeding up his recorded vocals to make himself sound like a female. Dubbing his feminine alter-ego Camille, the Purple One is said to have recorded an eight-song LP that was even bawdier that the previous tracks that had drawn the ire of the Parents Music Resource Center. Prince shelved the disc, but several of the songs he had worked up, including “Housequake” and “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” surfaced on subsequent albums.The Kinks – Four More Respected GentlemenThe songs for this never-released Kinks album, recorded in 1968, were originally intended for a U.S.-only LP to be released in tandem with a Europe-only version of the band’s The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society. Instead, record label powers-that-be opted to shelve the former album, and instead released a longer version of the latter disc in both the U.K. and the U.S. Years later, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, Kinks leader Ray Davies said Four More Respected Gentlemen consisted of a song cycle about table manners.
Green Day – Cigarettes and ValentinesThis intended follow-up to Green Day’s 2000 album, Warning, never saw the light of day for one simple reason: the master tapes were stolen from the studio. Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong later said the pilfered material was “good stuff,” while bassist Mike Dirnt remarked that the songs constituted a return to Green Day’s “hard and fast” punk roots. Nonetheless, instead of re-recording the album, the band decided to go a different route. The result was the acclaimed 2004 disc, American Idiot.
Pink Floyd – Household ObjectsIn 1974, in the wake of Dark Side of the Moon’s monumental success, Pink Floyd was casting about for a worthwhile departure. The idea the band came up with was to create music using nothing but household objects. Rubber bands, cardboard boxes and water-filled crystal wine glasses were among the tools employed in the effort, but alas, the challenges proved insurmountable. “It just got too difficult – and pointless,” David Gilmour later told writer Jim DeRogatis.
The Beatles – Get BackPaul McCartney’s idea for The Beatles in 1968 was that they should “get back” to their roots, and make an album free of studio refinement and overdubs. He also wanted the band to get back to live performances, which in fact The Beatles half-heartedly did for their famous “rooftop” performance. In the end, however, tensions prevailed and the Get Back sessions grinded to a halt. Producer Phil Spector eventually pieced together the Let It Be album from the Get Back tapes, but that string-laden LP was a far different animal from what McCartney intended.David Bowie – ToyPrepped for release in 2002, this album featured new versions of some of Bowie’s earliest work. Recording with his Hours… touring band and longtime producer Tony Visconti, Bowie re-cut such obscure tracks as 1968’s “In the Heat of the Morning,” 1971’s “Shadow Man” and 1964’s rousing “Liza Jane,” which had been released originally in Bowie’s early incarnation as David Jones and the King Bees. For reasons unclear, Virgin Records shelved the disc, although several tracks surfaced later on other albums and as B-sides. A full version of Toy was leaked onto the Internet in early 2011.
The Who – LifehouseSimply put, Lifehouse was a project toppled by the weight of Pete Townshend’s grand ambitions. Conceptually, in the wake of Tommy, Townshend wanted to construct a multimedia extravaganza that would incorporate music that reflected the personalities and states of mind of The Who’s audience. The complications involved in the undertaking precipitated a nervous breakdown in Townshend, but not before he penned some of his finest songs. Fortunately, although Lifehouse was abandoned, much of the material found its way onto Who’s Next, one of The Who’s most triumphant albums.
The Beach Boys – SmileThis album – contemporary music’s most famous “lost” disc – was intended to be an ambitious follow-up to The Beach Boys’ 1966 pop masterpiece, Pet Sounds. Building on the epic sweep of “Good Vibrations,” Brian Wilson’s “pocket symphony,” Wilson and lyricist Van Dyke Parks envisioned an intricate tapestry of sound. Wilson wasn’t able to pull together his original vision for Smile, although years later, in 2004, he recorded a version on his own. The recently released Smile Sessions Box Set, which gathers material from the original sessions, offers a tantalizing aural portrait of what might have been.
Full album at Gibson: HERE