Have you ever heard The Beach Boys album Smile? Well, you may have as of last year, but that’s only after decades of waiting for an official release. Before then, this album was thought to be abandoned — lost to the elements of time and only surviving through bootlegs and word-of mouth. This album that “could have been” seemed destined to never happen, and now that it has seen a release, one wonders if it really was the album fans had been hoping for, or if it would have been better left to the imagination.
Lost albums are the stuff of legend, and like all legends, their stories live on so long as we keep bringing them into conversation. I mean, how in the world does an artist or band work on something only to later abandon it? Of course there are many reasons as to why some albums just never came to be, and while we can only speculate as to what these albums might have sounded like or how they might have impacted the careers of their respective bands, the curiosity lingers, and I’ve gone ahead to pick what I think are the Top 5 albums that “could have been.”
Though I have been unable to listen to any of these in full (because they didn’t happen), some material has leaked on various compilation albums, and discussions about the albums’ sounds have surfaced. Albums had to have never had an official release by a record company to be considered, and the way I’m ranking these albums is purely around my interest in their story and my great expectations for what “could have been.” Let’s start with:
5. Brian Eno – My Squelchy Life
Minimalist and experimental rock is Brian Eno. His series of ambient albums in the late ’70s and early-80s are so influential in rock music that many artists have taken on different musical ventures because of them. But for as many successful albums as he’s put out in his decades-spanning career, he has also had one that was mysteriously unreleased. That album was the 1990s pop album My Squelchy Life.
My Squelchy Life was to be Eno’s 11th studio album, and instead of choosing to divert back into the lofty and technically ambitious aspects of his previous material, Eno opted for a “poppier” sound. This might have marked a significant aesthetic change at the very least, and his label was ready to release it, but for whatever reason, Eno decided to swap it out for what became the eventual 11th album, 1992’s Nerve Net.
So…was he just not feeling it enough? Was there something else he was yearning for? Why switch out an album that was practically finished for other material? It would have been pretty interesting to hear Eno’s take on what he interprets as “pop” music, and we can keep questioning it ’til the cows come home, but after many more releases and productions with other artists, I’m pretty sure My Squelchy Life will continue to remain a mystery until Eno decides to release a tell-all memoir (and even then, he might switch that out for another one).
What we do have is “Stiff,” an upbeat track that can give us some understanding of what My Squelchy Life could have sounded like.
4. Danger Mouse – The Grey Album
What do you do when you have The Beatles’ The White Album in one hand and Jay-Z’s The Black Album in the other? If you’re DJ Danger Mouse, you mash them up.
We’re not talking about any two albums here, guys. These are two of the most highly regarded albums in their genres — two albums that revealed these artists as visionaries at their creative peaks. For an up-and-coming DJ to scratch one into the other and vice versa? That’s…that’s freaking awesome. Hearing “99 Problems” with the sampling of “Helter Skelter” or “Change Clothes” with “Piggies” sounds like the oddest paring on paper, but when you actually listen to the thing, it’s as if the two were made for each other like peanut butter was made for jelly.
Not only did it bring Danger Mouse into the spotlight for creating a mastery mix, but it also brought up several licensing disputes. Though Danger Mouse had only intended to release the album in limited amounts, the great success of its bootlegged recordings led EMI — the copyright holder of The Beatles tracks — to order a cease and desist on any release of the material. Those that got to download it for free struck gold, but those of us who didn’t were out of luck, and the album will more than likely never have an official release.
Here’s the track “Moment of Clarity,” sampling “Happiness Is A Warm Gun.” I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well they match up.
3. Deftones – Eros
After Deftones’ fragile fifth studio album, Saturday Night Wrist, was released in 2006, the band set up for production on their next studio album just like most bands would after a high-profile release. The new album, entitled Eros, was written throughout 2008 and partially recorded that October, with Chino Moreno promising a more experimental sound with a rawer production process compared to the more cut-and-paste style they utilized starting with their 2003 self-titled LP.
But everything took a sudden turn when bassist Chi Cheng got into a serious car accident that left him in a comatose state. The band halted the album’s production out of respect for their fallen bandmate and to raise awareness about his condition, shelving Eros indefinitely. They thought it best to move on with a replacement bassist to create entirely new material, which eventually turned into 2010’s Diamond Eyes.
Diamond Eyes ended up being one of the most satisfying albums of that year because it felt like a return to Deftones’ earlier sonic peak. However, the outpouring of emotion from the band during this tragic time — clearly felt through the band’s raw recording style and Chino’s searing vocals — probably gave the album the juice necessary to reach that result. One can only imagine what Eros might have turned out to be if the band had continued its trend, and though the album may see the light of day at some point, I think we can all agree that they made the best of their situation when they put their heart and soul into their 2010 effort.
“Tempest,” the newest single from this year’s Koi No Yokan, is a possible hint as to what we might’ve expected on Eros.
2. Pink Floyd – Household Objects
Pink Floyd was already a critically acclaimed psychedelic rock band before they hit it big with Dark Side of the Moon. But as with any band that just released a really, really, really successful album, one had to wonder where Pink Floyd would go next. Well, the Floyd thought that, given their experimental tendencies, they could create an album made entire out of household objects. Yep.
“Clocks” made its way onto Dark Side, but no song of the band’s has ever been comprised entirely out of objects, though rubber bands, bottles, silverware — you name it — have made appearances. Interestingly enough, Household Objects sessions did commence some time between 1973 and 1974, but the project was ultimately abandoned for being “a bit daft.” Me thinks so as well.
To be honest, I have no idea how this album was going to be marketable, but it definitely would have made a nice collector’s piece. Having heard the track “Wine Glasses” from these sessions, I could see how they utilized this concept to create some of the spacey sonics that resulted in their next effort, Wish You Were Here, so having a good chunk of an album’s material based solely on Household Objects might have been an interesting curiosity in and of itself.
Below is a track entitled “The Hard Way,” another recording from the same sessions, available on the Dark Side Immersion Box Set.
1. The Who – Lifehouse
The Who’s Tommy is considered by many to be the greatest rock opera of all time, and who can deny it? The album is a force of unadulterated rock madness that, if repeated twice, would probably have sent the rock community to the psychiatric ward. So naturally, when The Who were ready to record their next record in 1971, they thought they could put on a repeat performance with another rock opera, entitled Lifehouse, inspired by guitarist Pete Townshend’s experiences on the Tommy tour.
At its core, Lifehouse was intended to be set in a futuristic fantasy world where rock and roll didn’t exist and people were pre-programmed with shallow entertainment via test tubes, and through nirvana-like revitalization did people finally experience the power of musical discovery. It was then intended to be recorded and played with a live audience, which Townshend expected would become a part of the show merely because the music and visuals would spiritually drive them to the stage.
The concept was so utterly complex that Townshend himself couldn’t describe it to anyone without having an “interpreter” handy. While this placed stress on the band, they managed to squeeze out potential numbers like “Baba O’Riley,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and “Behind Blue Eyes,” which eventually landed on their next album, the now classic Who’s Next, after Lifehouse was ultimately abandoned in favor of a more traditional rock record.
Who knows if Lifehouse would have been successful in Townshend’s form given that the enormous ambition that fueled Tommy had already driven most fans as insane as the album’s title character, but we should be happy knowing that most of Lifehouse found its way onto different albums.
Do you know of any other albums that you think “could have been?” Let us know in the comments down below!