Why you should care
Because who doesn’t want to take a peek inside a great musician’s secret stash?
When Bob Dylan recently released The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 11, a six-disc compilation of legendary, previously unreleased songs, all recorded with members of The Band in 1967, it got us thinking of other great informal recordings that deserve a listen. Of course, any such list is doomed from the start to be laughably incomplete, but that’s also part of the fun. In order of appearance:
On Nov. 21, Showtime premieres Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued, about a folk supergroup producing an album from unused Dylan lyrics.
The Apartment Tapes, Buddy Holly (1958, 59)
These songs are all of Holly, with an acoustic guitar, singing into a secondhand Ampex tape recorder in his Greenwich Village apartment. His wife later said that Holly often jumped out of bed in the middle of the night to go put down a new idea. After his death in the famed 1959 airplane crash, producers dubbed instrumentation and backing vocals over many of these demos. But these simpler tracks are both immediate and intimate, and Holly’s voice doesn’t waver a bit.
In the Beginning: Garage Tapes, The Beach Boys (1960–63)
It’s Disc 2 of this bootleg that holds interest for Beach Boys historians. These are almost all home recordings, in which you get to eavesdrop on magic in the making. There’s a lot of horsing around and near-fights between bandmates. There are also a lot of beautiful a cappella harmonies. They already had it, from the beginning.
The Living Room Demos, Jonathan Richman (1973, 74)
In this full hour of acetate recordings, Richman performs for a few friends, much of it a cappella or with only a tambourine. On display here is everything we love about Richman, and some truly great vocal performances.
Static in the Attic, The Rolling Stones (1970–79)
I include this one because its title fits the architectural theme, and because it starts off with a hilarious bit in which Mick Jagger talks candidly about his love for bootlegs. And because it’s terrific. These are mostly outtakes from the album that would become Emotional Rescue, but it includes some great tracks that were never released.
The Kitchen Tape, The La’s (1989)
If you’re a fan of the La’s, you’ve probably often wondered what else the band was capable of after its one eponymous release in 1990. The songs recorded here, in producer Mike Hedges’ kitchen, were apparently for a second album that never got made. Frontman Lee Mavers has since declared it “a load of fucking garbage,” but it includes songs as good and poppy as anything on their studio album.
The Kitchen Tapes, Weezer (1992)
These demos were recorded in a rented garage on Rivers Cuomo’s eight-track recorder, but the drums were all tracked in the kitchen. Recorded two years before the band’s first album was released, the demos showcase some familiar tracks, like “My Name Is Jonas” and “Only in Dreams.” But also lovely songs you’ve never heard, including one whose title, “Let’s Sew Our Pants Together,” might indicate a larger fascination with garments and stitching than the familiar “Undone” can alone reveal.
The Pizza Tapes, Jerry Garcia, David Grisman and Tony Rice (1993)
What says home more than pizza delivery? What says bootleg better than an actual stolen tape? Though recordings from this two-night rehearsal session were officially released in 2000, the songs recorded here by Garcia, Grisman (mandolin) and Rice (acoustic guitar) first reached the public in ’93, shortly after one opportunistic pizza-delivery guy grabbed Garcia’s copy. This was the only time Garcia and Rice, both guitar legends, ever played together, but it’s clear this trio formed a natural collaboration. The songs here are a gorgeous blend.