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Remember that great soul hit “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” done right by both Marvin Gay and Gladys Night? Well, that is how throughout the history of rock music, but particularly from the time that albums became the norm, the news of new albums started to roll out and tickle the imagination of the fans and the general public. Usually, this was done to create a buzz and benefit the musicians, with singles and musical snippets coming to the surface to even further strengthen the interest. Sometimes, though, the artists tried to keep everything in secret, not sure themselves what they are going to do with the music they made, but the news got out anyway.
Usually, the albums that finally reached the audiences turned out to be big successes, earning their authors either fame or fortune, quite often both. But sometimes, for whatever reason, things did not work out and such albums permanently remained in the sphere of ‘what if…’. Such album would get completely scrapped, re-shaped and re-modelled, as Roxy Music would say, were never intended to really come out in any shape or form, or snippets of music or songs would appear on a completely different album or albums in another shape or form.
Actually, rock history is overabundant with such legendary or ‘legendary’ albums that were never to be. The level of building such legends became so high that many fans started their own projects of reconstructing those albums, sometimes prompting producers and even the original musicians themselves to at some point or other try to create or re-create these projects. Still, you can never be sure how those albums would have really sounded at the time when they were supposed to come out and that persistent ‘what if…’ will remain.
So, how long is such a list of ‘lost treasures’? Actually, the more you look into it the longer it looks. Albums that are perpetually named as lost treasures are “Smile’ by The Beach Boys, “Get Back” by The Beatles, Bob Dylan’s “The Basement Tapes”, the songs which were never recorded properly in the studio, “Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg” by The Clash, Celebration of the Lizard by the Doors, or Jimi Hendrix’ “First Rays of the New Sun”, an album that was issued under a such name, with the idea intended behind the original one being something completely different.
The story of these ‘albums that never were’ sometimes follow a strikingly similar pattern: differences of opinion, quarrels, overdoses, nervous breakdowns, shelving of the project and then the albums appearing in completely different shape and for and songs appearing scattered through different albums, sometimes spanning decades. The story of the never to be The Who album Life-house (or Lifehouse) is quite typical.
Pete Townsend of The Who intended as a successor to First widely accepted rock opera, “Tommy” was a big success for the band and its musical mastermind. Searching for another big idea, another rock opera, Townsend, wanted an album that would at the same time have a companion movie and even an audience live performance, along with the band. The story Townsend concocted for the 20 song cycle was too far out for the time and included a Matrix type science fiction scenario. From hindsight, we know better, but it was too much for the other members of the band, particularly the singer Roger Daltrey, who later confessed that wireless communication was inconceivable to him at the time. Townsend did manage to record approximately six core songs for the project and the tracks included such luminaries as Al Cooper on keyboards, and Leslie West of the heavies Mountain on guitars, one of the recorded songs being the original version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.
The project hit a nosedive not only because of Townsend misunderstandings with the other members of the band but also with its initial producer Kit Lambert, who even started pitting other members against Townsend, who promptly had a nervous breakdown. In a need of an album, the band brought in producer Glyn Johns, who reviewed the already recorded material and recommended to discouraged Townsend and the rest of the band to make a single, non-conceptual album. What turned out was “Who’s Next”, considered ‘The Who’s Best’ by many, but also as one of the best rock albums ever. Townsend himself never gave up on the idea of a Life-house project and kept releasing songs intended for it on his subsequent solo albums, culminating in a recorded live concerts in 2000 and released as “Pete Townshend Live: Sadler Wells 2000”.