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15 Legendary Unreleased Albums

Springsteen’s full-band ‘Nebraska,’ Neil Young’s ‘Homegrown’ and other shelved projects by major artists

15; Fascinating; Unreleased; Albums; Legendary; Musicians; The Beatles; Bob Dylan; Jimi Hendrix; Jeff Beck

Illustration by Ryan Casey

Unreleased albums offer a tantalizing glimpse of an alternate rock universe just beyond our reach. Ultimately we're drawn to these tales not just for the music – which doesn't always live up to the hype – but because of the people who make it. Behind these projects are stories of some of the greatest artists of all time fighting for their creative vision against a commercialized industry or even their own band members. Sometimes drama isn't the cause: Other projects are simply set aside and forgotten. But rumors of unreleased sessions by Neil Young, the BeatlesBob Dylan and Johnny Cash, Marvin Gaye, and others live on in the minds of devoted fans determined to hunt down every last note their idols recorded.

Legendary "lost albums" like the Beach Boys' Smile and the Who's Lifehouse have been chronicled in exhaustive detail, but a surprising number of other noteworthy projects remain hidden away in the vaults. Some albums might have changed history, while others might have merely sounded nice. Both are worthy reasons to listen.

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Illustration by Ryan Casey

The Clash, ‘Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg’ (1981)

The Last Gang in Town were beginning to splinter by the fall of 1981, as frontman Joe Strummer and guitarist Mick Jones butted heads over the band's sonic direction. Strummer preferred down and dirty rock & roll, while Jones wanted to continue exploring the world-music trends present on their recent work. Assuming the role of producer, Jones proposed an ambitious double album with the working title The Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg.

Recorded primarily in New York City, the album's final mix clocked in at 80 minutes. Heard today, the tapes are a fascinating amalgam of the band's wide spectrum of influences: Hints of hip-hop, surf rock, calypso, funk, New Wave and Afrobeat shimmer throughout, shrouded in the electronic haze of Jones' echo-y production. It might not have been their best album, but it's certainly among their most interesting artistic statements.

But the response from Jones' bandmates was overwhelmingly negative. "Does everything have to be a bloody raga?!" their manager fumed when he heard the sprawling tracks. Labeling it self-indulgent and rambling, Strummer hired superproducer Glyn Johns to whip Rat Patrol into a more commercial single disc. Johns axed five songs completely, trimmed five more by two minutes each and stripped away much of the heavy production. At 46 minutes, the Clash had their single-disc rock album. It was released in May 1982, under the fitting title Combat Rock.

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Illustration by Ryan Casey

Bruce Springsteen, ‘Electric Nebraska’ (1982)

The album that became Nebraska began as an acoustic sketch recorded in Springsteen's New Jersey home during the first week of January 1982. Using a "Portastudio" cassette recorder, he taped guitar and vocal demos (with minimal overdubs) for 15 tracks to be fleshed out with the E Street Band. These songs were more downbeat and macabre than his previous work, reflecting Springsteen's malaise as he grappled with family difficulties and the isolation of superstardom.

Springsteen and the band convened in a New York City studio the following month to give these intimate songs the full E Street treatment. As work progressed, the Boss grew dissatisfied with the heavily orchestrated takes. "They overruled the lyrics," he told Uncut. "It didn't work. Those two forms didn't fit. The band comes in and generally makes noise, and the lyrics wanted silence." He decided that the delicate demo tapes suited the music far better than barroom bombast. The studio recordings were scrapped, and Springsteen released 10 tracks from his home sessions as Nebraska.

For decades it was unclear exactly just how much work had been completed on the so-called Electric Nebraska, but drummer Max Weinberg recently confirmed that the album does exist. "The E Street Band actually did record all of Nebraska, and it was killing," he revealed to Rolling Stone. "It was all very hard-edged. As great as it was, it wasn't what Bruce wanted to release. There is a full-band Nebraska album – all of those songs are in the can somewhere."

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