The first generation of rock had a pretty great year, with genuinely good new albums from Bob Dylan (one of our favorites of 2020), Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, AC/DC, and Ozzy Osbourne to name five. It's a real treat to see artists five or six decades into their career staying creative, but it's also a treat to hear stuff that these artists recorded in their prime that never saw the light of day. Archival material comes out all the time, but 2020 felt like an especially good year for classic rock treasure that's been buried for decades. From storied "lost" albums to dream-come-true collaborations, here are five records that were unearthed in 2020 that every classic rock fan needs to make sure they hear.

Neil Young

Neil Young - Homegrown

Neil Young was on such a creative roll in the early '70s that -- even with like six classic records released at the time -- he still somehow managed to let an entire album go unreleased for nearly 50 years. Neil recorded Homegrown in 1973, but abandoned it because "it was a little too personal... it scared me." Some of its songs trickled out over the years, as Homegrown's legend continued to grow, but much of it -- including some real gems like "Try" (which features Emmylou Harris and The Band's Levon Helm) and "Separate Ways" (also with Levon) -- remained in the vault the whole time. Neil called the album "the darker side to Harvest" and "the missing link between Harvest, Comes a Time, Old Ways and Harvest Moon," and as you may expect from that quote, the album is largely on his melancholic singer/songwriter side. If you like Neil at his most personal and somber, you need Homegrown in your life.

Tom Petty Wildflowers

Tom Petty - Wildflowers & All The Rest

Tom Petty had initially conceived his beloved 1994 album Wildflowers as a 25-song double album, but he was influenced by Warner Bros' then-President Lenny Waronker to trim it down to 15, and the remaining 10 went unreleased for over 25 years. Petty had been planning on finally releasing it before his tragic, unexpected passing, but after he passed, Petty's family and former Heartbreakers bandmates dug through his vault and put out a massive 70-track reissue of Wildflowers, including the entire 25-song version of Wildflowers, plus home demos of unreleased songs from the era that never even made it to the studio, as well as other alternate takes, demos, and live recordings. The ten unreleased Wildflowers songs include several gems -- like the hazy folk of "Confusion Wheel" and "Something Could Happen," or the jangly "Leave Virginia Alone" (which Petty gave to Rod Stewart, who scored a hit with it) -- that rival just about anything on the original Wildflowers, and it feels like a crime that they stayed unreleased for so long. These aren't "outtakes"; this is the version of Wildflowers that always should have existed.

goats-head-soup rolling stones

The Rolling Stones - "Scarlet" (ft. Jimmy Page)

The Rolling Stones gave their classic 1973 album Goats Head Soup an expanded reissue this year, and it included three previously unreleased tracks, including "Scarlet," a dream collaboration between the Stones and Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page (with Traffic's Ric Grech on bass). "Scarlet" would've been the most talked-about aspect of this reissue just for Page's involvement alone, but it also turned out to be an instant-classic that already feels like one of the Stones' best early '70s songs. It has such an addictive, memorable hook from Mick Jagger that it's hard to believe they didn't think they should release it at the time, and it's the kind of song that feels so instantly familiar and tricks your brain into thinking you've known it forever. The song kept getting new life breathed into it as it got remixes by The Killers and The War On Drugs, both of which served as reminders of how influential the Stones remain on modern music, but "Scarlet" doesn't need any fancy millennial band remixes to be relevant. It's one of the best songs released this year.

Elton John

Elton John - Jewel Box

Before Elton John became the piano-pop hero we all know him as, he and co-writer Bernie Taupin were actually working on a psych-pop album in the spirit of Sgt. Pepper's and Pet Sounds called Regimental Sgt. Zippo. They abandoned it, but this year Elton released the massive career-spanning box set Jewel Box, curated by Elton himself, and it includes rarities, demos, B-sides, and previously unreleased material, including some of those Regimental Sgt. Zippo songs. The whimsical title track is as much of a Sgt. Pepper's homage as the title itself, and it's very cool to hear Elton do that kind of thing, but it's not all Beatles worship. "Tartan Coloured Lady" is another standout and it's a gentle psych-folk song that rivals what Donovan was doing at the time, while the soulful, slightly psychedelic "Turn To Me" sounds like it could've fit on Madman Across the Water. There's a whole lot more where that came from too, making Jewel Box just as essential as any of Elton's proper studio LPs.

Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell - Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963 to 1967)

The reclusive Joni Mitchell has decided to unearth tons of material from her vaults in a series of archival box sets, and due to some input from Neil Young, she decided to release the material in chronological order. Her first box, Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963 to 1967), is entirely made up of material that predates her debut album (1968's Song to a Seagull), and it's all the proof you need that Joni was a natural from day one. The box includes the 1965 demo that she recorded for Elektra Records co-founder Jac Holzman, and songs like "Day After Day" and "What Will You Give Me" are as compelling as any of the more popular compositions she'd release years later. It also includes her earliest known recording, a session that Joni recorded in 1963 (at 19 years old) for CFQC AM, a radio station in her hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and even then Joni sounded totally breathtaking. (One of the songs from that session is a cover of "House of the Rising Sun," which means Joni recorded that song one year before The Animals had a massive hit with it.) The box also includes early live material, other demos, and more, and as it goes on, you'll start to hear versions of the Joni songs you already know and love, but those never-before-heard songs make this much more than a curio for diehards.


For more year-end coverage, see our list of the 55 best albums of 2020 and browse our 'Best of 2020' tag.

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