Uncut’s 50 best bootlegs

A wealth of amazing music, scrapped LPs, obscure sessions and lost nuggets selected from our own private collections…

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Recorded 2001-2, New York

A steady stream of official reissues – with plentiful extra tracks – has meant much of Bowie’s long-booted “lost songs” are now available. This, though, is as unofficial as it gets. Toy’s story goes like this: after 1999’s Hours…, Bowie approached his label Virgin with a plan to remake some of his ’60s songs – including first-ever single “Liza Jane” – alongside a handful of new tracks. Producer Tony Visconti was on board, too, for the first time since 1980. But, amid rumours of royalty disputes, Toy never happened, and Bowie left for Columbia, taking six songs – and Visconti – with him. “Baby Loves That Way”, “Shadow Man”, and “You’ve Got A Habit Of Leaving” turned up in 2002/3 as b-sides, and remakes of “Afraid” and “Uncle Floyd” (renamed “Slip Away”) can be found on Heathen, with “Conversation Piece” as a bonus track. The swooning “Toy (Your Turn To Drive)” sneaked out as a download freebie in 2003. But the sheer quality of all these cuts heightened Toy’s mystique, and a full version was leaked in March 2011, with “In The Heat Of The Morning” an offbeat highlight.
Sound quality: Studio standard
See also: The Mainman And The Mainline (The 1976 Vancouver Rehearsals), a great live boot

Recorded 1995-1999, America
While Welch’s earliest LPs were packed with gripping original songs depicting life in hardscrabble America, her live sets completed the narrative – chasing outlaws and ghosts back through ’60s Greenwich Village, the Texas plains, and 1950s Nashville via murder ballads, bluegrass and old-time country. This bootleg of live recordings, from New York, Virginia and the Yosemite National Park, gathers together covers of songs by Bill Monroe, Bob Dylan, Merle Travis and Lefty Frizzell. Whether leaning into high-lonesome harmonies (the trad “Long Black Veil”) or delivering one from left-field – Neil Young’s “Albuquerque” – Welch and her partner David Rawlings inhabit these songs, infusing them with a palpable presence and soulful undercurrent. A rolling, restless take on Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner Blues” and “Dusty Boxcar Wall”, a gritty Eric Andersen ballad delving into the heart of Guthrie’s America, are the killers, but collectively Live And Obscure rivals Welch’s studio output. Curiously, she’s officially ignored this corner of her career, though a version of “Dusty Boxcar Wall” made it out as a website-only single.
Sound quality: Slight variations, but generally extremely good
See also: Previval, alternate take on Welch’s stunning debut; and Working On A Building: Demos and a four-disc set, The Early Years



Recorded 1967/8, California
No group with such a short lifespan, barely two years from summer 1966 to May 1968, had the lasting impact of Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay, Bruce Palmer and Dewey Martin. Even bootlegs are few and far between. The first was Stampede in the mid-’70s, which gathered up rare studio tracks (all later legitimately released on 2001’s self-titled box) plus a tantalising tape from Whittier High School in early August, 1967. The fascinating but flawed California Daze is composed of the Whittier tapes, plus a handful of pre-taped TV performances, and an off-air radio recording of the group’s final show at Long Beach on May 5, and offers raw excitement beyond the band’s official studio output. The sound quality on the Long Beach show can be muffled and heavily distorted, but it’s worth it for a blazing 23-minute “Bluebird”, a thrilling foretaste of Stills and Young’s ferocious duelling guitars. The bootleg’s artwork doesn’t mention this, but the Whittier recordings don’t actually feature Young, who left the band in May, 1967 for three months. His replacement? Daily Flash guitarist Doug Hastings.
Sound quality: Poor to good
See also: Sell Out, further 1967/8 recordings from shows in California and Dallas


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