Forgotten Lovers - Gary Wilson
Compiled and released in 2003, this album is a collection of early Gary Wilson material that had been recorded from 1973-1982, but until then been available only through rare, limited vinyl releases.
Start with: “When I Spoke of Love” and “Soul Travel”
Why it’s worth revisiting: Though Gary’s unique autobiographical style was not completely fleshed out at the time of this album, the collection is an illuminating background to his evolution leading up to the Gary heard on later albums like Mary Had Brown Hair, It’s Friday Night With Gary Wilson, and Alone With Gary Wilson. Forgotten Lovers contains several songs and characteristics that have long comprised Gary’s live set, and is a brilliant experience in its own rite.
“Dreams” sets the tone for this collection of early Gary Wilson work. You’d be forgiven for thinking this brilliant instrumental comes directly from a funky 70s detective film, and it’s surely no coincidence that it did in fact make an appearance in the first season of Narcos in 2015 (season 1, episode 4).
“In the Midnight Hour” and “Forgotten Lovers” continue in a similar synth-laden jazz-funk vein, showcasing not only Gary’s skilled bass and keyboard work, but also his signature vocals and lyrics. The latter half of “Forgotten Lovers” is, interestingly, the music Gary has used for decades now to exit the stage at the conclusion of his famed live shows. “Rhythm in Your Eyes” is another live staple of Gary’s, still performed similarly to this catchy recorded version, as is the irresistible disco-tinged “New York Surf”, which Wilson continues to uses as an introduction to his shows. “It’s So Sad to Be Alone” is a rare and beautiful example of something approaching a ballad in the Wilson catalog, while the instrumental “Soul Travel” is certainly one of Gary’s most compelling and brilliant recorded moments to date. Long-time Gary Wilson fan Questlove played this gem immediately following Meryl Streep’s speech at the 2017 Golden Globes, and also performed the album’s following track, “Chrome Lover” (as part of The Roots) live with him in 2010 on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. A mini-journey of twists, turns, and jarring interludes, this must-hear track is Gary Wilson through and through. Even at this early stage of his work, Gary had found his unique balance of accessibility and strangeness.
The sleeper track on the album is arguably “Sick Trip”, with its irresistible intro/interlude theme that seems tailor-made for sampling. The brief, contemplative “Softly the Water Flows” is a highlight, and rare instance of Gary playing piano, accompanied by a double bass and a drummer playing brushes. “I Wanna Take You on a Sea Cruise” showcases Gary’s delightful sung and spoken vocals, which at times sounds remarkably like those of Prince (though at this point there is no indication either artist had heard the other), and also features another example of Gary’s trademark abstract interludes. If nothing else, it’s worthwhile to listen to this track to hear Gary’s distorted and repeated lyric, “What happened to your arrow, Cupid? Did it get dull?” “When I Spoke of Love” is yet another example of an early GW track that remains in his live set. Its groove, lyrics, and characteristic Wilson juxtaposition of simplicity and sophistication all show why this song is such a success in both its recorded and live versions.
The jazz-fusion odyssey “Another Galaxy” is a formidable reminder that as off-kilter as GW’s work may strike some listeners, his credentials as a musician and composer are indisputable. The final track, “You Took Me on a Walk into My Mirror”, somehow manages to be unsettling and danceable at the same time in a way that only Gary Wilson can manage.