More and more, people are becoming fascinated by music history, by tracing the ever-present lines that exist between artists, bands, musicians and influences. And every so often in music history, an artist comes along who does something really great and is barely remembered for it; occasionally, this happens to an artist for the duration of their career, as they continue to produce quality music that for some dire reason goes unappreciated by the masses. Today, we’re going to speak to a few of those bands and the quality music they’ve produced, and maybe comment on why they’ve received so little attention for their efforts. Here are 10 underrated artists that music history doesn’t pay enough attention to.
10. Brian Jonestown Massacre
If you haven’t watched Dig!, the musical documentary which details the love/hate relationship between alternative rock bands The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, we’d suggest you do it immediately. It’s a riveting documentary that chronicles the vast differences in the approach of these similar but different bands, and it gives precious insight into the self-destructive tendencies of the lead singer of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Anton Newcombe. Despite their tumultuous tendencies, the Brian Jonestown Massacre have been producing quality music for years (they just released their 14th album in 2014), drawing inspiration from psychedelic rock, folk and even electronica. With an expansive catalog and a fully-fledged documentary to stoke your interest, we’re willing to bet you’ll have plenty of material to check out when listening to this awesomely underrated band, so stop stalling and get on it right away!
9. Tears for Fears
We know what you’re thinking. The guys who did “Mad World”? Really? Trust us, we understand your skepticism, but hear us out. Tears for Fears, the English new wave band who brought us classic songs like “Mad World,” “Shout” and “Everybody Wants to Rule The World” (yes, you youngsters, they wrote that song, not Lorde), are wildly underrated. Featuring an assortment of rock solid tracks (if you can handle the synthesizers) and an excess of musical talent and songwriting skills, this two-piece outfit made up of Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal have been doing their thing since the early 1980s, and have even continued to tour until the present (they’re playing shows right now! You can go see them!). While their 1985 album Songs From the Big Chair is the album that rocketed them to international spotlight, it’s their other albums that more people should be paying attention to. Seriously people, they’re all good.
8. Steve Earle
Steve Earle has been a fixture amidst the Nashville recording scene for quite some time, and we’re honestly a little surprised whenever we meet someone who hasn’t heard of this legendary singer and songwriter. Earle, who released his first EP in 1982, broke through to the mainstream in 1986 with his album Guitar Town, but we’ve very rarely heard his name come up when discussing influential musicians or important contributors to music history. That’s unfortunate, because Earle is credited with writing and assisting in the recording of some of music’s biggest stars, some folks you might’ve heard of by the names of Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Emmylou Harris. With one finger in folk, one in rock and one in country, Earle has all his bases covered and has been a consistent contributor in all three genres for over 30 years. Check out his work immediately for a taste of good, old fashioned Tennessee.
7. The Replacements
Formed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1979, The Replacements are a band that few have heard, but most will have heard bands they went on to influence. One of the most important bands in the development of the garage rock movement, The Replacements never achieved success on a commercial scale but are beloved by music historians everywhere for their continuation of the punk ideologies of the 1970s (and their contributions to those ideologies). Innumerable bands have cited The Replacements as a primary influence, including successful artists like The Goo Goo Dolls and The Gaslight Anthem. True rock revolutionaries with a reputation for putting on some of the wildest, drunkest and craziest shows in the history of music, the impact of their work will still be felt generations from now. Their third album, Let It Be, is a garage rock masterpiece that combines the stylistic and musical tendencies of punk rock with a sophisticated, progressive style of songwriting reminiscent of The Beatles. It’s something you’ve got to listen to in order to appreciate.
We’re going to come out right out and say it; these guys are some of the most underrated song writers of all time, and nobody knows who they are. The godfathers of contemporary alternative rock, Fugazi was formed and steered primarily by Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto, and those two men deserve far more credit and accolades than they’ve been privy to thus far. Embracing the DIY methodology of the punk movement in 1970s England, Fugazi did everything on their own, from producing the music and pressing the albums, to making the merchandise and organizing their tours, etc. They’re well known for their contemptuous approach to the recording industry, and also for their grand contributions to the development of post-hardcore, garage rock and alternative rock. MacKaye would go on to continue these contributions after Fugazi disbanded by founding Dischord Records, one of the preeminent distributors of underground music. These guys are rock and roll heroes who deserve some mighty fine praise for their work, and we’re here to give it to them.
Continuing our discussion of the underrated forefathers of punk rock and garage rock, this Michigan-born band contributed greatly to the popularization and proliferation of those genres of music. MC5, from their debut album Kick Out the Jams (1969), gave the world the seeds from which great musical movements would grow; stripped down instrumentals, violent anti-establishment ideology and ridiculously energetic on-stage performances that set the tone for much of the punk craze that would sweep the nation throughout the 1970s. While their time in the limelight was short (they released only three albums, all of which are now considered wildly important to the trajectory of music history in America), with the band breaking up just three years after forming, MC5 are consistently cited as one of the most important bands in the development of alternative rock, and very few folks listen to them. We’re continuing our quest to right musical wrongs by suggesting our readers check out their albums in the near future.
4. Brian Eno
Brian Eno has a long list of titles; composer, producer, song writer, vocalist, visual artist, musician…whatever you want to call him, the guy’s been involved in the development and proliferation of ambient and experimental music for over 40 years, and so very few people know his name. That’s a shame, because he’s responsible for crafting some of the very best experimental music to come out during that time period; with 17 solo albums and contributions to and collaborations with a variety of other bands, including Coldplay, Talking Heads and David Bowie; Eno is ridiculously prolific and equally influential. His theories and methodologies for producing and recording music have been praised by artists worldwide, and his contributions to the development of recording technologies cannot be overstated (he made the studio an active, rather than passive, experience for ambient and electronic musicians. The guy is a genius).
3. Captain Beefheart
Born Dan Van Vliet (awesome name, right?), the man musically known as Captain Beefheart has been captivating young revolutionaries for years, with the help of his trusted Magic Band. He’s been called the voice of the counterculture, a figure so iconic that his fingerprints can be found all over the popular music of today (despite the fact that so few are aware of who he is). Bands as varied as The White Stripes, LCD Soundsystem and Beck have cited Beefheart as a primary influence, and his list of admirers is far longer than we could dare to list here. His 1969 album Trout Mask Replica is about the strangest (and greatest) thing that’s ever found its way into the contemporary cultural consciousness, yet it’s still alarming how little official acclaim has been thrown Beefheart’s way. A strange combination of jazz, blues, rock and soul, the music of Captain Beefheart often requires multiple listens to internalize, but once you get there it’s well worth the journey. Isn’t that better than absorbing whatever comes across the radio on your drive home from work?
2. Bad Brains
And just like that, we’re back to punk rock. Isn’t that a lovely thing, though? As influential as bands like Fugazi and MC5 were, there’s no denying that Bad Brains, the insane in the membrane founding fathers of the Washington, D.C., hardcore scene of the 1970s and 1980s, are just as integral to the trajectory of music history. Originally a jazz fusion band which morphed slowly into a punk band before accumulating the “hardcore” label as well, Bad Brains have released nine studio albums since their inception, all of which are considered monumental successes paramount to the development of underground rock in America. Known for their riotous live shows which inspired some of the greatest musicians of today to take up instruments and get their thrash on, Bad Brains remain the primary pioneers behind hardcore punk.
1. The Kinks
Herein lies the problem with singles. It’s always a shame when a truly great band becomes defined by one or two songs, no matter how incredible those songs are. There’s no doubting that “Lola” or “All Day and All of the Night” by The Kinks are all-time great tunes, but the true tragedy lies in the fact that not many folks know they actually have other songs too. Surprise! And there’s no understating how important The Kinks were to the overarching history of rock and roll. You think we’re exaggerating? Quick, who was John Lennon’s favorite songwriter? Fun fact, it was Ray Davies of The Kinks. That’s right, these guys influenced The Beatles, who then influenced everyone else. Wrap your brain around that one, readers. The Kinks are the kings of underrated, and now you’ve got more reason than ever to go pick up one of their albums and give it a listen.