We’re big fans of popular music history here at Goliath (we might even go so far as to call ourselves scholars of the subject), and we find ourselves constantly fascinated by the creative contributions innumerable bands have made to the history of rock and roll. What’s even more fascinating is how all these contributions fit together, how they overlap and influence each other to operate more like a weave than a timeline, a comprehensive web of music history that is always fascinating to study. Today, we want to take a closer look at some of music history’s most underappreciated contributors to that web, and we want to talk about why we feel these bands deserve more credit than they’ve been given to date. That’s why we are bringing you 10 underrated rock musicians (and the reasons why you should listen to them).
10. Alice in Chains
It’s no secret that Nirvana were the godfathers of the grunge movement, with Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl leading the wildly influential band to unimaginable heights of popularity in the early 1990s. And while Nirvana deserves the many accolades heaped on them, their status as a symbolic representation of grunge as a whole does a disservice to the other amazing bands making music at that time. One of those bands, Alice in Chains, who also hailed from Seattle, Washington, were an incredibly important group founded by the late Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell (who some may recognize from his post-Alice in Chains solo career, where he worked with artists like Ozzy Osbourne and Metallica). Grunge contributors who also made a mark in the heavy metal scene, Alice in Chains are rarely cited as a major influence on bands today, despite the fact that their music was as pervasive as Nirvana’s during the grunge movement.
9. The Faces
If we look at the Faces as a side project for many famous musicians (and in some ways, the band was simply an experiment for the individuals involved), then their relative anonymity in music history makes some semblance of sense. That said, this English rock band, which was formed after Steve Marriot left The Small Faces to start Humble Pie (another influential rock band we’ll speak more on later), consisted of ultra-talented individuals like Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood (who would later go on to join The Rolling Stones in place of Mick Taylor), Ian McLaughlin and Kenney Jones, and man did they make some great music. You’ve no doubt heard their tune “Ooh La La,” which has been included in numerous movie soundtracks since its release on Ooh La La (the album) in 1973, but efforts should be made to listen to the rest of their discography. While the band only released four albums (from 1970-1973), they’re all stellar classic rock endeavors that deserve a more discussed place in the annals of music scholarship.
8. The Cars
Long since banished to the music graveyard of AM radio, The Cars rate as one of the most influential bands that kids nowadays have never even heard of. The foremost champions of new wave rock, The Cars were formed in Boston by Ric Ocasek, who would play rhythm guitar and sing lead vocals for them on their way to early 1980s fame. Best known for their catchy tune “Just What I Needed” (a song that’s so beloved even The Strokes covered it), The Cars released six albums before breaking up in 1988 (a reunion album was later released with an altered lineup), and more individuals should take the time to listen to the interesting collage of musical genres the band managed to blend into one appealing, pop-laden rock sound.
We’d feel remiss not including Heart on this list, as these badass rockers have done nothing but make great music over the course of their careers. Are they perhaps a tad bit too famous to be considered “underrated”? Maybe, but seeing as how Ann and Nancy Wilson (the two sisters who front the band) have done such a stellar job of excelling in a musical genre traditionally dominated by men, we wanted to show them a little love and draw attention to a band with a long history of strong deep cuts you may not have heard on the radio. While Heart hit it big with songs like “Barracuda” and “Crazy on You,” most casual listeners are unaware that the band actually dabbles in some impressively experimental sounds and recording techniques, resulting in some really great overall albums that should be heard as an entire unit and not as a series of disjointed singles. Often labelled pioneers who helped to inspire a feminine revolution in the rock music industry, Heart deserve a larger piece of the music history pie than they’ve been sliced so far.
6. King Crimson
While it pained us to keep Rush off a list like this (the Canadian progressive rock trio were just too famous for us to label underrated), we did the next best thing by including fellow prog-rock masters King Crimson. One of the most important bands in music history, King Crimson have been cited as a primary influence by bands as varied as Genesis, Yes, Nirvana, Tool, Bad Religion and even Rush themselves, further illustrating just how important this wildly experimental band was. Featuring a constantly evolving lineup (guitarist Robert Fripp has been the only constant since the band’s formation in 1968) and an even more fluid sound, which drew from a wide array of influences including rock, jazz, folk and classical music, King Crimson eschewed much of the blues base of other rock and roll bands and instead chose to experiment with a more diverse portfolio of genres. While some may find their work unlistenable, there’s just as many who swear by their music, with 1969’s In the Court of the Crimson King remaining a foundational progressive rock album.
5. Cheap Trick
If you know Cheap Trick at all, you probably remember them as that band responsible for producing “I Want You to Want Me,” a pop-infused rock tune conveying one of the simplest emotions (longing) in some of the simplest terms. In fact, there’s a good chance you don’t know Cheap Trick at all, and instead you’ve been exposed to one of the million covers of that song that’s come long after Cheap Trick originally debuted the tune on In Color, their second album, in 1977. What most people may not have gleaned in their limited exposure to Cheap Trick is that these fellas just happen to have produced some of the more rocking and rolling tunes to ever come out of the Chicago area code, and their 1978 live album Cheap Trick At Budokan is revered by rock and roll aficionados everywhere (it’s consistently cited as among the greatest live albums ever recorded). Quintessential performers who successfully blended elements of hard rock with pop sensibilities, Cheap Trick’s strong instrumentals (Rick Nielson is a god) deserve more love than they’re given.
4. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
One of the few bands on this list who’re still active (they were formed in 1998 but have continued to release work, including their most recent album Specter at the Feast in 2013), Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (often identified plainly as BRMC) have been producing quality garage rock for a long, long time, and we’re always surprised by just how few individuals know who they are. Originally from San Francisco, California, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club do suffer the misfortunate of a poor band name (there had to be something better they could’ve gone with), but that in no way detracts from the often heavy, sometimes psychadelic and rarely poor albums they’ve been popping out for the past decade. For a particularly awesome album, be sure to listen to Beat the Devil’s Tattoo, their sixth studio endeavor, whose tracks have been featured on a wide variety of soundtracks, including Chuck, Sons of Anarchy and Arrow.
3. Humble Pie
We told you we’d work back around to Humble Pie, the rock group guitarist Steve Marriot formed after leaving The Small Faces in 1969. A “supergroup” that included Marriot, former Herd vocalist Peter Frampton and young drumming star Jerry Shirley, Humble Pie released their first album, As Safe As Yesterday, to enormous critical acclaim in 1969. Running on the strength of the band’s first single, “Natural Born Bugie,” Humble Pie went on to release a second album shortly after their first, titled Town and Country, which further elevated the band to sterling heights in their native U.K. and helped them achieve international success across the Atlantic. While we can’t quite figure out why Humble Pie never fully realized the rock star potential most everyone from the era saw in their music, we also can’t figure out why music history (which has a habit of taking too long to realize a good thing) has never gone back and elevated them to the deserved heights.
2. Dire Straits
Most people are aware that Dire Straits, the band behind classic tunes like “Sultans of Swing” and “Money For Nothing,” were immensely talented musicians with the ability to blow the doors off a guitar solo like it was nobody’s business. What they aren’t aware of is that Dire Straits actually had songs that weren’t singles, and they managed to produce some quality rock/folk/blues fusion albums that have sold a great deal of copies worldwide. Founded by lead vocalist and guitarist Mark Knopfler, Dire Straits did an excellent job of incorporating a diverse portfolio of sounds into their rock-based music, and their folksy and heartland sensibilities placed them at odds with the heavier rock of their era. Perhaps this clash with the popular ethos of their time helps explain their notable absence from discussions surrounding the greatest classic rock bands of all time.
1. Deep Purple
Ahhh, Deep Purple. Duh duh duh, duh duh…duh duh! Everybody knows the riff from “Smoke on the Water,” the iconic song by this English rock band formed in 1968, but what many people don’t realize is that Deep Purple, along with Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, are often considered the forefathers of contemporary alternative rock and heavy metal. Rarely cited with their far more famous contemporaries, Deep Purple have the incredible misfortune of being remembered almost solely for one guitar riff, an unfortunate set of circumstances which does a disservice to the legion of great albums they’ve released over the years (the band has been consistently active since their formation, and released a new album as recently as 2013). Most definitely the most underappreciated rock band in the history of the genre, Deep Purple should be spoken of with far more reverence than we’ve heard to date.