Playing this “ABCs Of Classic Rock,” and the guessing of bands by their alphabet, got me thinking. I wanted to compile a list of bands, alphabetically from A-Z, who I didn’t think got the recognition or fame they deserved. Just one band per letter. Some did have a few hit albums or singles but didn’t ever have THE BIG one, others were just plain obscure and faded into oblivion. How many of these do you know?
The first time I heard this song, Michael Tearson was playing it on WMMR waaaay back in the day and I fell in love with it. Audience were a progressive/artsy British band (with flutes!) who got my attention with “Indian Summer.” It was released in 1971 and produced by Gus Dudgeon, Elton John’s producer at the time. Sadly, aside from brief play on rock radio in the US, it, and the band, disappeared pretty quickly.
You KNOW we loved them all throughout the 80s here in Philly, but I still scratch my head that some big label didn’t scoop them up and share their silliness across the country. “Gene Upshaw..”
These guys were from Minneapolis/St. Paul and came on the scene in 1969 with their hard rocking, horn-based “Evil Woman” (NOT the ELO song.) It did crack the US top 20 but, even with some pretty inane lyrics, that hook was SO good it should have been a top 5 smash. The aptly-titled follow up single, “Cottage Cheese,” sealed their fate.
Ian Dury & The Blockheads
Ian was a pub favorite in the UK and his 1977 anthem “Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll” put him on the map. While that is an incredible track, he’s had many other catchy, silly, fun songs, and this one ranks as my favorite. Why he never reached this side of The Atlantic is a mystery.
The Equals were one of the first interracial rock bands to make some noise in the UK. They had one minor hit, which is one of my all-time favorite songs ever recorded, “Baby Come Back,” in 1968, and their album of the same name is SO Beatle-y, and full of fantastic songs. The band never did break out in a huge way, but one of their members would find fame over a decade later – Eddy Grant, whose “Electric Avenue” was a worldwide smash.
This band formed in South Africa in 1965 as The Flames, before being signed to The Beach Boys’ label Brother Records in 1970. To avoid confusion with James Brown’s band The Famous Flames, their name was shortened to The Flame in the US. Carl Wilson of The Beach Boys produced their self-titled album, and the opening track “See The Light” is The Beatles song that never was! It’s a fantastic tune that I’m shocked was a flop on the charts. Lead singer Blondie Chaplin ended up touring and singing with The Beach Boys, while guitarist Ricky Fataar would go on to later fame as Stig O’Hara of The Rutles!
Signed to Elektra Records in 1971, Goodthunder had their debut album produced by legendary Doors producer Paul A. Rothchild. The album is an excellent collection of hard rock songs, opening with this hard driving beauty called “Sentries.” The album surprisingly made absolutely NO impact, and Goodthunder disappeared shortly afterward.
Hotlegs came from Manchester and were all experienced songwriters and musicians of some level. Eric Stewart was in the Mindbenders and Graham Gouldman had written hit songs for The Hollies and Herman’s Hermits. Hotlegs put out just one album, “Thinks School Stinks,” a self-produced and self-engineered project. There were some fine songs on there, all with at least moderate levels of Beatles influence, and it contained a hypnotic, rather goofy song called “Neanderthal Man” that hit the US top 20. I was hooked on this song from the first time I heard it in 1970, and became an instant fan of the band. To my surprise, they vanished shortly after that song came out! Imagine my happy shock when they resurfaced a few years later as 10cc, a band in my top three of all time!
WIBG played this in the summer of 1969 and I lost my head. It was hard rocking, but had a killer hook and kickass vocals. Took me months to find a copy in the record shops – I think I finally got one at Wee Three Records in the Moorestown Mall. The Illusion were a band out of Long Island and this was the only hit they had, albeit what we call a ‘regional’ hit. They broke up by 1971.
Jo Jo Gunne
Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes had already tasted success in Spirit, and this was the band they’d form after leaving the group. This was Jo Jo Gunne’s one minor hit called “Run Run Run” from 1972. It had all the makings of a hit record but, neither it nor their debut album captured the hearts of rock fans, I’m afraid.
This was one of those songs I loved from the very first time I heard it. It had The Beatles written all over it, with a smattering of 10cc, so it was an automatic for me. It was a mild hit in 1981 and James Warren, lead singer of the band, later formed Stackhouse, another criminally overlooked band.
There were at least three big rock bands in the late 60s who incorporated horns; Blood Sweat & Tears, Chicago and The Ides Of March. In 1968, the Canadian horn-based jazzy-tinged band Lighthouse produced some great tracks as well. Their first big hit was this one, “One Fine Morning,” which sounded SO good on the radio! Later songs included “Sunny Days” and “Pretty Lady,” both hits in their native Canada, but did little here.
My brother worked at WIBG several times, and he always used to bring me records from their library. This was one of them – a song written by band members Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle and, while the group never saw huge chart success, the two would go onto become a very successful songwriting duo throughout the 70s.
The Nice were one of the first progressive bands to hit the scene in the late 60s. Their sound was punctuated by the incredible work of a young keyboardist named Keith Emerson. Keith, of course would put those keyboard talents to work throughout the 70s in Emerson, Lake and Palmer, but The Nice really laid the foundation for a slew of progressive rock bands to follow. Their version of Leonard Bernstein’s arrangement of “America” from West Side Story is mesmerizing, and check out their album “Three Bridges,” which features this take on the Dylan song.
Ozark Mountain Daredevils
Yeah, I know, they had a big hit with “Jackie Blue” in 1975, but, MAN, this song from 1973 should have been an ANTHEM. The Ozarks had a real nice southern rock vibe, but they never achieved superstar status. One reason was they didn’t want to relocate to Los Angeles with all the craziness – they were content to stay in their hometown of Springfield, Missouri, not exactly a musical hotbed of activity.
It was about 2am, I was drunk, and this video came on MTV while I was dozing off. The melody, the arrangement and the vocals hit me instantly, and I became an instant fan of Tony Carey, the dude behind Planet P. This song was the only one that got this band any exposure, but I really liked the debut album. As a solo artist, Tony Carey would find minor success with his excellent song, “A Fine Fine Day.”
Quicksilver Messenger Service
When you think of the “San Francisco Sound” in Classic Rock, the names Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Santana immediately come to mind, but Quicksilver Messenger Service were largely influential in shaping that Bay area psychedelic musical scene. The band was founded by Dino Valenti in 1965, the same year as The Airplane. Valenti wrote the beautiful “Get Together” for The Youngbloods under the pseudonym “Chet Powers.” They never had a hit single like the other bands I mentioned, but their first four albums are essential classic rock listening.
I really do think it’s a crime that Emitt Rhodes isn’t a household name. His debut album, released in 1970, contains some of the most gorgeous, poppy, hooky songs you’d ever want to hear. He put out four wonderful albums, none of which sold well, before retiring for over 40 years. In 2016, he returned with a new album that showed he hadn’t lost a step.
It’s fitting Judee Sill would follow after Emitt Rhodes. She, like Emitt, wrote, recorded and produced some of the most gorgeous music hardly anyone’s ever heard. She was the first artist signed to David Geffen’s then-new Asylum label, and Graham Nash even produced a track off her first album. She had a simple, crystal clear singing voice and such incredible talent for writing and arranging. Sadly, a long time addiction to heroin cut her life short, but I strongly suggest you check out her songs. I can’t listen to this song without totally losing it – it’s SO freakin’ beautiful.
Lead by The Who’s former chauffeur, Speedy Keene, and a 15-year old guitar prodigy named Jimmy McCullough, Thunderclap Newman had one hit song and one album, and then they split. The material on that one album was SO good, it showed the band had a tremendous amount of potential which, sadly, we never got to see. Jimmy McCullough would later be the lead guitarist for Wings from 1974-1977.
Uriah Heep’s appearance on this list in no way infers they weren’t a successful band. On the contrary, they’ve sold millions of albums. But I can’t figure out why they weren’t Deep Purple or Black Sabbath big. The songs were phenomenal, the vocals and production tight, and their live shows were always entertaining. While we ruminate on that, let’s blast “Easy Livin’!!”
It really is hard to articulate Velvet Underground’s influence on future bands, so I won’t even try. Armed with that opinion, I am shocked that, of the four groundbreaking albums they did with Lou Reed as a member, the highest chart position on the Top 200 was their debut, coming in at #129. They deserved better, though later cult fame and a Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame induction gave them some more visibility.
Wax was a short lived pairing of brilliant songwriters Graham Gouldman (10cc) and Andrew “Thank You For Being A Friend” Gold. When that first album came out around 1985-86, I was smitten. Their single, “Right Between The Eyes,” sounded so good on the radio! A successful was certain for them! Eh, no. Gouldman went back to 10cc after putting out three albums with Gold, and that was it for Wax.
My #1 most underrated band. In fact, behind the Beatles, they’re my #2 group of all time. They were from Swindon, UK, and came along during the wave of punk bands in the late 70s. But they were different. Their songs had depth, clever lyrics and a ton of musical surprises within each song. They had two very competent songwriters in Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding, and they released 14, YES 14, brilliant albums. Aside from The Beatles and 10cc, no other band has affected me in my life more than XTC.
For Y and Z, I wracked my brain for days and could not find one band or artist that I felt were truly underrated/underappreciated.
Y & T?
Yeah they rocked, but…
Zager & Evans?
I’m happy with them having that one hit “In The Year 2525.”
With that said, I’d love to see YOUR A-Z list of bands/artists who need more attention!