A View From The Tower

Top 10 Most Underrated Bands Ever

June 4th, 2010 by Raven Garcia


A very over-used word these days. It is dangerous when words are over-used as they are often also misunderstood. When words are misunderstood, thier meaning can change. Case Point: The word “gay”. For decades it meant “cheery, bright, jovial and pleasant”. Even as far back as the late 80’s I remember The Flintstones singing “We’ll have a gay old time” at the end of thier theme tune. Now of course, it has an entirely different meaning.

So then, the word “Underrated”. It’s something you hear banded about everywhere these days, particularly in music. Everyone thinks thier own band or thier friends’ or cousins’ band are “underrated” just because they haven’t got that big deal yet. The truth is, for about 95% of those bands, the word “underrated” is used simply because “dreadful” doesn’t read too well.

To define this term in an effort to prevent it from being used in the incorrect context, Encarta online dictionary informs me that the word “Underrated” is the past participle of the transitive verb “Underrate”, which means: “To give too low assessment of: to judge the value, degree, or worth of somebody or something to be less than it really is.”

Fair enough. So now I want to take that word and apply it to a few bands I’ve heard over the years, bands that did get that record deal but never really made it as big as the quality of thier music dictates by proven theory that they should necessarily deserve. To put it short, maybe the term I’m really looking at is “Overlooked”. I’ll let you decide.

Then again, the whole yin/yang theory states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Overrated bands – there’s tons of them. Take Oasis, for example. I never got them. I think they’re terribly overrated and I know I’ll offend some people who will read this by saying that (Sorry Jon), but the fact is they sold millions of records worldwide. So someone out there must like them. I guess the debate of which bands are overrated is a matter of individual choice, much like it’s opposite number that I’m about to delve into.

So if it’s a matter of individual choice, that means that the following “underrated” bands were ones that people made the choice not to like, right? Not quite. It’s all about exposure. Bands who were quite good but only had limited exposure could be more accurately defined as “overlooked” rather than “underrated”. The two terms aren’t often mutually exclusive. However, reverse those two variables and you get someone along the lines of Girls Aloud, ie: mass-produced, brainless crap. That’s the trouble with exposure – Show a load of crap to everyone and eventually you’re going to find a poo-fetishist who will eat it all up (metaphorically speaking, of course).

But the ones I’m after are the underrated bands, the ones that when you listen them for the first time they have you thinking; “Wait a minute, these guys rock!! How come they aren’t massive big stars?? How come I never heard of them before??” The bands that deserved more than they got. The “ones that got away”, so to speak.

By the way, I’m coming at this list mainly from a classic rock / metal perspective so bear that in mind. In researching this article, I was having trouble narrowing it down to just 10 so I asked a few people for thier opinions. I got so many different suggestions, many of which bands I’d never even heard of, so I didn’t get the chance to check them all out. Sorry guys. But I did my best… enjoy!! (By the way, none of the videos are mine).

10: Saxon

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: “Blimey, He’s off to a bad start there”. But let me explain my choice and pretty soon you’ll understand why they’re at number 10 on this list rather than number 1. I LOVE Saxon, but it annoys me that people are always comparing them to Iron Maiden.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Maiden as well. They’re a great band and were the pioneers of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal throughout the early 80’s. People hear Maiden, and see how far they’ve come over the years (is it thirty albums now??) then they hear Saxon and think “Oh, they’re just jumping on the Maiden bandwagon”.

Saxon formed around the same time as Maiden. They both knew a big wave was coming and both wanted to be part of it. But neither of them jumped on any bandwagon, they were both there from the start. Maiden may have single-handedly made that new wave as big as it was, but Saxon rocked just as hard and were every bit as good as Maiden. Above you can listen to them playing my personal favourite: “Princess Of The Night”.

9: Big Star

I mentioned earlier that in doing research for this article I was bombarded with suggestions for bands that “just had to be included” on this list, many of whom I was unfamiliar with. Big Star were one such band who, up until last week, were banished to the doldrums of obscurity.

However, I can report back that these boys rock. Hailing from Memphis, Tennessee in 1971, in a nation still reeling musically from the British invasion and with Memphis’ other famous resident on his way out, these guys came along and belted out a few cracking tunes including the one above entitled “She’s A Mover”. Although they were short-lived – breaking up just three years later – I feel from what I’ve heard of thier stuff thus far that it has stood the test of time.

Incidentally, does anyone else think that the guy on the left of the photo looks like a young Julian Barratt??

8: Kansas

You’ve probably heard “Carry On Wayward Son” and maybe “Dust In The Wind”. That’s just the Kansas they want you to hear. Those two tracks are equivalent to the two tulips on a “Come to Amsterdam!” tourist poster showing a beautiful canal scene, some cheeses and a couple of old buildings. But they don’t mention the sex, drugs and limitless partying opportunities on offer because it might be a bit much for some people.

That’s kind of like how it is with Kansas (The band, anyway). Wayward Son and Dust In The Wind are guaranteed good times, but there are some great times there to be had if you’re willing to delve a little deeper into thier back catalogue, a catalogue that includes such rock-epic delights as “The Pinnacle”, which is ten minutes of sheer unadulterated bliss. As is “Song For America”, the song featured above. Both of these along with most of thier other stuff makes for a back catalogue that is as impressive as Robby Steinhardt’s beard.

7: Love

Another band I’ve only recently heard of. Quite an interesting back-story: These guys were formed in Los Angeles in the mid-60’s and lived in a house owned by Bela Lugosi. They gathered some attention when they started to play the LA club scene. With LA being one of the major stops on any rock group’s world tour itinerary, bands such as Zeppelin, The Yardbirds and the Stones would often frequent such clubs when they were in town, and Love would be the band playing to the other bands. They were also rumoured to be Jim Morrison’s favourite band.

One would have thought that this would have catapulted them to international stardom but, for some reason or another, it wasn’t to be for them. Maybe they just didn’t appeal that much to the Average Joes as they did to the cult of celebrity of the day. Probably because they were the Average Joes, just went out there with no ego and did what they did best. Check out “Seven And Seven Is…” (Above), and also “She Comes In Colours” (Not the one from the car advert) and “Orange Skies” are worth a mention as well.

6: Bread

Ahh, the sound of Bread. This is a classic example of a band who asks the question “Why do people listen to music?”

Music has many functions; from making us to dance with each other and get close and possibly lead to foreplay thereby encouraging reproduction, to getting an individual or a group of individuals mentally prepared and psyched up for war, or perhaps just a night on the town. Or, you can listen to music simply to relax.

Bread is a band you listen to to relax, pure and simple. I suffer from ADHD-PI (A form of attention deficit), and as a result I find it very hard to relax. But on a summer’s day with Bread playing on the stereo and a bottle of Golden Glory ale in my hand, it’s almost impossible not to relax.

For the techno / dance / trance scenes or any other scene heavily reliant on narcotics (you know, the stuff they play in Agia Napa and other such places), they tend to have these “ambient rooms” where you go to make your comedown from aforementioned narcotic as bearable as possible. Bread were the “ambient room” for pretty much the rest of the 70’s. Check out “Make It With You” (Above) and some of thier other stuff (“Baby I’m-a Want You” you might have heard). Give these guys credit. They deserve it.

5. Ebba Grön

Now, time for a bit of a change. Same sort of era, well maybe a bit later (1978 – 1983), different country (Sweden), and different genre entirely (Punk). To call these guys underrated would be an insult – that is, if you happened to be standing on a street in Stockholm at the time. These guys were HUGE in Sweden and still have a massive following there, having practically been responsible for the birth of the Swedish punk scene.

I was introduced to Ebba Grön along with a few other Swedish bands by my Swedish ex, Marie. I quickly grew to love them and, as I was learning Swedish at the time, I found that it helped me pick up the language as well. But I wondered how a band so good could go largely overlooked by the rest of the world. Then it hit me – they sing in Swedish.

I have a deep respect for recording artists from non-English speaking countries that choose to sing in thier own languages but the truth is, there are very little of them who have had success outside of thier own countries. Sweden are more commonly associated with bands like ABBA who sold thier souls and abandoned thier culture for the benefits an English-speaking audience could give them.

It may be the sad truth that not many people want to hear something they can’t understand, but that’s society’s problem and not the problem of the recording artists. If the music’s good, it should be the other way around. I like Killswitch Engage who sing in English and sometimes I still struggle to pick out some comprehensible lyrics from thier songs. Ebba Grön’s stuff is great regardless of what language it’s in, and I for one salute them for staying true to thier roots and not selling out.

Listen to “800 Grader” – the song above (Which means “800 Degrees”), and see for yourselves. If you like what you hear, check out some other Swedish language bands too such as Asta Kask and Köttgrottorna (The latter of which’s name translates as “Meat Caves” in case you were wondering).

4. Liverpool Express

From Sweden we continue our underrated journey, back to merry old England – Liverpool, in fact. I’ve already mentioned LA which is famous for countless artists and Memphis which is famous for one in particular. Liverpool, at first glance, falls into that second category having given us the Fab Four, probably the most successful band in history.

But Liverpool has given us so much more than The Beatles. From Echo & The Bunnymen, Flock of Seagulls, The Coral (Another underrated band in my view), The Merseybeats, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and more recently The Zutons, right down to the hilariously funny Half-Man Half-Biscuit, and Liverpool’s own Elvis, Mr. Costello himself. Pound for pound, Liverpool must be the most musical city on the planet. So much so infact, that you can almost forgive them for Atomic Kitten, Rick Astley and Cilla Black. Almost.
(Sorry Cilla).

But nobody has heard of Liverpool Express. Why??

The song I’ve shared with you all above is called “You Are My Love”, and in my opinion is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. I’m not alone there either as it is also one of Paul McCartney’s favourite songs. I met Sir Paul in November and, upon shaking his hand, found myself completely starstruck and couldn’t think of a thing to say. I would have done eventually, if he hadn’t been suddenly hounded by a group of press and autograph hunters. I still think he walked away thinking I was a bit ‘special’.

But, had I known that fact about him then, I would have mentioned it to him straight away. This is a great song and I love the way it builds up to the more upbeat ending. Also when I was going out with my ex, this used to be our song. Also check out “Every Man Must Have A Dream”.

3. Rush

Canada’s #1 export. When I first heard “Limelight” (above) a good few years back, I was bowled over. Naturally I checked out some more of thier stuff and quickly found them becoming one of my favourite bands. But what surprised me was that Rush’s name hardly ever gets a mention when talking about the really great classic rock bands.

Thier exclusion from the U.S.’ Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame simply highlights how biased that establishment is against non-American bands. Even Rolling Stone left them off of thier list of “100 Greatest Artists Of All Time”, the same list that included Eminem and U2. What were they thinking??

“2112 Overture” is thier piece dé resistance. Zeppelin had Stairway, Queen had Bohemian Rhapsody, Rush have 2112. A full 20 minutes long in its entirety, this is one track every music lover needs to listen to at least once. Check out “Bangkok Express” as well. You won’t be disappointed.

2. Budgie

My uncle, who is largely responsible for getting me into rock music at a very young age when I was raised on a strict diet of Cream, Deep Purple and Led Zep, was the one who first told me about this band and he claims to have seen them play live close to 50 times.

Hailing from Cardiff, They were one of the very first heavy metal bands. Some of thier track and album names are entertainment in themselves – take “Napoleon Bona – Parts 1 & 2” and “If I were Britannia, I’d Waive The Rules” for example. But they didn’t need clever plays-on-words, thier music did all the squawking for them.

Budgie were simply a brilliant band but sadly hardly anyone’s heard of them. While they themselves didn’t have a great deal of international success (Nowhere near the amount they deserved), they did influence bands even as well known as Metallica – whose “Breadvan” track many people are unaware is a cover of a Budgie number (though the original is entitled “Breadfan”).

Anyway, enjoy “Whiskey River” above, it’s my personal favourite of thiers. “In The Grip Of A Tyrefitter’s Hand” is another fine tune.

1. U.F.O.

When I asked my uncle Paul (who I mentioned above), who he thought were the most underrated band of all time, without even missing a beat he said “U.F.O.”.

I was ashamed to admit that I’d never heard anything they’d done. But if I’ve learned anything in life, it’s to trust Uncle Paul’s judgment of music because this guy knows his stuff. So naturally I decided to check them out, and sure enough they rock harder than an avalanche down the side of Mount Doom in Mordor.

A transitional band, having came about at the time when Zeppelin were on thier way out and Maiden were on thier way in, U.F.O. kind of filled a void at the time and did enough to keep fans of both genres happy.

After listening to the first song I was hooked. And I wanted more. I couldn’t believe these guys weren’t on the level of the big-name globetrotting stadium-rock bands of the Zeppelin / Pink Floyd / Sabbath ilk. Usually when you listen to a band there’s always the odd song you don’t particularly like, but with U.F.O. I found it very hard to find a weak link. “Rock Bottom”, “Lights Out”, and “Midnight Train” are all worth checking out, but the two tracks that really stand out for me are the vaguely Thin Lizzy-esque “Love To Love You”, as well as the one above: “Doctor Doctor”.

Well, that brings this extended Top 10 to a conclusion. I hope you enjoyed the music and enjoyed reading this article just as much as I enjoyed writing it. Once again I’d just like to re-iterate that I do not own any of the videos you’ve seen above. Peace out, please leave comments, criticisms (constructive or otherwise), opinions and any bands I’ve missed. And spread the love.

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