Who are the most underrated rock bands of all time?
With more than six decades of Rock-N-Roll history, thousands of bands have come along to catch our attention. Some vanished quickly from the scene after delivering one or two hits, while others lasted for years and years after their heyday. And then there are these special groups that never really received what they deserved in their prime but did something that made lots of people listen to their music much later when most were no longer active.
Bands like The Velvet Underground, Kyuss, and Faith No More were more appraised after disbanding than in their most intense years. Actually, at some point, it turns into a cult following insisting that those artists reunite.
It happened in some cases, and it didn’t in others. Sometimes it was impossible to bring all things and members back together.
So, you will find artists of different sorts and genres in this selection. And for sure, there are some underrated rock bands that even we underrate by not including them in our Top 10 list. And the bands below, as diverse as they are, have at least one thing in common – they built a heritage.
The Velvet Underground
It’s one of the most influential bands ever. But when they created songs “Sunday Morning,” “Venus in Furs,” “White Light/White Heat,” or “Pale Blue Eyes,” they didn’t reach a very large audience. In fact, this act, fronted by the extravagant singer-songwriter Lou Reed, never really made it to the mainstream while they were active. Which makes them one of the best underrated rock bands – a band that never really took off.
The Velvet Underground was founded in New York, circulating around the eccentric artist Andy Warhol. The band went through turbulent times, and it took only a few years before it all fell apart. But the music lasted. It happened primarily because of Lou Reed’s successful solo career. Later many people discovered VU songs to find out these pieces that were primarily neglected when they were issued. But most importantly, the New York band became a major inspiration for many artists years and years later. And hardly could anyone summarize it better than Brian Eno once did: “The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.”
Here we have one more New York band that never was as fancy as other Big Apple acts like Kiss but remains significant to this day. Sonic Youth set up the scene for what would become the alternative rock boom of the 90s. It is enough to say that it significantly influenced Nirvana, not to mention numerous other bands.
And it’s not like Sonic Youth were in obscurity – the grunge explosion also turned much attention to that New York act. They have already made a name for themselves and, at some point, headlined major festivals like Lollapalooza. But compared to the success of Seattle bands, Sonic Youth seemed to take a much smaller share of what they deserved. Well, they remained active much longer than most grunge acts until the 2011 disbandment. After the divorce of Kim Gordon (bass, vocals) and Thurston Moore (guitars, vocals), both couldn’t remain together within the group. What they did for 30 years as Sonic Youth, along with Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley, lasts and gets rediscovered by rock fans on and on.
Faith No More
Saying that FNM was something of an underground gig in their prime would be untrue. Thanks to the “Epic” video in the early 1990s, the band had substantial MTV exposure. But they simply refused to follow the rules of mainstream success. They were largely overlooked in the following years until the group fell apart in 1997.
We can point to the Faith No More role in the tour with Metallica and Guns N’ Roses. The San Francisco quintet, fronted by the eccentric vocalist Mike Patton never seemed to fit among those major acts. Besides that, FNM didn’t want to repeat the recipe of their most successful album – “The Real Thing.” The band looked to discover new territories and wasn’t interested in doing the same thing repeatedly. That shifted the media focus away from them in a large portion of the 90s. However, this same factor built on a solid and loyal fanbase in the years after the disbandment. So, when Faith No More got back together in 2009, it was one of the most successful reunions ever.
We can tell for sure that today a lot more people would go to a Kyuss gig than in 1995 when the band quit. But the reunion is unlikely because of Josh Homme’s unwillingness to go for it. The Queens of the Stone Age frontman was the driving force behind the quintessential Palm Desert group that set up the scene for a whole new genre known today as stoner rock.
Kyuss was born in the late 80s in Southern California, remote to the Los Angeles glam rock scene. The band quickly gathered the attention of the local fans with the desert gigs and parties. With John Garcia as the lead singer, the group recorded three albums, now regarded as fundamental for this music style – “Blues for the Red Sun,” “Welcome to the Sky Valley,” and “…And the Circus Leaves Town”. But on the one hand, the band didn’t get substantial commercial success, even after they toured with major acts like Metallica. And besides that, personal strains among the band members forced the dissolution.
Homme’s former bandmates John Garcia and Brant Bjork tried to go for a reunion. But since Josh was against it, they couldn’t use the band name and would go under the moniker Kyuss Lives! Yes, Kyuss’s music lives, even if this particular reincarnation wasn’t outstanding.
You may have never heard about this British band. But in the early 1980s, Diamond Head was a part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and is widely acknowledged as a significant early influence on Metallica.
But the West Midlands heavy rockers found it hard to make a breakthrough for their own success. Diamond Head never reached the height of their NWBHM contemporaries, such as Iron Maiden. After meeting financial hardship, the band quit in 1985. But the music was there, and the legacy turned out to be significant. The interest in Diamond Head shows made the band get back together in 2000 to make a new run of those heavy riffs. To this day, they remain one of the most underrated rock bands of the 70s and the 80s.
They could have been as big as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. But even in their most successful years, The Kinks could hardly match the popularity of those two bands. Now we know them as one of the underrated classic rock bands.
Created in London in 1963 by two brothers – Ray and Dave Davies, recorded some of the rock-n-roll evergreens like “You Really Got Me” and “Sunny Afternoon.” Actually, the latter topped the UK charts beating the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer.” Even so, The Kinks were largely overshadowed by their contemporaries. But the band lasted over three decades, and its music proved to last. However, the tensions between the Davies brothers made it impossible to move on after 1996, and the band quit.
What is said about The Kinks in the 60s can relate to Uriah Heep in the 70s. The London band undoubtedly succeeded in this decade with hits like “Easy Livin'” and “Lady Black.” But it was overshadowed by other major British acts of the era, like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath. Numerous changes within the band also took their toll. Indeed, Mick Box is the only constant member of the band, which is still active nowadays, but with a much lower profile.
However, Uriah Heep’s significance found proof in an unlikely territory. A 1971 track, “July Morning,” created a whole subculture in Bulgaria. The country was east of the iron curtain, and the local communist authorities regarded hard rock music as a “decadent Western influence.” But this particular song broke through all the way to the Black Sea coast. It became a ritual for many people to camp on the beach, waiting for the first July sunrise. And this custom remains popular even today. We can surely mention them as one of the underrated hard rock bands.
This was actually one of the biggest Irish acts before groups like U2 and The Cranberries hit the mainstream. The former cited Thin Lizzy as a significant influence on their sound. It can also be said about Metallica – Phil Lynot sang the folk classic “Whiskey In the Jar” about a quarter-century before James Hetfield and his bandmates made a famous rendition of this song.
Thin Lizzy had other hits – you can still hear “The Boys Are Back in Town” on the radio. But the Irish rockers never made it in America, even in their heyday. They were huge in Europe but failed to chart significantly in the United States. Because of their quality, we can easily mention them among the Top 5 underrated rock bands.
Progressive rock was never the easiest music to follow. Complex soundscapes and unusual song structures are some of the features that make it not so accessible for many people who love rock-n-roll. We can name Yes or Jethro Tull or the early years of influential bands like Pink Floyd and Genesis. It would be just right to put Rush in this spot as the perfect embodiment of a highly underrated yet incredibly talented band.
But we pick King Crimson because it has been around for over a half-century, but still, many people don’t get it. The London band created some of the greatest musical masterpieces in past decades. Yet, King Crimson never has been a household name, even for many devoted rockers. And they remain of the most underrated prog rock bands of all time.
Have you never heard of them? Well, it’s a shame. But not specifically on you who reached the end of the article (thanks for this, anyway). It’s a shame that such a great band remains highly unrecognized. And we speak about rock fans, not the general audience that prefer a more accessible pop sound.
King’s X has been around for more than four decades with a regular lineup consisting of Doug Pinnick (vocals, bass), Jerry Gaskill (drums), and Ty Tabor (guitar). We find the same configuration in Rush, yet the Canadian prog-rockers found some level of mainstream success. On the other hand, the Missouri band charted in the early 90s with some singles like “It’s Love” and “Dogman” but never reached a wider audience. However, King’s X is often called “the musician’s band” because it influenced countless more successful rock bands, with Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, and Pantera among them. This is surely making them one of the most underrated rock bands of the 80s.
At least ten times more bands deserve mention in such a list. We have barely touched what happened in the past two decades – groups like Amplifier or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, to name a few, issued great music without becoming stars known to everybody. So, maybe we can come back with another list of the most underrated rock bands of the 21st Century.
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