Since my "Overrated" post got such a good response, it’s time to give the underrated music folks equal time. Being as they are so overlooked, there’s a good chance I’ve already done blog tributes on them, which I’m providing links to, if you care to view…
Paul Revere & The Raiders—It frustrates me no end that these guys aren’t respected more for their musical output. They were a fun band that played some excellent guitar-driven Rock, but unfortunately they are remembered more for their campy stage act on TV in the ‘60s (and Revere’s current nostalgia act in Branson doesn’t help things any). Lead singer Mark Lindsay was a stud as the group’s front man and even though they had a revolving door in terms of personnel, PR&TR always employed fine musicians, like the equally-underrated Drake Levin on guitar. Their big hits between 1965 and 1971 were great, but you can even go beyond them and find numerous hidden gems like "Louise", "Ballad of A Useless Man", "Get Out Of My Mind", "Time After Time", "Get It On", "Boys In The Band" and a personal fave, "The Great Airplane Strike". Strange irony that "Indian Reservation" was their first and only #1 hit, because it was also the beginning of the end. PR&TR are far more Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame worthy than their contemporaries like the Lovin’ Spoonful, Dave Clark Five and the Ventures, just to name a few.
Sweet—This band was unfairly tagged with the ‘70s "Glam Rock" stigma, which I think hurt their career in the long run. You know "Ballroom Blitz" and "Fox On The Run", but they had a few other songs that rocked just as hard, like "Teenage Rampage", "Blockbuster" and "Action". Sadly, singer Brian Connolly’s over-indulgence in alcohol helped to derail this band by the late ‘70s.
Elton John Band—We know Elton’s good, but I’m referring here to his backing band during his ‘70s heyday, guitarist Davey Johnstone, bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson (and later percussionist Ray Cooper). In addition to being top-flight musicians, Johnstone, Murray and Olsson are largely unrecognized for providing sterling backing vocals—the original "Candle In The Wind" being a supreme example—and why on earth Elton chose to break this unit up in 1975 is a mystery. His decision to cease working with longtime producer Gus Dudgeon also mystifies me, and it’s no small coincidence that EJ’s career went into free-fall after he "split the band" (keeping only Johnstone and Cooper and bringing in other musicians) and that his career rebounded in the ‘80s when Murray and Olsson returned. Dee Murray died of skin cancer in 1992, but Johnstone and Olsson still play and tour with Elton today. Their body of work from about 1972 through 1975 is nothing short of phenomenal.
The Rainmakers—The finest Rock band Kansas City ever produced, bar none. Should’ve been every bit as big as R.E.M. is. See my previous blog tribute on them for more details.
Moody Blues—The critics tended to blow them off, and the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame avoids them like they were rodent droppings, but these gentlemen produced some of the finest headphone music I’ve ever heard on their magnificent first seven albums between 1968 and 1972. Some of their stuff makes for a great head trip that you don’t even need illegal drugs to enjoy. Former keyboardist Mike Pinder doesn’t get near enough credit for his work, especially on the almighty Mellotron. Even though it made for a nice comeback, I can pretty much do without their ‘80s-and-beyond output when they were merely trying to write hit singles—it’s those first seven albums that define this band.
Cheap Trick—Yes, the critics were generally kind to these guys, but I still don’t think they get their due. It’s strange that such a Rock Radio-friendly band doesn’t rate more airplay than just "Surrender" and "I Want You To Want Me". Radio doesn’t go anywhere near deep enough into their catalogue—there’s so much more to Cheap Trick, like "He’s A Whore", "She’s Tight", "Auf Wiedersehen", "Tonight It’s You", "Stiff Competition", "Never Had A Lot To Lose" and "Clock Strikes Ten", plus Heaven Tonight, Dream Police and Lap Of Luxury are excellent albums. "The Flame" is one of my all-time favorite power ballads too.
Rush—The critics hate these crazy Canucks with a passion, which I’m sure makes their continuing prolonged success all the more infuriating to them. Rush really hit their stride when Geddy Lee reined in his voice and really learned how to sing instead of screeching and shrieking, long about the time of Moving Pictures in 1981, the first in a string of what I thought were their five best albums (Signals, Grace Under Pressure, Power Windows and Hold Your Fire being the others).
Grand Funk Railroad—Another trio the critics loved to hate, and they were even more merciless on GFR than they were on Rush. Much to their credit, Mark, Don and Mel didn’t give a monkey’s what the critics thought, and just went out and played what people wanted to hear. Grand Funk has two songs that would make my Top 100 of all-time, "We’re An American Band" and "I’m Your Captain/Closer To Home", the latter of which I want played at my funeral.
Journey—I have a soft spot for Journey, in spite of Steve Perry’s penchant for sappy power ballads like "Open Arms" and his firing of bassist Ross Valory and drummer Steve Smith for no good reason in 1985. Yeah, we’re in a slump, so let’s fire the rhythm section. Flaky as he is, Perry was still a pretty good front man, and guitarist Neal Schon is vastly overlooked. I love their "B" stuff like "Rubicon", "Line of Fire", "Be Good To Yourself", "Lay It Down" and "Only The Young".
Motorhead—Without Uncle Lemmy and company, there would be no Metallica, there would be no Judas Priest, there would be no Iron Maiden, and so forth on down the line, yet they get precious little credit for being true groundbreaking heavy metal behemoths. They are the loudest, rawest and fastest band in my musical collection, and with lines like "You got a body like a Marshall stack," Lemmy also incorporates a sense of humor into Motorhead’s music—a rarity in the metal genre.
John Hiatt—A brilliant singer/songwriter with a knack for clever lines like "thunder and lightning from the bloodshot skies" and the only man I know of who successfully worked in porcupines and amoebas in the same song and made it work! His gentle good humor and unique perspectives on life really make his music come alive. Hard to be in a bad mood while listening to him…
Nick Lowe—A one-time cohort of J. Hiatt’s, and a very witty songwriter in his own right (write?), plus he plays a pretty mean bass guitar and is known for his production talents too. Full of brilliant lines like "When I’m with you, girl, I get an extension—and I don’t mean Alexander Graham Bell’s invention" (from "Switchboard Susan") and "You’re cold, pretty mama, like a Utah night" (from "Refrigerator White"), I don’t get why Lowe gets snubbed by the Hall of Fame while a wanker like Elvis Costello gets in.
Dave Edmunds—Erstwhile partner of N. Lowe’s in Rockpile, Edmunds may well be the greatest Rock guitar player that most people have never heard of. The man pays tribute to old-school Rockabilly and Blues like no one else, and is one of the best re-interpreters ever of old songs.
Black Oak Arkansas—Not the most musically-gifted group in the world, but Jim Dandy and BOA made up for that with a great attitude and some fun music. To the critic who said BOA’s one distinguishing quality was that they "had three guitar players that didn’t even add up to one good one", I say just keep on listening to your King Crimson records and go get stuffed!
Jim Croce—Oh, what might've been. This man hadn't even come close to peaking at the time of his untimely death in 1973, and his influence can clearly be heard in the work of people like John Hiatt, Tom Petty and many other songwriters. And why the hell isn't he in the friggin' Hall of Fame? Jim's career lasted three times as long as Ritchie Valens', and was far more prolific, yet Ritchie's in the Hall and Jim isn't.