The top 20 best supergroups
Often derided and eternally divisive, the supergroup's place in history is a troubled one. But some of them really did make an everlasting impact on rock – here are 20 of the best
An ugly misnomer to some, manna to others, supergroups divide opinion the way perms on men once did. A creative meeting of like-thinking minds or an overblown amalgamation of all that is wrong with rock and roll, you only have to look at the recent coupling (terrible image, but bear with me) between Axl and AC/DC. People were up in arms until they actually experienced a man who once made bandanas and teeny white shorts famous performing Riff Raff; they were won over instantly. Which is not to say that two or more aligning rock forces is always a good thing: no one walked out of a Hollywood Vampires show (well, a lot of people did, but that was only to ask for their money back) and thought they’d seen the future of rock and roll. That said, Cream were, arguably, the original supergroup and they really did change the face of rock and roll…
20) Bad English
Featuring former members of The Babys and Journey, Bad English once towered over the US charts like Godzilla dominating the Tokyo skyline. Combining both power and ballads, they made a whole nation both weep and punch the air simultaneously. For one album only though: their second and final record - Backlash - was a certifiable stinker.
Bad English wasn’t the first time Neal Schon had stepped outside of the day job with Journey, playing here alongside Sammy Hagar, Kenny Aaronson and former Santana drummer Michael Shrieve. Adopting their initials for the worst band name to chant out loud on this list - did no one think of calling it Sash? – they managed one mostly live record in the rather excellent Through The Fire, and then they were gone.
18) The Raconteurs
Probably not for the faint-hearted, people afraid of change, or those that fear indie rock amongst you, but The Raconteurs (also knows as The Saboteurs if you’re reading this in Australia) were/are the brainchild of Jack White and Brendan Benson. Their future’s currently not so much bright as ambiguous, but take solace in their two excellent albums, 2006’s Broken Boy Soldiers and Consolers Of The Lonely.
Steve Hackett and Steve Howe went pop (not literally) for what turned out to be one album in the mid-80s (they were different times – people rolled up the arms on suit jackets and thought it looked swish). Enlisting some real A-listers in people like Max Bacon and drummer Jonathan Mover, they briefly broke into the US charts with When the Heart Rules The Mind, but label dissolution and Hackett’s disinterest soon put paid to their plans.
16) The Damned Things
Why The Damned Things worked so well is an enigma wrapped in a mystery caught up in a ball of wax. Members of Anthrax and Volbeat, Fall Out Boy and Every Time I Die playing together sounds like the kind of collaboration you should lock in the garage and then tip off a cliff. Not so much - their solitary album, Ironiclast, is, to use a technical term, a banger. Not least the thrumming We’ve Got A Situation Here.
15) The Power Station
Big hair, big egos, as slick as a mile-wide pool of oil choking a lake to death, The Power Station could only have been created in the 80s. Featuring Robert Palmer, former Chic drummer Tony Thompson and two of the Taylor triplets from Duran Duran. They had groove, funk and grown women in rubber dresses and stiletto shoes passing out at their shows. That said, their debut album was just great and the single Some Like It Hot a perfect encapsulation of that decade’s self-regarding swagger.
14) Neurotic Outsiders
John Taylor was back moonlighting from Duran Duran in the mind-90s with the short-lived Neurotic Outsiders. As the de facto Viper Room house band, they came crawling off the Sunset Strip about ten years too late and originally featured Billy Idol and Steve Stevens before settling for a band of brothers featuring Steve Jones (who wrote most of the songs), Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum and the aforementioned Taylor. Their solitary album still sparkles, if you can find it, they should have never covered The Clash though.
Overblown, over the top and all over the place, prog supergroup Transatlantic made a generation of white-haired men in Roger Dean tops go all aflutter. Unashamedly classic prog (which is what made their debut album so damned good) the band consisted of Spock’s Beard’s Neal Morse, Roine Stolt of The Flower Kings, Pete Trewavas of Marillion and Mike Portnoy (pretty much everybody), plus, their live shows contained more showing off than your average eight year-old’s birthday party.
After coming up with HSAS, Sammy Hagar must have thought he was on to a winner calling his new band Chickenfoot. And what a band: Hagar on vocals, Michael Anthony on bass, Joe Satriani on guitar and Chad Smith on drums, what could have quite easily had the stink of a millionaire’s boys club about it turned in two exemplary hard rock albums in Chickenfoot and Chickenfoot III, utilising the best of Van Hagar, Montrose and Satch’s insatiable groove to conjure up some classic arena rock. Sadly, it’s only Joe who’s currently pushing to make album number three.
11) The Highwaymen
You’d be hard pushed to find a supergroup with a greater pedigree than The Highwaymen, and, in their prime, the last four men you’d want to square up to in a bar fight. All pioneers, all uncompromising in their approach, real lawbreakers, the culmination of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson made it hard to choose a favourite member, but in a song like the aptly-titled Desperados Waiting For A Train they were easy to love.
ELP were so assured and successful so quickly that it’s easy to forget a time before their music dominated the first half of the 1970s. Keith Emerson and Greg Lake ran around on their respective bands – The Nice and King Crimson – after their eyes briefly met at a gig at the Fillmore West, or so the story goes. Breaking up the happy home of Atomic Rooster to purloin Carl Palmer seemed easy enough after that.
9) Blind Faith
Or Blind Drunk given that Eric Clapton can’t even remember their headline show at Hyde Park. Clapton, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood and Ric Grech still reads like a list of guests you’d invite to your fantasy dinner, as a band they were almost too good to be true, as it proved. One defiant, landmark album (with a cover that’s best left behind the sofa) and a troubled tour saw them split before they’d ever truly got going.
8) Them Crooked Vultures
Putting the power in power trio, John Paul Jones came quietly out of leftfield and pulled together a thrilling, tough-sounding supergroup with not so much as a press release to herald their arrival (take note Jimmy Page). Jones, Josh Homme and Dave Grohl (who never seems happier than when he’s behind a drum-kit) made one quite brilliant album – see Elephants and Scumbag Blues for proof – and then called it quits. Probably.
7) Velvet Revolver
It was always going to end in tears, but for a short time, this bunch of degenerate sleazebags (surely a term of affection for Velvet Revolver) brought real joy to strippers all over the world. Marrying up former Guns N’ Roses members with STP’s Scott Weiland had car crash written all over, but what a beautiful wreck they made. Slither is the band at their lurid best, Fall To Pieces a portent of what was to come, and Loving The Alien a beautiful surprise.
6) Black Country Communion
Perhaps hoping to disprove the notion that he doesn’t play well with others, Glenn Hughes put together the Black Country Communion band with Joe Bonamassa after a jam session together. Recruiting the underused Jason Bonham and keyboardist Derek Sherinian the band’s self-titled debut album made you forget the three-day week and remember all that was good about the 70s. Bluesy, melodic and packed with songs it was a revelation; that they broke up less then three years later wasn’t.
5) Mad Season
Founded by two members who met in rehab, Mad Season’s story was always to be star-crossed. Featuring the cream of the Seattle scene – Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and Screaming Trees – the band managed just one album in Above. Ethereal, beautiful and haunting, it’s as poignant a testimony to Layne Staley’s enduring power as anything he might have done with AIC.
Given their stellar prog rock pedigree – King Crimson, Yes, ELP – no one saw Asia commandeering the US mainstream in the early 80s. True, they’d pared back their prog proclivities (try saying that quickly three times), but that their sound and songs became favourites for dyed in the wool fans as well as jocks and weekend warriors all across the US was a revelation for the band. As a wry John Wetton once told us, “We were so famous in America at one point that builders used to hang off scaffolding to shout at me. I rather enjoyed it.”
3) The Traveling Wilburys
Imagine a supergroup where Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne were the least famous ones, and that was The Traveling Wilburys. Bolstered by Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Roy Orbison, they only managed one album with the original line-up before Orbison’s death, but both albums (Vol.1 and Vol.3) were filled with assured country, folk and pop. Minute classics literally touched by legend.
2) Temple Of The Dog
It took the death of Chris Cornell’s former roommate to inspire its creation and twenty-five years for the band to finally take it on tour, but there’s no denying the enduring the power of TOTD’s one and only album. Dedicated to the memory of Mother Love Bone’s Andrew Wood, it’s a concentrate of most of the Seattle greats bound up in one brooding labour of love typified in songs like the epic sounding Times Of Trouble.
The band that set the template for the supergroup (Clapton would try his luck again later with Blind Faith), Cream were so good that they could make you forget Eric Clapton’s haircut. And unlike a lot of so-called supergroups, they managed to maintain a career that took in three pivotal albums in a little over four years. Egos, inevitably, got in the way, but they’ll always leave us wanting more.