Being in a band is often characterised as being akin to that of a team. Parallels can be drawn between the most successful sports teams from history and our favourite bands, but, usually, only in stadium-filling stature. Apart from world-beating success, and an unhealthy dose of narcissism, the comparison really ends there. ‘Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ was long the notorious name of the game for musicians, and many of our favourite bands have long and winding histories that have been recorded in various biographies, films and other pieces of discourse.
What is made clear from all this discourse, and even from some live shows, is that there is one more similarity that can de be drawn between the composition of some of our favourite sports teams and musical acts. This is the fact that one or two members bask in the limelight, much to the chagrin of those who truly steer the ship and keep it afloat.
If we were to concentrate on football (soccer), we would see this fact plain as day. Just like the City of London, which houses the most clinically defined psychopaths per capita in the world, football makes a strong claim for the same crown, just with narcissists. It is this, coupled with the excitement afforded to the attacking players, and the deciding feature of the game that scoring goals has, that has fed into many footballers being overlooked simply because their peers embody the more exciting, glitzy elements of the game.
The same can be said for music. The stereotypically attractive frontman and technically dazzling guitarist, have long fed into the myth that being the frontman or guitarist in a band is the most desirable position. Again, this deeply embedded myth has sidelined some of the best musicians the world has had to offer.
In fact, it has only been with the dawn of the internet that the wrongs are starting to be written, with the likes of Reddit and Twitter creating a discourse that has levelled the playing field — opening the mainstream’s eyes as to why some of our favourite musicians have been sidelined.
It is often the rhythm section that has been forgotten, with audiences drawn like a moth to the swaggering light of the frontman and guitarist. Typically, in pop culture discourse, we get tales of the most alluring frontmen and the six-string gods, such as the songwriting duo of the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. To a lesser extent, we also have the raucous, alcohol-drenched tales of rhythmic gods, such as Led Zeppelin‘s John Bonham or The Who’s Keith Moon. However, the point is that someone always loses out.
You’ll find that, most of the time, it is the humble silhouette of the bassist who resides in the shadows, but we have also had numerous occasions where drummers, rhythm guitarists, and even lead guitarists have been sidelined due to the spectre of another band member.
This got us thinking, who are the ten most underappreciated members of bands? We’re not talking about within the bands, because that is a story for another day. Conversely, we’re talking about those who have a great deal of talent or significance but have been widely passed over in the mainstream and in wider discussions.
Expect to see some of your favourites, and some lesser-known faces.
The 10 most under-appreciated band members of all time
Where else to start than with the OG metal bass player. The rhythmic linchpin and primary lyricist in metal legends Black Sabbath, Butler embodies somewhat of a contradiction. Crafting a signature, gritty bass tone characterised by muscly basslines, Butler has actually always been a pacifist, regardless of all the black clothing and “satanic” themes.
Whilst Butler is definitely respected by Sabbath and metal fans alike, his role in the band and pioneering bass work is known to a lesser extent outside of these realms, often owing to the media presence of frontman Ozzy Osbourne and towering riffs of guitarist Tony Iommi.
Reflecting his brilliance, former Metallica bass player Jason Newstead claimed, “All true metal bassists look up to Geezer as a pioneer and Godfather of our chosen instrument. The best, ever”. Let’s hope that more people are exposed to Butler’s brilliant bass lines.
The typical quiet bassist, in the history of Queen, John Deacon is somewhat of a mystery. The colourful and tragic life of frontman Freddie Mercury, the six-stringed wizardry and badger saving heroics of guitarist Brian May added to the powerful style and falsetto or drummer Roger Taylor, have all culminated in Deacon being the least talked about figure in Queen.
Not only did Deacon, along with Taylor, hold the whole thing together, providing a platform for Mercury’s eccentric theatrics and Brian May’s incessant soloing into the wind machine, he also wrote some of their biggest hits.
Sole Deacon compositions include ‘You’re My Best Friend’, ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, and ‘I Want to Break Free’. Furthermore, he co-wrote ‘Under Pressure’, ‘Friends Will Be Friends’ and ‘One Vision’ — no small feat.
The definition of underappreciated, Moe Tucker, was the drummer of New York’s raucous proto-punk rabble, the Velvet Underground.
The “innocent and pure” member of the group according to frontman Lou Reed, the only woman in the band she brought a human touch, that without it they would have capitulated long before they did at the end of the ’60s.
Furthermore, to the well-versed, Tucker is well respected. Crafting a diverse and minimalist style, she hit every beat as if her life depended on it, and she would even stand up at the drum kit, using mallets instead of drum sticks. If that is not a sign of intent, we don’t know what is.
Her raw style influenced everyone from Primal Scream to Patti Smith and Nirvana. Without her, the Velvet Underground would not have been the same, on and off stage, and it is about time the world realised this.
John Paul Jones
Somewhat of the separate side to the same coin of Queen’s John Deacon, John Paul Jones is plainly one of the most underrated and underappreciated rock musicians and multi-instrumentalists of all time. Prior to being the bassist and keyboardist of esoteric rock legends, Led Zeppelin, Jones was a well-respected composer and arranger of music.
Before his iconic stint in Led Zeppelin, he played on classics such as Donovan’s ‘Mellow Yellow’ and the Rolling Stones’ ‘She’s a Rainbow’. In this period he also worked with Nico, The Shadows, Tom Jones and Dusty Springfield to name but a few.
In Led Zeppelin, he wrote the classic basslines for hard-rocking numbers such as ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Ramble On’, and most famously, he played the mandolin on ‘Going to California’ from 1971’s Led Zeppelin IV.
Lifeson’s impact on the prog-rock trio, Rush, has been groundbreaking. He has influenced no end of subsequent icons. These include Metallica, Dream Theater and Marillion. Although he is undoubtedly a rated guitarist, it is not outrageous to opine that out of the three Rush members, Lifeson’s work is the most understated.
A brilliantly well-versed and unique guitarist, his work embodies a whole host of styles, and he expertly straddles the thin line between metal and indie. He moved with the band’s changing styles, and still stuck at it after being famously sidelined by synthesisers and computers in the band’s weird late-mid ’80s chapter. He gave us the forward-thinking and minimalist solo on 1981’s ‘Limelight’ and iconic shredders such as ‘La Villa Strangiato’ and ‘Working Man’. An icon in all but name.
No list of understated musicians would be complete without the late Rolling Stones drummer, Charlie Watts. A man who embodied grace, he was greatly inspired by jazz and was actually a jazz bandleader in his time away from the UK’s favourite hedonistic sons. Rarely partaking in the excess and always married to the same woman, Shirley, Watts provided a cerebral and quiet foil to the rest of the band.
He held them together, and without his strict jazz style, the band would not have been the world beaters we know today.
The bass player of grunge legends Nirvana, Novoselic is often overlooked given the stature of the two giants he was placed between. Given frontman and guitarist, Kurt Cobain’s undoubted talent and tragic death, he is unsurprisingly hailed as the defining feature of the trio. On the other hand, Dave Grohl is an incredible drummer, who after Nirvana, went on to extend his mega-fame with Foo Fighters and with Queens of the Stone Age.
When you go back and listen to Nirvana, if you aren’t already aware, you’ll hear that Novoselic is a highly underrated bass player. Whether it be the subtle slides he adds into his bassline for breakthrough single ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, or his own, slightly ominous-sounding bass tone, Novoselic is a beast.
Grooving yet heavy, without Novoselic locked into Grohl’s beats, Nirvana wouldn’t have had that iconic, heavy undercurrent.
Often characterised as Radiohead’s second guitarist, Ed O’Brien is actually one of the most highly underrated entries on this list. An accomplished guitarist and singer in his own right, he is often overlooked due to how respected frontman Thom Yorke and guitarist Jonny Greenwood are. Yorke and Greenwood have had solo projects that have occupied more of the limelight and garnered them plaudits outside of Radiohead.
Just like with drummer Phil Selway and bassist Colin Greenwood, O’Brien has been somewhat overlooked within the annals of the Oxford quintet. He creates haunting soundscapes with his guitar and has quite rightly been awarded his own Fender model in recent years. Also, his singing underpins some of their best-beloved tracks including ‘There There’ and ‘Idioteque’.
Following the sentiment outlined at the onset of this piece, in 2008, he was quoted as saying: “I’m not a technical guitarist. My heroes were Johnny Marr, John McGeogh, even Andy Summers. Sounds and riffs are the things that make you pick up a guitar. When we made our first record, Sean and Paul (producers Slade and Kolderie) said I was sort of like the keyboard player. I took great offence at the time but now I realise it’s kind of true. I see myself as a bit of a sweeper – bit of rhythm, can play up front or in the hole. I’m not a Ronaldo or a Rooney: that’s Thom and Jonny. But in my dreams, I’m a Paul Scholes.”
An integral part of Pink Floyd, the British prog-rock machine, Mason was the principal mind behind some of their most enduring pieces such as ‘Echoes’, ‘Time’ and ‘One of These Days’. An accomplished drummer who underpinned all of Pink Floyd’s increasingly dynamic rhythms, Mason was the only member of Pink Floyd to feature on all of their albums and who witnessed the band’s inception back in 1965.
His role in the pioneering work of Pink Floyd is somewhat overshadowed by the virtuosity of peers David Gilmour, Roger Waters and Richard Wright. Also, when one thinks of the long, winding history of Pink Floyd, one of the glaring factors is ex-frontman Syd Barrett’s mental health struggles and departure. It’s a hot topic that has also perhaps contributed to people overlooking Mason’s importance to the band. However, in musicianship and personality, there would have been no Floyd without Mason’s input.
Rated by the right people, in wider society, Ranaldo is overlooked. One of half of Sonic Youth’s pioneering guitar duo alongside Thurston Moore, Ranaldo often gets sidelined as he was not part of the iconic husband-wife duo that fronted the band. However, one would wager that Ranaldo was the true artiste of the noise-rock heroes.
An accomplished guitarist, poet and visual artist, Lee Ranaldo and Moore dovetailed beautifully in Sonic Youth, giving them their trademark, melodic yet somewhat oppressive sound. A proponent of the Fender Jazzmaster, he is also a key reason why it became ubiquitous amongst the alternative scene.
He wrote some of the band’s best-beloved tracks such as ‘Mote’ and ‘Eric’s Trip’ and since their split in 2011 he has continued on a prolific solo career.