Supergroups often have a habit of dividing the room. Many will see the idea of combining members of prominent bands as positively exhilarating. In contrast, others see it as a vulgar use of star cache to achieve success instead of creative drive and integrity. That said, there’s one thing that can’t be denied, vulgar or otherwise, there have been some incredible collective bands over the years. But there has always been the question of whether these bands can actually produce quality work rather than flashes in the pan.
Ranging from bands that erupted for only a moment, causing headlines as they did to some of the stalwarts of rock ‘n’ roll, here we’ve picked out our favourite albums from some of our favourite supergroups. It not only provides a refreshing view on these concoctions of musical icons — meaning we’re actually paying attention to the art they created rather than them all gathering around the canvas — but also a reminder that sometimes, the hype is real.
A meeting of like-minded individuals is usually wholeheartedly celebrated, but in the case of a supergroup which, above all else, is the crucible within which some of rock’s finest musicians have melded together, it is quite polarising. You can understand the hesitance to accept these bands, too.
There have been some clinical and commercially driven collaborations (ahem, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder) over the years. They always feel horrendously forced, without potency or belief in their creative output. Equally, sometimes supergroups offer artists a chance to flourish as they have never done before.
During the heyday of rock ‘n’ roll, with less pressure on fast-paced hits, more focus on the work of making an album, and an abundance of ‘rock stars’ in the truest sense of the word, it’s no surprise that acts like Tom Petty, Neil Young and Johnny Cash could all set aside their solo projects to join in with a group every so often.
We, however, are focusing on those bands who not only produced a few songs but delivered an entire record of material. Below, we’ve got our nine favourite albums from supergroups.
The best supergroup albums:
The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers (2006)
When Jack White, the full-throttle grease king from Detroit, caught up with some fellow rockers from his home city, he started one of the brightest supergroups of the 21st century. While the members included Brendan Benson (vocals, guitar), Jack Lawrence (bass guitar), and Patrick Keeler (drums) may lack star power in comparison to the names that follow, they make up for it in genuinely enjoyable music that sounds holistic and crafted.
From their 2006 album Broken Boy Soldiers, the group asserted themselves as not only a supergroup but a serious band, taking festival slots, tours and releases as seriously as any of their other affairs. Jack Lawrence would later join Jack White for another supergroup, which involved The Kills’ Alison Mosshart but that’s another story for another day.
Asia – Asia
There is a serious amount of prog-rock talent in Asia (taken from King Crimson, Yes, ELP), one band who would dominate the eighties. But the real curiosity comes when you realise the band didn’t dominate with noodling guitar riffs but with dusky synth-laden pop hits that were perfect for the dancefloors of the eighties.
The band even managed to crack the big time in America, becoming a commercial success on the apple pie side of the pond with their self-titled debut.
What’s more, Asia were also a hit across the musical spectrum with musos appreciating the technique and technology involved while America’s high school dances brimmed with the band’s John Hughes-ready sounds. They may not be to everybody’s taste but it’s hard to ignore the clout the band possessed and the landmark album that came with it.
The Traveling Wilburys – The Traveling Wilburys, Vol 1 (1988)
To think that The Traveling Wilburys were a real entity and not just one that a rock music lover has concocted in their wildest imagination is truly incredible.
Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison did really join forces and, somewhat predictably, the results were incredible. Five of the biggest legends of modern music would join forces to form a fully-functioning supergroup, one which few have ever matched. The group, bolstered by its members’ individual star power, would become an unstoppable unit in their own right and it all came together so organically.
While there were plenty of moments where we gave our legs a good pinch to ensure we weren’t in slumber, the dreamiest moment of the band’s career was certainly their 1988 album The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. It captured everything good about the individuals and everything great about them coming together.
Derek & The Dominos – Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs (1970)
Eric Clapton features quite a lot in the supergroup discussion. Argubaly, thanks to the incredible talent he has played din, he’s never really not been in a supergroup. However, by 1970, Clapton was looking to hide away and a new venture alongside Duane Allman was the key, not only to one of his most beloved songs, but also a stellar album.
‘Layla’ of course couldn’t have worked without Allman but the rest of the band, which comprised of Delaney and Bonnie and Friends’ bandmates, worked perfectly as back -up t the blues guitarist. Songs like ‘Bell Bottom Blues’ and ‘I Looked Away’ make this one of Clapton’s best records.
Things get soulful, things get bluesy but most of all, the spotlight was away from Eric Clapton.
The Last Shadow Puppets – The Age of the Understatement (2008)
Some times, to make the most of your newly founded supergroup, you need to rely on friendship. That’s certainly what resides at the heart of The Last Shadow Puppets, featuring Miles Kane and his Arctic Monkeys pal, Alex Turner. The duo relied on their relationship to add heart and soul to their 2008 baroque pop masterclass, The Age Of The Understatement.
While the partnership of Turner and Kane drew in the crowd, it was actually the band’s third member, James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco that tied everything together. The group quickly became the indie-pop band of dreams and delivered a stellar record to boot.
Not only did the band make good records but they also set a blueprint for the running of Arctic Monkeys as Turner was given ample space to let his lyrics transform into something more profound.
Temple Of The Dog – Temple Of The Dog (1991)
With a combination of members from two of grunge’s finest bands in Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, the supergroup Temple of the Dog is one band with unfulfilled potential. A supergroup rarely sounds as akin with their other bands as this one and the groups’ shared North West heritage, meant there was plenty of DNA crossover.
The group’s lone album was released as a tribute to Mother Love Bone frontman Andy Wood who, as well as being Chris Cornell’s former roommate, was also a close friend of Eddie Vedder too. It’s one of the more heart-wrenching stories in rock and, following Cornell’s own tragic passing, has just got a bit sadder.
The band paid tribute to Wood with an astounding record and can boast sublime songs like ‘Hunger Strike’, ‘Say Hello 2 Heaven’ and more.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Brain Salad Surgery (1972)
One of the first wholly successful supergroups, Emerson Lake & Palmer or ELP as they’re known, were a progressive rock band from Britain that utterly dominated the early part of the seventies.
Comprised of Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and Carl Palmer, the group was one of the few supergroups to outsell their day jobs, and their 1972 record Brain Salad Surgery was a large part of that.
Keith Emerson was a member of The Nice while Greg Lake was equally prominent in King Crimson. However, rumour has it that the duo locked eyes at a gig at the Fillmore West and never looked back. After they managed to snag Palmer from his drumming position with Atomic Rooster, the band were set and dominated the scene for much of the decade.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Déjà Vu (1970)
One of the most famous supergroups happened because of another star — Joni Mitchell. The Canadian singer had been dating The Byrds performer David Crosby when she landed him the role of producer on her next LP and, during the first day of recording, an engineer told them that Buffalo Springfield were recording next door.
Recognising her old friend, Neil Young, Mitchell made an important introduction “You’ve got to meet Neil Young,” says the singer, before adding: “I know him from Canada. He’s in the Springfield. He’s so funny. You’re going to love this guy.” It was the first meeting of Crosby, Stills and Young, and their iconic band. With The Hollies’ Graham Nash addition, the band was one of the most potent songwriting forces around.
Their supreme songwriting talent came to head as Deja Vu, arguably one of the greatest records either of the men ever made — inside or outside of the group. It’s a bolshy classic rock LP that deserves revisiting.
Cream – Disraeli Gears (1967)
Cream may have only been together for just over two-years but what Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce conquered in that short time will live on forever. The initial hype from the moment of their incarnation was unprecedented as the trio was immediately dubbed as the first ‘supergroup’.
The three now-iconic figures all originated from session musician backgrounds, with Clapton garnering an immense reputation for his tremendous time playing with The Yardbirds and John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. Meanwhile, Baker and Bruce had played together in the Graham Bonds Organisation.
After a car journey shared between the legendary drummer Baker and the Guitar God Clapton, they decided to form a band with Jack Bruce. The scene was set, and one of the most devastating live acts of all time was formed.
Their immense talent came to fruition on 1967’s Disraeli Gears, a record that isn’t just good by supergroup standards but simply fantastic in all regards. It is one of the most influential records of all time and is underrated in its value.