From The Raconteurs to Cream: The 10 best supergroups of all time
Supergroups are a curious thing and they often have a habit of dividing the room. Many will see the idea of combining members of prominent bands as positively exhilarating while others see it as vulgar. That said, there’s one thing that can’t be denied, vulgar or otherwise, there have been some incredible collective bands over the years. 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 ten of our favourites.
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 split. You can understand the hesitance to accept these bands, too. There have been some clinical and commercially driven collaborations over the years and they always feel horrendously forced, without potency or belief and lack any real spark because of it. Equally, sometimes supergroups offer artists a chance to flourish as they never have done before.
The age of truly credible supergroups feels a little behind us these days. Chances are, it’s likely to see the increase of collaborations on individual songs rather than the full formations esteemed acts of the past afforded their extra-curricular activities. 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.
It’s meant that rather than just a cheap thrill on stage for a few thousand people, some artists have taken the idea seriously and created multiple songs and albums. In fact, some have gone even further, establishing themselves as a group in their own right, while others established entire music scenes.
Below, are ten of the best.
The best supergroups of all time:
10. The Raconteurs
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 of 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, those time involving The Kills’ Alison Mosshart but that’s another story for another day. For now, check out The Raconteurs’ ‘Steady As She Goes’ below.
9. The Highwaymen
While The Raconteurs may be lacking a little star power, the same cannot be said for The Highwaymen, a group comprised of not only The Man in Black Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings but the king of the stoners Willie Nelson and the critically acclaimed Kris Kristofferson.
It was a serious line-up that demanded the attention of the music newspapers of the day. The band’s signature songs include ‘Highwayman,’ ‘Desperados Waiting for a Train’ and ‘Silver Stallion’, all of them the dusty western classics you’d hope them to be, are a perfect reminder of the potency of each member. With Cash and Jennings no longer with us, 1995 effort The Road Goes on Forever remains their final release.
8. Emerson, Lake & Palmer
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 to outsell their day jobs.
Keith Emerson was a member of The Nice while Greg Lake was equally prominent in his band King Crimson. However, rumour has it that the duo locked eyes at a gig at the Fillmore West and never really 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.
7. Blind Faith
Thanks to his excess drinking, Eric Clapton reportedly can’t remember very much about his time with Blind Faith. The band saw Clapton rekindle his friendship with Ginger Baker, a relationship we’ll come back to later, as well as welcoming on board the immense talent of Steve Winwood and Rick Grech. It’s a positive who’s who of the sixties scene and could be the makings of a very impressive party.
While Clapton may have thought that removing one pillar of frustration between him and Ginger Baker could make Blind Faith a success, his aforementioned penchant for destruction, coupled with the rest of the band’s parallel missions, the group soon fell apart. They produced one landmark record in their self-titled debut and quickly went kaput. A common symptom of the supergroup illness.
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 or overelaborate stage shows but with dusky synth-laden pop hits. The band even managed to crack the big time in America, becoming a commercial success on the apple pie side of the pond.
What’s more, the band 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 at one point or another.
5. Them Crooked Vultures
Formed in 2009 when Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, Queens of the Stone Age maestro Josh Homme and the talented John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin decided to form a punk band, Them Crooked Vultures are one of the more surprising supergroups. That is because, as far as we can tell, the band could very well get back together whenever they choose.
Their self-titled album is well worth a listen, especially if you can remove from your mind the humongous names attached to the project. If you don’t have time for a whole record then here’s ‘Dead End Friends’ is a good start.
4. Temple Of The Dog
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. The band paid tribute to Wood with an astounding record and can boast sublime songs like ‘Hunger Strike’, ‘Say Hello 2 Heaven’ and more.
3. Crosby, Stills Nash & Young
One of the most famous supergroups of all 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 the start of their iconic band. With the addition of The Hollies’ Graham Nash, the band were one of the most potent songwriting forces around.
While the likelihood of the band reconnecting rests on the shoulder of David Crosby not being mean to the partners of Graham Nash and Neil Young, there’s enough of a canon to sink your teeth into. Listen to ‘Ohio’ below as a first and important introduction to the acclaimed group.
2. The Travelling Wilburys
It’s astounding to think that The Travelling Wilburys were a real entity and not just one that a music lover has concocted in their wildest imagination. 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 the individual star power of its members, would become an unstoppable unit in their own right and it all came together so organically.
George Harrison was in need of a B-side for a single release from Cloud Nine and was under pressure from Warner Bros to complete it in time. When Harrison got the call about the B-side, he was working at Bob Dylan’s studio along with the album’s co-writer Jeff Lynne and their friends Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison. Harrison had the genius idea to use the tools that were right in front of him for the new material.
The song landed on the label’s desk and instantly impressed them. Quite rightly, they urged Harrison to explore the new group. It was a decision which would not only encourage all of the members to keep making the music they loved and avoid the charts, but also each member of the group experienced a solo boost too.
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. Baker and Bruce, meanwhile, had played together in the Graham Bonds Organisation.
After a car journey shared between the legendary drummer Baker and the Guitar God Clapton, ended with them deciding to form a band with Jack Bruce. The scene was set and one of the most devastating live acts of all time was formed. Though the band wouldn’t stick around for long, the music they made and the influence they wielded during that time means they’re undoubtedly the greatest trio in all of music.