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30 Popular Bands That Are Now Underrated

Roger Miller

Roger Miller

Roger Miller was a songwriter for a lot of outlaw country artists, and a successful singer, as well. His skewed sense of humor brought him success as a recording artist and occasionally as a soundtrack artist for Disney. Unfortunately, copyright disputes between his widow and his label have kept all but a handful of single buried in obscurity.

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Jan and Dean

Jan and Dean

Jan and Dean were a surf rock duo. They found occasionally chart success, even coming out with several #1 hits. They were insanely prolific, though their career was stalled at a crucial moment by Jan’s involvement in a car crash. They have an enormous body of work, but a lot of it took far too long to come on anything other than vinyl. Whatever the reason, they’re not talked about as much today when their contemporaries come out.

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Joan Baez

Joan Baez

Joan Baez is a folk singer/songwriter who usually came in at the bottom of the top 10 or top 20 – but she spent a lot of time there throughout the 60s and 70s. She’s still influential – a lot of big names recently played at her 75th birthday concert, and her debut album was inducted into the National Recording Registry of significant recordings. But for some reason (perhaps a penchant for covering other artists, which is weirdly ill-regarded right now) she’s not as well-known today.

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The Monkees

The Monkees

Time hasn’t been kind to The Monkees. Even in the 60s, at the height of their success, they were written off as “pre-fabricated” by self-satisfied snob – Despite making fans out of everyone from Brian Wilson to Bono. As they wrested creative control for themselves, they wound up doing some fascinating things, but they’ve sort of been written off by later generations. They’re slowly coming into the critical re-evaluation they deserve.

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ELO

ELO

Jeff Lynne’s landmark orchestra/rock band hybrid was a massive success in the 1970s. They’re slowly starting to come back into the attention they deserve, thanks to a slew of wildly successful acts claiming them as an influence.

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Queen

Queen

“But Queen isn’t underrated!” you might say. “Queen is everywhere!” You’re wrong. Shut up. Most people can only name “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the two songs that wind up on Jock Jams compilations. Queen was so much more than that, and they deserve to be roaring through the public consciousness just as much now as they were in the 70s.

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Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock

This one’s tricky. Herbie Hancock is still a legend in the right circles. But part of what made him so great is his ability to push outside of “the right circles” and smash into the public consciousness with funk-infused madness or with trailblazing hip-hop. His explosions into the mainstream don’t really get played on classic rock radio or anything, and they should be.

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Giorgio Moroder

Giorgio Moroder

Like Herbie Hancock, Giorgio Moroder was a wildly influential pioneer who’s relegated to being a cult figure these days. His advancements in synths and disco gave birth to a lot of the music of the 80s, and he was successful as a film scorer. But despite a resurgence in the synthwave music he helped create, he’s not getting adulation attention he deserves.

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Chicago

Chicago

It’s not hard to turn on the radio and hear a Chicago single or two. But that doesn’t come anywhere near telling you how popular – or how insanely adventurous - these guys were in their heyday. They came out of the gate with three double albums of challengingly avant-garde stuff. (Their label had to take a hatchet to their records to carve out singles!) Despite including lengthy noise art tracks, all of their albums went gold or platinum, and they sold out a week-long concert series at Carnegie Hall (which itself was released as a box set that broke sales records and stayed on top for 15 years.)

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Steely Dan

Steely Dan

Steely Dan’s sardonic wit and odd jazz harmonies weren’t a barrier to success when they arrived on the scene in the 70s. They routinely went platinum, even after retreating from tours to focus on the studio. Today the pop scene has moved even further away from what they were doing. While their legacy remains, the number of people who are going to casually check them out is shakier than it should be.

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The Turtles

The Turtles

The Turtles were never a chart-topping juggernaut, and their small, pushy record label didn’t help. But they had some solid singles, and some brilliant albums (including the brilliant The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, where they pretended to be a bunch of different bands and parody every style of rock and pop that was popular at the time. They’re weird cult figures now, but they could (and should) be better known.

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Dan Fogelberg

Dan Fogelberg

Dan Fogelberg’s sensitive, earnest songwriting and lush, careful orchestration made him a household name throughout the 70s (and on into the 80s). Everything he put out, including the insanely ambitious double-record The Innocent Age, went platinum or multi-platinum. But today, most people only know him from “Same Old Auld Lang Syne” coming on the radio at Christmas.

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Paul Revere and the Raiders

Paul Revere and the Raiders

Paul Revere and the Raiders were routinely in rotation on the top 10 – or at least the top 20 – throughout the 60s. With a combination of original songs and covers (often of Brill Building songwriters), they were fixtures in the 60s pop mainstream. But their #1 smash protest song “Indian Reservation” turned out to be their last big success, and they’ve faded from memory since.

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The Grass Roots

The Grass Roots

The Grass Roots were originally created as kind of a front for songwriters P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri. They backed up The Mamas and The Papas had a string of top 20 hits before splintering up as its members pursued projects that allowed more creative control. Creed Bratton, from The Office, was a member of the most popular lineup of The Grass Roots.

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The Lovin’ Spoonful

The Lovin’ Spoonful

The Lovin’ Spoonful had a string of hits in the early 60s, fueled by John Sebastian’s thoughtful songwriting and a unique approach to rock and roll that incorporated a strong jug band influence. In addition to songs like “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice,” they scored films by the likes of Francis Ford Coppola. But somehow, their popularity waned as the 60s wound down.

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Herman’s Hermits

Herman’s Hermits

Pretty boy Peter Noone led Herman’s Hermits to stardom in the early 60s, primarily with covers or with songs written for them by Brill building types. They were charismatic and fun, even starring in several movies, Beatles-style. But as the pendulum swung in the 70s towards singer-songwriters that wrote their own material and the Carole Kings and James Taylors of the world took the spotlight, the Hermits fell out of favor.

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Christopher Cross

Christopher Cross

Christopher Cross’s debut album came out in 1979. It’s since gone 5x platinum, and it beat out Pink Floyd’s The Wall for the Album of the Year Grammy. He also had a huge hit with “Arthur’s Theme (The Best That You Can Do)”, a co-composition with Burt Bacharach and others. His style of earnestness fell out of favor when MTV came onto the scene, but that in no way means that his work isn’t still fantastic – or necessary, in today’s world.

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Harry Nilsson

Harry Nilsson

Whoever your favorite songwriter is, Nilsson is one of their favorite songwriters. But the notorious iconoclast wasn’t always a cult figure. Between a recording of “Everybody’s Talkin’” for Urban Cowboy and his smash album Nilsson Schmilsson, Nilsson was on top of the world. The success went to his head a little, and he increasingly indulged his raunchier side – making for great music, but not a lot of mainstream success.

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Doobie Brothers

Doobie Brothers

Throughout the 70s and on into the early 80s, the Doobie Brothers were a Southern-funk juggernaut. A string of well-crafted, stylistically diverse albums went platinum left and right. The band even survived a high-profile change in vocalist, when they dropped Tom Johnston for Michael McDonald and switched to soul. That weird shift in style might be part of why modern audiences don’t know what to do with them, come to think of it.

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The 5th Dimension

The 5th Dimension

The 5th Dimension was a vocal quintet. With the help of The Wrecking Crew (the best backing band of the day), they made smash hits out of songs from the likes of Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb, and Ashford & Simpson. They had more success with Laura Nyro’s songs than Laura Nyro did. They were everywhere in the 60s and did alright in the 70s. Today they’re not really known outside of their two most popular singles.

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Gordon Lightfoot

Gordon Lightfoot

Gordon Lightfoot is a legend among songwriters (and in Canada), but he deserves the household recognition he had at the peak of his career. He was a prominent fixture on the charts throughout the 60s and 70s. You know somebody’s a good songwriter when they can reach #2 on the Billboard chart with a 6-minute long song about a shipwreck.

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The Smothers Brothers

The Smothers Brothers

Before Flight of the Conchords, The Smothers Brothers cornered the market for folk-comedy duos. But during the Nixon years, as they became increasingly outspoken against the Vietnam War and President Nixon, they fell pretty to CBS censorship. Tom Smothers was particularly outspoken. His chiding of Bill Cosby for not being more politically involved earned him a punch in the face from Cosby in 1976, before anyone knew what a badge of honor that would turn out to be.

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Heart

Heart

Heart kicks ass. But nowadays they aren’t given the credit they deserve. Sure, you hear a few singles on the radio. And they get brought up whenever a “greatest guitarists” list needs a token female. But Nancy and Ann Wilson are masters of their craft, and to be reduced to tokenism is a massive disservice. Heart was unstoppable in the 70s and Dreamboat Annie, in particular, is one of the greatest albums of all time.

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The Bee Gees

The Bee Gees

The Brothers Gibb are often lampooned as a symbol of disco-era excess, which isn’t fair on two fronts. The first is that they wouldn’t be so easy to parody if they weren’t so instantly recognizable. Those vocal harmonies were perfect. People don’t make as much fun of the more mediocre disco out there.  The other tragedy is that before going disco, The Bee Gees had an entire other career of beautifully lyrical folk balladry that nowadays gets tossed to the wayside in favor of the disco stuff. Go listen to their pre-Saturday Night Fever output. It’s fantastic.

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Three Dog Night

Three Dog Night

Three Dog Night was a tight rock ensemble. And they were able to bring some fantastic songwriters into the limelight who often struggled to reach it themselves. Their renditions of songs by Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman found success beyond what the songwriters could attain for themselves. But today, reissues of their albums are scant. There’s no bonus track-laden deluxe editions, no complete box set or any of the late-career notoriety a lot of their contemporaries enjoy. (Unless you count the notoriety surrounding Chuck Negron’s sexual escapades and the resulting…injury.)

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Parliament

Parliament

Parliament’s legacy is secure. Everyone from Tupac to Beyoncé to Dr. Dre sampled them. In a lot of ways, modern hip-hop is built on the back of what Parliament built. But to cast such an outsized shadow over the face of modern music, Parliament deserves bigger props as a band unto itself. Again – this is a situation where we deserve monster reissues and box sets that we don’t have.

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John Denver

John Denver

Like some of the other songwriters on this list, the current cultural moment has shifted away from the ardent earnestness that John Denver made a hallmark. But we need his warmth – and his strident environmentalism – now more than ever.

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Curtis Mayfield

Curtis Mayfield

On a rising tide of success from his songwriting ventures – and amidst an ever-growing political consciousness – Curtis Mayfield struck out from The Impressions as a solo act. He founded his own, independent label and released a string of incendiary soul and funk records. He had a reliable home on the R&B Top 40. A double-inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (as himself and with The Impressions) you can hear some Superfly stuff here and there, and maybe “Move on Up.” But the radio needs the fiery Curtis that wrote “If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go” in the front and center of its consciousness.

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The Kinks

The Kinks

The Kinks weathered a lot of cultural shifts. They started in the 60s, had a string of critical and commercial smash hits, powered through the 70s with continued success, and even survived (and thrived) in the age of MTV before winding down in the late 80s. Unfortunately, as critically revered as they remain, not a lot of people know their work outside of “Lola,” which is obviously a tragedy.

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Gary Puckett and The Union Gap

Gary Puckett and The Union Gap

The Union Gap is an odd one. They had a string of (super sexually-charged) hits in the late 60s before fights with their management led them to disband. (They were frustrated about not singing their own songs – and at one point their management tried to put them on a salary, instead of a percentage!) They earned their place at the top, for sure. But maybe it was too brief a stay for their fame to have lasted today.

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