Attack of the Supergroups
Supergroups have peppered the musical landscape throughout the decades with varying degrees of success. They may have been birthed out of creative differences between band mates, or a desire to play with more talented musicians. They may have risen like the phoenix from the ashes of successful bands, or quite possibly been a simple cash grab.
The 80s and 90s featured frequent collaborations of this kind. I’ve fabricated a few other completely arbitrary ground rules for this list:
– 2 or more band members must have name recognition
– can’t just replace a member in an existing band (e.g. Van Halen)
– no last names in band name (e.g. Coverdale-Page)
– supergroup must come after members’ major success (e.g. Yardbirds)
– supergroup cannot be their zenith (e.g. CSN)
A couple 70s heavyweights at the helm here: Paul Rodgers of Bad Company (arguably another supergroup) and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. The self-titled debut cracked the top 20 album charts in 1985 powered by a couple radio-friendly singles “Radioactive” and “Satisfaction Guaranteed,” along with a solid lead track, “Closer.” Their sophomore effort in ’86, Mean Business, gave us “All the King’s Horses” with its far-east inspired video (a big theme on MTV in the 80s).
Observation: In The Firm’s hairdo dojo, drummer Chris Slade’s “Mr. Clean” and bassist Tony Franklin’s “Kajagoogoo” were definitely the yin and yang.
Paul Rodgers – Bad Company, Free
Jimmy Page – Led Zeppelin, Yardbirds
“All the Kings Horses”
Asia emerged in ’82 lousy with prog-rock royalty. Their self-titled debut hit #1 on the album charts, and why not, with that sweet Roger Dean cover art. Their first single, “Heat of the Moment,” went to #1 on the US rock chart. The second album, Alpha, spawned the single “Don’t Cry.” Apparently Asia, in some form, made albums until 2014. But like the end of “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” video, Alpha marked the “FIN” of my tracking of Asia’s catalog.
Observation: Carl Palmer should have been featured in the SNL “cowbell” sketch for his work with Asia.
Steve Howe – Yes
Geoff Downes – Yes
John Wetton – King Crimson, Roxy Music
Carl Palmer – Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Emerson, Lake and Palmer
“Heat of the Moment”
“Only Time Will Tell”
The Wilburys introduced a younger crowd to a fistful of music legends. Their toe-tappin’ tunes felt communal — egos set aside, sharing vocals and songwriting. Collaboration flourished outside the Wilburys as well, with Jeff Lynne becoming the go-to producer for both Harrison and Petty. Sadly, the majority of the Wilburys have passed, but we have this moment where old stars aligned to create some new classics.
Observation: Petty, the youngster of the bunch, really blossomed into something special as the years rolled by. His passing was an unexpected and devastating blow. He is firmly cemented as an equal to the rest of his Wilbury partners.
“Handle with Care”
“End of the Line”
“She’s My Baby”
I often wonder if Velvet Revolver grew out of a West Hollywood recovery group. Weiland had well-documented struggles before his tragic end. Duff and Slash battled their respective demons. And Matt Sorum’s powdered past made for classic rock ‘n’ roll fodder. Velvet Revolver released two studio albums: Contraband in 2004 (which hit #1) and Libertad in 2007. “Fall to Pieces” is a great example of the band’s chemistry — Weiland’s introspective lyrics and dynamic vocal range of emotion paired perfectly with Slash’s talking-guitar riffs.
Observation: Need to get on their weight-loss program – even Sorum, who Axl Rose referred to as his “battleship on drums,” embraced his inner waif.
Scott Weiland – Stone Temple Pilots
Slash – Guns N’ Roses
Duff McKagen – Guns N’ Roses
Matt Sorum – The Cult, Guns N’ Roses
“Fall to Pieces”
“She Builds Quick Machines”
Jack Blades and Tommy Shaw are birds of a feather, slinging power ballads and amping it up when needed — perfect mixture of quiet and loud. Uncle Teddly however only speaks in his outside voice. He’s like a lion pacing in a cage. A case in point is the video for “High Enough” when he busts through the door chomping gum, donning zebra chaps and Bosworth wrap-arounds. Damn Yankees, released in 1990, contained a handful of radio hits, including “Coming of Age” which hit #1 on the rock singles chart. The follow-up, Don’t Tread, in ’92 was more of the same — soft and hard goodness (insert Ted-ism here).
Observation: Growing up in Detroit Ted was everywhere — Pine Knob, Cobo, guest DJ. Hell, he even bought his own radio station. How Jack and Tommy were able to corral the Motor City Madman is beyond me, but good on ’em.
Jack Blades – Night Ranger
Tommy Shaw – Styx
“Coming of Age””