As anyone knows, the supergroup is a risky proposition in rock and roll. Since the ‘60s, there have been quite a few supergroups — bands made up exclusively (or at least primarily) of musicians who have already achieved success with other bands. Sometimes even ideas that sound good on paper don’t necessarily gel on vinyl. There are a number of dangers inherently involved with supergroups, ranging from ego to musical differences to drugs to band members simply returning to their previous projects. Still, some supergroups really have been super!
Here’s a list of 10 supergroups that, if not perfect, had a lot to offer during their lifespans. Like all lists, this is not meant to be definitive. And we’ve kept the bands included to the rock genre; hence no Highwaymen (definitely a country supergroup) or Weather Report (a jazz supergroup). Enjoy!
10 Tinted Windows
Tinted Windows was a power pop supergroup that featured Taylor Hanson (yes, of the group Hanson) on vocals, James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins on lead guitar, Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne, Ivy, theater and film composer) on bass and the legendary Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick on drums. Their one self-titled album was released in 2009. Maybe they weren’t reinventing the wheel, but Tinted Windows excelled at writing short, catchy pop songs — perfect for radio. Most of the album consists of straightforward, upbeat tunes like “Kind of a Girl,” “Doncha Wanna” and “Messin’ with My Head.” But to these ears, the best song is the ballad “Back with You.”
A sad side note: Adam Schlesinger, the band’s secret weapon, was one of the first well known musicians to die of COVID-19, in the spring of 2020. He was only 52.
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09 The Honeydrippers
The Honeydrippers’ discography was even smaller than that of Tinted Windows! It consisted of one EP, appropriately titled Volume 1, which arrived in the summer of 1984. That said, the band had some serious rock pedigree. Robert Plant served as lead vocalist and band leader. He was joined by former Led Zeppelin bandmate Jimmy Page, as well as Jeff Beck, on guitar; Chic frontman and producer extraordinaire Nile Rodgers on rhythm guitar; David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer on keyboards; and various session musicians.
The Honeydrippers’ one recording contained only five tracks, all of which were covers of 50s-era tunes. They scored hits with the ballad “Sea of Love” and the more upbeat “Rockin’ At Midnight.” Despite the fact that there was never a sophomore album, Plant has supposedly said this was one of the most enjoyable projects he’s ever been a part of.
08 Them Crooked Vultures
The most recent entry on our list, Them Crooked Vultures also had a Led Zeppelin connection: bassist John Paul Jones was a Vulture. The trio was rounded out by Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme on lead vocals and guitar and Foo Fighters frontman (and former Nirvana drummer) Dave Grohl on drums and backing vocals. The band’s one self-titled album to date appeared in late 2009, but they have never officially disbanded. Not surprisingly, Them Crooked Vultures displayed the hard rock influences of all three members and spun off a pair of hits with “New Fang” and “Mind Eraser, No Chaser.”
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As far as prog-rock goes, Asia may well be the best supergroup ever. The band originally featured John Wetton of King Crimson on lead vocals and bass; Steve Howe of Yes on guitar; Carl Palmer of ELP on drums; and Geoff Downes of The Buggles (and also Yes) on keyboards. Asia’s self-titled debut, which came out in 1982, was a massive hit. It topped the charts in several countries and produced a pair of well-deserved hits in “Heat of the Moment” and “Only Time Will Tell.”
The band’s success was short-lived, however. Alpha, their 1983 sophomore set, did respectably and scored them another hit with “Don’t Cry.” But Wetton left the band not long after, as did Howe. Future releases did not sell nearly as well and the band’s lineup became more confusing than a game of (no pun intended!) musical chairs.
06 Velvet Revolver
If any band was ever a ’90s supergroup, it would have to be Velvet Revolver. Three of the five members — lead guitarist Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum — were, of course, veterans of Guns N’ Roses. With Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland up front and second guitarist Dave Kushner (formerly of Wasted Youth), Velvet Revolver was born.
The band’s 2004 debut, Contraband, was a major success. It topped the Billboard album charts, went double platinum and included the hit “Slither,” as well as deep cuts like “Fall to Pieces” and “Dirty Little Thing.” Libertad, which arrived three years later, was not quite as successful. Intra-band friction didn’t help, nor did Weiland’s drug use. In 2008, he left the band and rejoined STP. Seven years later, he died of an overdose. While the surviving members of Velvet Revolver toyed with the idea of recording with another vocalist, nothing has come of it to date.
05 Blind Faith
One of the very first supergroups, Blind Faith had a brief but interesting lifespan. Three of the four members were already stars when the band formed. Guitarist Eric Clapton and drummer Ginger Baker had been in Cream while singer-keyboardist Steve Winwood had fronted both The Spencer Davis Group and Traffic. The band was completed by bassist Ric Grech, who had previously played with Family.
Blind Faith released their eponymous debut in the summer of 1969 and instantly made waves — for better and for worse. The album topped the charts both here in the States and in their native England and featured the haunting “Can’t Find My Way Home” (among other songs). But the disc was also controversial because of its cover photo of a topless 11-year-old girl. There was never a sophomore album and, by the dawn of the’70s, Blind Faith had called it quits.
04 Bad English
Bad English was a quintet that formed in the late ‘80s and quickly made a splash. The band’s common denominator was keyboardist and songwriter Jonathan Cain, who had played with both Journey and The Babys. Bad English was rounded out by former Babys John Waite on vocals and Ricky Phillips on bass; fellow Journey-man Neal Schon on lead guitar; and drummer Deen Castronovo. Right off the bat, Bad English had several things working in their favor: they were unabashedly commercial, they were on a major label, their sound and look fit the times and, in Waite, they had a frontman who could sing the phone book and make it sound interesting.
The band’s self-titled debut came out in 1989, when metal lite ruled the airwaves. As such, it was a huge hit. “When I See You Smile” — a power ballad penned by Diane Warren — promptly topped the singles chart and was followed by the hits “Price of Love” and “Possession.”
By the time Bad English unveiled their second effort, Backlash, in late 1991, the music scene was a very different place. Almost overnight, Nirvana and grunge has wiped hair metal and power ballads off the map. As such, Backlash’s title was unintentionally appropriate. The album produced only one moderate hit, “Straight to Your Heart.” Aside from that, it went virtually unnoticed and Bad English broke up not long after.
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03 Bad Company
From Bad English, we move to Bad Company! Perhaps the most successful hard rock supergroup of all time, Bad Company formed in England in the early ‘70s. The band compiled singer Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke, both formerly of Free; guitarist Mick Ralphs of Mott the Hoople; and bassist Boz Burrell of King Crimson.
Bad Company’s self-titled debut arrived in 1974 and was a smash, thanks to the title track and “Can’t Get Enough.” More hits followed throughout the decade: “Shooting Star,” “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and “Rock and Roll Fantasy” to name a few. But the following decade was not as kind to Bad Company, as evidenced by their ill-advised late’80s “comeback” album, Dangerous Age.
02 Crosby, Stills & Nash
David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash came together in 1968 after an informal jam session. Crosby was a veteran of The Byrds, Stills had been in Buffalo Springfield and Nash (who was English) had fronted The Hollies. As with many supergroups, they were an overnight sensation. Crosby, Stills & Nash performed at Woodstock and released their self-titled debut in 1969. It remains a landmark record, full of exquisite harmonies and songs that mix the personal and the political. The jaunty “Marrakesh Express” and the epic “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” were the most popular tracks.
A year later, the trio joined forces with Neil Young and became even more successful. Their 1970 album Deja Vu topped the charts in several countries and included hits like “Teach Your Children,” “Woodstock” and “Our House.” But not long after that, the twin perils of drugs and ego began to take hold; Crosby in particular was haunted by both for decades to come. Despite the fact that all three members of CSN are still alive — and despite making some good music from time to time — they’ve never done anything that rivals those first two albums.
01 The Traveling Wilburys
We’ve put The Traveling WIlburys at #1 on this list for two reasons: immense talent and equally immense lack of ego! The band consisted of the five Wilbury “brothers:” Nelson (George Harrison), Otis (Jeff Lynne), Lucky (Bob Dylan), Lefty (Roy Orbison) and Charlie T. (Tom Petty).
The Traveling Wilburys unveiled their eponymous debut in 1988. Harrison’s “Handle with Care” was the lead single (and a great pop song), but that was just the tip of the iceberg. There were also two very funny songs on which Dylan sang lead (“Dirty World” and the Springsteen sendup “Tweeter and the Monkey Man”), Petty’s reggae-tinged “Last Night,” the soaring Orbison ballad “Not Alone Anymore” and the wonderful album closer “End of the Line.” What makes the album so strong — beyond the quality of the songs themselves — is that the band always sounds like it’s having fun.
If the cheekily titled Traveling Wilburys Volume 3 (their sophomore set) wasn’t quite as good as the debut, it’s still worth a listen for fun tunes like “Inside Out” and “Wilbury Twist.” Sadly, three of the five band members have died, leaving Dylan and Lynne as the only surviving Wilburys.