Supergroups are music bands that are put together by members of other different bands or solo artists. They were huge in the 80s and often got together only for one album (and sometimes only one or two songs). A good example is the Traveling Wilburys, which consisted of Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne. They originally got together to do one bonus song for a Harrison album but liked it so much they did a full album as a group (and later a second one). As kids, supergroups had a similar excitement to all-star games in sports. Even so, sometimes the sum of the parts wasn’t always better than the individuals on their own. Here are some of our favorite supergroups.
Looking back I was surprised there were fewer supergroups than I had thought, making this tougher for me, even less that I liked. It’s a nice idea, right? Get a bunch of talented people together from other bands and just shred. It doesn’t always work for me. Maybe the biggest supergroup ever was USA for Africa, and I am not a fan of “We Are The World”. But sometimes there is magic, Band Aid for instance. I even thought maybe Paul McCartney and Wings, since they had a Beatle and Denny Laine from the Moody Blues, but that was too easy. I was able to find three that I love, and would also love to debate mine.
Derek and the Dominos
Derek and the Dominos made one album and growing up as a teen, I heard “Bell Bottom Blues” blast in my house often. My father would play it over and over again when he was down. That was my introduction to the album, of course, I had already heard its biggest and only hit “Layla”. Derek and the Dominos was one of a couple supergroups that Eric Clapton was part of, Blind Faith is another. He was joined by some members of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon, guitarist Dave Mason and from the Allman Brother’s Duane Allman. Clapton, who at the time was pining for the wife of Beatle George Harrison, wrote and plays a bluesy rocking album. It now has become one of my all-time favorites. “Layla” is a classic and used by many filmmakers in trailers and movies. It rocks and then has that beautiful classical piece at the end. You can feel what Clapton is feeling. Same with “Bell Bottom Blues” his emotion is spilling through the verses. Probably my favorite song by far is “Anytime” it’s amazing with Bobby Whitlock adding some singing with Clapton. The Jimi Hendrix tune “Little Wing” also gets a fun cover. A huge additional on this album is Duane Allman’s slide guitar, it’s amazing. He was a true talent, unfortunately, his death hit his first band hard and it made collaborating again with the Dominos nonexistent. The Dominos never made another album and it’s too bad, but it’s a great snapshot in time of Clapton’s life. Some of the best work he has ever done. Young people need to hear the musicianship of this album.
MG: I have to guess I’m not the only one that just assumed “Layla” was a Clapton solo tune. I had never listened to this album, but I checked out a few of the tunes you highlighted and it was a good listen. I’ve never been the biggest Clapton fan, but you can’t deny his amazing talent at the guitar.
Some people may not consider Journey a supergroup probably because they became more successful than the bands they came from. Also, most people think that Journey always had Steve Perry and Jonathan Cain in it. The original band consisted of Santana members Neal Schon and Gregg Rolie, Frumious Bandersnatch members Ross Valory and George Tickner and Prairie Prince of The Tubes. Their first three albums are a prog-rock/jazz experiment and some of it is quite good, Mystery Mountain on their first album is an excellent example. Rolie was Journey’s lead singer. Steve Perry joined in 1978 for the album Infinity (maybe my favorite) and became its lead singer and collaborating songwriter. Rolie was still there and he and Perry working together made a classic album. “Feeling That Way” is a great example of their voices working great together. The next two albums Evolution and Departure are also great but Rolie’s contribution sadly lesson. Before Escape came out Journey had some classic songs, “Lights”, “Anytime”, “Anyway You Want It”, “Lovin, Touchin, Squeezin”, “Wheel in the Sky” and “Patiently”. When Rolie left, Jonathan Cain from The Babys joined as the main keyboardist. The album Escape was their peak, it’s a great album. I loved Journey growing up but once Grunge hit I looked down on them, but they are very good. Perry has an all-time voice. and Schon is an underrated fantastic guitarist. Listen to the music he has so many great guitar solos. Their later albums weren’t quite as good but that didn’t matter, they were the most successful supergroup.
MG: As you said, it’s hard for me to see them as a supergroup, because they were so successful as a band, but I see how they can be considered one. Interestingly, Cain was in The Babys with John Waite and they would later reteam for another supergroup, Bad English (see below). Journey was one of my top 3 bands as a young teen. I also drifted away from them, but Escape remains an amazing album for me. Perry is right up there with one of the best voices in rock history.
Electronic was a 90’s band made up of Bernard Sumner from New Order and Joy Division and Johnny Marr from The Smiths. Neil Tennant from The Pet Shop Boys joined them for their first album. Sumner wanted to go in a different direction using more synth than New Order. Trying to go solo didn’t work so he added Marr and Tennant. Their first album was a critical success and they had two great hits, “Getting Away With It” and “Get the Message”. You can hear The Pet Shop Boys all over “Getting Away With It”. Their second album Raise the Pressure may even be better as it got more into pop and dance, with more guitars. Johnny Marr is one of my favorite guitarists and I love The Smiths. My favorite song without a doubt of all Electronics’ output is “Second Nature”. I have to give credit to Denise Johnson who adds some great singing to this track. I do have to admit I have not heard their last album Twisted Tenderness but they have a Blind Faith cover (another supergroup) and a great album cover of Rasputin. I am going to have to check it out. Electronic was not as popular over here as in England and I think people should check them out, listen to their greatest hits. Especially if you like the bands these guys came from. Here is a good example.
MG: “Getting Away With It” is a great track – which I did think was a Pet Shop Boys tune all this time. When I knew you were writing about Electronic, I listened to the first two albums and was pleasantly surprised. Based on the name I expected all synths and drum programming, which they partially use, but there are some more straightforward rock songs as well like “Prodigal Son”, which was a standout for me.
I have always had a fascination with supergroups and particularly enjoyed the ones from the 80’s and early 90’s. They loved to just have an eponymous titled first album, and then often didn’t make it much past a second one. I can imagine the egos of having all the talent in one band made it tough to stay together for very long. I apologize in advance, but all three of my selections are from the 80’s. There are plenty of supergroups in the 90’s, but often they were a cool concept, like Velvet Revolver, that had only one song that I was familiar with. I was gong to write about Temple of the Dog, which had members of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, but I wrote about them already, and honestly have only heard two songs from that album. So here’s my all-80’s look at supergroups.
In 1984, Duran Duran took a hiatus and guitarist Andy Taylor and bassist John Taylor (unrelated) wanted to do a project that got away from synthesizers and was more traditional rock and roll. They teamed up with drummer Tony Thompson and producer Bernard Edwards from the band Chic. The plan was to rotate different vocalists for each track, but the collaboration with Robert Palmer for the song “Communication” went so well, he did the whole album. The self-titled album was released in 1985 and was a big hit – both “Some Like It Hot” and the T-Rex cover “Get It On” were radio staples that summer. I loved the whole album, just about every song is great and the production/mixing was excellent. I particularly appreciated Thompson’s excellent drumming that was featured prominently in the mix, whereas many 80’s songs at the time minimized the drums/percussion. Besides the two hits, “Communication”, “Murderess”, and “Harvest for the World” are standout tracks. I was unaware until about a year ago that the band did a second album in 1996. Unfortunately, it is not great – it’s one of those albums that has no point in existing. Other than Palmer’s voice, in style and substance it bears no similarity to the first album, except maybe the only single “She Can Rock It”. It’s just a weird mix of tracks that don’t work – even the cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” falls flat . Nevertheless, the first album is my favorite supergroup album of all time.
DJ: I was never a fan of this group, they did do a better job on “Get It On” than T-Rex though. Robert Palmer does have a great voice. I preferred Arcadia, the other “Duran Duran” splinter group, although they were not a supergroup, just Duran Duran without Taylor & Taylor.
Mike and The Mechanics
I was a big Genesis fan in the early 80s (at least of the Phil Collins era) so when I heard guitarist Mike Rutherford was forming a side project I was interested to check it out. Mike and the Mechanics began as a songwriting collaboration between Rutherford and writer/composer BA Robertson. They then recruited a producer and musicians Adrian Lee (keyboards) and Peter van Hook (drums). Their big “get” was convincing Paul Carrack, from Squeeze, to be one of the band’s vocalists, who split duties with another singer Paul Young (not the same as the 80’s solo artist Paul Young). Their first album in 1985 was a big hit with songs like “All I Need Is A Miracle” and “Silent Running”. It was one of my favorite cassettes that year (along with Power Station). Both their first album and the follow-up three years later, The Living Years, were driven by great songwriting – and the vocals of Carrack/Young fit perfectly. The Living Years was a bit less poppy and more introspective, particularly the emotional title track, but was another solid effort and an album I still listen to. I was aware of their 1991 release Word Of Mouth, but I had musically moved on at that point and didn’t give it a chance. I’ve listened to it recently and it’s a pretty good album. Until writing this piece I was unaware they went on to have another 4-5 albums, with some changes to the band’s line-up, most notably after Paul Young’s death in 2000, so I’ll have to check those out sometime.
DJ: They were a really good radio band of the 80’s, very solid hits. Paul Carrack has always done great work, Ace, Squeeze and solo. I didn’t by into the schmaltz of “The Living Years” but was a big fan of “All I need is a Miracle” and “Silent Running”. Also surprised they had that many albums.
No one, including myself, would characterize Bad English as “one of the best” supergroups ever, but they are interesting to me because they formed in the late 80s and put out a quintessential 80s power-rock album, albeit just when people were starting to get tired of that style of music. They actually had four singles crack the top 40, but are best known for the ballad “When I See You Smile”, which may have vexed lead singer John Waite, since he was more of a rock singer, and yet his other big 80s hit was another ballad, the awesome “Missing You” (a song I oddly disliked at the time but love now). Waite formed Bad English with his former bandmate from The Babys, Jonathan Cain, who had experienced huge success with Journey. They recruited another Journey member, the underrated guitarist, Neil Schon, and rounded out the band with bassist Ricky Phillips, also from The Babys, and drummer Dean Castronovo, who was a studio/touring musician with a bunch of acts. Their self-titled album is mostly arena-rock material, with two power ballads, and the music, led by Schon’s prominent guitar work, is consistent and catchy throughout. Waite’s lyrics can veer into the cheesy (it should be noted that “When I See You Smile” was written by songwriting icon, Diane Warren). The subject matter is primarily sex references and thinly veiled double entendre, but that was a staple of almost every 80s hairband. The track “The Best of What I Got” is a fun, upbeat rocker that became a minor hit when it was featured in the 1989 Stallone film Tango and Cash. They actually had a follow-up album in 1991 called Backlash, which is a little less on the cheesy lyrics, but unfortunately a little less on the musicianship as well. The album failed to register on the charts, and the band had already broken up before the album was even mixed and released.
DJ: I kind of like Bad English. I really like The Babys and John Waite not only had “Missing You” as a hit but also “Change”. His songs are all about love, finding love, losing love, being in love but the music is what always makes it, definitely not the lyrics. Funny that Diane Warren wrote their biggest hit, it clearly sounds like her. I think Castronovo was with Journey at one point. Their Greatest Hits is worth a listen, just a fun band.