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10 Classic Rock Bands Who Deserve More Respect

Russell Hall

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03.22.2011

Bands such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin rarely fall out of the public eye, and rightly so. But beneath the radar lies a number of groups from the classic rock era who don’t get their just due. Many of these artists gained huge fan followings, but were either dismissed by the critics of the day or have since been neglected. Below are 10 such groups, each of whom deserves another look.

10. Grand Funk Railroad

Grand Funk Railroad were on top of the world in the early ’70s, churning out albums filled with blue-collar hard rock and positioning themselves as a “people’s band.” Frontman Mark Farner’s guitar work was by no means breathtaking, but on such good-time hits as “Footstompin’ Music,” “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “We’re an American Band,” his playing fit the band’s garage-y approach like a hand-in-glove.

Best Album: We’re an American Band

Current Status: The band, headed by former .38 Special singer Max Carl, continues to tour. Farner continues to record and tour under his own name.

9. Rare Earth

As the first white hitmakers signed to Motown, Rare Earth had a number of hits in the early ’70s, most notably “Hey, Big Brother,” “I Just Want to Celebrate” and a rousing cover of The Temptations’ “Get Ready.” By 1975, internal strife had scuttled their success, but still “Celebrate” has gone on to achieve iconic status. In 2007, Metallica covered the song during their acoustic performance at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit show.

Best Album: One World

Current Status: A reconfigured version of the band, with two original members, continue to play the oldies circuit.

8. Chicago

Chicago’s reputation today is that of a soft-rock band prone to saccharin ballads. As an upstart group in the ’70s, however, the group unfurled an innovative sound built partly on multiple horn players, and partly on guitar-based jazz rock. Guitarist Terry Kath, a force behind such classics as “Beginnings,” “25 or 6 to 4” and “Questions 67 and 68,” was one of Jimi Hendrix’s favorite players.

Best Album: Chicago Transit Authority

Current Status: Four of the group’s six surviving founding members – including songwriters Robert Lamm and James Pankow – are still in place within the band.

7. The Raspberries

During his 2005 tour, Bruce Springsteen regularly praised The Raspberries from the stage, calling the group’s late period hit, “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record),” a classic. Small wonder. While the power-pop “cool” factor goes to Big Star, The Raspberries were masters of the craft, delivering such memorable hits as “Go All the Way,” “I Wanna Be with You” and “Tonight.” A side note: Joan Jett’s iconic white Gibson Melody Maker is the very same guitar Eric Carmen used to record The Raspberries’ “Go All the Way.”

Best Album: Starting Over

Current Status: The band, including Carmen, last played together in 2007, to promote their then-new concert album, Live on Sunset Strip.

6. The Grass Roots

Critics have sometimes dismissed The Grass Roots as purveyors of disposable bubblegum pop. Revisiting such hits as “Temptation Eyes,” “Midnight Confessions” and even the punchy “Sooner or Later,” however, it’s clear the group didn’t just capture the essence of AM radio; they also had great band chemistry. Indie greats The Replacements used the cover “Temptation Eyes” in their live show.

Best Album: Let’s Live for Today

Current Status: Early member Rob Grill and his band continue to perform – sometimes as The Grass Roots, sometimes as Rob Grill and The Grass Roots.

5. The Guess Who

From 1968 to 1970, the songwriting team of Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings churned out a succession of hits that were both infectious and sophisticated. Bachman’s jazzy guitar lines in “Undun” were something new to radio; likewise, his playing on “No Time” constituted psychedelic guitar-pop at its best. Everyone knows “American Woman,” but The Guess Who were much more than that.

Best Album: American Woman

Current Status: Bachman and Cummings continue to tour as, you guessed it, Bachman-Cummings. Original members Garry Peterson and Jim Kale, who own the rights to the band name, tour as The Guess Who.

4. Black Oak Arkansas

Dismissed by some critics as a poor man’s version of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Oak Arkansas nonetheless garnered a well-deserved cult following in the first half of the ’70s. Frontman “Jim Dandy” Mangrum’s over-the-top showmanship established the template for David Lee Roth’s role in Van Halen. The group’s southern-rock peers went on to greater glories, but today, Black Oak Arkansas’s deliberate primitivism sounds like skewed southern punk.

Best Album: Ain’t Life Grand

Current Status: Jim Mangrum continues to perform on occasion with various Black Oak Arkansas lineups.

3. Three Dog Night

During the period from 1969 to 1974, Three Dog Night scored more than 20 Top Ten hits. Perhaps because they rarely wrote their own material, however, the group never got the acclaim they deserved. No band was better at crafting hits out of other people’s songs.

Best Album: It Ain’t Easy

Current Status: The band, sans former key member Chuck Negron, continues to tour. They released a double-A sided single in 2009.

2. Spirit

Few bands evidenced a more eclectic range of styles that Spirit did. Led by late guitar great Randy California (one of rock’s most under-appreciated players), and drummer Ed Cassidy, Spirit boasted a hybrid musical approach that mixed rock, jazz, blues and psychedelia. When Jimi Hendrix went to England to form The Experience, he tried (unsuccessfully) to persuade the then-15-year-old California to be part of the band.

Best Album: The Family that Plays Together

Current Status: California died tragically in a drowning accident in 1997. Cassidy, at age 87, resides in southern California, where he continues to play drums.

1. Steppenwolf

Steppenwolf rocketed to fame when their classic rocker, “Born to be Wild,” was featured in the 1969 film, Easy Rider. The group’s hitmaking ways hardly ended there, however. “Magic Carpet Ride,” “Rock Me” and the notorious “The Pusher” are all worthy of prime spots in the hard rock pantheon. Fittingly, the band will forever be known as the group that introduced the phrase “heavy metal” to the rock world.

Best Album: Steppenwolf

Current Status: Original frontman John Kay continues to carry the Steppenwolf banner, although he officially retired the group in 2007.

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