This week we”re going sing of the unsung heroes, the musician’s musicians, bands that get mentioned in every “influences” column on MySpace but still, somehow, manage to sell a measly number of records next to their more commercially accessible rivals. We’re talking hardcore rockers who couldn’t make it on to the radio, the wacky iconoclasts who were just to weird for most, and bands from parts of the world that just weren’t mainstream enough, but seem to have found their way into musical loves in anyway. Sure, some of these bands are big—possibly even huge—but perhaps slipping out of modern culture. As James Hendicott tells us, they are Museyon’s secretly influential stars.
At The Drive-In
Okay, so they were hardly a minor name, and the remains of At The Drive-In even went on to form the ever-popular Mars Volta, but few rock lovers would argue this band got the level of acclaim they deserved. Perhaps it was winding up festival goers by trying to ban moshing at their concerts, or the fact that they sang about topics that were cryptic and thought provoking, but far from easy to pick apart. Whatever it was, though, albums like “Relationship of Command” belong in the realms of rock and roll folklore, and almost every modern day rock musician knows it.
Sly and the Family Stone
No, having the new album from Britain’s latest star Marina and the Diamonds named after you doesn’t qualify you for this list, but creating a brand of music that went on the influence the likes of The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Michael Jackson, stars who fall at opposite ends of the musical spectrum, certainly does. Turning funk and soul into a brand of off the wall, experimental music the envy of many of their contemporaries, Sly and the Family Stone are in the midst of a reunion right now, reforming for Coachella, but the 70s were their true heyday.
Another band currently found running round the country on a reunion tour, MC5 are the unsung heroes of the punk movement. Of course, at the time they were huge, but modern coverage of the 1970s revolution tend to focus on the likes of The Sex Pistols and The Clash. MC5 even featured on the cover of Rolling Stone well before their debut album was released, a claim to fame even the other numerous musical stars out of Detroit struggle to lay claim to. The more traditional punk bands of today all cite MC5 as an influence, with the likes of Young Heart Attack and The Gories throwing in covers along the way, too.
We couldn’t simply cover confrontational punk, could we? Dead Prez fall at the other end of the spectrum, producing an angst-ridden, revolution and repression focused style of hip-hop that’s arguably too aggressive to reach the big time, but remains universally respected. A far cry from commercial, club-centered hip-hop styles, Dead Prez are the true hardcore, and include topics that range from corporate media control to religion. You’ll be picking those lyrics from your brain for days.
Was he actually a professor? We doubt it, but The Prof was a good deal more influential than most, with the likes of Paul McCartney dedicated tracks to the blues star. Still a well known name around Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the singer’s career was so faltering in his own time that he had to become a janitor later in life to make ends meet. His previous jobs also included a period as a street hustler, but Longhair is known and respected by every notable blues musician, and achieved a great deal more than he’ll probably ever know.
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Above, clockwise from upper left: MC5, photo by Leni Sinclair, Professor Longhair, photo from the Pat Murphy Archives, At the Drive In, Dead Prez.