30 Fascinating Early Bands of Future Music Legends

From Billy Joel's heavy-metal duo to Madonna's post-punk act and Neil Young's Motown outfit, these are the primordial groups that rock forgot

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Madonna's Post-Punk Band Emmy

According to legend, Madonna Ciccone arrived in New York City in 1978 with $35 in her pocket and survived on popcorn, donuts and dumpster refuse as she tried to make her name as a dancer. Working odd jobs, including live modeling and a brief trip to Paris backing Euro disco star Patrick Hernandez, she eventually moved into an abandoned synagogue in Corona, Queens, with her new boyfriend, Dan Gilroy.

Through Gilroy's influence, her attention began to shift from dancing to music. "He stuck a guitar in my hand and tuned it to an open chord so that I could strum," she told Rolling Stone in 1984. "That really clicked something off in my brain." Before long, she had written her first song. "It was called 'Tell the Truth.' It was maybe four chords, but there were verses and a bridge and a chorus, and it was a religious experience," she recalled in 2009. Her sense of rhythm honed through dance classes, she took up the drums, teaching herself by playing along to Elvis Costello albums. Taking her first compositional steps, she would look back at the period warmly. "It was one of the happiest times of my life. I really felt loved."

By 1980 Madonna, Gilroy and Gilroy's brother Ed formed their own band, the Breakfast Club, so named for their habit of rehearsing through the night and getting a dawn meal at a local Italian diner. After a few months of solidifying their act they started playing downtown clubs, but Madonna's time behind the drum kit would be short-lived. During a gig at the legendary CBGB, Madonna longed to get out front like her idol, Debbie Harry. "I begged them to let me sing a song and play guitar," she remembered. "That microphone position was looking more and more inviting." Soon she was competing with the Gilroys for vocal parts, later admitting that her friends "had created a monster. I was always thinking in my mind, 'I want to be a singer in this group, too.' And they didn't need another singer." Lineup changes contributed to the rising tensions, and within a year Madonna ended her musical and romantic relationship with Dan Gilroy.

Eager to form her own band, she recruited drummer Steve Bray, an old boyfriend from her days in Michigan. Together they assembled a group and holed up in a dingy Manhattan rehearsal space to fine-tune their material. First they called themselves the Millionaires, then Modern Dance before finally settling on Emmy (sometimes called "Emmy and the Emmys"), Madonna's nickname. In late November 1980 they recorded a studio demo tape consisting of four tracks: "(I Like) Love for Tender," "No Time for Love," "Bells Ringing" and "Drowning." Madonna assumed the role of a hard-rocking front woman in the Pat Benatar tradition, with some Lower East Side punk thrown in for good measure. "She was playing really raucous rock & roll, really influenced by the Pretenders and the Police," Bray told Rolling Stone. "She used to really belt. If we'd found that right guitar player, I think that's when things would have taken off ... but there are so many horrible guitar players in New York, and we seemed to get them all."

Emmy was not to last, but Madonna's creative partnership with Bray would endure as she set about building herself as a solo artist. Together they wrote songs, including "Everybody" and "Into the Groove," that would propel her to superstardom, as well as future smashes "True Blue" and "Express Yourself." 

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