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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Radiohead Members' Sax-Driven Collective On a Friday

When the future members of Radiohead first came together as classmates at Oxfordshire's Abingdon School in 1985, they were bonded by pure, unbridled musical passion rather than virtuosic ability. "We were people who picked up their respective instruments because we wanted to play music together, rather than just because we wanted to play that particular instrument," Colin Greenwood told The Irish Times in 2001. "So it was more of a collective angle, and if you could contribute by having someone else play your instrument, then that was really cool." They gathered to rehearse on Friday afternoons in the school's music room, leading to the group's de facto name: On a Friday.

Though gigs were few and far between during their time at Abingdon, several demos from the period survive. The earliest is a 4-track tape from 1986, reportedly predating the inclusion of Colin's younger brother Jonny. Songs like "Fragile Friend," "Girl (in the Purple Dress)," "Everybody Knows" and "Fat Girl" recall a diverse list of influences including the Smiths, Sonic Youth, the Pixies and also every Eighties English New Wave band with gratuitous saxophone solos. Even more bizarre for a band famous for their overcast ruminations, a 1988 demo includes the ludicrously upbeat "Happy Song," which is given an extra dose of pep with the inclusion of a marimba.

After the members graduated from Abingdon in 1987, On a Friday was effectively put on hiatus while the group – minus the junior Greenwood – attended university. For nearly four years they only got together on rare weekends and holidays. In the summer of 1991, the friends reconvened and threw themselves into music on a full-time basis. They rented a house together in Oxford and perfected their new material at the nearby Jericho Tavern, which would become their local home base. "We all wore black and played very loud, because we thought that's what you had to do," Colin later said of these early gigs. It was at one of their Jericho performances that they first drew the attention of Chris Hufford and Bryce Edge. The management duo produced a professional demo tape – including future Radiohead songs "You," "Thinking About You" and "Prove Yourself" – which earned them a six-album recording contract with EMI in 1992. At the label's insistence, they dropped the On a Friday moniker, which Thom Yorke retrospectively called "the worst band name ever." In its place, they took inspiration from an obscure 1986 song by the Talking Heads: "Radio Head." 

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