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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

30 Fascinating Early Bands of Future Music Legends

Read about the obscure bands where future music legends from Led Zeppelin to Simon & Garfunkel and Debbie Harry got their start.

Even rock’s biggest names had to start somewhere. Flip through this (way) back catalog of stars’ early projects and you’ll find yourself in a topsy-turvy bizarro-world where Michael Bolton and Billy Joel fronted metal bands, Debbie Harry and the Cars were folked-up singer-songwriters, Madonna was a post-punk drummer and Ronnie James Dio was a Sixties teen idol. By the time you’re done there are more questions than answers. Did Neil Young and Rick James really play in a Motown band together? Did Lemmy really wear a priest’s collar onstage every night? Why were Radiohead so into saxes?

Read on to hear 30 fascinating early bands from future music legends. Brace yourself, because it might get weird. 

25 Fascinating Early Bands of Future Music Legends

Lemmy’s Costumed Sixties Band the Rockin’ Vickers

Lemmy Kilmister may not seem like man of the cloth, but the Motörhead frontman spent much of the Sixties donning a priest’s collar as a member of the Rockin’ Vickers. “My old man would have hated it, seeing me in a band that – shock, horror – took the piss out of being a vicar,” he later told author Mick Wall. “At the same time he’d probably have loved seeing me having to wear a fucking vicar’s dog collar onstage.” His interest in rock & roll began young – he once hitchhiked to Liverpool at age 16 to catch one of the Beatles’ Cavern sets – and his tenure in low-profile Manchester bands like the Rainmakers and then the Motown Sect prepared him well for his invitation to join the comparatively professional Vickers in 1965. Initially a covers band working the cabaret circuit along the Blackpool pier, they had released a single, “I Go Ape,” which met with scattershot success on the European mainland.

“He was a fan of our band before joining forces with our two road managers and setting our gear up for us,” bandmate Harry Feeney told Wall. “We didn’t pay him a wage, we just fed him and kept him. Then the band had a big bust-up and we were left with only three of us. Lemmy turned round and said, ‘I can do this,’ and he got onstage and he was brilliant.” The group played to 10,000-seat arenas in Finland and, according the legend, were the first rock band to break through the Iron Curtain following an offer to play Yugoslavia as part of a cultural exchange program.

The band secured a recording contract with producer Shel Talmy, famous for working with the Who and the Kinks (plus a young David Bowie). Perhaps because of this, the Rockin’ Vickers’ next two singles owed a serious debt to the two bands. “It’s Alright” was such a blatant steal of the Who’s “The Kids Are Alright” that Pete Townshend apparently threatened to sue (though Lemmy says the Who became “great mates” during his Motörhead days), and their follow up single was a cover of Ray Davies’ “Dandy.” It didn’t chart in their native country, but Lemmy insisted they were living large from live bookings. “We didn’t have hit records but you didn’t need ’em. We were making, in those days, quite a lot of money. We had this big house we lived in and three fucking Jaguars and a speedboat on Lake Windermere. We used to go water-skiing. That was the heyday, if you ask me.”

By 1967 Lemmy decided wanted to get a piece of the London action and subsequently quit the band. He shared a room with Noel Redding, and briefly served as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, but within a few years he’d be topping the bill himself – first in the psych rock band Sam Gopal, then Hawkwind and finally Motörhead. 

25 Fascinating Early Bands of Future Music Legends

Bon Scott’s Australian Teen-Pop Band the Valentines

AC/DC’s manager Michael Browning once described the Valentines as “a satin-clad, bell-bottom–wearing teeny-bop band.” In other words, not the kind of group in which you’d expect to find Bon Scott. But the future metal god spent the late Sixties as a co-frontman of the Perth-based pop group, sharing the spotlight with singer Vince Lovegrove. Formed in 1966, the Valentines were a fusion of Scott’s first band, the Spektors, and Lovegrove’s the Winstons. Scoring their first local chart entry with a cover of Arthur Alexander’s “Every Day I Have to Cry,” the band capitalized on their success by recording a number of songs co-written by George Young and Henry Vanda – previously members of the Aussie rock outfit the Easybeats and future AC/DC producers.

Moving to Melbourne by the end of 1967 to pursue national fame, the group became an in-demand act on the touring circuit, drawing hoards of teenage girls eager to get a look at the twin heartthrobs out front. Even at this early stage, Scott was not suited to the life of a teen idol. His friend, former AC/DC bassist Mark Evans, recalled seeing the uneasy truce between Bon Scott the Rock Outlaw and Bon Scott the Pop Star in his book, Dirty Deeds: My Life Inside/Outside AC/DC. “I was sitting in front of the PA on the side of the stage and I could see him disappear into the wings during solos and after songs to slug from a bottle of Johnnie Walker,” he writes. “As the set progressed he built up a descent sweat and I could see something strange going on under the sheer chiffon sleeves. Tattoos were starting to appear – he had tried to hide them with makeup but the sweat was making it run. The guy was turning into Bon Scott before my eyes.”

As tastes shifted from lightweight pop towards heavier rock cuts by the end of the decade, the Valentines struggled to shed their image and their popularity waned. They promoted their 1968 single “Peculiar Hole in the Sky” with an advertisement bearing the comically desperate copy: “Please buy a copy – we’re starving.” It was barely a joke, as the group had taken to sneaking bites in the middle of supermarket aisles while on tour. “We were very poor, almost starving, driving down the highways, absorbed with rock ‘n’ roll, stealing people’s front door milk money … living on boiled potatoes, the dreams of success our mantra,” Lovegrove later wrote of those difficult days. “[But] when he sang, Bon took off into charisma-land