The no-hit wonders that music refused to forget

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

As the latest 'failures' to be discovered long after their demise are rehabilitated on CD, Chris Mugan selects some of the other bands it took us a long, long time to appreciate

A compilation of just about the entire recorded output of famed Manhattan punk-funkers Liquid Liquid is the latest stage in a remarkable rehabilitation. During their lifespan in the early Eighties, this enigmatic foursome released but three EPs, so the forthcoming 20-track set is augmented by live shows.

The percussion and bass group have gone on to become one of dance music's most influential proponents. The bassline to their echo-laden "Cavern" formed the nagging hook of one of hip-hop's most memorable tunes – Melle Mel and The Furious Five's "White Lines". Glasgow's eclectic Sunday night shindig "Optimo" is named after another track, while almost every band from the Big Apple in recent years, from LCD Soundsystem to Vampire Weekend, owe them a debt of gratitude.

These days, whole subcultures can rise up around an artist who never came close, or even had the intention, of hitting the charts. Artists can remain undiscovered until they capture a well-connected acolyte's imagination, whether a crate-digger rummaging through dusty record collections or a questing artist looking for a new sound. Here are some other no-hit wonders who have made good in the end.

Velvet Underground

At their creative peak, most people had little clue that the bunch working with Andy Warhol could be influential beyond their New York home. Yet such is the disparity between their influence and initial success. Brian Eno is supposed to have said that a few thousand people bought their first album, almost all of whom formed bands. At the time, though, their confrontational stance and atonal drones were at odds with the peacenik hippie vibes and hallucinogenic visions emanating from the US west coast. David Bowie, who namechecked them on Hunky Dory, repaid his debt by producing Lou Reed's breakthrough solo work Transformer. It was with punk and new wave late in the decade, though, that the Underground's relevance was assured, witnessed when the band reformed in the early Nineties to huge excitement.

MC5

Originally just another Detroit garage band, the Motor City Five's manager John Sinclair nurtured their devotion to free-jazz exponents Pharoah Sanders and Sun Ra, along with an interest in White Panther radical politics. They eventually became figureheads for the movement. Elektra dared to sign them in 1968, but many retailers refused to stock their debut live album with its outburst, "Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!". Unable to digest that lesson, the Five retaliated by putting out an ad criticising a local record shop with the straightforward slogan "Fuck Hudson" and found themselves summarily dropped.

The band survived until 1972, after which guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith married punk poet Patti Smith, while his band's attitudes percolated through her artistic generation. Surviving members reformed in 1991 at a memorial gig for singer Rob Tyner, after his death from a heart attack, following which the co-guitarist Wayne Kramer embarked on a well-received solo career.

Vashti Bunyan

Nowadays she is idolised by the new folk scene but, during the mid-Sixties, Bunyan, a descendent of the Pilgrim's Progress author John, tried to make it as a pop star.

Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham shaped her in the manner of another English waif, Marianne Faithfull. When that failed, she took a horse-drawn caravan to Skye to join a commune set up by folk-pop star Donovan. While the commune came to nought, Bunyan had written songs that would appear on her debut album Just Another Diamond Day, recorded with the help of influential producer Joe Boyd.

While this record did earn favourable notices, it failed to attract an audience, so Bunyan took early retirement. The album, though, became a cornerstone of the folk revival, inspiring the likes of Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. The former wrote to Bunyan asking if he should continue in music. Bunyan went on to collaborate with him and Animal Collective, eventually releasing her 30-year follow-up record Lookaftering, while the title track from her debut was used to soundtrack an advert for a mobile phone.

The Stooges

To complete the triumvirate of US alternative rockers, we return to Michigan and a group that made up for their lack of political nous with a gargantuan appetite for drugs and excess. Signed to the same label as the MC5 by the same A&R man, the band led by Iggy Pop soon developed a reputation for reckless behaviour.

While Pop wanted to redefine the blues to mirror his own experiences, audiences saw a half-naked man writhe around in peanut butter.

The band imploded in the wake of critical derision, until Bowie got them back together temporarily for 1973's Raw Power, though it was as a solo artist that Pop made his mark. The Stooges myth, meanwhile, grew, thanks to the likes of the Sex Pistols covering "No Fun", and eventually led to pressure for the band to reconvene. The sight of their fans storming the stage remains one of the most memorable moments from Glastonbury 2007.

The Raincoats

Despite punk's iconoclastic energy, and the short-term success of The Slits and X-Ray Spex, it is hard to dismiss the feeling that sexism remained rife. Many female-dominated acts, ignored at the time, have gone on to be praised as brave pioneers, from Manchester's Ludus to Swiss upstarts LiLiPUT, but it is The Raincoats who made the most impact by mixing sonic eccentricity with put-downs of consumerism and patriarchal society.

After the failure of 1984 album Moving, founder member Ana da Silva turned to dance as a means of expression, while the band's records awaited a more favourable time. That was the early Nineties, when the Riot Grrrl movement opened doors for female musicians and Kurt Cobain walked into Rough Trade to buy a copy of their first album. He was directed to Da Silva's house round the corner. A reformed line-up would have supported Nirvana if Cobain had not committed suicide, but The Raincoats still went on to play some other occasions, among them Robert Wyatt's Meltdown in London and Leeds Ladyfest.

The Fire Engines

It was all over in 18 months for this Edinburgh outfit, which makes their future influence all the more surprising compared to their peers, especially Edwyn Collins's Orange Juice, who mixed pop and soul to popular affect. The Fire Engines remained, during their short span, in thrall to post-punk's darker side, especially The Fall and New York's no-wave scene. Signed by the person who discovered the Human League and Gang Of Four, their bubblegum gem "Candyskin" made waves on the indie chart, but "Big Gold Dream" failed to live up to its promise and the band disbanded in 1981.

Almost every Scottish band of note that has followed in their wake has namechecked them: the Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream and, most emphatically, Franz Ferdinand. After a 23-year hiatus the band reformed to record a split single with their young admirers and have intermittently played live since. A compilation of their output came out last year.

ESG

Few have heard their original, once hard-to-find punk funk, but fans of Beastie Boys, Wu-Tang Clan and Gang Starr, among many other hip-hop artists, will have heard them sampled. ESG were based around three, then four, mixed-race daughters from South Bronx, given instruments by their mum to keep them out of trouble. They developed their own pared-down sound that somehow chimed with more arty concerns, eventually seeing them taken under the wing of Factory Records producer Martin Hamnett.

Their visit to its Hacienda club was not well thought-out, and the band disintegrated after their label, 99 Records, also home to Liquid Liquid, went under in the wake of an unsuccessful sample-clearance suit over "White Lines".

Since reforming in the early Nineties, the band have made more successful returns to promote reissues, with original members' daughters filling in where necessary.

Eva Cassidy

When she succumbed to melanoma, aged 33, in 1996, this Washington DC-based artist had released one album but was unknown beyond her home city. That changed four years later when Terry Wogan starting plugging her cover version of "Over the Rainbow" on his Radio 2 show and a rough film of her live performance did the rounds. Subsequently, a compilation, Songbird, topped the UK album charts.

This was partly a case of finding the right time for the gentle acoustic reveries, though she has had a remarkable impact on a new generation of solo artists, most notably Katie Melua, who wrote "Faraway Voice" about her and last year contrived to duet with Cassidy on her Christmas single, a cover of Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World".

T he Liquid Liquid retrospective 'Slip In and Out of the Phenomenon' is out on 19 May on Domino

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future