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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on