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

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
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.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test