7/19/11

Music Lists #14: The Top 30 Faceless Bands


This idea started as a thought I had on Facebook.  I didn't get a whole lot of suggestions (I'm still trying to figure out exactly how Facebook will fit into the Retrospace Universe the way Tumblr and podcasting has); but it did get me started thinking about all those bands of the 1970s that I had NO IDEA what they looked like.

It's almost incomprehensible today that Billboard's charts could be dominated by bands who wouldn't be recognized by even an ardent fan.  Indeed, popular music has ALWAYS relied on image as a part of its allure: from Elvis and the Beatles to David Bowie and Madonna.  The music and the image have always gone hand in hand.... but not so much in the 1970s.

Something happened in the 70s. The so-called "Album Oriented Rock" bands began to sell out stadiums, and their records (when not being used as a surface to roll joints) were on constant rotation.  How could we know what Boston looked like when there were no music videos, their likeness was not on album covers, and they weren't likely to show up on Captain & Tennille or Sonny & Cher?  The best look at the band you'd get was at a concert: and then it was from 60 rows back through a thick layer of smoke.

In the 1980s, faceless bands became victims of a mass extinction caused by MTV. Certain bands, like Journey, Chicago and Rush, survived; but for most it was The End.  No one wanted to see a Little River Band music video, and it didn't help that they were as ugly as Christopher Cross.  It was back to the way it's always been, with image being as front and center as the music.  It was only during those few years in the 70s when the rules of the game were changed and bands focused on the sounds rather than the looks.  It was brief but refreshing.

So, here's my Top 30 Faceless Bands.... that is to say the best bands of the 1970s who's faces were largely unknown.


IMPORTANT: If they "came out of the closet" so to speak later on, that does not disqualify them, but still taints their once brilliant anonymity.  Hence, Journey loses points because, God knows, we saw enough of Steve Perry's ugly mug during the 1980s.

Also, this is not just a list of "corporate rock bands" and "AOR" bands; other genres like "soft rock" had their share of faceless musical groups.
  1. Foreigner
  2. Boston
  3. Supertramp
  4. Foghat
  5. Kansas
  6. Triumph
  7. Toto
  8. Yes
  9. Styx
  10. Blue Oyster Cult
  11. Pink Floyd
  12. The Little River Band
  13. REO Speedwagon
  14. Steely Dan
  15. Journey
  16. King Crimson
  17. Captain Beefheart
  18. April Wine
  19. Chicago
  20. The Pure Prairie League
  21. Firefall
  22. The Steve Miller Band
  23. Ambrosia
  24. Gentle Giant
  25. Saga
  26. Uriah Heep
  27. UFO
  28. Golden Earring
  29. Bachman Turner Overdrive
  30. Molly Hatchet


Notes:

  • Pink Floyd (with Roger Waters) didn't come "out of the closet", but rather "went into the closet" after Syd Barrett left.  Thus, a little deduction is necessary for their very image oriented period with Barrett.
  • Styx would arguably be number one on this list were it not for the tragic "Mr. Roboto" period.
  • Chicago was super anonymous, as was REO Speedwagon, until Cetera and Cronin decided to get public - hence the deductions.
  • Yes loses points because the band actually appears on their first LP and for their video "Leave It".
  • I've heard the term "faceless band" was first used to describe Triumph in Rolling Stone magazine.
  • The Eagles and Genesis were pretty faceless in the 70s, but members became so high profile afterwards that it's ruined any sense of anonymity they might have once had.
  • Where's The Moody Blues, Dire Straits, Jethro Tull and Rush? I think people who bought those groups' records pretty much knew what the members looked like..... which is unfortunate in the case of Geddy Lee. 

25 comments:

  1. syd barrett died quite recently. i think perhaps you meant 'after his LSD-fueled departure';-)

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  2. thanks ekolad... corrected

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  3. Ah, interesting. I've thought a lot about this, actually, especially regarding Boston.

    10 or 12 years ago, I went to see them at Great Woods in suburban Boston. The band was NAMED FOR THE CITY, for crying out loud, and "Rock and Roll Band" namechecked the town in the very first line, but sitting in the stands I realized couldn't pick ANY of those guys out in a lineup.

    My theory is that Brad Delp actually did himself in because after 30 years of playing music, the guy couldn't get arrested.

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  4. What about Stealer's Wheel (early Fogelberg group)? Don't they count? They had a hit.

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  5. That definitely counts,as far as I'm concerned. What about ELO, though? Even though the members appeared in video, I still can't place any of them.

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  6. Yes, ELO should've been on the list. Steeler's Wheel, however, didn't last long enough or getting anywhere near popular to qualify for the top 30. I knew Gerry Rafferty was in the band... didn't know about Fogelberg.

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  7. An ancestor to this 70s trend can be found in in the bubblegum groups (particularly the ones created by Kasenatz & Katz) of the late 60s. The recordings were done by studio musicians and touring bands (with different personnel) got sent out to promote singles afterward.

    Whether in the studio or on the road, no one recalls specific members of (for example) The Ohio Express or The 1910 Fruitgum Group, let alone what they looked like. Then, too, the focus was on the sound.

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  8. Styx is on this list? Dennis DeYoung & Tommy Shaw aren't exactly no-names or unrecognizable.

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  9. So is it top 20 or top 30? You say,"So, here's my Top 20 Faceless Bands" but the post title says 30 and you actually have 30. I can catch your mistakes, but you can just ignore mine. Thanks. (insert smiley face here)

    Great idea for a post. It's true, I wouldn't know a Golden Earring if he hit me in the face.

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  10. Like Molly Hatchet, a lot of those Southern Rock bands could be just one amorphous band of long-haired bearded dudes that changed names occasionally.

    I went to see Toy Caldwell from the Marshall Tucker Band and I couldn't tell you what he looked like now if you paid me.

    Same goes for Blackfoot, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Outlaws, et al.

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  11. Ten Years After. 'I'm going home' is arguably the greatest performance from the original woodstock concert, but what did they look like a few albums later when their biggest hit 'I'd love to change the world' came out? Nobody knows.

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  12. @retrohound - fixed, thanks again

    @CraigF - Very good point. Molly Hatchet had awesome cover art, but no one could spot them in a line up. Which makes me think of Iron Maiden and the heavy metal faceless bands...

    @CLM - To me, Styx was the ULTIMATE faceless band in the late seventies. Hugely popular, dominating the charts... yet no one knew what they looked like. Sure, after a video for "Too Much Time on my Hands" and a Mr. Roboto cluster f**k, they became recognizable. But they definitely deserve a place on this list for being faceless band numero uno for a number of years.

    @RAM - I'm on the fence on that one. Those bands were often on their record covers and their anonymity was due in part to their lack of sustained success more than any desire to stay out of the spotlight.

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  13. Didn't you people read Creem, Circus, Hit Parader, or Crawdaddy magazines? Perhaps I did because I was a musician, but I saw photos of all those bands a few times a year.

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  14. AnonymousJuly 19, 2011

    Great list... and an interesting point. My father, who worked in radio in the 70's glory days, told me that at a Steve Miller Band concert in Phoenix a guy on a bike rode by their car where they were drinking beer and relaxing before the show. He hung out for a bit, chatting about the show which was a couple hours away. Turns out, a couple hours later, when the band took the stage, they realized it was Steve Miller. After this happened, they naturally told this story to everyone that would listen, and it turns out this was his standard procedure. Just ride around the lot on a bike before the show and hang out with fans without anyone knowing who he was.

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  15. After looking at some bubblegum history, I see you're pretty much on the mark about the groups, and I stand corrected!

    The majority of the units seemed to be obscure acts who got lucky breaks. A few (like Ohio Express) were studio concoctions, and the practice of using "hired guns" was actually prominent with TV cartoon groups like the Archies or the Banana Splits (who weren't liable to be doing any touring, of course).

    Still, even though the focus for record companies marketing bubblegum was selling singles and not albums, it was the sound of the music that mattered most!

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  16. Were the Doobie Brothers been left off because of the crooning of Michael McDonald?

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  17. what about Klaatu?

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  18. AnonymousJuly 19, 2011

    I'd hardly say that Rush ever suffered from being faceless...

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  19. AnonymousJuly 19, 2011

    Where is the Atlanta Rhythm section? awesome jams made by kind of skeevy looking dudes.

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  20. Some bands on this list or suggested weren't exactly faceless, but they did lead to a strange way people have of describing them

    Yes: Erm, bloke with the long blonde hair and the capes, plays lots of pianos very fast.
    Jethro Tull: Mad looking bloke hopping around with a flute.
    The Moody Blues: That bloke with the funny hair that looks welded onto his head. My aunt likes him.

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  21. I agree with Armpit, you would have seen tons of pics of them in the mags at the time. I think if you were a huge enough fan, you'd know what they looked like. Don't forget the back covers and inside gatefolds of the albums, tons of pics. I saw a Chicago record with two giant sized posters of the band (super hairy, ugly dudes btw). Captain Beefheart? How the hell could you not know what he looks like? True, some of these groups weren't into being up front though. Pink Floyd hid behind smoke and weird lights from day one, but their first and third album features them right on the front of the cover.

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  22. I'm a little older than you, G-Man, so I have to disagree that the Eagles were "faceless"--but not for the reason you'd expect. My crowd wouldn't know Don Henley or Glen Frey from Spiro Agnew.....But as long time fans of James Gang and Barnstorm, we knew Joe Walsh....The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get and So What are still two of my favorite albums......

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  23. AnonymousJuly 21, 2011

    W/r/t Beefheart: If Don Van Vliet had been walking down the street, I would definitely have recognized him.

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  24. AnonymousJuly 24, 2011

    Post Ed Sullivan and pre MTV, there were various music performance programs around, such as Old Grey Whistle Test, Top Of The Pops, Midnight Special, Soul Train, and many others around the world. Even SNL had, and still has bands play.

    I sat down las night and watched a bunch of them on Youtube last night.

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  25. AnonymousMay 13, 2012

    Steve Perry ugly?? I don't think so. He was gorgeous during the 70's/80's and is now a handsome older man.

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