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In Search Of The Forgotten Heroes Of 70s Rock

Fondly thought of by diehards, these overlooked 70s rock heroes moved audiences of thousands, made fantastic albums, then faded away. Remember them with love.

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We all know about the 70s. The Beatles quit, glam came along – T.Rex, Bowie, Slade; in the background, Floyd, Zeppelin and Sabbath sold squillions of records as 70s rock icons. Yes, ELP, Mike Oldfield and Genesis did prog for educated chaps. Then disco: ELO, ABBA and Queen competed with it, then joined it. Punk rebelled, then came post-punk and Joy Division, plus 2-Tone. There was other stuff, like Bob Marley and Eagles. And we wore platform-heeled hot pants. Cool. Perhaps.

But are the 2010s only about Adele and Ed Sheeran? Beneath their mass appeal lies hundreds of other acts making great music. It was the same for 70s rock coulda-beens: brilliant bands rocked audiences of thousands, made fantastic albums, then faded. Fondly remembered by a troupe of diehards, these acts are almost ignored by the rock’n’roll historians – though many deserved to be lauded like their celebrated contemporaries. Here are but a few: remember them with love, or discover them afresh.

It wasn’t enough for Focus to boast a brilliant guitarist in Jan Akkerman; they had a wily way with a tune and succeeded with an unfashionable form of rock: instrumentals. Focus were The Netherlands’ leading 70s rock band. Formed in 1969, they won attention through early single ‘House Of The King’. The theme for four UK TV series(!), the unwary might have mistaken it for a Jethro Tull ditty thanks to the flute of Thijs Van Leer, though his group were very different. Their second album, 1971’s II, was Focus’ breakthrough, delivering an international hit in the fierce ‘Hocus Pocus’. Their third album delivered the elegant descending melody of ‘Sylvia’, winning further fans worldwide, with Akkerman drawing admiration. The guitarist left in 1976 but returned several times; Focus are still on the road.

Akkerman wasn’t alone: the 70s adored a guitar hero. Robin Trower, formerly of Procol Harum, was seen by some listeners as the heir to Jimi Hendrix. Trower formed his own power trio in 1973, teasing weeping and wailing from his Stratocaster over a series of fine records, and riding high in the album chart with Bridge Of Sighs in ’74 and For Earth Below in ’75 – chiefly in the US, rather than his native UK. Another notable guitar band were Wishbone Ash, though they went one further, with the double lead axes and vocals of Andy Powell and Ted Turner mesmerising fans. Pilgrimage (1971) and Argus (1972) were 70s rock classics, mixing melody, blues and a mythological element. Their ‘Blowin’ Free’ was banned from some guitar shops which grew sick of budding strummers playing its intro. Among them was Steve Harris, heartbeat of Iron Maiden, for whom the Ash was a major influence.

The second-division 70s rock bands were not remotely generic. Behind the sleeve artwork of famed designer Roger Dean, Osibisa played Afro-rock that mixed Ghanaian highlife, searing rock and Caribbean grooves; ignore their biggest hit, ‘Sunshine Day’, and check out their eponymous debut LP and its ’74 follow-up, Woyaya: both made loon pants rave. The Strawbs blended folk (Sandy Denny was an early member, as was Rick Wakeman) with rock, glam and social comment, hitting with ‘Part Of The Union’ and ‘Lay Down’ in 1972. The band were too diverse for its own good, though Just A Collection Of Antiques And Curios (1970) and Grave New World (’72) were widely played and respected. And spare a thought for the Illinois singer-songwriter Emitt Rhodes, a multi-tracking one-man-band given the tag of “the new Paul McCartney”. Gulp. His second, self-titled, album is so full of beautiful, melodic tunes, tending to the baroque, that it’s baffling that it only made No.29 in the US in 1970. Talent? You bet.

The harmonious progressive rock of California quartet Ambrosia illuminated the second half of the 70s. Their imaginative eponymous debut (1975) adapted a Kurt Vonnegut poem for the single ‘Nice, Nice, Very Nice’, while ‘Holdin’ On To Yesterday’, an orchestrated beauty with the sort of beat now regarded as a downtempo groove, was a big US hit. The following year, Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled sent FM DJs quietly wild; further fame came when the group cut ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ for the Beatles/war documentary oddity All This And World War II. Scoring warm soul-styled hits in the 80s, these alluring soft rockers are still touring.

The wonderful Atlanta Rhythm Section faced one drawback: their acronym was ARS. But they made it. No prizes for guessing where they’re from. They delivered five albums between 1972-76, with little fuss and low sales figures: that changed in 1977 when ‘So Into You’, a cool, steady-chugging chunk of soulful Southern rock, went Top 10 in the US, bringing their A Rock And Roll Alternative with it. The next year they scored again with ‘Imaginary Lover’ and the strolling ‘I’m Not Going To Let It Bother Me Tonight’, both from the platinum-selling Champagne Jam. Further hits came courtesy of ‘Do It Or Die’ and a revival of ‘Spooky’ – two members of the band had been in Classics IV, who’d first hit with the in ’67. ARS were a class act.

Want something that blends with them? Try ‘Jackie Blue’ (1974), the biggest hit by Missouri’s Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Mixing AOR with country-influenced sounds (check out the boogie of ‘If You Want To Get To Heaven’) and a sense of the absurd (their third LP was called The Car Over The Lake Album, and the sleeve showed just that), they were a reliably fine time on vinyl between 1973-80.

Staying in the south, Wet Willie were named after a schoolyard prank but were no joke. From Alabama, they boasted five or six core members, plus backing singers The Williettes, who included British solo star Elkie Brooks for a while. Their biggest hit was the laconic, steady-rollin’ ‘Keep On Smilin’’ in 1974, title track to their fourth album. For the full blast of their grittily funky rock, however, try the previous year’s superb live set, Drippin’ Wet. And let’s also recall Manassas, who cut two fine albums in 1972-73. And they would be fine, since they were the vision of a bona fide superstar, Steven Stills, and featured Chris Hillman of The Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers amid an array of truly great players. The group’s self-titled debut offered four sides of glorious rootsy country-rock – and whatever else took their fancy. Everyone involved thought the band was amazing, so why weren’t they bigger? Perhaps because fans wanted Crosby, Stills & Nash, instead.

At the opposite end of the fame spectrum, British 70s rock band Brinsley Schwarz, named after their guitarist, were famously over-hyped when flown to NYC to open at the Fillmore East in front of a gaggle of music hacks, but settled into a low-key country-rock and roots vibe that was a cornerstone of London pub-rock. Building a loyal, if small, following, they toured constantly, supported the likes of Wings and Dave Edmunds, but disbanded unheralded in 1975, leaving us half a dozen albums such as the country-inclined Nervous On The Road. Most members went on to success, notably bassist and songwriter Nick Lowe, who produced The Damned and Elvis Costello, was part of Dave Edmunds’ Rockpile, and wrote Dr Feelgood’s biggest hit, ‘Milk And Alcohol’. Another downbeat hero, Scottish guitarist Miller Anderson, breathed blues-fuelled fire into records by Keef Hartley Band, Savoy Brown, Ian Hunter, Jon Lord and many more. His sole solo set of the 70s, Bright City, on Decca’s progressive Deram imprint, was ambitious, thoughtful and had a theme concerning 70s urban life, with brilliant orchestral arrangements. It sold… not at all. A dirty rotten shame, as Anderson’s under-exposed vocal talent deserved exposure.

Prog stars Camel, led by guitarist/flautist Andy Latimer and featuring keyboardist Peter Bardens, cut Camel for MCA in ’72, featuring the climactic gem ‘Never Let Go’. Swapping to Deram, Mirage found a following in the US, and 1975’s instrumental suite, The Snow Goose, became a surprise runaway success, despite a dispute with Paul Gallico, the author of the kids’ book of the same name, involving an unseemly mix-up about whether the band were related to the cigarette brand (they weren’t). The following year’s Moonmadness was another hit amid various line-up changes, and the group kept charting until 1984.

Another act who had to earn it, baby, were prog stalwarts Barclay James Harvest, a quartet who got through five albums without pestering the Top 40, finally scoring with Live, a double set that reflected a fanbase built on hard graft. LPs such as Everyone Is Everyone Else, Octoberon and Time Honoured Ghosts are classics of their type, with great songs such as ‘Mocking Bird’ and the wry ‘Poor Man’s Moody Blues’ undeservedly little heard today. Then there’s Gentle Giant, who grew (and grew) from the psychedelic-era act Simon Dupree & The Big Sound (and late-60s curiosity The Moles) into one of the most reliable progressive bands of the 70s. While they barely hit in their native UK, a decade of albums on Vertigo label and Chrysalis won a strong following in the US, with Free Hand going Top 50, and the likes of Octopus and The Power And The Glory proving fascinating those with ears to hear.

Finally, two more British 70s rock bands who, sadly, barely registered: Spring, a highly melodious five-piece whose charming self-titled 1971 album is mostly recognised for copious use of the Mellotron (without sounding remotely like The Moody Blues). What ought to be more noted, however, are the heartfelt and distinctive vocals of Pat Moran, who went on to produce Iggy Pop, among many others. And should you think T2 is just a movie, you haven’t heard It’ll All Work Out In Boomland, a legendary progressive album that should have made stars of the trio that recorded it. If you want to know where Neil Young and Bowie meet, hear T2’s singer-drummer Peter Dunton, and you’ll also enjoy the tough guitar stylings of Keith Cross. Despite BBC sessions and an 80s reunion, fame proved elusive for the group. 70s rock fans didn’t know how lucky they were.

Featuring stand-out moments from overlooked heroes Camel and Gentle Giant, along with a host of other prog acts who deserve far wider recognition, follow the Prog Rocks playlist here.

62 Comments

62 Comments

  1. Tracy Emert

    May 5, 2017 at 7:03 pm

    Don’t forget: Pablo Cruise, Moon Martin, Tarney Spencer Band, Sniff n Tears, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and so many more. Linda Ronstadt had a great run but her music is now all but forgotten.

    • Jon Vought

      August 31, 2017 at 8:18 am

      I don’t think Linda Ronstadt is or will ever be forgotten.

    • Tully

      November 17, 2017 at 7:27 am

      Thank you for bringing to my attention. Uriah Heep is my favourite band, incidentally, but luckily they are too prolific to call forgotten. Underrated perhaps. My other favourite band is the Abyssinians. They are a reggae band, but they transcend genres, really.

    • Joe L

      February 7, 2018 at 10:05 pm

      Wishbone ash, Hydra, captain Beyond, poco, also exemplified less publicized bands of the time

      • Rex Felton

        March 7, 2018 at 3:28 pm

        Since the mention of Hydra which was a Capricorn act l want to mention a South Texas act who was the 3rd band signed by Phil Walden and Associates, Donnie McCormick and his mind blowing crew named Eric Quincy Tate. They released their first l.p. on Atlantic Records subsidiary Cotillion produced by Jerry Wexkler and Tom Dowd in 1969 and released in 1970 with the addition of the Memphis Horns. Their 2nd l.p. was produced by Paul Hornsby and released in 1972 on Capricorn resulting in a regional hit called Brown Sugar. The then released their 3rd l.p. on G R C called E Q T resulting in a double regional hit one rock No Rollin’ Boogie one country

  2. Bgbert

    May 7, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    Loved Osibisa’s debut album. Saw Barclays James Harvest in concert three times. Very under-appreciated. Still play their live album endlessly.

  3. John

    May 7, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    What about SRC, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Third Power, 13th Floor Elevator, Mountain, Sky, Rationals, The Frost, Grand Funk, Todd Rundgren, Little Feat

    • mariusz gilmeister

      January 24, 2018 at 6:50 am

      did you listen SBB ? – ,, Follow My Dream ,, album … ?

  4. mark

    May 8, 2017 at 1:28 am

    what about whitewitch

    • Mick

      October 10, 2017 at 8:35 pm

      Saw White Witch in concert in the summer of 1972, I think. Very good.

      • Terry Bishop

        October 11, 2017 at 2:19 pm

        Love White Witch as well as Captain Beyond! Great bands, under promoted!

  5. Doc

    May 9, 2017 at 7:23 pm

    Oh, no mention about Family ?

  6. Franco

    May 9, 2017 at 7:46 pm

    I was just thinking about this very subject last week – more specifically forgotten UK bands – and one name that sprang to mind was Hookfoot.

  7. Secord

    May 10, 2017 at 1:54 am

    Utopia

  8. Peter

    May 10, 2017 at 6:07 am

    Jerusalem (British)

  9. martin

    May 10, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    FUSE from Rockford, Pete Brown and Piblokto: poetical Cream, Toe Fat where Cliff Bennet sang but Ken Hensley (ex Gods, future Uriah Heep) played the guitar. Blodwyn Pig with Abrahams, Foghat and their Rock&Roll (or Stone&Bun?) album. West London band Stray, and……..

  10. Don Whyte

    May 11, 2017 at 10:39 am

    I never understood why Clinax Blues Band never really hit the big time. In Colin Cooper they had a fine vocalist. On guitar Peter Haycock was sublime. His slide playing so full of emotion.. I’m glad my formative years musically speaking were late sixties through the seventies.

  11. G Drury

    May 11, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    Steamhammer, Trees and of course Wally..

  12. David Egea

    May 12, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    Hey people and what about Damnation of Adam Blessing? A 70’s super group from Cleveland.

  13. paul gardner

    May 12, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    Spooky Tooth , Pluto , Elmer Gantry , Bronco , Caravan ,
    Pretty Things , Cochise Hard Meat…………an endless list really and all quality.

  14. Tom Pedersen

    May 12, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    Keef Hartley Band (UK), Frumpy (Germany), Burnin’ Red Ivanhoe (DK).

  15. Steve Perry

    May 16, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    Great article, brought back loads of memories,I loved Focus and still do,has anybody heard of Culpepper’s Orchard and the album Second Sight , obscure Dutch prog ,well worth seeking out.

  16. Søren Skaarup

    May 16, 2017 at 11:45 pm

    Steve Perry..Culpeppers Orchestra was a danish band not dutch!

  17. Søren Skaarup

    May 16, 2017 at 11:47 pm

    Correction: Culpeppers Orchard.

  18. Dung Beetle

    May 17, 2017 at 9:14 am

    Mott The Hoople – the Island albums – never properly re-issued on CD in the UK – shame on you Island Records.
    If you think Mott begin and end with All The Young Dudes, do yourself a favour and find those early albums (Mott The Hoople, Mad Shadows, Wildlife and Brain Capers) – they’re still brilliant.

    • dave Ramshaw

      February 7, 2018 at 10:55 pm

      The BEST live band ever in the Island years.

  19. Neil

    May 17, 2017 at 10:11 am

    Curved Air

  20. Big D

    May 18, 2017 at 10:48 am

    What about Beggars Opera and Andwella

  21. Big D

    May 18, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Also there was Charlie with their Fantasy Girls album, Horslips with the Tain, and Van Der Graff Generator

  22. David K

    May 18, 2017 at 10:41 pm

    Forgotten? Forgotten by who? Not those of us that were there at the time, not those of us that bought their albums and enjoyed the music they produced, not those of us that are still alive to the exciting sounds they dared to produce. For me they are not forgotten, they just have not yet been discovewred by the modern listeners who do not know what they have missed. I applaud articles like this and I hope the younger listeners will explore new grounds because of it. I introduced my sons to the 70’s rock scene at an early age to their complete enjoyment.

  23. Brian Elliott

    June 12, 2017 at 12:02 am

    There was Eloy, Omega, Bloodrock, If, Tasavalan Presidenti, Jane, Finch, Fairfield Parlour, Glass Harp, Dando Shaft, Fruup, Greenslade, Groundhogs, Man, Spermall, Aardvark, Starry Eyed and Laughing, Clouds, String Driven Thing, T2, Taste, Trace, Web, Triumvirat, Affinity, Demian a/k/a Bubble Puppy, Fort Mudge Memorial Dump, Hammer, Whalefeathers, Jasper Wrath, Bead Game, Frijid Pink, Cat Mother, Beggar’s Opera, Julian’s Treatment, Xhol, Can, Amon Duul II, Atoll, Trettioariga Kriget, De De Lind, Amazing Blondel, Aphrodite’s Child, Epsilon, A Euphonious Wail, Josephus, May Blitz, Ambergris, Brainbox, Stud, Fortheringay, Gracious, Mother Tuckers Yellow Duck. I’m going to stop here. I could go on and on. These are just some of the 70s bands that I have albums by.

    • Dan Siebe

      February 8, 2018 at 4:10 pm

      awesome list

    • Clifton Isaacs

      February 8, 2018 at 8:25 pm

      And who could forget Anus and Andy, Assgasm, Balls to Picasso, Bedtime for Benzos, Berlin Airlift, Big Dick Daddy and the Bone Dancers, Bloated Bong Monkeys, Bonghit Aneurysm, Canticles of Nantochronty, Chad and the Choadwaffles, Chocolate Clark Henry and the Dorks, Chronoid, Cock Block Redemption, Custard Cannons, Cornfed Connie and The Hamsters, Cornhole Conniption, Deep Blue Dysplasia, and Delirium Tremens?

  24. Eric

    August 30, 2017 at 11:40 am

    Cool rock band not mentioned”QUICKSILVER MESSAGING SERVICE”

  25. Marie Green

    August 30, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    Curved Air, Zephyr, Matthews Southern Comfort

    • Smitty

      March 7, 2018 at 12:49 pm

      Secret Oyster!

  26. Mark White

    August 30, 2017 at 9:07 pm

    Jade Warrior?

  27. Pylon Elder

    August 31, 2017 at 2:05 am

    Trapeze, –Bogart, Appice and Lange, McGuinness Flint, The Family Aposolitic, 10cc, Shiva’s Head Band, etc….

  28. Pylon Elder

    August 31, 2017 at 2:07 am

    Bubble Puppy and Fever Tree….

  29. Ken

    September 1, 2017 at 7:59 pm

    How does playing music make one a “hero”? They’re just musicians, FFS.

  30. DennisO

    September 2, 2017 at 2:07 pm

    Ducks Deluxe, Man, Deke Leonard, Southern Hillman and Furay Band, Lindisfarne,….

  31. Jim

    October 10, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    Many consider Shawn Phillips one the best kept secrets of the 70’s. He’s still playing at around 70 years old.

  32. Igor Bieliński

    October 10, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    Edgar Broughton Band

  33. Randi

    October 11, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    Budgie, Groundhogs, Pink Fairies to name but a few, Chicken Shacks ( Christine Perfect ) version of “Id rather go blind” is breathtaking

  34. Caio

    January 18, 2018 at 6:54 pm

    The most of the 70’s artists are remembered by jourbalists, not comom people or musicians, so, as the media loves pop and minialism all of the artists who own a more worked instrumental are ignored. There is a huge gap in journalistic criticism and an overvaluation in punk and weird/gay rock such as bowie.

    • Jan Akkerman

      February 8, 2018 at 7:10 pm

      What a strange comment

  35. Ken Nelson

    January 20, 2018 at 9:11 pm

    How about Sun Treader and Mellow Candle? Both obscure and both had great albums! 🙂

  36. Paul Kleingeld

    January 24, 2018 at 2:16 pm

    Missing Badfinger. Powerpopband no
    1 with great albums like Straight Up and Wish You Where Here.

  37. Mike

    February 6, 2018 at 12:48 am

    Can’t forget budgie from england and ibis from italy two great bands

  38. Golgoblo

    February 6, 2018 at 8:22 pm

    EGG.

  39. Marc

    February 7, 2018 at 11:41 am

    Underrated? 70s, 80s and 90s.
    Rory Gallagher.

    • Dan Siebe

      February 8, 2018 at 4:09 pm

      best

  40. Marty Goldman

    February 7, 2018 at 7:51 pm

    POCO, NGDB, Quicksilver, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band, Michael Nesmith and First National Bank

  41. John Smith

    February 7, 2018 at 10:02 pm

    Audience, Gnidrolog, Clarke Hutchinson, Velvett Fogg, Fusion Orchestra, Jan Dukes de Grey to be going on with. Nearly forgot Kevin Ayers.

  42. Rolf Pettersen

    February 8, 2018 at 9:54 am

    Did I hear Incredible String Band?

  43. Luong Shou

    February 8, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    Bloodrock, Man, Hot Tuna, Amon Duul II, Stories

  44. Gman

    February 8, 2018 at 7:29 pm

    James Gang,Cochise,Foghat, Stillwater,Marshall Tucker Band,Max Webster,Mountain,Ten Years After,Dream Police,Poco,Buffalo Springfield

  45. Clifton Isaacs

    February 8, 2018 at 8:33 pm

    Honorable mention: Dixon Cocks, Dookie Twinkle, Dr. Bob’s Nightmare, Drippy Dick and the Knob Nibblers, Eichmann’s Undies,
    Floating Turd Henry and the Onions, Four Hideous Horsemen, Freddy’s Frenulum, Gag the Giraffe, Solitan Shithammer, Hateful Christian Bastards, Hawking Loogies, Incubaitors, Aunt Annie’s Jackboot, and The Jerkin MahGherkins.

  46. Doug

    March 3, 2018 at 1:29 pm

    I’d like to mention some great, long forgotten European and UK artists from the 70s period -Il Baricentro, Dedalus, Solution, Quatermass, Libra, Hard Stuff, Headstone, and most of all, Germany’s Triumvirat.

  47. Bill Curran

    May 6, 2018 at 6:49 pm

    Crack The Sky, Rory Gallagher, Audience and Family.

  48. Alan Williams

    May 11, 2018 at 9:03 pm

    I have forgotten none of these bands but would like to add It’s A Beautiful Day.

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