Blame It On The '80s: The Rise and Fall of 'The Supergroup!


The '80s was a weird decade.

For starters, the faces that had been staring back at me from the cheapo bins at Musicland for much of the '70s were now staring at the entire country from the top of the charts as prog-rock supergroup Asia's "Heat of The Moment" dominated the airwaves. With members boasting tenures in bands like Yes, King Crimson, UK, and others, the term "supergroup" seemed apropos, but, as with most other things in the '80's, things soon got way out of hand.

For starters, John Wetton quit on the eve of the band's worldwide MTV live broadcast from Japan, forcing Greg Lake to step in at the last second to save the day. Then Steve Howe would quit and be replaced by the guitarist from Krokus.

Here's our run-down of some of the other good, bad, and just plain mediocre supergroups of the 1980's:



King Crimson (1981-1984)

Initially formed by Robert Fripp as a new musical entity dubbed Discipline, the four-piece band also featured Bill Bruford, Tony Levin and Adrian Belew quickly adopts the KC moniker. Their three albums, Discipline, Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair, were an angular mix of prog-prowess, new wave. and brief flourishes of Beatlesque pop.




Power Station (1985)


With Duran Duran fracturing under the weight of their mammoth global popularity, Andy and John indulge their T. Rex fetish with singer Robert Palmer - as odd a choice then as it is now. The album's brash production and splashy videos for "Some Like it Hot" and "Get it On (Bang A Gong)" are instrumental in bringing rock back to the forefront, albeit under this new dance-oriented guise.

Despite the continuing popularity of Duran Duran, the success of the album seemed to catch everyone off-guard, putting Palmer in the unenviable position of having to turn down the opportunity to "cash in" on a tour with the band. This, of course, puts the Taylors in the even more unenviable position of playing Live Aid with a man who has doomed every band he has ever joined, Michael Des Barres.



GTR (1985-1987)


The logical conclusion to the decade-long feeding frenzy spawned by Asia's admittedly fluke success would be this short-lived supergroup featuring Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett and Yes/Asia guitarist Steve Howe.

Sadly, the most memorable thing about this album was the review it received by Musician magazine writer J.D. Considine whose impression of the album consisted of only three letters: "SHT".




Chequered Past (1982-1984)


For this writer, there was no greater supergroup than Chequered Past - on paper, at least. In execution, this fiery combination of members from Blondie, the Sex Pistols, and Iggy Pop's band proved that whoever had come up with the ideas that made us love those bands was not in this band. As for Detective/Silverhead/future Power Station singer Michael Des Barres, his string of jinxing any band he joins continues unabated.

To say that the band's sole album isn't the most concise gathering of worn-out rock cliches, one need only take a quick glance at the titles: "Only The Strong Survive", "How Much Is Too Much?", "World Gone Wild"



Chiefs of Relief (1984-1988)

Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook teams with Bow Wow Wow's Matthew Ashman to create the futuristic electro-dance blueprint that Big Audio Dynamite would ride to the top of the charts in the UK. Released by Sire in the U.S., the album was dead-on-arrival, promotion-wise, but remains stunningly listenable and ahead of its time, albeit a tad cheesy at times.

How "Freedom To Rock" missed being a hit is anyone's guess considering the likes of EMF and Jesus Jones went on to have decent runs by doing little more than ape the band's sound.



Phantom, Rocker & Slick (1983-1986)


What happens when you combine 2/3 of the Stray Cats with Bowie session guitarist Earl Slick? Answer: Who cares? Even the appearance of Keith Richards on the band's first single couldn't raise the interest level above "forgettable", so whatever led this misguided trio to make a second, even more forgettable album, remains a mystery. Mind you, not a mystery anyone is in any hurry to solve.



Bad English (1987-1991)

Four years past his last hit, 1985's "Missing You", and perhaps suspecting that he'd pigeonholed himself as a balladeer, John Waite sought to remedy this by joining a rock band. After initial attempts to groom him to replace Steve Perry fizzled, Journey members Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain instead hopped ship to form a completely new band with Waite.

The addition of Ricky Phillips may not have raised interest in the band, but it certainly helped answer the question "Whatever happened to Ricky Phillips since the Babys broke up?"

Those hoping for a a heady mix of the best aspects of both Journey and the Babys got the schmaltzy Diane Warren power ballad "When I See You Smile" instead. If the band's goal had been to be perceived as even more "corporate rock" than Journey, Bad English succeeded in spades.



Traveling Wilburys (1987-1990)

Despite taking on playful nicknames like Lefty and Lucky, this was a supergroup loaded with some of rock's heaviest hitters: George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty.

Sadly, the material never rises above the playful in-jokes that fueled the sessions in the first place, but seeing Dylan let his hair down on "Handle With Care" was worth the trip. Sadly, the band would be trimmed to foursome with the passing of Orbison and things were never quite as fun or care-free. Especially once the Lynne-produced Full Moon Fever changed the narrative.




The Firm (1984-1986)

While few were aware that he and ex-Led Zep partner Robert Plant had worked together on the Honeydrippers EP that gave us the Top 10 hit "Sea of Love" in '82, Jimmy Page teamed with Bad Company singer Paul Rodgers to create The Firm, who scored a Top 40 hit with "Radioactive" in 1986 before "second-album-itis" brought them down like so many other supergroups.



Lords of the New Church (1982-1989)

With the once vital punk movement having splintered into a thousand shards, it was only a matter of time before UK and US punk contingents converged, as they did when Stiv Bators (the Dead Boys) teamed with Brian James (The Damned) formed Lords and cut three ambitiously potent records for IRS Records.

Of the three, their debut remains the most focused, with Bators in top form, both lyrically and vocally. Anyone who had previously written James off as a one-trick punk pony were no doubt forced to reevaluate as his guitar work throughout is both atmospheric and lacerating.



Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe (1988-1990)

Wait, is this a rock band or a law firm? Sadly, after listening to their sole album, which seems to exist for no other reason than to give Roger Dean reason to paint another album cover, we still can't decide! Steve Howe makes an appearance in what would be his third and final supergroup of the decade before returning to Yes.

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