30 Before The Fame Moments in Classic Rock

As a classic rock historian, I really love to see the evolution of my favourite classic rockers and how they became the musicians that we know and love them as today. Because studios and professional recording equipment weren’t as accessible then as they are now, it was expensive and out of reach for many to record their own music professionally. Perhaps it’s not so bad now with all the technological advances and democratisation of it with lower prices. What we have now is better than professional equipment of the 60s. Crazy!

In this blog post, I want to show early work by popular classic rockers before they were famous and tell stories of these songs if I know them. Some of this is among their first ever recordings. Let’s get started! I put these in more or less chronological order so you can see the evolution of rock.

1. “My Bonnie” – The Beatles (1961)

While in Hamburg, The Beatles recorded with Tony Sheridan and were also known as The Beat Brothers. In 1962, the album My Bonnie was released. The title track was the first ever Beatles single and it was released in October 1961. Tony Sheridan was a musician from Norwich and was only one of two non-Beatles to receive label performance credit, the other musician was Billy Preston, who played on “Get Back”. Tony Sheridan had some fame in the late 50s and early 60s, since he performed on the rock and roll show Oh Boy! and nearly joined The Shadows.

2. “Johnny B Goode” – The Rolling Stones (1962)

The Rolling Stones didn’t release their first album until 1964. Here’s an early recording of Mick and Keith performing Johnny B Goode in 1962 for a demo session. It wasn’t released until way later, but really interesting to hear them before the fame

3. “Liza Jane” – Davie Jones and The King Bees (David Bowie) (1964)

Before David Bowie was famous, he used his birth last name of Jones, but he couldn’t go by that once Davy Jones of The Monkees got famous, so he had to come up with a new name and that was David Bowie, which came from American pioneer James Bowie and the Bowie knife.

His first ever recording was with a band called The King Bees, when he was 17. His voice on this album is very John Lennon like. It was a remake of the standard “L’il Liza Jane”. The single was a commercial flop. Artist George Underwood played guitar on this song.

4. Oliver! and Live It Up – Steve Marriott (1960 and 1963)

Before Steve Marriott was in The Small Faces, he was an actor. He always loved to perform and his dad saw in the newspaper that they were casting a new Artful Dodger and he applied for him to audition without him knowing. He got the part and sang lead vocals on “Consider Yourself”, “Be Back Soon”, and “I’d Do Anything”. His parents kept pushing him to do more acting and he was in this 1963 film called Live It Up, which also had Heinz Burt, David Hemmings, Gene Vincent, and Ritchie Blackmore in it. Below, you can find a clip of him playing drums in that movie. No shade to Heinz, but why didn’t Steve sing, I mean he had one of the best voices in rock? Acting wasn’t his passion though and while acting, he kept trying to make it as a rock star, but the big break came in 1966 with The Small Faces.

5.  – The Outlaws (Ritchie Blackmore) (1963)

In the early 60s, Ritchie Blackmore worked as a session musician. The first band he was in were an instrumental rock group called The Outlaws, who would play backup for a bunch of musicians. They were in Live It Up. Ritchie Blackmore can be seen dancing with a deadpan face, trying to be cool. You’d think he’d never do that sort of thing again, but he did a Shadows like dance on stage with Roger Glover and Ian Gillan.

6. Oliver! appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show – Davy Jones (1964)

9 February 1964 was an important day in music history, marking a new era. That was the day that America saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. That was what everyone was talking about. But one other 60s superstar was on the show, but his name wasn’t a household name yet, and that was Davy Jones, who got his start on Coronation Street. At the age of 18, he was in the musical Oliver! playing The Artful Dodger. Davy Jones said that while The Beatles performed and the audience went crazy, he knew that he wanted to be just like them. Two years later, he was well known to American audiences as one of The Monkees.

7. “Zoot Suit” b/w “I’m The Face” – The High Numbers (The Who) (1964)

Before The Who were The Who, they were known as The Detours and later, The High Numbers. Peter Meaden wanted to give The Who a new mod clean cut image since that was what was in. “I’m The Face” was based on Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It” and “Zoot Suit” was based on “Misery” by The Dynamics. Definitely listen to the originals because they’re great! Mods loved R&B music so that’s why The High Numbers recorded it.

The band name comes from Mod slang. Quick rundown of the Mod totem pole: Tickets, in reference to third class ticket train fares – the cheapest ones (which is referenced in “I’m The Face”) were your poser mods wearing “outdated”, “uncool” clothes and their hair isn’t perfect, a bit scruffy. The Numbers, were the normie mods, ones who don’t stand out in the crowd, but a High Number is someone who stands out. What mods strive to be is a Face. The Faces are the best mods, always wearing the best clobber and having the best taste in music and a good record collection and flexing on the other mods with their scooter decked out in mirrors.

Great songs, but they ultimately didn’t chart. Cool to see what The Who sounded like in the early days.

8. “Testify” – The Isley Brothers with Jimi Hendrix (1964)

The Isley Brothers were one of the first bands that Jimi Hendrix played with when he moved to New York City. “Testify” didn’t make it into the charts, but the reason it’s very significant is because it’s one of the first recordings of Jimi Hendrix and an excellent example of his talent before The Experience. The song refers to the practise of testifying in church to express belief in Christian faith and experiences. In the song, The Isley Brothers imitate the singing styles of Ray Charles, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Jackie Wilson, and The Beatles.

9. “The Ostrich” – The Primitives (Lou Reed) (1964)

Before The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed worked as a songwriter for Pickwick Records. He wrote this one song, “The Ostrich” as a parody of dance songs of the early 60s. On that song, he used ostrich guitar tuning, which is tuning all the guitar strings to the same note to create a drone effect. Incredible stuff and nothing like a typical 1964 song, but rather like Velvet Underground stuff. Real proto-punk. The world really wasn’t ready for Lou Reed, who was always ahead of the curve. The song didn’t go anywhere, but John Cale, who played on the song, liked Lou Reed and they continued to work together.

10. “You Came Along” – The Warriors (Jon Anderson) (1964)

Jon Anderson didn’t join Yes until he was 25 and before that he tried to become a soccer player, but failed because he was too short and he was in a couple bands. One song that stood out to me from his pre-Yes years was this one by The Warriors, a very Beatle/Merseybeat like song called “You Came Along”. Jon Anderson and his brother Tony sang on this song and Ian Wallace, who was in King Crimson in the early 70s, were also in the band. Every band wanted to sound like The Beatles because hey that worked and made them money so why not try to cash in on the trend?

As a little bonus, here’s Jon Anderson’s older brother with Los Bravos singing “Looking Around” by Yes. He really does sound a lot like Jon! Definitely a family resemblance:

11. “She Just Satisfies” – Jimmy Page (1965)

Before Jimmy Page achieved stardom in Led Zeppelin, he was in the Yardbirds and was a session guitarist. One moment I want to highlight here is a rare moment with Jimmy Page on vocals. When you have Robert Plant in your band, why sing? But I have to say Jimmy Page has a really good voice and I wish I could have heard more. This was the only single he released as a solo artist. He released solo albums in the 80s and 90s, but no singles.

This wouldn’t be the last time Jimmy Page ripped someone off, because this is basically The Kinks’ instrumental “Revenge” with lyrics on top. Still love you Jimmy Page! 🙂

12. “Soul Train” – Rick & The Ravens (Ray Manzarek) (1965)

The Ravens were the precursor to The Doors. Ray Manzarek’s brothers Rick and Jim formed the band in LA. In 1962, Ray moved from Chicago to LA and joined the band. Later, future Doors bandmates, Jim Morrison and John Densmore joined and they changed the name to The Doors. A few singles were released in 1965. You can find one of them below, “Soul Train”. These have been released on various Doors bootlegs.

13. “Mr Frantic” – Bluesology (Elton John) (1965)

Bluesology were Elton John’s first band. He named them after Django Reinhardt’s album Djangology. They released two singles, “Come Back Baby” and “Mr Frantic”, but neither were successful. They later became Long John Baldry’s band, but as his music changed, Elton John wanted to make his own music so he became a solo musician. However, he wasn’t successful at first, and it wasn’t until 1970 that he had his breakthrough with his sophomore self-titled album and hit single “Your Song”. Fun fact: Elton John’s stage name comes from two of his Bluesology bandmates’ names.

14. “Day After Day” – Joni Mitchell (1965)

On 1 October 2020, Joni Mitchell dropped a demo tape of her first original song “Day After Day”. She said this about her first song:

“It was my firstborn. I didn’t know whether it was a good song or a bad song. It was just the first one that came out.”

This wasn’t her first ever recording. The earliest one is from 1963, a cover of “House of the Rising Sun”.

15. “Somebody to Love” – The Great Society (Grace Slick) (1966)

Before Grace Slick joined Jefferson Airplane, she was in a band called The Great Society. With her she brought “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit”. “Somebody to Love” was written by Grace Slick’s brother in law, Darby Slick.

16. “What A Way To Die” – The Pleasure Seekers (Suzi Quatro) (1966)

In the 60s – before her 70s glam rock years, Suzi Quatro and her sisters formed a rock band called The Pleasure Seekers. They only released two singles and this was the b-side of “Never Thought You’d Leave Me”. Suzi was only 16 when this song was recorded.

17. “Desdemona” – John’s Children (Marc Bolan) (1967)

Before Tyrannosaurus Rex/T. Rex, Marc Bolan was in a group called John’s Children, a controversial group that never got commercial success, but they had a cult following because of Marc Bolan’s brief association with them. In 1967, they opened for The Who in Germany and were kicked off the tour for upstaging them. Imagine upstaging a live group as amazing as The Who! Here’s one more shocking thing about them, they recorded an album in 1967, but it wasn’t released until 1970 and the album was called Orgasm.

“Desdemona”, which was written by Marc Bolan, was banned by the BBC for the lyric “lift up your skirt and fly”, but it had some success in Continental Europe and musicians like Marsha Hunt and The Jam covered it.

18. “From The Underworld” – The Herd (Peter Frampton) (1967)

Before Peter Frampton joined Steve Marriott’s band Humble Pie and had a successful solo career, he was in a band called The Herd, who had a few hits in the UK like “I Don’t Want Our Loving To Die” and “From The Underworld”. Peter Frampton sings lead vocals on this one and the song was released when he was 17 and reached #6 in the UK and #3 in the Netherlands. Some say this song is about the death of the Mod subculture – by this point Dandies, Peacocks, and Hippies took over.

19. “Wheel of Changes” – The Wind in the Willows (Debbie Harry) (1968)

A decade before Debbie Harry got famous with Blondie, she was a backing vocalist in a folk rock band called The Wind in the Willows. They released one album which didn’t sell well, only reaching #195 on the albums charts. The band recorded another album, but it was never released because the tapes were lost and no one knows where they are. Debbie Harry sang on that album more than on the first one.

20. “Blister on the Moon” – Taste (Rory Gallagher) (1968)

Before Rory Gallagher became a blues rock superstar in the 70s, he was in a band called Taste, which he formed in Cork, before moving to Belfast and playing clubs there. Later, they moved to England. “Blister on the Moon” was the band’s first single and has a grungy proto-metal sound to it. The song’s lyrics could be interpreted to be about him being free to do his own thing rather than spending time in a showband, as a lot of Irish rock musicians did before taking a chance and going on their own. Releasing singles was something that Rory Gallagher didn’t like to do – he wanted people to buy the albums and really enjoy every track.

Taste went on to have some success: they played the Marquee Club in London, played at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, opened for Cream at the Royal Albert Hall, opened for Blind Faith, and were praised by legends like John Lennon and Eric Clapton. Legend has it that Jimi Hendrix called Rory Gallagher the best guitarist player in the world.

As a little bonus, here’s Rory Gallagher in 1964 at the age of 16 with the Fontana Showband singing a cover of Larry Williams’ “Slow Down”.

21. “Nether Street” – Bodast (Steve Howe) (1968)

It was hard to pick one pre-Yes Steve Howe moment since he was in a couple of bands before Yes like Bodast and Tomorrow, but I decided to pick a song to highlight here that you might recognise a bit of if you’re a Yes fan. The guitar part of “Nether Street” ended up becoming “Würm” in “Starship Trooper”. So glad that it survived and it’s cool to hear a version of it three years before “Starship Trooper” came out.

Bodast were formed in London in 1968 and broke up in 1969. They had bad luck and recorded an album for Tetragrammaton Records, but it was never released because the label went out of business.

Compare with “Starship Trooper”

22. “Open My Eyes” – The Nazz (Todd Rundgren) (1968)

Before Todd Rundgren went solo, he was in a band called The Nazz, whose name came from a Yardbirds song “The Nazz Are Blue”. Their best known single was the song “Open My Eyes” and the b-side of that was “Hello It’s Me”, which should sound familiar to any classic rock fan because he would re-record it in 1971 for the album Something/Anything?. It was his biggest hit.

“Open My Eyes” is a really good psychedelic/power-pop song, but it didn’t go anywhere on the charts, only reaching #112. Love the “I Can’t Explain”-esque intro.

Here’s the original “Hello It’s Me”. Reminds me a bit of The Beach Boys.

23.”Through Eyes and Glass” and “Standin’ Watchin’ You” – The Daybreaks (Ann & Nancy Wilson) (1969)

Ann and Nancy Wilson’s first recordings were in Seattle in 1969 with this group called The Daybreaks. It was hard to pick just one song so I picked two because these songs are so beautiful.

Here’s “Through Eyes and Glass”, a song Ann and Nancy wrote. You can hear Ann playing flute on this one. Eerie, hauntingly beautiful.

Here’s “Standing Watching You”, not written by the Wilson Sisters, but has a folk/country sound. Very different from Heart.

24. “Season of the Witch” – Sam Gopal (Lemmy) (1969)

Before Lemmy was in Hawkwind, and later Motorhead, he was in a psychedelic rock band called Sam Gopal, named after the Malaysia-born founding member and tabla player. Lemmy sings and plays guitar on the band’s only album, Escalator. Here’s a cover of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch”:

25. “Genesis” – Ambrose Slade (1969)

Slade released their debut album as Ambrose Slade and in the early years they had a skinhead look rather than the glam rock look they were known for. My favourite track on their first album is the instrumental “Genesis”, which later on became the backing track for “Know Who You Are”, which you can hear on Slade Alive. Before they were called Ambrose Slade, they were called The N Betweens and like a lot of British bands, they played gigs in Germany and they recorded a single called “You Better Run” in 1966. That didn’t go anywhere. It wasn’t until 1971, that Slade got their first hit, but from there, there was a streak of hits and they became one of the most successful British bands of the 70s.

26. “Doin’ Alright” and “Blag” – Smile (Queen) (1969)

Before Queen were Queen, they were called Smile. Brian May’s last band 1984 broke up and he wanted to keep playing music so he formed Smile with his school friend Tim Staffell and placed an advert looking for a Ginger Baker type drummer and that’s how he got Roger Taylor. Tim Staffell left the band in 1970 for Humpy Bong and Freddie Mercury, a friend of the group joined and the rest is history. Two Smile songs went on to become Queen songs. “Doin’ Alright” is on Queen I and the guitar solo in “Blag” became that really long guitar solo in “Brighton Rock” – pretty cool how that evolved over 5 years. Couldn’t just pick one song for Smile, so enjoy these! Tim Staffell really has a good voice and kind of sounds like a combination of Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor, if that makes sense.

27. “Locomotive Breath” – Rabbitt (Trevor Rabin) (1972)

Before Trevor Rabin immigrated to the UK and later to the US to join Yes, he was in a band in South Africa called Rabbitt from 1972 until 1977. The band’s sound ranged from hard rock to poppy Paul McCartney and Wings type stuff. They were the biggest band in South Africa at the time and couldn’t go out in public without being recognised. The problem was, being South African, there was a worldwide boycott of South African musicians because of apartheid and overseas tours fell through. The only option to move forward was to leave the country and Trevor Rabin was the first of the band to leave.

Below is the band’s first single, a cover of Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath”, which reached the top 20 in the Springbok charts and had a budget of $200.

28. Buckingham Nicks – Buckingham Nicks (1973)

A few years before Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were in Fleetwood Mac, they recorded an album called Buckingham Nicks. The album was a flop, but later on it was given another chance by Fleetwood Mac fans and is considered one of the best “flops” ever. It’s such a good album and I recommend you listen to the whole album. Shockingly, it still hasn’t been re-released even though everyone is asking for it to be on Spotify and pressed again on vinyl. Until Nicks and Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac, they were still working day jobs.

29. “Not Fade Away” – Rush (1973)

Rush’s first single was this hard rock take on the Buddy Holly song “Not Fade Away”. This single didn’t go anywhere. Rush’s breakthrough came in 1974 when a radio station in Cleveland started playing “Working Man”, which was a song that working class people in the Rust Belt could relate to.

30. “Round and Round and Round” – Mount Lofty Rangers (Bon Scott) (1974)

Before Bon Scott was in AC/DC, he was in a band called Mount Lofty Rangers. He left the group after a heated argument with a bandmate. Not long after leaving the band, he joined AC/DC, who were looking for a lead singer. The recordings with the Mount Lofty Rangers were released almost 20 years later.

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