In this article, I want to give the spotlight to bands that I feel have been underserved by mainstream audiences, fellow performers, or the music industry as a whole. It can be because they deserve more than they got or because there is not enough emphasis given to their revolutionary contributions within their respective genres.
However, that said, please realize this is not an objective list—after all, no two people will ever agree on what “underrated” means, let alone which bands fit said criteria.
Without further ado, I introduce you to what I believe are the 15 most underrated bands of all time:
Widespread Panic gathered in 1981, officially formed in 1986, and still performs today—a four-decades-long history that has granted them a loyal fanbase and an extensive discography, yet does not feel enough.
Known for being one of the most influential post-60s jam-bands, Widespread Panic songs feature an exhilarating combination of southern rock, progressive rock, blues, and funk, genres palpable across their dozens of albums.
But naturally, what sets Widespread Panic attack is their outstanding live performance fame—unique spectacles improvised during the day and never repeated twice.
They remain a cult classic and enjoy plenty of success, yet always remain outside the mainstream currents—some would say for the best.
Highlight Song: Pickin’ Up The Pieces.
Formed in 2010 by married couple Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, this quintessential Blues Rock band oozes Jazz and Americana, largely thanks to the multitalented profiles of their 11 members.
Although all of them have amassed a considerable number of accolades individually, the Tedeschi Trucks Band stood on its own when it won the Grammy award for Best Blues Album. However, the recognition by industry experts and devoted fans does not seem to translate into mainstream, casual popularity—one they undoubtedly deserve.
Highlight Song: Midnight in Harlem.
Col. Bruce Hampton & The Aquarium Rescue Unit
With a rotating number of members centered around the eponymous Bruce Hampton, Col. Bruce Hampton & The Aquarium Rescue Unit remained relatively—and unfairly—unsuccessful during their interrupted run from 1988 to 2007.
However, the band stands out as a gathering hub and formation center for many artists who would move on to join acts such as the previously discussed Widespread Panic and Tedeschi Trucks.
Quintessential bluegrass merges with Latin sounds to create an explosion of sounds that carry just enough jazz and funk to be quite odd, yet intriguingly so. A unique experience that remains enjoyable and terribly underappreciated.
Highlight Song: Fixin’ to Die.
Trying to put labels on Ween goes against their very existence. Weird, eclectic, innovative, and flat-out unique, Ween is the lifelong project of two childhood friends with different yet convergent music tastes.
You could call them an alternative rock band, but that would be a disservice—no two of their albums are the same. Jumping from psychedelia to funk, with a stop in soul, country, and even heavy metal, the only common factor it’s the humor and strange atmosphere they all have.
Despite being relatively unknown by mainstream audiences, Ween’s impact has been tremendous—the cult following they’ve gained has given them notoriety amongst those in the known.
Highlight Song: The Mollusk.
With an erratic run, lineup, and sound, Supertramp is a band that is hard to follow, categorize, or even define.
What started as a progressive rock style eventually shifted towards a distinctively pop influence that never drifted too far from its roots, thanks to the everlasting presence of the Wurlitzer electric piano.
Calling Supertramp a small group is a lie—after all, their sales exceed 60 million worldwide. However, listening to their albums leaves a bitter aftertaste; one that signals the band deserves to be heralded as one of the best of all times.
Highlight Song: Breakfast in America.
Amongst the long-running behemoths we’ve discussed so far, Be-Bop Deluxe stands out—a band with a minuscule yet impactful six-year run.
From 1972 to 1978, Be-Bop Deluxe released an impressive list of five studio albums, three live albums, and nine singles—all of them featuring a distinctive flavor of British progressive rock, blended with strokes of art and glam rock, a concoction that granted them critical success and delighted the niche audience.
But that didn’t exactly translate into mainstream or commercial success.
Highlight Song: Ships In The Night.
Standing out in a list nominated by progressive rock, alternative sounds, and bluegrass melodies, we have OM—a doom metal band created in 2003 by some members from Sleep.
Their music carries heavy spiritual themes portrayed in an avant-garde manner that never fails to experiment—blending metal and psychedelic rock with middle eastern folk is just one of their many sounds.
By its nature, metal is a genre that hardly enjoys mainstream success, let alone doom metal. However, OM in peculiar feels distinctively underrated, as their particular sound is incredibly distinctive and innovative.
Highlight Song: State of Non-Return.
The Mothers of Invention
A staple of underrated bands seems to be a devoted and loyal fanbase and a lack of high selling numbers. The Mothers of Invention is no exception.
What began as an R&B band called the Soul Giants became the Mothers of Invention after the inclusion of Frank Zappa as the lead guitarist. From then on, the band shifted towards an irreverent, experimental sound emphasizing witty non-conformist lyrics.
Underrated and underappreciated, one cannot help but lament that the band’s most significant role within pop culture was the direct inspiration for Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water.
Highlight Song: Hungry Freaks, Daddy.
A British-made journey that extends across five decades and a lineup involving over twenty musicians, the only constant being Robert Fripp’s instrument expertise. That is the shortest way to define King Crimson, but such a summary lacks substance—unlike their music.
Their progressive and art-rock began with a distinctive Mellotron rock style and eventually evolved into one of our times’ most influential acts, despite not winning any significant number of accolades.
Record-breaking artists such as Genesis, Yes, Kurt Cobain, The Mars Volta, Iron Maiden, and even Kanye West have cited King Crimson as a significant influence in their style.
Highlight Song: 21st Century Schizoid Man.
Another excellent band coming from the 60s British scene, Jethro Tull began their discography with a sound distinctively oozing blues rock and jazz fusion, only to eventually incorporate progressive sounds and a touch of folk-rock and classical music.
Much like King Crimson, Jethro Tull has had a five-decade-long run defined by the lack of consistent members sans lead vocalist Ian Anderson and, a few years later, Martin Barre in the string instruments. Their incorporation of the flute was revolutionary in the rock and roll scene of the era, and the band has influenced numerous acts, such as Blind Guardian or Blood Ceremony.
Highlight Song: Locomotive Breath.
The Traveling Wilburys
Discussing The Traveling Wilburys within a list of underrated bands feels a bit contradictory, as it is nothing short of a supergroup made by some of the world’s most influential artists. Its members were Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison.
The project lasted only from 1988 to 1991, yet the expectation upon it was huge—it felt as if the result could only be spectacular. And it was.
However, the Wilburys’ critical acclaim and initial fanfare do not seem to have translated into the mainstream relevance in pop culture such a gathering of geniuses deserves.
Highlight Song: Handle With Care.
Derek and the Dominos
Derek and the Dominoes is proof that a group can perform one of the best songs of all time yet remain vastly underrated.
In popular culture, Layla is considered an Eric Clapton song and not precisely a Derek and the Dominos one, despite all members performing in the studio version and Jim Gordon’s role in songwriting.
As a result, the rest of the band’s emblematic tracks in Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs get overshadowed and, subsequently, underrated.
Highlight Song: Bell Bottom Blues.
Thirty-one years of history and six study albums later, Cake has made a name for itself, built a devoted audience, and achieved some accolades and hits along the way.
Although firmly planted in the alt-rock category, Cake experiments with sound and influences all the time—it has pop, funk, and indie influences in most albums, but sometimes even incorporates more folk sounds, such as mariachi or Iranian folk.
Highlight Song: Carbon Monoxide.
Mostly recognized for their worldwide 1993 hit No Rain, Blind Melon continues to be considered one of the world’s best one-hit wonders of all time—which undermines their excellent discography.
Their alternative psychedelic rock with heavy grunge influences and traces of folk is an utter delight to listen to, and their repertoire is worth listening to beyond No Rain.
A tragedy cut their ascend to the top abruptly when vocalist Shannon Hoon overdosed and passed away, leaving the band without a lead and causing its eventual disbandment in 1996. However, the band has enjoyed two reformations with Travis Warren in the vocals.
Highlight Song: Change.
It is not like Genesis never received any recognition—after all, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is one of the world’s best-selling artists. However, one could argue it remains underrated in comparison to itself.
Let me explain: Genesis has two distinct eras, each defined by very different lead vocals and a distinctive overall sound. First is the Peter Gabriel era from 1967 to 1970, followed by the Phil Collins era, starting from 1975 with Gabriel’s departure until arguably the present. Most of the public recognition and accolades belong to the Collins era, meaning the first one remains largely underrated.
Phil Collins’ era carries a distinctive pop quality that makes it more friendly to a mainstream audience, while Peter Gabriel’s sought a progressive and experimental touch that was far from the era’s trends.
Highlight Song: Carpet Crawlers.