Our favorite songs by artists before they were stars.

The Beatles were the Quarrymen, Radiohead was On a Friday, and Simon & Garfunkel were Tom and Jerry. The names may be cheesy (maybe they never changed), but the music these legendary artists made in their youth influenced the revelatory sounds they’d go on to create.

This week, we’re taking a trip down memory lane and paying tribute to the musical acts that helped yesterday’s upstarts become today’s superstars.

 


Hear the playlist on Pandora.


 

268x0wSlam Bamboo “House on Fire”

Everybody’s got to make ends meet somehow. While Trent Reznor was recording Pretty Hate Machine, he played keys in new wave band Slam Bamboo alongside future Nine Inch Nails drummer Ron Musarra.

Julian Ring

 

R-6640893-1423667692-5624.jpegThe Bob Seger System “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man”

Better than all things Silver Bullet Band, and for a twofer, that’s pre-Eagles Glenn Frey on backing vocals and acoustic guitar.

Eric Shea

 

R-1208585-1415108754-1445.jpegBlue Oyster Cult “Career of Evil”

Though Blue Oyster Cult is in no way unknown, it’s less widely known that Patti Smith was briefly considered their lead singer. She wrote the lyrics for several early BOC songs before embarking on her own rock career.

Diego González

 

5592e9c8b20c3.imageLittle Richard “I Don’t Know What You’ve Got (But It’s Got Me)”

Rumor has it that young James Marshall Hendrix drew a little too much attention for Little Richard’s liking as a member of Richard’s backing band. He stuck around just long enough to record this tremolo guitar gem released by Vee-Jay in 1965.

Lee Robinson

 

819WWmO9I2L._SL1500_Miranda Lambert“Kerosene”

When I first moved to Nashville, this was the first album the label head at my internship threw on my desk. Sony was about to put it out, and this new girl, Miranda Lambert, had just moved from Texas for the label deal. I had it on repeat all summer, and this was one of my favorites (and a pretty clear picture of where I was in life).

Rachel Whitney

 

c3a08ce25001c417852c22a4eb656aef.960x960x1clipping. “Taking Off”

A starring role in Hamilton brought Daveed Diggs out of LA’s experimental scene and onto Broadway. Outside of his theatrical work, however, Diggs rhymes over anti-beats in noise-rap outfit clipping. The trio has produced two challenging albums, the latter of which received a Hugo Award nomination, of all things. “Taking Off” is a great example of the heady flows and cold, industrial production in which the group trades.

Julian Ring

 

61YYJ31J4ZLFrom First to Last “Note to Self”

From First to Last formed in Tampa, Florida in 1999. Long before he helped pioneer dubstep, Sonny “Skrillex” Moore was the singer for this is a post-hardcore band before departing in 2007. Though it’s unclear if there are more recordings to come, Skrillex reunited with the band in 2017 to record a new single, “Make War.”

Eric Shea

 

R-2293143-1484505375-8418.jpegLock Up “Punch Drunk”

Shortly before joining Rage Against the Machine and later Audioslave, guitarist Tom Morello experimented with the instrument’s toggle-switch in the band Lock Up (a sound he brought to subsequent bands). If this song sounds familiar to you, that could be because you have awesome taste in film and saw the 1991 comedy Ski School, in which “Punch Drunk” appeared.

Eric Shea

 

b83f9820353db4ddca3b1c3dece1d027.992x1000x1Green River “This Town”

When tracing the roots of grunge, most roads seem to stop at Green River. Formed in 1984, the band featured future members of Pearl Jam and Mudhoney, though it was the latter band’s Mark Arm (vocals) and Steve Turner (guitar) who would absorb the group’s hardcore influences. It’s no surprise, then, that Mudhoney sounds more akin to “This Town” than does Pearl Jam.

Eric Shea

 

61Cny7uZ07L._SL1050_Angelfish “Suffocate Me”

Itself a side project, Scottish alt-rock band Angelfish didn’t last long. The music video for “Suffocate Me” aired only once on MTV’s 120 Minutes, but Garbage co-founder Steve Marker happened to be watching when it did. He invited singer Shirely Manson to front his new band. She accepted, and after a single studio album, Angelfish was no more.

Julian Ring

 

c0942bb8126a4804b5dc43fbd83cc1e2Kara’s Flowers “Soap Disco”

While still in high school (and junior high), members of Maroon 5 first formed as Kara’s Flowers. Adorably, they named themselves after a classmate that the guys had a collective crush on. Musically, “Soap Disco” was inspired by Britpop and UK rock from the mid-1990s.

Eric Shea

 

Daddy's_HomeBig Daddy Kane “Show and Prove”

Besides being an absolute banger, this 1994 cut features a guest verse by a young, then-unknown Jay Z. Alongside Scoob Lover, Sauce Money and Wu Tang members Shyheim and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Hov spits über-rhythmic lines at breakneck speed, a talent of which critics took note.

Julian Ring

 

LaDeeDaDeePark Slope “La Dee Da Dee (We Like to Party) [feat. the Hood$tars]”

Years before “Super Bass,” Nicki Minaj was one-fourth of New York rap crew the Hood$tars. This guest apperance on this Park Slope track is the only streamable trace of group left in existence, but it’s a window into what might have been had Minaj not gone solo. Her verse is less over-the-top than you might expect, but it’s still unmistakably Nicki.

Julian Ring

 

WILD_ORCHID_WILD+ORCHID-448957Wild Orchid “At Night I Pray”

Unlike many projects on this list, Fergie’s pre-Black Eyed Peas outfit had a respectable 13-year run. Wild Orchid, an all-female R&B group, released four albums throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, though their popularity waned dramatically by the end of the milennium. Lovesick ballad “At Night I Pray” sparkles thanks to heartfelt vocal performances and some totally ’90s production.

Julian Ring

 

Sista-4-All-the-Sistas-Around-da-WorldSista “Feel Your Lips”

Missy Elliott got her freak on early as a member of R&B group Sista. This cut, from the group’s Timbaland-produced debut album, also features Mary J. Blige on vocals.

Julian Ring

 

maxresdefaultThe Format “The First Single”

Shortly before the members of Fun. were dotting a period at the end of their name, Nate Ruess sang for the Format. The band formed in 2002 and announced its hiatus in 2008. “The First Single” is a catchy, acoustic alt-pop song with salient vocal harmonies.

Eric Shea