Rise of the Supers

We Pick Our Favorite Multi-Star Musical Coalitions

There’s been a supergroup resurgence in the past 10 years. Jack White (Dead Weather, Raconteurs) and Dave Grohl (Probot, Them Crooked Vultures) have resurrected the none-more-70s idea of getting a ton of famous rock musicians together and hoping for the best. Dntel and Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie) and Danger Mouse and James Mercer (The Shins) have collaborated as The Postal Service and Broken Bells, respectively, to chart the middle ground between their electronic and indie sounds. In celebration of the awesome Atoms for Peace—a team featuring Thom Yorke from Radiohead and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, who we feature on NOWNESS today—here are five of our favorite acts with members from multiple bands.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

As four of the biggest folk-rock artists of the late 60s Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young took the supergroup blueprint from Cream and expanded it into something enormously lucrative. They played the original Woodstock, released one of the finest protest songs ever, 1970’s “Ohio”, weeks after the Kent State Shootings, and packed stadiums during a huge 1974 world tour. Along the way their drug use was so prolific that Stephen Stills began dressing in military outfits on the road and insisting he was a Secret Service agent. Nice cover, Steve.

The Traveling Wilburys

Supergroup 101, lesson one: Get the biggest stars you can. Let’s gloss over Jeff Lynne from ELO and focus on Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and George Harrison. A frickin' Beatle! That’s basically a megagroup. A megagroup with five people that all wanted to play the guitar. Amazingly the Wilburys never imploded in a disastrous storm of egos, but that might be partly due to Roy Orbison’s death before the release of their second album. Their excellent “Handle With Care” was expertly covered by Jenny Lewis, Bright Eyes, M Ward and Ben Gibbard in 2005.

Electronic

Three musicians at just about the top of their game: Neil Tennant (Pet Shop Boys), Bernard Sumner (New Order) and Johnny Marr (Smiths) combine. Results are strong. Their self-titled debut album from 1991 stands as a tasteful blend of Sumner’s dance nous, Marr’s florid melodies and Tennant’s pop sensibilities.

Broken Social Scene

“Supergroup” is a kind term to apply to a bunch of Canadian post-rock misfits, but BSS has been kind to its 25-plus members, often catapulting their original bands to success. Stars like Feist, Metric’s Emily Haines and, um, the band Stars have passed through their ranks and helped to craft gloriously grand, widescreen indie rock. This year’s Forgiveness Rock Record, made with a restrained core line-up of six members, suggested that they’re in it for the long term.

Zwan

Members of Smashing Pumpkins, Slint, Chavez and A Perfect Circle? Zwan had definite potential. But they also had Billy Corgan, and his notorious prickly temper. After releasing an overblown but occasionally magnificent debut album in 2003, the group managed to disintegrate spectacularly within eight months. Corgan, understated as ever, said: “I am not afraid of dirty, filthy people who have no self-respect or class... My version of the Zwan story is a good one, a sad one, and ultimately a tale of wasted moments and people who told me they were my friends but were really just there to take, take, take... Time will reveal them to be the poseurs they truly are... Their filth is in their larcenous hearts, if they have them at all.”

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