No Music Snob Zone: These Are the 4 Most Underrated Classic Rock Bands of the ’70s

The bands that dominate classic rock stations, like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Van Halen…they all have impressive enough discographies. After all, that’s why we’re still listening to their songs and albums several decades after their release.

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One thing these bands are not is underrated. Many bands have found themselves standing in the ever-looming shadows of the tallest giants of classic rock. But these four bands have been anywhere from slightly to scandalously overlooked. You can go back to cranking some “Stairway to Heaven” or “Panama” soon enough. Let’s take a few moments to appreciate these unsung heroes of the ‘70s.

1. Chicago

It might seem strange to suggest a group with as many hits and platinum albums as Chicago has is underrated. But for many fans, they lost credibility as a rock band with their string of David Foster-penned pop ballads that ruled the ’80s airwaves.

That change in direction doesn’t alter the fact that Chicago released eight stellar albums in the ‘70s with original guitarist Terry Kath—and that’s not even including the debut Chicago Transit Authority album from 1969. While bands like Steely Dan and Talking Heads get credit for scoring major hits with unconventional songs, Chicago deserves similar props for songs like “25 or 6 to 4,” “Make Me Smile,” and “Dialogue (Parts I & II).” They were simultaneously unusual and accessible.

2. The Guess Who

Two of The Guess Who’s best and biggest hit singles, “These Eyes” and “Laughing/Undun,” were released in the late ‘60s, but they stayed on a roll with their first album of the ‘70s, American Woman. Side One alone includes some of the decade’s most enduring rock songs, opening with the title track and “No Time” (an earlier version of the song appears on the band’s previous album, Canned Wheat), and closing with “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature.” In between is the beautiful, all-acoustic “Talisman,” making the first half of American Woman an unforgettable sequence of impeccably written songs. The whole album still stands as one of the best works of classic rock from the early ‘70s.

[RELATED: Behind the Band Name: The Guess Who]

Lead guitarist and Burton Cummings’ songwriting partner, Randy Bachman, was certainly missed on subsequent albums, but his replacement, Kurt Winter, penned “Hand Me Down World” and “Bus Rider,” which were standout tracks on Share the Land from later in 1970. These first two Guess Who albums of the decade are highlights of their entire discography, but there’s also plenty to like across the band’s seven other studio albums from the decade.

3. Kansas

Back in the latter part of the ‘70s, this proggy six-piece band was inescapable if you were listening to album-oriented rock stations. That makes it all the more puzzling that Kansas is never spoken in the same breath as other late ‘70s behemoths like Boston and Foreigner. “Carry on Wayward Son” stands the test of time as one of the decade’s great compositions and performances, and while its album, Leftoverture, received mixed reviews, it deserves to be revisited. The whole record features the same intricate arrangements and powerful playing as its hit single.

As was the case for many progressive rock bands of the ‘70s, Kansas’ sound became more streamlined as the decade waned, though relatively straightforward tracks like “People of the South Wind” and “Got to Rock On” are just as worth revisiting. By the time Kansas released Vinyl Confessions in 1982, with John Elefante replacing Steve Walsh on lead vocals, they had a markedly different sound and a distinctly different lyrical direction, reflecting primary songwriter Kerry Livgren’s conversion to Christianity. As is often the case with bands that stick around for several decades, Kansas went on to see numerous personnel changes, but the “classic” lineup had a solid seven-album run, going back to their 1974 self-titled debut.

4. Nazareth

Though this Scottish band is mostly known in the U.S. for their cover of The Everly Brothers’ “Love Hurts” and “Hair of the Dog” (known by the aggressive refrain of, Now you’re messin’ with a… / A son of a bitch!), they have had a lasting influence on the sound of hard rock for nearly half a century. Dan McCafferty’s loud, screechy vocals have been an inspiration for numerous frontmen—most notably Axl Rose, whose Guns N’ Roses covered “Hair of the Dog.” Furthermore, listen to “Please Don’t Judas Me” or “Shanghai’d in Shanghai” and you’ll have to remind yourself you’re not listening to Rose, Slash and company.

As catchy and hard-rocking as “Hair of the Dog” is, “Telegraph,” from their 1976 album Close Enough for Rock ‘n’ Roll, is an even more captivating listen. At nearly eight minutes long, it was not destined to receive airplay. But it showcases Nazareth’s considerable arena rock bona fides. They continued a prolific streak beyond the ‘70s, releasing 25 studio albums in total. 23 of those were with the voice of the band, McCafferty, who left the band in the mid-2010s due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He passed away in 2022.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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