Some people may look at a piece like this and think to themselves, "how exactly can popular people be underrated? Isn't the fact that they are famous across the planet a sign that they are possibly overrated?"
Before I turned to writing full time, I was a professional musician for nearly a decade. I played countless shows in three original bands across New York State, and taught private lessons for guitar, bass, and music theory to hundreds of students over nearly eight years. During that time I realized just how many brilliant musicians never got the credit they deserved. When they did get credit, it was for qualities that never reflected how amazing they were.
Sometimes the problem is in the way an artist is promoted. Other times it has to do with what song they get famous from. Sometimes a musician or singer that is overexposed gets overlooked in terms of what they can really bring to the table.
I should also state ahead of time that I'm not a musical snob, despite being a professional musician for so many years. In my music collection, people will find Everything Rush, Queen, The Donnas, Katy Perry, Pat Benatar, Keith Urban, Alice in Chains, Miranda Lambert, Fleetwood Mac, The Clash, and everything in between.
With that in mind, here are the top five underrated musicians..
1. Eddie Van Halen
All right, I know what you're thinking. How the hell can this guy be underrated? Everyone knows Eddie Van Halen, the man who revolutionized lead guitar playing and produced countless hit songs throughout the 70's and 80's. He's so popular, he's become a cliche!
Of course, that's the problem.
Younger music fans commonly think of Van Halen as being done. He hasn't contributed anything new in 30 years, right? That tapping thing is so old that Moses did it. Wrong.. While there are a few players out there who are more advanced, the truth is is that Eddie is one of the most gifted musicians on the planet.
Not only is he one of the most precise and complicated lead guitarists, but he is also one of the most technically proficient rhythm guitarists of all time. Never content to chug away on a Root 6 power chord, EVH has come up with rhythm lines that would make any riff meisters' head spin. Below is a clip of a song from the latest Van Halen album called "As is," which is truly brilliant both in terms of composition and performance.
Now, no one is saying that Tool is not famous worldwide. They have legions of dedicated fans who flock to their live shows and listen to their albums for hours on end. They appreciate the band for it's nonconformity and screw the system mentality. However, what some people may not be truly aware of is how utterly complex their music can be.
Nearly every one of the band's radio singles features time signature changes and chord progressions that would give any college theory professor a headache. Songs like "Schism," "46 and 2," and "The Pot" are not only eery and cryptic, but they are often much longer than traditional radio singles.
To be blunt, the fact that Tool has achieved any success is a miracle. Their lyrics are not simple and easy to understand. Their songs do not follow the traditional pop format. Most of the time, the vocals are mixed back with the instruments instead of being pushed out front in a pop mix. Most American audiences, no matter what kind of music they enjoy, like their songs to be quick, short and easy to comprehend. Tool breaks all the rules and enjoys massive success. Take a listen to "The Grudge," to see just how complex they can be.
3. Eric Clapton
Another cliché, another individual taken for granted. Eric Clapton is of course the MVP. The blueprint. Clapton has endured for over five decades, and finding success within each one of them. So how can he possibly be underrated?
People know Clapton for his version of "I Shot The Sheriff" and his acoustic rendition of "Layla" more than for almost anything else. So what are people missing? Well, somewhere along the way, a lot of people forgot that Clapton was as brilliant a lead guitarist as he is a singer and songwriter. While loving his quaint, softer songs, people have forgotten that Clapton is one of the few people on earth who can actually play lyrics, with his guitar.
People who don't even know how many strings are on a guitar love hearing Clapton play a solo, because he plays emotions and lyrics. While his playing is technical, it's never too fast. He's never too complex. He is the executive chef at a world famous restaurant, knowing exactly what ingredients to put into a guitar solo. Check out Clapton ripping it up in the 1980s down below. The good stuff happens about 3:00 mins in.
4. Lady Gaga
Talk about being popular! Lady Gaga is a fashion icon, a human rights advocate, and a chart topper who has had countless hit singles and sold millions of albums in only a few short years. Almost everyone alive can name a song of hers off the top of his or her head. The problem? More people know her for wearing a meat dress than for the fact that she is one of the most incredible songwriters to come along in the last fifty years.
Right now, I can feel the eyerolling from numerous indie music fans. "Naww mannnnn! Its the people underground who are the best songwriters. You're a corporatist mannnnn!" Please. Every now and then, someone truly incredible makes it big time. It can still happen. Relax homeslice.
Lady Gaga has earned the respect of countless classic rockers like Sir Elton John and Brian May from Queen. She didn't do it by being quirky. She did it by writing beautiful songs. Today, people like Lady Gaga give true musicians hope that the real rock song will not one day become lost art form. A skilled pianist and trained jazz singer, Gaga is no slouch. Need proof? Check out her song "Speechless," which should be one of the top rock songs of the past 25 years.
After that, check out her rendition of the Jazz standard "Orange Colored Sky." You can thank me later.
5. John Mayer
Okay, let me preface this by saying that I think John Mayer is a monumental sleaze. He's the king of all pop culture douchebags. From his famous womanizing to his gushing to the tabloids about how much his new haircuts mean to him, the guy is an utterly insufferable ass. I want him to suck.
Sadly, he doesn't. Even worse is the fact that this guy burns. The first time a student brought me a John Mayer song I wanted to chuck it out the window, hoping it would hit a Nirvana or Beatles fan on the way down. John Mayer has the command of the blues guitar as great as almost any of the old masters.
From chickin' pickin' and Mississippi Delta-style blues to shredding solos, the guy is a master. Take a look as Mayer kills it while shredding the blues. Then if you're a musician like me, try and fight the urge to hang yourself knowing that a guy like this is as famous as he is.
Rock on y'all!