Before They Were Metal: 15 Early Bands That Birthed Hard Rock Heroes

Is there anything more awesome than sitting back and cranking up a classic track from your favorite hard rock band? We’re gonna have to argue that there isn’t. But are you a fan of the early stuff? We’re talkin’ the realllllly early stuff! Take your minds back to the mystical land known as the ’60s…

It was a simpler time, when most bands dressed (and sounded) like The Beatles or the Stones, and played it fairly safe by dishing out songs aimed squarely at the pop charts. Within a few years they’d be the amped up guitar gods we know and love, but these first attempts at stardom provide a fascinating glimpse into their sonic development.

Whether it’s Ted NugentLemmy KilmisterBrian MayGene Simmons or Iggy Pop, they all earned their chops in “training bands” before graduating to the big leagues. Read on for 15 early groups that birthed hard rock heroes!

  1. “Journey To The Center Of Your Mind” by The Amboy Dukes (1968)

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    Keep An Ear Out For: Ted Nugent on lead guitar and vocals. OK, we started you off with an easy one. Come along if you dare…

  2. “Stay By Me” by The Rockin’ Vicars (1966)

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    Keep An Ear Out For: Future Motorhead legend Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister on guitar.

  3. “Step On Me” by Smile (1969)

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    Keep An Ear Out For: Future Queen members Brian May (guitar and vocals) and Roger Taylor (drums and vocals). Check out the equally-awesome ’67 demo version from their even earlier band, 1984!

  4. “Again And Again” by The Iguanas (1965)

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    Keep An Ear Out For: James Newell Osterberg Jr. on drums! He later earned the nickname Iggy Pop from his time in the band.

  5. “Bang Bang” by The Government (1971)

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    Keep An Ear Out For: David Coverdale tearing into the familiar Cher/Nancy Sinatra classic. But is it better than fellow Brit blues belter Terry Reid’s version? It’s a tough call…

  6. “Might Morris Ten” by Episode Six (1966)

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    Keep An Ear Out For: Ian Gillan (of Deep Purple) on vocals, and Roger Glover (of Deep Purple and Rainbow) on bass.

  7. “I Can Hear The Raindrops” by The Valentines (1968)

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    Keep An Ear Out For: Bon Scott splitting lead vocal duties with Vince Lovegrove. But he wouldn’t have to share when he joined AC/DC six years later.

  8. “Ever Lovin’ Man” by The Chain Reaction (1966)

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    Keep An Ear Out For: A pre-Aerosmith Steven (Tallarico) Tyler on drums and vocals. Impressive!

  9. “This Precious Time” by Terry Knight & The Pack (1967)

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    Keep An Ear Out For: Mark Farner on guitar and Don Brewer on drums, soon to form Grand Funk Railroad. Their 1967 B-side “Numbers” gives a better taste of their rockier direction in years to come.

  10. “Green” by Wreckage (1969)

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    Keep An Ear Out For: The unmistakable sound of Freddie (Bulsara) Mercury on vocals. Also known as Ibex, some live recordings of the group have surfaced, including a version of the Beatles B-side “Rain.”

  11. “Don’t Blow Your Mind” by The Spiders (1966)

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    Keep An Ear Out For: Newly minted high school graduate Vincent Furnier (AKA, Alice Cooper) on vocals.

  12. “99th Floor” by The Moving Sidewalks (1967)

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    Keep An Ear Out For: Future ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons. His time in the band made such an impression on the music world that Jimi Hendirx dubbed him the next great guitarist to watch during a 1969 appearance on The Tonight Show.

  13. “Thread Of Time” by The Scenery (1967)

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    Keep An Ear Out For: Ian Hunter, later of Mott The Hoople, on vocals.

  14. “Keep Me Waiting” by Wicked Lester (1972)

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    Keep An Ear Out For: KISS frontmen Gene (Klein) Simmons on bass and vocals, and Stanley Eisen (A.K.A. Paul Stanley) on guitar.

  15. “I Don’t Want Our Loving To Die” by The Herd (1968)

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    Keep An Ear Out For: Peter Frampton (of Humble Pie and solo work) on guitar and vocals.

VH1 Music Editor + Seltzer Enthusiast