Concert opening acts tend to be a hit or miss. Sometimes, they’re awesome and succeed admirably in pumping up the crowd. Other times, they’re ear-screeching filler for the band you shelled out $200 to see. More often than not, opening acts — good or bad — never reach the fame of their headliners. (Remember Britney Spears’ 2004 tour opener Skye Sweetnam? Neither do we.) But sometimes they do, and that’s when it gets interesting.
Believe it or not, some of music’s biggest acts have opened for bands you may have never heard of. From Taylor Swift to Queen and even AC/DC, major artists were once in the shadows of acts who they later surpassed in popularity. (Or, even worse, the Jonas Brothers.) Take a look at these nine opening acts who became bigger than their headliners, and let us know what you think in the comments below.
1963: The Beatles for Roy OrbisonGetty Images
In the summer of ’63, Orbison — known for songs like “Only the Lonely,” “Crying,” and “Oh, Pretty Woman” — embarked on a U.K. tour with The Beatles, who had just released their first album Please Please Me a few months before. The tour originally intended to headline Orbison; however, the audience’s strong positive reaction to The Beatles bumped them up to co-headliners. By the end of the tour, The Beatles were closing out the set. Needless to say, The Beatles went on to become the best-selling music act in the world (600 million units), far outshining Orbison.
1966: The Doors for ThemGetty Images
The Doors opened for Them, a Northern Irish rock band, during their two-week engagement at The Whisky a Go Go in West Hollywood in June 1966. The Doors hadn’t even released a studio album at this point, while Them had released their second LP. But The Doors later gained more popularity than Them, with six albums reaching the top 10 on the Billboard 200. Unfortunately, Them never reached the same level of commercial performance.
1970: Elton John for Derek and the DominosGetty Images
On December 4, 1970, John was second-billing to Derek and the Dominos in a show at Syracuse War Memorial. It’s hard to imagine the dynamic performer not being the star today, with 300 million records sold worldwide and 58 Billboard Top 40 hits. Meanwhile, Derek and the Dominos released only one (brilliant) studio album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, in 1970. The band’s guitarist and lead singer Eric Clapton went on to have a very successful solo career that certainly rivals John’s. But when it comes to Derek and the Dominos vs. John, the “Your Song” crooner wins in terms of commercial triumph.
1974: Queen for Mott the HoopleGetty Images
Mott the Hoople, an English rock band that unfortunately never cracked past 28 on the Billboard 200 albums chart , was at the end of their run when an up-and-coming band called Queen opened for them in 1974. Queen is now considered one of the most iconic (and successful) bands of all time, with work that’s spanned five decades and countless power anthems like “Another One Bites the Dust,” “We Will Rock You,” and “We Are The Champions.”
1978: AC/DC for RainbowGetty Images
AC/DC was still in their early years when they opened up for Rainbow (led by guitarist Ritchie Blackmore) during their Long Live Rock and Roll Tour in 1978. Specifically, AC/DC went on before Rainbow’s show at The Paramount Theatre in Texas. It would only be a few more years before AC/DC surpassed Rainbow in international recognition and success. (To put it in perspective, Rainbow has sold more than 28 million records worldwide, compared to AC/DC’s reported 200 million.)
Mid to late ’90s: Destiny’s Child for SWV, Dru Hill, and ImmatureGetty Images
While DC worked on establishing their image, they paid the bills, bills, bills by opening for then-well-known R&B acts like SWV, Hill, and Immature. Cut to now, and Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland, and Michelle Williams are three household R&B names, while Immature (now know as IMx) has yet to have an album break the top 50 on the Billboard 200 chart.
2008: Demi Lovato for the Jonas BrothersGetty Images
You’d be hard-pressed to find a pop act bigger than the Jonas Brothers in 2008. So, it made sense that Lovato — a then rising star — joined them as an opening act for their Burnin’ Up Tour. But flash-forward to the present, and it looks like the roles have reversed. While the Jonas Brothers (with the exception of Nick’s biceps) have more or less faded into irrelevancy, Lovato remains one of music’s darling pop princesses with big hits like “Heart Attack” and “Really Don’t Care.”
2008: Taylor Swift for Rascal FlattsGetty Images
Swift opened for Rascal Flatts in 2006 on the last nine dates of their Me & My Gang Tour and was the main opener for their 2008 Still Feels Good Tour. With the release of her ’08 album Fearless, Swift turned into a bonafide superstar while Rascal Flatts stayed — well — Rascal Flatts. Granted, Swift’s crossover appeal has a hand in her white-hot success, but the fact still remains that she got her start opening for a band who would probably love to open for her now.
2009: Katy Perry for No DoubtGetty Images
On August 4, 2009, Perry opened for No Doubt on the band’s summer tour. While No Doubt has enjoyed great success in the past, Perry has arguably achieved more. (She has nine No.1 singles, while No Doubt has none.)
2009: Lady Gaga for The Pussycat DollsGetty Images
Mother Monster opened up for The Pussycat Dolls during their Doll Domination Tour in 2009. However, by the next year, Gaga became the biggest pop star in the world, while PCD started dwindling in popularity.