Many of the greatest jazz recordings have been produced when the very best artists come together and bring out the best of each other. In rock music, collaborations like that do not occur nearly as often. A band formed by musicians who are already well known has come to be known as a “Supergroup.” The joining of several famous artists to form a band has an immediate appeal to both record companies and the fans that buy the albums. It is a chance to pool the collective ideas of people who all have a strong following and many years of experience in the music business.
One of the first bands that people regarded as a supergroup in the 1980s is Asia. Borrowing four veterans of the progressive rock genre, Geffen Records slapped together a sure-fire supergroup that sold millions of albums. With ex-members of King Crimson, Yes, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Asia was a streamlined, easily marketable band which prospered greatly, until egos began to clash. Such a problem is one reason that supergroups do not last very long.
Another ‘80s band that was promoted as a supergroup was GTR. Steve Howe and Geoff Downes, both members of Yes who wound up in Asia, joined ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett to produce an album that was intended to redefine guitar-driven rock music. Though technically not a supergroup since GTR’s other members were relative unknowns, the band’s only album was a resounding commercial success – thanks more to the clever promotion tactics than the underwhelming music.
A true supergroup that lived up to that name was The Traveling Wilburys. With George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne all playing together, over 100 years of musical experience was harnessed to create some very pleasing and enjoyable songs. The tragic death of Orbison made this a very short-lived collaboration, but the Wilburys set a standard that would be difficult to meet. The supergroup now seems to be a forgotten entity, but perhaps another star-stacked band will emerge someday.