We are lucky to have so many great musicians releasing so many great albums. I certainly consider myself lucky to be surrounded by all that. But of course, not everything is created equally. We like some albums more than others. It’s perfectly natural, it happens… The only minor downside to that is it can lead to some other works go unnoticed or overlooked. On this site, I often try to remedy that by bringing up some of my favorites under the Underrated Albums series. I will continue doing that. But, lately, I’ve also been thinking about lineups of some bands in certain eras… Knowing that anything in life can be underrated, I started realizing that some lineups indeed are! This article is the first in a new series I’m launching: Underrated Lineups.
Before we get there, let’s get the definitions out of the way. The term “underrated” is highly subjective. I’m perfectly aware of that. So, if you don’t consider some of these lineups underrated, that’s fine. I do. Second, I define “underrated” as something that is either unfairly ignored or something that deserves more recognition than it has so far gotten. When you read this, if you’re thinking “well, that lineup does have a lot of fans!” remember that “underrated” doesn’t always mean completely ignored. It could just be overshadowed by something else!
And finally, these lineups I’m highlighting below are not necessarily my favorite lineups of these bands! I want to underline that. I love and respect all these musicians. And some of these may be my favorite lineups of the respective bands too – but it’s not necessarily the case with all of them. It’s just my way of acknowledging that some lineups needed more time to truly show the fans what they could do.
So, here we go! The first volume of Underrated Lineups.
Dave Mustaine – David Ellefson – Al Pitrelli – Jimmy DeGrasso
When it comes to Megadeth, everybody’s favorite lineup is the Menza-Friedman era lineup. I agree with that! It isn’t entirely surprising given the incredible albums this lineup delivered. And when you have the unfortunate task of replacing Menza and Friedman, fans may not be as welcoming. Jimmy DeGrasso joined Megadeth in 1998 and played on two albums. Pitrelli joined in 2000 to replace Marty Friedman and played on one album.
The album that both played on was called The World Needs A Hero (2001). I saw the band for the first time when they played in support of this record. I even have the album booklet signed by all 4. It was a noble effort after Risk had alienated many fans and the band had to re-think its entire strategy around radio airtime. In some ways, it did its job; it reminded listeners that Megadeth was still a heavy metal band. It’s also quite overlooked, with some great tracks like Disconnect, Burning Bridges, Recipe for Hate…Warhorse, and Dread and the Fugitive Mind but let’s not get into the album details right now. The fact is this lineup was there to help Dave and Dave get back to their roots and they did it well!
DeGrasso is a phenomenal drummer and Pitrelli is a remarkable guitarist. I’m especially a fan of Pitrelli’s work. Ever listened to Stand By for Pain from Widowmaker? If not, you should! I thought these two were a terrific addition to Megadeth. And I believed at the time that the following album would be even heavier than The World Needs A Hero… but it wasn’t to be. After Dave injured his arm and suffered from radial neuropathy, the band disbanded. When it came back, Pitrelli and DeGrasso had already ventured into new projects.
I suppose in the end everything worked out. Dave needed time to focus on his health. Megadeth really had gone through some serious lineup changes, and if you could read between the lines you also knew that the latter half of the ‘90s involved lots of internal arguments over what musical direction Megadeth needed to take. This, of course, is not why the band disbanded – it was due to Dave’s severe injury – but once he was able to play guitar again, he wanted to distance himself from any commercial concerns and just compose music… freely! No arguments with anyone over genres; just music… That freedom led to one of the best albums in his career: The System Has Failed. Want to talk about underrated albums? That, right there, is one!
So, in some ways, things worked out in the end. But I still can’t help but feel like Pitrelli and DeGrasso were phenomenal additions who never got the credit they deserved. It is unfair to judge their potential in the band by the albums released during their era. You need to look at who they are as musicians and what they would have brought to the table if they could have stayed with the band. When I think of albums like Endgame, for instance, I believe it would have been far better with those two. I love Endgame as is; but it would have been a stronger record with a different lineup.
Today, Megadeth has one of the best lineups in its history with Dave Mustaine, Dave Ellefson, Kiko Loureiro, and Dirk Verbeuren. As a fan, I’m thrilled about that. But I will continue to praise Al Pitrelli and Jimmy DeGrasso too.
Bruce Dickinson – Steve Harris – Clive Burr – Adrian Smith – Dave Murray
In other words, the Number of the Beast lineup…
Luckily, I can’t say the album The Number of the Beast is underrated. Plenty of fans cite it as their favorite. And even if it isn’t your ultimate favorite album, chances are it will be in your Top 5 Iron Maiden albums if you’re a fan. That’s a good thing; this album is stellar, and it deserves every praise it gets.
Just like I made the argument with Megadeth, a similar thing is true of this lineup. It’s more about the potential. Nicko McBrain, the drummer who ultimately replaced Burr, is of course an iconic drummer. Just because I think the Burr lineup is underrated doesn’t mean I don’t like Nicko’s drumming. I certainly do! But this doesn’t stop the Burr era being underrated, especially when it was fronted by Bruce Dickinson!
Clive Burr’s drumming was truly unique. Most will say Nicko is the technically better drummer. That may be true; I don’t know. That’s besides the point anyway; music has never been just about technical ability, no matter how important it is to executing your ideas. Clive Burr had an amazing groove and he had his own unique technique. No other drummer sounded like him. The way he came up with fills, the way he would choose to drum over certain sequences, the way he injected such creative energy into the songs were all things he brought to the table.
Of course, he was the drummer for the first two Iron Maiden albums too. So, why focus on this lineup? Well, for one, I prefer Bruce Dickinson over Paul Di’Anno. Much respect to Paul but, to me, Bruce is the ultimate frontman for Maiden. He opened up doors that would have remained shut otherwise. The debut, along with the absence of Dickinson, was also missing Adrian Smith, who joined an album later. Smith being my favorite of the current 3 guitarists, you can imagine why I’d want to see him in there.
So, yeah, we actually had this amazing lineup of musicians in Iron Maiden. It wasn’t just on paper, it existed. And they delivered a seminal record. Too bad it didn’t last longer.
I keep thinking what Clive Burr would have brought to the table for Maiden’s other legendary albums. With all due respect to Nicko, I’ve always felt terrible that Burr’s era did not last longer. I know there are differing thoughts on why Burr was let go. The band argued his partying lifestyle was affecting his playing… Burr denied this, and I remember him saying in a documentary that he was happy in the band. You never know; the truth usually is somewhere in the middle. But the fact that Nicko has never left the band or was never let go is a compelling argument in favor of Harris and co. Still, it won’t stop me from thinking the Number of the Beast era is underrated. A band backed by Burr’s drumming and fronted by Bruce Dickinson was magical. No wonder they created one of the best heavy metal albums of all time…
Vol 2. of underrated albums coming soon… Can you guess what I’ll cover next?