by Peter Guzik
Special to College Values Online
So many amazing and iconic bands were started in someone’s garage. Two guitars, a bass, and a set of drums. As The Ramones once sang, “Rock, Rock, Rock ‘N’ Roll High School.” But did you know that some of the greatest groups formed in college? Some wannabe rock and rollers think that college is a waste of time. They feel like they need to hit LA, Nashville, or New York to make the big time. But these college bands are here to stand up and say that there is another way.
Rock and roll, country, rap, and R&B are all represented by places of higher education. College is the perfect place to form your band. You are surrounded by thousands of people from different geographic and socio-economic backgrounds. By being around so many people, you are going to find your group of friends. And among those friends, you are bound to find other musicians. You might meet people that love the same bands you grew up listening to, or you might find some that have tastes that vary wildly from your own. That’s the beauty of it. You never know who you’re going to meet and what they will bring to the table. These bands all came together to make sweet, sweet music that millions have come to love.
Even though art is not an easy thing to measure, we’re doing it anyway! We’re considering several factors, including the following:
- Number of Grammys
- Album sales
- Entry to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- Various Greatest Album Rankings
- Touring Popularity
- Top 10 Albums and Singles
- Plays on Spotify
As always, music causes some of the most fun and unanswerable arguments. Share it with your friends and see if you agree with our Top 20!
Kent State University – Website
In the ashes and smoke of the shooting at Kent State University in May of 1970, Devo was born. Bassist and founding member Gerry Casale told his story to Rolling Stone in 2020 of being there on campus. “I don’t think there would have been a Devo if not for Kent State.” Due to his involvement with the student protests, he lost his scholarship to grad school at the University of Michigan and ended up back at Kent State for his Master’s. It was there that he met guitarist Bob Lewis and singer and keyboardist Mark Mothersbaugh. In 1973, they had their first gig as Sextet Devo on the Kent State campus.
Named “The band of the future” by David Bowie, they eventually shortened their name to Devo, which came from the idea of de-evolution. When asked by David Letterman in 1982, Casale said, “It’s inverse-evolution. Entropy. Things winding down.” Their music was innovative. New Wave was growing in popularity in the mid to late 70s and Devo was one of its leaders. Their avant-garde style was punk rock. No one was going to go on Saturday Night Live in 1979 dressed in matching yellow jumpsuits to play weird versions of The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.” But they did and they made a name for themselves.
In the early 80s, with their video for the song “Whip It,” Devo showed the MTV generation what it looked like to wear flowerpots on their heads and matching sleeveless turtlenecks. After taking a break in the 90s, the band continues to perform and make albums. In 2021, they were nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
University of Vermont – Website
Goddard College – Website
Phish met and started to play together at the University of Vermont, specifically in Patterson Dorm. Jon “Fish” Fishman was playing drums in his dorm room (room 210) when guitarist/singer Trey Anastasio heard the tribal beat. Bassist Mike Gordon answered an ad Trey posted around campus and the core of the band joined together. While the original group played their first show together at the school’s Harris Mills Cafeteria in 1983, they debuted under the name Phish the following year.
Pianist Page McConnell was a student at nearby Goddard College and was responsible for getting the group a gig at his school. He soon joined the band, and the future of improvisational music was changed forever. Trey and Fish eventually transferred to Goddard and the group played gigs anywhere they could. They played college campuses, farms, and became a staple at Nectar’s (https://liveatnectars.com/) in Burlington, Vermont.
The band gained a tremendous following, able to sell out small theaters in towns they had never played before. Their reputation for playing an amazing live show helped them gain popularity outside of the Vermont area, including playing out west in Colorado before getting a record deal! While never being a huge success on the charts, their live shows have sold out arenas around the country consistently.
While taking much of the 2000’s off, Phish reunited in 2009 with a series of their strongest studio albums and sold-out tours every year. They began to release live recordings of each show hours after they left the stage and continue to be one of the best live acts around. Their tours have included a series of shows called Baker’s Dozen where they performed 13 shows in 17 days at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Each show had a specific doughnut theme and they played songs that referred to that night. For example, during the Boston Crème show, they played a medley of songs by the band Boston and Cream, none of which they had never played before. Over the 13 shows, they played not just 237 songs, but 237 DIFFERENT songs. Something the music world will probably never see again.
18- Hootie and the Blowfish
University of South Carolina – Website
In 1994, Hootie and the Blowfish released one of the biggest selling albums of Cracked Rear View. Selling 21 million copies, it sneaks in at #10 on the all-time list of best-selling albums. With the way music sells these days, this is a list that will never be broken into. But they started humbly in the dorms of the University of South Carolina. Darius Rucker and Mark Bryan met each other freshman year and played as a guitar duo named the Wolf Brothers. They quickly met up with the other band members, Dean Felber (bass) and Jim Sonefeld (drums). They named themselves after the nicknames of two friends, and they were on their way.
Starting out in the bars and frat houses playing REM and Led Zeppelin covers, they had more to worry about than being unliked by the crowds. An interracial band in the South was still something rare in the late 80s. Yet, they powered on, selling 50,000 copies of their self-financed EP that helped capture the attention of record companies. They eventually signed with Atlantic Records and released one of the biggest albums of all time.
They returned to touring and releasing albums in 2019 after many years on hiatus. In that time, Rucker has become a huge country star. But the band members never forgot where they came from. On their first appearance on the David Letterman show in 1994, Sonefeld wore his USC soccer sweatshirt. They held a nationally televised concert on the campus in 1996. There is a monument dedicated to them on the campus in the form of a giant guitar pick and musical stanzas, and they are the unofficial ambassadors of the University of South Carolina. Darius Rucker once said about USC, “If one of us had gone somewhere else, I don’t think any of us would be where we are now.” Millions of fans couldn’t agree more.
17- Little Big Town
Samford University – Website
Little Big Town, a country vocal quartet founded in the late ’90s, formed their group’s foundation at Samford University. A small private Christian school in Birmingham, Alabama, Samford University has approximately 5,700. Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Bramlett (now Schlapman) met in 1987 as freshmen and became close friends during the sorority rush. They also sang together in the Samford Singers, an a cappella choir.
Years later, when they had both moved to Nashville to try their luck in country music, Karen and Kimberly reconnected and started singing together. Joined later by Jim Westbrook (now Karen’s husband) and Phillip Sweet, they went on to become a strong vocal group within the country community.
Getting signed to a major label in 2000 was the start of a career that has lasted more than two decades. Six of their albums have made the top 10 on Billboard’s Country Album charts, including 4 that went to #1. Additionally, four of their albums made the top 10 on the Billboard 200, the chart that collects all albums, regardless of musical genre. The band is still a part of the legacy of Samford University. The orientation video proudly shown to incoming freshmen includes Karen and Kimberly and the group has performed at the university’s Homecoming. Without two young women meeting on the campus of Samford University, 21st-century country music would not be the same.
16- Vampire Weekend
Columbia University – Website
Many groups can name New York City as their home turf. However, not too many of them can claim the campus of Columbia University, located on the Upper West Side, as the place where their music started. The four original members of Vampire Weekend, Ezra Koeing (singer/guitar), Chris Baio (bass), Rostam Batmanglij (keyboards), and Chris Tomson (drums), met in the early 2000s, where Koeing and Baio were suitemates. Tomson and Batmanglij were classmates in a diatonic theory class where they discovered their mutual love for Afrobeat music. The foursome finally started their group in the Spring of 2006, just as they were about to graduate.
Their first show as a band was at the SEAS Battle of the Band, held at the student center. They finished third out of four bands. Their love of Columbia and references to the school is a story well known among Columbia’s student body. The group’s first album, the self-titled “Vampire Weekend,” was rumored to have been partially recorded on the campus and in the apartments of two band members.
Several of their songs give nods to the campus and the lore of Columbia University. “Mansard Roof” refers to these roofs that can be seen everywhere on the campus, while “Ladies of Cambridge” makes light of the fact that many people who attended the school had dreams of going to Harvard, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Finally, “Finger Back” mentions 103rd St and Broadway, located across the street from the campus. While Batmanglij left the group in 2016, the band continues to flourish as their most recent album, 2019’s “Father of the Bride,” was nominated for that year’s Grammy for Best Album of the Year.
15- Florida Georgia Line
Belmont University – Website
There aren’t too many well-known groups named after states or cities, but Florida Georgia Line took their name from TWO states! Brian Kelley (Florida) and Tyler Hubbard (Georgia) met in 2008 at Belmont University. Coming from similar backgrounds, they found commonality in their love for country and rap music. They also found a connection through their Baptist faith and attended worship meetings on campus. After being introduced by Tyler’s roommate, who had a class with Brian, they quickly bonded in the halls of Belmont and changed country music history.
The duo began writing songs together while still in school. But graduation came quickly, and they decided to give music a serious effort for two years. They moved in together in Nashville and made a go of it. And what a go they made!! On their second release, they included the song “Cruise.” It became one of the biggest selling singles ever with more than 10 million in sales. Additionally, as of this article’s writing, their other huge hit, “Meant To Be,” has been played on Spotify nearly one billion times. Yes, you read that correctly, billion with a B.
In 2018, they opened a Creative Compound near their alma mater that brought together fashion, music, and business.
14- Imagine Dragons
BYU – Website
Even though they are one of the biggest bands on the planet, the Imagine Dragons are a fairly recent band. Singer Dan Reynolds and drummer Andrew Tolman met on Brigham Young University’s campus in Utah in 2008. Going to BYU was a family tradition for Reynolds as 6 of his brothers had attended the school before him. Along with members Andrew Beck, Aurora Florence, and Dave Lemke, the band set out to conquer the world. They started by winning the local Battle of the Bands, becoming one of the local favorites of the local universities before moving on to Las Vegas. One of their favorite places to play was Velour Live Music Gallery (http://velourlive.com/) in Provo, Utah. From the pictures, it looks like the place can’t hold more than a couple of hundred people at a time. Who knew back then that the local band they were seeing would go on to sell more than 20 million albums worldwide!
The members of the band have changed over the years, but they haven’t forgotten their roots. The band went back to Velour in 2015 and played a show. Their return to their local watering hole brought back great memories for some of their earlier fans, including many fans who won tickets and flew from other parts of the country to see their favorite band in such an intimate place. Fan Jenica Schulz said, “Each time I’ve seen them play in that little venue in Provo, every person in there can feel and experience the music. You can’t get that anywhere else.”
13- The Strokes
New York University – Website
While the five young men that formed The Strokes originally met at various boarding schools, this influential band came together in the late ’90s while attending NYU. Julian Casablancas, Nick Valensi, and Fabrizio Moretti had been playing together since they were young kids. But with the addition of Nikolai Fraiture and Albert Hammond, Jr. (friends of Casablancas from other boarding schools), the group came together and began playing the bars of New York City like so many new bands starting do. They played shows at such New York landmark clubs as Brownies, the Luna Lounge (http://lunalounge.com/), and a weekly residency at the Mercury Lounge (https://www.mercuryeastpresents.com/mercurylounge). However, their first show was on Sept 14, 1999, at The Spiral on the lower east side, making it just under the wire before the 2000s began.
Very quickly, the band became the latest and greatest band in the United States with the release of their debut album, Is This It. By 2002, they were headliners at Coachella, and they became a bit of a cliché. Doomed by fame and substance abuse, they took extended time off but never broke up. The five original players are still in the band, including recording their latest album released in 2020. But it is the power and influence of their debut album that remains. Their first album has made many publications top all-time albums, including Rolling Stone’s list from 2020, which placed Is This It at #114.
12- The Commodores
Tuskegee University – Website
Who knew that the future of music could be decided by the desire to shoot a little “stick.” Yes, William King and Lionel Richie, founding members of the Mystics, a group of “jazz buffs,” met at the pool hall of Tuskegee University. Along with Thomas McClary, the Mystics ended up joining up with another vocal band, The Jays, to create the R&B/funk powerhouse, The Commodores. All six of the original members went to school at the previously named Tuskegee Institute in the late ’60s. They began by playing frat parties and winning the annual freshman talent show. But playing local places like the Black Forest Inn could only take them so far, and they had their sites set on the stars, wanting to be bigger than the Beatles.
The band took off to New York City to play a gig at Small’s Paradise. While their initial gig was canceled, they were used to fill in a late cancellation and brought all their friends in the area, getting them another two weeks at the club. More importantly, they met their future manager, Benny Ashburn, at these gigs. While finishing their studies at Tuskegee, they toured the world, including opening for the Jackson 5 at the height of the headliner’s popularity. The Commodores went on to become one of the biggest R&B bands of the 1970s. They lost their lead singer, Richie, to a very successful solo career, but the band carried on. They still perform today, including a 50th-anniversary show at their alma mater in 2019. Who says you can’t go home? The Commodores certainly did.
11- Daryl Hall & John Oates
Temple University – Website
Not too many groups can say they met at a fight, but Daryl Hall & John Oates are one of the few. Both of their bands, The Temptones, and The Masters, played a show at the Adelphi Ballroom in Philadelphia with ten other groups when gunfire rang out. The two met in an elevator when the melee began, forcing the bands to run for the doors. Eventually, John’s band broke up, freeing him to join the Temptones.
Even though the group also broke up shortly, Daryl and John’s friendship grew tighter, sharing several apartments and creating music together. At one point, they named themselves Whole Oates but ended up using their own names, the simple Hall & Oates. It was a conscious decision that they never doubted. Their first public appearance was at Hecates Circle club in Germantown, a Philly suburb, on December 5, 1970, and the duo never looked back. They became one of the biggest groups of the 1980s and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They still tour the world but have not forgotten where it all began. Daryl Hall said in their induction speech, “We’re the only homegrown Philadelphia band that has been put into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!” while the band was to have headlined a show called HoagieNation 2020 before Covid wiped out the event.
10- The Pixies
University of Massachusetts, Amherst – Website
Few bands can rise as fast as The Pixies did. A friendship between suitemates Joey Santiago and Charles Thompson/Black Francis/Frank Black started in the Brown Hall dormitory of UMASS, Amherst, in 1984. They started their band in early 1986. Their first show, misnamed as the Puxies, was at the now-since-closed club, Jack’s, in Cambridge, MA. If you weren’t a friend, family member, or boss of the band, it’s unlikely you were there. They quickly came to play regularly at The Green Street Station, TT the Bear’s, and The Rat.
Bassist Kim Deal joined the band through a newspaper ad…even though she didn’t play the bass! Drummer David Lovering completed the classic band line-up (and his parents supplied their garage as the band’s practice space), and off they went. Two years later, they had a record contract with Elektra Records. Their first album, Surfer Rosa, was released, and the critics loved it. The following year they released Doolittle, and soon, they were every rock magazine’s favorite band. Rolling Stone named them the Best New American band in 1989 and was named Musicians of the Year by Spin that same year. A few years later, the band broke up. A decade later, they reunited to record crowds and continue to play somewhat regularly with a new bassist. But their first two albums left a long trail of influencing the biggest bands of the 1990s, including Nirvana. When asked about their biggest hit, Smells Like Teen Spirit, he said, “I was basically trying to rip off The Pixies.”
9- Public Enemy
Adelphi University (Website)
Adelphi University is the oldest institution of higher learning on suburban Long Island, dating back to the American Civil War. Adelphi is also home to one of the first hardcore rap bands that broke into the mainstream charts and consciousness. In the early 1980s, Carlton Ridenhour, later known as Chuck D, was studying graphic design. He, William Drayton (aka Flavor Flav), Hank and Keith Shocklee, and others were part of Spectrum City. They were DJs playing shows around the area. They had radio shows on the school radio station, 90.3 WBAU. Flavor Flav had a show where he would play rap music on the show, beating New York City’s big stations during his hour on the radio.
Listening to Run DMC and The Beastie Boys, they produced their own tapes as well. One tape, called Public Enemy #1, caught the ear of NYU student, music producer, and Def Jam Records founder Rick Rubin. They shuffled around the people in the group, making some rappers, some producers, and some more onstage personnel to create Public Enemy. They wanted to combine important music styles like RUN DMC with smart and relevant observations about black youth issues. Their career took off quickly, and they became one of the biggest and controversial rap groups in the world. 2013 was a big year for the group. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Chuck D, even though he earned his degree in 1984, was given an honorary degree by Adelphi University. They never forgot where home was.
8- Talking Heads
Rhode Island School of Design – Website
Talking Heads can trace their roots back to the fabulous art school, Rhode Island School of Design, commonly referred to as RISD (pronounced Riz-Dee). David Byrne, Chris Frantz, and Tina Weymouth were students there when they found each other. Chris and Tina quickly became a couple (later getting married) while Chris started a band with David, The Artistics. The band ended up only playing four shows: a Valentine’s Day ball, a bar on campus, a private party, and an outdoor concert in the park. Their music style was self-proclaimed “prototypical punk,” and their shows consisted of mostly covers and two original. One of the originals, “Psycho Killer,” became a popular tune of Talking Heads and the most played song on Spotify.
But RISD wasn’t where it was at for the gang, so they headed to New York City. Tina learned how to play the bass and joined her future husband as the rhythm section of the future Hall of Fame band. They scooped up Jerry Harrison and started to play in the city, including CBGB’s, during the punk era of the mid to late 70s. Eventually, they scored several big albums and tours. They broke up fifteen years after their start but are still loved by millions of people and are played regularly on the radio. Minus a reunion at the Hall of Fame, David Byrne has never played with the other three since. Even the idea of honorary PhDs from RISD couldn’t bring David back together with his old bandmates.
7- The Doors
UCLA School of Theater, Film & Television – (Website)
Back in the 60s, film school was a popular place to go and experiment with the arts. Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek were among the group of people that found themselves at UCLA’s Film School. Jim’s film project has been lost to the years, but Ray’s films, including production work by The Doors’ future singer, remain. Two films, “Evergreen” and “Five Situations,” were recently restored by the school. Jim and Ray got together, famously depicted in “The Doors” film biography, directed by Oliver Stone in 1991. They formed their band along with Robby Krieger and John Densmore, named after “The Doors of Perception” by Aldous Huxley.
Quickly, they became one of the hottest bands on the LA club scene. They regularly played London Fog, playing 5 sets of 45 minutes, six nights a week. By May of 1966, it became the house band at the famous Whisky a Go-Go (https://whiskyagogo.com/), including playing shows with the popular group Them, led by Van Morrison. It wasn’t long before the record companies came looking for them. They eventually signed with Elektra Records and, by the summer of 1967, had the #1 song in the country with their first single, “Light My Fire.” Sadly, the good times would not last. 4 years later, Jim Morrison passed away in his Paris apartment. The band continued for a while, producing a few albums. But nothing came close to the power and excitement as those with Morrison leading the band.
6- Steely Dan
Bard College – Website
Steely Dan is one of those groups that is hard to pin down to one style. Are they rock? Pop? Jazz? Blues? R&B? The answer is…yes. They successfully combined their influences into Steely Dan. The two founders of the group, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker met on the liberal arts school Bard College campus, located close to Woodstock, NY. Fagen overheard Becker playing guitar in a local café, The Red Balloon, introduced himself to Becker and immediately asked if he wanted to form a band together.
They became fast friends, writing songs on the piano in the common room of Becker’s dorm, Ward Manor. They formed several bands together, including the Don Fagen Jazz trio, the Bad Rock Group, and Leather Canary. They weren’t the only future star in these groups. One of the drummers they played with, long before he was tripping on the set of Saturday Night Live, was Chevy Chase. Chase described Leather Canary as “a bad jazz band.” They often played at the local watering hole, Adolph’s, one of the favorite places in town for bands to play.
The duo moved to New York and then to Los Angeles, hired to be professional songwriters. When they realized their songs were too complicated for others to record, they started their own band, Steely Dan. They never forgot their alma mater. In fact, they sang about it in one of their biggest hits, “My Old School.” They wrote about the marijuana bust they had been swept up in. In the song, they claimed that they “were never going back to My Old School.” It wasn’t quite true, as Fagen went back in 1985 to receive an honorary doctorate.
With great success during the 70s, they become a hugely influential band. After breaking up for many years, they reunited in the mid-90s and began to perform live (something they hadn’t done since 1974). With a Grammy for Best Album in 2000 and induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, they enjoyed recording and performing together again. Sadly, Walter Becker lost his battle with cancer in 2017.
Imperial College London – Website
Queen is one of the most beloved bands in rock and roll. They have been immortalized in their biopic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ popularized again in ‘Wayne’s World.’ They are often recognized as having given the single greatest performance with their set at Live Aid in 1985. But like many bands, their humble beginnings can be found on a college campus.
Brian May, the guitarist for the group, was studying Infrared Astronomy and Physics at Imperial College while playing in bands like 1984 and Smile. It was with the latter group that a drummer was needed. A young dentistry student answered the ad for a “Mitch Mitchell/Ginger Baker” type. Roger Taylor soon joined Smile, and they began gigging on the Imperial College campus and in Cornwall, the hometown of Taylor. They opened for Pink Floyd and even appeared at a benefit at Royal Albert Hall.
When the singer of Smile quit the band, a fan and friend of the group, Freddie Mercury (still at the time going by his real name Freddie Bulsara), offered to sing for them. With his obvious singing ability, Mercury joined the group. The future superstars had their first gig together, still using the name Smile, at the City Hall in Turo, Cornwall on June 27, 1970. They earned 50 pounds even though it was a charity event for the Red Cross! While the future was bright for the group, bassist at the time, Mike Gross, has been quoted years later that “We tried to hide the gaffes, but to be brutally frank, we were rough.” At Freddie Mercury’s suggestion, the band took on the new name of Queen. He said that it made them sound regal and that people would love it. Their first gig with the new name was less than a month later at the Union Center Hall on the Imperial College campus. With the addition of bassist John Deacon the following year, the band was set to take over the world!
Sadly, the world lost a creative genius in 1991 when Mercury passed away. The following year, there was a huge benefit concert of the world’s biggest rock stars, including David Bowie, Metallica, and The Who’s Roger Daltrey, being backed up by the three remaining members of Queen. It was the last time May, Taylor, and Deacon would play together. Deacon retired after the loss of his close friend and would not perform with them again. Since then, the band has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while May and Taylor have continued recording and touring with Paul Rodgers and Adam Lambert. They remain popular because, as of this article’s writing, their Greatest Hits remain on the Billboard charts, sitting at #31 of all albums sold that week.
University College London – Website
One of the most popular bands around the world for the past two decades is Coldplay. Their rise to fame was rapid. Their first album, Parachutes, was released in the Spring of 2000. Their first worldwide hit, Yellow, hit the UK top 5 and the top half of the US Hit 100, along with 7 other Billboard charts. This meteoric trip took a mere four years from the group’s formation to the top of the charts!
Chris Martin, singer and keyboardist of the band, and Jonny Buckland, lead guitarist, met their very first week at UCL. Their home that year was Ramsey Hall, and they met during orientation. Jonny remembers his first impression of his future lead singer: “Chris was running up and down the corridor with this really long curly mop, and I thought he was a bit mad, a bit wacky.” The duo took the rest of the school year to complete the band. Guy Berryman (bass) and Will Champion (drums) were the rhythm section the duo needed, and soon, the band’s musical core was complete. The fifth member of the group, manager and creative director, Phil Harvey, a childhood friend of Martin, came along.
The band’s first gig was in January of 1998 at the upstairs room of The Laurel tree in Camden. Needing a band name, they performed their first gig as “Starfish.” No one was thrilled with it. A friend of the band, Tim Crompton, was playing in his own band, “Cold Play,” a name he took from a collection of poems called “Child’s Reflections: Cold Play.” His band was falling apart, and he suggested his mates use it. Since then, Coldplay has always looked at itself as a democracy, each member and equal partner in the group. They certainly can’t argue with their decisions as they have become one of the world’s biggest bands, selling more than 80 million albums and more than 33 million digital songs sold in the United States alone.
University of Georgia (Website)
Today, Athens is considered a great place for live music. But it is thanks to R.E.M. that the Georgian town has such a great reputation. This great band was truly a situation where two halves came together to make a better whole. Michael Stipe, an art student at the university, met future R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck at Wuxtry Records store. Buck was working there, and it was Stipe’s favorite place to get music, and they became fast friends. They met Mike Mills (bass) and Bill Berry (drums) at a party through the pairs’ mutual friend, Kathleen O’Brien. Mills and Berry were high school friends and played together for a few years when the foursome met at school.
Soon, the four decided to form a band and got their first gig at O’Brien’s birthday. Slated for April 5, 1980, the group didn’t have a name. They promoted the show that afternoon at the college campus radio station WUOG (http://wuog.org/). With no real plan, the group was just excited to make music. The party took place at St. Mary’s Church (https://www.stmaryathenstn.org/). While the setlist is mostly in doubt, two songs are known to have been played: I Can’t Control Myself by The Troggs and God Save The Queen by the Sex Pistols. Two weeks later, they played their first show as R.E.M., named after a random look at the dictionary, at the 11:11 Koffee Klub.
The group played more gigs around Athens, including shows at 40 Watt Club, The Mad Hatter, and The Fox Theater, opening for The Police. Later in 1980, they played their first gigs outside the local area, traveling to North Carolina, where future band manager Jefferson Holt saw them. The band quickly picked up attention and fans, recording their first EP in 1982 and signing to I.R.S. Records. Their first album, Murmur, was released in 1983. Their first albums have been considered inspirational by many artists, and the group is credited with being the start of alternative and college music. While the band broke up officially in 2011, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few earlier and are still have their songs played on TV and the radio every day.
2- Pink Floyd
University of Westminster – Website
Pink Floyd is one of the most celebrated rock bands ever. Their slow start in the 60s led to some of the biggest albums and songs of the 70s and early 80s. Their album, Dark Side of the Moon, entered the charts upon its release in March of 1973 and didn’t leave the Billboard 200 for 15 YEARS! It has sold more than 45 million copies worldwide and is one of the biggest albums of all time. But the group started with much smaller beginnings.
Roger Waters (bass) and Nick Mason (drums) met while they both attended the University of Westminster (formerly London Polytechnic). They played together in a band called Sheilagh. The group was soon picked up Richard Wright (keyboards), and, in 1963, the band changed its name to Sigma 6. The band went through several names, including Leonards Lodgers and the Spectrum 5, before settling on the Tea Set. Personnel changes were widespread over the next couple of years. Later, guitarist Syd Barrett, Waters’s childhood friend, joined the band.
In 1965, Barrett became the frontman for the group and came up with the new name, Pink Floyd. As mentioned in one of their later songs, many people thought they were named for someone in the band, but the truth was Barrett took the names of two blues artists in his record collection, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, to come up with The Pink Floyd Sound. They played all around London, including the Marquee Club, the Countdown Club, and the UFO Club, where they began to get a serious following.
The band was eventually signed to EMI Records. But things soon became difficult with Syd Barrett. He began to have serious difficulties with depression and drug use. The band decided to take on a fifth member, David Gilmour, to help ease Syd’s responsibilities. Eventually, the group split from Barrett, and he found his way to retirement from public life. The band never forgot about him, offering tributes to him in some of their biggest works, including “Wish You Were Here” and “The Wall.” At the band’s reunion performance in 2005 at Live 8 (their first live performance as a foursome in a quarter of a century), Roger Waters dedicated their performance of “Wish You Were Here” to “everyone who’s NOT here, but particularly, of course, for Syd.”
1- The Rolling Stones
London School of Economics – Website
Sidcup Art School
Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, The Glimmer Twins, met when they were about 10 years old. As often happens, people get new jobs, and families move. But the friendships of our youth are prized possessions. With that, when Mick and Keith met years later in 1961 at the Dartford railway station on their way to college, Jagger to the London School of Economics and Richards to Sidcup Art School. Thanks to the records under Jagger’s arm, the two started a conversation about the blues and R&B. They realized they had a mutual friend, guitarist Dick Taylor. The three friends started to hang out together and formed Little Boy Blue and the Blues Boys.
Meanwhile, the trio heard about Ealing Jazz Club’s house band, Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, which included Charlie Watts (drums), Ian Stewart (piano), and Brian Jones (guitar), future members of the Rolling Stones. They started to play together, minus Watts, covering many of the R&B stars of the 50s, like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley.
The group played their first gig as the Rolling Stones at the Marquee Club on July 12, 1962. They played all covers of their heroes and started to play around London and its neighboring towns. Keith Richards doesn’t consider this to be the first gig because Charlie Watts would not join the group for another 6 months. “So we look up 1962 as sort of the year of conception. But the birth is the next year.”
They would add Watts and bassist Bill Wyman in early 1963, and the core members of the band would play their first show together on January 14 at the Flamingo Club in Soho. They would go on to regularly play at the Ricky-Tick Club and Wooden Bridge Pub in Guildford, as well as Crawdaddy Club in London. In April of that year, they took on Andrew Loog Oldham as their manager, who sent Stewart off the stage while allowing him to play on the band’s studio sessions and work as the road manager. By June, they released their first single, Chuck Berry’s “Come On,” and, as it is often said, the rest is history.
See kids, college was the meeting place for some of the world’s greatest bands. Whether it was RISD, NYU, or two boys taking the train, going off to university in London, great music can be made and found on the campuses of universities around the world. Even rock and rollers like to study.