Wouldn't it be great if we could reinvent ourselves every few years? Just totally discard our old persona and start fresh with a new look and attitude? Sadly, that's the sort of thing that only famous musicians are allowed to pull off.
But holy crap, do they take advantage of it -- as we've discussed a few times before, if you dig into the past of almost any famous artist, you'll find something radically, hilariously different from what they became famous for. For example ...
#5. Michael Bolton Was in an '80s Hair Metal Band
Sony BMG Music Entertainment
The Artist You Know:
Michael Bolton has enjoyed a long career of making inoffensive soft-rock ballads for middle-aged white people. He co-wrote chart-topping adult contemporary hits with Cher and Laura Branigan before going on to win a Grammy for doing a karaoke version of a powerful R&B hit from the 1960s, because the best way to make a chart-topping single is to redo a song that already topped the charts 30 years ago.
In his defense, you cannot argue with that logic.
In general, Michael Bolton has become a pop culture punchline for producing music that your grandma complains about because it doesn't rock hard enough.
The Artist You Don't Know:
If you actually clicked that link and listened to Bolton's music, you probably noticed two things:
1. Your soul being violently expelled from your body once the sound of his dull, lifeless saxophone filled the room.
2. Michael Bolton is actually a pretty strong singer.
Bolton's got some real vocal power, way more than his watered-down elevator music requires. So why doesn't he use it to rock the world's face off? The answer is he already tried that, and nobody cared.
Sony BMG Music Entertainment
We can't imagine why.
Bolton tried his hand at hair metal in the mid-'80s, and the end result sounds a lot like Sammy Hagar and Whitesnake in a shouting match over a fender bender in a Chili's parking lot. It's certainly not any worse than the rest of the music in the genre at the time, and he actually made the sort-of bold decision not to go full glam like the majority of the other bands we inexplicably decided to call "metal" in the 1980s.
Bolton's video for his song "Everybody's Crazy" even has a bit of an edge to it, in spite of the stout layer of cheese that he apparently cannot resist, with images of nuclear war and women having bracing freak-outs over venomous snakes. None of that stuff made the cut for his Grammy-winning video six years later.
When a mamba loves a woman.
And it's not like this was some brief rebellious phase in Bolton's life -- he actually debuted 10 years before that, back in 1975, singing lead for the band Blackjack under his real name, Michael Bolotin.
After the "O" was dropped, it went on to a successful career as a studio bassist.
As hard as it is to imagine, Blackjack was an actual rock band with an actual rock sound. They even opened for Ozzy Osbourne, back when that was a badge of hard-rocking counterculture credibility and not an act of charity for old, confused men. Sadly, that gig didn't translate into sales, and the band broke up after just two years. So Bolton tooled around on his own for a while (see: "poofy-haired quasi-rock," above) before writing the easy-listening hit "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You," which made him all of the money in the universe and forever determined his career path from that point on.
Everyone's crazy but you, Michael.
And for another group who followed the same career path ...
#4. The Goo Goo Dolls Was a Punk Band Called the Sex Maggots
The Band You Know:
Since the late '90s, Johnny Rzeznik and his band the Goo Goo Dolls have been crafting bittersweet, edgeless pop-rock ballads about the tragedy of love and relationships, and the grown men who can't stop whining about them all the time. Their biggest hit was the theme song from that movie where Nicolas Cage plays an angel and Meg Ryan gets hit by a bus, which is another way of saying that their music is about as antiseptic as alternative rock can get.
"Appearing with you is totally killing my street cred." -Elmo
The Band You Don't Know:
Rzeznik originally dubbed his band the Sex Maggots, presumably because he and his bandmates looked like they would have no trouble molesting a dead body.
They quickly changed their name to Goo Goo Dolls after an offended promoter refused to book them, because apparently Rzeznik is only capable of choosing names at completely opposite ends of the terribleness spectrum. "Sex Maggots" fit the band perfectly, however, because long before radio-friendly pop songs like "Slide" and "Name" made them famous, the Goo Goo Dolls were loud, obnoxious, filthy, drunken punks who would probably club you to death with a log of petrified shit if you told them they would one day provide the weepy hit single for a melodramatic Nicolas Cage movie:
You may have noticed that the singer sounds a little less refined than the Goo Goo Dolls of Top 40 fame. That's because for the first few years of the band's existence, the Dolls' bassist, Robby Takac, handled incomprehensible yelling duties. His voice -- shrill, harsh, and pissed off at everything -- suited the band perfectly at the time, considering that even when recorded, they sounded only slightly more put-together than the Misfits.
The Siboney Club
Bragging about seeing them in '87 without a visual aid will guarantee that your
kids call you extra-lame. And your co-workers. And your parents. And-
Rzeznik gradually took over singing, and his decidedly more radio-friendly voice inched the band ever closer to the mainstream. Then one day, while randomly fiddling with his guitar's tuning, he stumbled onto the sound that eventually became "Name," the acoustic ballad that was the band's first mainstream hit. That's like if Jimi Hendrix's many experiments with distortion had accidentally turned him into Dashboard Confessional.
#3. Bon Scott of AC/DC Sang Bubblegum Pop
The Artist You Know:
Bon Scott was the much-loved original singer of AC/DC -- to this day, 35 years after his death, fans still refer to the howling cab driver they hired to replace him as "the new guy."
Scott brought a loud, crazy, frantic, and overtly sexual energy to the group, not to mention an 8-year-old's sense of humor. He also played the bagpipes and dared anyone to tell him they weren't awesome, which of course nobody did because they totally were.
If he had lived, we like to think "rock-and-roll pan flute" was next on his bucket list.
The Artist You Don't Know:
"My old man's got big balls, too."
That's Bon Scott, the impish, sex-crazed frontman of AC/DC, on the right, wearing a cardigan sweater and an "I'm taking your daughter out for milkshakes after church" haircut. It's a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll, but apparently at least part of that journey takes you right through Bubblegum Pop Land. Scott's band was called the Valentines, and they were precisely as loud and hardcore as that picture suggests. Here they are performing a version of "Build Me Up Buttercup" that is somehow even less threatening than the breezy Foundations original:
In this song, Scott quietly sings backup for the band's other lead singer, the aptly named Vince Lovegrove, and doesn't do much else aside from awkwardly dance with all the enthusiasm of a hostage in a snuff film.
Scott sings lead in the Valentines' "Every Day I Have to Cry," which is a song about how his girlfriend doesn't love him anymore, and the only solution is to cry absolutely all of the time about it:
As it turns out, endless tears, corny dancing, and calling your dad a "groovy old man" were not really what young people wanted to listen to, so the Valentines didn't last long.
None of these men look proud of what they were doing.
Scott eventually found his raunchy punk-rock spirit with AC/DC, while Lovegrove went on to manage the Divinyls, a band whose one hit, "I Touch Myself," was ironically every bit as explicit as anything Scott ever sang about.
"And we shall immortalize him with a giant bronzed bulge."