#2. The Replacements on a Major Record Label
There's a good chance a lot of you only know the Replacements as the name of a terrible Keanu Reeves movie, but their fans know them as one of the most influential American bands of all time ... up to a certain point in their career, anyway. As beloved as the Replacements may be, they're also routinely pointed to as a prime example of the dangers a band should expect to face if they decide to "sell out" by signing with a major record label.
While it is true that a lot of the music they made after going pro was quite terrible, blaming The Man for the demise of the Replacements is a huge cop-out. For one thing, if we're talking quality or "classic" songs, the math doesn't work out. The Replacements released eight albums, if you include their first release, an EP called Stink ...
... which lived up to all of the promise that album cover holds in every single way, right down to the fact that there's only one song that's really worth giving a shit about.
They definitely got better with each album they released after that, but they didn't really hit their stride as a band until their fourth album, a motherfucking perfect work of magic called Let It Be.
So like the Beatles album, except the producer of this one never shot anyone in the face.
And guess what? That's where the story of the Replacements as an indie band ends, with one great album and two-and-a-half that are just alright. With that success under their belt, the Replacements made the move to a major record label.
The first album that came from that marriage, Tim, is really damn great, and so is the one that came after it, Pleased to Meet Me. In fact, along with the indie-released Let It Be, these albums make up the entirety of the "classic" section of the Replacements catalog. So, if we're talking quality releases, blaming the band's decline on signing to a major label doesn't work purely from a math standpoint.
I know it's a hard pill to swallow for fans of the band, but that proverbial larger paycheck didn't ruin the Replacements. As was the case in so many other situations, the band was their own undoing.
Between the release of Tim and Pleased to Meet Me, founding guitarist Bob Stinson either left or was kicked out of the band. The story behind his departure might be unclear, but the results sure as hell aren't. The Replacements always had two sides to their sound, a "punk" side and a "pop" side. Bob Stinson took the punk with him when he left. There's really no other way to say it. A simple way to spot the difference is to listen to the two known recorded version of the band's classic single "Can't Hardly Wait."
That's the one!
The unreleased version recorded for the Tim album, with Bob Stinson on guitar, still sort of sounds like a song from the band's early days.
The Pleased to Meet Me version does not.
There's a horn section, for fuck's sake. That said, it's still a great song, one of many from what would ultimately be the last great Replacements album. The band's next two releases moved more and more toward the "cleaner" sound they employed on Pleased to Meet Me, with increasingly disastrous results each time.
That's not the record label's fault, though, right? The real problem is that the music of Paul Westerberg, the lead singer and creative force behind the band, just isn't that interesting outside of the formula the original lineup had in place, and he's got the extensive catalog of unremarkable solo albums to prove it.
Some bands are just way better than their individual parts, and as great as they were, the Replacements were definitely one of those bands.
#1. The Sammy Hagar Version of Van Halen
What I said at the beginning of this article about Phil Collins' Genesis being the most hated incarnation of any famous band? I take that back. I'm pretty sure that distinction goes to the Sammy Hagar-led version of Van Halen, or "Van Hagar," if you're so inclined. The band's first lead singer, David Lee Roth, is still the name and face most associated with the band ...
Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Probably because he knows karate!
... but Sammy Hagar was the more successful of the two ...
Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
For no good goddamn reason at all!
... recording four albums with the band, all of which reached the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
Much to the consternation of their Camaro-driving fans, Hagar didn't just bring increased record sales to the Van Halen fold; he brought a completely different style. Van Halen as fronted by David Lee Roth had their hits, but they always sounded like a rock band. Their music was dirty and raw and all those other adjectives people use to describe a band that spends most of their production budget on cocaine.
The Van Hagar brand, though, did away with all of that edge. They were still a "rock" band by most technical terms, but it wasn't a particularly rocking type of rock. It was Pepsi-commercial rock.
There was a whole lot of that during the Van Hagar days, and "true" fans of the band's earlier work hated it. The arrival of Sammy Hagar marked the arrival of a whole new "pop" sound for Van Halen.
Did it really, though? I feel like it's worth mentioning at this point that, personally, I don't care either way. I don't particularly enjoy the music of Van Halen from any era, so it's all bad to me. That said, from the evidence I've seen and gathered over the years, it appears that Van Halen was headed in the direction of making terrible music no matter who was behind the microphone. For one thing, their last album with David Lee Roth was loaded with cheesy synthesizers and other shitty pop music hallmarks of the '80s.
That didn't happen by accident. Van Halen is a band, but it's a band named after two specific members. That should make it pretty clear who calls the shots within Van Halen. The band changing direction toward more radio-friendly fare like "Jump" and "Panama" are part of the reason David Lee Roth left in the first place. It was a creative choice he didn't agree with, apparently, but if you ask me, he wasn't making the greatest or rockingest career decisions himself at the time.
That even a personality as powerful as Diamond Dave's couldn't say enough to keep the band on a rocking course points to one undeniable fact -- Van Halen was going to start making shitty music no matter what, because it's what Eddie Van Halen wanted to do, and he started doing it well before that famous lineup change.
Sammy Hagar didn't make Van Halen awful; Van Halen made Van Halen awful.
Adam hosts a podcast called Unpopular Opinion that you should listen to on Soundcloud and a live stand-up comedy show of the same name that you should come see sometime if you're in the Los Angeles area. You should also be his friend on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.