The 5 Most Embarrassing Past Lives of Famous Musicians

It turns out the package that some of history's most beloved artists were wrapped in when they first entered our collective consciousness is often the product of several aborted attempts to get their shtick down perfect.
The 5 Most Embarrassing Past Lives of Famous Musicians

We like to think that the musicians we love shot right out of the womb laying down the distinctive sounds that would one day make them famous. But as we've proven time and time again, the package that some of history's most beloved artists were wrapped in when they first entered our collective consciousness is often the product of several aborted attempts to get their shtick down perfect. For example ...

Trent Reznor Was in a Peppy New Wave Band

The 5 Most Embarrassing Past Lives of Famous Musicians
Shriek Records

The Artist You Know

Trent Reznor, the frontman and sole creative force behind the legendary 1990s band Nine Inch Nails, is a gloomy guy who makes gloomy music. He recorded his band's most famous album, The Downward Spiral, at the mansion where the Manson Family murdered Sharon Tate. He set up a makeshift studio around the house that he tastefully dubbed "Le Pig" after the word scrawled in blood at that famous crime scene. Even with all of the music equipment present in the picture below, it still looks like the kind of place where something unspeakably terrifying must have happened:

DU re
Trent Reznor

But even knowing that, you're still going to listen to "Closer" the next time you have sex.

His battles with depression and social anxiety are so legendary that, during NIN's prime, Reznor was reduced to being a relative shut-in, putting out albums at a career-halting pace of one every five years or so. Johnny Cash covered a Nine Inch Nails song as a roundabout means of informing his fans that he was about to die. That is the kind of music that a guy like Trent Reznor makes.

The Artist You Don't Know

opTion' 50
Shriek Records

Trent Reznor pictured with his New Kids on the Block tribute band, Step by Step.

Trent Reznor used to be the keyboard player in an early '80s new wave cover band. That's him on the far right in the above picture, pretending he doesn't hear the cameraman telling everyone to look needlessly serious. At the time, he was a fresh-faced 18-year-old student of computer engineering at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. The band was called Option 30, and his duties included lead vocals, keyboards, and (we're assuming) keytar.

Awesomely, the only known recordings from Reznor's foray into walking on sunshine consist of a bunch of covers of songs by bands like Icehouse, the Thompson Twins, and Falco. We know what you're thinking right now, and the answer is yes, we do have a clip of Trent Reznor singing Falco's "Der Kommissar."

If you can't get enough of the new wave stylings of teenage keyboardist Trent Reznor and his sweet band, there's plenty of this stuff online. Just don't let yourself get too happy when you find it. That's not how Trent Reznor would want you to feel.

Everlast Was the First Vanilla Ice

Frank Micelotta/Mark Davis/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

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Actually, come to think of it, we're not entirely sure which version of Everlast you do know. He's had two radically different personae. The first was formed during his brief time as the lead emcee in hardcore hip-hop one-hit wonder House of Pain:

After the "rappers easily mistaken for neo-Nazis" trend died out, Everlast disappeared for a while, only to return strumming an acoustic guitar and wailing about his First World problems on the unexpectedly massive 1998 album Whitey Ford Sings the Blues:

While the sound of Everlast's music has varied wildly since his days fronting House of Pain, one thing has always remained the same: Everlast is a bad man.

The 5 Most Embarrassing Past Lives of Famous Musicians

"You wanna curb stomp some orphan puppies?"

The Artist You Don't Know

Let's just say this guy has gone through a lot of phases in his life. For instance, we suppose it's not that embarrassing to see a young Everlast in the studio with Ice-T's crew looking like a Beastie Boys stunt double:

Sire Records

It's also entirely possible that he simply lost a bet.

Check out how delighted the guy on the left is to see this new trend of white people rapping finally making its way to his neighborhood. These were simpler times indeed. But things got strange when it came time for Everlast to release his first solo single. Instead of just keeping the "Is this guy a professional BMX rider or a rapper?" look, somewhere along the way it was decided that Everlast should take on a more "dapper" image:

The 5 Most Embarrassing Past Lives of Famous Musicians
Warner Bros Records

"Today, I'd like to talk to you about term life insurance from State Farm."

That's a screen grab from the video for baby Everlast's very first solo single, "I Got the Knack," which is taken from his real debut album, the heinously titled Forever Everlasting.

Given that the video is filled with oversized suits, goofy dancers, and Beverly Hills, 90210 hair, it would be tempting to blame all of this on a badly mishandled attempt to cash in on those 11 months or so of Vanilla Ice hysteria that swept the nation in the early '90s. Everlast would probably love to. Unfortunately, he released this LP equivalent of that picture of yourself as a kid where your ears look huge a full five months before the VIP Posse kicked their way onto the scene.

He was more fortunate when it came to record sales, though. To put it plainly, there weren't any.

Warner Bros Records

Not even with their primordial "Gangnam Style" choreography.

That made it a whole lot easier to pretend that this fiasco never happened when he resurfaced a few years later with a slightly less ridiculous look.

Ronnie James Dio Was a '50s Rockabilly Dude (in the Actual '50s)

The 5 Most Embarrassing Past Lives of Famous Musicians

The Artist You Know

If you're looking for one fact to properly sum up the mystique of Ronnie James Dio, this should do the trick: He won Revolver magazine's best metal vocalist award in 2010, at the age of 67, literally one month before he died. He simply did not stop kicking ass on Earth for one second until death forced his hand.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

"Goddammit, we're supposed to play chess, not a guitar duel!"

He was the prototypical metal deity, and for decades in the bands Rainbow, Black Sabbath (during their non-Ozzy years), and his own eponymous outfit, Dio established himself as perhaps the most powerful vocalist to ever sing heavy metal. His voice is one of a man who feasts on raw dragon steaks before embarking on demon-beheading and planet-fucking sprees that most would be unworthy to even jerk off to. Dio did not play heavy metal music; Dio was heavy metal music.

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By most accounts, though, heavy metal was born in the late 1960s when Tony Iommi realized that he could only play guitar with his factory-labor-mangled finger if he did it in a way that made sounds resembling the winds of hell. Ronnie James Dio, on the other hand, joined his first band in 1957.

It doesn't take a math degree to figure out that whatever he was doing in the field of music at that relatively innocent point in history certainly wasn't the kind of thing you'd be proud to airbrush onto the side of your van. Allow us to confirm those suspicions with this photo:

The 5 Most Embarrassing Past Lives of Famous Musicians

"Might I say your daughter is a lovely lady. May I escort her to church, under your supervision?"

That's an extremely young and much less metal Ronnie James Dio as he appeared when he was a member of the Vegas Kings, a 1950s rockabilly band. You'll note that he still looks kind of badass, and that he also looks kind of 35, despite only being 15 in that picture. You can probably chalk that up to years spent doing metal-as-hell things, even though he didn't know what "metal" meant yet. It definitely didn't mean "playing trumpet," but that's what he did on an early single by the band. His main gig was bass, though, so at least that kind of rocks.

Because nobody puts Dio in a rhythm section, he eventually assumed lead vocal duties in the band and gave them a "still not very metal because it was the 1950s" name: Ronnie and the Redcaps. There is no way you can actually be ready to hear Dio work his magic in this kind of environment, so we won't even ask if you are. Just listen for yourself:

Interestingly, in 1997, Pat Boone famously released an album of metal covers done in big-band style. The only metal vocalist to participate in this project? Dio, singing backup on Boone's cover of his classic "Holy Diver." All this time, we figured he did it because he had a great sense of humor. Turns out he just happened to have the necessary experience for the job.

David Bowie Released an Insane Children's Song

The 5 Most Embarrassing Past Lives of Famous Musicians
Frank Micelotta/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The Artist You Know

Science will never catalog all of the freaky shit David Bowie was into in the 1970s. There's a popular rumor that Bowie's wife once walked in on him having sex with Mick Jagger. He was friends with Iggy Pop when Iggy Pop was still rolling around in shards of glass and regularly exposing his XXXL schlong onstage. During the pair's famous "Berlin years," Bowie got so whacked out on heroin that he started to believe that German electronic music was a worthwhile career direction.

What we're saying is, even when Bowie's trying to be somewhat family-friendly, like in the 1980s fantasy flick Labyrinth, he comes off even more like the kind of guy you don't want the little ones to be around. And to top it all off, he's got two different-colored eyes.


Homochromia is for failures.

The Artist You Don't Know

In 1967, Bowie put out a single so batfuck crazy that one must wonder how there was any acid left for anyone else that summer. Behold "The Laughing Gnome":

Variously classified as a children's tune, a novelty song, and an unethical torture device, "The Laughing Gnome" is a musical conversation with the titular character and his brother, who speak mostly in gnome-based puns ("Do you have a home?" asks Bowie; "No, we're gnome-ads!" comes the reply) and in a sped-up, gibbering voice that makes Alvin and the Chipmunks sound like Barry White and Luther Vandross.

Even Bowie's biographer Paul Trynka would have a tough time casting any kind of positive light on the tune, but not for lack of trying. In the official biography, Starman, he states, "As long as one is happy to abandon all notions of taste, the song is brilliantly crafted," which is kind of like telling someone they're pretty as long as they're in the dark. He then kicked the audacity up a notch by adding that, when it comes to "pseudopsychedelic cockney music-hall children's songs, it reigns supreme."

The 5 Most Embarrassing Past Lives of Famous Musicians
Michael Regan/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Clearly this man has never watched Mary Poppins on acid.

Make no mistake, this is because "The Laughing Gnome" is, mercifully, the only pseudopsychedelic cockney music-hall children's song.

There's a reason for that.

Billy Joel Was in a Drum- and Organ-Based Psychedelic Metal Band

The 5 Most Embarrassing Past Lives of Famous Musicians

The Artist You Know

The fun thing about Billy Joel, aside from all of the amazing songs he's written, is that his sometimes raucous life offstage is such a departure from the mellow, adult-oriented rock sound that made him famous. The angriest Billy Joel has ever been on record was that one time when he protested the cola wars by writing the shittiest song of his career.

Aside from that, a Billy Joel tune is the kind of song you can take home to mother. See, Mom, this song is about an uptown girl! He can't afford to buy her pearls!

The Artist You Don't Know

Epic Records

Yep, the Ron Jeremy lookalike draped in full gladiator regalia (complete with optional modesty tights) is Billy Joel. The man on the left is, you know, the other half of the band Attila. If you've never heard of them, congratulations, you're a part of the 99 percent all over again.

They were a drum- and organ-based heavy metal band whose sound could best be described as "Holy shit, dude, the only organs heavy metal needs are the sex kind." Their only record was released in 1969.

The 5 Most Embarrassing Past Lives of Famous Musicians
Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

If Ian Anderson has taught us anything, it's that unconventional instruments only work with a ridiculously large codpiece.

All Music Guide calls it "the worst album released in the history of rock and roll," and Billy was just as generous by describing it as "psychedelic bullshit." The critical and commercial response to the album was so astoundingly negative that it prompted a young-but-already-short-on-quality-decision-making-skills Billy Joel to guzzle a bottle of furniture polish in a half-hearted attempt to commit suicide.

Obviously, the attempt was unsuccessful. Billy Joel eventually nursed himself back to health by breaking up his awful band, running off with the drummer's wife (fun fact: He wrote "Just the Way You Are" and "She's Always a Woman" about her!), and getting super-duper rich and famous.

Thanks to the Internet, though, that terrible album will always be with us:

You're welcome.

Mike Floorwalker can be stalked on his blog or just followed around on Twitter.

For more rock stars who used to be way, way different, check out 5 Artistic Geniuses Who Only Became Great After Selling Out and 6 Mind-Blowing Early Music Careers of Famous Musicians.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 3 Comic Book Moments That Prove Batman is Bad at Hiring.

And stop by LinkSTORM to discover which columnist used to be Courtney Love.

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