5 Hilarious Attempts By Musicians To Stay On Top
You know that biopic about the famous person who finds success, falls from grace, then comes back and goes out on top? According to movies, that's the basic structure of every celebrity's life. Well, it doesn't always work out that way in reality. For a lot of celebrities, the arc goes: success, fall from grace, then instead of a comeback, a final act of flailing desperation. Here are some of those stories.
MC Hammer's Embarrassing Attempt At Gangsta Rap
In 1994, an increasingly irrelevant MC Hammer knew it was time for a significant change. He had to sell out every stadium concert simply to make payroll for his small army of backup dancers. And after building a huge $30 million mansion, buying 19 thoroughbred racehorses, and generously employing every single resident of Oakland, the rapper's fortune was quickly dwindling.
Future rap legends like Nas, Notorious BIG, and, er, Coolio were dominating the charts, rapping about the realities of America's underserved inner cities. It spoke to the disenfranchised youth, and unintended suburban audiences were eating it up with their licensed Flintstones movie spoons. America wanted hardcore gangsta rappers like Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg -- the kind of artists who were 25 years away from making family-friendly entertainment! Not the kind who were on Saturday morning cartoons just last week.
"Hammerman says: When the police take your parents away, you can always 'get down!'"
And speaking of square, dancing for fried chicken in weirdly racist KFC commercials wasn't paying the bills. So Hammer needed to revamp his image. He dropped the "MC" from his name, becoming simply "Hammer," and released a "gangsta rap" album, The Funky Headhunter. And of course the cover featured him squatting in a prison pose, almost certainly in a warehouse storing landscaping equipment.
"They locked me up for making too many gangsta improvements to my guest house."
The title didn't exactly resonate. The Funky Headhunter sounds less like a rap album and more like the name of a Scooby Doo villain. Then there's the hilariously miscalculated new look, which is best summarized by this one GIF:
Four of their diaphragms popped during this one take.
That's from Hammer's music video "Pumps And A Bump" -- every rapper back then was legally required to make at least one video about slapping, flopping butts. The lyrics hit all the usual gangsta rap beats: Hammer's a "pimp" who asks us all to "step right up to the girl with the big butt" as if he's both the best and the worst carnival barker ever. Hammer also uses the song to remind us all that "Men Ooooh! Everyone for the rest of your life there's a girl fucking tight." It's almost nonsense, as if it's a secret code only our butts can understand.
After the butt stuff, Hammer launches into "Somethin' For The O.G.'s," the diss track to end all diss tracks -- or at least, end Hammer's career as a disser forever. Dissmaster? Diss-sender? The point is, he calls out seemingly random rappers, like Q-Tip and Redman and others who call him "wack," before namedropping his crew of "hard knuckleheads from the east side." This is a man who obviously spends most of his day in dance choreography, and that's inherently not terrifying, despite the powerful core that nine hours of body wave training gives you.
"The parachute pants are perfect resistance training."
To be fair, it's not unheard of for a rapper to successfully redo his or her image. Hell, Tupac started as a backup dancer for Digital "Seriously, the Humpty Hump guy" Underground. But Mr. Hammer was the parachute-pantsed man rapping about the power of prayer and the legitness of the Addams Family. Millions of dollars and man hours were spent convincing us that is who MC Hammer was. You're a rapper, not a porn producer. You can't get hard by replacing "Addams Family" with "butts."
Johnny Cash Writes About Native Americans While Pretending To Be One
Johnny Cash was every bit as badass as his reputation suggests, and you either know that from your good taste in music or because you saw the movie about him. But while Walk The Line covers Cash's drug addiction and his live concert at San Quentin prison, it strangely left out some of the crazier parts of his life.
For instance, there's his trips to the desert to shoot his guns in "amphetamine communions with the cowboy ghosts." Forget Johnny Cash; we'd watch a movie about that starring anybody. And that famous prison concert? Prior to performing, Johnny did not in fact sober up, as the movie suggested. Instead, he filled himself with enough coke to rattle the teeth out of an elephant.
"I'm already in a prison. What are they gonna do? Prison me more?"
But the strangest thing the movie left out was the time he started pretending to be a goddamn Indian. In 1964, an increasingly blitzed off his tits yet socially conscious Cash released Bitter Tears: Ballads Of The American Indian, a protest album about the plight of Native Americans. The topic hit close to home for Cash, as he was part Native. The cover featured him wearing a leather belt around his head, and the sleeve featured the text: "Johnny is justified in the stand he takes [as he] is proud of his Cherokee blood."
"Technically, most of my blood is methamphetamine, but you know what I mean."
The only thing is that Cash was exactly zero percent Native American. As he told Penthouse years later, "The higher I got, the more Indian blood I thought I had in me." Since that's a side effect unique to him, it's safe to say that no one has ever been as high as Johnny Cash was.
Because of its subject matter, Bitter Tears was incredibly controversial, and many country music fans (who of course are normally very tolerant of minorities) chose to boycott it. Record sales plummeted, concerts were cancelled, and Cash even took out a full-page newspaper ad that basically yelled at radio stations for ignoring the record. I mean, if you don't buy a fake Native American's record, what does that say about you?
Fuck you, that's what.
But not everyone ignored it. The KKK were so incensed by the album that they actually tried to kidnap Cash. He responded by suing them for $25 million. So we have a Cherokee on the warpath over the white man ignoring his music, who is being pursued by the KKK, who find out he was white the whole time and then get sued by him? How was that not the entire plot of Walk The Line?
Jefferson Airplane Sells Out, Accidentally Makes The Worst Song Of All Time
Jefferson Airplane is the legendary '60s psychedelic band known for hits like "Somebody To Love" and "White Rabbit," the universal choices of film editors who need to tell viewers "This character is on drugs."
By the late 1970s, the band was well past their prime and falling apart at the seams. You can only do so many hallucinogens before your own brain decides you're an enemy and tries to destroy you. For instance, in one of many drug-inspired incidents, lead singer Grace Slick drunkenly taunted a German audience by asking, "Who won the war?" It takes a truly incredible act to make an anti-Nazi sentiment offensive, but Slick found a way.
The band reemerged in the 1980s as Jefferson Starship. "Jefferson" as a nod to their original name, and "Starship" because '80s. They also ditched good taste, self-awareness, and their timeless mod-inspired fashion sense to decorate themselves in Miami Vice blazers, pastel pants, and mustaches.
"Try 'em on, gang! The salesman at the mall said these threads were totally rad! Where's the beef!?"
In 1985, Starship released Knee Deep In The Hoopla. Fun fact: "Hoopla" is a Latin word that first appeared in ancient texts around 345 BC. The word roughly translates to English as "shitty, soulless corporate '80s music". And boy oh boy, were they knee deep in it. The album was universally panned by critics, but that didn't stop "We Built This City" from becoming a hit. You might remember the words, which at one point go, "WE BUILT THIS CITY! WE BUILT THIS CITY! WE BUILT THIS CITY! WE BUILT THIS CITY!" It's the kind of song you play for a prisoner to convince him that the Devil is real and there with him.
The irony is that the song, whose lyrics are full of anti-commercialism, was written in the coldest, most corporate way possible by a team of independent songwriters. In one song, the band went from politically-motivated San Francisco hippies to the crusty, stuffed-shirt establishment. Oh yeah, and the freaking Lincoln Memorial comes to life in the music video to sing along with the band:
"Four score and seven compromises ago ..."
That year, "We Built This City" reached #1, because there is no hope in this universe and oblivion is the only comfort we will ever know. Since then, the world has come to its senses and the song has appeared on everyish list of the worst songs ever, including the #1 spot on Rolling Stone's Worst Songs of the 1980s.
Sadly, this was the new normal for the once-legendary Jefferson Airplane. They tried to continue after the '80s, changing their name to the somehow more embarrassing Starship: The Next Generation. Which sounds like the kind of terrible thing that should get you kicked out of the new-band-name brainstorming meeting. Why not "Where's the Beefship?" or "I'm Starship James, Bitch"? Wait, we just accidentally made awesome ones.
Though not nearly as awesome as this cover art for Spitfire.
Many of the band members were increasingly frustrated with the awful sound and worse names, but were simply going through the motions and cashing the checks. As Slick said later, "I cut my hair, smiled for the cameras, answered press questions, watched the charts, made the records, and kept my ass out of jail." So, enemies of Jefferson Starship: When time travel is invented, remember to take a recording of old Grace Slick back to show young Grace Slick.
Rick Wakeman Of Yes Tells The Story Of King Arthur Through Figure Skating
Progressive rock is the overwrought, geeky cousin of traditional rock. Rock's parents are always saying "Why can't you be more like your cousin Prog. He's so ambitious!" Prog rock and melodramatic concept albums fit together like a synth-banging hand in a velvet, sparkly glove. So it isn't too surprising that Rick Wakeman of Yes, one of the original UK prog rock bands, decided to write a concept album about King Arthur. Wakeman already had the frilly capes, so screw it, right?
Choose wisely. The true keyboard will bring you life. The false keyboard will take it from you.
If you're familiar with the genre, this album isn't that strange. What's bizarre is how Wakeman executed his grand vision. He decided to stage a live performance of the album, complete with actors, elaborate costumes, pyrotechnics, and cardboard swords. And it would be performed on ice.
Like any good sexual fantasy, Rick knew The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table had to be cast entirely with figure skaters. And before you jump to conclusions: Yes, drugs were involved, but not the ones you're thinking of. Rick executed this graceful triple axle of insanity while in the hospital recovering from a heart attack, filled with the kind of medication that might whisper "KING ARTHUR ON ROLLER SKATES!" To which a brave man might respond, "Nay, spirits. The king shall wear skates of ice."
A world tour was in the works, featuring a full orchestra, special effects, and enough electronic keyboards to shut down a small country's power grid. Sadly, Wakeman never got to spread his message of Arthurian ice dancing across the world, thanks to a disastrous debut at London's Wembley Stadium.
None of the instruments worked properly because they were half frozen, and many of the skaters wore silly horses around their torsos. These horses both restricted their movement and looked fucking stupid. Still, despite not being very good musically, and all the way shitty thematically, it sold out all three of its Wembley performances. Unfortunately, it still lost money. Apparently, people were willing to spend negative money to see King Arthur skate, and not a penny more.
Despite it being a frozen shitstorm that ruined everything for everyone, as of 2014, Wakeman was hoping to revive the show by recruiting any Olympic figure skater who'd be willing to tarnish his or her good name in a horse-shaped tutu. "Nowadays you can do so much more with ice," Wakeman threatened in a recent interview. It's not clear what he means by that, but when a man blames his failed ice-capades show on the way ice worked in the '70s, it can't be sane.
The Monkees Try To Update Their Image By Killing Themselves In Their Grownup Film
You might think the Monkees are a joke. A fake band from a sitcom who became a real band? It's ridiculous. But they deserve your respect. Sure, they were assembled for the show, and at first didn't write their songs or even play their own instruments. But they eventually became talented musicians, and personally wrote some of their biggest hits, like "Mary, Mary." It was kind of a "fake it 'til you make it" deal.
After two seasons, their TV show was cancelled, and their fan club was hemorrhaging teenagers like a 2017 pickup pursued by a President Trump immigration drone. But as their audience was maturing, the Monkees tried to branch out and craft a more mature look and sound (and possibly smell) for themselves.
First, the Monkees hired Jimi Hendrix as their opening act.
July 9th: Disney on Ice and Parliament Funkadelic!
At the time, Hendrix was huge in the UK, but hadn't yet caught on in the States. The Monkees were fans of Jimi, but as you can imagine, the feeling wasn't mutual. As Hendrix told Melody Maker, "Oh God, I hate them! Dishwater ... You can't knock anybody for making it, but people like the Monkees?" This was especially offensive to Micky Dolenz, who was raised Dishwater by Dishwater parents.
Still, despite his open contempt for them and any people who might enjoy them, the Monkees insisted on having Hendrix open their show. And Jimi (or at least his manager) agreed. However, the shows didn't quite pan out as the Monkees had hoped. As soon as Jimi launched into his set of now-classic songs like "Purple Haze" and "Foxy Lady," the Monkees' young audience would begin booing him and chanting for the headliners. But who can blame them? When a child throws steak on the ground and demands SpaghettiOs, you don't blame them.
In their defense, all Jimi's steaks end up burnt well-done.
Jimi left the tour after only seven shows. He was a leather bracelet on an insurance salesman -- it not only made the salesman look desperate, but also devalued the coolness of leather bracelets for everyone else. Still, the Monkees had another misguided card up their blousy, tie-dyed sleeves. In the year of our lord 1968, the Monkees released the movie Head, an LSD-inspired stream-of-consciousness satire written by a pre-Easy Rider Jack Nicholson. It was going to let the Monkees tear down their plastic fantastic public image.
Head was a make-or-break moment for the band. Spoiler alert: It was break. The film, which literally starts with the Monkees committing suicide, confused the hell out of the very few fans who saw it in theaters. The film spliced concert footage with newsreels of Viet Cong soldiers being executed and the Monkees pretending to be dandruff. It was like someone raised in the woods trying to invent the concept of metaphors from scratch.
No wait, we get it. See, WE'RE the dandruff!
Like all acts of historical insanity, Head has picked up a cult following in recent times. However, in 1968, it only made $16,000 of its $790,000 budget back. It would have been more cost-effective and efficient if the Monkees drove across the country and gave each of their fans a five-dollar bill that told them to fuck themselves.
Sometimes, though, changing your image is the only reason you get famous. For proof, just look at The Beatles and the other artists in 5 Artistic Geniuses Who Only Became Great After Selling Out. And check out 6 Musicians Who Made Entire Albums Just To Say F#@k You to see rock stars in their prime, being awesome as shit.
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