4 Famous Bands We (Wrongly) Hated When They Tried to Change
Give any band a long enough career and they're almost certain to go through several different lineup changes and configurations. From internal conflict to out-of-control drug habits and any number of other potential catalysts, at some point it's inevitable -- change is going to happen. Which is fine, of course. Sometimes change is exactly what a band needs. Case in point: Remember when Creed used to be a band and then they stopped being a band and now things are way better?
Sooooo much better.
Change isn't something that a lot of people take to instinctively, though, and more often than not, drastic alterations to a band's lineup lead to a backlash from fans who "like the earlier stuff better," or whatever other music snob complaint you'd like to use there. While those gripes are sometimes valid, it's just as common for those angry words to be nothing more than the product of fans refusing to grow and change with the act they once loved. It's a distinction we discuss in depth on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
We kick things off by talking about the first entry on this list, because if you ask me, no incarnation of a famous band gets more unwarranted hate than ...
The Phil Collins Version of Genesis
There have been a few radically different versions of your dad's favorite band, Genesis. In their early days, they were a progressive rock group fronted by Peter Gabriel. If you're curious, "progressive rock" is just a short way of saying "ridiculously long songs played in wacky time signatures and also some jazz stuff." To keep pace with the outlandishness of the band's music at the time, Peter Gabriel regularly took the stage draped in crazy costumes like the sunflower monster pictured above (on the left) and this terrifying getup:
What Clive Barker movie is this from again?
Like most others of the crazy variety, this was a train that couldn't run forever. Eventually, Gabriel grew disenchanted with the confines of working within a band, while the band got tired of competing for attention with a dude dressed like a flower, and it was amicably agreed that Gabriel would leave. Phil Collins, who was the drummer at the time, famously assumed the role of lead singer after an exhaustive search of more than 400 vocalists failed to turn up a suitable replacement for Gabriel.
Can you guess who "coached" the potential singers during the auditions?
The prevailing historical opinion is that, after taking over frontman duties, Collins proceeded to completely ruin the Genesis legacy, turning the band into wussy music for boring adults, but it's not like Gabriel left and the band released "Invisible Touch" the next day or anything. In fact, the first Genesis album featuring Collins on lead vocals (A Trick of the Tail) is still pretty fucking strange and "progressive" compared to their more well-known work. Have a listen to "Dance on a Volcano," the first song on the album:
If you don't have time to sit through all of it (I certainly don't), just know that by the time that song ends, everything erupts into the same prog-rock guitar noodling fans had come to love and expect from Genesis up to that point. It wasn't until guitarist Steve Hackett left a couple years after Gabriel that the band gave up on the prog-rock dream and started releasing singles like "Follow You Follow Me."
With that said, three albums into his solo career Gabriel was still calling in assists from Collins to invent new drum sounds ...
... so how bad could Phil really have been as it related to the music of Genesis around the time of Gabriel's departure from the group? No matter what the Against All Odds movie soundtrack might indicate to the contrary ...
... it's likely that Collins wasn't really what turned Genesis into an embarrassment of adult-rock radio staples as their career carried on. I'd be willing to bet the more likely culprit is the guy responsible for this bullshit:
That's "All I Need Is a Miracle" by Mike + the Mechanics, and it has all of the street cred and staying power of Jefferson Starship's "We Built This City." The only sort of cool thing about this band was that they used a plus sign instead of the word "and" in their name. The "Mike" in question is Mike Rutherford, one of the founding members of Genesis.
This must be what Michael Bay's father looks like.
For some reason, Rutherford gets zero blame for the pussification of the band, even though he was along for the entire ride and was totally up to the kind of cheesy shit on display in that video for the entirety of the time between when Collins left Genesis to pursue a solo career in 1986 and when he finally returned in 1991 to make Rutherford sound as rad as he possibly can, once again.
Look, I get that Phil Collins isn't the biggest badass in music history, but his status as some kind of talentless joke from the corniest of all decades who made nothing but disposable pop music is way unfair. If anything, by the time the '80s rolled around, Collins was the only cool and interesting thing about Genesis.
Metallica never had a chance. From the moment they became the biggest name in metal, they were destined to disappoint a lot of people at some point. It's the nature of their genre. There is a strict set of rules and regulations to which all metal bands must adhere, and falling afoul of those rules is tantamount to treason. Even a group of outsiders gathered together to celebrate their non-conformity through the power of metal needs a strict set of guidelines by which to live. It's the only way to accurately identify all the "posers" you're supposed to hate, I reckon.
Metallica fell way out of line with those rules in 1996 when they released an album called Load.
Why yes, that is blood mixed with semen!
Well, depending on who you ask, they'd been pushing it for a long time, at the very least since the breakout success of Metallica (you probably know it as "The Black Album") and its massive hit single, "Enter Sandman."
It was Load that really marked the beginning of the end for Metallica and their "core" fans, though. For one thing, holy shit, they cut their hair!
That was a devastating blow to the pride of headbangers everywhere. Alice in Chains bassist Mike Inez hilariously mocked the decision on an episode of MTV Unplugged.
"Friends don't let friends get Friends haircuts," says the guy playing acoustic bass from a comfortable chair.
It wasn't just the hair (or the suits), though, it was the music. The thrash metal aesthetics that were already waning on their previous album were completely gone on Load. This was riff rock. Alternative music, maybe. It was bluesy, or some shit. Whatever it was, it wasn't metal ...
... and their fans revolted. Well, some fans revolted. More than 5 million others who didn't made Load one of the band's best-selling albums ever. This put Metallica fans squarely into two camps, and one of those camps was symbolically declared the loser when, just one year later, Metallica released a sequel to Load, which was called Reload, appropriately enough.
Blood and urine, this time!
Metallica was a thrash metal band no more, and everyone knew it. Sure, it was a decent album that produced at least one song that's become a staple at Metallica's still-beloved live shows ...
... but for a lot of fans, it was just one more record that didn't sound like Master of Puppets. Unfortunately for Metallica, that's been the general reaction to pretty much everything they've done since the early '90s. Even when they did attempt a slight return to the sound that first made them famous, on 2008's Death Magnetic, people still found all sorts of things to complain about, including the devil horn-worthy controversy over the album being "too loud."
Metallica didn't completely lose their talent and ability as a band in the '90s; that's just the point in time when they completely alienated that faction of their fan base that wished every song sounded like "Hit the Lights."
Hell, I wish every Metallica song sounded like "Hit the Lights," because it's my favorite Metallica song, but that's not how music is supposed to work. Metallica should be applauded for not letting their audience dictate the course of their creative output, not hated for it.
You're still fine to hate them for killing Napster, having the most pretentious drummer in the history of music, the Some Kind of Monster documentary, and any number of other crimes, though.
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.
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 ...
Probably because he knows karate!
... but Sammy Hagar was the more successful of the two ...
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.