4 Great Lead Singers With Inexplicably Terrible Solo Careers
Sometimes great bands break up. It's sad, but it happens. Usually, though, the loss of a great band just means that the same people you love as a team will be making music alone now. That really shouldn't be a problem, right? If you're a great musician in a great band, it stands to reason that you'll carry on the tradition and make great solo albums.
In a perfect world, that's exactly what should happen. It doesn't, though. More often than not, when the creative force behind a band branches out on his own, the end result leaves you longing for the days when he had a few extra people around to share the work.
Here are four great singers who should never have gone solo.
David Lee Roth
When David Lee Roth left Van Halen in 1985, it would have been understandable if people didn't have the highest of expectations. After all, singing, lyric writing, and choreographing the karate kicks and other assorted rock moves were the only things on Diamond Dave's to-do list during his run as the band's frontman. There were signs that solo Dave was going to be unusually bad times before he even left, though.
Why is he wearing a scarf if it's so hot?
That's Crazy from the Heat, an objectively terrible EP released not long before DLR split. It consists mostly of covers, including a painful take on the Beach Boys' "California Girls" that made David Lee Roth an even bigger star than he already was, but only because it had a neat video. Everybody hates the song, and now you can, too:
His first proper solo album, Eat 'Em and Smile, was more in line with what fans had come to expect in that it was mostly rock music featuring an incredibly talented lead guitarist. Unfortunately, that lead guitarist was Steve Vai, who's basically Eddie Van Halen minus the substance abuse problems and personality. So it wasn't quite the same, and the difference is enough that if you remember any David Lee Roth solo song that isn't "Just Like Paradise" or some lounge music bullshit like this ...
... congratulations on being a huge Van Halen fan. The rest of us still don't give a shit. Van Halen was a bit like the ingredients in a McDonald's cheeseburger. As a group, they're delicious. Individually, they're practically worthless. And David Lee Roth was the dehydrated onions on that terrible cheeseburger, a unique ingredient that might look ridiculous but somehow brings forth the best flavors from the rest of the ensemble.
That was a pretty great comparison. Anyway, the crimes of David Lee Roth's solo career are rendered even more heinous because of what it cleared the way for. That, of course, being the "Van Hagar" years, in which poodle-haired tequila salesman Sammy Hagar led Van Halen through the recording of what amounted to a decade-long Pepsi commercial.
The Replacements is one of those bands that you either know or confuse with a Keanu Reeves movie about football, there's not much middle ground. If you fall into the latter group, I dunno, try to know more stuff next time I decide to write an article like this. Everyone else, keep reading.
Oh, hey, there aren't a lot of you left. I probably could've just run this entry by each of you face to face and spent as much time as I will writing it. Anyway, the Replacements were always kind of like two different bands. One was loud and fast and made songs like this:
The other cranked out some of the prettiest melodies a band with a penchant for letting their stage shows devolve into a series of drunken Tom Petty covers could ever hope to, like this:
On their earlier records, the ratio skewed heavily in favor of loud and fast, but with each ensuing album, the less-raucous moments became more and more frequent. And then, something tragic happened -- the Replacements signed a deal with a major record label.
Oh! And founding member and lead guitarist Bob Stinson died. It's unclear which of those events was the true catalyst, but something about the Replacements changed. I put that in italics because I don't know how to express the true gravity of the situation any other way, short of using "chiller" font. But man, they really changed. Hopefully you listened to at least one of those videos posted earlier in this entry. If not, here's another one for comparison purposes, thanks again for not participating:
Those who are playing along will note how absolutely not rocking that song is, but for some reason, seemingly overnight, that's just how the Replacements sounded. Like a band that really wanted to be on the radio. The album that song comes from is called Don't Tell a Soul, and here's how awful it is: I bought the CD used, only to discover that the inside of the CD cover was signed by bassist Tommy Stinson, and even that didn't stop me from selling it back a few weeks later. It's not even "accidental souvenir" good, whatever the fuck that means.
The next album, All Shook Down, was even worse, even though Rolling Stone famously lavished it with mountains of undeserved praise. But who reads Rolling Stone anyway, am I right? Hopefully nobody looking for an honest opinion of the Replacements' final album.
That wasn't much of a joke, huh?
Now, since he was the main songwriter, it stands to reason that Paul Westerberg should have made the jump from being in a band to being a solo artist without too much hassle. So why in the hell was that not the case? Granted, his stuff on the Singles soundtrack is fantastic if that's the kind of thing you're into. But the proper solo album that followed, 14 Songs, was as boringly songed as it was boringly titled. Basically, it sounds exactly like that last terrible Replacements album. So guess who was the problem there?
It took a long time for Paul Westerberg to finally hit a bit of a groove as a solo artist, and we're talking like a decade or so. And even then, he had to do it under the goofy name of Grandpaboy or some shit. You might as well just get a day job if you're going to humiliate yourself like that.
I'll excuse everyone who needs to head to the comments section to leave a joke about Scott Weiland being on a list of "great" musicians at this time.
Make all the jokes you want, but goddammit, I like Stone Temple Pilots. Compared to a lot of the other bands who got rich during the orange-distortion-pedal rush of the early '90s, they actually had some musical chops, and they were at least moderately less depressing than the Alice in Chainses of the world. I like Nirvana more, and I think Scott Weiland probably did, too, but still, shut up, they were a good band. Here, have a listen to "Big Bang Baby" while you agree with me:
Unfortunately, because heroin is also a hell of a drug, STP was rarely able to keep itself on the road or even together as a band for more than a few years at a time. During his many stints as an ex-member of Stone Temple Pilots, Scott Weiland recorded a few solo albums and ... one of them isn't bad! It's called 12 Bar Blues, and it proves the old adage that even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes. There's a song on that album called "Lady, Your Roof Brings Me Down" that makes me particularly happy:
Fun fact: Sheryl Crow plays accordion on that song. That's also the only Scott Weiland solo song I can name off the top of my head. And I'm not a casual Stone Temple Pilots fan. I mean, everyone is technically a casual Stone Temple Pilots fan. There aren't any other kind. It isn't a band that breeds rabid fans. But I am a fan. I give Scott Weiland a fighting chance any time he makes an album with someone other than Stone Temple Pilots, and I'm never anything short of disappointed.
That's what's special about the Scott Weiland case. It's not just that he shouldn't go solo; he also shouldn't be allowed to join any other bands. For the remainder of his days, Scott Weiland should be forced to travel with two things: a sobriety coach who carries a gun and the DeLeo brothers.
"Is that heroin up there?"
I see a lot of confused faces in the crowd, but believe you me, I'm killing it with STP fans after that combo of references. Especially the ones who hated Velvet Revolver, a band some of you might recognize as the most confounding failure in rock supergroup history since Chris Cornell turned Rage Against the Machine into a funk band or whatever went wrong there.
Velvet Revolver looked like a champion on paper. "Guns 'N Roses - Axl Rose + Someone I Like Significantly More" should have all added up to something pretty wonderful. But it didn't. It's not that they were terrible. They were just unremarkable, mostly because they seemed to have all the chemistry of opposing sides of a Middle East peace negotiation. That might be putting it too mildly. It honestly seemed like they just plain hated each other, and I will admit that I liked that, because I hated them, too. And everyone who works with Scott Weiland seems to hate him. Only one band has ever been able to balance hating him with still making good music, though.
I'm not going to tell you you're wrong to feel angry that Paul McCartney is on this list. I will tell you that if you enjoy the solo work of Paul McCartney that much, I suspect you're too much of a pussy to do anything about it, though.
Just joking, kind of, but I stand by my assertion that Paul McCartney is an awful solo artist. If you've already started typing up your angry comment to the tune of "Live and Let Die," I'd ask you to keep your calm for one second and think about this: "Paul McCartney solo" covers a lot fewer years than you probably think, and they're mostly the really terrible years when he was pulling horrific stunts like this "Temporary Secretary" fiasco from McCartney II, his first solo album after ending Wings:
While his first two post-Beatles efforts count as "solo" work, they're also most likely the result of years of songs that were written with the Beatles in mind but never made it onto any albums. It's the same reason George Harrison's first solo album was three discs and was overflowing with songs that would eventually become classics. He only got to release two songs per Beatles album, he was sitting on a lot of stuff from those years.
So was Paul McCartney, at first. After those initial albums, though, he didn't keep at it alone. He formed Wings in 1971, and for the remainder of that decade and into the early part of the '80s, Paul McCartney was still in a band and still making relatively great music, even if it wasn't Beatles great.
Then, as so many "creative geniuses" do, Paul McCartney decided he had done all he could with the band he was a member of and opted to go solo. Guess what his first solo single was after disbanding Wings?
Right, "Ebony and Ivory" was the world's reintroduction to Paul McCartney, solo artist. Sure, it's a duet, but make no mistake, it's a Paul McCartney song. And since we're having so much fun with race relations and terrible music, who wants to guess what McCartney's last U.S. Billboard No. 1 hit was?
If you correctly guessed that it was "Say Say Say," it's because you either have terrible taste in music or have lost all faith in the public's ability to make sound buying decisions. You're probably right on all counts, but definitely on the "Say Say Say" part. That was indeed Paul McCartney's last No. 1 hit, most sales undoubtedly coming on the strength of some of the most unrelentingly manly cover art of all time.
That absurd image actually does a fairly decent job of explaining what is, at least in my opinion, Paul McCartney's failing as a solo artist. To put it bluntly, Paul McCartney is corny as fuck. When there's no one else around to tame it, Paul McCartney's tendency to embrace the sappiest things in life often makes his music impossible to stomach. Great example: Try to make it all the way through "Freedom," the cringe-worthy song he released to benefit victims of 9/11:
Easy to appreciate the sentiment there, but damn if that performance doesn't feel a lot like watching your dad try to dance at a wedding. And that, unfortunately, is a pretty accurate description of Paul McCartney's solo career in general.