Thursday, September 18, 2008


My old buddy Matt writes:

The world needs answers!

Ok, so I'm sitting here listening to my iPod and working and Shakedown Street by the Dead comes on (my wife is a Dead fan; we have a combined MP3 file; hence, I have Dead songs on my iPod). Any who, it got me thinking - what are the best examples of bands with fairly distinctive sounds putting out albums in a genre that is significantly different just to cash in? Spinal Tap had a lot of fun with this. Dylan famously changed his sound but I think it was not commercially driven. Some bands searched for their sound for awhile before becoming what the world knew them as (Journey, for instance). I remember when The Cult went from indie rockers to a hair band. What are some other examples?

I respond:

Oh god, where do I begin?

Both the Stones and Paul McCartney tried their hand at disco, "Emotional Rescue" and "Goodnight Tonight" respectively as a couple of prime examples. Actually, the Stones were tinkering with their sound all through the 70s, and I think some of it was commercially driven, but some of it was genuine interest in exploring new sounds. McCartney continues to do this, just as the Beatles did throughout the 60s. As with the Stones, some of it has been commercial, and some of it artistic--for instance, the Beatles' "Paperback Writer," with its smooth multi-part harmonies, was a conscious attempt to compete for Beach Boys fans--commercial or not, the result was pretty great.

Steely Dan's sound also changed throughout the 70s, moving from rock to a jazz fusion sound by the time they recorded Aja--I'm still not sure how to describe the Gaucho album, much less jazzy than Aja, but still pretty jazzy. I don't think much of Dan's evolution was about commercialism. However, it is important to note that everything they've done since their reunion in the early 90s is a conscious attempt to NOT change, for utterly commercial reasons, of course. I think all these albums totally suck. Fagen's recent Morph the Cat solo album is pretty good, though.

Both the Butthole Surfers and the B-52s moved toward a radio-friendly sound later in their careers. I have no idea what's happening with either band today. Bongwater and Negativland moved in a more commercial direction musically, too; however, both groups retained most of their subversive edge via lyrics and themes. Don't get me started on Brian Eno as Dr. Frankenstein and his experiments on U2.

Didn't Carlos Santana update his sound in the late 90s with both critical and popular success?

Here's an awful thought: Jefferson Airplane-->Jefferson Starship-->Starship. It's just so sad.

There's a special place in hell for Collins, Rutherford, and Banks, but not for Peter Gabriel, who also became a big star in the 80s, but not because he sold out. Emerson, Lake, and Palmer never changed at all, even when they were trying to. King Crimson changed, but did it like Gabriel: the music takes Fripp in always new directions.

I'm sure there's tons more I'm forgetting, but this ought to be enough food for thought.

Wait a minute, you were talking about cross-over artists. Maybe this doesn't answer your question at all. Anyway, here's some EL&P for you: