In my mind there is music you ‘love’ (Category #1), music you ‘like’ (Category #2) and music you ‘listen to’ – but wouldn’t necessarily want others to know about (Category #3). It’s kinda like the old joke about the similarities between large women and scooters…
but I’ll leave that for you to google later.
By my rationale you would be happy to let others know of your musical ‘loves’ and would defend those artists stoutly in the event that someone professes an opposing opinion. Those that you ‘like’ might not elicit the same passion, but again if asked you would gladly inform others of your approval.
You probably wouldn’t want to wear the band T-Shirt outdoors for Category #3 artist in anything other than an ironic statement.
Today in an astonishing and pointless display of bravery I am pleased to present a group of artists that are probably not universally accepted by the ‘taste police’. But I genuinely like ‘em all anyway… some of them only for a song or two but you get the idea.
More than that I’ll not only tell you why, but back up my arguments with audio proof in the form of a Spotify playlist hand crafted for the occasion. I guarantee that at least one of these artists will pleasantly surprise you. If not more.
Billy Joel: Let’s deal with the old alcoholic elephant in the room first. My first ever non-compilation tape was Billy Joel’s ‘The Bridge’ in 1986. I played that tape day in, day out for months. You could play any line right now from any song and chances are I will give you the next, and I haven’t heard the album in full for well over a decade.
The Bridge was a gateway *uh* bridge? to more Billy Joel albums, if I’m honest most of them. Even though he cops a flogging these days as an unfortunate relic of an unfortunately dressed era, there can be no denying that the man could write a tune.
I don’t care how cold and calculated his process was or how out of touch from what was considered cool he was in the last decade or so, a Billy Joel album always managed a few rock solid tracks. (Though granted the over-earnest River of Dreams was a little hard to stomach.)
Tracks to change your mind: Rosalinda’s Eyes. She’s got a way. Running on Ice.
Black Eyed Peas: I know. I know. I want to punch myself as I type those three sellout words. Just know, the pre-Fergie Peas were a very good, very underrated hip-hop trio, which makes my hatred of Will-I-Am and his three hangers on so deeply sad.
‘Behind the Front’ was a quality debut, with ‘Fallin’ Up’ and ‘Joints ‘n’ Jams’ still extremely listenable, and ‘Bridging the Gap’ was both a commercial and critical success chock full of great songs (‘Weekends’) and worthwhile collaborations (I never thought I would like anything featuring either Macy Gray or Wyclef Jean). Despite the big sales and chart success the group thought they could do better.
The hiring of Fergie meant four things in the short term; universal hatred from anyone with actual musical taste or underarm hair, unbelievably lazy samples and rhymes and film clips you could only tolerate with the sound off.
And of course massive sales figures that continue to this day.
Of course now botox and celebrity indulgences have left Fergie unpalatable, unlistenable and unwatchable, as well as thoroughly undeserving of anything but the blame for ruining an extremely promising hip-hop group. But my point remains ‘Behind the Front’ is good. And ‘Bridging the Gap’ is great.
Tracks to change your mind: Fallin’ Up. Weekends. Joints n Jams.
Coldplay: There are those that think Coldplay are the devil’s spawn, and others that rate them a worthy successor to U2 and the acme of accessible easy listening. I am in the middle, though I can’t deny Coldplay seem to be able to churn out quality singles with mathematical precision, which might be the reason too many of their songs sound the same.
The band’s public persona isn’t helped by celebrity friends and wives and the blandness of everyone not named Chris Martin, who while not bland seems either manufactured and sterile or aggravating and obnoxious.
By the time ‘X&Y’ arrived the magic was already gone, and everything since is merely adequate in that samey way.
Regardless, debut ‘Parachutes is excellent pure pop music, and for mine ‘A Rush of Blood to the Head’ is such a brilliant album from start to finish I still struggle with the concept that a guy who named (or allowed) his kid Apple is responsible for it.
Tracks to change your mind: The Scientist. Politik. Sparks.
Lauryn Hill: Yep the same super-serious Ms Hill who was in Sister Act, annoyed everyone ‘one tine’ with The Fugees, busted out a mega seller, then vanished into thin air, only reappearing periodically in carefully choreographed one-off gigs and no doubt profitable Fugee-reunions.
But the girl has pipes, and can both sing and rap. For mine only Michael Franti might be the applicable male equivalent. And for a while they had the same hair…
I purchased ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ for my wife – then girlfriend – who in true consumer fashion listened to it once or twice then put it on the pile gather dust until it would inevitably be thrown out. I couldn’t let that happen. I ended up rescuing the CD and integrating it into my own collection, where it still stays today.
Sure the between song school-room interludes are a little twee and clumsy, but the reward for patience is some of the most mature and well crafted pop tunes in decades.
Tracks to change your mind: Doo Wop (That Thing). Forgive them Father.
Lenny Kravitz: Let me be the first to say that the retro fuelled indulgences are no longer meaningfully serving Lenny well. But I wholeheartedly disagree with the assertions that they never worked at all.
‘Let Love Rule’ was a hippie love in at times, though interspersed with amazing tunes. ‘Mama Said’ will always be his masterpiece, with the old school influences effortlessly intertwined with solid songs and Lenny’s unmistakable voice. I’ll even happily go into bat for the slightly more mainstream Are you gonna go my way?
Since then Lenny has fooled me a couple times with decent singles that have convinced me to buy the increasingly ordinary albums they feature on. ‘If you can’t say no’, ‘Again’, even ‘Where are we Runnin’?’ cost me both money and time, but only managed to send me scurrying back to ‘Mama Said’ for the good stuff.
Lenny’s latter career might be more about who he is banging than what banging tunes he has created, but the early years were – and are – where it’s at. And given Lenny’s willingness to embrace the old stuff, if that isn’t irony I don’t know what is.
Tracks to change your mind: Rosemary. Always on the run. Heaven Help. It ain’t over till it’s over.
Mazzy Star: Deemed too shoe-gazey for the mainstream and too airy-fairy for the alternative markets, I can begrudgingly agree that Mazzy Star really only have a couple different songs repeated again and again.
Maybe that’s why they only lasted three albums before splitting, but Hope Sandoval’s ethereal alienesque vocals and the repetitive muted guitar riffs somehow worked for at least that short while.
‘Fade into You’ is still a towering track, and the album from which it is lifted ‘So Tonight that I might See’ is perhaps the group’s best (Yay ‘Five String Serenade’!), but ‘Flowers in December’ from the group’s final album Among my Swan proved they still had it.
It’s just unfortunate not many really wanted it anymore.
Hope Sandoval then took her breathy honey soaked pipes to the Jesus and Mary Chain, where they made ‘Stoned and Dethroned’, a minor under-rated classic, then managed to crop up again with her own band Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions, whose ‘On the Low’ is a masterpiece in plodding beauty.
Tracks to change your mind: Fade into you. Flowers in December. Five String Serenade.
But if we confine ourselves to musical output only I am happy to defend Papa Roach to the end, especially the brilliant – yes I said brilliant – ‘Getting Away with Murder’.
I first heard Papa Roach on a video game soundtrack of all things (I think a Need for Speed game?), with ‘Time and Time Again’ as the standout track on what are usually uniformly crappy affairs filled with fake punks and cola commercial backdrops. I then tracked down the song on an el-cheapo second hand ebay purchase (this was pre iTunes), and was amazed that not only were most of the other tracks listenable, many of them were actually really good.
Eventually I managed to source the entire back catalogue, none of which I regret purchasing by the way, and now I frequently grab a Papa album for the car to blare on long trips. Solo road trips…
Unfortunately one day I found a live DVD at the video shop and rented it, which showed me exactly why Papa Roach are so thoroughly reviled by those with ‘taste’. The between songs banter was ludicrous and self important, the crowd alterna-emo to a fault, and the band members primped and preened to within an inch of their carefully selected piercings.
But my ears can’t see the awkward publicity shots. They hear the massive choruses and the crunchy riffs. And for the most part they can screen out the occasional cheesy rhyme and clumsy moment…
Tracks to change your mind: The entire ‘Getting away with Murder’ album. Time and Time again.
Yes. Yep. Granted. And your three final opinions sound much the same.
Mine is that with a little judicious sifting The Police have more than a few tracks that stand the test of time, even with the jaunty ska influences and all too sincere Sting vocals.
While The Police might not have an album proper that can be listened to painlessly from first track to last, they do boast a kick-ass Best of, with at least 10 ‘must includes’ and a grab bag of other tracks that could be argued either in or out.
Similarly solo Sting has his share of great tunes among the occasional mis-steps, that is once you can move past his over-pronunciation of every second word.
It’s simply not popular to be an under 50 guy who likes The Police. Consider this bringing it back.
Tracks to change your mind: Roxanne. Walking on the Moon.
Too electro for rock. Too rock for electro. And not enough of anything to be more than momentarily popular. This indecision and ‘tweening’ is clearly evidenced by the wildly varying output by the band.
Whether they are truly this experimental or madly trying to find acceptance will never be known, but debut ‘Wither, Blister, Burn and Peel’ sounds like Alice in Chains lite, ‘Darkest Days’ like the Prodigy vs The Cult mopey grunge, and the self titled final album like acoustic washed out emo.
It’s hard to form a niche sub-genre that no-one can be bothered joining, especially if you don’t stand still long enough for them to find you.
‘Darkest Days’ is a magnificently flawed album though. (With most of the magnificence in a good way.) I still love ‘Save Yourself’, and half a dozen other tracks are sneaky good. Even the thrashy short rawk tracks work a little but or at least don’t overstay their welcome.
Then came the self titled album and another direction change; acoustic rock tinged pop – if such a thing exists they invented it. While I think the emo chick on the cover says it all, I actually quite like the album in an easy listening sort of way. Still despite the overwrought wrist slashing tone of many songs, I never figured out just how fucked up Stabbing Westward really were and how much was a desperate attempt to find an audience.
Good thing they made some decent songs eh?
Tracks to change your mind: Save Yourself. So Far Away. The thing I hate.
Unfortunately after a scintillating – if horribly dated – debut centred around the all time classics ‘Wishing Well’ and ‘Sign Your Name’, TTD got a little – make that a LOT – indulgent. After naming his second album ‘Neither Fish Nor Flesh’ and filling it with pretentious arty shit, no-one gave a toss that his third album ‘Symphony or Damn’ was actually quite good.
In the end TTD himself gave up, changed his name to Sananda Maitreya after some freaky dreams, converted to Buddhism and made a bunch of albums with poncy titles. His next album will apparently be named ‘Return to Zooathalon’…
It’s a shame that the man burned out so quick, because albums 1 and 3 were especially good. ‘Introducing the Hardline…’ might have had a bit too much filler but there was ample evidence that the boy could sing, and ‘Symphony or Damn’ still gets dragged out on occasion.
If you can see past the over-produced, immaculately presented surface, there are some good songs here that often get unfairly overlooked.
Tracks to change your mind: Succumb to Me. Let her down Easy. Sign Your Name. Seasons.
The Others: The top 10 above cover the artists that I think unfairly reviled and under-appreciated. But what of the artists that are considered unworthy with good reason, but nonetheless managed to buck the odds and bust out a decent track or two amid the dross that was their normal output?
You’ll be pleased to know that I have considered them too, more than that I have combined them into one big awkward embarrassing mix-tape for your behind closed doors listening pleasure.
Young MC: ‘Bust a Move’. A self confessed ‘One hit wonder’, in truth Young MC was more than that. Sure the debut ‘Stone Cold Rhymin’ is extremely dated now (it is nearly a quarter century old) but Marvin’s rhymes are clever, his delivery smooth and rapid fire and his sense of humour classic. He sure wasn’t going to be asked to join NWA, but while he wasn’t in the cool club, he still managed to be more talented than many of the lunkheads that were.
Sugababes: ‘Push the Button’. Look I struggle to name a Sugababes song. In fact this was the only one I could come up with without google-assistance. In truth this might not even be the one I think I like. But despite a revolving cast of United Colours of Bennetton models and the occasional god-awful ‘uplifting socially conscious for the sisters’ track I must admit that the Sugababes are the one girl pop trio that never make me cringe. I even find myself nodding along to their tunes – I mean years ago when they were actually relevant…
Amerie: ‘1 Thing’. Like Beyonce Amerie has found (limited) success thanks to her spectacular looks, but again in this case for four minutes she managed a song that is as easy to listen to as she is to look at – look at the white shorts! Like ‘Crazy in Love’, ‘1 Thing’ also somehow manages a short rap from a normally mediocre rapper (this time Eve) that actually works in the context of the song.
Beyonce: ‘Crazy in Love’. Like most guys I like looking at Beyonce far more than listening to her. Song after song about how she doesn’t need a man, or hates the one she has, starts to grate after a while. Which sounds ironic given she has attached her big ass to the ugliest – and need I say richest – man in hip-hop. ‘Crazy in Love’ isn’t just an awesome film clip – those denim shorts should be bronzed and the orange carefully placed sheet (OK dress) that forever threatens to expose Destiny’s little Children frustratingly terrific – it’s that rarest of tracks that defines pop perfection.
Dee-Lite: ‘Groove is in the heart’. Before you go on and on about how Dee-Lite aren’t that bad, name another Dee-Lite song… (waiting)… Thought so. If they aren’t that bad, then why is it that only one song resonates now. And what a catchy song, it takes a good song to withstand the gloriously horrible hippy tinged film clip featuring an odd multi-ethnic Beatnik, a red headed Barbie and a bunch of throwbacks from an Austin Powers outtake.
Vanilla Ice: ‘Ice, Ice Baby’. Sure the lyrics are awkward as hell, the clumsily sampled bassline a little too obvious now, and Vanilla himself a prime example of the unfortunate 80s. But white boy Hammer pants aside, the song still somehow works too decades on. Unfortunately as an impressionable teen longing to find an entry into hip-hop I purchased the album. Be assured that nothing else on it is worth tracking down.
Lucy Pearl: ‘Don’t mess with my man’. A B-Team supergroup featuring members of no-one’s favourite group, Tony, Tone, Toni, En Vogue and A Tribe Called Quest. The self titled album is mostly risk-free pop with nothing challenging their former band’s output. That is aside from the extraordinarily catchy and funky ‘Don’t Mess with my man’, with a noodling bassline to die for and a singalong chorus that would have heads turning to see just which guy on the subway is nervous about another woman elbowing in on their special boy.
Eminem: ‘Lose Yourself’. I hate Eminem so much, mainly because he is adored by the mainstream for being no more than an average rapper. Eminem is responsible for the phrase “Look I don’t like rap music, but I can acknowledge his talent”, trotted out by morons who refuse other, better, rappers because of the threatening CD covers – and skin-tones. That said ‘Lose Yourself’ kicks arse with a gradual build up and a chorus that turns Eminem’s Dr Seuss rhyme style into a strength for once.
Now as promised here is the Spotify playlist with selections from all of the above, you might not like all of it but I am confident you will like some of it… maybe even love a little.
(P.S. My stupid pride wouldn’t let me put an Eminem track on there, so I replaced it with a German hip-hop song from the 90s. It’s pretty awesome even if you can’t understand a word of it.)