5 Image Changes by Musicians (That Failed)
Most artists that have experienced any longevity in their career have undergone some sort of stylistic change. It’s only natural that interests would change, and music is no exception. Be it the audience or the musician themselves, someone always demands more. Sadly, this doesn’t always work out for the best, as seen in these five cases.
Vanilla Ice is fondly remembered as one of the 90′s favorite punchlines. However, there was a brief point in history where the man’s career wasn’t a tremendous joke. His album To the Extreme is the fastest selling hip hop album of all time, having spent sixteen weeks on the Billboard charts and eventually selling eleven million copies. Ice managed a smash hit with “Ice, Ice, Baby” and his record company was quick to exploit it. Not only was Ice forced to adopt a more “commercial appearance” but he was made to tour almost immediately after the single’s success.
But consumers are a fickle beast and as soon as we had learned to love Vanilla Ice we were quick to turn against him. As hip hop moved towards a darker tone, Ice kept his relatively clean image together. The decision came at a price, however, and soon the spotlight had shifted away from him. Then 1994 happened and it looked like this:
Vanilla Ice grew dreadlocks and began talking about smoking weed. Like, a lot. Keep in mind this was only his second studio album, but the man pulled a complete 180 and changed his style completely. The album, Mind Blowin, failed to chart at all. It turns out that people liked the new and edgy Ice even less than the shiny dancing Ice.
Hammer’s career path follows a similar path of Vanilla Ice’s (in fact, Hammer wanted him as an opening act). Hammer found huge success in “U Can’t Touch This” which propelled sales of Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt Em. Spending twenty-one weeks at number one and selling over eighteen million copies, the albums whirlwind success ensured that you will hear U Can’t Touch This at every social function you ever attend until the end of time.
As the landscape for rap and hip-hop changed so too did the audience. Despite being more consistent than Vanilla Ice in terms of releasing albums and maintaining some level of success, his audience grew disinterested. It didn’t help that other artists had begun openly begun taking shots at him in the media for his rather clean image. In an attempt to maintain his success while winning over new fans, Hammer became the funky headhunter.
In addition to the above increase in banana hammocks, Hammer also took on a more aggressive sound to try and compete with the gangsta rap movement. However, his lyrical content remained almost entirely unchanged. The album went gold but failed to reach the same heights as previous albums. The ending to Hammer’s story is well known: an excessive lifestyle led to bankruptcy. Hammer still records albums (for his own label) but has returned to wearing pants full-time.
The success of KISS is based heavily (perhaps entirely) on their image. The outlandish make-up characterized their inhuman personalities, making them four hard-rock Ziggy Stardusts and filling in an apparent gap in the world of weird rock personas.
The success of KISS was met with an equally strong merchandising effort, eventually creating a problem for the band: as they released more albums and played more shows, more crap with their faces printed on it was hitting shelves. Fans were overwhelmed and began wondering if the band had sold out, giving up the hard moral stance of “Rock n’ Roll All Night” for a quick buck.
The first attempt to curb this backlash was the release of Music from The Elder, a concept album that was to present KISS as legitimate artists and not just hairy men in make-up. The album turned up a dud. The following album, Creatures of the Night, set the band back on course. Then something happened that caused this:
Lick It Up saw the band without their iconic face paint and album sales reached platinum status. However, concert attendance didn’t reflect this at all, with numbers lower than those of the previous tour. The publicity stunt had worked, perhaps too well, and the band was soon back in their paint.
David Bowie has been called the chameleon of pop for his ability to change sound from album to album. Even more famous is his ability to change image, going from character to character like most people go through tissues.
As the eighties drew to a close Bowie had grown tired of his solo career. The album Never Let Me Down was met with a lukewarm reception by fans and critics alike. His label pushed for another album like Let’s Dance, which had garnered a great deal of attention from the mainstream. Bowie, wanting none of it, wanted to form a band that could allow him to fall into the background and make music for himself rather than his previous audience.
The band was known as Tin Machine and consisted of Bowie and Reeves Gabrels sharing guitar and voice duties and brothers Tony and Hunt Sales covering bass and percussion. Originally wanting to experiment with a new sound, Bowie soon found himself following The Pixies. Continuing in this direction, band members encouraged Bowie to record vocals in a single take, leaving things decidedly unpolished and going against the logic of two decades of success.
The hard rock/punk/whatever of Tin Machine’s first album was met with mixed reviews. Bowie’s label, EMI, refused to release another Tin Machine album in an attempt to get Bowie to record solo again. Instead, the band moved to Victory Records. Their second album fell shorter than the first, forcing the band to break up. Despite Bowie being the front man and, you know, being David Bowie, success didn’t follow Tin Machine. This is most likely due to Bowie taking a much smaller role in public with the band, often not speaking at all during interviews, leaving people to wonder who the hell those guys hanging with the Duke were.
A founding member of The Ramones has nothing prove to anyone. But that didn’t stop Dee Dee, bassist and primary song writer, from spreading his wings and trying to fly.
While not officially out of the band in 1989, Dee Dee attempted to launch a solo career in hip-hop. How this came about isn’t clear. Some say he had a previous infatuation with hip-hop and would show up to Ramones gigs dressed to fit the bill. Others believe he was introduced to hip-hop while in rehab and was encouraged to record his own material. But drug addicts aren’t exactly known for sound advice, and what followed was Standing in the Spot Light, an album that many refer to as the worst thing ever recorded.
Dee Dee would later agree the album was a failure, and it’s pretty easy to agree with that. You can take issue with the overall lack of flow, or you can take issue with how he can’t seem to keep up with his own beats from time to time. Most people, however, take issue with the writing, with many of the lines existing just to complete rhymes and much of the filler material (and there’s a lot) being the sort of boasting you would expect from people who can’t rap. For example:
The mashed potato is in the groove
It’s gonna make your body move
Make you snap, crackle and pop
I’m the master of hip hop
That’s from the open track “Mashed Potato Time” and it doesn’t get much better than that. It’s true that the album features a few standard rock inspired songs, but it’s not enough to pull out of the nose dive. Though Dee Dee would attempt other non-Ramone’s projects, he never returned to rap. Probably for the best.