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Re: The Biggest Stars That Never Were

The Biggest Stars That Never Were
September 07, 2018 04:41PM
We've discussed on here occasionally about how The Heartbreakers should have been a top-rank CBGB star band, mentioned in the same breath as Ramones, Blondie, Talking heads, but a botched pressing of what should have been their breakout album sent them into a spiral that they never recovered from. And bands like the Velvet Underground seemed to have everything going against them from day one - one of the most influential bands of all time were such a flop that Lou Reed had to work at his father's accounting office for a couple years after the VU. Sometimes having talent, even being the best, isn't enough.

On the other hand, there's the Beatles who, apart from their talent, had all the right breaks and extra positives - they were cute, humble, charming, not too avant garde or too old-fashioned, had a guy like George Martin who was perfectly sympathetic with even their craziest ideas, a record company that miraculously let them do anything and didn't seem to screw them over, a big budget, access to great studios and session players. etc. The Beatles might not have been the greatest if the stars were not so perfectly aligned. People don't usually take that into account - they just think that if you're great and work hard, everything goes right. Yeah, well ask the Heartbreakers about THAT...

Who are alternate-universe superstars, great artists that should have been big, but were robbed by some butterfly-effect randomness?

Post Edited (09-07-18 13:42)
Re: The Biggest Stars That Never Were
September 07, 2018 04:54PM
In Canada, the Dub Rifles were a bad with great talent that never caught a break. They put out a couple of catchy singles that got played a lot on college radio station in 1982-83, were great live, but never were signed by a label to record a proper album.

The fact that they had a ska/reggae-inspired sound after that wave had crested worked against them. Being from Winnipeg, which is far from the three main cultural capitals (Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal) also hurt them.

They were just a few years too early. 54-40 and the Tragically Hip were able to break out from a similar base only a couple of years later and both had a lengthy and successful career.
Re: The Biggest Stars That Never Were
September 07, 2018 05:19PM

They were just a few years too early.
Timing! Another inscrutable element in the success formula.

And the Beatles stuck it out for some years. I think the Suburban Lawns could have been LA's Talking Heads if Su Tissue hadn't walked away so soon.

Oh, and speaking of the Heartbreakers, this just dropped:

Re: The Biggest Stars That Never Were
September 07, 2018 07:31PM
It's hard to say if Andy Partridge's stage fright, and the way it was handled, could be described as "butterfly-effect" randomness. Nevertheless, my wife and I often have felt that XTC should've reached a much bigger audience than it did.

Of course, if the band had stayed on its pre-1982 development track, it might have developed in a more linear way ... and might never have found its way to Skylarking.

Re: The Biggest Stars That Never Were
September 07, 2018 08:11PM
I don't know but The Replacements should have been huge and in a way bigger than REM - Westerberg was charismatic Rock star in every definition, I know the self-sabotage and why they weren't but still its a bummer.

There is no logical explanation for Big Star not being big - there is nothing odd or weird or off-putting about them. I don't know anyone who likes Pop that doesn't like them.

Also the Muffs - maybe its that name - but they had it all, great frontperson, great songs, great sense of humor, hooks coming out of everywhere.

Post Edited (09-07-18 17:12)
Re: The Biggest Stars That Never Were
September 07, 2018 08:50PM
> There is no logical explanation for Big Star not being big ...

Apart from the horrendous ineptitude of Stax Records in promoting & distributing #1 Record (and the venality of Columbia, with whom Stax signed a distribution agreement), the stress and conflicts that broke out within the band in the wake of that disappointment, and Chris Bell's subsequent departure.

Re: The Biggest Stars That Never Were
September 07, 2018 08:58PM
Ah yes, The Replacements - they (along with Husker Du) were pegged by music biz insiders in the '80s to be alt rock's big breakout stars. Turned out to be REM and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Nirvana wasn't even on the horizon.

Speaking of the Chili Peppers, when i was regularly haunting LA clubs, they, Guns n Roses, Jane's Addiction, Thelonious Monster, and Fishbone were the biggies. They were all supposed to be huge. Didn't quite work that way for the last 2 bands. T Monster's mad genius couldn't quite translate to vinyl, as the TP review points out. One of the all-time great live bands tho, saw them many times. Blind Melon's mega-hit "No Rain" is basically an (inferior) spin on TM's "Michael Jordan" from several years prior. Fishbone DID make great records, were sorta successful, but certainly not on the Chili Peppers' or GnRs' astronomical level

Post Edited (09-07-18 19:33)
Re: The Biggest Stars That Never Were
September 07, 2018 10:45PM
I'd actually love to see a "mania" happen, ala the Beatles. I understand because of the internet everyone's interests are so fragmented it couldn't happen now blah blah blah. I still would love to see a band be that big again. I think a mania, for a worthy talented artist, would be fun to go through.

I never LOVED loved them, but I remember thinking Jesus Jones could be huge. They mixed guitars with the current electronics and drumbeats, I liked that 'right here right now' was a little topical, not moon-June fluff. I wanted them to be like the clash or the prime-era kinks. Just did not come to fruition. In fact, nothing came of them. I was dead wrong.

I still think the shoes had incredible vocals and great songs in their prime... why weren't they plastered on the walls of teenage bedrooms across America?
Re: The Biggest Stars That Never Were
September 08, 2018 05:09PM
I would've liked to have seen a longer career for Jesus Jones too. Doubt still holds up very well, and Perverse wasn't far behind. And onstage, they definitely delivered the goods.

Whatever you want to say about the Chili Peppers' albums, onstage, they've never let me down. That goes double -- no, make that triple for Fishbone. One of the most reliably great live acts of my lifetime. Jane's Addiction never has appealed to me on record, and at the first Lollapalooza, their well-frosted maggotry didn't translate any better to stage. I never got to see Thelonius Monster, and never desired to see GN'R (although it's easy to understand why they broke so big).

All that said, Steevee makes an excellent point -- the best point of this thread, in fact. That sort of mania may be exciting for us fans to observe, but it must be hell on the artists. It's even questionable whether the fans really dig it. How many fans have you known who've blown off a favorite act once they became big? Or who've complained that they couldn't afford (or get) tickets anymore?

Re: The Biggest Stars That Never Were
September 08, 2018 08:04PM
Two weeks after I started college in 1988, I saw Jane's Addiction open for Iggy Pop. I thought they were awful, and while their records were better than their set, they've never impressed me much. I guess "Been Caught Stealing" is a standout single, and the video's very funny, but the lyrics are smug as hell; someone as rich as Perry Farrell was at that time shouldn't write an ode to shoplifting. I never saw Fishbone live, but for me their albums never quite lived up to their potential even though their first EP and THE REALITY OF MY SURROUNDINGS are very strong. They also had the misfortune of Billboard's switch to Soundscan revealing that Columbia was greatly hyping up how well REALITY was selling.

This is perhaps getting off-topic into our perennial "is rock dead?" subject, but my favorite cafe started playing New York's "alternative" station rather than the R&B/hip-hop radio they used to play. I've spent 2 hours there over the course of the past 2 days, and it was amazing to me that Muse were the only contemporary artist they played who used electric guitars. Every other time I heard them, it was in an old song by Green Day, Foo Fighters, RHC Peppers, etc. When their promos bragged "92.3, New York's alternative," they could've just as easily said "92.3, New York's dance mix." I like a lot of electronic music and dance music, but they were hardly playing the best examples; an EDM song with Rivers Cuomo singing is a fucking awful idea. Playing SOPHIE's "Faceshopping," Oneohtrix Point Never's "Black Snow" or Yves Tumor's "Noid" would've been a much better idea than the crap they were playing. None of those artists call themselves rockers or are really being marketed to whatever's left of the audience for rock music (would Bad Wolves, Five Finger Death Punch and Greta van Fleet fans give SOPHIE the time of day?), but they have more rebellious attitude and willingness to explore abrasive sounds than Lovelytheband or Foster the People, and all of those songs I named are basically catchy leftfield pop tunes.
Re: The Biggest Stars That Never Were
September 08, 2018 02:02AM
Going through that kind of mania as an artist is probably hellish. Kurt Cobain said that when Nirvana signed to DGC, he didn't think the band could be any more popular than the Pixies. Perhaps if "Smells Like Teen Spirit" had stalled around #37 and NEVERMIND only went gold, he might have space to conquer his demons and would still be with us.

According to Wikipedia, Jesus Jones got to #2 with "Right Here, Right Now" and also had hits with the songs "Real Real Real" and "International Bright Young Thing," and their album DOUBT got to #25, although it doesn't have sales figures for the album. That doesn't sound bad. Their bassist later joined Jon Langford's band the Waco Brothers! Which brings me to another point: when I listen to Mekons songs like "Memphis, Egypt" or "Millionaire," they sound like totally accessible successors to the early '80s Clash. Perhaps the band sabotaged themselves by doing anthemic, catchy songs that critique rock'n'roll as a product of capitalism, tied together America's space program with the Vietnam War or went into detail about the CIA's involvement in drug smuggling, even if they were twice willing to sign to major labels.

I can think of artists right now who should be a lot more popular: Tirzah (minimalist alt-R&B like SZA mixed with the xx), Yaeji (hip-house in Korean and English, with potential appeal to K-pop fans but without the manufactured boy band quality of BTS and most other mainstream K-pop artists), Against Me! (they're not breaking much new ground musically, although I like their best albums a lot but while I can't count the number of articles that have called them "this generation's equivalent of the Clash," their "Train In Vain" remains elusive), Julien Baker (her Matador debut struck me as an indie equivalent of early Tori Amos). But the Velvet Underground and Big Star's initial lack of commercial success contributed to turning them into legends in the long run. Ultimately, I think influencing major musicians matters more than going platinum. Big Star became icons in a way that Badfinger and the Raspberries never will be, as good as their music was. Maybe the same will turn out to be true of the bands people have cited. Imagine Dragons are probably the most popular rock band in America whose members are under 50 now. Will anyone be listening to them in 20 years?
Re: The Biggest Stars That Never Were
September 09, 2018 04:25PM
An excellent roots rock duo House of Freaks, years before the White Stripes or Black Keys were playing sports arenas. A better band than those two, if ya ax me. They are not only largely forgotten, but one of the members (and his family) was horribly murdered.

And how was it that The Nuns didn't give Blondie a run for their money? Jennifer Miro (RIP) was possibly more beautiful than Debbie Harry, and possessed a similar cool voice and persona. They had some great songs. You'd think after Blondie hit #1 on the charts the labels would have been climbing over each other to get them Nuns.

Post Edited (09-09-18 14:55)
Re: The Biggest Stars That Never Were
September 09, 2018 05:15PM

Fishbone were a particularly baffling one - they were in the era where Faith No More and RHCP got big, they got a Saturday Night Live spot and they were on Lollapalooza.

House of Freaks reminded me of the Von Bondies who are now known as the guy Jack White beat up but they had a great record in Pawn Shoppe Heart in an era where Rock records were still selling, a catchy single, big guitars and a pretty big push critical push too........that album is a bargain bin steal nowadays.

Re: The Biggest Stars That Never Were
September 09, 2018 07:40PM
HOF is one of my favorite bands of all time - their first album is a staple of any top 10 list I'm asked to make. I think they found a measure of college radio stardom, but as much I love them, I can't imagine that they'd have ever been big stars. Too modest, too straightforward, too smart, frankly. But super melodic, and the late Bryan Harvey was a great singer and songwriter.

I've long given up playing the popularity game. I'm notorious for picking hits that never make it and for dismissing bands that later become huge.
Re: The Biggest Stars That Never Were
September 30, 2018 03:30AM
How many fans have you known who've blown off a favorite act once they became big? Or who've complained that they couldn't afford (or get) tickets anymore?

I've seen Green Day at a third-full 924 Gilman St. show and I've seen them in a stadium (after scoring free tickets). You can probably guess which was the more enjoyable experience.

And I agree that influence and longevity are probably better in the long run than "-mania" or even chart success. (Who sells more records nowadays, Big Star or the Verve Pipe (or even Hootie for that matter)?).
Re: The Biggest Stars That Never Were
September 30, 2018 12:57PM
Don't know about who sells more records now, but think the current "monthly listener" stats on Spotify are a sadly relevant measure--

Big Star 355,423
The Verve Pipe 486,262
Hootie & The Blowfish 1,035,696
Green Day 12,733,506

And in further free-fall down the rabbit hole, some of the other acts mentioned in the thread--

House Of Freaks 589
White Stripes 7,515,871
Black Keys 4,804,532
Fishbone 50,652
Faith No More 1,823,881
RHCP 16,525,588
The Nuns 1,739
Blondie 3,745,747
Jesus Jones 163,945
The Replacements 479,779
Husker Du 223,606
Tirzah 252,434
Yaeji 687,711
Against Me! 394,684
Julien Baker 761,547
Imagine Dragons 40,004,177

And my vote for band that shoulda been way bigger--

Game Theory 2,399
Re: The Biggest Stars That Never Were
September 30, 2018 08:14PM
Jesus Jones 163,945

Actually, point in fact, "Right Here Right Now" was licensed to local TV news broadcasts for quite a long time. To say it's ubiquitous in newsrooms around the country (and probably the world) is an understatement. They're probably getting more residuals from the first few bars alone than Iggy got for "Lust For Life."
Re: The Biggest Stars That Never Were
October 02, 2018 10:39PM
Nah, it's not about Jesus Jones having a hit. I really thought they'd be a long-term artist, critics darlings, as praised as say... the Replacements (?!) are today.

Instead they're not loved... not hated...just acknowledged for having existed *sigh*.
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