It’s a long way to the top and a miserable tumble to rock bottom. ~ CoS
Loathe a good band lately? You probably have your reasons. We’ve all been there; it’s a universal feeling. The way we dust off our record collection, thinking back to a place in history when “things were oh so different.” Sometimes we experience post-nostalgic depression, no thanks to a shot of reality that confirms how far the band’s out from their glory days. And it’s once we make those realizations that we forever acknowledge the malaise that lingers over said artist, band, album, song, etc. We could think of at least a crate full, but we narrowed it down to, oh, a baker’s dozen.
Prepare to scoff. Now.
Legacy: In the ’70s, seemingly everyone wanted Aerosmith to be America’s (and especially Boston’s) answer to the likes of The Rolling Stones. Aerosmith never got there, not by a longshot, but they still released plenty of classic tunes.
How It Was Destroyed: For over a decade, the former bad boys increasingly turned away from rock until they found themselves channeling their inner Celine Dion for one of 1998′s two asteroid movies. (Hint: One of them didn’t star Morgan Freeman.) Also, Steven Tyler was recently a judge on American Idol. Yes, really.
Can It Be Restored? If we’re being honest, then we have to admit the band only had a couple good albums in the first place. Besides, can you ever unsee this?
12. The Beach Boys
Legacy: The Beach Boys’ lush harmonies, girl-obsessed lyrics, and dreamy surf rock sound have made them synonymous with 1960s America. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers are among the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful bands of all time and have inspired musicians of all genres from The Velvet Underground to Daft Punk. Even Paul McCartney admitted that the sophisticated technical production of 1966’s Pet Sounds was a major influence on Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.
How It Was Destroyed: For expressing such happiness and nonchalance in their music, The Beach Boys are major divas. The drama dates back to 1977, when members began clashing over artistic direction and record labels, bobbing in and out of the band, and even suing each other over publishing rights. They’ve separated so many times during their 51-year career, it’s surprising that a breakup is even considered news anymore.
Can It Be Restored? Sure, why not. Even with all the feuding over the years, and another recent breakup that may or may not be Mike Love’s fault, The Beach Boys have achieved an incredibly long career. At the moment, Love is the only one touring. But like bickering siblings on a long road trip, they could easily be over it tomorrow.
11. Black Flag
Legacy: Black Flag weren’t so much a band as they were a way of life. True game changers, Black Flag set the standard for DIY ethos and anti-authoritarianism. Their punk meets metal with hints of classical sound was richer and more varied than that of other punk bands, while still remaining anarchic.
How It Was Destroyed: In 2013, Greg Ginn brought together the few musicians that hadn’t become enemies under the Black Flag moniker, while Keith Morris toured with other former members as FLAG. Ginn sued the others, and Henry Rollins, too, even though he wasn’t a part of either reunion.
Can It Be Restored? Rebellion is apparently overrated, and the band’s iconic symbol has become so meaningless that it’s nothing more than a trendy t-shirt design.
Legacy: With their drug-abusing, shit-talking, English rock star ways, Oasis epitomizes the ‘90s Britpop era. The psych pop rockers won fans over with hits like “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova” and are often compared to The Beatles for numerous chart-topping albums and a generation-defining career.
How It Was Destroyed: Brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher have never tried to hide their animosity towards each other since the band’s inception in 1991. They’ve been known to bicker in the middle of live shows, hit each other with tambourines, and straight-up brawl onstage. When Liam smashed Noel’s guitar moments before headlining Paris’s Rock En Seine Festival in 2009, Noel called it quits and officially broke up the band.
Can It Be Restored? Probably not. Given the intensity of the breakup, the subsequent lawsuits involving slander, and the relative success of each brother’s new projects, Beady Eye and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, respectively, it’s hard to imagine that the brothers would ever revert to their punch-throwing days.
Legacy: Not only did West Coast rockers Sublime establish a tight-knit group of fans with their unconventional blend of reggae, surf rock, and psychedelia, they also brought punk into the mainstream. Not to mention, they went six times platinum on their self-titled album and became one of the most popular ska-punk bands of all time. The tragic loss of lead singer Brad Nowell to heroin made their identity even more distinct by publicly revealing how tightly drug culture was intertwined with alternative rock in the ‘90s.
How It Was Destroyed: Even though their manager declared that the band had no intention of recording and performing under the Sublime name, that “Sublime died when Brad died,” they still regrouped in 2009 with a new vocalist: a self-admitted Sublime fan, Rome Ramirez. Instead of delivering the edgy hardcore/reggae/psychedelic jams that fans highly anticipated, Rome’s 2011 Yours Truly gave them commercial fluff that sounded more like Jack Johnson than Brad Nowell.
Can It Be Restored? Possibly. Although the additional “with Rome” at the end of the band’s name leaves a bad taste in many fans’ mouths; most jabs at the new singer relate to his sugary lyrics and overall poppy sound–both of which are changeable. Nowell left shoes that can never be filled, but if Rome can nix the smiles and add some raunch, he could easily regain some respect from Sublime’s original fans.
Legacy: How can a few sentences adequately capture the legacy of a band whose stunning live performances still captivate viewers today? They can’t really. But it goes without saying that Queen owes its legacy to one of the best performers who ever lived, Freddie Mercury. His impressive falsetto, fearlessness, and overall unique contribution to music was admirable during Queen’s heyday and set a precedent for modern rock and pop stars alike. Countless Queen tribute shows, covers by esteemed musicians like Elton John and David Bowie, and the insane number of plays their songs get at sporting events prove that they’re pretty damn important to music.
How It Was Destroyed: Queen’s surviving members tried to rekindle the band 14 years after Mercury’s death with the underwhelming Return of the Champions tour featuring Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers as front man in 2005. The temporary collaboration also released two live albums and an embarrassing effort of a studio album, The Cosmos Rocks, which received mostly negative reviews for failing to capture Queen’s intelligent lyricism and renowned exuberance.
Can It Be Restored? Outlook not so good. Queen will make another misguided attempt to reignite the band this summer by touring with the rather campy American Idol runner-up, Adam Lambert. While the first Queen+Lambert performance at last year’s iHeartRadio Festival proves that Lambert has the pipes to cover Queen songs, he sorely lacks Mercury’s gripping stage presence and looks downright awkward attempting to jam out with the legendary Brian May and Roger Taylor, who are twice his age. The fact that most people’s reaction to the news of this collaboration is a laugh and an eye roll isn’t a good sign either.
07. Grateful Dead
Legacy: One could argue that the Grateful Dead have ruined and redeemed their legacy several times already. After the heady Haight-Ashbury days, there were the appalling Keith and Donna Godchaux tours of the mid-1970s. In the early 1980s, Jerry Garcia’s drug habits (shockingly!) had a noticeable effect on his health. It’s no coincidence that the performances during this time were lackluster at best, only improving after Garcia went into rehab. The reinvigorated group experience a late peak into the mid-1990s until Garcia passed away in 1995.
How It Was Destroyed: After Garcia’s death, it was widely speculated that this spelled the end for the Grateful Dead, FINALLY letting those torn by the Great Phish/Dead dichotomy focus their summer touring plans on the former. Unfortunately, 30 straight years of non-stop touring proved inadequate for Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzman. They reformed under the name The Other Ones and started touring… again. In 2003, the group changed their name to The Dead — to make sure anyone snapping out of a decade-long, drug-induced coma knew these were the remaining members?
They still tour, almost every summer, to this day. Because what else is there to do?
Can It Be Restored? No, but maybe. The thing is, ridiculous touring schedules and sometimes lackluster live performances have sorta been the Grateful Dead’s thing since back in the day. So, while The Dead will never attain the psychedelic heights of the Grateful Dead during peak years, it’s kind of a comforting annual tradition that Bob, Mickey, Phil, and Bill hit the road together. And god bless, if that’s how they want to spend their twilight years, more power to them.
Legacy: From Nirvana to Weezer to Radiohead to your buzz band du jour, the impact of Pixies has been astounding and undeniable. In addition to all the bands that owe a debt to their sound and style, Pixies also set the standard for the big indie rock reunion, where a sorely missed, gone-before-their-time legend can triumphantly return and finally get their due.
How It Was Destroyed: Thanks to the reverence awarded to Frank Black, he can do pretty much whatever he wants, and critics and fans will still come back for more. The spotty nature of his solo work transferred to a new Pixies single in 2004 called “Bam Thwok”, which sounds exactly like what one would expect from a song called “Bam Thwok”. Fortunately, that was soon forgotten, but in the past year, there have been two EPs released under the Pixies moniker that range from unremarkable to unlistenable, and Kim Deal was replaced with Kim Shattuck of the Muffs. Shattuck had the audacity to actually enjoy playing and went for a stage dive during a Los Angeles performance, so she was fired at the end of 2013 and replaced with Paz Lechantin of The Entrance Band.
Can It Be Restored? Pixies simultaneously represent the pros and cons of a legendary band reuniting. On one hand, it was phenomenal to witness the legends in person as they won over a new generation of followers, but that was 10 years ago. The magic of that first tour continues to dissipate, especially with the lineup instability and unfortunate new material. For another Pixies tour to have that sense of urgency and demand for catharsis restored, they need to make us miss them once again.
Legacy: Metallica were THE heavy metal band of the 1980s-’90s. During their nearly two-decade-long run of success, they won nine Grammy’s, sold (an estimated) eleventybillion records, and their international tours sold out arenas worldwide. Their albums Master of Puppets and …And Justice for All are rightfully considered masterpieces of the heavy-metal genre and served as a compelling, if sometimes scary, soundtrack for thousands of suburban teens getting high in basements. They are one of the few metal bands to truly jump genre lines and find lasting commercial success on the pop charts. Even Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera’s legacy as greatest closer of all time cannot be separated from his choice of “Enter Sandman” as his entrance song.
How It Was Destroyed: Sometime in 2000, the grandchild of a Metallica member (presumably) sparked up the ole dial-up connection and showed the band what Napster was. The group threw a (justifiable) fit, eventually bringing about a series of lawsuits that would eventually kill Napster and bring national attention to the scourge of file-sharing services. Now, let’s not get into a debate about whether P2P file sharing is stealing from bands or not (it almost certainly is). But what is important here is that this is when the court of public opinion shifted dramatically against Metallica. In a fit of poor brand management, drummer Lars Ulrich became the face of the fight against P2P services, culminating in his being booed offstage at the 2000 MTV Music Awards. The fact that MTV’s notoriously discerning fans had turned against Metallica is a bad sign indeed.
Can It Be Restored? Yes. Sure. Why not? If Ulrich and co. would just shut the fuck up about P2P already, they could regain some ground. Plus, all active members are living and therefore theoretically capable of getting in the same room and recording another killer album. The odds of that occurring decline as every year passes, in no small part due to the fact that bandleader James Hetfield throws a fit when someone decides to start a solo project.
The great irony of all of this is that while Metallica’s Napster lawsuits did eventually kill Napster, they also gave international attention to the relatively new idea of file sharing. Bigger and more sophisticated file-sharing services arose in Napster’s place, and the black market of shared music is stronger than ever. A savvy PR person could probably twist this into a marketing boon for Metallica, but if the last decade of general lack of self-awareness with regard to public opinion is any measure, it is unlikely such a move is coming.
Legacy: INXS are categorically the greatest 1980s band from Australia with a guy named Garry Gary on bass. Led by singer Michael Hutchence’s silky smooth vocals and Jim Morrison-meets-Axl Rose good looks, the band released a string of international pop hits, culminating in platinum-selling albums Kick (1987) and X (1990).
How It Was Destroyed: On November 22, 1997, Michael Hutchence was found dead in a Sydney hotel room. The coroner declared his death a suicide. A smarter band would have acknowledged the passing of their frontman as a literal death knell for the group. They should have disbanded, formed solo projects, and maybe, reunited every couple years to pay homage to their fallen bandmate. Instead, they did the worst possible thing: hold a reality TV contest where people competed to become the new lead singer of the band.
I get mad just thinking about it… Okay, replacing a lead singer after he passes tragically is one thing, but to do it in such a ridiculous and public manner is downright appalling. The winner of the contest was the inimitable J.D. Fortune whose youth and vigor led the band to achieve great new things. No. Actually they recorded a shamefully bad album and tried to tour as INXS, but everyone called their bullshit and no one cared. At least that’s how I remember it.
Can It Be Restored? Absolutely not. The damage is done. The best possible solution is for the remaining band members to dissolve the group and go into hiding while all the true fans listen to Kick on their headphones and weep silently imagining what could have been.
Legacy: Weezer‘s self-titled debut (aka The Blue Album) is a power pop masterwork, and the slow-burning canonization of Pinkerton enabled the radio and TV mainstays to have an endearing underdog story. The two albums have inspired a generation of fans who look just like Buddy Holly.
How It Was Destroyed: Although The Green Album returned the band to the mainstream thanks to the popularity of “Hash Pipe” and “Island in the Sun”, fans and critics were split. Their legacy has been on a steady decline ever since, dipping with every subsequent release. Without the wit and passion of The Blue Album and Pinkerton, the once tried-and-true formula is now a groan-inducing cheese processing plant. It’s as if we’ve grown up, but they haven’t.
Can It Be Restored? Doubtful. Weezer is currently working on their ninth album, but if the last five have taught us anything, it’s that the best we can hope for is a song or two that is catchy but not annoyingly so.
02. Guns N’ Roses
Legacy: Guns N’ Roses dominated the charts and airwaves with riotous anthems, lighter-waving ballads, and irresistible guitar licks. They were the hard rockers that everyone could agree upon, and Axl Rose was the quintessential bad boy that supermodels adored. In short, they were the last hurrah of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.
How It Was Destroyed: Everyone knows it’s best to just yank off the bandage or wax strip quickly rather than slowly, but Guns N’ Roses never had the sudden, formal breakup. Instead, the band deteriorated over time, going out on a whimper in the form of The Spaghetti Incident?, soundtrack contributions, and a revolving lineup. In 1999, “Oh My God” was released as a precursor to Chinese Democracy, an album that everyone preferred as vaporware when it finally came and underwhelmed in 2008. But before that day, Rose & company had much of their 2002 tour canceled following sluggish ticket sales in some markets and riots in others. Seriously, Axl, get a watch.
Can It Be Restored? Despite being one of the biggest bands in the world during the late ’80s and early ’90s, Guns N’ Roses currently come across as the sort of phenomenon for which “you had to be there” for it to make sense. Even if the original lineup came together one last time, it would be a nostalgia trip at best. As the past two decades have taught us, some things are best left in 1991.
01. Smashing Pumpkins
Legacy: In 1995, post-Kurt and mostly post-grunge, but pre-Radiohead, snatching the alt-cult leader reins with vigor, Billy Corgan’s Smashing Pumpkins were the country’s Last Great Rock Band. They incredibly went octuple platinum with their iconic double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and with it bequeathed rock radio with five staples, each wildly different but all timeless, to join their highlights from the more cohesive and equally beloved Siamese Dream. Even though subsequent albums Adore, MACHINA, and the bizarrely self-released MACHINA II never captured those highs again, when the band retired they were known for audacity and a towering reach that, while it sometimes exceeded its grasp, always did so with passion and dignity.
How It Was Destroyed: The Pumpkins’ legacy was destroyed the same way it was built: on the back of frontman Billy Corgan’s ego. That ego had created some of the band’s greatest triumphs: he famously took over recording of all guitars for the Siamese Dream sessions, and the band’s greatest commercial windfall, Mellon Collie, is only possible if Corgan truly believed he had three hours worth of things to say. But that ego also began declawing the band near its end. Drummer Jimmy Chamberlain was kicked out prior to the Adore sessions, and Adore goes toothless at the exact moments you’d expect Chamberlain’s thunderous dexterity to kick in. He brought back Chamberlain for the original band’s last official release, MACHINA, but replaced bassist D’Arcy Wretzky with Melissa Auf der Maur.
Even all that wouldn’t have ruined the Pumpkins’ legacy, but when Corgan resurrected the band after failures with Zwan and one release under his own name, the floodgates for legacy destruction opened. The issue isn’t necessarily the music. Most of the Pumpkins’ second wave of output has fallen into self-parody, sure, but Zeitgeist had moments, and most of the releases are largely inoffensive. But the true destruction of the Pumpkins legacy has been Corgan’s scorched earth policy toward the original incarnation of the band. He’s called former guitarist James Iha a piece of shit. He’s called Jimmy Chamberlain a liar. He’s essentially disavowed the original lineup of any creative input into the band’s best moments, saying in an interview with Pumpkins fan site Crestfallen: “I wrote the songs that propelled the band to that other level,” and “[Iha] gave me something valuable that inspired something different in me… but if you took the best 30 songs that I’ve written on my own against [songs written collaboratively], I think I pretty much trump the argument.”
Corgan has also bought a pro wrestling company, partnered with PETA, opened a tea shop, insulted Pavement, David Pajo, Radiohead, and Robert Smith of the Cure, and played an eight-hour jam session inspired by a 1922 Hermann Hesse novel. At one point, we enjoyed the Smashing Pumpkins material because of Corgan. Now, we have to do so in spite of him.
Can It Be Restored? Save the possibility of creating and/or procuring a time machine to stop post-Zwan Billy Corgan at all costs, no.