Throughout history there have been individuals whose vision and scope has vastly outstripped their actual capabilities, and popular music is of course no exception. This is an area that has more than its fair share of talentless hacks who think they’re God’s gift to art. What muddies the waters however, is when some of those aforementioned talentless hacks somehow manage to stumble onto a brilliant idea or three by more or less, complete coincidence. It’s perhaps the most vivid illustration of the ‘thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters’ principle, where their total ignorance for what constitutes good taste and high art weirdly translates into an ability to think outside the box in a freak of mathematics. Somehow, despite or perhaps because of their lack of ability, they stumble onto a sound or sounds that far more talented bands can later refine into something listenable. In this article we shall dissect the most prominent examples of such bands, and ask ourselves – which bands were more important than good?
MC5 were probably the first band ever to use volume, energy and left-wing politics as a substitute for conventional musical chops, nearly ten years before The Sex Pistols or The Clash had so much as curled an upper lip. They unfortunately did not discard the stoned-hippy pretensions of the flower power years, as the above jam shows. So it’s perhaps not unfair that while their name is still pretty well known, they never managed to translate these meagre achievements into a massive comeback/nostalgia tour.
There are a long list of musicians that have professed a love of Kiss: Kurt Cobain, Dimebag Darell, Trent Reznor, Rivers Cuomo, Scott Ian. Notice a pattern at all? Yep, they were all in their early teens in the band’s heyday, and that pretty much says it all. The band were to pioneer a marketing approach that would later be perfected by McDonald’s restaurants: bombard young fans with cheap gimmicks and shiny toys while they are still easily impressed and incapable of taking a critical approach to anything, and when they grow up they will continue to associate your brand with positive memories. The rational part of their brains may recognise the lack of quality in the product, but by that point they have been hardwired to enjoy it anyway and it’s too late.
Nonetheless, if their shallow gimmickry acted as a gateway drug to better things for such acclaimed talents as have been listed, that justifies their existence. Barely.
Most of you will probably know Lou Reed as the rambling old guy from the last Metallica album, but that is just the tip of the iceberg of a long and acclaimed career. For one thing he was the mastermind and prime songwriter behind pretty much the most influential band of all time; without The Velvet Underground there wouldn’t be David Bowie, The Strokes or Joy Division. And that’s just for starters.
If you think about how bad a seventeen minute song is from genuinely skilled musicains like Rush or Led Zeppelin, think how de-humanisingly awful it is coming from a band who barely know three chords. The difference is that those bands he inspired actually had some consistency in their quality control. I imagine there are some people who could manage to convince themselves that improvised band jams that last nearly as long as the average TV episode or rambling spoken word tracks about jealous boyfriends are enjoyable or artistic, but I am not one of them.
Along with his precursor Iggy Pop, GG Allin created the archetype of the ‘kraaaazy punk frontman’. Known for for performing semi-naked, fighting audience members and defecating on stage, the frontman eventually died of a heroin overdose after over fifteen years of constant touring only interrupted by stints in prison and hospital. In terms of pushing the punk rock limits of rebellion, offensiveness and general scummy behaviour, the man originally born Jesus Christ Allin was undoubtably a trail-blazer. His musical output basically consisted of the most amateurish rock’n’roll imaginable that would be completely forgettable were it not for the hilariously over-the-top lyrical content.
A british band whose influence was far greater on America and Scandinavia than home, Newcastle’s Venom sounded like Motorhead with a lot more Satan and evil laughs and a lot less chops. Their ultra-fast and ultra-evil records Black Metal and At War With Satan were the key inspiration for the US based thrash metal scene that produced heavyweights like Metallica and Slayer, and the infamous Norwegian black metal bands such as Mayhem and Burzum. Vocalist Cronos was the main power behind the band, with a ‘singing’ style that was as elemental and commanding as it was hammy and laughable. While their energy and subject matter would be widely imitated, the sad truth is that the imitators were vastly superior in virtually every aspect.