(By SPIN staff writers, Spin magazine, March 22 2012, My take is in purple.)
We open up the case files to see who's gotten a bad rap and who's just bad. Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, America needs new enemies upon whom we can dump our never-ending supply of scorn and bile. We decided to look at the most dissed and dismissed artists in pop history, exploring both the causes (racism, sexism, wicked clownism) and the effects. Some artists caught a raw deal, and some got off easy (though no attempt at objectivity could overcome the fact that Kenny G made Namaste India last year). Regardless, all of these artists were, at one time or another, guilty in the court of public opinion. You mad, doggie?
30 THE MONKEES
CHARGE AGAINST: Talentless central-casting featherweights conceived in a boardroom for a cut-rate sitcom version of A Hard Day's Night.
CASE FILES: Legendary cinema mavericks Bob Rafelson and the late Bert Schneider were still a couple years away from Five Easy Pieces and Easy Rider when they tried to channel the Beatles' goofy charm into a sitcom, hiring Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork, and lone Brit Davy Jones, despite the fact that none of the four were particularly accomplished musicians, much less in a band together. By the time The Monkees debuted in September 1966, the real Beatles were sprinting madly, not from shrieking fans, but from the mop-top image the show was aping; they'd stopped playing live, had an album cover banned due to severed baby heads, and had begun work on Sgt. Pepper's. This made the Monkees' pop trifles — and their inability to play instruments — seem all the more trifling by comparison. The opinion still persists, as they've been denied their rightful place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for 26 years running.
THE DEFENSE: You know who had no issue with the Prefab Four? The Fab Four. Nesmith, who parlayed his experience into a career as a music-video pioneer, befriended the Beatles, and according to the 1986 book Monkeemania, John Lennon called the Monkees "the greatest comic talent since the Marx Brothers." Rafelson directed the 1968 pitch-black Monkees cult classic Head, as self-aware and acerbic as the show was frothy and oblivious. Over time, the Monkees' insistence on remaining a band long after they were contractually obligated (and after joyless hippies wished them gone) made them unlikely punk icons: "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" was covered by both the Sex Pistols and Minor Threat, without irony. Maybe. STEVE KANDELL
My Take: The Monkees were a concoction but they had the good sense to find great songs (Neil Diamond wrote some of their stuff!) and deliver a fun show.
29 PHIL COLLINS
CHARGE AGAINST: The embodiment of ersatz, a man who unerringly — and ad nauseam — knew how to tie an annoyingly catchy melody to a cliché-ridden lyric. And what the fuck is a Sussudio?
CASE FILES: With his slick pop singles and aggressively inoffensive persona, Collins became the personification of wimpy '80s MOR radio. Jimmy Page blamed Collins' drumming for Led Zeppelin's lackluster Live Aid reunion gig in 1985. (To be fair, the guy did take the Concord from London to Philly to play both shows.) In American Psycho, novelist Bret Easton Ellis' great icon of "Me Decade" greed, Patrick Bateman, even praised Collins' single-minded pursuit of the almighty dollar: "Phil Collins' solo efforts seem to be more commercial, and therefore more narrower, in a satisfying way." He was last seen on South Park with his Oscar shoved up his ass.
THE DEFENSE: Phil has hip-hop cred! In addition to having his work sampled by Tupac, DMX, and Nas, folks like Lil' Kim and ODB contributed to 2003's hip-hop/R&B Collins tribute album Urban Renewal. His Bone Thugs collabo "Home" is just plain dope. And for all the rockist snobs out there: Collins was the go-to drummer for some of the best solo efforts of artistically unassailable Brian Eno. And don't think Mike Tyson is the only one compelled to air-drum along with "In the Air Tonight." DAVID MARCHESE
My Take: This is why I don’t normally listen to lyrics- they get in the way of a great sounding song. Collins knew how to write a melody that stuck with you, as a solo artist and in Genesis. Listen to “Man On The Corner”, “In the Air Tonight”, “I Don’t Care No More”, and not get swept away in the sound and atmosphere the songs create.
28 NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
CHARGE AGAINST: Laboratory-assembled, faux-R&B pin-ups co-opting the cutest parts of B-boy culture, opening the door for everyone from Color Me Badd to 98 Degrees.
CASE FILES: From 1986 to 1991, nobody could turn on a radio, watch Saturday-morning cartoons, or even drink from a damn McDonald's cup without stumbling upon a piece of New Kids propaganda. Their ubiquity became their defining characteristic, well beyond their admittedly infectious tunes. "Blockheads," as devotees were known, were shoved into school lockers while the rest of the culture kicked in some larger-scale hate: New York's biggest Top 40 radio station whipped up a Christmas parody, "New Kids Got Run Over by a Reindeer"; The “Fall of the New Kids” comic book imagined their demise; and a producer who worked on one of the New Kids' albums accused them of lip-synching (which they rushed to disprove on the Arsenio Hall Show). Donnie Wahlberg, continuing to believe he was a viable rapper, led the band through a reinvention as the grittier, lamer NKOTB.
THE DEFENSE: "You Got It (the Right Stuff)" is pretty great, made even better by the fact that Jordan Knight was wearing a Bauhaus T-shirt in the video. The deep bonds forged with their fans in the '80s paid off in 2008 when the original members reunited for a series of tours that brought in a boatload of cash. Literally: Their annual cruise has sold out three years straight. CARYN GANZ
My Take: The songs overall were a bit weak. You could almost see where they were stitched together by a song writing committee and the 1980’s tropes (synths, drum machines, no guitars) have not worn well. My favorite songs was “Step By Step” but I enjoy laughing at the lyrics almost as much as I like hearing the song.
27 JOHN MAYER
CHARGE AGAINST: Huge d-bag.
CASE FILES: He joked that his dick was racist, but his mouth used the N-word in Playboy. He broke Taylor Swift's heart. He equated the words "Jessica Simpson" and "sexual napalm." He wrote a song called "Your Body Is a Wonderland." He tried his hand at stand-up comedy. He has a Stevie Ray Vaughan tattoo. He makes dumb faces when he plays guitar. He broke Jennifer Aniston's heart.
THE DEFENSE: The guy is no stranger to poor judgment, but at least he's a legit guitarist who isn't afraid to speak his mind (or give his publicist a heart attack). He dresses up in a bear suit and messes with fans in the parking lot before his shows. He wore a very revealing, Borat-style thong to get a laugh. If his songwriting ever catches up to his quick tongue, he could become a viable voice for good rather than evil. C.G.
My Take: I’m more jealous than I am a Mayer hater. Why does he get to bed and discard some of the hottest chicks of his generation? Within his style, he writes good songs but few are things I would ever listen to more than once.
CHARGE AGAINST: Trend-hopping Johnny-come-latelies; the first of the second-wave grungies to stretch the definition of "alternative"
CASE FILES: At a moment when even the credentials of seasoned Seattle punk scenesters were up for close inspection, Candlebox didn't stand much of a chance in the authenticity race. Their sound was grunge-lite — a safe, wrinkle-free, artificially sweetened classic-rock stand-in that scrubbed away all the feedback-flecked grime. It also didn't help that after a massive bidding war — typical of the early '90s — they were the first alt-rock signing to Maverick, Madonna's fledgling major-label imprint. The tight-knit Seattle scene made much ado about not knowing who they were: local journos sniped and Courtney Love perpetuated a rumor that the band was from Los Angeles. Said bassist Bardi Martin: "Musicians are some of the shittiest, most insecure people on the planet. It seemed a lot like high school." The attitude spiraled out nationally, and in the span of three issues in the mid-'90s, SPIN called them "predictable, compromising grunge metal" and "as likely to endure as Queensryche."
THE DEFENSE: Though Candlebox clearly were influenced by pioneering, older-brother-like Seattle bands (see Mark Yarm's recent oral history of grunge, Everybody Loves Our Town, for an account of lead singer Kevin Martin warming up his vocal cords to Pearl Jam), they were very simply a bunch of guys whose timing was good for business but bad for credibility. DAVID BEVAN
My Take: Who would bother wasting time hating this band? Life is too short to waste on insignificant bands.
25 LANA DEL REY
CHARGE AGAINST: Vapid, prefabricated glamourpuss pretends to be indie rock, reimagines Nancy Sinatra as a preening, Lynchian style zombie.
CASE FILES: Despite absorbing indie rock's love of decaying footage and swampy reverb, the former Lizzy Grant flaunted a pop personality guaranteed to irritate punk purists. The Internet embraced her and then immediately cried that everything was "fake": the name change; the major-label funding; the (allegedly) augmented lips; the fact that her dad, Rob Grant, had scored millions as a domain-name prospector, debunking the singer's claims to simply being the product of a Jersey trailer park. A year of online LDR-bashing climaxed with the most roundly mocked Saturday Night Live musical performance in recent memory; it wasn't clear whether Del Rey was petrified or hypnotized. Twitterers complained that she seemed like a third-tier Kristen Wiig character, and the following week she became one.
THE DEFENSE: Says our own Jessica Hopper: "The issue with Lana Del Rey is not whether she is some corporate test-tubed ingénue, but why we are unwilling to believe that she is animated by her own passion and ambition — and why that makes a hot girl so unattractive." And the album's not that bad, honestly. KEITH HARRIS
My Take: She is hot and her songs are exactly as she promises with her vocal style so what’s to hate? Who cares where someone comes from? If you don’t like her music, it has more to do with that style of torch/gloomy/noir-ish songs that it does with her personally.
24 THE BLACK EYED PEAS
CHARGE AGAINST: The dumbest pop act in America.
CASE FILES: There was a time when the BEP were conscious rappers riding the major-label backpack bubble. But after releasing two albums of benign feel-good rap, the group added Fergie to the mix and started chasing a mainstream audience with increasingly mindless pop-hop. How mindless? Their song titles could double as a fourth grader's dis list: "Let's Get Retarded," "My Humps," "Boom Boom Pow." They started dressing like actual clowns and dancing awkwardly practically everywhere — every awards show, every sporting event, every commercial on TV — fueling their reputation as the ultimate sell-outs. Will.i.am seemed to relish being annoying: appearing as a hologram on CNN, painting himself black for a VMAs performance, wearing a tiny slice of metal as a hat, and spewing a ridiculous theory about music only being successful when it's "put out on circles."
THE DEFENSE: Will.i.am actually has a master plan: engineering music to appeal to the most people on the planet. The Peas have extraordinary international appeal, largely because their nonsensical lyrics mean nothing not just in English, but in every language. Plus, Will was hip to dance music way before it permeated every song on Top 40 radio. This is music for the masses. Turn it up. C.G.
My Take: They are so much fun to watch. Their earnestness overcomes any hatred and why bother disputing their credibility? They have none- they just want to please people. That’s what I want in my entertainers- someone trying to make ME happy, not themselves. Plus, didn’t you bust a gut laughing when hearing the lyrics to “My Humps” and “Let’s Get Retarded In Here”?
23 SMASH MOUTH
CHARGE AGAINST: Kindergarten frat party.
CASE FILES: In October of last year, Smash Mouth lead singer Steve Harwell attempted to eat 24 eggs, prepared by his good pal Guy Fieri, at a Johnny Garlic's restaurant in a Dublin, California strip mall: And thus concludes the Smash-Mouthiest sentence ever typed. Yes, the stunt in question was for a pediatric cancer charity, but this is as succinct a summation of the band's frosted-tips, wallet-chain appeal as anything a sniveling critic could conjure. Smash Mouth's breakthrough was 1997's ska-punk butt-nugget Fush Yu Mang — say it slowly, man — and its ubiquitous, organ-driven lunkhead anthem "Walkin' on the Sun." But the success of 1999's "All Star" as a movie-trailer and arena mainstay has kept the band on the shelves long past their expiration date, as they discovered the formula for coughing up wheezy, breezy covers ("I'm a Believer," "Why Can't We Be Friends?") less for fun than for profit. Comedian Neil Hamburger asks, "What do you get when you put a penny in the asshole of each of the members of Smash Mouth?" Answer: Nickelback.
THE DEFENSE: AOR covers for kids: Better than ska punk. S.K.
My Take: Pop lightweights. Again, why waste the time. It’s not like they pretend they are Bob Dylan.
22 CHRISTOPHER CROSS
CHARGE AGAINST: The Marianas Trench of yacht rock, a beacon of flaccid sentimentality borne by a gentle cushion of hackneyed studio fluff sinking what was left of the '70s singer-songwriter model into the quicksand of 1980s radio schlock.
CASE FILES: Is there a more cloying, nut-tickling hit single than "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)"? (Answer: Yes. James Blunt's "You're Beautiful." But it's close.) Christopher Cross' biggest hit, four minutes of high-pitched sap, was ubiquitous in the early '80s. On the back of his debut album's unavoidable singles "Ride Like the Wind" and "Sailing," he won five of what are widely regarded as the most indefensible Grammys ever, while "Arthur" hoisted an Oscar onto his mantel too. All of which stranded a mediocre talent on a peak where he didn't belong, wildly overvalued for his modest gifts.
THE DEFENSE: Rather than turn into a bitter jerk unable to regain his fame, Cross remained pretty grounded, freely admitting that his "early songs were possibly a little bit simplistic. The ones that did real well…they're not timeless." IRA ROBBINS
My Take: I really liked “Ride Like The Wind” but then again, I’m probably the only one who didn't have a dislike for 1970’s and early 1980’s “soft rock”. Sometimes I want soothing pop instead of dance pop or EDM. It nicely fills the niche between ballads, which I generally dislike, and real rock.
21 DURAN DURAN
CHARGE AGAINST: British neo-colonialist fops whose clunky dance pop kept funk off '80s radio.
CASE FILES: In the early 1980s, Duran-bashing was the favorite pastime of insecure, jealous high school dudes (and insecure, jealous dads) policing the sexual fantasy lives of teenage girls who craved swishy pretty boys. In Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, author Rob Sheffield says the band inspired the most venomous arguments around his high school cafeteria tables. But even to hard-core music fans, they often seemed like a blight: At a time when George Clinton's "Atomic Dog" was struggling for airplay, radio programmers insisted that young Americans dance to these limp Brits, who, to make matters worse, had shouldered past more interesting new-wave countrymen like ABC and the Psychedelic Furs on their way across the Atlantic. Said Robert Christgau: "These imperialist wimps are the most deplorable pop stars of the post-punk if not post-Presley era."
THE DEFENSE: The '60s generation can keep "Like a Rolling Stone." Our text is poptimism, cool synth sounds, and "Save a Prayer," and we're not apologizing for it. K.H.
My Take: They were/are awesome, especially the videos. I enjoyed them (“Planet Earth”, “Girls On Film”, “Rio”) immensely and then they became a guilty pleasure (during the “The Reflex” era) and then a great launching pad for my favorite Taylor (Andy) who went on to co-create the incredible Power Station and their 2nd comeback album (Astronaut). The only time I hated them is when they did the worst James Bond theme ever- "A View To A Kill"- although it was fitting since that is also the worst Bond movie ever. George Clinton’s "Atomic Dog" should have been a big hit but that is not Duran Duran’s fault- clueless DJ’s and radio audiences are to blame for that.
20 THE OSMONDS
CHARGE AGAINST: Impossibly wholesome Mormon choirboys out to reassure square America that entertainment could be as trivial as ever.
CASE FILES: Mike Curb, the Reagan crony who dropped the Velvet Underground from Verve for singing about hard drugs, recast the Jackson 5 as a quintet of squeaky-clean white siblings and hoisted them to stardom with the shameless J5 soundalike "One Bad Apple." Later, starring in a variety show with his sister Marie, Donny would insist every week that he was "a little bit rock'n'roll," helping reduce the legacy of '50s nostalgia to cloying camp as surely as Grease or Happy Days' Fonzie (who Osmond also impersonated on TV, as "the Donz"). Writes Osmond in his autobiography, "I have been made painfully aware that my so-called 'teen idol' career is considered by a persistent, vocal minority as a blight on the history of rock....One rock magazine proclaimed my birthday one of the darkest days in rock history; another found my parents remiss for neglecting to drown me. You know, some people just take this all way too seriously." In the spirit of not taking his reputation too seriously, Weird Al Yankovic called Donny in for a cameo in his "White & Nerdy" video because, he says, "if you have to have a white and nerdy icon in your video, like, who else do you go for?"
THE DEFENSE: Sure, the Osmonds ripped off Motown songs, but so did Motown half the time. Plus, Hanson fans should pretend "Yo Yo" is the B-side of the "MMMBop" cassingle they never bothered to flip. K.H.
My Take: Mostly before my time although I did watch their show and wanted a pair of purple socks as a result.
19 LAWRENCE WELK
CHARGE AGAINST: Fighting against change in the 1960s, stiffly genial representative of the far end of the generation gap existed only to give great-grandparents a reason to live.
CASE FILES: Like other old-timers wielding media power a half-century ago, Welk ignored (if not hated) rock'n'roll, clinging to old standbys, watering down the occasional contemporary hit, and reassuring the audience of his weekly TV show (imagine a cast of singing and swinging Stepford Wives) that their anti-youth enmity was well-placed. Those who were young in the '60s and '70s recall excruciating Saturday-evening Welk-watching at an elderly relative's house. A few weeks after Woodstock, Welk donned hippie garb and introduced a rock band called the Babbling Baboons to frighten his fans into thinking he'd gone over to the other side. His real impact, however, was to sell easy-listening music to millions of fogies, thereby preparing the world for the twin horrors of modern Republicanism and smooth jazz. Nearly 30 years after Welk went off the air, Fred Armisen is still making fun of him on Saturday Night Live.
THE DEFENSE: Welk did allow one rock group on his show. On May 18, 1963, the Chantays — looking like a quintet auditioning for the zombie dance squad at Disney World — cranked up the reverb and performed their surf-instrumental hit "Pipeline." I.R.
My Take: Definitely before my time. No opinion here.
18 KC AND THE SUNSHINE BAND
CHARGE AGAINST: Disco group that embodied every monotonous, escapist, indulgent thing that haters hated about the genre; still too flimsy and superficial to satisfy the core constituency.
CASE FILES: The disco backlash didn't exactly single out individual artists, instead painting them all with the same brush of racial, sexual, and cultural intolerance, reaching an antagonistic climax in 1979 at the "Disco Demolition" event in Chicago's Comiskey Park. But beyond the angry townspeople carrying "Disco Sucks" signs in the mid-'70s, songs like "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty" were numbing to even the dance-floor faithful, thanks to their repetition and aggressively D-U-M-B lyrics. Like the title of "That's the Way (I Like It)"? Hope so, since it's sung 20 times in three minutes. In 2001, the baseball executive behind Disco Demolition issued a public apology to Harry Wayne "KC" Casey himself, who stood in as the music's general representative. He accepted, saying: "It wasn't a very nice thing to do. It was a direct hit on myself and other artists who did that for a living. I didn't bash his baseball team."
THE DEFENSE: The band could do a lot better than its biggest hits, and even those have gained the warm glow of nostalgic familiarity. Also Casey cowrote the lovable "Rock Your Baby" for George McCrae. I.R.
My Take: the second best disco-era act, behind the Bee Gees. The songs are not meant to be enjoyed for the lyrics. They are masterpieces of pummeling beats and massive layers of sound. The lyrics are just something you hum along with while dancing yourself into a frenzied trance.
17 BARRY MANILOW
CHARGE AGAINST: The unbearable catchiness of the TV commercial jingle with the show-tune banality of a Las Vegas revue .
CASE FILES: Snobs always have sneered that pop songs are just jingles putting on airs. Former adman Barry Manilow, the guy responsible for "Like a good neighbor / State Farm is there" and "I am stuck on Band-Aid / 'Cause Band-Aid's stuck on me" couldn't have done more to support their argument if he'd tried. Though sometimes merely insipid ("Mandy") or tasteless (the glitzy disco cash-in "Copacabana"), at his worst ("Looks Like We Made It," "I Write the Songs") Manilow embodied the sort of hollow Vegas bombast that only the emptiest souls manage to survive undamaged. Observed Bill Hicks, dejectedly: "We live in a world where John Lennon was murdered, yet Barry Manilow continues to put out fucking albums." And even his fans can't handle it: In 1997, an Arizona man sued the singer, claiming that a 1993 Manilow concert had damaged his hearing.
THE DEFENSE: Manilow not only got his start as Bette Midler's pianist back when she was playing New York's gay bathhouses—he coproduced and performed on her earliest (and best) albums. K.H.
My Take: Some good mid-tempo songwriting and performing. If you don’t like the songs, you don’t like this style because the songs were flawlessly executed.
CHARGE AGAINST: Prettiest of the pretty-boy hair-metal softies
CASE FILES: Winger's CV really was no different from that of any other high-gloss rock band who adopted Aqua Net and spandex drag by 1988, and their hit single "Seventeen" was a harmless-enough rumination on statutory rape. But the band became emblematic of poodle rock's cookie-cutter hit-making and pre-grunge death throes, enmity due in no small part to singer-bassist Kip Winger's cheekbones, shirtless photo shoots, and, really, his name. They were immortalized as the ultimate signifier of uncool when Mike Judge had Stuart, the dweeby neighbor kid on Beavis and Butt-Head, always wear a Winger shirt. "We had a character devoted to us who they hung by his underwear in almost every episode," guitarist Reb Beach lamented in 2007.
THE DEFENSE: Singling out Winger for crimes against taste seems arbitrary, and the band's legacy ultimately feels like more of a testament to the power of Beavis' withering asides than any distinctive shittiness. Despite rumors that Winger himself wasn't pleased about becoming the perfectly chiseled face of a fading genre, the classically trained ex–Alice Cooper sideman has a sense of humor about it now. "The record took off, and it was like, 'What do we wear?'" he told SPIN in 2007. "So we turn on MTV and decide to dress up like Whitesnake. When you're a kid, you want to dress up like that; you want to lose yourself in fantasyland." S.K.
My Take: Why bother hating a one-hit wonder?
15 PUFF DADDY
CHARGE AGAINST: Shiny-suited huckster milking the unquenchable greed of the Jiggy era.
CASE FILES: Like Suge Knight notoriously explained, Puffy was the "executive producer all in the videos, all on the records…dancing," i.e., ostensibly a backstage figure who clearly wanted more attention for himself than the artists he was promoting. He would ultimately get it through wanton appropriation of enormous chunks of the Police, Led Zeppelin, and David Bowie: A karaoke-rap style that was sacrilege to rock fans and just plain hackwork to hip-hop heads. His champagne-pouring, speedboat-driving, Jacuzzi-soaking antics were essentially the reason people started paying attention to indie-rap labels such as Rawkus. Also, no one likes a guy who forces you to call him by his self-imposed nickname.
THE DEFENSE: "What's the 411?," "Flava in Ya Ear," "Juicy," "Hypnotize," "Fucking You Tonight," "Victory," "It's All About the Benjamins," "Feels So Good," "Dead Wrong," "That's Gangsta," "Bad Boy for Life," "Let's Get It," "Special Delivery," "Roc Boys (and the Winner Is)...," "Ass on the Floor"…. CHRISTOPHER R. WEINGARTEN
My Take: A master rip-off artist. Every big songs of his was built on someone else’s work. He stole from the best but that doesn’t make him good, except as a producer and businessman. He sucks as an artist. And pick a name already.
14 BILLY RAY CYRUS
CHARGE AGAINST: Singing mullethead who ratifies Garth Brooks' deliverance of Nashville to pop's promised land.
CASE FILES: Yankovic wrote a whole song about how annoying this guy is, and Bill Hicks used to openly fantasize about a TV show called Let's Hunt and Kill Billy Ray Cyrus. At the time, it would have been worth watching. Some Gave All, his cloddish, seven-million-selling 1992 debut, borrowed enough from Jimmy Buffett, Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen, and John Mellencamp to indoctrinate a huge audience into country's new style-blurring ways. Whether they admit it or not, some of the manly truck-driving hat models who currently fill the country charts owe Cyrus a debt. So does someone else. After his fleeting musical moment, Cyrus became a TV actor, but his not-exactly-talented teen daughter Miley dwarfed his success.
THE DEFENSE: He was friendly with Kurt Cobain! That's more than you can say about Axl. I.R.
My Take: Again, why hate a one-hit wonder.
CHARGE AGAINST: The nadir of studio-buffed, soulless, corporate AOR.
CASE FILES: Even more than the robot-obsessed Styx, Journey were never interested in appearing remotely human: Steve Perry's weirdly androgynous, stratospheric vocals; Neil Schon's pristine guitar sound; and those electric blue scarabs bursting into outer space on their album sleeves (Lester Bangs put "Any Journey cover" at No. 7 on his list of the ten worst LP covers ever). Indeed, when they morphed from a hippie-ish Santana offshoot to a steely hit machine, critic Dave Marsh wrote that the band "was a dead end for San Francisco area rock." By comparison, other corporate-rock goofballs acts (Foreigner, Toto, and REO Speedwagon) seemed warmly nuanced.
THE DEFENSE: Time has shown "Don't Stop Believin'" to be a cross-demographic cultural touchstone. The song was used in the last shot of The Sopranos, was the showstopper in the Broadway hit Rock of Ages, and became a rallying cry for the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Francisco Giants. Perry even appeared in the Giants' victory parade after the team won the 2010 World Series. Honestly, don't you sing along when it comes up at karaoke? D.M.
My Take: Masters in production and craft, just like Styx.
12 MICHAEL BOLTON
CHARGE AGAINST: Perma-frizzed goon constantly melting down Motown and Stax 45s for lukewarm easy-listening spa treatments.
CASE FILES: There isn't a song this guy can't soften into a flavorless, gray paste. Combine that with Bolton's general ubiquity (more than 50 million records sold!), and he's simply fated to be one of the easiest punch lines available. In the cult flick Office Space, no destiny was crueler than being software programmer "Michael Bolton," who shared his name with "that no-talent ass clown." Conan O'Brien has been working him into his monologue for years, and Dave Attell once said, "I listened to a Michael Bolton tape and I got my period." Even the softball throwers on Whose Line Is It Anyway? do Bolton bits. Hell, we'd make fun of him a little in this paragraph, but, honestly, it seems pretty hacky.
THE DEFENSE: Bolton's teaming with the Lonely Island for the gently self-mocking "Jack Sparrow" received the first Grammy nomination he actually deserved. C.W.
My Take: Since I hate ballads, I can’t defend Bolton.
CHARGE AGAINST: Jock-rock oafs.
CASE FILES: After lucking out with "How You Remind Me," maybe the catchiest song Candlebox never recorded, these dunderheaded Canucks showed their true colors with the repulsive "Figured You Out" ("I like the dirt that's on your knees / And I like the way you still say please"). In a long decade of peeved grunts that followed, they slowly moved from Nerf Neanderthals to formulaic flyover jammers, representing everything arrogantly gluttonous about post-Creed modern rock: pristine Mutt Lange production, immaculately styled hair, collabos with at least two American Idol losers, and even more entitled songs about blowjobs. America fought back online. One careful listener posted audio of "How You Remind Me" and 2003 single "Someday" playing simultaneously as scientific proof that this band writes music like they're filling out Mad Libs. The Facebook page "Can this pickle get more fans than Nickelback?" received an affirmative. Our nation's true, pathetic answer to the Arab Spring was the much-supported (if ultimately failed) petition to prevent the band from playing the halftime show at the Detroit Lions' 2011 Thanksgiving Day game. Said Black Keys' Patrick Carney in an interview: "Rock'n'roll is dying because people became okay with Nickelback being the biggest band in the world."
THE DEFENSE: It takes a special kind of rock star to write a song as hilariously self-aware as "Rockstar," and these dudes do it while being more famous than Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show ever were. K.H
My Take: Not worth paying attention to, like Creed. They are the Grand Funk Railroad of their generation.
10 YOKO ONO
CHARGE AGAINST: A screeching, incomprehensible boho who broke up the Beatles.
CASE FILES: Even her most ardent admirers would admit that Ono's penchant for warbling, exploratory vocal workouts is tough sledding. Her singing is the kind of thing that makes people think conceptual artists are hucksters without much natural talent and, worse, willing to drag others down to their level. That stance was aired out in a classic episode of The Simpsons in which a Yoko-like avant-gardist forces Barney's Lennon figure into perplexing experiments. As recently as 1999, a BBC documentary about Ono featured the British art critic Brian Sewell arguing that "she's shaped nothing, she's contributed nothing....If she had not been the widow of Lennon, she would be totally forgotten by now."
THE DEFENSE: Only people struck with (the vaguely sexist and racist) hysterical, Beatles-post-breakup deafness could fail to understand that Ono is one of the most forward-thinking artists of our time. Over a massively influential 40-year recording career, she has proven herself a giant of downtown minimalism (all the greats played her loft), a skilled pop poet ("Listen, the Snow Is Falling," her half of Double Fantasy), an ever-searching sound radical ("AOS," which featured Ornette Coleman), and even a modern club-queen (her 2011 dance hit "Move On Fast"). D.M.
My Take: Her crimes are many but the music is only about fourth on the list.
9 PAT BOONE
CHARGE AGAINST: : Wholesome as a glass of milk, smooth as a laxative, happily shouldered the white man's burden of ruining the songs of black artists for "mainstream" audience acceptance.
CASE FILES: Boone's lazy swims through Fats Domino's "Ain't That a Shame," Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally," and Joe Turner's "Chains of Love" diluted and drained every last trace of life (or, more accurately, sex) out of the songs. Not surprisingly, his soul-free renditions outsold the originals, taking money out of their creators' pockets and impeding the spread of innovative music. Pat later passed his sanitized baton to daughter Debby, whose "You Light Up My Life" spent ten weeks at No. 1 just as the punk era hit its stride. Boone the elder finally capped his culture crimes with the absurd 1997 album In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy, containing tongue-in-cheek big-band renditions of "Paradise City," "Enter Sandman," and other hard-rock numbers. These days, the genial 77-year-old supports the Tea Party, believes Obama is an alien, and has likened liberals to cancer.
THE DEFENSE: In spite of it all, there are genuine rock'n'rollers who don't hate him. DJ Fontana, Elvis Presley's original drummer, believes Boone belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and reckons his boss would too. "They were friends," he told Roctober magazine. "I think [Elvis] recognized Pat's talent for what he was doing." I.R.
My Take: Yeah, he’s a joke. I agree here.
8 MATCHBOX TWENTY
CHARGE AGAINST: Floridian FM wangos feasting off '90s grunge leftovers, ushering in a deeper morass of toothless, modern "adult alternative."
CASE FILES: Matchbox Twenty's Rob Thomas (a shorthair, it should be said) offered a neutered take on Eddie Vedder's marble-mouthed mewling, but kept his lyric book clean of any wild-eyed abstractions or chest-beating psychodrama. In turn, his band's hookless, faceless brand of alt-gone-soft-rock was every bit as portentous and plodding as grunge at its worst. Critics massacred the band (Quoth the NME: "Musically, this is the sound of middle America at its most ugly and nauseating"), ultimately prompting Thomas to tell CNN: "I say, if you're going to bash us, just be clever." Prior to their 1998 SPIN cover (sorry!), MTV sent a camera crew to a Matchbox Twenty show to ask audience members to name the band's members. The network would later air a montage of puzzled expressions. Thomas' star would rise even higher with "Smooth," the inescapable Grammy-winning collaboration/abomination with Carlos Santana.
THE DEFENSE: Matchbox Twenty never sought to project an image any different from what they actually were. Thomas, in particular, made light of the fact that they were punching bags, appearing on an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and hilariously calling their latest album Exile on Mainstream. D.B.
My Take: Yawn.
7 EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER
CHARGE AGAINST: Hollow virtuosos who took prog rock to its ill, logical extreme.
CASE FILES: In addition to dressing like medieval gentry, ELP incurred charges of self-important muso-mania via countless pompous gestures: unending solos, the Freudianly oversize kit of drummer Carl Palmer, the spaceship-sized keyboard rig of Keith Emerson, the haughty ballads of bassist Greg Lake, and snooty interpretations of works from the "high art" canon. Desirous of a solo-larded, electric version of Mussorgsky's "Pictures from an Exhibition"? Look no further! Want the most accurately titled album in history? Might we direct you to 1974's triple-LP Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends? Not for nothing, a common joke of the era suggested that "pretentious" was spelled "E-L-P."
THE DEFENSE: There's not exactly a world of difference between the time-signature intensity of ELP and, say, the rhythmic assault of Battles. Additionally, Lake's gentle, humble "I Believe in Father Christmas" is one of the few holiday rock songs worth humming sincerely. And the H.R. Giger–designed skeleton-queen cover for 1973's Brain Salad Surgery is undeniably fucking awesome. D.M.
My Take: If you like prog-rock, why wouldn’t you like them. Are they any worse than Yes or King Crimson?
6 VANILLA ICE
CHARGE AGAINST: Shiny-suited white interloper hell-bent on watering down and commercializing the greatest African-American invention since peanut butter.
CASE FILES: For a while it seemed like dude would do anything to cross over: Lying about where he grew up, clumsily parroting hip-hop slang, borrowing African American fraternity chants for his hooks, trying to pass off a one-note difference in a sample as thrilling and unique songcraft, and of course, dancing around in a sequined American flag suit. It clearly worked, as To the Extreme ended up selling 15 million copies worldwide, but the hip-hop nation was not exactly excited to be represented by Pat Boone in a streaked pompadour. Some choice disses came from Del ("Dance all day, while I'm pissin' on your steps"); Tim Dog ("Rap is nothing you can put in a movie with a bunch of turtles!"); Kid 'N Play ("The brothers always boo you, and we know it hurts"), and even fellow honkies 3rd Bass, who performed a baseball-bat beatdown on a Vanilla imposter (played by Henry Rollins) in their "Pop Goes the Weasel" video.
THE DEFENSE: After his weird VHS-smashing quasi-meltdown on MTV's 25 Lame in 1999, Vanilla has maintained a pretty decent sense of humor about everything: appearing in viral videos playing indie-rock covers and clowning around on countless reality TV shows (including Celebrity Bull Riding Challenge). Also, as sample-ganking pop-rap goes, we'll take "Ice Ice Baby" over anything Flo Rida does. C.W.
My Take: Another sample stealer. I have no respect for him at all.
5 INSANE CLOWN POSSE
CHARGE AGAINST: A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down society's pants
CASE FILES: They call themselves the "Most Hated Band in the World," and it ain't for nothing: As of last year, the FBI officially considers their fanbase a "gang" worth monitoring. In 1998, a notorious SPIN comic strip compared their act to blackface minstrelsy. Blender dubbed them the "Worst Artists in Music History" while also describing them as "two trailer-trash types," personifying a pervasive and unconcealed classism that haunts almost all criticism of the group. Their "Miracles" video was a laugh-and-point Internet meme, and The Guardian called them "a magnet for ignorance." Okay, guys, we get it, you went to college.
THE DEFENSE: Recent collaborator Jack White knows what's up: If you can't laugh and bounce along to high-spirited knuckleheadery like "Fuck the World," you have an enormous stick up your ass. Their music gets more irresistible as it gets more melodic; 2009's soda-sweet popfest Bang! Pow! Boom! was easily their career best. Plus, these dudes are serious rap heads who are constantly giving pioneers paychecks to perform at their annual Gathering: E-40, DJ Quik, Paris, Scarface, Above the Law, Kurupt, Digital Underground, and Dayton Family have all made the trek into the craggy woods of Illinois. Stroke your goatee to the Shins at Bonnaroo; we'll be lighting fireworks and spraying Faygo in the forest. Whoop whoop! C.W.
My Take: From what I’ve heard, the music sucks and I always hated the makeup (Kiss rip-offs) and the attitude.
CHARGE AGAINST: Watered-down grunge as a platform for messianic egomania; Nickelback before there was a Nickelback
CASE FILES: These ham-fisted ding-dongs represented the grim nadir of post-grunge's third wave: Somehow, everything about their music offended. Philadelphia Weekly even went so far as to run a 2002 cover story with the all-caps headline "WHY CREED SUCKS," and the authenticity-obsessed argument that "Creed — and their torpid, halftime-playing, self-congratulatory type — are a cancer on the most beautiful thing God ever gave us in the 20th century: rock'n'roll." To make it worse, frontdouche Scott Stapp couldn't keep from shaming himself: He brawled with 311 in a Baltimore hotel, was rumored to have been punked by college kids while trawling for groupies at a Florida Denny's, and found himself at the center of a (Kid Rock–enriched!) sex-tape scandal in which he allegedly sighed, "It's good to be king." Creed's moment in the sun is when the trail blazed by Nirvana eventually dead-ended, a place where antiseptic, quasi-religious, self-serious bombast assumed all the rock clichés that grunge was meant to usurp.
THE DEFENSE: If we close our eyes, we can pretend the particularly melodic opening 12 seconds of "Higher" is really Candlebox. D.B.
3 KENNY G
CHARGE AGAINST: Making elevators seem safe since 1982.
CASE FILES: While the tenor sax honks with a satisfying bellow and altos wail out the depths of humanity, soprano sax — an essential tool in the easy-listening lexicon — is at once soothing and irritating, like a bath in boiling honey. Kenny G is the man with the tubular bell. Over the course of some 20 soporific albums, he's eased his way through virtually every Christmas song and movie ballad you'd care to name. The Seattle native took the liberty of dubbing himself on top of an old Louis Armstrong record and releasing the resulting "collaboration." That got people out of their recliners: Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny called it "unbelievably pretentious" and "cynical," and attacked the saxophonist's playing as "lame-ass, jive, pseudo-bluesy, out-of-tune, noodling, wimped-out," and "fucked-up."
THE DEFENSE: Sorry, the only plea here is nolo contendere. Nobody who makes such worthless, repugnant, soft-serve music should be so monumentally arrogant. The guy's not even in Sting's league, but how's this for tone-deaf twattiness? "I've always thought it would be fun to do classical music, but I wouldn't want to do a famous classical piece. I'd want to write a piece of music that sounds like a classical song, but is my own composition." A Foster the People co-sign ain't helping. I.R.
2 LIMP BIZKIT
CHARGE AGAINST: Soul-patch minstrel show, a hissing valve for pointless Cro-Magnon boy-rage, the 'roided-out Altamont stabbing of the '90s alterna-dream.
CASE FILES: Their macho, crowd-surfing, dunderfuck Woodstock '99 hulk-out session coincided with wanton property destruction and multiple sexual assaults, and Limp Bizkit were subsequently seen as single-handedly destroying all the hard work that alternatypes like Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails did creating a more sensitive space for heavy music. To wit, Reznor remarked, "Let Fred Durst surf a piece of plywood up my ass," and Courtney Love said, "He brought about the worst years in rock history." The list of dipshittery Durst involved himself in throughout the following decade seemed to have no end: Haplessly covering the Who, leaking a sex tape ("Touch my balls and my ass," he instructed), and proving his indie bona fides via Cobain chest tattoo. A Metallica crowd in Chicago rained a hailstorm of water bottles and coins on the band and chanted "Fuck Fred Durst." Also thank him for getting Staind and Puddle of Mudd record deals.
THE DEFENSE: Wes Borland is a tip-tapping Zornophile whose talents may be put to better use eventually. DJ Lethal has permanent immunity because he was in House of Pain. John Otto and Sam Rivers were a leaden rhythm section, but could hold down a groove. One of these things is not like the other. C.W.
My Take: I liked a little of the rap-rock from this era (but very little) but wasn’t a fan of Limp Bizkit.
1 MILLI VANILLI
CHARGE AGAINST: Didn't even sing their fucking songs.
CASE FILES: The wizard's curtain was pulled back thanks to a skipping backing track, and it quickly became apparent that wiggling bike-short advertisements Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus were lip-synching on stage — you know, just like dance stars have been doing since time immemorial? But the real hammer blow came when it was revealed that the Teutonic twosome hadn't sung as much as a syllable on their chart-topping multiplatinum album Girl You Know It's True. Grammys were rescinded, records were taken out of print, class-action consumer lawsuits brought, and shock feigned over how pop-star sausage gets made. Milli Vanilli were never exactly loved to begin with — Rolling Stone named them the Worst Band of 1989 before the fallout — but the controversy made arguments about "authenticity" fly around like their luxurious dreadlocks. Pilatus died in 1998. "The press says Rob died of an overdose," Morvan commented. "I say no, he died of a broken heart."
THE DEFENSE: As Morvan gives more interviews, it becomes increasingly apparent that Milli Vanilli were just some good-looking, eager, broke kids who signed their lives away into a Draconian contract, remaining forever trapped in the cold gears of music-industry machinery. "We're victims," said Pilatus in 1990, "and we're portrayed as crooks." C.W.
My Take: Who cares who did the singing? The songs were excellent, thanks to Diane Warren. If you liked the band because of their looks or who did the actual singing then you didn’t care about the songs which means it wasn’t about the music. Did you really believe in the integrity of Milli Vanilli because you identified with the lyrics of “Blame It On The Rain” or “Girl You Know It’s True”? That’s a sadder statement than any that Rob and Fab ever made.