Classic rock bands I’ve never liked

Funny thing about popular music:  There’s no accounting for taste.  One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

Or, as Paul Simon once put it, “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.”

In every decade, there have been bands that pack arenas on a regular basis, sell millions maxresdefault-15of albums, or have singles that do well on the charts, but the whole time, you’re scratching your head and saying, “What the hell does anyone see in them??”

Everyone has them:  Hugely successful groups that you just don’t like.

Now, if you’re a rock music fan like me, you can’t be naming people like Bobby Goldsboro or The Osmonds.  That’s not the point here.  Of course you don’t like acts like these, but you were never in their demographic target audience anyway.  No, in this case, I’m talking about majorly successful rock bands who, for sometimes undefinable reasons, just rub me the wrong way.

People may like or not like musical artists because of the circumstances in which they first heard them.  Perhaps you were 13 and found them exciting, if not musically notable.  Or maybe you were on a first date (or you were breaking up) and heard them on your car radio.  Or it could be that your boyfriend/girlfriend loved the group and you learned to love them too.  So there’s always that emotional attachment we have to certain songs, albums or bands that causes a link that might evade other listeners.

Here at Hack’s Back Pages, we have always focused on the music and artists from the 1955-1990 period, so the bands I intend to single out are from that era — mostly from the ’70s and ’80s, in fact.

It will become abundantly clear to you that I cannot abide rock bands that have poor singers.  I hold Robert Plant, Roger Daltrey and even Ozzy Osbourne (in Black Sabbath days) as exemplars of hard rock singers who have a command of melody and control without constantly consorting to shrieking and howling in non-musical pain.

I also have a problem with bands who can’t seem to write songs that show at least a modicum of musical sophistication.  Yes, I know, rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be basic, primal, rebellious, energetic, revolutionary.  But must it be devoid of actual melody and harmony?

Go ahead, call me a snob, or a dinosaur.  I can take it.

I know I’m going to piss off a whole lot of people, who will no doubt vigorously disagree with some of my conclusions here.  Too bad.  It’s my blog.  If you want to come up your own list of ten bands you never liked, you might start your own blog.  But hey, I’d still be happy to hear your objections, or your candidates for bands that you think should be on a list like this.

Here we go:

Aerosmith

2890They have had their moments:  The 1974 anthem “Dream On” is a great classic, and their 1975 LP “Toys in the Attic” is pretty consistent.  But I’ve never cared for Steven Tyler’s screechy voice, and I would venture to say that nearly every album they made was more filler than anything worthwhile.  I made the mistake of trying to read Tyler’s appallingly self-indulgent 2012 autobiography, “Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?” which made me dislike him as a person as much as I disrespect him as a singer.  The group fell apart in the ’80s and I thought that was the well-deserved end of them, but then they were somehow reborn in the late ’80s with more singles and albums and tours.  I had no use for any of it.  Joe Perry is a fine electric guitarist, but that’s about the extent of anything nice I can say about these bad boys from Boston.

John Mellencamp

John Cougar Mellencamp.jpgBefore you Mellencamp fans come looking for me with a meat ax, let me just say that I don’t hate him or his music.  But I sure don’t love it either.  It’s just okay, and he’s way overrated.  Maybe it’s because he came along in Bruce Springsteen’s shadow, but I always thought of Mellencamp as a cheap imitation, a poor man’s attempt at Springsteen’s perceptive and effective working class anthems and public persona.  (I suppose you could say the same about Bob Seger, a fine rock singer of basic Midwest rock songs.  He was very good, but he wasn’t The Boss.)  Mellencamp has toured incessantly and continued to release new albums every couple of years, and some of them are even interesting.  But I can only shrug my shoulders and say, “Eh…”

Van Halen

19-van-halen.w529.h352Even if you account for Eddie Van Halen’s remarkable lead guitar solos and riffs throughout the group’s early catalog, one fact remains:  For the most part, Van Halen is mind-numbingly average.  They sometimes did a nice job on vocal harmonies, and David Lee Roth was actually a strong singer, but most of the group’s material is just so boring, plodding, nondescript.  And yet, these guys are held up as some sort of saviors of hard rock music during the disco/New Wave era.  Sorry, I’m not buying it.  Things got way worse when they recruited Sammy Hagar (also a decidedly average talent at best) to take over for Roth in 1985.  Just like that, a band that was capable of the occasional B- classic rock track (“Runnin’ With the Devil,” “Dance the Night Away”) suddenly slipped to C- and worse.  Thanks for nothing, Sammy…

Styx

dDp7qncorY3XzaRdD8XwEL-320-80Oh, spare me.  I’d rather plunge knitting needles into my ears than put up with five seconds of Dennis DeYoung’s cringe-inducing vocals.   “Lady”?  “Babe”?  “Come Sail Away”?  “Mr. Roboto”???  Just awful stuff, all of it, thanks to that voice.  I was so turned off that I never bothered to explore Styx’s catalog until very recently, and I wasn’t even aware that DeYoung and guitarist Tommy Shaw feuded continually, each left the band for solo careers, and attempted reuniting with little success.  Things got so bad between DeYoung and the rest of the band that his name has been omitted from Styx’s official website, as if he had never been a member.  Ouch.  Maybe there’s hope yet for me to learn to appreciate the Styx stuff without DeYoung on it.  We’ll see.  But I maintain my dislike of the Styx songs that were played ad nauseum in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Bon Jovi

BonJoviSimplistic, unimaginative, unremarkable, annoying.  That’s Bon Jovi in a nutshell to me.  I recognize that Jon himself is quite the hunk who brings tons of women to his concerts.  And there are a few moments buried on his albums that stand out from the numbing sameness of his oeuvre.  But I’m sorry, he’s just not for me.  I’ve been listening to a lot of Bon Jovi’s stuff the past week, racking my brain to pinpoint what it is about them that leaves me cold.  I suppose it’s because they sound to me like a hundred other groups.  Not much originality to speak of.  When I hear even their big hits like “Livin’ On a Prayer,” I have to think, “Who is this again?”  It could be any other nameless American group of the 1980s, and I’m just not impressed.

AC/DC

acdc-blog-cropIf you want to send me running screaming from your room, just cue up AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” one of the saddest excuses for a hard rock anthem ever recorded.  These guys were Australia’s biggest rock success story, and for the life of me, I have never understood why.  “Fingernails on a blackboard” is the most accurate way to describe the voice of original AC/DC vocalist Bon Scott.  Simply unlistenable.  I find it both telling and pathetic that when Scott died of self-inflicted alcohol poisoning in 1980, the band held auditions and came up with a replacement (Brian Johnson) who somehow matched that excruciating larynx-shredding style (it certainly can’t remotely be called singing).  Nevertheless, the group has sold untold millions of copies of albums, and they rank among the most popular rock acts of all time.  Not in my house, man.

Beastie Boys

mHyz6OOltyEOriginally a hardcore punk band out of New York City in 1980, this trio made the switch to hip-hop in 1985, and became the first white group to dabble in (and find success with) what had exclusively been a black phenomenon.  I admit to not much caring for hip-hop in general, but I found these guys irritating for trying to pose as something they weren’t.  Suburban white kids chose to eat them up, and they proceeded to release eight Top 20 albums (including four Number Ones) over the next 30 years.  Incredible.  And to add musical insult to eardrum injury, The Beastie Boys were actually inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame a few years ago.  Like I said, there is NO accounting for taste.

Guns ‘n Roses

GettyImages-535921600_webDebuting in 1985, they claimed to be “a mixture of hard rock, punk, blues and metal.”  It’s a horrendous mess, mostly.  As with almost every band I’ve mentioned here, they had a couple of memorable tracks.  By far, their best moment was the 8-minute anthem “November Rain,” which has two parts, showcasing their melodic side followed by a lengthy guitar solo by Slash.  I just couldn’t get into the band overall, though, partly because vocalist Axl Rose was such a pretentious ass who was simply begging to be punched in the face.  But again, who can explain the preferences of millions of rock music fans who found anything appealing about GNR’s music?  I just don’t hear it.

KISS

AR-140719399Bwahahahahaha!  There is absolutely nothing musical to be heard from this band of costumed showmen.  And let’s be clear, even Gene Simmons has said KISS was born of the notion that it didn’t much matter what they played.  It was all about the pyrotechnics, the light show, the sheer volume and, of course, the face paint and faux-threatening poses they struck onstage.  To attend a KISS concert was to be assaulted and overwhelmed by what you saw more than what you heard.  Therefore, to listen to a KISS album was an exercise in total futility, for there was nothing there deserving of your time.  But sure enough, the group’s fans lobbied for years until these clowns were also inducted in the Rock Hall.  As showmen?  Well, okay, I guess.  As musicians?  Not on your life, nor mine.

Ted Nugent

ted-nugent-1All right, here’s credit where it’s due:  When he was only 19, Nugent was the lead guitarist and songwriter for a ’60s band out of Michigan called The Amboy Dukes, who were responsible for a wonderful psychedelic nugget from 1968 called “Journey to the Center of Your Mind,” which reached #16 on the charts.  Okay, that’s the only good thing I have to say about this raging lunatic.  He inexplicably became a ted-nugent-with-gunspopular solo artist in the mid-’70s, riding the wave of dreck like “Cat Scratch Fever,” where his voice sounds like, well, a feverish catfight.  So I’ve never liked any of his harsh, tone-deaf albums, but an even better reason to hate him is for his arch-conservative political views that include (believe it or not) condoning violence against gun control advocates.  The guy is an unhinged racist and thoroughly unlikable in every way.

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I started putting together a playlist of songs by these bands, but then I said to myself, “Why on earth would anyone ever listen to it?  I certainly wouldn’t.”  So if you happen to enjoy any of the ten bands mentioned above, by all means, head on over to Spotify, or to your album/CD collection, and put ’em on.  Just don’t invite me over until you’re finished.

 

 

Damn, that 8-track, it takes me way back

When I was 17, in 1972, my best friend had an 8-track tape player installed in his Ford Maverick.  Like me, he was a music lover and album buyer, but he had grown tired of having to listen to commercial radio in the car, with its incessant commercials and DJ banter.

Now he had the option of enjoying 8-track tape versions of some of his favorite albums iWbHN-1460403005-314-lists-8tracks_beastieboys_1200while he drove around town.  True, he had to buy the tapes even though he already owned the albums…but it was worth it to him to be able to control the music he could listen to on road trips.

As the guy riding shotgun, I enjoyed this too.  But it didn’t take long for me to see several significant, annoying drawbacks of the 8-track format which prevented me from ever considering investing in it.  To this day, for the reasons I’ll explain, I contend the 8-track tape was an ill-conceived and poorly executed idea.

Perhaps you shared my distaste for 8-tracks and didn’t succumb to the temptations of portability and convenience.  Or maybe you joined the millions of other Americans who embraced 8-tracks in the 1970s, only to rue the day several years later when the entire format went the way of the dodo bird (and rightly so).

Here are the six most obvious defective characteristics of the 8-track tape that, in my view, doomed the format to an early obsolescence:

No rewind or fast-forward options.  

At home, when you listened to albums, you could change songs easily.  Simply pick up the needle on your turntable and move effortlessly to another specific song, or put on another album.

If you were one of those rare folks who had a reel-to-reel tape deck, you could hit “FF” or “REW” to get to the desired place on the tape.

149161e85e1fd464c0b2fcd2dedbc692--the-player-record-playerWith 8-track tapes, you didn’t have that flexibility.   Eight-track tapes were configured as four “programs” sharing four parallel portions of the tape bandwidth.  If you were listening to a song and decided you wanted to skip to the next song, or maybe go back and listen to the same song again, you were out of luck.  All you could do was jump to one of the next programs and listen to whatever song was playing on that program.  To listen to the song you really wanted to hear, you had to listen to other songs first before the one you wanted came back around on the program.  Man, was this irritating!

Messing with the way the artist sequenced the music.  

Because 8-track tapes are set up as four programs lasting about 10 or 11 minutes each, the order of songs often had to be changed in order to maximize efficient use of the available tape.  For example, if an album’s first three songs lasted more than 10 minutes, one song might be replaced on Program 1 by a different, shorter song from later on the album just so the music would fit the 8-track’s limited format.  This might happen on all four programs, completely altering the flow of the music as intended by the artist.  A particularly egregious example was “Abbey Road” (see tracking below).

1 Abbey road white appleEven worse, sometimes there was no mathematical way to make the various album tracks fit in four 10-minute sets, so one or more tracks would actually have to be interrupted midway through.  The tape would then fade out, and several seconds (even as much as a minute or more) would pass before it would automatically switch to the next program, and the song would then fade back in at the point of interruption and proceed to its conclusion.

Needless to say, this was an abominable way to listen to a song, and certainly not the artist’s intent.

Physical limitations of the tape.

The movement of the head at the point where it switched between programs could sometimes pull the tape up or down, causing the tape to fold over and start playing the back side of the tape. The tape would continue to play, buy very muffled and barely audible. Continued playing would flip the entire tape over, so the tape would be wound on the reel inside with the backside showing.  The program switch point is often the place where the tapes would sometimes be ingested into the player (“eaten”), most often when the tape head moved from program 4 to program 1, its furthest track change movement. At that point, the tape was ruined, and the player could no longer play that tape, or any tape.

Head alignment:  Misalignment results in reduced high frequencies and allows sounds from adjacent tracks to bleed over, an effect sometimes known as “double-tracking.”  Among audio service technicians, there used to be a joke that “the 8-track is the only audio device which knocks itself out of alignment four times during each album.”

The sensing foil that allows the tape to switch programs would sometimes dry up, fall off, and the tape would separate, and disappear inside the sealed cartridge. This was especially prevalent on bootleg tapes that typically used cheaper sensing foils.  In 8-track-tape-unwinding-from-case-1024x768general, the 8-track market was flooded with cheaper bootleg tapes, found at truck stops and service stations.

Had the tape been reinforced on both sides at this point, the tapes would have been much more reliable. Many modern collectors replace the old sensing foil with a more robust, properly reinforced foil.

Capstan wear and buildup was also a chronic problem with 8-tracks.  As tape residue, dirt and lubricant built up on the capstan, the tape speed would increase and, since the buildup was uneven, the tape speed would become correspondingly uneven.  Similarly, some units were subject to the capstan wear, causing a decrease in tape speed.

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I had a couple of other friends at that time who invested in reel-to-reel tape decks as an additional component in their home stereo system.  These devices, introduced in the 1950s, became more popular by the 1970s.  They offered high-quality sound but were relatively expensive and a little tricky to operate for most casual music fans.  But they 432ad570-2007-11e7-b057-e54777097c6d-500gave consumers the ability to assemble customized mixed tapes that collected choice tracks from their album collections.

I loved this concept.  It was like being your own DJ, without the commercials and talk.  You could put together mixes for every occasion — holiday parties, pool bashes, romantic encounters and more.

But reel-to-reel tapes were not portable.  You could take them to a friend’s house only if he/she also had the necessary reel-to-reel player.  Most important, you couldn’t play them in a car.  So I chose not to invest in this format either.

Enter the cassette tape.  When first introduced in the early ’60s, their sound quality was 64a39c41e3cbaf61a22a0e03b8794082--mixtape-cassettepathetic, marred by a prominent hiss and muffled sound.  Their use was adequate for use in voice dictation and playback of children’s nursery rhymes and such.  So music lovers shunned the format…until the Dolby Noise Reduction technology arrived in the early ’70s to substantially improve cassette tape sound quality.  This development, combined with newer chromium-dioxide tapes, made cassettes a much more attractive format.

Cassettes therefore became ubiquitous around 1975, and the 8-track began its inevitable slide toward extinction.

So what was the thinking behind the 8-track, anyway?

The “Stereo 8 track” cartridge was designed by Richard Kraus while working under Bill Lear for his Lear Jet Corporation in 1963. The major change from the reel-to-reel tape players then available was to incorporate a neoprene rubber and nylon pinch roller into the cartridge itself, rather than to make the pinch roller a part of the tape player, image-2reducing mechanical complexity.

In September 1965, Ford Motor Company introduced factory-installed and dealer-installed 8-track tape players as an option on three of its models, and RCA introduced hundreds of Stereo-8 cartridges from its labels of recording artists’ catalogs.  This push from major corporations helped spark the interest in this new product, despite its drawbacks which would become obvious later.
Cars and trucks, and some homes, had 8-tracks throughout the 1970s, but by the 1980s, you didn’t see 8-track players much anymore, except in pickup trucks in backwater regions that hadn’t yet figured out there were better ways of listening to their music.  By 1982, you could no longer buy new music in 8-track format.
Some folks loved the format and defended it to its dying day.  Here’s one opinion from someone who felt 8-track was superior to the cassette:
“Cassettes sound like shit.  They only play at 1-7/8 IPS (inches per second), so even with all the metal tape formulations, and Dolby, etc., the sound quality is limited compared to an 8-track.  If 8-track manufacturers had invested in the metal and chrome tape the cassette had, it would have blown away the cassette, because 8-track plays at 3.75 IPS, twice the speed of a cassette, and with analog tape, it’s all about tape speed.”
“Those who say that not being able to rewind an 8-track is a drawback are crazy.  You could just let it keep playing.  Want to start over again? Just switch from track 2, to 3-4 and back to 1.  There you are, rewound, with a few button clicks.”
Others were merciless in their assessment of 8-tracks:
“The primary reason the 8-track became extinct was because it was an unreliable piece of shit.  They simply weren’t built to last and, subsequently, they earned a reputation as ticking time bombs.  Truth be told, brand new eight-tracks often sounded good, and the tapes themselves were virtually indestructible — they never melted in the sun or cracked.  It was the internal components that started to fall to pieces over time.  If the manufacturers hadn’t opted for cheap construction, things might have turned out differently.”
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“If the heads became misaligned even slightly (a VERY common occurrence), one track would bleed through into another track.  Worst case scenario:  two songs at equal pitch would play at the same time.  Best case:  a faint background of an altogether different track.  Either way, it was a thoroughly miserable listening experience.”

So there you have it.  The 8-track format, while perhaps not all that bad a concept, was shoddily merchandised and manufactured, and nothing was done to combat the onslaught of pirate/bootleg tapes on the market, which helped kill its credibility.

Cassettes, on the other hand, lasted well into the ’90s until the digital compact disc format completely overwhelmed analog tape in all its forms.

Now, even the CD is considered a dinosaur, as consumers turn to mp3 files and online services to purchase their music.

But if you want to get a chuckle out of anyone who lived through the ’70s, pull out an 8-track tape and ask them to slip it into their player!