Originally published in Jan. 1996
by Michael Corcoran and Don Mcleese.
Where did all the fun go? Rock was once the reckless expression of youthful abandon, a rude blast of freedom. These days, it is more often the province of self- important mopes, laboring and agonizing over their angst-ridden profundities, making a career of their introspective crises. As they suffer for their art, so must we.
How did rock become so rote? When did art escape from the galleries and start ruining the genre where ”Tutti Frutti” once said it all? When did fun become meaning’s afterthought? When did a college education become as big an inspiration for lyrics as life’s experiences? Even with all this intellectual ”progress,” Chuck Berry remains the greatest rock lyricist ever, and he probably thinks Rimbaud is a character that Sly Stallone plays in the movies.
The following albums had a lot to do with why rock ‘n’ roll is more about the hole than the doughnut. Though some of these are mainly insidious for what they inspired, here are 25 albums that spread the germs of the disease that killed rock ‘n’ roll:
1. ”RUBBER SOUL” BY THE BEATLES (1965). The pristine pop machine decided that perfection wasn’t enough; they also wanted to say something with their songs, and so they slowed them down and brought in acoustic guitars so you could hear such lyrics as ”Michelle/ Ma belle/These are words that go together well.” Earlier in ’65, the Beatles were rocking hard on amazing versions of ”Bad Boy” and ”Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” as well as goosebump-inducing originals like ”Eight Days a Week” and ”Help!” Yet, by year’s end, they were playing sitars and writing such future Vegas standards as ”Norwegian Wood” and ”Run for Your Life.” Our guess is that somewhere around the middle of ’65, the Beatles found a good drug connection.
EVIL SPAWNED: Hootie & the Blowfish, Deep Blue Something, the Rembrandts, MTV Unplugged, Lenny Kravitz.
2. ”ARE YOU EXPERIENCED?” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience (1968). Jimi couldn’t sing, which right away made him a great role model for up-and-coming musicians, but he played the guitar better than anyone before or since. Many have imitated Hendrix, but none of them can match his feeling or his fingers, so you wonder why they even bother. Nobody ever looked as cool as Hendrix playing the guitar, and when he died all that was left was the footage and an army of ax-toting sycophants. Hendrix has almost as many imitators as Elvis, but like those pudgy black-haired guys in the white jumpsuits, Jimi’s throng rarely gets close enough to capture the essence of the big man.
EVIL SPAWNED: Living Colour, Robin Trower, Sonic Youth, countless bar bands doing ”Red House,” Lenny Kravitz.
3.”LED ZEPPELIN II” BY LED ZEPPELIN (1969). We’d like to squeeze Robert Plant’s lemon until he collapses. Though blues has long been the music of sexual bump ‘n’ grind, rarely has a band celebrated its collective genitalia so witlessly, while inspiring scores of imitators even more blatant and less musical.
EVIL SPAWNED: Spandex, metal, grunge, Lenny Kravitz.
4. ”LIVE/ DEAD” BY GRATEFUL DEAD (1970). Even as the Dead had entered their most concise songwriting period, recording such FM radio staples as ”Casey Jones,” ”Uncle John’s Band,” ”Ripple,” ”Truckin”’ and ”Box of Rain” during 1970, this live LP was full of the wandering psychedelic jams that have influenced a million teens to dance with their hands. ”Dark Star” has inspired more masturbation than the porno kingpins Dark Bros., only on ”Dark Star” they use both hands.
EVIL SPAWNED: The New Bohemians, Phish, Blues Traveler, Dave Matthews Band.
5. ”PARANOID” BY BLACK SABBATH (1971). Influenced by occult author Dennis Wheatley, this band from Birmingham, England, completely changed the lyrical focus of hard rock, with its adrenalized, supersonic tales of death and destruction influencing generations of metalheads. We liked it better when heavy metal songs were about getting wasted.
EVIL SPAWNED: Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth, GWAR, speed metal thrash, the new Ministry album.
6. ”THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STAR DUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS” BY DAVID BOWIE (1972). In which rock stardom and sexual ambiguity hit new depths of self-consciousness. Whatever Ziggy signified in the early ’70s, a lyric such as ”Freak out in a moon-age daydream, oh yeah” became awfully dated awfully quick. After Bowie subsequently transformed idol Lou Reed into another pinup of gay glitterati, Reed threatened to title an album, ”Get Back in the Closet.”
EVIL SPAWNED: Gary Glitter, Queen, Nine Inch Nails.
7. ”DESPERADO” BY THE EAGLES (1973). The romantic mythos of these cocaine cowboys continues to ruin contemporary country, much as it did ’70s rock. Don Henley’s self-righteousness is enough to put you on the side of the tree pillagers.
EVIL SPAWNED: L.A. of the ’70s, Nashville of the ’90s.
8. ”QUADROPHENIA” BY THE WHO (1973). At least ”Tommy” had some great tunes and a gloriously ridiculous premise. By giving his conceptual ambitions free rein, Pete Townshend lost the spirit that had made the Who one of the sharpest and snappiest singles band of the ’60s. Roger Daltrey’s anguished wail has since provided a model for every rock star with a martyr complex.
EVIL SPAWNED: U2, Pearl Jam, Live.
9. ”FACE THE MUSIC” BY ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA. (1975). Though Jeff Lynne’s sound had become smarmy self- parody by the mid-’70s, it continues to echo through every project he produces. Even the spaceships and other glitz that ELO employed on tour couldn’t disguise the fact that much of the musical backing was taped, and much of the inspiration canned.
EVIL SPAWNED: Traveling Wilburys, Tom Petty (sans Heartbreakers), Beatles ’95, Yanni.
10. ”BOSTON” BY BOSTON (1976). Because this sonically rich debut LP went on to sell more than 10 million copies, it helped define a new era of studio rock, where bands started layering their music even more than their hair. Inadvertently, this album also helped open the chasm between gut-level punk fans and the popular kids at school who blasted this album from the car Daddy bought them.
EVIL SPAWNED: Toto, Foreigner, Loverboy, Smashing Pumpkins.
11. ”THE ROYAL SCAM” BY STEELY DAN (1976). Aptly titled, this milestone of post-collegiate smug rock parlayed inscrutable tales of classmates at Bard and heroin flirtation, backed by ”tasty” fills from studio hacks, into an insufferable exercise in rock elitism. The band illustrates the distinction between jazzy and jazz, but we prefer our Thelonious Monk straight, no chaser.
EVIL SPAWNED: Kenny G, David Sanborn, Larry Carlton and the ”smooth jazz” format that now caters to their ilk.
12. ”TALKING HEADS 77” BY TALKING HEADS (1977). What’s the difference between punk and new wave? Button- down shirts, prep school pedigree, art school diploma. Though David Byrne’s music subsequently became more rhythmically liberating, less intellectually claustrophobic, Talking Heads showed that the new wave could be as full of itself as the music it was rebelling against.
EVIL SPAWNED: More nerds copped the look (from the Feelies through Weezer) than bands copped the sound.
13. ”SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER” BY VAR IOUS ARTISTS (1977). The blockbuster model for scores of pop-culture crossovers, films that were little more than an excuse for their soundtracks. Even after changing its name to ”dance music,” disco still ”sucks.”
EVILS SPAWNED: ”Footloose” and ”Flashdance,” Bowie’s ”Golden Years” and the Stones’ ”Emotional Rescue,” Peter Frampton as Sgt. Pepper.
14. ”ONE NATION UNDER A GROOVE” BY PARLIAMENT/ FUNKADELIC (1978). The black KISS could play anything, and mastermind George Clinton found some cool jams in his update of James Brown for a drugged-out dance crowd, but this LP ultimately led rock ‘n’ funk in a direction that others were ill-equipped to follow, seizing more on the puerile sci-fi inventions than the soul-elevating jams. Subsequently, P-Funk inspired two of the scariest things on the planet: black metal bands and white funk bands.
EVIL SPAWNED: Primus, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fishbone, Retarted Elf, Living Colour, Body Count, Lenny Kravitz.
15. ”THIRD/SISTER LOVERS” BY BIG STAR (1978). Introducing the warped Southern pop song, where dreariness tussles with the melody and the melody wins. Modern popsters have spent almost 20 years trying to love the limbs right off the Beatles, and it all started in Memphis with Alex Chilton and Chris Bell.
EVIL SPAWNED: Let’s Active, the dBs, Rain Parade, Teenage Fanclub, Alex Chilton.
16. ”OFF THE WALL” BY MICHAEL JACK SON (1979). ”Thriller” may be the best- selling album ever, but the blueprint for the current crop of pseudo-soulful R&B can be found in its predecessor. Michael was dressed in a tuxedo on the cover to signal his metamorphosis from boy II man, and producer Quincy Jones tarted up such pillow-humpers as ”Rock With You” and ”She’s Out of My Life” as if he were decorating Diana Ross’ bedroom.
EVIL SPAWNED: Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men, Shai, Brandy, Xscape.
17. ”RICKIE LEE JONES” BY RICKIE LEE JONES (1979). Jack Kerouac begat Tom Waits, who begat Rickie Lee Jones (with some musical midwifery from Joni Mitchell), who begat Edie Brickell, who begat Sheryl Crow. How’s that for genetic de-evolution?
EVIL SPAWNED: Grammy-winning hits about a morning beer buzz, bad confessional poetry from girls in berets.
18. ”OUTLANDOS D’AMOUR” BY THE POLICE (1979) Peroxide allowed these aged fusoids to pass as punks, while Club Med and funny drinks with umbrellas in them provided the inspiration for the trio’s rhythmic exotica. When Sting crowned himself the ”King of Pain,” the regal riches were his, the pain was ours.
EVIL SPAWNED: World Beat dilettantism and musicultural imperialism, Lenny Kravitz.
19. ”II” BY MEAT PUPPETS (1983). Anytime you see a roots band warping it up for the art crowd, you can give a tip of the cap to Arizona’s Puppets, who made this sun-stroked country rock at a time when punk music was all about faster, faster, kill, kill. The Velvets can probably claim ”lo-fi” along with all their other credits, but the Meat Puppets were the modern pioneers. In its way, this record was as influential to a new breed of country boy as were the Flying Burrito Brothers in their day.
EVIL SPAWNED: Giant Sand, Dinosaur Jr., the Grifters, Palace Brothers, King Kong.
20. ”POWER, CORRUPTION AND LIES” BY NEW ORDER (1983). The point at the center of this album’s incredibly wide sphere of influence is the programmed drum beat on ”Blue Monday,” which was widely sampled by Frankie Knuckles and Silk Hurley during the inception of house music. A speeded-up portion of ”Blue Monday’s” drums could also be the foundation for Ministry’s aural assault. Boy, imagine a world without either house music or industrial.
EVIL SPAWNED: House music, industrial, Depeche Mode, Erasure, Thrill Kill Cult.
21. ”PURPLE RAIN” BY PRINCE (1984). As the precocious prodigy with the dirty mind, Prince was the most audaciously creative force in rock. With this popular breakthrough, he fancied himself as part Fellini, part Messiah, while subsequently convincing even diehard fans that he had lost his marbles. Those who stole liberally from him (everything but his goofy genius) reduced his trademark sound to product.
EVIL SPAWNED: Janet Jackson (and everyone else produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis), the Paisley Park empire, the artist formerly known as Prince.
22. ”PSYCHOCANDY” BY JESUS AND MARY CHAIN (1985). With backing tracks that sounded like lightning hitting a sheet metal plant, this Scottish band set out to make pop music ugly and succeeded brilliantly.
EVIL SPAWNED: British ”shoegazer” bands, new interest in strobe lights and fog machines, black hair dye No. 2.
23. ”THREE FEET HIGH AND RISING” BY DE LA SOUL (1989). Hippie hop is born! Called innovative for finding other things to rhyme about than sex and violence, this album took the edge off hip- hop and showed that ”trippy” is in the mind of the beholder.
EVIL SPAWNED: P.M. Dawn, Digable Planets, Jazzmatazz, Tribe Called Quest.
24. ”USE YOUR ILLUSION I AND II” BY GUNS N’ ROSES (1991). Hard rock gets maudlin and grandiose — not a good combination — with these two individual albums, released simultaneously, that effectively ended the Guns’ run as the world’s most popular rock band. From drippy piano ballads (”November Rain”) to an ill-advised Wings cover (”Live and Let Die”), this supposed artistic stretch only cemented one opinion about the band: Unrepentant bad boy Axl Rose can’t sing.
EVIL SPAWNED: Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds, Slash’s Snakepit and G N’ R’s failed grasp for punk credibility, ”The Spaghetti Incident?”
25. ”NEVERMIND” BY NIRVANA (1991). The best way to destroy a band is is to make them real popular real fast. It broke up the Beatles and splattered the Sex Pistols, this oppressive adoration, and it took Nirvana to a scary and ultimately tragic place. Be careful what you wish for.
EVIL SPAWNED: ”modern rock” (i.e. Bush, Live, Sponge, Silverchair).