In March 2003, as American troops were poised to invade Iraq, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks decided to make a statement against President Bush that delighted the audience in England. But when the news was picked up in the States, the Chicks’ skyrocket to the top hit a wall. Suddenly, they lost a huge chunk of their country music audience. The Chicks’ No. 1 single at the time, “Travelin’ Soldier,” dropped faster down the charts than any single in history. It was almost as if Lee Harvey Oswald had the No. 1 single on Nov. 15, 1963.
The Austin-based group, which defiantly stands by its right to speak out, is still feeling the repercussions with an upcoming summer tour selling like hotcakes – at an Atkins Diet conference. Pollstar has reported that shows in Memphis, Indianapolis and Oklahoma City were canceled due to poor sales. Meanwhile, the group is hotter than ever in North American countries that did not invade Iraq, selling out a 20,000-seat arena in Toronto in eight minutes.
The new album, “Taking the Long Way,” is doing pretty well, selling more than half a million copies in its first week in May – it’s currently at No. 4 on the Billboard charts – but it’s projected to sell only about a third of the 10 million copies sold by each of the two pre-protest albums.
Professionally, Maines blew it when she decided to get political onstage. But her financial blunder was not even in the Top 10 of the worst career moves in pop music history. Let’s count them down, starting with No. 10:
10.The video for “The Way You Make Me Feel” tries way too hard to make Michael Jackson come off as macho. Instead, he looks like a stalker, following an attractive woman down a darkened street, thrusting his pelvis in a sexual way. Later, he and his dancers give new meaning to the term “pounding the pavement.” Though the crotch-grabbing nonsense started with the previous video “Bad,” this one made it clear that Jackson had issues with his sexuality. Cool song, though.
9.David Lee Roth records solo EP “Crazy From the Heat” in 1985, while still a member of Van Halen. Tensions within the band were already boiling, but when Diamond Dave had a couple of solo hits with “Just a Gigolo” and “California Girls,” he was sent packing soon thereafter (he says he quit; they say he was fired). Although Roth initially found success as a solo artist, with 1986’s “Eat ‘Em and Smile” going multiplatinum, the rest of his records tanked. Last we heard, he’d been fired after just a few weeks as Howard Stern’s replacement on New York City’s K-Rock.
8.Public Enemy makes Chuck D’s childhood friend Professor Griff a member of the group. There’s a reason Vince Chase of “Entourage” doesn’t let Turtle do interviews. In 1989, at the height of PE’s prominence, Griff set off a media firestorm by making a slew of anti-Semitic statements to a Washington Times reporter. An indecisive Chuck D didn’t make things better when he first stood by his soldier, then fired him, then briefly disbanded the group.
7.Paul Westerberg gets sober. He probably saved his life, but lost the crazy energy that made the Replacements so cool. Westerberg’s solo albums are dreadfully monotonous and boring. We want a ‘Mats reunion! We demand it.
6.Prince changes his name to an unpronounceable symbol. The little funk genius hits the height of pretentiousness. If Prince’s goal was to become a fixture on Jay Leno’s daily monologue, he succeeded brilliantly. He was hard to take seriously for awhile.
5.Hootie and the Blowfish don’t retire in 1996. Just think: “Cracked Rear View” sells 15 million records, and when critics ask when the next one’s coming out, Darius Rucker says, “Never.” He leaves music to pursue a lifelong dream of getting his PGA tour card and nobody ever finds out that the guy and his band make incredibly boring music. Instead, they line up to buy the deluxe reissue of “Cracked Rear View,” with the bonus disc of solo acoustic versions, and the drummer’s tell-all book, “Who Gives a Hoot?”
4.”Neither Fish Nor Flesh.” Terence Trent D’Arby was a rising superstar in 1988, hitting No. 1 with “Wishing Well” and touring with an explosive live show that blew Michael Jackson off the stage at the Grammys. Then he made one of the most arrogant mistakes a young artist can: He released a pretentious concept album, subtitled “A Soundtrack of Love, Faith, Hope & Destruction,” as the follow-up. This record, which makes “sophomore slump” seem an inadequate term, sunk like a bowling ball in Town Lake, and D’Arby’s career never recovered. Recently, he changed his name to Sananda Maitreya and sells his albums on the Internet. And, for a time, he was going to be the next Prince.
3.Mick Taylor quits the Rolling Stones. Or we could put “Jason Newsted quits Metallica” for our younger fans of the head-banging persuasion. It always looks dumb when a minor member leaves an enormously popular band, but to leave the Stones to play jazz fusion (badly) gets the blue ribbon of ridiculousness.
2.Peter Frampton “stars” in “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Everything was going blazing bazookas for the blond-tressed guitarist who had both rock cred (ex-Humble Pie) and teeny-bopper hooks. “Frampton Comes Alive” was a monster hit, the best-selling live album of all time and then, uh-oh, Frampton steps into this mess, and it was all over.
1.Garth Brooks becomes Chris Gaines. Folks were hoping, praying for “marketing genius” Garth to go AWOL in the membrane, and boy did he deliver with this fictional Australian rock singer alter ego, who was just a transparent attempt to make country music fans sick of Keith Urban before he’d arrived on the Nashville scene. “Garth Brooks . . . In the Life of Chris Gaines” not only went straight to the cut-out bin, but the Garthster seemed a candidate for the loony bin. By the way, you might have been expecting to see Pete Best, the No. 1 symbol of blown chances here, but he was fired by the Beatles; he didn’t quit.
Honorable mention: The Kiss solo albums.