10 Rock Artists Whose Core Fans Hated Their Biggest Hits

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If you love music, you probably know the feeling: Your favorite artist releases a new CD, and you can’t wait. You’ve got all their songs. You’ve seen them in concert (seven times!). You are their biggest fan. But then you hear the new single — and it sounds terrible, nothing like their previous stuff. And the rest of the new songs are bad. Yet the new CD rockets up the charts, and everyone else is suddenly their BIGGEST FAN. Here are 10 classic rock artists who went through a similar phase as their music evolved and reached a new audience. Of course, not all loyal fans hated these songs, but enough did that the mere mention of them many years later still upsets some people.

 

10. Grateful Dead

Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead play a show in 1987, the year the song Touch of Grey soared up the charts. © Grateful Deadhead

Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead play a show in 1987, the year the song Touch of Grey soared up the charts. © Grateful Deadhead

The ultimate psychedelic band is legendary for its live shows, and its permissive attitude toward bootleg recordings, which led to a legendary following. Yet the Grateful Dead’s biggest hit, Touch of Grey (I Will Get By), appealed to a mostly pop audience. Many longtime fans, who had cheered the song when the Dead played it in early 1980s shows, were not happy to see it go mainstream on the 1987 album In the Dark. New Grateful Dead fans turned out for shows, but they mainly loved the image; Grateful Dead bears and tie-dye were suddenly everywhere. Many true Deadheads could only shake their head in frustration.

 

9. ZZ Top

ZZ Top still has a loyal fan following. © Craig O'Neal

ZZ Top still has a loyal fan following, despite Billy Gibbons & C0. straying far from their musical roots in the 1980s. © Craig O’Neal

The “Little Ol’ Band from Texas” is still touring today, more than 40 years after it started cranking out blues-powered hits like La Grange and Tush. Those 1970s songs earned the trio a loyal following from fans of multiple genres, including hard rock, Southern rock and the blues. But the group took a dramatic stylistic turn with the release of Eliminator in 1983. Hits such as Sharp Dressed Man and Legs veered into pop-rock territory, promoted by sexy, slick videos that played around the clock on the new MTV. These were songs to play in glitzy nightclubs, not the hard-rockin’ Texas juke joints that once hosted Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard (yes, the band member who doesn’t have a beard.)

ZZ Top followed Eliminator two years later with Afterburner, another huge commercial success that featured more synthesizers and even record scratches. Most loyal fans hated the new sound and even critics questioned the change. Allmusic.com notes, “Afterburner, their most synthetic album, will not please most ZZ Top fans. … never has a hard rock album sounded so artificial, nor has a nominal blues-rock album sounded so devoid of blues.” There has been some vindication for older ZZ Top fans, as those early songs are still mainstays on classic rock stations.

 

8. Metallica

Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield perform in London in 2008. © Kreepin Deth

Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield perform in London in 2008. © Kreepin Deth

In the early 1980s, Metallica unleashed a gritty, speed metal sound, a welcome alternative to the flashy hair bands of the era. The group’s fan base grew with each album release. Metallica’s fourth album, … And Justice for All, was softer than previous releases. The song One became a huge hit even though it was basically a power ballad. But the success earned Metallica attention and its next album, Metallica, (aka the Black Album), became a huge hit. Loyal fans felt the band had sold out with the softer sound. The result is that the group’s fan base is split between two eras; few fans like both styles. How do you make a hard-core Metallica fan angry? Tell them you’ve been a fan since the beginning … you know, the Black Album.

 

7. The Clash

The Clash in 1980, a couple of years before members were Rocking the Casbah. © Helge Overas

The Clash in 1980, a couple of years before members were Rocking the Casbah. © Helge Overas

One of the signature bands of the British punk era, the Clash developed a loyal following in Great Britain and America for their gritty sound and image. Then, in 1982 the group released Combat Rock, which featured two mega-hits, Rock the Casbah and Should I Stay or Should I Go? Both could be considered pop or new wave, and both still get plenty of radio play. Should I Stay is even used as a jingle for a hotel chain. They’re certainly not the two songs the Clash’s biggest fans would like people to recall as their best music.

 

6. Kiss

Kiss, shown here in 2010, had its biggest hit with the ballad Beth. © Fileri

Kiss, shown here in 2010, had its biggest hit with the love ballad Beth. © Fileri

Despite the wild outfits, makeup, and stage effects, Kiss’ first three albums were pretty good, if you like straightforward hard rock. Kiss found mainstream success in 1976, with the album Destroyer. Yet one song from that album, Beth, turned into a surprise hit. It reached No. 7 on the U.S. singles chart, the group’s only top-10 hit. Teens who had loyally followed the band and put on the makeup at concerts were not happy that a love song propelled the group to mainstream success. To make matters worse, the members of Kiss didn’t even play the music on the song — they hired a studio pianist and string orchestra. Drummer Peter Criss sang lead vocals with the other three members singing backup. Most hard-core Kiss fans today maintain the band never should have recorded the song.

 

5. Styx

Styx is still touring today, minus founding member Dennis DeYoung, whose love for ballads turned off many fans. © Kim Hill

Styx is still touring today, minus founding member Dennis DeYoung, whose growing love for writing ballads turned off many fans. © Kim Hill

Lead singer and keyboardist Dennis DeYoung wrote the band’s breakthrough hit, Lady, and other early hits (Lorelei, Suite Madame Blue). But after guitarist Tommy Shaw joined the group in late 1975, the two shared songwriting and lead vocalist duties. Perhaps conflict was inevitable. Shaw and fellow guitarist James Young loved guitar-driven hard rock; DeYoung preferred keyboard-driven ballads. Although they reached a creative high with The Grand Illusion (1977), the band’s sound changed dramatically with the release of DeYoung’s pop ballad Babe, which hit No. 1 on the charts in 1979.

DeYoung pushed the group to make the 1983 rock opera album Kilroy Was Here, promoted by an elaborate theatrical stage show on tour. Styx fans who loved the band’s harder edge were totally baffled by songs like Mr. Roboto. Shaw and Young hated the change in style, leading the band to break up a year later. There’s still a rift today. Shaw and Young tour with other musicians under the name Styx, while DeYoung performs as Dennis DeYoung: the Music of Styx.

 

4. Van Halen

Van Halen, seen here during a 2008 performance, had a string of No. 1 albums in the 1980s and ’90s. © Ghostrider

Van Halen, seen here during a 2008 performance, had a string of No. 1 albums in the 1980s and ’90s. © Ghostrider

Throughout the late 1970s and early ’80s Van Halen ruled the hard rock world. Unlike Kiss and the big-hair bands of the era, Van Halen was not about image, just a unique, raw sound driven by highly talented musicians. Then in 1984, the group earned pop success with the aptly titled album 1984. The album featured some of the classic Van Halen sound with songs like Panama and Hot for Teacher. However, the biggest hit on the album, Jump, is heavy on synthesizers and has a much lighter pop sound than true fans were expecting. Soon after that, Eddie and Alex Van Halen had a falling out with dynamic lead singer David Lee Roth and replaced him with veteran rocker Sammy Hagar. The next few albums, which all hit No. 1 on the charts, were in a similar vein of pop music, causing many fans from their early years to move on.

 

3. Green Day

Green Day, in Berlin in 2009. © Gilly Berlin

Green Day are best known by many for the ballad Good Riddance (Time of Your Life). © Gilly Berlin

Green Day ruled the early 1990s punk scene, but alienated many fans with the 1997 ballad Good Riddance (Time of Your Life). The song soon became a popular slow dance tune at proms — definitely not the band’s core audience. Although not the group’s most commercially successful song, it’s probably the one Green Day song that everyone, from Grandma on down, has heard. As the title implies, Good Riddance is not a happy song but rather about a nasty breakup. It’s strange that so many people have come to see it as a love song with a happy, nostalgic message.

 

2. Doobie Brothers

The Doobie Brothers in 1976, with original lead singer Tom Johnston (center read) and new singer Michael McDonald (front right).

The Doobie Brothers in 1976, with original lead singer Tom Johnston (center rear) and new singer Michael McDonald (kneeling right).

The Doobie Brothers’ first hard-core fans were really hard-core — biker gangs in northern California. The band developed a loyal following with a hard-rock sound and classics such as China Grove and Long Train Runnin’. The group’s change in style was not a conscious choice, but a move born of necessity. In 1975, lead singer Tom Johnston developed serious health problems and could not tour. Desperate for an experienced replacement, the group recruited Michael McDonald. While McDonald had a smooth, soulful tenor, it proved much different from Johnston’s voice and did not mesh well with the Doobies’ signature sound.

As a result, the Doobie Brothers changed to a much more pop-friendly sound relying heavily on synthesizers and keyboards. The 1978 album Minute By Minute, with the No. 1 hit What a Fool Believes, captured four Grammy Awards and is the best-selling album in the group’s history. But many longtime fans wandered away. The group dissolved three years later, with the departure of the last original member Pat Simmons.

 

1. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Bruce Springsteen's album Born in the U.S.A. transformed him from a star into a cultural icon, even if many fans misunderstood the title track's meaning. © Matthew Harding

Bruce Springsteen’s album Born in the U.S.A. transformed him from a star into a cultural icon, even if many fans misunderstood the title track’s meaning. © Matthew Harding

Throughout the 1970s and early ’80s Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band developed a loyal following with hits such as Born to Run and 10th Avenue Freeze Out. Then in 1984 they released one of the best-selling albums of all time, Born in the U.S.A. The title song became a massive hit, with even President Ronald Reagan praising the song’s patriotism. However, many new fans only listened to the chorus and didn’t notice the verses are about a traumatized Vietnam veteran watching the factories in his hometown close down. Not exactly a happy song. It is a reach to say that Springsteen’s longtime fans hate Born in the U.S.A. — although some do — but most of them certainly hate the clueless fans who assume it’s a patriotic anthem.

This is an odd case. Not only did loyal fans find the material on that album questionable, so did Springsteen and his band mates. Through the years, Springsteen has given Born in the U.S.A. dramatically different interpretations in concert, or simply not played it.

Written by

Clint Carter has taught special education and has been a lacrosse official for the past 20 years. He has a passion for travel, trivia, sports, movies, reading, and general outside-the-box thinking.