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Pink Floyd

Career Killers: “Kilroy Was Here” by Styx

There have always been extremely successful artists that were so unlikeable, unappealing or unoriginal that it became fashionable to hate them. Nickelback, Creed, Dave Matthews Band, Coldplay, Michael Bolton, Phil Collins, Limp Bizkit, Train, and more recently, Justin Bieber, Imagine Dragons and the Chainsmokers have generated significant amounts of vitriol from critics and the general public — all while stockpiling hits and performing sell-out shows before thousands of adoring fans. If anything, the widespread hatedom only makes their fans love them even more.

Before them, Styx was the one that it was cool to hate.

Critics, in particular, despised them and commonly referred to the band as “Stynx” (one memorable review compared their music to a parking lot full of whale vomit – something that may very have inspired the famous “Shit Sandwich” scene in This is Spinal Tap).

Despite that, Styx sold tons of records and performed countless sold out shows. From 1972 to 1982, the band amassed 11 Top 40 hits, including their sole #1 hit, the polarizing “Babe,” as well as four RIAA-certified gold and five platinum albums. Starting off as a progressive rock group, the band found success when it moved to a more arena-friendly (some would argue, “corporate”) sound, merging hard rock with synth pop while displaying a flair for the dramatic (or melodramatic, as their detractors might argue). Even as it found mainstream success, Styx retained some of its prog leanings, writing thematic, narrative style songs, while releasing a series of concept albums throughout the late 70s and early 80s.

With 1983’s Kilroy Was Here, Styx took on its most ambitious and risky project yet. A concept album about a dystopian future where religious and political fascists have outlawed rock music and use technology to enslave mankind, Styx planned an elaborate live show that would be part rock-opera, part concert, part multimedia spectacle. If the boys from Chicago could pull it off, they would set themselves up to be the spiritual successors to Pink Floyd or The Who.

They did not pull it off.

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Career Killers: “Calling All Stations” by Genesis

In honor of Genesis’s recently announced reunion tour, let’s take a look at the band’s most recent (and in all likelihood, final) studio album, 1997’s Calling All Stations — an epic flop that broke up the band and is considered to be the red-headed stepchild of its discography. In other words, it’s no son, it’s no son of theirs. (Sorry. That’s the last pun, I promise. That’s all.)

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Career Killers: “On Every Street” by Dire Straits

There are two types of “one man bands” in rock music. There are literal examples like Nine Inch Nails, World Party or Five For Fighting, which each consist of one permanent member and are, essentially, solo vehicles in all but name. Foo Fighters started out as a one man band before Dave Grohl decided to make it into an actual group.

Then there are the bands where one member does, virtually, all of the work. John Fogerty was the primary songwriter, lead singer and lead guitarist for Creedence Clearwater Revival. Same with Kurt Cobain for Nirvana, Billy Corgan for Smashing Pumpkins and Syd Barrett for Pink Floyd. Meanwhile, The Cure’s Robert Smith sings, writes, plays guitar, bass, keyboards and other instruments, produces the albums, and decides who will stand with him on stage. Usually what happens is either the other members of the band get fed up and quit or the person in charge realizes he or she doesn’t need the others and goes solo.

For Dire Straits, both of those things happened.

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Career Killers: “The Final Cut” by Pink Floyd

When we think of the most accomplished and popular rock bands, they tend to have one or two people in charge – usually the songwriters. Glenn Frey called it “song power” and used it to explain the power dynamics in The Eagles:

“A rock band is not a perfect democracy. It’s more like a sports team. No one can do anything without the other guys, but everybody doesn’t get to touch the ball all the time.”

Glenn Frey, History of the Eagles.

History tells us that, at some point, the other guys in the band will often get fed up with being in the background and either leave the band or raise such a stink that they get some concessions. Stu Cook and Doug Clifford forced John Fogerty to let them write songs for a Creedence Clearwater Revival album with disastrous results. Jason Newsted quit Metallica. Alan Wilder left Depeche Mode while Dave Gahan threatened to unless he was allowed to write songs for the band’s albums. As for the Eagles, Frey and Don Henley may have been happy in their roles as was benevolent dictators, but others in the band, particularly Don Felder and Joe Walsh, resented being underlings and this underlying tension was one of the main reasons why the band broke up.

Pink Floyd was no different, and when things finally came to a head in the early 1980s, it touched off years of litigation, decades of inconsistent artistic output from all parties involved, and sustained personal enmity and hatred that not even the promise of a triumphant one-off reunion at the biggest charity concert of the 2000s could fully fix.

This is the album that started all of that.

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Career Killers: “Van Halen III”

September 4, 1996. The MTV Video Music Awards are in full swing and the evening is full of historical moments. 2Pac, in his last televised appearance before his death, announced the formation of Death Row East – a provocative incursion onto rival turf at the height of east/west tensions in the hip hop world. A then-unknown No Doubt rocked the pre-show, serving notice to the musical world as to what was to come. A reeling Smashing Pumpkins gave one of their first performances since touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin overdosed on heroin and died the previous July. 

But the moment that had everyone talking was a reunion over ten years in the making, and one that fans, music executives, MTV personnel and fellow musicians had been dying for. When David Lee Roth walked out on stage with the other members of Van Halen, it was the first time he, Eddie Van Halen, Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen had stood together on stage in over a decade. The four had made magic together, establishing Van Halen as one of the greatest and most loved bands of its era. In 1985, at the height of its popularity, Van Halen and Roth parted ways amidst plenty of recriminations and bad feelings. Sammy Hagar had taken over and had done great business for Van Halen. But Roth was the one that we all wanted to see again (heck, in the weeks leading up to the show, MTV ran a 45 second spot featuring some of Dave’s greatest music video moments set to the “Welcome Back Kotter” theme). By appearing together at the VMAs, the classic lineup was surely going to let the past be the past and record a kick-ass record that would restore them to supremacy in a musical world increasingly dominated by alternative music and hip-hop.

Instead, we got Van Halen III.

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Blast from the Past: Return of the Concept Album

Originally posted at: Columbia News Service. (Archived here)

Once upon a time, concept albums were hip. It was a long time ago, back when the shower curtain wasn’t the only piece of vinyl in your house, and the only CDs were the ones issued by banks. If you were bored of singing the standard pop ditties about love, cars and having fun, then concept albums were the way to go. Artists like Pink Floyd, the Who and David Bowie wrote about serious issues like war, madness and consumerism and elevated themselves as artists.

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