Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Five Most Overrated U.S. Rock Bands of All-Time

A look at five bands routinely considered among America’s finest musical acts - and why their “greatness” may or may not be warranted 

Every now and then, you’ll stumble across a publication of some kind that does a “best (insert random qualifiers here) band of all time” list. The best metal band, the best UK band, the best one hit wonder band…you know, the kind of stuff that you just know is going to end up as the focus of a VH1 program at some point or another.

Well, a while back, I encountered a list counting down what were supposedly the greatest American bands of all-time, and needless to say, I was just a little peeved by the rankings I saw. Admittedly, I am not the biggest fan of the Beach Boys,  The Allman Brothers Band or The Talking Heads, but there is one thing about their careers I can certainly appreciate: their consistency as musicians.

If you want to talk about greatness, especially as it relates to musicianship, there you have it. Nothing, I mean nothing, is more important to a band’s universal worth than the steadiness in which they put out decent to outstanding music. Although I may not own your discography, I can certainly find a certain value in the works of musicians that have frequently churned out relatively decent albums throughout their careers - which is precisely why I agree that musicians like REM, Bruce Springsteen and Prince are essentially “great” artists whereas bands with, well, more fluctuating tendencies, are perhaps a tad overrated as music makers.

And in regards to bands with such fluctuating tendencies, there are five in particular that routinely find themselves on “greatest American bands ever” lists that I think definitely do not deserve the bestowment of “greatness” in any regard. These are bands that may have produced OK to excellent music at one point in time, but have had careers in which pure shit has most definitely outweighed the amount of good music they have produced during their heydays.

In other words? In my humble opinion (and really, nobody else’s) these are the five most overrated  U.S. rock groups of all-time. Now, who’s ready for the aroma of burnt sacred cow flesh up in this bitch?

Number 05

I’ve heard a lot of people refer to Aerosmith as America’s Led Zeppelin. If that were the case, there’s one commonality with England’s most famous soft-core hard rock band that I truly wish Aerosmith shared: that they, too, stopped making music after the 1970s.

The thing about Aerosmith is, they were a band that were destined to become just another forgotten arena-rock group, a band that had its AOR heyday before slip-sliding into irrelevancy in the 1980s  before falling into utter obsolesce in the 1990s, a la Boston, Electric Light Orchestra and Blue Oyster Cult. Unfortunately, the group was given a much undeserved career resurgence based simply on the fact that a pioneering rap group sampled one of their moldy rock and roll tunes for their breakthrough hit - in essence, injecting a dead-as-dirt rock act with a dose of Re-animator juice, making Aerosmith the equivalent of an undead Grand Funk Railroad.

Look, I am not going to tell you that all of the stuff Aerosmith did early in their career was flat out terrible. Looking back on their stuff from the 1970s - primarily, “Toys in the Attacks” and “Rocks,” it’s all pretty much harmless, by-the-book rock and roll nonsense that, while far from being innovative in any regard, isn’t necessarily horrible music, either. The tragedy is that Aerosmith outstayed their status as ‘70s-relegated rock act, and every thing they have done since Run-DMC salvaged their livelihood has been progressively (transgressively?) worse and worse.

Take, for example, the group’s 1989 album “Pump,” an offering that merged juvenile, paint-by-numbers Spinal Tap sleaze (“Love in an Elevator”) with totally out-of-place, wannabe-ballads about “serious” social issues (“Janie’s Got A Gun.”) The group followed that up with “Get a Grip,” an album so formulaic that you could pretty much interchange the choruses of every song on the disc and no one would be the wiser. Go ahead, give “Cryin’,” “Amazing,” and “Crazy” back-to-back-to-back listens, and just tell me that there’s any differences to be found there at all.

By the late 1990s, whatever shreds of dignity the band formerly had had been stripped clean from their legacy. Beginning with “Nine Lives,” the group began sliding into pop music-masquerading-as-hard rock territory, creating a series of anti-classics that make the band’s stupidest 1970s opuses sounds like Bach and Beethoven by comparison. In 1998, the band fully completed the cycle of selling out, when they scored their first ever number one hit with “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing,” a hairless, sappy, forced ballad so plastic that you wonder whether or not the CD should come packaged with a Tupperware lid.

Sadly, Aerosmith continued to make music well into the 2000s, periodically popping up at sporting events so Joe Perry’s face can frighten children away from ever touching drugs. Meanwhile, Steve Tyler has gone on to become a caricature of a caricature, mutating from a poor man’s Mick Jagger into a poor man’s Simon Cowell - clearly, an embodiment of all the rock and roll ideals of the 1970s, no doubt.

Number 04

To a lot of rock and roll bands, “selling out” is the absolute worst thing a group can do. Kiss has always been something of an anomaly, however, since their mission statement was to become nothing loftier than a mass-marketed product since their first dress rehearsal. In that, the group started out at a lower point than most rock acts ever bottom out at - and they’ve been on a continual free-fall into the nadir of rock and roll stupidity ever since.

Now, has Kiss always been a horrendous, one-note joke of a band? The answer is, “yes,” but going back to their ‘70s stuff, there was still some semblance of decency to detect within their music. While “Destroyer,” on the whole, is a fairly mediocre album, it had enough vibrancy and oomph to it to make it somewhat listenable - pending you don’t land on “Beth,” of course. Admittedly, the Kiss catalog does have a few standouts, like “God of Thunder” and “Detroit Rock City,” but it didn’t take long for the band to do enough damage to automatically negate whatever good they did for the industry of rock and roll music.

Hey, remember that disco album the group made? How about “Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park?” Or hey, how about the KISS of the 1980s, featuring a dude with an ankh on his face spitting out half-hearted junk like “I've Had Enough (Into the Fire)?” No doubt, the band’s premier preoccupation around the Carter years was selling STD-blood soaked comic books, and not making music that was, in a word, “unshitty.”

Faced with lagging record sales, the remnants of the band decided to “unmask” and become your stereotypical ‘80s hair metal act, recording such all-time classics as “Lick It Up” and “Unholy” in the process. Despite a rabid following from fat people that never left their dial-up modems, the Kiss of the ‘90s was just about the antithesis of rock and roll - and trust me, when you’re recording songs written by MICHAEL FREAKING BOLTON, you are in no way, shape or form affiliated with any sort of “rock music” whatsoever.

After a horrendous “Unplugged” set, the band decided to reunite with its original line-up and lace up the goofball costumes again. What followed was a good two decades of increasingly embarrassing tours and media appearances, including concerts at such rock and rolling events as the closing ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics.

When they’re not making god awful, self-fellating comedies that nobody in their right mind would ever want to see or appearing in 32-bit “Doom”clones, Kiss, against all odds, continues to tour and not make new music today, which is at least one thing we can all be thankful for as a peoples. The band currently has plans for a tour with Motley Crue…and here’s to hoping that ungodly combination is actually some sort of furtive eugenics program, with the pyro and smoke machines spewing out sterilizing chemicals that makes certain that nobody in the future finds such atrocious music bearable.

Number 03

Earlier this year, Guns N Roses (sans Axl Rose, who was probably at home nursing yet another ass kicking at the hands of a fashion designer) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. For those of you not in the know, to be eligible for the HOF, you have to wait 25 years after the release of your debut album - and all things tallied, Guns N Roses spent just six years out of the last two and a half decades actually making music.

We all know you don’t have to have a lengthy career to be influential as a musician. The key variable there, of course, is that in that brief career, you actually record music that’s, you know, good - something GNR, in any incarnation, has never really been apt at doing.

Some people have called 1987’s “Appetite for Destruction” the greatest debut album of all time. These people are, in a word or three, really, really stupid. Despite crafting some tunes that will forever serve as fodder for Arena Football League games, the reality is that “Appetite” was a fairly flat album, with a few OK (and soon to be overplayed) tracks and a whole lot of filler. Immediately after that, GNR released a glorified EP, containing a sappy-crappy ballad with an extended whistling solo and at least one “N-word” strewn song promoting homophobia.

“Use Your Illusion I & II” was supposed to be the double album that put GNR in the pantheon of rock gods like Pink Floyd and The Beatles, but it’s overproduced, overloaded, ostentatious glut of self-promoting ill-will and horribly misguided “social commentary” (“Get in the Ring” and “Civil War,” respectively) were shown as the antiquated claptrap it was, being released at the same time “Nevermind” made all of that misogynistic, hyper-machismo pseudo-metal an ‘80s relic on par with Members Only jackets.

After taking a break to cancel tour dates and cover songs written by mass murdering psychopaths, Guns N Roses officially called it quits in 1994, with Slash and the boys soon starting their own mega-group (that sucked) while Axl Rose turned into the hair metal equivalent of J.D. Salinger, resurfacing periodically to provide shitty nu-metal songs for Arnold Schwarzenegger movies and put on incredibly embarrassing live performances with gothed-up douche bags and a dude with a KFC bucket on his head

In 2008, Axl Rose’s “Guns N Roses” released the long delayed “Chinese Democracy,” an album so monumentally forgettable that the record execs had to promise consumers free soda if they picked up the reverse magnum opus, a rather fitting conclusion for an act that had long lost its flavor several decades prior. And hey, did I mention that Axl Rose also lost a fight to a fashion designer, too?

Number 02

Of course, Eddie Van Halen is a great guitar player. In fact, he’s frequently considered one of the greatest guitarists in history, and rightfully so. All in all, I really can’t say that the groups’ offerings in the late 1970s and early 1980s were all that bad - but everything since then, unfortunately…

You can say a lot of good things about Van Halen during the David Lee Roth years, but by the time DLR was getting ready to split, the seeds of sucktitude were already beginning to sprout. Take “1984,” the band’s pop-metal hybrid featuring Eddie Van Halen playing an electronic keyboard (the musical equivalent of watching Michael Jordan play baseball, I suppose) and Roth going batshit crazy with the in-song ad-libs on just about every track on the album. You just knew whatever was going to follow was going to be pretty horrific…but I don’t think any of us expected the aftermath to be as horrible as it soon presented itself.

If you’ve ever heard any of the Van Hagar albums, you really don’t need me to tell you just how awful they truly are. From “5150” to “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge,” the Van Halen discography during the Sammy Hagar years is among the worst run of any kind of music in the history of recorded audio - and proving that the masses are generally tone deaf and or devoid of all forms of taste, just about all of them went on to sell about a million copies each.

As overrated as the David Lee Roth run was, his stint as Van Halen front man had at least a few high notes, even if most of those revolved around outlandish backstage demands and even more bizarre groupie stories. What, however, where the high points of the Van Hagar years? A song included on the “Twister” soundtrack, and a generic “ballad” which will forever be known as the theme song to Crystal Pepsi. Outside of O.J. Simpson, it’s hard to think of anything that experienced a harder fall from grace in the 1990s than that.

Eventually, things got too substandard even for Hagar, who left the band in the late ‘90s, only to get replaced by the dude that was in Extreme…as in, the “More Than Words” guys. There really isn’t a joke I can make about that, for the reality is the punch line itself.

After years and years of bickering and feuding, the original Van Halen line-up (with a virtually bald Roth and Eddie fresh out of chemo) reunited in 2012 to release their first studio album in damn near 30 years, entitled “A Different Kind of Truth”…and in the process, reminded us all that they really should have called it quits while Reagan was still president.

Number 01

At one point in time, I think it would have been possible to call Metallica one of the greatest rock acts in U.S. history. Unfortunately, that timeframe was 20 years ago, and the amount of unforgivably awful bullshit they’ve heaped upon the masses over the last two decades not only overshadows whatever greatness they once had, but pretty much completely nullifies it.

You know, Led Zeppelin barely had a 10 year-long career. The Beatles had a shorter one that that. Had Metallica just stopped after “The Black Album,” there’s the possibility that all of the accolades the band has received over the years may be (MAY BE) warranted. Nobody is going to say that “…And Justice For All” or “Kill ‘Em All” are musical landmarks on par with “Bitches Brew” or “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” but all things considered, there were passable, if not mildly above average releases for the genre at the timeframe. The band’s second and third albums are generally considered thrash metal masterpieces, and their fifth album - the eponymous 1991 release that aroused just as much accusation of “selling out” as commercial and critical praise - is still considered one of the decade’s seminal works.

Everything came to a standstill, however, with the release of “Load” in 1995 - quite possibly the single most hated album in the history of mainstream metal. Gone where the high-speed songs about capital punishment and Dalton Trumbo novels, and enter an era of experimental alternative-rock nonsense that - against all conceivable odds - somehow managed to get worse and worse with each new release.

Some days, I wonder if the band entered into some sort of “Brewster’s Millions”-like contract around 1994, with the stipulation that they had to keep finding new ways to alienate fans with each subsequent album. Purists hated the slowed down tempo of “Load,” so the band fired back with an album filled with even slower down tempo songs that were too shitty to make the first cut of an album already considered among the shittiest ever recorded. After that, Metallica assailed fans with a four-disc, double dose of experimental failure, releasing a half-hearted set of cover tunes in 1998 followed up by a live orchestra recording in 1999. And just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse for Metallica fans? The whole “Napster” ordeal begins in 2000, around the same time the band recorded some nonsense for, of all things, a freaking Tom Cruise movie.

Following the departure of their bassist, Metallica made it an effort to reclaim their former glory with the release of 2003’s “St. Anger” - an absolutely colossal disaster that stands out as one of the worst releases of the 2000s. After a five year hiatus, the band returned with 2008’s “Death Magnetic,” which yet again failed to deliver anything other than sheer suck in compressed digital audio form, which in turn was complemented by the band’s indescribably awful 2011 pairing with Lou Reed, “Lulu.” Currently, the band has plans for a grandiose-sounding “concert” movie, which, almost assuredly, is destined  to become a cinematic masterpiece on par with “Spice World” or “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

So, what to make of Metallica’s career then? No matter how great their first ten years may have been, their combined efforts over the last twenty have been so unfathomably atrocious that it’s hard to think of any past glories overruling the commitment of the lyrics “my life style determines my death style” to human history. It’s never really been a question as to whether or not Metallica “sold out” (because, yeah, they did), but rather, just how far have they fallen? Seeing as how they’ve spent twice as much time committing audio atrocities as they have tolerable mainstream metal, their lofty veneration is, at best, based on complete disavowal of the last two decades happening, and at worst, based on the hyper-fallacious belief that, somehow, the stuff they’ve done since “The Black Album” has any sort of relevance or merit to the world of music. Either way you want to look at it, this much is absolutely apparent; the boys from the Bay Area are far and away the most overrated rock band in the history of United States music.

on May 01, 2012 by Your Friendly Neighborhood Jimbo | 10 comments  Edit


  1. wow, you managed to put a lot of wrong into one article.

    1. Care to expand on that? Feel free to poke hole in what he just said, but at least bring something substantial to counter his arguments.

    2. Idk, I thought this article was on point.

  2. Put REM on #1 and replace Van Halen with Nirvana and you're good.

  3. the group was given a much undeserved career resurgence based simply on the fact that a pioneering rap group sampled one of their moldy rock and roll tunes for their breakthrough hit - in essence, hard rock music

  4. I came here searching "Aerosmith" overrated, and found more to agree with...

  5. Aerosmith is overated. Metal bands are ALL overated. Marshall stacks hide bad voacals Nirvana was/is a great band. Kurt Cobain was a great songwriter, and frontman, with really a really bad addiciton problem. Check out Nirvana Unplugged. Sounds as good today as it did in the 90s.

  6. Oh yeah, "Toys in the ATTACKS" is not so bad.

    And Kill 'em All was 'mildly above average'. Of course it wasn't one of the first thrash albums ever released.

  7. In complete agreement with all of the five. Bang on, mister!


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