As Elvis Costello was wont to opine, radio seems to be solidly in the hands of such a lot of fools trying to anesthetize the way that you feel. Clearly, they are cutting up the catalog of many meaningful bands, reducing their import to a few selected songs. Granted, once you’ve traveled beyond the basics of many musical groups, their oeuvre seems less and less solid. On the other hand, many musicians are lucky if only one song out of their catalog makes it onto the air. As a result, several significant contributors to the medium’s cultural dynamic are left listed as ersatz one hit wonders — that is, a single overplayed track eventually represents everything they stand for. In that regard, here are our picks for 10 tunes that have become a pariah for their particular artists. Each act represented has dozens of definitive moments to remember them by. Radio, on the other hand, only recognizes these cuts.
Marc Almond and David Ball deserve a better reputation on the American side of the pond. In the UK, songs like “Bedsitter”, “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye”, and the notorious “Sex Dwarf” were smashes. In the States, we got this overplayed remake (the jazzy, “Dirty Water”-esque original version is by the wonderful Gloria Jones) and nothing else. How these synthpop pioneers became marginalized into a single song will become an overriding theme here — musicians with a interesting and complex catalog reduced to one, overplayed track.
This is an even bigger ‘crime’ than the one visited upon Soft Cell. Numan is another synthesizer pioneer, and yet his entire output has been filtered through the decades into this ode to Ford fetishism. This is a man who still makes music today (he never stopped recording and touring), inspiring such artists as Nine Inch Nails and the Magnetic Fields and yet radio can’t reach back and pull anything other than this one note novelty. Definitely an important artist whose unfairly stereotyped.
Yes, Layne Staley is dead. True, AIC’s original discography sits right in the middle of the mainstream fascination over grunge. But with Jerry Cantrell’s interesting reinvention of metal mannerisms and the dark, often dour subject matter explored, there is more to Alice than this overplayed anthem. Songs such as “Angry Chair”, “Sickman”, and “Nutshell” never get any love. Instead, we are constantly reminded of the first time the band made an impact on the culture. It’s pathetic how they’re pigeonholed.
Remember, U2 has been around for 36 years. Thirty-six years! From the brilliance of Boy (1980) to the experimental zip of Zooropa (1993), the group never really rested on its post-punk laurels. However, the success of Achtung Baby (which contains other classics in the U2 catalog) has given radio limited range. This means we never hear “I Will Follow”, “Gloria”, or even obscure singles like “A Celebration”. Instead, the Edge’s treated guitar swirls around the slightly Eastern beat, bringing an entire three-decade plus career to a screeching halt circa 1991.
For nearly a decade, R.E.M. struggled to avoid mainstream acceptance. Then the band decided to take a well-deserved hiatus, guitarist Peter Buck dropped the axe for a mandolin, and the rest is revisionist jangle pop 2.0 history. While superstardom would fully arrive and remain with the release of Automatic for the People (1992), Michael Stipe and his pals no longer have to live off interesting entries like “Radio Free Europe”, “Orange Crush”, or their first Top Ten single, “The One I Love”. It’s “Religion”… or airplay rejection.
5 – 1
Recent infighting aside, Black Sabbath is one of the few bands that has remained relevant without ever leaving its early ’70s radio-friendly fare (and God forbid they ever mention the equally amazing
work of the Ronnie James Dio era). We never hear anything beyond the basics; Ozzy, Geezer, Tony, and Bill are boiled down to this and its airwave companion, “Paranoid”. We’ve picked this track because of the unnecessary superhero connection (actually, the song has no connection to the Marvel mainstay) as well as its age. Sabbath has done more than this in the last 42 years.
When you consider its career started in the psychedelic ’60s and survived thorough the dinosaur and disco mire of the ’70s, it seems sacrilegious to summarize this classic band down to one ridiculously dumb song. Out of context, it play’s like Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” for snotty little private school brats. Within the storyline set up for The Wall by primary composer Roger Waters, it’s still weak. Sure, “Comfortably Numb” comes a close second, but Dave Gilmour’s soulful chorus work saves it. Here we get a playground chant wrongly championed as Floyd’s finest hour.
Now, no one is asking modern radio stations to go back and play songs they didn’t want to champion some 30 years before, but with the wealth of wonderful tunes created by this Athens, Georgia party combo, you figure they could do better than this overplayed train wreck of a track. Between the purposed Southern slant to the pre-ending “Tin roof… rusted”, the quirk and pandering attitude are just obnoxious. And when you consider everything from “Planet Claire” to “Dry County”, this ditzy dance band deserves better.
It’s all Cameron Crowe’s fault. While the ’70s post-Fab Four savior has braved the last few decades quite well (he’s had more hits and should-have-beens than many in his chart position), his catalog circa the beginning of the Me Decade has been trivialized to the point of predictability. First, it was “Levon”. Then it became “Crocodile Rock”. Now, in between the occasional airings of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road‘s title track, you get a nonstop streaming of this admittedly beautiful ballad. Damn you, Almost Famous.
Thankfully, the late great Joe Strummer was cremated. Otherwise, he’d probably be spinning wildly in his grave over how his beloved and politically important Clash is immortalized today. To think that the onetime “Only Band That Matters” has been turned into the two-tune titans of “Rock the Casbah” and this… perhaps the group’s worst, most overtly commercial track ever. Even though the Clash made amazing music long before Combat Rock, you almost never hear anything from its delightful 1977 debut or the uneven follow-up, Give ‘Em Enough Rope (1978). Instead, it’s all ’50s flash chords and call-and-response choruses. Sad.