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Switcharoo: 10 Artists Who Tried Other Genres

Cyndi Lauper sings the blues at House of Blues, August 2010
Cyndi Lauper sings the blues at House of Blues, August 2010
Photo by Marc Brubaker

Have you ever bought an album of an artist you were familiar with and thought, "wow... that's different?"

In fact, many artists try out other genres than the one where they originally became popular as a way for them to grow as artists. But a big question remains: Will the audience grow with them and be won over? Either way, it's a risk for both the artist and their record company.

But sometimes it can also be a good thing. For example, when Alison Krauss teamed up with Robert Plant in 2007 to record their critically acclaimed Raising Sand album, they created an often sublime mixture of rock and bluegrass that practically swept the 2009 Grammys and became a left-field commercial smash, eventually going platinum. Bluegrass records almost never go platinum.

They weren't always quite always as successful as Plant and Krauss, but these artists were similarly unafraid to stick their necks out.

Wilson Phillips' Chynna Phillips sings the good Lord's praises

When Wilson Phillips split in the '90s, Chynna Phillips recorded a solo project, Naked and Scared. The album flopped. Then, when her brother-in-law, actor Stephen Baldwin, became a Christian, she saw the changes in he and his wife's lives and decided to become one too in 2003.

Shortly after Wilson Phillips reunited in 2004, she teamed up with Vaughan Penn and, as Chynna and Vaughan, released a Contemporary Christian album entitled One Reason in 2009. Most recently she reunited with Wilson Phillips and recorded Dedication, an album covering the songs of their parents' groups, the Mamas and the Papas and the Beach Boys. They also made a cameo appearance in the hit comedy Bridesmaids.

Madonna, from punk drummer to pop singer

Before she was mega-pop star, Madonna was actually an active member of the New York punk scene as drummer of the Breakfast Club, a band that included her then-boyfriend Stephen Bray. She later became the lead singer for another punk band called Emmy and the Emmys.

 

Christian roots-rocker Kim Hill goes country

In the early '90s, Kim Hill was a sort of Christian Bonnie Raitt, with such hit singles as "Snake In the Grass," "Testimony" and "Refuge." Then in 1994, she released So Far So Good , a slight shift into the country arena. Though the album had a single, "Janie's Gone Fishin'," the album went nowhere. Hill returned to Christian music and stayed.

Beastie Boys: Punk to rap

Believe it or not, before the Beastie Boys were a rap trio, they were actually a punk band. Their shift came when they recorded the song "Cooky Puss" as a goof, which led to a famous spot opening Madonna's 1985 "Virgin Tour" their landmark License to Ill album.

 

Pat Benatar tries a jump-blues record

According to Benatar's 2010 autobiography, Between a Heart and a Rock Place, after the release of 1988's Wide Awake In Dreamland, there was much drama between her, her manager, and record label, Chrysalis.

She was ready to quit. However, Benatar's husband and guitarist, Neil Giraldo, talked her put of it. In 1990, Giraldo came up with the idea of doing a jump-blues record, to which Benatar originally protested. She felt like she wouldn't be good enough and didn't want to deal with the drama that Chrysalis kept giving her.

However, he insisted and she eventually caved in and teamed up with Roomful of Blues to record 1990's True Love. Radio didn't take a liking to it but some fans did and True Love sold a respectable 339,000 copies.

Country singer Tanya Tucker becomes a rock and roller

Contemporary Christian and country seem to be kindred spirits. Many country artists do gospel albums, or a Christian artist will try their hand at country a la Kim Hill. However, Tanya Tucker decided to take a different musical detour: She made two rock albums. In 1978, she released TNT - a collection of early rock and roll songs by artists like Elvis, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry.

The album did pretty well, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Country charts in 1978. Tucker continued rockin' out with 1979's Tear Me Apart. Though rock music seemed very fitting for her voice, she returned to country music and had a string of hits in the '80s and '90s with songs such as "It's A Little Too Late," "Some Kind of Trouble," and "Find Out What's Happenin'." Though still a country artist today, she's incorporated a rocker's high energy and attitude that comes with rock music into a winning formula.

 

Amy Grant: Contemporary Christian artist, pop star, country artist...

Once upon a time, Contemporary Christian artist Amy Grant was a well-loved artist within her own genre. She released such classics as 1982's Age to Age, 1984's Straight Ahead and 1988's groundbreaking Lead Me On. Without a doubt, she dominated Contemporary Christian music in the '80s.

That all started to change around 1985, with the release of Unguarded, which stylistically took a more pop/rock approach. It was a major hit, garnering such crossover airplay with songs such as "Everywhere I Go," "Find a Way" (which got MTV airplay), and "Wise Up." The album also contained her first self-penned love song, "I Love You," dedicated to then-husband Gary Chapman.

Next Grant was asked to perform a duet with Peter Cetera (formerly of Chicago), 1986's "The Next Time I Fall," a big pop and adult-contemporary hit. She continued venturing into the pop realm with her '90s releases Heart In Motion, House of Love and Behind the Eyes. Of course, some fans weren't too pleased and thought she was becoming "too worldly," as some would say.

Shortly after her divorce from Chapman and marriage to country singer Vince Gill, she once again traded musical hats and recorded not one but two albums of traditional hymns (2002's Legacy.....Hymns and Faith and 2005's Rock of Ages: Hymns and Faith) and returned to Contemporary Christian music with 2003's Simple Things and 2010's Somewhere Down the Road. Whew.]

 

Darius "Hootie" Rucker sings country

Remember when Darius Rucker was the lead vocalist for the '90s band Hootie and the Blowfish? (Actually, he still is) For his solo career, he decided to take a more country route with the release of 2008's Learn To Live. The album itself won favorable reviews and hit No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Country chart. It even spawned many country radio hits such as "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," "Alright," "It Won't Be Like This For Long," and more.

Cyndi Lauper sings the blues

After her "True Colors" heyday, Cyndi Lauper tried more traditional cabaret-style pop and then recorded a blues album called Memphis Blues in 2010. She recruited included the likes of blues greats such as B.B. King, Johnny Lang, Allen Toussaint, Ann Peebles and Charlie Musselwhite as guest stars, and Memphis Blues became her third highest-selling album.

 

Kid Rock goes from rap/metal to Southern rock

Remember when Kid Rock came out and was all about doing rap/metal? Well all that has changed; now because he does almost exclusively Southern rock. Early on, circa 1990, Kid Rock was a local Detroit rapper whose music used liberal amounts of Motor City hard rock.

But since since turntable player Uncle Kracker left Rock's band to pursue his own solo career, Kid sings a highly successful brand of Southern rock, hip-hop and country that found great crossover success in 2008 with "All Summer Long." These days the onetime Bullgod is a regular RodeoHouston entertainer.


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