When Would-Be Superstars Suddenly Weren't
There was a time in the early '90s when it legitimately appeared that John Michael Montgomery was well on his way to being the Garth Brooks lite of his era. He had the hits, the charm, the cowboy hat. Hell, Montgomery – with his round baby face – even kinda looked like Brooks, then the biggest force in pop music.
Montgomery stormed out of the commercial gates with the release of Life’s a Dance in 1992. The debut album featured a pair of hit singles and eventually went triple platinum. Montgomery followed that up with two more hit records, Kickin’ It Up in 1994 and a self-titled release the following year. Each spawned a slew of hits, and Montgomery had firmly solidified himself as a bona fide country star.
And then, well, it all just kinda faded away from there. Montgomery took some time off to heal his vocal cords, and his 1996 release, What I Do Best, didn’t sell quite as well. He later dealt with a slew of personal issues, including panic attacks, insomnia, alcoholism and painkiller addiction (doing a stint in rehab in 2008); his career has never really recovered, but, admirably, he's still out there playing shows.
In fact, Montgomery has a gig at Stampede next Friday, January 13 — yes, his name is misspelled on the website, which sorta gets to the point of this whole article — and it’s almost certain that locals will pack the house to check out one of the most commercially successful country artists of the '90s. But it should have been so much bigger than this. It once seemed a certainty that Montgomery would play venues like Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, or at the very least headline a rodeo gig every few years. Alas, it didn’t quite work out that way.
But Montgomery isn’t alone. Recent music history is littered with acts who rode a wave of sustained success, only to fade from view shortly thereafter. For some, this was self-inflicted or even a conscious choice. For others, it resulted from a messy breakup. For a few, meanwhile, there really isn’t an explanation – audiences simply moved on to something else. (This list is in alphabetical order.)
BOYZ II MEN
Boyz II Men had seemingly everything the commercial music-buying public could want. They were good-looking, talented and fashionable and produced catchy, accessible pop tunes. That’s probably why their first three albums moved more than 20 million combined copies on the strength of smash singles like “I’ll Make Love to You” and “End of the Road.” The quartet ruled the '90s, but that success didn’t carry over to the next decade; the group hasn’t released a platinum-seller since 1997’s Evolution. How did a group that once seemed destined for long-term greatness get relegated to third billing on an upcoming nostalgia tour with New Kids on the Block and Paula Abdul? Honestly, I haven’t the slightest idea.
Comedian Chris Rock once called Martin’s “Livin’ la Vida Loca” the Puerto Rican “Whoomp! (There it Is).” By that, he meant the song would live on well past its expected expiration date. Rock wasn’t wrong. Turn up the track at any local dance club and watch the crowd roar in approval. The single propelled Martin’s self-titled English language debut to multiplatinum status, and he followed that up with 2000’s Sound Loaded, which moved more than 2 million copies. From there, Martin returned to his roots with the Spanish-language album Almas del Silencio, and now seems content to live off his millions, tour and record when he so pleases and raise his twin sons (born via surrogate in 2008).
Man, talk about a fast rise and fall. Mase — under Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy Records umbrella — guested on Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money, Mo Problems” and went No. 1 with his 1997 debut, Harlem World. Two years later, he followed up with the less successful Double Up, then retired from music to pursue a religious path. He returned five years later sporting a cleaner image and released Welcome Back, which debuted at No. 4 and managed to go gold. Mase hasn’t released a proper studio album in the 13 years since.
You know that whole self-inflicted thing mentioned above? Yeah, these guys are it. While still a commercial force in their native U.K. — at least until they finally imploded for good around the turn of the decade — Oasis is basically a piece of '90s nostalgia for those of us in the U.S. Damn shame, too. The band’s first two records are absolute classics, and even 1997’s Be Here Now — while recorded amid infighting and drug abuse — has its moments. You know the story from there. The brothers Gallagher can’t get on the same page, drugs take over, the music suffers and American audiences move on to something else. Had they been able to keep it together and operate as a team, Oasis is one of those bands that could still be producing quality music to this day.
Jakob Dylan and crew found success with their sophomore effort, Bringing Down the Horse, which rode hits like “One Headlight” and “The Difference” to quadruple platinum status. The band seemed poised for sustained success thanks to a good look, Dylan’s musical pedigree (last name ring a bell?) and a penchant for crafting shiny pop-rock songs that actually contained a little substance. And yet, not one of the Wallflowers' subsequent records has come close to charting or resonating like Horse, this despite the fact that they were all quality records with single-worthy tracks like “Letters from the Wasteland” and “God Says Nothing Back.” The Wallflowers deserved better.
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