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Braving the Boos: Bob Dylan and 10 More Artists Unafraid to Piss Off Their Fans

Forty-seven years ago this week (wow!), a '60s folk icon by the name of Bob Dylan made his third and final appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, R.I. It was a highly anticipated set -- Dylan was the de facto leader of the American folk-music revival at the time, and his folkie flock expected an acoustic sermon befitting the occasion. That wasn't quite what they got.

Dylan had explored electrified rock sounds on his 1965 album, Bringing It All Back Home. On a whim, perhaps, he decided to perform with a rock band.

Now, Dylan must have known this would be a provocative move; to many folkies of the day, rock and roll was drugged-out teen pap. Folk music was the sound of the revolution. When Dylan's band plugged in, a lot of people booed and kept booing. For folk obsessives, taking up the mantle of rock felt like betrayal.

Bob Dylan went on to explore many other musical styles and sounds in his long career, and he never worried about pissing off his audience in the process. His repeated reinvention of his own sound has served as a model for other ambitious artists ever since, but there's only one Bob Dylan. Not everyone who followed his lead got off as easily with their fanbases as he did.

In honor of Dylan's bold kiss-off to the folk scene, Rocks Off has collected ten more superstar artists who have shocked fans with abrupt shifts in musical direction. Some of them went on to huge success; others watched their careers wither overnight. But all of them took a risk. We like that.

10. Beastie Boys

The Beastie Boys rocketed to the top of the pop charts with their snotty, frat-rap classic License to Ill, but the MTV addicts who made that record a smash had no idea what to do with the Beastie's second LP. Gone were the giant, jokey hooks and rock beats of Licensed to Ill. Instead, Paul's Boutique was groundbreaking in the depth and breadth of the sampling on display, and the three MCs littered their lyrics with obscure references and name-drops. Fans didn't quite know what they listening to.

Within a few years, of course, hip-hop fans' tastes caught up to Paul's Boutique. Today, it's remembered as perhaps the apex of '80s hip-hop. In 1989, though, it looked like the Beasties might shape up to be one-hit wonders.

9. Black Flag

Black Flag rose to prominence in the West Coast punk scene on the back of their speedy, intense brand of hardcore. The band's 1981 Damaged album was a watershed moment for the punk movement worldwide, and the band's fast 'n' tight sound inspired an entire generation of copycats. Little wonder, then, that the band abandoned it on their 1984 follow-up, My War.

Suddenly, the ultimate punks were slowing down and getting heavier, daring to grow out their hair and inserting pummeling metal influences into their music. The band continued to explore new directions until their breakup in 1986. They alienated punk fans at every step of the way, but their later records are now seen as proto-grunge landmarks.

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Nathan Smith
Contact: Nathan Smith