One thing most intense music fans agree on nowadays is that the mainstream sucks. That's probably a sentiment that's always been true among the underground, but you even hear it among casual listeners today. "I don't buy albums because only one or two songs are going to be good" is a common refrain.
One of the reasons for this is that most pop music is highly manufactured and highly generic. Pop stars are rarely famous by accident, and few of them today are the kinds of artists who dabble in experimental or avant-garde music. That's all well and good, but there's a reason popular music was once so innovative: musicians like this used to occasionally break into the pop world. Here's five who did it successfully.
5. The Mars Volta One of the most recent weirdo bands to achieve success, The Mars Volta broke into the mainstream with an uncompromising vision that fused post-hardcore, Latin influences and progressive rock to create a unique form of batshit craziness.
Their big hit "The Widow" was one of the more accessible songs the band ever recorded, but it still didn't sound like anything else on the radio in 2005. It was surrounded on Frances the Mute by four other songs each running more than ten minutes each, yet the album still hit No. 4 on the charts.
4. Devo With a totally off-kilter sense of humor, a snarky attitude, and a recording output seemingly focused on breaking music as much as possible down to its basest form (de-evolution at its finest), Devo should have probably never escaped playing basements. Compared to most of the highly polished, overwrought New Wave bands surrounding them, they were practically no wave.
Against all odds, though, "Whip It" propelled the group to international stardom. While one might argue that Devo slipped quickly into one-hit-wonder status, they have continued their massive success over the years and continues playing to huge audiences these days.
3. Peter Gabriel Unlike most on this list, Peter Gabriel made a concentrated effort to achieve mainstream success, tweaking his sound enough to be radio-friendly. That said, he never stopped striving for artistic satisfaction either. Even on his "pop" records, his lyrical content and instrumentation were light-years away from his contemporaries.
He has also been a consistent artistic visionary, crafting stunning video efforts that remain some of the most innovative of all time. Since the end of his '80s heyday, Gabriel has gone back to exploring more self-indulgent work, with his crossover success still allowing him to sell out stadiums. But if you want to be an artsy weirdo and sell records, he really laid out the blueprint.
List continues on the next page.
2. Primus How in the hell did Primus ever become so famous? Even their most mainstream hits like "My Name is Mud" and "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver" are so weird that the majority of the populace should have been instantly turned off. Nevertheless, this group of total weirdos managed to get their music on MTV, the radio and beyond.
Their enduring legacy has even seen them play to huge festival audiences, like their 2012 headlining spot at Free Press Summer Fest. Considering they've only recorded one album in the last 15 years, that kind of lasting popularity is both insane and commendable.
1. Faith No More While so many terrible things spawned from Faith No More's inestimable influence on funk-metal and nu-metal, their true popularity endures because of their relentless dedication to experimentation and adventurous musical craftsmanship.
This was a band that was all over MTV and had major hits in songs like "Epic" and "Midlife Crisis," yet had a front man as bizarre as Mike Patton and created songs like "Cuckoo for Caca." They dabbled in any genre they felt like taking on, and constantly challenged the metal world's macho masculinity by covering saccharine Burt Bacharach songs. Few major rock bands before or since have been so willing to play around with their fans' expectations.
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW