Seven years ago this week, the Dixie Chicks had the No. 1 country single in the U.S. with Bruce Robison's lump-raising "Travelin' Soldier." Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the Bush Administration was putting the finishing touches on its Iraqi invasion strategy, which prompted Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines to tell a London audience the evening of March 10, 2003, that "we're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas."
Oops. Although lefties flocked to the Chicks' defense - some even admitting that hey, maybe their music wasn't so bad after all - several mainstream country stations, especially in the South, went from spinning "Soldier" once an hour to organizing anti-Chick rallies where DJs encouraged listeners to bring in CDs, posters and other paraphernalia to either be crushed by bulldozers or thrown on Farenheit 451-like bonfires. In the Chicks' hometown of Dallas, they needed a police escort from the airport to American Airlines Center because someone called in a death threat against Maines. The Chicks came back in 2006 with Taking the Long Way, an album geared both in sound and marketing strategy toward NPR and adult-alternative listeners. Tickets never even went on sale for the planned Houston stop of the Chicks' subsequent Accidents & Accusations tour when no radio stations here would sell them advertising time. (Way to make us proud, assholes.) Long Way won the 2007 Grammy for Album of the Year, with Maines' song about "The Incident" and its near-bloody aftermath, "Not Ready to Make Nice," taking both Record and Song of the Year. Ever since, though, the Chicks have been in limbo. Sorry, "on hiatus."
Emily Robison and Martie Maguire's new project, Court Yard Hounds, will release their self-titled debut LP May 4 on Columbia Records and appear at the Americana Music Association's SXSW showcase at Antone's March 18. According to Columbia's own press release, "Realizing that the Dixie Chicks' hiatus would last longer than originally anticipated, the sisters dove head first into recording what is now the debut album from the Court Yard Hounds."
Rocks Off decided it was high time we thumbed through the archives and see what other acts of career hari-kiri - or at least near-hari-kiri - we could find. From what we can tell, favorably comparing your popularity to Our Lord and Savior, being sued by your own record company and marrying your 13-year-old cousin are all less damaging than speaking your mind against what would turn out to be one of the most unpopular presidencies, and one of the most ill-advised military actions, in U.S. history.
Oh, right - and installing hidden cameras in the women's restroom of your restaurant so you can watch ladies pee at your leisure. Some country we live in, ain't it?
5. Bob Dylan
When Dylan brought an electric blues band to back him at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1965, it became one of the defining moments of his career. Their brief performance touched off howls of protest from the audience, although accounts differ over whether they were upset about the presence of the demon electricity or the brevity of the performance. To the Band's Robbie Robertson, it was much ado about nothing: "It seemed kind of a funny statement to me at the time, that somebody's gone electric," he told Dylan biographer Howard Sounes in 2001's Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan. "It was like, 'Jeez, somebody's just bought a television.'"
4. The Beatles
Although he first made it to a London newspaper, when John Lennon's comment that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus right now" reached U.S. audiences via the teen magazine DATEbook in July 1966 - shortly before the release of Revolver - it touched off a Dixie-Chicks-like firestorm of righteous anger and a lot of copies of Help! and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" 45s going up in smoke. But the Beatles were still the Beatles, and subsequent albums such as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Abbey Road, Let It Be and the many, many compilations and retrospectives released after the group broke up in 1970 have hardly faltered either on the radio or at the cash register.
3. Jerry Lee Lewis
Some might say it's hardly shocking behavior for someone from the Deep South to marry their 13-year-old first cousin (once removed) like the "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" singer did in 1958. But once the news broke, the Killer was blacklisted from American Bandstand and his appearance fee was slashed. It took a full decade before Lewis became a regular chart presence again, this time with country hits like "What Made Milwaukee Famous," "Another Place, Another Time" and "She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye."
2. Chuck Berry
Who knew the man whose only No. 1 hit of his entire career was "My Ding-a-Ling" might have a few bizarre sexual peccadilloes? The employees of Berry's Southern Air restaurant outside St. Louis might have had a clue when they discovered the godfather of Keith Richards, Angus Young and every other rock and roll guitarist worth a lick had set up some hidden cameras in the women's restroom because, apparently, he got off on watching ladies pee. (And, according to one of the greatest underground videos in rock history, also peeing on them.) Berry settled out of court and settled down, and now plays a weekly gig at St. Louis' Blueberry Hill nightclub.
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1. Neil Young
Neil Young was not a particularly happy guy in the '80s. Less than 18 months after signing to Geffen records in 1982, in a contract that included the elusive "creative freedom" clause, the label filed suit against its artist, calling his work "not commercial" and "musically uncharacteristic of previous recordings." Instead of delivering something along the lines of Harvest, which is no doubt what label boss David Geffen had in mind, Young turned in a stylistic hodgepodge of albums.
First came the Kraftwerk-inspired Trans - which, in Young's defense, also grew out of his attempts to use computers to communicate with his quadriplegic son Ben - and then rockabilly throwaway Everybody's Rockin' (the album that prompted the suit) and New Wave/arena-rock mess Landing On Water. All parties eventually made up and Young moved to Reprise Records, where he released the excellent Freedom, Ragged Glory and Harvest Moon - albums that also sound a lot more like the Neil Young everybody knew and loved.