A couple irritating things you need to know about me: I’m a rock guy; pretty huge blind spots when it comes to hip hop, top 40, bluegrass, classical, and klezmer, and I make no apologies for it.
I’m also a complete music snob – it’s all litmus test for me – if you don’t like what I like, consider the friendship we never had to be over.
But to my point: so many bands have amazing, low selling debuts which are better than their sophomore smash follow-ups, but the world doesn’t seem to want to admit it.
Here are a couple examples which went yard – creatively – right out the gate, then hit sophomore slumps (no matter how many damn records they sold on those slumps). By the way, all music snobs will tell you that, just as often as not, commercial success = mass appeal = middle of the road = meh.
No one hates vanilla ice cream, but who passionately loves it?
…not even close.
I love Nirvana’s Nevermind. Love it. It’s fantastic. Not just “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” But “Lithium,” “In Bloom,” “Come As You Are,” etc. All great. All helped to rescue the world in the early 90’s from an outpouring of vanilla pop dreck.
BUT, which Nirvana CD lives in my little car visor CD holder? Yup, that’s right, their first effort: Bleach.
Where to begin? “Negative Creep” is so aggressive, fast and dirty you feel absolutely assaulted, in a good way.
“Love Buzz” is a wonderful screechy cover of The Shocking Blue song. “School,” “Blew,” all of it is just like nothing you’ve ever heard. It digs under your skin like some weird tropical bug, and stays there.
Copies of “Nevermind” sold: 30 million
Copies of “Bleach” sold: 1.7 million.
And again, all music snobs will point to lower record sales as badges of pride; well, I’ve actually outgrown that part a bit, thank God. MJ’s “Off the Wall” and “Thriller” sold a bazillion units for a very good reason: “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” and “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”
The B-52’s eponymous debut album vs. their megaseller “Cosmic Thing.”
Again, nothing wrong with “Love Shack,” “Roam,” or my favorite, “Deadbeat Club.”
But you can not compare them to the sui generis genius of “Planet Claire,” “52 Girls,” “Lava,” or “Dance This Mess Around.” Far as I’m concerned, “Rock Lobster” is the filler on that record.
Copies of “B-52’s” sold: 500,000
Copies of “Cosmic Thing” sold: 5 million
Okay, so you think I’m a curmudgeon stuck in the past. Fine. Let’s talk about something more current. Let’s talk about “Kings of Leon.” They have one great song. It’s called “Molly’s Chambers.” It was on an album that sold 117,000 copies.
The stuff that was splashed all over the radio? That “Use Somebody” song? Total vanilla, by the way. Off on album that sold 1.9 million copies.
Now – there are a few exceptions: the Beastie Boys went on to the genius of “Paul’s Boutique” later in their career;
Green Day went on to do “American Idiot” after “Dookie,” and the Cars sold a butt load of their eponymous first album, and it’s far and away their best work.
See, I’m open minded.
But in general, there aren’t enough soap boxes out there for me to preach from, so I’ll shut up now.
Thank you in advance for your agreement on all my points.