Writtalin recently brought you 5 Rock Bands Who Peaked Way Too Early. Today, we bring you five bands Rivers Cuomo could take a few lessons from. These are bands that might have started out with an awesome sound, but still found a way to get better with age. This is rare, because fame, money, and drugs eat rock bands for breakfast. Led Zeppelin ended their reign with Presence, In Through the Out Door and Coda. Great current bands like Queens of the Stone Age can’t find an extra gear to eclipse early classics. Here are five bands that did.
5. LCD Soundsystem
LCD Soundsystem started hipster famous with a master course in irony “Losing My Edge.” Bandleader James Murphy thought he was a dinosaur but it turned out he was the zeitgeist.
The self-titled debut album has other hits like “Daft Punk is Playing My House,” but it wasn’t until their final album that LCD Soundsystem exploded in popularity from a cool indie band into one of the defining bands of the 2000s. In between they released Sound of Silver featuring the end of night classic “All My Friends.”
Unless you were a 27-year old Williamsburg blogger in 2003 you are probably lying if you say you’ve been an LCD fan since the beginning. So why did they get more popular? Part of it is that the listening public caught up with LCD’s template that combines punk and electronica into a dance party necessity with room for lyrical meaning. The music got better too. James Murphy and company expanded their repertoire with emotional flourishes and songs refined to perfection. This is Happening is the band’s final draft. James Murphy didn’t want to be a rock star so he shut things down, but not before his band headlined Madison Square Garden, officially going out on top.
4. Red Hot Chili Peppers
Even fine wines have an expiration date and RHCP might be approaching theirs. They are still worth seeing live, but without John Frusciante their albums are missing an essential ingredient. That doesn’t take away three decades of consistent success.
Do you realize they got their start as a pre-Beastie Boys funk rap band in 1983? The funky bass and melodic choruses were there from the beginning, but it was raw. Check out their first music video for “True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes.” Yup, the name says it all.
The band endured enough tragedy to fill five episodes of “Behind the Music,” but Flea and Anthony Kiedis have been mainstays. By the early 1990s, the core group we know and love came together with Chad Smith on drums and John Frusciante on guitar. Blood Sugar Sex Magik made them MTV famous and is still my favorite album, but they continued to pump out hits into the 2000s with Californication, By the Way, and Stadium Arcadium. Not many bands can say they were still putting out classic albums two decades after they formed. Just look how far they’d come by 2002.
3. The Beatles
Paul, John, George, and Ringo; everyone has a favorite Beatle. They started out as a teenie bopper band, ok, the teenie bopper band, and ended as one of the most influential bands in rock history.
For three years starting in 1962, the Beatles created the future audience of rock music. They played simple love songs that teenage girls found insatiable even if they were screaming for the Beatles’ looks as much as their songs. Boy bands have copied this template ever since; Justin Bieber even stole the haircuts.
Rubber Soul began the Beatles late era. George Martin came in to produce songs for an audience entering college and wanting mature music. The themes started to widen with “Drive My Car” and “Nowhere Man” and the sonic palette exploded on Sgt. Peppers. Rock critics consider Revolver the best Beatles album and it’s hard to argue with an album overstuffed with great songs. Even so, the White Album is maybe the most famous Beatles album. It epitomizes the band’s revolution with songs about death, war, and sex. “Helter Skelter” is the heaviest and dirtiest song in the Beatles repertoire and a dramatic step from what they produced five years earlier.
The exponential growth from Pablo Honey (generic alternative music) to The Bends (very solid British guitar rock) to Ok Computer (groundbreaking classic) in only four years confounds the mind. When I go back and listen to Pablo Honey, which is rare, I can’t believe that Radiohead didn’t join the hordes of 90s One Hit Wonders. One theory is that Radiohead just wanted to get on the radio with “Creep” and once famous they did what they wanted.
After Ok Computer established Radiohead as one of the best bands in the world they didn’t get lazy. They put out another classic, Kid A, that pushed further into outer space, took on side projects that showcased individual talents, and became one of the most sought after concert tickets in the world. Many fans say 2007’s In Rainbows is their favorite album.
1. Black Keys
This is where the hipster flame wars start. A lot of early Black Keys fans think their new music is sellout garbage. As one of those early fans and someone who is still a fan I wonder why people don’t want good bands to become rock stars.
The Black Keys started out as a gritty, fuzzy blues rock band. In an era dominated by the Strokes, the White Stripes and even the Vines (remember them?), the Black Keys were considered secondary. They played the club circuit for years waiting for their break. I can’t blame them for taking it when it came. Check out this performance at Madison, Wisconsin’s High Noon Saloon back in 2004.
The Black Keys don’t deny that they wanted to become rock stars. They hired pop savant Danger Mouse to produce their albums and streamlined their sound to become more radio friendly. Heck, they even swiped a few Keith Richards and Tom Petty riffs along the way. Ten years ago, they were playing clubs to 150 people and now they are selling out arenas. Put your hipster handbook down and be happy that one of the world’s biggest rock bands is actually good.