The Weekly Music Thread Tries a New Genre

Let’s discuss any and all music here. You’ve got a new artist who’s rocking your boat that you want to talk about? Post a video! Found out about that unearthed Coltrane album that has the jazz freak in you losing your mind? Lay it out for us! Do you have a theory about what your favorite band might do for their next album? Let’s hear it! Anything and everything music-related goes here.

This week’s discussion prompt: Artists who have worked in multiple genres. Which have been successful? Which have failed miserably? Are there any artists that you would like to see try working in a different genre?

Of course, there are certain artists like Ween and “Weird Al” Yankovic for whom working in multiple genres is the norm. But when an artist is primarily known for one type of music and then seemingly out of nowhere tries a different style, results may vary.

When Neil Young signed to Geffen Records in 1982, his first release for the label was Trans: an album where six of the nine tracks prominently featured synthesizers and Young singing through a vocoder.

I can just imagine the audience settling in for a night of acoustic rock, with maybe a bit of harder rock thrown in, and instead getting Neil Young singing through a vocoder over blaring synthesizers, all while Nils Lofgren (known primarily as a skilled rock guitarist) provided interpretive dancing.

But the thing is, once one gets over the fact that Trans doesn’t sound like anything Young put out prior to that, it’s actually a pretty solid album. And it wasn’t until years later that the inspiration for Young’s robot-like vocal parts would be revealed, with Young admitting in 1995 that the album was inspired by his son Ben, who was born with severe cerebral palsy, and trying to find ways to help his son communicate.

Young followed up his “techno” album by recording a straightforward country album, which Geffen promptly rejected. Geffen told Young to record something that was more “rock n’ roll” instead – presumably hoping for something like Harvest or Rust Never Sleeps. Young’s response? Record an entire album of rockabilly songs with ’50s-style vocal reverb and backing choruses, and embark on a tour complete with sets and costumes embracing this new style – all while staying in character as the lead singer of a band called the Shocking Pinks that never existed (well, never existed until David Geffen tried to tell Neil Young what kind of music he should be making), complete with an elaborate backstory for the aforementioned fictional/now real band.

As a musical middle finger, Everybody’s Rockin’ is quite possibly one of the most successful albums of all time. But as a listening experience, it’s terrible: aside from “Wonderin'” (and the brilliant Tim Pope-directed music video for the song) the originals are forgettable and the covers are redundant.

David Geffen responded by suing Young for deliberately making “noncommercial” and “unrepresentative” music; Young countersued. Geffen later withdrew the suit and apologized to Young; Young responded by renegotiating his record deal with Geffen from one million dollars per album to five hundred thousand per album. This was Young’s idea – both to take some of the pressure off of Geffen, and to essentially buy the freedom (at $500,000 per album) to make whatever the hell music he wanted.

Young has continued to dabble in different genres on and off over the years, with varying degrees of success. But whatever one might think of Young or his music, there is no question that as an artist he has consistently made and released the music that he has wanted to, on his own terms.

Still love that this video was initially banned by MTV, and then went on to win the MTV Video Music Award for Best Video of the Year. 

Of course, any and all music related topics are welcome. Have fun, and as always, rock out with yr guac out!