There are all kinds of musicians in the world, from high-energy horn players to bespectacled, kindly-looking cellists and everything in between. But ever since the dawn of the rock era, most little boys and girls with musical dreams in their hearts have only wanted to grow up and do one thing: rock.
Unfortunately, not all of us were born to rock — but even when those little boys and girls grow up to find their own voice, and sometimes go on to become quite successful in non-rock pursuits, they can’t help chasing after those old high-volume dreams. Sometimes it works! Usually it doesn’t.
Christopher Cross, “Charm the Snake” (1985)
One of a handful of artists who were totally screwed by the video age (and we’ll see more of them in a minute), Cross was born with a gift for hot-shit guitar solos, the voice of a gelding, and the dough-addled body of a donut salesman. Despite winning a ton of Grammys with his 1980 debut, Cross suffered the sophomore slump with the follow-up, and by 1985, he was in career crisis mode, spinning his wheels (literally) while fighting with his label.
He was shaken out of his doldrums by producer Michael Omartian, who rightly suggested that people needed to hear what he could do on the guitar, and pushed him toward a harder-edged sound for his third record, Every Turn of the World. It was a great idea, in theory; unfortunately, it was also 1985, which meant that Cross ended up doing things like strapping on a SynthAxe and rap-talk-singing his way through “Charm the Snake.”
Michael McDonald, “Homeboy” (1990)
I love Michael McDonald, and unlike a lot of bitter old Doobie Brothers fans, I think he established his rock credentials pretty clearly during his stint with the band. However, in 1990, he was a 38-year-old man whose most recent album’s biggest hit came with a video that featured him mugging in a Hawaiian shirt alongside Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines.
He should not, in other words, have ever contemplated — even for the briefest of moments — singing the words “Homeboy wants to rule the hot town.”
Celine Dion, “You Shook Me All Night Long” (2002)
Stick around long enough, and changing trends are bound to make you look unhip. Hell, it even happened to Sinatra. Now, I’m not saying Celine Dion was ever exactly cool, mind you, but for a time in the early-to-mid ’90s, she was no more or less square than any other adult contemporary balladeer on the pop charts — and we still had a lot of them back then.
The funny thing about Celine is that she went from selling a ton of records and being on the radio all the time to being utterly, deeply uncool, but I’m not sure it made any difference to her career; unlike almost every other pop star on the planet, she’s continued going platinum and selling out shows. For Celine Dion, it’s still 1994. We should all be jealous.
We should not, however, have to listen to shit like this.
Daryl Hall John Oates, “Room to Breathe” (1976)
He’s world famous and stinking rich, but I still think Daryl Hall is probably one of the more underrated vocalists of the rock era. I once read an interview where he boasted about having complete control of his instrument, and at least in this instance, his arrogance was justified; in his prime, he could go from guttural howl to swooping falsetto in a twirl of John Oates’ mustache.
He’s also a pretty eclectic guy, and during Hall & Oates’ early years, they flailed around a lot while they searched for the sound that would make them famous. They even rocked a few times. It’s true! The best of the bunch: “Room to Breathe,” an aggro stomper from 1976′s Bigger Than Both of Us.
David Cassidy, “Hi-Heel Sneakers” (1990)
In 1990, few artists seemed less likely for a comeback than exiled former teen idol David Cassidy — he hadn’t even released an album in the U.S. for almost 15 years. But then Donny Osmond scored a couple of hits, tearing the space-time continuum, and the next thing we knew, Cassidy was on MTV and Top 40 radio with his first hit in nearly two decades, “Lyin’ to Myself.”
“Lyin’ to Myself” is a pretty solid song, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wear out my cassingle copy. It seemed like Cassidy was poised for an honest-to-God comeback — but then his label folded, leaving copies of the album orphaned at record stores across America. Which is just as well, really, because the rest of it was pretty woefully uneven; Cassidy’s weathered rasp made Rod Stewart sound like Aaron Neville, and the songs and production were all over the place. Witness Cassidy’s clattering fumble through this rock classic:
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