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The 411 Music Top Five 04.23.13: The Top 5 Genre-Switching Acts

April 23, 2013 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas


Criteria: This one was suggested by a reader a while back in the comments. What we were looking at was acts and artists who have started in one genre and then crossed over into another. We weren’t looking for people who dipped into another genre for an album as an experiment or people who changed this up slightly like thrash metal into death metal or electronica into dance, but people who legitimately changed their sound to a whole new genre and stayed there, at least for a long while.

Honorable Mention: The Go-Gos (punk to pop), Kid Rock (rapcore to southern rock), Fleetwood Mac (blues to soft rock), Nelly Furtado (folk pop to dance pop)

5. Alanis Morissette

Listen, before I say this, just realize: I love Alanis Morissette. I think that she is one of the great singer-songwriters of the mid-1990s onward and she has done some amazing songs, constantly maturing her sound while never sounding false. But seriously, you have to recognize how terrible she was as a dance-pop teen in the early ’90s. Bless her, she tried…but just listen below. It came off as a cheap rip-off of the kinds of music that Tiffany and Debbie Gibson did. Once she lost her contract, moved to Los Angeles and got really angry, she produced an album of authentic emotion and undeniable power. The rest is history.

4. Beastie Boys

We all love the Beastie Boys, and for good reason. Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock were incredibly important to hip-hop’s expansion into a mainstream music field by mixing in rock and a little bit of fun, presenting themselves in a way that could get middle-class kids to start listening to the genre and middle-class parents approving (or at least not flagrantly disapproving). Before that happened though, the Beastie Boys were Michael Diamond, John Berry, Adam Yauch and Kate Schellenbach and they were a hardcore punk band. And as a punk band, they were actually quite good. After Berry left and Ad-Rock joined up, the group made their first hip-hop track “Cooky Puss.” It became a hit and the group never looked back, becoming the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band that they are.

3. Tori Amos

If I love Alanis Morisette, my appreciation for Tori Amos is more along the lines of adulation. From the moment I heard my first Tori Amos song I was hooked and while she’s changed her style and her attitudes over the years, I’ve always enjoyed where she was willing to take herself musically. That being said, had anything from her synthpop band been the first thing I heard I would have had the same initial reaction. You could hear the talent just brimming in her work as the frontwoman of Y Kant Tori Read, but it wasn’t as good as when she went solo, changed her sound to piano-oriented alternative and embedded herself firmly within the consciousness of a generation. Occasionally you hear some of those synthpop elements creep back into her sound but she remains firmly in the alternative (and now classical) genres, and for the better.

2. Ministry

People know Ministry as one of the most well-known industrial metal bands in existance, and it’s not hard to think of them as such even if you don’t know a lot about them. You don’t look at a discography that includes The Land of Rape and Honey and imagine these guys to be a New Wave synthpop band, right? But that’s exactly what they started off as. The group’s first LP With Sympathy is pure New Wave. with Alain Jourgensen affecting a British accent for the vocal work. The problem was that this wasn’t what Jourgensen reportedly wanted and he said he was pressured by Arista into making that style of music; other reports say that he admits to discovering harsher music styles and then changed his sound, becoming ashamed of putting out a synthpop record. Whatever the case, before the group was putting out LP’s like Filth Pig they were releasing stuff like below. It’s probably the most bizarre genre change out there, but I’m glad they did it.

1. Bob Dylan

C’mon, this was an easy number one. Dylan was the king of folk in the 1960s when he reinvented his sound and changed the course of rock and roll. Dylan was already getting sick of where he was artistically at that point; despite being the leading songwriter of the American folk music revival, he was looking for something different. He proceeded to take up an electric band for the first half of his 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home and followed that up with a performance at the Newport Folk Festival, where he was heavily booed. His folk fanbase felt that he was selling them out, but the fact of the matter is that Dylan was burned out and needed to do something new. The bitterness that he got from the folk crowed fueled him further and he moved out of the folk mindset, taking over rock music. It’s the most memorable genre change and easily the most significant, making Dylan the greatest artist to ever switch genres.

The Final Word
As always, the last thoughts come from you, the reader. We’re merely unpaid monkeys with typewriters and Wikipedia. Here’s what you need to do: List your Top Five for this week’s topic on the comment section using the following format:

5. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
4. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
3. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
2. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
1. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it

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Jeremy Thomas
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