Bands That Completely Switched Genres Before Making It Big
Many bands changed their sound over the course of their careers. Whether it’s due to personal growth, members leaving, or pressure from their label, bands that switched genres aren’t uncommon. Pop stars explore different sounds all the time. But it’s different when a band switches genres and then becomes massively successful.
When a band’s breakthrough hit sounds totally different than their earlier output, it can be jarring for fans and critics alike. Sometimes the new direction is a natural progression, and older fans are completely okay with it. Other times, fans get a little heated. This is a list of 19 bands that changed genres before they made it big.
- 11,318 VOTESEven if you're not familiar with their catalog, you might at least know singer Stevie Nicks from her appearances on American Horror Story: Coven. But before Stevie joined Fleetwood Mac in 1975 and brought along a poppier sound, the band released several albums as a blues band. “Black Magic Woman,” which was released in 1968, was a modest hit in the UK. Their early blues albums performed well in England, but they never achieved much crossover success in the US.
Several personnel changes brought about a new pop sound, and Nicks announced herself as a formidable presence on her very first album with the band, 1975’s Fleetwood Mac, by writing and performing two of the band’s most famous singles: “Rhiannon,” which she sings in the AHS clip linked above, and “Landslide.” The band became wildly popular in the US, and Nicks’s second album with them, Rumours, has sold over 40 million copies worldwide and is the eighth-best-selling record of all time.
- 21,128 VOTESPhoto: Tony Morelli / Flickr / cc-by-sa-2.0
This entry is a little different from the rest on the list: despite the fact that you may know them only as “that band my dad likes,” there are two very distinct versions of Genesis. And both of them were really successful.
From 1967 to 1975, Genesis was fronted by Peter Gabriel. During the Gabriel era, the band had a considerably more theatrical sound and look, and was more popular in their native UK than the US. Genesis helped pioneer the genre of prog. Gabriel’s last album with the band, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, was a concept album about a young Puerto Rican man named Rael living in New York City. “The Carpet Crawlers,” one of the singles from the album, shows off the band’s sound at the time. After Gabriel left to spend more time with his family, drummer Phil Collins took over on lead vocals and shifted the band’s sound.
The Collins era of Genesis produced most of their iconic songs, like 1983’s “That’s All.” Collins’s lyrics were more straightforward, dealing with aspects of everyday life. Gabriel’s prog influences faded, and Collins took the band in a more commercial rock direction. While the band continued on until 1997, fans are still deeply divided over the Gabriel and Collins eras. Despite the division, Genesis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.
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It’s probably a safe bet that if you heard Journey’s first single, “To Play Some Music,” (which you probably haven’t, because it didn’t even chart) with no context, you’d have a hard time identifying them as the same band that later released “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Before Journey became a universal guilty pleasure, they released two poorly-received jazz fusion albums. Pressure from their record label caused them to switch up their sound and bring in a powerhouse singer; they first brought in Robert Fleischman, who lasted less than a year, before settling on Steve Perry. With Perry, the band went on to achieve massive success as a rock band with songs like “Wheel in the Sky” and “Any Way You Want It.”
- 4945 VOTESPhoto: Harry (Howard) Potts / Flickr / CC-BY-SA-2.0
British heavy metal titans Iron Maiden have always had a pretty metal aesthetic (see the torture device the band is named after), but their first album had a decidedly punk sound, even if the band will never admit it. Iron Maiden, the band’s first album, was plagued with production and personnel problems. The band was unhappy with the production on the album and blamed producer Will Malone. Steve Harris, the band’s bassist, told Guitar World, “We were all young and naïve and we didn’t know about producers and what they do - or don’t do, really. And [Malone] was just a waste of time. He didn’t do anything. He just sat there with his feet up reading Country Life. So in the end we just bypassed him and dealt straight with the engineer.” The low production value is what lent songs like “Sanctuary” their punk sound.
But current lead singer Bruce Dickinson told Spin, “The first Maiden album sounded punky because it sounded like a sack of s–t. He hates that record. The first singer [Paul Di’Anno] gave it a little bit of that kind of vibe, but the punk thing was nailed to the band by the press. The band absolutely hated it, because there was no way on God’s green earth Maiden were ever, even remotely, a punk band.” If classics like “The Trooper” are any indication, Iron Maiden may be the only band on this list that was ever accidentally a different genre.
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The Bee Gees were actually really popular as a folk band in the late 1960s. Many of their songs relied on Robin Gibb’s straightforward vocals, which reflected the kind of music that was popular at the time. They had multiple songs and albums that hit the top 20 of the Billboard charts (including “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” which was their first big hit), so the fact that they’re now almost exclusively remembered as 1970s disco megastars shows just how influential their new sound was.
The Bee Gees broke up in 1970, but after reforming later that year, they found that their folk sound wasn’t connecting with audiences the way it used to. They turned to disco to try and regain their former popularity. Their secret was Barry Gibb: with arguably one of the most iconic falsettos of all time, Gibb turned the tides of public favor and crafted the iconic disco sound the Bee Gees are known for. They wrote and recorded the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever, the hugely successful 1977 John Travolta film, which included the hit “Stayin’ Alive.” The soundtrack went on to become the highest-selling soundtrack of all time until Whitney Houston’s soundtrack for The Bodyguard surpassed it in 1992.
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Tyrannosaurus Rex released four folk albums in the late 1960s and achieved moderate success. Frontman Marc Bolan was known for his poetic lyrics and acoustic guitar; the band was associated with the hippie movement. By 1970, though, it was clear that something wasn’t working. Bolan started incorporating electric guitar into their recordings, dialed back the poetic lyrics, and the band shortened their name to simply T. Rex.
Their album Electric Warrior was released in 1971. It was entirely different than the previous Tyrannosaurus Rex albums; Electric Warrior helped pioneer glam rock and brought the band immense fame in the UK. “Bang a Gong (Get it On)” is their most enduring hit, and ushered in an era of sexually charged, upbeat music.