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.
Even 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.
#63 on The Best Singers of All Time
Pantera started out as a glam metal band before pivoting to heavy metal in the early ‘90s. Their first album was released in 1984 and called Metal Magic (yes), and back then, guitarist Dimebag Darrell was called Diamond Darrell (really). Changing musical tastes is what made the band change genres, as glam metal quickly lost popularity after the ‘80s. Still, it’s hard to imagine the same band that recorded “Walk” also recording “Projects in the Jungle.”
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.”
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.