Many nerdy bands exist that actually rock. While not every musician possesses the rock star swagger of Keith Richards or Axl Rose, plenty of the biggest artists can rock a huge crowd and still be geeks.
What exactly makes a musician nerdy? Is it their particular style of music, lyrics, or look? The answer depends on the artist. Nerdy musicians in modern history might make prog music, while others border on math rock - and some just possess a nerdy persona. But that doesn't mean they can't still rock.
Let's take a look at the nerdiest artists to ever rock the house.
Many call them prog rock, but Rush is definitely equal parts nerd. Their palatable brand of prog has won them an intensely loyal fanbase perhaps rivaling the Grateful Dead. A song like "2112," a sci-fi ode to author Ayn Rand, is the perfect example of how they border on math rock and used hyper-intelligent structures and progressions in ways that are digestible to the mainstream.
Sometimes, though, it's too nerdy. Bachman Turner Overdrive's Randy Bachman said of Rush in a 2012 interview:
I did not like Rush or their music at all because I didn’t understand it. We were all trying to get Top 40 airplay, and Rush clearly was not. Their music was cerebral, progressive, full of different time signatures and out-of-this-world lyrics. They seemed to be playing for themselves and a few select fans.
For the record, Rush's Geddy Lee does not plan to change: “It seems like the older we get, the goofier we get. I’d say we still share nerdy qualities with lots of our fans, for sure.”
Perhaps one of the most successful nerd rock bands of all time, Weezer defines the label in every way possible. Singer Rivers Cuomo has been named a "nerd sex symbol," and even has a TV show in the works about a rocker who quits his band at age 30 and goes to Harvard.
In reality, Cuomo did take a bit of a break from Weezer to go to Harvard, graduating with a Bachelor's degree in English. While at the school, he reportedly tried out for the choir and even met his wife.
The Beach Boys are a lot nerdier than meets the eye. Actually, if you look at their early fashion choices - particularly the striped or plaid Pendleton shirts with slick combed hair - it's clear just how geeky they were at the time.
Musically speaking, the band grew more cerebral and intellectual over the years. They arguably hit their peak with the lost album Smile and songs like "Surf's Up," which featured the classic, weird Van Dyke Parks lyrics:
The music hall a costly bow
The music all is lost for now
To a muted trumpeter swan
Columnated ruins domino
It's a far cry from "Round, round, get around, I get around."
Sometimes cited as the godfathers of nerd music, Devo is much, much more than their hit "Whip It." Their catalog of weird music, distinct aesthetic, and unique brand of visuals influenced what was to come in '80s - something co-founder Gerald Casale said was unintentional.
We were visual artists using music. We only used that stuff in the first place because it fit the ideas. We weren’t even trying to do what ended up being done, that candified Flock of Seagulls-style electro-pop. At one point we didn’t quite know where to go. It gets ugly. It gets weird. Business does you in.