Bands That Don't Sound Anything Like They Used To

Regardless of your lawn and how much you want those dang kids to stay off of it, you have to acknowledge that the entertainers you love evolve. Some change to the point where how they started isn't even remotely close to how they wound up. It's like two different bands. Good luck recognizing your favorite bands when you hear them like this:

David Bowie

David Bowie is almost as famous for his endless transformations as his music. The man came up with more personas in his career than a Russian hacker or a YouTube troll goes through in a week. But really, get a load of his early, British Invasion-style work, before he changed his name to no longer be confused with one of The Monkees.

With his later pioneering work in glam and electronic music, it's hard to believe anyone would have ever confused him with a 1960s boy band like The Monkees. Listening to his very early work, however, that concern becomes a lot more clear. The whole band is a few mop-top haircuts and frilly shirts away from looking like they were formed in a cloning lab a few blocks down from the 1910 Fruitgum Company.

Ronnie James Dio

Ronnie James Dio is pretty much the father of metal, maybe sharing the title with Ozzy Osbourne in an alternative-lifestyle parenting model. We're not here to judge, but also that sounds absolutely awesome. He popularized the "Devil Horns" hand gesture for the music crowd, and is responsible for what has to be one of the best music videos ever. He is justifiably considered one of the True Metal Gods.

Yet here we are, listening to teenage Dio and his pals sing three-part harmony to the classic song "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," a song your grandmother probably hummed to herself at some point, wondering if your grandfather would respect her after being so bold as allowing closed-mouth kissing at the ice cream shop on their tenth date. There's a couple decades separating this from the sound that made him famous, and we would pay a lot of money to get a copy of the Dungeons and Dragons campaigns that must have occurred in the meantime.

Michael Bolton

Michael Bolton has definitely carved a niche for himself in music history, and that niche is basically "everyone's mom's favorite singer." He practically turned "gravelly-sounding frizzy-haired white man singing soul music" into an industry. Hard to believe that, at one point, he fronted a Thin Lizzy-ish late-70s rock band that opened for Ozzy Osbourne. He even auditioned for Black Sabbath, which is like ... what?

You could point to the video for "Love Me Tonight" just for the hilarious intro of the camera floating through a pair of literal Blackjack-themed saloon doors, but that song is actually surprisingly prescient of his later crooner work. Even Bolton's first breakout single "Fools Game" actually still clung to the hard rocker image but, by 1983, he made Journey seem like speedy thrash Satanic death-doom metal in comparison.

Billy Joel

Billy Joel really strove to push past his piano bar sensibilities into being the "voice of a generation." Unfortunately, that generation was "1980's dudes having a mid-life crisis," so it led to songs where he just screamed historical references over bongos in a way significantly less interesting than when R.E.M. did the exact same thing over jangly alt-rock guitar two years before.

But then you have Attila, Billy Joel's "heavy metal" act. While it is fascinating hearing Joel tackle some extremely competent Doors-meets-Zappa-esque organ work, the subject matter and overall quality of tracks reveals this experiment was well outside either his or bandmate Jon Small's wheelhouse. The band ended when Joel stole his bandmate's wife, which honestly may be the most rock-and-roll thing he's ever done in his life.

The Go-Gos

The Go-Gos had a poppy, upbeat sensibility, and at least one radio hit you've probably seen a high school cheerleading team do a routine to at some point in your life. It's a bizarre career arc for the group, when you look back at their beginnings.

Flipping through Beauty and the Beat, their debut album, you realize pretty quickly that, underneath the slick production, the guitar-work and drumming has a distinctly punk rock sound. That's because they actually started out as a snotty LA punk band that used to play rowdy clubs like Whiskey-A-Go-Go, with decidedly unpoppy, downbeat bands like Fear. Belinda "Heaven On Earth" Carlisle even started out as a drummer for The Germs, of all bands.

Flipping through the discography, you can hear this vibrancy slowly strangled out of the band until they disbanded in 1984. However, considering they were throwing out founding members of the band, like, the moment they got signed so they could more easily embrace a more fun, less abrasive style, maybe this shift wasn't so involuntary.


It would be fascinating to watch Ministry and Nine Inch Nails duke it out over which one really brought industrial music to mainstream audiences first. Think about it: Trent Reznor has beefed up so much, his neck is basically a tree trunk, and Ministry singer Al Jourgenson seems to be completely covered in surgically implanted spikes. If that fight can't main-event IndustroMania, nothing can.

The edge Ministry brought to the table was infusing speed metal guitar into their sludgy mix of throbbing post-punk drums, eye-twitchingly abrasive synth-work, hyper-political samples, and distorted vocals. With that in mind, it's extra-jarring to see very early Ministry, back when the only way Jourgenson distorted his voice was with an obnoxiously fake British accent. Looking over their early work, you can almost see the album Twitch marking a progression towards their later work, but even the difference between Twitch and the next album (the name of which is too extreme to say here) is decidedly marked. We'd jokingly say that it was because of drugs, but the reality is ... it was definitely drugs.

Beastie Boys

When the Beastie Boys' License to Ill was released, hardly anyone knew what to do with them. Combining gratuitously borrowed Led Zepplin guitar and drum samples with their peculiar blend of ironic party rap and absurdist stabs at gangster posturing, that album might as well have fallen out of the sky. Their second album, Paul's Boutique, was declared by Rolling Stone as "the Pet Sounds/Dark Side Of The Moon of hip hop," and each successive album brought on new levels of occasionally brilliant, and occasionally pretentious, experimentation.

With that in mind, it's kinda refreshing to dig back to the band's roots as a snotty hardcore punk band, making Jerky Boys-style prank calls and sludging through Bad Brains-inspired guitar riffs. They're a bunch of nerdy kids that definitely got their heads swirled in the toilet by bullies more than once, but clearly know they want to rock. It also shows a distinct irreverence that dominated their early work, but had to go by the time they discovered Buddhism and started wanting to save Tibet.

Sheesh. From loud punk to frat-punk-rap to weird-art-rap to Buddhist-Dalai-Lame-loving-rap, the Beasties' career has more plot twists than Game of Thrones.


Pantera is a Texas metal band that basically became the soundtrack for drinking cheap booze in biker bars and punching strangers for no discernible reason. That's not completely a joke — it's literally the cover of one of their albums. Another album shows an X-ray of a power drill going into someone's skull. They're .. not a subtle band. They also might be the meanest band that ever happened, so it's extra funny to dig back to their goofy roots as a hair metal band that sang songs about magic and outer space.

Yep, the Pantera boys played hair rock. Yes, their singer was different, but regardless of singer, the core of the band was always brothers Darrell and Vincent Abbot, the guitarist and drummer of the band. Also, even with Phil Anselmo leading the band, they weren't exactly throwing out the hairspray. On the Cowboys From Hell album Anselmo debuted on, he wasn't averse to pulling a "Dream On" and falsettoing the everloving crap out of the song "Cemetery Gates," belying his now-permanent growling stompy stacatto as hiding an impressive set of glam rock vocal pipes. It almost seems like a waste, in hindsight.

Tori Amos

Tori Amos is a fairly difficult-to-pinpoint artist, to a point where it seems baffling. She's a piano singer ... except ... well. She has a song about literally meeting the Devil in person while taking ayahuasca. She has a song about developing a connection with a young boy with bat wings across the world from her, who wanted her to start fires. She wrote the most abstract song about touching yourself probably ever recorded. Her song lyrics dance around meaning and associations the way her hands dance around the piano, combining chords and metaphors in ways her fans try to decode like they're crime scene investigators trying to deduce what social expectation she will murder next.

However, it's all the more baffling to go back to what should have been her more straightforward early days, with her project Y Can't Tori Read. Who in the seven heavens approved that name? Why is she dressed like a pirate, and what's with all the swords? Did Tori leave any hairspray for the rest of humanity? What exactly is going on in this video? Let's get back to songs about talking to Satan — it makes way more sense.

It's almost like she resented having to chain herself to some schlocky synth-pop band to get in the door, and couldn't wait to dump this whole thing and get on with her career. That's literally what she did, actually — she refused to play songs from that era for two decades plus, during her infinitely more successful solo career. It's almost like she was playing some sort of 4th-dimensional chess gambit with this cheesy pirate-themed band. Never change, Tori ... unless you want to, because you clearly know what you're doing more than we do. Ya unrepentant weirdo.

Goo Goo Dolls

The Goo Goo Dolls made a name for themselves with jangly '90s alt-rock, and that goofy name that was more "Toad" than "Wet Sprocket," so by the late-90s they were making wistful steampunk ballads about how much they want you to know who they are. They pretty much cornered the market on making "okay what if we stole R.E.M.'s whole mandolin-rock thing but watered it down and had a singer that didn't look like a substitute math teacher?" music. You kinda had to be there, and by "there" we mean the late-90s so no, you really didn't wanna be there.

Amazingly, the kinda-wimpy Goo Goo Dolls got their start making obnoxious punk music with titles like "Don't Beat My Ass With a Baseball Bat." Hell, they even curse on early releases — how daring! They still borrow heavily from the Replacements' jangle-rock playbook, even in their more abrasive early period, and considering they started out called the Sex Maggots, it seems like they were just really set on having a dumb name, regardless of where their career went.

Sugar Ray

To many folks, Sugar Ray was yet another blonde-frosted late-'90s nothing of a band whose songs showed up in sitcoms and romcoms. They wrote some catchy songs about flying away or what happens every morning and/or when it's over, but nothing you're exactly jumping to outside of a nostalgia party or karaoke session. This brings us to their first album a messy funk-punk effort called Lemonade and Brownies. Dan Brown couldn't possibly decode what the meaning of that album title is, or why Nicole Eggert from Baywatch is naked on the cover.

Oh wait, Lemonade and Brownies is a bathroom joke isn't it? That just ... creates more questions than answers.

The songs are a completely bonkers mess of Mike-Tyson-in-jail apologism ("Iron Mic"), punk-metal in-jokes like "Danzig Needs A Hug," and other songs with super tryhard titles like "Big Black Woman" (we just aren't going to touch that one). Then there's "10 Seconds Down," that timeless ode to not lasting long in bed and preferring TV to your partner anyway.

Mister Guitar Guy hanging from the ceiling at the beginning of the video isn't only playing Korn-like atonal guitar — he even has the hair, which is like a seven-layer burrito of why. Why is Sugar Ray (what'd his mom name him, Mark? Nuts to that, he's Sugar Ray) singing into an Elvis microphone? Why does he not sound one iota like the Fly guy, even though it's definitely the Fly guy? Why do none of these guys look like they're in the same band? They're playing in a meat locker and riding in cars to nowhere, and literally nothing about this era of the band makes sense.

Daft Punk

Daft Punk is famous for making sterile, but epically retro, electronic music, and also for being robots or something? They also made a terrible movie. Disappointingly, Daft Punk didn't actually arrive from space, but are just two dudes that knew each other from high school. And, like the dorky music nerds they were, they formed a sloppy rock band that's actually kind of ... endearing? Just this very crunchy, earnest surf rock stuff that doesn't even remotely hint at the project they were going to become. The difference is almost unnerving.

But honestly? After two decades wearing dystopian disco robot helmets, any peek underneath is going to seem surreal and a little disappointing.