Some artists change their sound because they were told to and others did so because they wised up. For whatever reason, here are just some of the artists that used to sound much, much different. The commonality? It all worked out in the end:
Katy Perry. Before she was Katy Perry, she was Katy Hudson, and before she was singing about kissing girls and liking it and all that Sapphic detail that no God-fearing Christian would proselytize, she was, well, a goody two shoes. You can hear her in all her non-secular pop-rock glory on YouTube (if you have an hour to butcher), but don’t ever expect to hear any Katy Hudson on a Katy Perry tour.
Goo Goo Dolls. Never mind the Goo Goo Dolls’ third and fourth albums—where they’re more or less channeling The Replacements, only with less liquor—the trio’s first two efforts, Goo Goo Dolls and Jed, are on another plain altogether. In fact, on Goo Goo Dolls, John Rzeznik—who sings lead on all the band’s hits—doesn’t sing lead at all. About half the songs are under two minutes (which, we estimate, is about how long it probably took to write them), and loaded with speed-metal punk riffs, toilet humor and little commercial appeal.
Pantera. Now considered a forefather of thrash metal, the pre-Phil Anselmo Pantera were anything but credible on their first two shrilly glam-metal albums, Metal Magic and Projects in the Jungle. Not only did original singer Terry Glaze wear spandex and shredded leopard-skin blouses, without MTV airplay you weren’t entirely sure if the falsetto-fancying Glaze was a he or a she. Perhaps worse is bassist Rex Brown went by—wait for it—Rex Rocker and they actually had a song called “Heavy Metal Rules.” You can’t make this stuff up.
Alanis Morissette. There’s little more embarrassing than hearing a pre-Jagged Little Pill, poodle-hair-coiffed Alanis Morissette feign a Forever Your Girl-era Paul Abdul—with choreographed dance moves and everything—on vapid pop crud like “Feel Your Love” and “Too Hot.” And then she met Dave Coulier, they went to a movie and the rest is history.
Genesis. Lovers of wonkish prog-rock—the type where songs last longer than most sitcoms and their titles have subheads—couldn’t have possibly reconciled the over-the-top Peter Gabriel imploring “Those who love our majesty show themselves!” with the Genesis where the band’s drummer-cum-singer Phil Collins was pleading for his muse to hold on his heart. Sniff, sniff.
Michael Bolton. Long before Michael Bolton was derided as a no-talent ass clown, he was still a no-talent ass clown, only his shitty music was a different kind of shitty. His material was more hair metal than Hair Club for Men (the lesser of two evils?) and we were still years away from insipid covers of Percy Sledge and Irving Berlin. Joy.
David Johansen. We’ll catch shit for this one, but there’s no denying that the one-time frontman for the proto-punk rock troupe New York Dolls was hell and gone from his alter-ego, pompadour-wearing, lido-deck lounge singer Buster Poindexter (he of “Hot Hot Hot” fame). We mostly prefer him as an actor, especially as Richard Dreyfus’s sidekick in one of the better horseracing films, Let It Ride.
Spinal Tap. Before there was metal misogyny of “Sex Farm” and “Bitch School” there was the analog-drenched Sixties psychedelia of “Gimme Some Money” and “(Listen to the) Flower People.” Yes, we know it was The Thamesmen (or was it New Originals?) who were credited for their lovey-dovey Sixties output and Tap for the sexist stuff, just as we know the aforementioned bands are (mostly) fictitious. And….what’s wrong with being sexy?