My musical tastes have changed and evolved through my life, as they would with anyone (though, as you’ll see, I always have been, and I believe always will be, primarily a rock fan), and the high honor of my title of “Favorite Band” has changed heads often. Looking back over these groups is always a fun journey because it’s so interesting to take into a account how much or how little I was influenced by the musical trends of the time, to notice the common threads they all have among them and what things were very different, and it’s interesting to see how I react to these groups now.
THEN: One day at the ripe old age of 10 I caught the music video for “Unskinny Bop” on some daily video countdown on MTV (in one of the few periods that my parents either didn’t enforce the “don’t watch MTV” rule or didn’t know I was doing so). I was taken in by the steady baseline, the huge arsenal of guitars behind C.C. DeVille as he did his solo, and the thought that a band’s rehearsal time was just like a concert without the fans. At the peak of my young fandom, I had the albums Flesh & Blood and Open Up and Say . . . Ahh, and a black and gold poster that my older sister bought me when she went to go see them as their tour passed through our city. For my money, nothing could EVER top the perfection that was the song “Fallen Angel.”
It’s amusing now how a 10-year-old can’t catch what that video is all about.
NOW: If there was any band that defines all that was stupid and ridiculous with hair metal, it is Poison. Everything about them is the perfect definition of that era; they are as synonymous with that scene as The Bee Gees are to disco or Dick Dale is to surf guitar. If I let it, some of their stuff can still get my foot tapping, but I do remember cringing when I heard “Every Rose Has its Thorn” for the first time in over a decade (in 2001 or so). Oh, and fun fact about that song. Apparently, the beginning of the end for this band is when they recorded that Michaels-penned ballad, because DeVille thought that the song was a sign of selling out. Does anyone else find the irony that one member of POISON got mad at another member of POISON for “selling out?”
THEN: I can’t tell you when or where I first heard Firehouse. I do know I never saw a music video of theirs. I became a huge fan somehow and my sister dubbed their self-titled album on tape for me, and I wore that thing out. Every song was just perfect, and even without the liner notes I managed to learn and memorize every word. Yet I didn’t do good in school. Weird. But I knew so little about their image (I didn’t even know the band member’s names) that it was 100% about the music for me.
You can’t fake sound that good in a live performance. Wow.
NOW: If there was any band that defines all that can be cool and awesome with hair metal, it is Firehouse. That self-titled debut STILL rocks! Sure, it has something of a cheese factor to it, but I say that’s a time-period thing and not a quality thing. And I love hearing their songs in Safeway as I shop. If my wife’s not with me, I might even sing along. “I FIN’ly found a looooooove of a lifetiiiiiiime!!!” Who am I kidding? I’d sing along ESPECIALLY if she was there.
THEN: I’m skipping one genuine “favorite” here. Guardian. And so we’re clear, this is EARLY Guardian. Fire and Love and especially Miracle Mile. Seems most anyone else that’s heard of them came around about the time Swing Swang Swung was released, or bought Buzz. I don’t know that Guardian. Guardian was a good Christian rock band, and I loved how “heavy” they could be (alternatives at the time were groups like Whiteheart and Petra; pretty soft). Well since I loved Guardian for their heaviness, I changed camps VERY quickly when I first put Snakes in the Playground into my tape player. I even saw these guys at Agape (probably 1993) and got that tape signed. Awesome, even if Dale had just cut his hair.
This is when the title “Christian Rock” meant it was Christian.
NOW: With a couple of exceptions, anything by Bride that’s not on Snakes in the Playground I don’t care for too much anymore. But as for that one album? It’s easily in my top 10 of all time favorites still. Come to think of it, though, that top 10 list would be hard to write.
Alice in Chains
THEN: It took a while for Layne Staley’s odd vocals to grow on me, but once they did, I was hooked. I could never quite explain exactly what it was about Alice in Chains that I liked. Their songs were so odd, arguably the oddest group of the entire grunge era, but I L O V E D it. In fact, it was usually the weirder ones that I liked the most. I feel I should also mention that all the drug references in their songs were WAY over my head. “New Orleans, gotta get pin cushion medicine.” I just imagined that it was weird, random lyrics about buying a literal pin cushion some medicine. What a simpler time that was.
I chose one of their stranger songs here to contrast with the previous groups.
NOW: It took me several years, but I’ve been back into a state of Alice in Chains love for around five or six years now. I haven’t picked up their new album yet, but I did listen to it on Lala and I like it. The new guy is no Layne, but he’s more than welcome in light of the fact that Layne can’t return.
THEN: A friend put the album Suffer into a walkman for me to hear when we were on a camping trip in the summer of 1995. He had to literally pull the headphones off my head to get it back because I loved it so much. Within the next year, I had three or four of their albums and by spring 1996 officially shifted my “favorite band” title to a punk group. I loved the simplicity of the guitars, the complexity of the vocal harmonies, the huge words in the lyrics . . . but wasn’t too crazy about the obvious anti-Christian stance. I justified my fandom on the fact that 1) despite what their name implies, and despite them being very strong atheists, most of their songs are social and political in nature, not anti-religious, and 2) I could honestly like them without letting their messages get to me.
Guess what year that was filmed. If you said 1989, then you cheated.
NOW: I’m actually very shocked at how little I like Bad Religion now. The awful 1998 album No Substance completely killed my enthusiasm for them (which was starting to flicker at that point anyway), and I never really came back. I did listen to The Gray Race not to long ago for the first time in years and it was very bland to me. I still have Recipe for Hate and 80-85 in my collection (all the other CDs of theirs I had were stolen nearly 10 years ago), and very little of that stuff still stands out to me as truly “good.” Granted, neither of those were my favorite albums of theirs, either. I’m pretty sure I’d still have some nostalgic attachment to Suffer and a few songs here and there (for my money, there’s few performances better than their live version of “Generator” from Tested), but I find myself feeling that lots of the harmonies are over-the-top and unnecessary and Greg Graffin’s lyrics, to a more mature adult, seem rather pretentious (at best). I honestly think that guy comes up with what he thinks is a clever song title and writes the song around it. If you’re into them like I was, you start to notice that and it grows very annoying very fast.
THEN: In the earlier days of my ever-intensifying-but-increasingly-fruitless search for melodically-based punk bands, I heard and subsequently fell in love with Swedish pop-punk heroes, Millencolin. That would have been 1997, I think. By 1998 I noticed that not only would I chose these guys over Bad Religion for my drives to school or work or Skip’s house, but I chose them over everything else, too. Well, that must mean something! Favorite band, they are! And dubbing them as my “favorite band” allowed me the opportunity to have a really cool screen name for email and AIM–bradencolin. Don’t laugh. I still think that’s pretty good.
Plus they’re considerably less offensive than Bad Religion.
NOW: I think I really said it best in one of my Lala posts. They’re just as good as they ever were, in my opinion, but their music doesn’t move me the same way it did.
Jimmy Eat World
THEN: Growing weary of (true) pop punk, and nauseated by the declining quality of newer pop punk bands at the time (like New Found Glory or Good Charlotte or Sum 41), I finally made the transition to listening to (true) emo. A friend I trusted told me that the “most purely emo” band he knew was Jimmy Eat World, of whom I had heard but not really listened. Like, ever. I headed out and got their 1996 debut, Static Prevails, and it blew my socks off. There was and is a raw, talented edge in that album that could have only logically led to their flawless, sophomore masterpiece, Clarity, which I got a few months after the first one. As far as I was concerned, these guys were perfect . . .
NOW: . . . and then everyone’s favorite piece of garbage came out. I’m talking about Bleed American, which was renamed to (their third) self-titled album in the wake of 9/11. What was wrong with it? It was cheery and bubbly and poppy and they might as well have gone on tour with The Wiggles. There’s nothing wrong with those things in and of themselves, but imagine if AC/DC put out an album that sounded like an attempt to be more like Matchbox 20; it would reverse the general understanding of their established sound and image, and would serve as a middle finger to their fans . I’m not against letting a band grow and change and evolve, but there are few better examples of a group cranking up the bubble gum in their sound to be more radio friendly, and it cuts to the heart. So despite hating that album (with the exception of “Hear You Me” and sometimes “Bleed American”), I hung on, believing they were just drawing the kids in so they could advance their Clarity sound more and be known as the best band ever (it’s been done! Compare Brand New’s first album to their second and beyond). Their next album would be a new masterpiece, I just knew it. And then they released that collection of John Kerry-campaigning anthems, Futures. I gave up not long after that. They’re just . . . boring, now. Nothing from Futures forward can hook me, and I tried! I didn’t want to give up on them, but they brought it upon themselves.
THEN: This is around the time where I stopped “needing” a favorite band and just found that I actually had one. And what better band for my personal highest musical honor than a freaking AWESOME band from my hometown of Springfield, Illinois? I can think of none. I can honestly say that Park would have been a contender for this spot with me even if they were from L.A., though. I couldn’t keep them out of my CD player from like 2001-2007 or so. I love all three of their albums, but I’m right in line with most fans when I say It Won’t Snow Where You’re Going is hands-and-feet-and-everything-down their absolute best album. The dark and even violent lyrics mixed with the constantly-moving lead parts and Mitchell’s unique voice. Dang. I want to listen to that now.
They certainly knew how to close an album.
NOW: If I had to pick something I didn’t like much anymore about Park, it would have to be the overall theme of Ladd’s lyrics. I sometimes want to scream, “Grow a pair!” But then again, it wouldn’t be Park without those lyrics, either. Their removal from the role of “favorite band” was more of a fading out than, say, being demoted. They’re broken up, and though I doubt I’ll ever NOT love their music (seriously–“Which Wrist First?” “Codex Avellum?” Epic!), but it really doesn’t feel right to say a band is my favorite band when they likely won’t ever release anything ever again. That’s . . . death. I mean, if your favorite band is still . . . Journey? I mean, I think Journey’s great, too, but what do you have to look forward to? Remasters? Reunion tours without Steve Perry? Regardless of all of that, though: Miles, Ladd, Justin, and all those other guys that came and went–love ya! Except maybe Gabe. I tolerate Gabe.
Coheed and Cambria
NOW: Like previous title-holders such as Park and Millencolin, Coheed and Cambria have become my favorite band just out of the fact that I just can’t keep their stuff out of my ears for very long. I almost ALWAYS have at least 2 albums of theirs in my phone for quick listening at any time. Let’s just hope the next time I see them live it’ll be better.
I miss Josh Eppard.
Now . . . as a shameless attempt to get some comments (and keep the discussion going, I think this is fun), let me put the question out there. Who have some of your favorite bands been? Maybe you’ve never had one, or maybe you’ve had the same one since 1995 and you were really offended when I said what I said about bands that are broken up. Tell me.