Former LA Times pop critic Ann Powers came storming out of the gate yesterday with the first post for her new gig at NPR Music. Titled “It’s the Summer of Selling Out, and It Feels Fine,” her piece uses last weekend’s Coachella festival and the current crop of American Idol frontrunners to argue that 2011 is shaping up to be a good year “for all kinds of fans who like their music to feel free while it still aims for the center of the culture’s attention.” Part of Powers’s point is that “selling out” and making great music don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Although we have immense respect for the underground, we think Powers makes an important point. The tale of a talented but naïve band signing their lives away to a major label and then collapsing under the pressure to sell product is a common narrative, but it’s also far from the only outcome. After the jump, we list ten bands that ditched the indies for the majors, licensed their music to commercials, and went pop — and were better off for it, artistically.
Although mixing styles is the norm in the 21st century, in the ’70s you were supposed to pick your genre of choice and stick to it. Teenage dirtbags the world over could be divided into two camps: those who dreamt of partying the night away at Studio 54 and those who adopted “Disco sucks!” as their rallying cry. So it was a big deal when CBGB regulars and underground sensations Blondie recorded a disco track and released it on their third album, Parallel Lines. Partially inspired by the Bee Gees, the song was a major pop hit and rocketed the band to multi-platinum success. Other groundbreaking genre crossovers followed, from the rap-embellished “Rapture” to the reggae-flavored “The Tide Is High.” And you know what? While we’ll always love Blondie’s early stuff, Parallel Lines is by far the band’s best album.