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Rock’s True Pioneers Rarely Reap The Rewards They Are Due

There are about a million bands out there, and as such, thousands of albums are released every year. A handful of these albums are rewarded with popular acclaim, and global sales. But do they really stand the test of time?

Certainly the throngs of Justin Bieber fans out there would argue that he is producing the most important work on the planet. And his bankroll has certainly benefited from the devotion of his “Beliebers.” However, in 20 years will Justin Bieber be more than a pop cultural footnote?

Sure it seems like he rules the world right now, but ask Aaron Carter, Lief Garrett, or Edd “Kookie” Byrnes about how long they think that status will hold up. On a cosmic scale, the relevance of artists like Bieber lasts for but an infinitesimal fraction of time.

However, every now and again, a record comes out, and is not immediately received well. This can mean being ignored in terms of sales, or being maligned critically, or both, as is so often the case.

Yet somehow, over time, these records gain momentum like the proverbial stone rolling down the mountainside. Sometime later, they are recognized as pivotal moments in musical evolution. Here are a couple of these records.

The Bus Boys “Minimum Wage Rock & Roll,” Rattlesnake Venom Records, 1980.

About the closest The Bus Boys ever got to mainstream success was having Eddie Murphy in their corner for a couple of years. This is a true tragedy, as Minimum Wage Rock & Roll represents some of the most vital and vibrant rock music of the early 1980s.

It is no secret that throughout American history, black culture has been stolen and re-worked by white folks. This is particularly the case with music. So here we have a record performed by a group of black guys (and one Hispanic), where we find them re-co-opting their own culture back from white people who co-opted it first in the 1950s.

Across 11 tracks, The Bus Boys take the energy of the New Wave scene (of which they were a fascinating part of), combine it with the dexterous capability of musicians who could play circles around their contemporaries, and the sarcastic wit of a bunch of incredibly smart and talented guys, who saw through the mendacity of what “black” music was supposed to be.

Consequently, The Bus Boys made a record that is technically excellent, super catchy, and incredibly funny and insightful. The Bus Boys stood on the outside of the circle of the popular kids, totally outdoing them, while making fun of them all at the same time.

“Minimum Wage Rock & Roll” is as important as it is fun. A crucial chronicle of of New Wave ephemera that history is unfortunately, and incorrectly too willing to want to sweep under the proverbial rug.

Faith No More “Angel Dust”, Slash Records, 1992

Faith No More had their longest rendezvous with commercial success in 1990, when their single “Epic”, off of their LP “The Real Thing” become popular on MTV. This song was responsible for single-handedly predicting the rap/rock fusion that would become the hallmark of so many records from the 1990s, even if it was simultaneously responsible (at least partially) for begetting that so often unfortunate trend.

Instantly pigeonholed, Faith No More became a moderate overnight success, a full year after their album had been released. However, when Faith No More released their follow up album “Angel Dust” in 1992, it succeeded mostly in generating blank stares rather than record sales.

This was a sad declaration of the apathetic slothfulness that plagued the American record buying public, as the record is an absolute masterpiece.

Too frequently consumers regard adventurousness as obtuse or weird. People have an annoying tendency to treat things they have not been told are okay to like with fear and revulsion. Like dogs who can’t take a piss anywhere until the pack leader has already sniffed out a satisfactory location for them.

The fact of the matter was that over the course of the next 15 years, “Angel Dust” became something of a bible for the hordes of Nu-Metal bands that would clog up the American airwaves with their musical detritus for the majority of the artistically questionable late 1990s’.

To say that the legacy of “Angel Dust” was that it inspired legions of bands that were ultimately embarrassing and regrettable would be to ignore what a stroke of genius this album truly is though. Fed up with the rock star posturing that so dominated the hair metal of the 1980s’, “Angel Dust” is a raw reaction to a musical landscape that was devoid of any real substance.

At times dark, brooding and vicious, the album is alternately uplifting and reaffirming at others. Faith No More proved that rock music didn’t have to be about embracing hedonism and Paul Mitchell hair products.

Nirvana’s “Nevermind” is pretty much widely hailed as the record that brought Punk Rock into the mainstream in the 1990s. I’m not sure that this is a good thing, as Punk Rock is supposed to be reactionary, and should really eschew these kind of platinum rewards.

However, to the discerning ear, “Angel Dust” did just as much for rock & roll music as “Nevermind” did, at least in terms of affecting the next 10-15 years of rock music. The main difference was you wouldn’t catch the facemen, jocks and cheerleaders listening to it. And that felt, and still feels, pretty damn good.


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