Stop hating these bands! Taylor Swift, John Mellencamp, even A Flock of Seagulls

We're always reevaluating bands. These acts, like Hall & Oates or Fleetwood Mac, are the next due a second look SLIDE SHOW

Topics: slideshow, Music, The Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift, the church, A Flock of Seagulls, Dwight Twilley, Bonnie Raitt, Bobbie Gentry, The Monkees, john mellencamp, Robert Palmer, toby keith, Terry Lewis, Jimmy Jam, Editor's Picks,

Stop hating these bands! Taylor Swift, John Mellencamp, even A Flock of SeagullsTaylor Swift (Credit: AP/Charles Sykes)

Taylor Swift is a young woman who maintains creative agency over her music and writes songs about the issues facing her large female audience. She refuses to commit to any one particular audience, instead combining the directness of country with the playfulness of pop. Occasionally there are photos of her and any number of rumored beaus in the tabloids, but she completely avoids the ruinous behavior that fells less headstrong, but no less talented celebrities like Lindsay Lohan. On top of it all, Swift may be the most dependable artist working today, regularly selling millions upon millions of albums at a time when that is increasingly rare.

So of course she’s awful, right?

Swift is routinely dismissed as a lightweight: a pretty face and a vacuum of talent. But her success is well earned. She’s a keenly observant songwriter with her head in a book and her heart on her sleeve, and she can sum up a whole library of YA novels in a single couplet: “When you’re 15 and somebody tells you they love you, you’re gonna believe them.” In 10 or 20 years, she may be ripe for a critical reassessment, when her — let’s just say it — visionary blend of pop and country sheds its baggage and inspires a new generation of artists male and female alike.

Each generation reconsiders the artists of the past and finds new qualities to admire. In the ‘90s the Carpenters’ lush melodies and slyly sophisticated arrangements, once dismissed as the height of blah, exerted new influence over alt-pop artists like Matthew Sweet and the Cranberries; even Sonic Youth participated in a tribute album. In the 2000s, a passel of rock bands from the Killers to the Hold Steady resuscitated the anthemic passions of Bruce Springsteen and made “Born to Run” as indie-canonical as Joy Division’s “Unknown Pleasures.”

While that critical urge to dig through the crates of history can produce some suspect claims — the Eagles, for example, haven’t improved with age — for the most part it’s an important way not only to revive old careers but, more important, to refresh pop music again and again. Toward that end, here in this slideshow, in rough chronological order, are 10 acts in desperate need of popular reassessment and rediscovery.



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    Stop hating these bands! Taylor Swift, John Mellencamp, even A Flock of Seagulls

    The Monkees
    Credit: AP

    One of the very first pre-fab boy bands, the Monkees are still routinely dismissed as sub-Beatles TV stars, thanks primarily to their supremely goofy television show. They never had the kind of aggressively innovative periods that breeds self-importance, and because they were congenitally unable to take themselves too seriously, they were more attuned that most of their colleagues to the ridiculousness of the 1960s. Fifty years later, the Monkees’ chipper singles have lost none of their feisty energy, and their ’68 film "Head" (co-written by Jack Nicholson!) was recently reissued by Criterion as a prime piece of pop psychedelia and a sly meta commentary on their own celebrity. Where to start: Released in 2003, “The Best of the Monkees” includes their popular hits, including “Last Train to Clarksville” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” but to get the full, crazy experience of the Monkees, spin the soundtrack to “Head,” which puts songs by Carole King and Harry Nilsson into a paisley blender and hits puree.

    Stop hating these bands! Taylor Swift, John Mellencamp, even A Flock of Seagulls

    Bobbie Gentry

    It’s hard to overstate the impact “Ode to Billie Joe” had on country music: The mysterious song was a No. 1 smash, inspired a 1976 made-for-TV movie starring Robbie Benson, and has been anthologized on countless compilations. The rest of Gentry’s career and accomplishments have been eclipsed by that song, yet she’s no one-hit wonder. One of the first female artists to write, record and produce her own material, Gentry married sultry swamp-pop with sophisticated Southern storytelling, and her albums remain intensely idiosyncratic, full of strange production flourishes and unexpected lyrical filigrees. Where to Start: Her 1967 album “Ode to Billie Joe” may be her best known, but 1970's “Fancy” may be her best. Anchored by the excellent title track (a no-holds-barred tale of a girl who escapes poverty via prostitution), it mixes adventurous covers with swampy jams like “Find ‘Em, Fool ‘Em, Forget ‘Em.” “He Made a Woman Out of Me” is a tale of sexual awakening that rivals even “Son of a Preacher Man.”

    Stop hating these bands! Taylor Swift, John Mellencamp, even A Flock of Seagulls

    Bonnie Raitt
    Credit: AP/Gerald Herbert

    When Bon Iver covered Raitt’s 1991 hit “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” the indie world recoiled in shock, with many grumbling that surely Justin Vernon’s choice in material was ironic. It wasn’t (nor was his shout-out to Bruce Hornsby). Too often dismissed as bland AOR, Raitt remains a woefully underrated and largely misunderstood artist. Her interpretive style may be sensitive and gentle, but she convey a heavy melancholy that makes a song like “I Can’t Make You Love Me” quietly devastating. And her fretwork remains formidable. Where to Start: Her most recent album, “Slipstream,” is a gem, especially her Dylan covers, but 1973’s “Takin’ My Time” may be her peak, thanks to a typically crazy Van Dyke Parks arrangement on “Wah She Go Do” and Raitt’s glorious cover of Randy Newman’s “Guilty.”

    Stop hating these bands! Taylor Swift, John Mellencamp, even A Flock of Seagulls

    Dwight Twilley

    An Oklahoman who in the '70s was crafting songs as catchy and as brazenly fun as Cheap Trick, Dwight Twilley is a power-pop auteur with an excitable vocal style and a penchant for razor-sharp hooks. He scored a radio hit with “I’m on Fire,” which has been criminally excised from classic rock playlists; in fact, he may be best known for lending songs to “Wayne’s World” and the recent masked-intruders movie “You’re Next.” But Twilley’s catalog, both with the Dwight Twilley Band and as a solo artist, is incredibly deep and endlessly replayable. Where to start: Because 1979’s “Twilley” is out of print, the best entry point is 1977’s “Twilley Don’t Mind.” In addition to having a great title, it’s wall-to-wall hooks, from the stuttering vocals on “Looking for the Magic” to the desperately staccato “baby! baby!” on “That I Remember.”

    Stop hating these bands! Taylor Swift, John Mellencamp, even A Flock of Seagulls

    Robert Palmer
    Credit: /Jim Cooper

    In the early 1980s, when MTV was just getting off the ground, Robert Palmer became an unlikely star thanks to a series of videos full of bored women with runs in their stockings and hair slicked perilously back. It was ‘80s objectification in the extreme, and Palmer unceremoniously closed out the decade with a regrettable cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me.” That has, understandably, colored his legacy, especially following his untimely death in 2003. But his early solo material, dating back to the 1970s, is unruly white-guy funk with a global palette, with contributions by Lowell George, the Meters, Gary Numan, and Chris Frantz of Talking Heads. Where to Start: Palmer’s ’74 debut, “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley,” is a funk-pop classic, full of M.C. Escher jams and supple vocals. Closer “Through It All There’s You” rambles seductively for 12 minutes, yet it’s still over way too soon.

    Stop hating these bands! Taylor Swift, John Mellencamp, even A Flock of Seagulls

    John Mellencamp
    Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

    The Coug is often described as the Springsteen of the Midwest, which does him no favors because a) who could possibly live up to that billing?, and b) he’s his own man, defiantly so. Outspoken and wily, irascible but sincere, he’s built a career as a rock 'n' roll populist. Occasionally he gets mired in nostalgia (“R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.”), but more often he pushes the boundaries of Heartland rock to observe a bleak present-day America rife with inequality and tribulation. Fortunately, he’s an artist who knows that dire times demand lively music. Where to Start: Mellencamp’s career-making albums in the early 1980s hold up surprisingly well 30 years on, but it’s his artier period in the early 1990s that deserves further exploration. He may have married a model, but he didn’t fret over his ability to identify with the Common Man. Instead, he made the relatively weirdo “Whenever We Wanted” in 1991 and “Human Wheels” in 1993, the latter boasting the gospel-funk shoulda-been-a-hit opener “When Jesus Left Birmingham.”

    Stop hating these bands! Taylor Swift, John Mellencamp, even A Flock of Seagulls

    Terry Lewis, Jimmy Jam
    Credit: AP/Pat Sullivan

    This pair of Twin Cities musicians defined the sound of pop in the ‘80s, first as founders of the band that would become Morris Day & the Time and later as songwriters, producers and label executives. Odds are you’ve probably heard at least one of the hits they crafted for Prince, the SOS Band, the Human League, Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey. Because they relied so heavily on early equipment like the Roland TR808 drum machine and the Yamaha DX-7 keyboard — both of which pale technologically to the device you’re reading this list on — their early material is often dismissed as dated or quaintly nostalgic, but they devised an ambitious mix of '70s funk, industrial and Krautrock that continues to inspire today’s hip-hop production techniques. Where to Start: The Numero Group is releasing a set of early demos next month titled "Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound." Until then, their best effort might be Janet Jackson’s “Control,” a tough-minded, hard-hitting album that made her a pop icon in her own right.

    Stop hating these bands! Taylor Swift, John Mellencamp, even A Flock of Seagulls

    A Flock of Seagulls

    For decades A Flock of Seagulls has been synonymous with asymmetrical haircuts and one-hit wonders. “I Ran” may be an artifact from the dawn of MTV, when artists were tasked with devising compelling looks as well as compelling sounds, but it’s also a prime pop single. The thing is, A Flock of Seagulls were excellent popsmiths at a time when that was of only secondary importance, so by the time they followed up their biggest hit, they were already out of style. But they’ve aged spectacularly well, and “Space Age Love Song” and “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph)” are better than anything puked out by a Brooklyn hipster synthpop band. Where to Start: “Greatest Hits” includes the nine-minute version of “Wishing,” which does the impossible by making the song even more grandiose and sublime. But the band’s self-titled 1982 debut is their most sustained statement about true love in outer space, set to heraldic guitars and transcendent synths.

    Stop hating these bands! Taylor Swift, John Mellencamp, even A Flock of Seagulls

    The Church
    Credit: Drew Reynolds

    In 1988, when hair metal was ascendant and Spandex an obligatory accessory, the Church managed to notch a hit single with “Under the Milky Way,” a bewitching tune featuring moody vocals and a solo that many mistook for bagpipes. An unlikely smash, it marked a high point in the Australian band’s career, during which they defined and mastered a paisley-goth sound built on the conspiratorial vocals of Steve Kilbey and the menacing riffs of Marty Wilson-Piper, who really ought to be a guitar hero by now. While their peers are well remembered (and, in some cases, deservedly so), the Church are, if not forgotten, then drastically underappreciated. Where to Start: It’s a toss-up between 1986’s “Heyday” and 1988’s “Starfish.” The latter is their most popular, with “Under the Milky Way,” but the former may actually hold together better and includes “Tantalized,” one of the Church’s most rapturous moments.

    Stop hating these bands! Taylor Swift, John Mellencamp, even A Flock of Seagulls

    Toby Keith
    Credit: AP/Wade Payne

    “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)” is more than a decade old now, yet Toby Keith’s reputation remains tethered to that admittedly unsavory hit and to his largely misunderstood politics. Dismissed by the left due to that jingoistic hit, he’s similarly rejected by the right because… wait for it… he’s actually a Democrat. Stuck in the middle, he’s released nearly an album a year, all marked by his keen songwriting and weathered voice, which can deliver a ballad like “Hope on the Rocks” as persuasively as it can sell a singalong like “Red Plastic Cup.” Where to Start: Keith released a string of strong albums throughout the latter half of the 2000s, but his best may be 2006’s “White Trash with Money,” thanks to the rowdy honky-tonk production courtesy of Keith and singer Lari White. Opener “Get Drunk and Be Somebody” could have been a Great Recession anthem, “Crash Here Tonight” seduces with desperation and dignity, and all it would take is for someone like Willie or Merle covering “A Little Too Late” to make it your favorite song.

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