Not long ago, I wrote about the most overrated hits songs of all time. I love compiling lists like those because they allow me to get in touch with my snarky side as well as rant a little. In that post four months ago, I mused about doing a list of overrated artists. Well, the time has come.
Here are the ten most overrated musical artists of all time. Don’t get me wrong: I like some of the music by some of these artists, and though there are only a few bands and solo performers I completely despise, you’ll find that I don’t hold back on how little I care for many of the folks on this list.
Believe me, I’m aware that I’m going to ruffle some feathers with this list. I’m fine with that, because taste in music is always subjective. But as you read the list, keep an open mind and see if you agree with me. And even if you don’t, just have fun reading it.
10. Imagine Dragons
I’ll start this list with the most current band on it. In fact, Imagine Dragons is one of the most popular bands these days. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of modern music has left me behind. But much of my taste in current music leans toward alternative rock, and I still don’t understand why so many people think that Imagine Dragons is such a big deal.
I think the problem with Imagine Dragons for me is that all their songs sound the same. Okay, so they don’t sound identical, but there’s a certain commonality among all of them for me that comes across as monotonous. They always seem to be singing some overwrought lyrics with apocalyptic or sinister supernatural overtones to them. It all comes across to me as schtick that gets old really quickly.
But, God bless ‘em, they’re making a ton of money with this musical formula. Who knows? Maybe one day Imagine Dragons will release a song that appeals to me. But I’m not holding my breath.
The era of grunge arose during the beginning of my college days, along with the rest of the sea change happening in rock at the time, so I have a fondness for ’90s alternative rock. So many of the bands and songs from that era bring back memories for me.
I’m making a confession here that may fall under the umbrella of unpopular opinion, but I didn’t like Nirvana that much back then, and I still think they’re overrated now.
I think my feeling for Nirvana stemmed from the fact that Kurt Cobain had a mopiness that the other bands from that era didn’t have. You didn’t see Pearl Jam or Soundgarden reveling in that type of head-down, depressive state all the time. You certainly didn’t see it from the non-grunge bands I loved like Gin Blossoms and Toad the Wet Sprocket.
It was easy for me to rail against the media narrative that Cobain was some sort of spokesman for my generation. I’ll never forget the day he died, as I was driving back home from the University of Georgia listening to the great 99X, Atlanta’s best radio station at that time. The announcer referred to Cobain as the “poet of our generation.” I didn’t believe it, and I still don’t.
These days, I have a grudging respect for Nirvana, but I don’t think they’re the greatest band of the era, nor do I think of them as the representative of the music of my generation. I can understand why some songs resonated with people, and I absolutely love the MTV Unplugged episode featuring them. But at the end of the day, I think the hype that surrounds Nirvana overshadows their output. (Although, I’m grateful that Nirvana gave us Dave Grohl.)
8. Maroon 5
We’ve talked about one-hit wonders before — the path of pop music is littered with them. I like to think of Maroon 5 as a one-album wonder. Their debut album, Songs About Jane, was a terrific pop-rock outing, but everything they’ve done since has been banal ultrapop.
The promise of Maroon 5’s first album has given way to a bunch of boring songs — usually in Adam Levine’s falsetto — that all sound the same. For someone who tries to cultivate the image of a badass rock star, Levine spends a lot of time hitting those falsetto notes.
To be totally honest, I think the success of Maroon 5 rests largely in Levine’s appeal as eye candy to tons of women. After all, we all saw the reaction to the band’s Super Bowl halftime performance.
Here’s the deal: a band shouldn’t have to resort to its lead singer nearly doing a striptease to make for a good halftime show. It’s a shame that Maroon 5 sounds so boring, because that first album showed such promise. If the rest of their output had been that good, they wouldn’t be on this list.
7. Michael Jackson
I grew up on the pop music of the ’80s, which meant I heard a lot of Michael Jackson’s music on the radio. In many ways, he was the consummate showman, and we haven’t seen many people who could put on a show like he did. But the truth is that his music is overrated.
Sure, there are classic songs like “Billie Jean” and “Rock with You.” Those are undeniable and timeless hits, but there’s a certain strand of thought that even his album tracks and throwaway songs were great too. Not so much.
I can remember everyone treating a new video release from Jackson as some form of high art. Looking back, the videos — and many of the songs attached to them — sound dated and cheesy. For every hit that stands the test of time, there are half a dozen songs that belong in the dustbin of the ’80s (and ’90s). Then there was his insistence that everyone call him the King of Pop, along with the fact so many people in the media went along with it!
Michael Jackson deserves a place in the pantheon of pop music for a few big classic singles. But overall? Sorry – he’s overrated.
6. The Rolling Stones
The British Invasion of the early ‘60s was one of the most exciting eras in rock music history. Think of the bands who came out of this amazing time: The Beatles, The Animals, The Who, and of course The Rolling Stones.
While the early British Invasion days were relatively innocent, with plenty of songs about love, the Rolling Stones began to shock right out of the box. I’ll admit that I like their ‘60s output — from “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” to “Gimme Shelter,” the band had plenty of terrific songs.
As the ‘70s dawned, the shock value of the Stones turned into schtick. There are only so many times you can surprise the world with an album meant to turn heads or impregnate another groupie before it starts to get old and predictable. Chasing skirts and musical trends fails to surprise many people after a while.
Of course, there are bright spots in the Stones’ post ‘60s canon, and tunes like “Start Me Up” and “Miss You” are second to none. But a band that continues to run around like teenage rock gods as septuagenarians has become a caricature of itself.
Don’t get me wrong; the Rolling Stones are a great band, but their vaunted status turns out to be more hype than substance.
5. The Doors
One of the things I remember about middle and high school was that a few of the artsy, pretentious kids around me discovered The Doors. These were the folks who gravitated toward anything slightly weird, and you would’ve thought that they had discovered some poetic genius. Instead, they found a band whose lead singer possessed enough artsy pretension to make these kids look like rank amateurs.
I’ll give The Doors props for having terrific musicianship – good Lord, Ray Manzarek could play some keys. Believe it or not, a couple of their songs actually appeal to me. But Jim Morrison was so obsessed with his own cleverness that most of the band’s output comes across as silly and ridiculous today.
The worst thing about Morrison is that he doesn’t sound like a rock star. Instead, his vocals put forth the image of a smarmy lounge singer – especially on my personal favorite of their songs, the unintentionally hilarious “Touch Me.” I guess his Lizard King moniker takes on a different meaning in this light. I can’t help but imagine that he would be doing a lounge act in Vegas if he were alive today.
4. Bruce Springsteen
I’m convinced that Bruce Springsteen has become such a mythical pop culture figure that people really don’t recall his music – short of a few songs like “Born to Run” and “Dancing in the Dark.” I think if people would consider the totality of his career, they would conclude, “What’s the big deal about Springsteen?”
There’s his politics, of course, but that’s the low-hanging fruit. Anybody who has hitched his later-career wagon to Pete Seeger and the intentionally godless anthem “This Land Is Your Land,” and who calls his anti-American anthems “patriotic” certainly doesn’t deserve the encomiums he has received for decades.
But let’s take our eye off his leftism for a minute, shall we? The rock press treats Springsteen as some sort of Baby Boomer zeitgeist poet, and all of his overwritten lyrics are supposed to say something. The man can’t just write songs – everything has to carry some sort of message.
Everybody I’ve asked about Bruce Springsteen says something to the effect of, “I like such-and-such song of his, but not much else.” I have yet to meet a hardcore fan of his, yet to read the entertainment media would lead you to believe that he belongs on Mount Rushmore.
I’m with Dave Grohl, who once said, “If Bruce Springsteen is the Boss, I f***in’ quit.”
3. Florida Georgia Line
The late ‘60s pop star turned Texas country artist Doug Sahm released a song at the dawn of the millennium called “Oh No! Not Another One.” In it, he sang, “When country changed to pop, they had a laugh/As the real country fans got the shaft.” Sahm presaged bro-country by about a decade.
Bro-country is a subgenre of music that basically turns the vaunted tradition of country music storytelling on its head by concentrating songwriting skills on variations of “girl, get in my truck.” The figureheads of this douchebag take on country blended with drum machine beats is Florida Georgia Line.
I’ve written reams about the duo here before. In particular, I’ve noted that they’re part of what’s wrong with modern country music and that they’re perfectly fine with sacrilegious lyrics. The guys from Florida Georgia Line show no discernible talent beyond looking good in tight jeans and singing about getting girls into their trucks. I once had a friend who chided me on making fun of Florida Georgia Line, saying I shouldn’t because “they’re nice guys.” I’m sure they are, but I know plenty of other people who are nice but have no business being on the radio.
Somehow, Florida Georgia Line has number one hit after number one hit. They spend months at a time atop the country charts, and it keeps other genuinely talented artists from having their moment in the sun. I’ll never understand what makes these guys’ vapid fake country so beloved, because every time Florida Georgia Line spends a week at the top of the charts, folks like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Tammy Wynette turn over in their graves.
Simply put, Florida Georgia Line and their bro-country brethren constitute an all-out assault on real country music.
2. Green Day
Punk has been a vital part of the landscape of rock for at least four decades. Imagine a world without the Ramones or the Sex Pistols. It would be a lot less interesting, wouldn’t it?
There’s a subset of the punk genre that’s not worth listening to. Call it pop-punk, for lack of better terminology. The flagship band of this lame, watered down take on punk is Green Day.
There’s so much I hate about Green Day. For starters, there’s Billie Joe Armstrong’s voice, the punk equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. And the fake accent? I can’t tell if he’s trying to mimic British frontmen like Johnny Rotten or if he’s just aiming for something totally annoying.
Their songs are crap. For years they’ve tried for an angsty irony, but they lack the sense of humor of other punkish bands like Blink-182. It seems like everything they try to write is supposed to be some kind of statement, but it’s really nothing more than reactionary liberalism. An entire album slamming the majority of Americans in the Bush era? So brave, guys.
I don’t know what’s worse: the fact that they were so popular in the ’90s or that they continue to mine the same schtick as men in their forties. Green Day represents the worst of everything that punk can be, especially when it’s wrapped in fake snarl and predictable leftist tripe.
1. Creedence Clearwater Revival
There are some bands that you just kind of don’t like, and there are bands that you absolutely cannot stand. Creedence Clearwater Revival falls on the extreme end of the second category for me. There’s absolutely nothing about CCR that I like – and that’s no exaggeration. Four months ago I wrote, “If I ever write a list of the most overrated bands in music history, CCR will top the countdown.” I’m a man of my word.
Let’s start with the obvious: John Fogerty’s horrific screech of a voice. For the life of me, I can’t see how anyone thinks this guy has a great voice. Then there’s their barely disguised antiwar politics that they seemed to slip into nearly every song of theirs.
The biggest problem I have with CCR and their fans is that people try to lump them into the Southern Rock genre. They were from California – no matter how many times Fogerty tried to fool us singing about riverboats and the bayou – and they aped Southern sounds to obvious success. But they’re not a Southern Rock band. To call them so does a disservice to genuine sons of the South from The Allman Brothers to Atlanta Rhythm Section to Charlie Daniels.
Baby Boomers ate this tripe with a spoon, and it’s one more example why we can’t trust my parents’ generation (no offense to my mom and dad, whom I’ve never known to like CCR). I’ll never understand their appeal or why they were – and still are – so popular.
That’s my list. Who else do you think belongs here? Let me know in the comments section below.