10 Artists Who Switched Genres - Rolling Stone
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10 Artists Who Switched Genres

The Byrds go country, Katy Perry ditches Christian music and more

iggy pop James Osterbergiggy pop James Osterberg

James Osterberg aka Iggy Pop.

Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Prior to the Academy of Country Music Awards show in 2007, Hootie and the Blowfish front man Darius Rucker shared a little secret about himself.

He really dug Hee Haw.

And just as he professed his love for the banjo-heavy variety show, Rucker announced his transition from earworm college pop to modern country. Of course, he’s not the first artist to cross genre borders. (Snoop Lion, people!) For some, the genre move was just a passing fancy (Pat Boone’s foray into metal). For others, the switch was instigated by a lineup change (the Moody Blues leaving rhythm & blues). Meanwhile, a few are still exploring their genre journey. (Jewel: folk/pop/country . . . ?)

Darius Rucker Making ‘True Believers’ With Country Music

With Rucker set to release his third country album, True Believers, this week, we explore our Top 10 Genre Jumpers.

Listen to the Bee Gees of the Sixties, and you’ll notice a glaring omission: Barry Gibb’s falsetto. The English brother band started out as a harmonizing Beatlesque act that delved into psychedelic and folk rock. While they had success with that early on, the Brothers Gibb lost steam in the early Seventies. So in 1974, Barry Gibb adopted his trademark high vocals, the brothers ditched their turtlenecks for bell bottoms, and – with John Travolta’s help – became disco deities.

A hard rocker who once opened for Ozzy Osbourne and Krokus, Bolton’s early-Eighties audiences were known to pump their fists in the air and shout, “BOLTON RULES!” But his rockin’ out days – both as a solo act and as a member of the band Blackjack – left him broke and dogged by eviction notices. So in 1982, he began writing pop ballads, first for other artists. Then he started writing the ballads for himself – while also offering adult contemporary covers of R&B classics – and soon his mullet was mesmerizing women everywhere.

Even as the harmonizing Byrds helped pioneer folk rock and psychedelic rock, they offered a hint to their future when they covered the country hit “Satisfied Mind” in 1966. Once Gene Clark and David Crosby left the band, the band flocked toward the genre. Raised on bluegrass, bass player Chris Hillman took on a greater role in the group, finding a country ally in new member Gram Parsons. Their work on Sweetheart of the Rodeo in 1968 helped pioneer country rock.

In the late Sixties, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Peter Green , members of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, formed Fleetwood Mac, a British blues band best known for “Black Magic Woman.” Despite several lineup changes, the band remained blues-based through the mid-Seventies, when Fleetwood asked producer Keith Olsen to play a sample of his work as his band considered using Olsen’s studio. Fleetwood was so impressed with the guitarist on that recording – Lindsey Buckingham – that when singer Bob Welch bailed, he asked Buckingham to join the group. Buckingham agreed, but only if his Buckingham Nicks partner, Stevie Nicks, could also join. Led by the duo’s mainstream rock style, Fleetwood Mac ditched the blues and became mega-stars.

Long before he was the shirtless Godfather of Punk, James Osterberg was a fully clothed drummer who performed for a blues band named the Prime Movers, gaining an education playing with blues legends like Big Walter Horton and J.B. Hutto. While performing in Chicago blues joints in the mid-Sixties, Osterberg decided he wanted to front his own band, taking the blues in another direction. So he renamed himself Iggy Stooge – later Iggy Pop – and put together his band the Stooges, launching punk.

The daughter of two pastors, Katy Hudson grew up in a strict Christian household, where MTV and pop music were no-no’s. A teenaged Hudson released an eponymous Christian album in 2001. While the record received a good review from Christianity Today, Perry – secretly inspired by Queen‘s “Killer Queen” – wanted to go mainstream, a la Amy Grant. So she studied under professional songwriters in Nashville and enlisted the help of producer Glen Ballard, who co-wrote Alanis Morissette‘s Jagged Little Pill. Eight years after her debut, the newly named Katy Perry had grabbed the forbidden fruit, making the crossover with her pop album One of the Boys.

In 1982, the Beastie Boys were head-shaved punks, whose album Polly Wog Stew featured music that was loud, fast and totally oblivious to the notion of melody. But the thrash punkers soon began experimenting with hip-hop, and their sound became less Bad Brains and more Run-D.M.C. Once they caught the eyes of Def Jam co-founders Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, they became a rarity – an all-white rap act – who would help make hip-hop mainstream.

As the lead singer of O.C. ska band No Doubt, Stefani’s punk-derived music, Riot Grrrl fashion and kick-and-punch dance moves projected an image of female empowerment. But during a break from No Doubt, Stefani – her look becoming more starlet than skater – decided to do a solo album influenced by non-ska inspirations, including Madonna and Salt ‘N Pepa. After two solo dance records, she returned to No Doubt with the 2012 release Push and Shove.

Singer Belinda Carlisle was briefly a drummer with punk band the Germs, and the Go-Go’s began in the L.A. punk scene, once sharing rehearsal space with punk trailblazers X. The band’s early gigs were performed at punk-friendly venues, like the Whisky A Go Go and the Masque. But as new members Charlotte Caffey and Gina Shock joined the band, the group moved more toward New Wave-inspired, feel-good pop tunes, such as “Vacation” and “Our Lips Are Sealed.” Carlisle’s power-pop solo career would complete the transition from underground to ubiquitous.

With his long hair, pink sunglasses and earrings, Rogers was known as Kenny the Hippie in the late Sixties. Having already dipped into jazz and rockabilly, his rock band, First Edition, scored a pop-psychedelic hit in 1967 with “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” (Many would discover Rogers’ past three decades later, when the song appeared in The Big Lebowski.) But after leaving the band in 1973, Rogers struggled for four years until he broke through as a country solo act with “Lucille.” A year later, his song “The Gambler” would pave a path to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and several made-for-TV roles as gambler Brady Hawkes.


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