Performers/Artists Who Move with the Times versus Those Who Don't

Britney’s performance last night made me think of this. Some artists (like her) don’t adapt and change, and some do. Madonna’s made a career out of reinventing herself.

The Bee Gees come to mind–they were around for a while before disco hit. When it did, they also changed.

I get the feeling that had he lived (or had the band stayed together), Sid Vicious, as well as the Sex Pistols, wouldn’t have adapted to the eighties and its sound all that well. I’m not sure, though–is changing from heroin to cocaine difficult?

Any others?

Elton John has adapted well; he started out as damn close to folkie in the early '70s; went disco fabulous in the late 70s/early 80s; and has continued putting out hit music all along.

Johnny Rotten adapted just fine. Public Image Ltd was a viable (albeit fringy) band all through the 80’s.

I’ve always felt that David Bowie keeps changing his image with the times.

Green Day. I thought their album American Idiot was spot-on with timing, and their sound evolved into something a lot more sophisticated. They grew up! Awwww… (And some people might think I’m nuts, but I think that album is incredible when listened to from start to finish. It’s like some kind of beautiful classical/rock opus that works in movements. The songs individually are less powerful than the whole album put together.)
And though I am a huge fan, I have to list Aerosmith as a band who refused to evolve, or at least failed trying to.

My vote is for Paul Simon. He seems to have been relevant in any number of decades.

'50s - Hey Schoolgirl (with Garfunkel as “Tom and Jerry”)
'60s - with Garfunkel, any number of albums
'70s - solo career, any number of albums
'80s - fell off a bit, then back big time with Graceland
'90s - The Rhythm of the Saints, then mostly anthologies
'00s - Surprise

He seems to keep changing, and inspiring new artists all the time. And even though Capeman was less than well received, it was a case of trying to push some boundaries.

How about the Beatles? What was it, about four years from “Love Me Do” to “I am the Walrus”? They weren’t around for decades like some of the others mentioned here but pushed popular music forward in a short space of time.

By way contrast you have Oasis, who as far as I’m aware have changed their sound very little in the last twelve or so years. Ironic as their music is so obviously influenced by the Beatles.

I unabashedly loved American Idiot, but I don’t think that Green Day has changed in the tiniest since 39/Smooth.

Tom Waits always moves with the times, just not the present time. He has had a very distinct sound for every decade, though:

Folksy singer-songwriter in the early '70s
Boozy, bluesy beatnik in the '70s and early '80s
Mysterious world traveler and musicologist in his eclectic '80s period
Experimental and dissonant with bizarre percussion and homemade instruments in the '90s
Older and wiser raconteur, poet, hobo, balladeer in the last decade.

I think there is a huge difference between an artist changing his/her persona and changing his/her music. Madonna has constantly changed her image, but, other than changing from pop crap (Like a Virgin) to club music crap (Ray of Light) I don’t think the music has changed much. David Bowie had a bit more of a musical change (from Ziggy glam to pop China Girl), but was also more of an image change than a music change. On the other hand, Queen changed their music (from operatic to harmonic to disco with Another One Bites the Dust and more pop crap after that), but didn’t really change their image all that much.

And then you have bands that make the same general type of music, but remain successful over a long period of time, like U2 (which did get more dancy/poppy at times) or Bruce Springsteen. But as far as adaptability of music, I think the Beatles progressed more than a vast majority of bands. Also, oddly enough, Led Zepplin made a lot of music that mixed in bits and pieces of different types, from white boy blues to acoustic to symphonic to Indian etc.

Village People: They were hot hot hot disco up until about 1980 - 1981 when they went from disco giants to disco flops virtually overnight. Their fictional biographical musical / comedy movie Can’t Stop the Music failed and the disco world collapsed. They then ditched some of the mustaches and wiped out the mishmash of blue collar costumes in favor of a more space age glam look and androgynous makeup with their next album, Renaissance. They dropped the disco beat and violins in favor of new wave keyboards. Result: ugh!

Duran Duran: They started as an “edgy” new wave group with their first album … at least as “edgy” as one can be with frilly shirts, in about 1980. They went mainstream and hit it big with huge new wave hit albums through 1986, Rio and Seven and the Ragged Tiger. At this point, they defined the times instead of vice versa. Then, they went more jazzy and funky with Notorious in an effort to become more “respected” instead of being seen as just a teeny girl pop band. The music scene shifted to more house / dance, and rap was on its way up, and the band followed suit with Big Thing and Liberty. The music scene shifted to grunge and keyboards fell out of sight. The band went more soft rock with The Wedding Album. Then, og help them, they tried rapping on Thank You. A few rock albums later, and they are trying to stay “relevant” by teaming up with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake with Red Carpet Massacre, which is due out in November. Result: We’ll see, but their efforts to change with the times have not gone well, except for Ordinary World and Come Undone.

The Beatles didn’t move with the times, they moved the times.

I’ll vote for Paul Simon as well.

The Rolling Stones seems to have reinvented themselves maybe seven times:
The Beginning - 1964(the unBeatles)
1964 - 1969(when they began to write songs)
1969 - 1974(beginning with “Honky Tonk Women”)
1974 - 1982(beginning with “It’s Only Rock 'n Roll”)
1982 - 1991(when they left Atlantic)
1991 - 1999(the solo years)
1999 - Now(reunion)

He does! I saw him in the 80s and also about 4 years ago. He sounds great, looks great, and I didn’t get a hint of a geezer vibe.

From Britney’s-slightly-naughtier-sister to trashed-out-punkette to big-band-belter… Christina Aguilera

Take it from someone who has listened to practically every song she’s ever written, hundreds and hundreds of times: her music has changed. Whether it’s changed for the better or worse is up for debate, but it’s definitely different.

Oooh, Friar Ted, Christina Aguilera is a good one.

While there may be something to be said for changing to suit the times, guys like Johnny Cash and Tony Bennett made their big comebacks by NOT changing with the times, and waiting for the audience to rediscover what they’d been doing all along.

The best example I can think of in vintage jazz (my area of knowledge) is Coleman Hawkins. He started playing dance band music with Fletcher Henderson, where he learned a lot about improvisation from Louis Armstrong. Unlike a lot of early jazz musicians, Hawkins changed his style when the swing era came along. He may have been the only early jazz musician to embrace be-bop.

Many of the early jazz musicians changed little over time. Sidney Bechet sounded pretty much the same at all points of his long career. That’s not to say I don’t like him - he’s one of my favorites.

I’d argue your stance on Johnny Cash. He made his most recent comeback and crossed over to an entirely new, young, hip audience when he recorded the American sessions with producer Rick Rubin, largely performing covers of modern rock and pop songs by U2, Depeche Mode, nine inch nails, the Beatles, and Nick Cave, to name a few. He was always an important presence in music, and always cool, but the five American albums really made him a household name again in the last few years of his life.