Amplified Observations: Famous musicians, like the Beastie Boys and Bee Gees, switched genres, but why?

This column isn’t anything groundbreaking, but I thought these musicians had an interesting start.

During the inception of a band or music project, musicians pretty much have carte blanche over what they sound like. For example, Vampire Weekend members once said in an interview that they based their sound on punk rock and African music, a combination that works for their musical ideas. But what if a group’s initial style doesn’t conform to what it wishes to achieve?

Well, then maybe it’s either time to plug in or unplug or even throw the guitar in the nearest dumpster.

Many musicians over the past century to present day have ditched one method or framework of making music in favor of another, which oftentimes led to the reason we know their names.

In 1981, Beastie Boys started out playing hardcore punk in a crowded New York scene. Yet, after a few releases, including 1982’s Polly Wog Stew, which is solid in its own right, and touring, the group decided to switch up its style. Rick Rubin signed the group to his new Def Jam Recordings label, and the three New Yorkers put out a series of hip-hop albums including 1988’s Paul’s Boutique, an LP that progressed the genre in both lyricism and production that uses heavy sampling. Not to mention, the group most likely gained much more fame than it ever would have playing hardcore punk. Those sellouts poseurs.

Yet, not every group turns to the turntables. In fact, sometimes groups simply unplug or plug in. After a few years of playing in the loud rock band Heatmiser, Elliott Smith found the most success of his career through his light spoken, mostly acoustic, solo projects, including albums such as Roman Candle and Either/Or. Conversely, Marc Bolan’s band Tyrannosaurus Rex released four folk albums before glam rock possessed the group’s soul, it shortened its name to T. Rex, and it recorded hits like “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” and “Jeepster.” Sometimes, a little distortion goes a long way.

In fact, building off the latter conversion, waves of musical styles often contribute to bands changing sounds, as well. Would The Bee Gees still be singing doo-wop, vocal ballads in 1975 if disco hadn’t infected pop culture? And would The Beatles still have been singing tween-esque, lovey-dovey pop songs if the ’60s hadn’t exploded with drugs and psychedelia?

Perhaps, but likely not.

Musicians should have the moral obligation not to celebrate the irresponsible act, a subject that promotes dangerous behavior with no redemptive qualities.

So, in essence, an artist’s style or genre tends to be caused by a lack of success, a new musical trend or a personal move toward a more appropriate way of making music. Those moves might not be met with universal acclaim, but what does that even matter, really? If artists don’t like the music they’re making, then how could anyone else? It’s easy to tell when something is crafted with effort and care or made solely for the royalties.

Luke Furman is a sophomore studying journalism and a reporter for The Post. Do you have a favorite artist that switched genres? Tweet him @LukeFurmanOU or email him at


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