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Before the Birth of Cool: Rock Stars’ Early Bands

May 18, 2016

Rock stars are cool, but they don’t emerge fully formed. They have to pay their dues, and many paid their dues in bands far different from the ones that made them famous.
Billy Joel in Attila

Billy Joel

Billy Joel’s music is pretty simple: piano, singing, standard pop-rock backing band. It worked pretty well: Joel racked up 33 Top 40 hits before retiring in the late ‘90s. His first band, however: Attila, a psychedelic jazz/hard rock duo he formed with his friend Jon Small in 1970. The music encyclopedia All Music Guide called Atilla’s only album (on the cover of which Joel is dressed as a Hun warrior) “the worst album released in the history of recorded music.”

Trent Reznor

In 1983, Reznor formed a band in his native eastern Ohio called Option 30. The synth pop and New Wave band primarily played covers of songs by acts like Billy Idol and the Thompson Twins in bars and clubs throughout the Rust Belt. Three years later, Reznor left the band and formed Nine Inch Nails, one of the most successful alternative rock bands of the 1990s. (And in 2011, Reznor won an Academy Award for composing the score to The Social Network.)

Lenny Kravitz

In 1982, 18-year-old Lenny Kravitz talked his father into handing over his college fund to record a demo. Kravitz had it all worked out, developing a persona called “Romeo Blue,” straightening his hair and dying it blue and wearing blue contact lenses and blue eyeliner. The music itself: funky pop, obviously inspired by Prince. The demo worked, and Kravitz (or Romeo Blue, rather) was signed by IRS Records, but he never released an album. Undaunted, Kravitz dropped the persona and recorded his first album Let Love Rule in 1989.

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Philip Carroll

Where is Jason Newsted in Flotsam and Jetsam? Or Dave Mustaine? Or Shawn Drover of Megadeth? Or 2pac in Union Underground?

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