In most cases, formerly dangerous is code for sellout. While the artists on this list may not all have totally reneged on their creative integrity, what they all have in common are careers that (1) started amidst controversy, legal troubles, and/or rumors and reports of literally dangerous (to fans and musicians alike) living, on and off stage, and (2) careers that have slowed to a drip in light of adult responsibilities and ultimatums from loved ones and physicians alike. For better or worse, the debauched antics and controversial posturing that endeared many of these artists to millions of their fans were financially and physically unsustainable.
Not surprisingly, the majority of bands and frontmen profiled here play(ed) punk rock or heavy metal music; many are considered pioneers in their respective genres, but all have become more symbolic figureheads or bobble-headed caricatures of hard rock culture. Many still record and perform, but none of these artists still instill fear in the hearts of overprotective parents or anxiety in concertgoers seated in the pit, pre-mosh. Of course, an unincarcerated, boring rockstar is better than a dead or otherwise silenced one; hence, value judgments aside, here are 10 Bands That Used To Be Dangerous.
10. Ozzy Osbourne
John “Ozzy” Osbourne was better known through most of the 70’s and 80’s as the Prince of Darkness and godfather of heavy metal. Not only are Ozzy and his bandmates in Black Sabbath credited with creating the genre out of Led Zeppelin’s mysticism, the Beatles’ rock & roll roots, and punk rock’s shift to overdriven guitars and dark lyrical content, the Brit-born vocalist also set the precedent for the no-holds-barred lifestyle of excess and self-abuse that is forever associated with metal music. As a reality TV personality however, Ozzy is a walking anti-drug ad; shaky and addled from a life of excess.
The punk ethos around commercial success is often contradictory, with some of the mind that getting a countercultural song on the radio is a sonic f– you to the mainstream, and realizing bills must be paid, selves fed, families supported, kids raised, all with money. Others call heresy when bands profit off of their art or make a business around releasing underground music. Madness were self-described amphetamine abusers despite being a ska punk band with nerdy trumpets and trombones blaring alongside toothy guitars and off-beat drums, but lost much clout as nonconformists after appearing in and lending their music to a 1980 Honda commercial.
Aerosmith are one of the few bands that even got remotely close to emulating the stripped down, slightly-subversive white blues rock aesthetic and lifestyle that made the Rolling Stones legends on and off stage. For some reason, lead singers gaining sobriety seems statistically to coincide with their selling out their band’s brand by lending their tunes, talents, or their likeness to advertising candy (Skittles, in frontman and former heroin-addict and scarf enthusiast Steven Tyler‘s case) recording watered-down but massively orchestrated pop rock anthems for disaster movie soundtracks (Armageddon), or judging other inconsistently talented people on reality TV (American Idol).
Losing virtuoso bass player, Cliff Burton, to a tour bus accident would have stopped most bands in their tracks; giving them pause to debate whether the risky life of a touring musician is worth eventual super-stardom. The band carried on but coped with drinking and drugs to eventually garner the nickname, Alcoholica, drummer and lead guitarist later copping to coke addictions. In 1995, Metallica found themselves defending their foray into hard blues-rock to metalhead purists, but fans were doubly shocked when the band sued select users of Napster, becoming more of a danger to their waning fan base if anybody.
Soldiers in the KISS Army a.k.a. fans of the band are much less likely than either the Insane Clown Posse’s posse or Satanic black metal fans to actually commit crimes at concerts; even if all three acts wear the same leather, spikes, and so-called “corpsepaint” makeup. Between literally putting their own blood into the printing press that ran off copies of KISS comics, and guest voicing their comic book characters in a spooky animated Scooby Doo movie, this band may have seemed dangerous to parents when they first came on the scene, but quickly revealed the shock-value to be pure marketing strategy.
5. John Lydon
John Lydon fronted Sex Pistols, the band that essentially introduced the world to the first wave of British punk rock. This band was essentially a boy band but whose outfits consisted of bondage gear and safety pins, clown-meets-Native American hairstyles, heroin addiction and behavioral problems. Being revealed as a caricature in later interviews was not surprising if disappointing. Lydon brought anarchy to the UK but his peers clung tighter to their integrity until they disbanded or OD’d, whichever came first. The “Johnny Rotten” facade crumbled as he aged, but the nail in his countercultural coffin was his appearance in a Country Life butter commercial.
4. Marilyn Manson
If Ozzy Osbourne is the Prince of Darkness to metalheads, then Marilyn Manson, the Antichrist Superstar, is the second coming. As with the founder of heavy metal, some of the controversy surrounding their music came from overblown rumors about onstage antics ending with dead bats, in Ozzy’s case, or dead puppies, in Manson’s. Rumors aside, Marilyn’s resume does boast years of verifiable drug abuse, legal troubles over lewd conduct, self-mutilation and violence against band mates. These days the shock rocker is more likely to make headlines for selling his original artwork or signature brand absinthe, or for being charged with civil rather than criminal offenses.
3. Green Day
Billie Joe landed himself on this list with a very un-“punk” retraction and apology for an alcohol(ism) induced rant or meltdown (depending on your view of how rowdy even pop-punk artists are expected to act) at 2012’s iHeartRadio festival. While nobody should ever encourage addiction, it is debatable whether, post-social media, Green Day’s typically feisty, twitchy, aggro frontman would have been told to enter rehab for cursing seated audience members, mooning them, and hurling insults at festival organizers and the pop acts on the bill. This band went from wearing dresses and starting fights and bonfires during shows, to apologizing to corporate concert sponsors and Justin Bieber.
To be clear, it is a good thing that Marshall Mathers a.k.a. rap god Eminem is no longer a danger to himself or others. It is just a statement of fact that Mathers has had to eschew prescription pills, constant legal troubles around 1st amendment rights or criminal charges, and a high profile, volatile love life, for sobriety and stability as breadwinner and positive role model to his daughters. This evolution from new king of controversy to recovered addict and responsible father to three is mirrored in the rapper’s album titles, from the self-involved Eminem Show and Encore through Relapse and Recovery.
1. The Offspring
Only in 2006 at the Rock Am Ring festival did this originally-hardcore punk band from Orange County finally play the less popular, more aggressive tracks from their runaway hit album Smash. Leading up to and during their first tour for this record, The Offspring’s shows, as with the rest of the late-80’s So Cal punk outfits, quickly gained a reputation for getting rowdy to the point of violence. Mellowed moshpits aside, lyricist Dexter Holland started with songs about presidential assassination and racist police brutality, the latter involving racial slurs, and ended up half-rapping about “Cruising California” and recording ballads like, “Kristy, Are You Ok?”