Before the torches are lit and the pitchforks are sharpened, read the next line. Most of the often-overrated records mentioned in this opinion-based blog/list do NOT completely suck. Admittedly, some do suck quite a bit, but some are really good and even groundbreaking but are often held in too high of an esteem by critics and fans alike. In addition to the records being overrated, each of them celebrate a major anniversary this year of at least 25 years (or significantly longer). Because of society's infatuation with numbers that end in 5 or 0, you'll probably hear a lot about them this year.
Like movies or books or food, enjoying music is also a subjective (and sometimes lonely) practice. There is rarely a wrong or right when it comes to what you choose to like or dislike, unless your jam of choice is something along the lines of the latest Kid Rock record or early Limp Bizkit (not to imply that any era of Limp Bizkit is any good). If that’s your cup of tea, well, that’s just plain wrong. Stop reading right now or, if you see the error of your ways, please continue reading, because all of these records are better than anything Kid Rock or Limp Bizkit ever did.
What makes a record overrated? The answer is rooted in the subjective, for sure, but most discerning music fans can name a few records off the top of their head that everyone seems to love but they just don’t like or even understand why anyone would make a big deal out of it. Some of the records on this list have been critical darlings, either when they came out or decades later, and some have been just wildly popular with the fans and sold enough to buy somebody, at very least, a nice new Chrysler. Regardless of the reason, deserved or otherwise, the following records are popular for the wrong reasons, or just plain overrated.
There is no particular order here outside of a chronological one, so this is just a handful of records that aren’t as good as you think, or in a couple of cases, aren't good at all.
The Beatles – Yesterday and Today (1966)
Might as well slap half the fans of rock 'n' roll right in the face by putting the Beatles on any list that is not based completely in something positive, and Yesterday and Today is probably underrated when it comes to some of the band’s more well-known work, but overrated when it comes to being included with other classic albums from 50 years ago. It got a ton of notoriety for its controversial cover depicting the lovable Liverpudlians in butcher smocks with doll heads and red meat. Bloodier would have been better, but it was 1966, of course. Either way, perhaps they knew they had to do something to jazz things up, because they basically mailed half of this one in.
There are gems here, of course. “Yesterday” is as beautiful as rock 'n' roll gets, as is “We Can Work It Out,” and “Day Tripper” and “Drive My Car” are totally rockin’ songs that, along with “Doctor Robert” and “And Your Bird Can Sing” probably helped to launch the '70s and '80s U.K. mod scene as much as any other previous recordings had. In fact, if you can listen to a band like The Jam or Oasis and not hear the influence of this record, you need to give Yesterday and Today a listen. A very good record, by any standards, but thanks to its cover and the desire to canonize anything done by these guys, still overrated.
The Runaways – The Runaways (1976)
There’s enough ugliness associated with this band with the rape allegations made by bass player Jackie Fox (Fuchs) against band manager/Svengali Kim Fowley in 2015. While it is painful to admit that someone as amazing as Joan Jett was part of an incredibly overrated record (and band), it’s true. Listening to The Runaways is painful. Sure, “Cherry Bomb” is a great song, but nothing else on the record comes close to it. Fowley’s weird pop/hard rock crossover song writing is all over this record, as is an early Jett composition, “You Drive Me Wild,” which is okay, at best.
The instrumentation on The Runaways is confident for a first effort by a young band, but one has to question if the performances are cleaned up by some slick production. Fox didn’t play on the record as a session bass player (Nigel Harrison of Blondie was used), which explains some of the sophisticated (although utterly cheesy in parts, even by '70s standards) bass lines. Lead guitar player Lita Ford, though, was already showing some pretty inventive guitar work in 1976 and deserves a lot of credit for making this album as popular as it has been. The album closer, “Dead End Justice,” just takes the main riff from “Cherry Bomb” and regurgitates it for twice as long. This album is basically just a slightly more punk, all-female version of the Kiss records of the time, which brings us to the next record on this list, on which Fowley has songwriting credits.
Kiss – Destroyer (1976)
Like The Runaways, Destroyer starts off with what is maybe the high point of the record. “Detroit Rock City” is a great song. Arguably, it’s the best song Kiss ever did (or will do, since Gene Simmons is so greedy he’ll undoubtedly dust off the band for at least one more record), and nothing on this record touches it, although Peter Criss’ song “Beth” is a classic as well. Destroyer went gold in about six weeks, and has even made the previously mentioned Rolling Stone top 500 all-time records list at number 489. In 1976, if you didn’t have this record in your collection, you were either bitten by the disco craze or a communist.
“Great Expectations” is a ridiculous reminder of how the dominance of the drug culture on the late '60s and early '70s carried a lengthy hangover. It’s no wonder punk rock began to blow up around this time, because this type of pablum was spoon-fed to way too many young people. Kiss, who often attempted to ape The Who in terms of big, bass-driven, and often anthemic songwriting, which typically fell way short of matching anything their British idols accomplished, did everything they could on this record to eclipse the heights reached by their first three records. Luckily, they still had the makeup on at this time and some pretty bitchin’ album art to make up for this weak attempt at expanding their sound. Forty minutes of fart noises would have been better.
Rush – 2112 (1976)
2112 is a great record, but it is totally overrated.
For prog rock fans, this album is right up there, but it makes this list because there are several Rush records that are definitely better from start to finish, namely Moving Pictures (1981), A Farewell to Kings (1977), and Fly By Night (1975). 2112 contains some amazing instrumental parts where drummer Neil Peart, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and bass-playing keyboardist and lead vocalist Geddy Lee lock in together and rock out with their proverbial cocks out, but there are moments where the album drags as well. At times, from “Discovery” through “Soliloquy,” the title track/anthology makes you wish for “The Temples of Syrinx” to come back or the “Grand Finale” to kick in sooner.
Side two of 2112 (or tracks two through seven if you are a CD or digital fan) is pretty pedestrian – well played, of course, as is all Rush, but nothing nearly as interesting as the high points of “2112” itself. One consolation is that 2112 is still better than anything Rush has put out in the past 25 years. If you were lucky enough to catch Rush in concert, you know they were the real deal in terms of playing prowess and utter power, but sadly, they have recently retired from touring.
Aerosmith – Rocks (1976)
Singer Stephen Tyler’s lips aren’t the only thing that’s bloated. Aerosmith’s Rocks' reputation as a classic American rock record by, according to the band’s promotion team, the greatest American rock band, is a pantheon to all things overrated. The band’s legendary appetite for drugs definitely played a key role in the creation of this ridiculously overblown record. Bass player Tom Hamilton’s performance almost saves it, especially on “Last Child,” which is about as infectious as anything Aerosmith ever did. But it still comes up a tad short.
Even in “Last Child,” Tyler regularly sings off-key, yet nobody cared. This is a common theme throughout the record. Rocks is ranked number 176 on Rolling Stone’s top 500 albums list. A small travesty, but what can you do? Hopefully, in the future, 325 better records will come out, or the venerable magazine will hire some better critics. Rocks is highly influential in the creation of other over-hyped records, as Slash (Guns and Roses), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), and James Hetfield (Metallica) have all cited the record as formative for themselves and the development of their famous bands.
“Back in the Saddle Again” is probably the most famous song off the record, and like the Runaways and Kiss offerings above, follows the trend of the best song on the album being the first song. There is some good riffage here and there, though, and it is a very listenable record, but certainly not as good as it is pumped up to be. “Get the Lead Out” is nice little homage to Led Zeppelin, both in name and how the song opens up in a manner very similar to Zeppelin’s formula, but the very next song, “Lick and a Promise,” is a great example of Tyler’s penchant for silly sexual innuendo and sophomoric lyric writing. The dumbing down of America owes a few nods to Aerosmith along the way.
Rolling Stones – Black and Blue (1976)
1976 was a strange year. Black and Blue by the Rolling Stones makes this list because it went platinum and spent four weeks at number one on the U.S. record charts when there were much better options. For example, the Ramones and Warren Zevon both put out killer eponymous records in 1976, and AC/DC released High Voltage, and all of them were highly underrated at the time. Black and Blue is a meandering mess, to say the least, and also the debut of Ron Wood as a full-time member of the recording band. “Fool to Cry” is the closest thing to even a “good” Stones song here, and it’s not that great.
While there really isn’t one truly memorable track on the record, the stink of disco hangs over the record. Singer Mick Jagger had been spending way too much time in the New York dance clubs, and Keith Richards was clearly more devoted to cocaine than his guitar at this point in his career. Perhaps this record was the reason they woke up from their drowsiness to crank out the excellent Some Girls in 1978. Some fans will point out the link to reggae on “Cherry Oh Baby,” but the Stones fail this crossover attempt miserably and probably pissed off most reggae fans and musicians when this clunker came out. Based on his vocal delivery, it seems Jagger was only a step away from donning some blackface and fake dreads in the studio.
Grateful Dead – Steal Your Face (1976)
Steal Your Face is a mess. Perhaps it isn’t truly overrated, as it was never really a critical darling like others in this list, but its inclusion comes mainly from the iconic album art that almost any rock 'n' roll fan recognizes instantly. Because of the art, the title of the record will be forever linked to the mystique of the Dead. For Dead fans, the album is an afterthought at best, as are most of their albums put out by record labels. Live board and bootleg recordings of the best Grateful Dead shows are typically way more sought after than anything else the band has done, recording-wise, and if you really need to hear good, live Dead, check out Reckoning (1980).
Metallica – Master of Puppets (1986)
Like Pet Sounds, Yesterday and Today, and 2112, Master of Puppets is a really good record that gets a little too much credit. Some might say it is the second-to-last great Metallica recording (if you include The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-revisited) and in that, they are probably correct, although …And Justice For All has some great moments. Frankly, though, Kill’em All and Ride The Lightning were way better records, and did not have the same symptom of the songs being too long that is frequently present throughout Master of Puppets.
Bass players everywhere can tout this one as the last album with the late Cliff Burton, who was beloved for his playing style and forever being completely locked in with Lars Ulrich, but Burton was also on the first two Metallica full-lengths as well. Songs like “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” and “Orion,” looking back, were warning signs of what was to come from the Bay Area metal masters. Unfortunately, after this one, it was all down here from there.
R.E.M. – Out of Time (1991)
This album is responsible for the lowest end of the R.E.M. spectrum, “Shiny Happy People,” to one of the highest, “Low,” which is a greatly underappreciated song by the Athens, Georgia, alternative-rock heroes. Out of Time didn’t win the Grammy for album of the year in 1991, but it was certainly nominated. It was also the album that arguably made R.E.M. a household name, and like what Master of Puppets did for Metallica, marked the beginning of the end of the band’s excellence.
Post-Out of Time R.E.M. never hit the heights of albums like Life’s Rich Pageant (1986), Murmur (1983), or Fables of the Reconstruction (1985). “Losing My Religion” became the most recognizable song R.E.M. had ever put out, thanks primarily to MTV playing the video seemingly once per hour, and it eventually won the Grammy award for best song. Outside of “Losing My Religion” and “Low,” there really isn’t a pleasantly memorable song on the record, and “Shiny Happy People” has probably been responsible for more radio stations being turned off than any other popular song in history. How lucky were the people who really got into R.E.M. because of this record and got to discover the other six albums that came before it?
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Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch – Music For The People (1991)
This album is a joke. How it got to be platinum should be a mystery except for the fact front man Mark Wahlberg, who became uber-famous as an actor, fit into a niche in the pop/rap world because Vanilla Ice and the Beastie Boys opened the doors for him. For many of us, the world would have been a better place in 1991 if the hit song “Good Vibrations” off of this record had never existed. We could hear “Come on, come on, come on” without cringing.