Top 10 Sell-Out Songs: You Can Actually Hear Artistic Integrity Disintergrate

Top 10 Sell-Out Songs: You Can Actually Hear Artistic Integrity Disintergrate

​So what if your favorite band's songs are featured in car commercials? Who cares if they hold the distinction of having the biggest selling digital album in history? That's not a bad thing, right?

Well, for many people, it is.

I don't know when "selling out" became such a big issue for fans of popular music, but it most definitely is. It often seems you can't have even a hint of commercial success lest you be labeled as a sell out.

However, what defines a sell out can often become muddled. A sell out is commonly defined as someone who sacrifices their integrity, morality or principles in exchange for money or success.


While some artists sell out and consequently achieve a new level of success while maintaining their original fans, others do so to much different results. I present to you ten artists who sold out -- as well as the exact moment, in song form, at which it happened.

10. Sugar Ray - "Fly" (1997)

Not many people knew about Sugar Ray before their 1997 hit single "Fly." Unfortunately, for the band and the purposes of this list, I just so happen to be one of those people. Sugar Ray's 1995 album Lemonade and Brownies is a very fast-paced, raucous nu-metal effort. Yes, Sugar Ray used to play nu-metal and even some punk rock. Compare, if you will, their 1995 song "Mean Machine" and "Fly." It's not even close. Hell, even the song "RPM," off their 1997 album Floored -- the album which featured "Fly" -- sounds nothing like "Fly." "Mean Machine" and "RPM" didn't land Sugar Ray lead singer Mark McGrath any Don't Forget The Lyrics! hosting gigs. "Fly" did.


9. Jefferson Airplane - "We Built This City" (1985)
There is an absolute, total 180 degree switch from Jefferson Airplane's "Jane" days to their awful, misguided "We Built This City" days. Now, I know Jefferson Airplane didn't record "We Built This City" -- it was Starship, a bastardization of Jefferson Airplane that included the bulk of the original band, Mickey Thomas and Grace Slick included. Sadly, Jefferson Airplane is the epitome of whoring yourself out to adapt to an evolving music scene. What is even more sad is that "We Built This City" was more successful -- far more successful -- than "White Rabbit," "Somebody To Love" and "Jane" ever were.

8. Muse - "Uprising" (2009)
I know I'm going to catch some shit for this one, so save it. If you think "Uprising" sounds similar to "Time is Running Out" or "Hysteria," then take those rose-tinted glasses off your ears. Muse have always had a bombastic, arena-rock sound. It took them until 2009 to tweak this with a touch of pop, effectively watering things down enough to land them some lucrative deals. I like Muse -- I saw them in concert a while ago and they put on quite a show. I'm not too far in the forrest to see the trees, however. I know they sold out, but it doesn't make them any less of a band. It's just the course of their career.

7. Genesis - "Invisible Touch" (1986)
Genesis was a spectacle of a prog-rock band in the 1970s. They crafted brilliant concept albums -- 1974's The Lamb Dies Down on Broadway -- and played 23-minute long songs. Lead singer Peter Gabriel then left the band in 1975, forcing then-drummer Phil Collins to fill in while the band searched for a replacement. A replacement was never found, and Genesis released Invisible Touch in 1986 -- the title track of which was the band's only U.S. hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July of that same year. "Invisible Touch" is a wee bit different from, say, "The Musical Box."

6. Green Day - "American Idiot" (2004)
It took Green Day four years after 2000's Warning to release their Grammy-winning, Broadway-influencing album American Idiot. And it took the band ten years to erase whatever punk rock profile they had created with 1994's brilliant Dookie. Now, Dookie sure as shit didn't get any Broadway musicals made in its honor, but it still sold incredibly well -- 8 million copies, in fact. The band was still an apolitical, rambunctious little trio from Berkeley with a penchant for masturbating. "Longview" was raw and edgy, "American Idiot" is a calculated, heavy-handed effort. Sure, the band didn't overhaul their sound to strike it big. Their subject matter changed, however, and the once fun, vociferant band changed, too.

5. Moby - "South Side" (2000)
It makes me angry to listen to the Moby song "Honey." This is all thanks to Moby's 1999 masterpiece Play, an album that gained the wunderkind worldwide acclaim, and probably served as the first time Marshall Mathers ever heard his work. I loved Play when it came out -- it had two charming singles in "Honey" and "Run On." Both songs sampled Blues vocals, creating a fantastic juxtaposition of that soulful singing style with electronic/house/ambient music. I had never heard anything like it before, and "Honey" pushed me over the edge -- the vocal track from blues singer Bessie Jones was irresistible. Little did I know there was "South Side" lurking on the album, with its guest vocal by known sell-out Gwen Stefani. "South Side" sounds nothing like "Honey" or "Run On," for that matter. Moby created this watered down, marketable song to get people to buy Play and probably immediately throw it away since the rest of the album sounds nothing like "South Side."

4. Black Eyed Peas - "Where Is The Love?" (2003)
The Black Eyed Peas exist only to piss people off these days. That's not because of the addition of Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson to the band or their commercial success. No, it's because a lot of people now have to admit to owning at least one Black Eyed Peas album. I know I do. I actually own two: 1998's brilliant Behind The Front and 2000's Bridging The Gap. If listening to Moby's "Honey" upsets me in such a way, listening to the lead single from Behind The Front, "Joints + Jam," affects me likewise. The anger comes from listening to such a fresh, original song knowing that the band's current success is predicated on trite, radio-friendly music. For the Black Eyed Peas, the shift towards recording such songs as "My Humps" and "Boom Boom Pow" began with 2003's "Where Is The Love?" The hook features Justin Timberlake and the song debuted new member Fergie. Now, will.i.am is a household name and many people don't know that the band really existed before "Where Is The Love." I suppose it's best that they don't.

3. OutKast - "Hey Ya!" (2003)
2003, it seems, was a grand year for hip hop artists to sell out. First, in June, "Where Is The Love?" marked the Black Eyed Peas big shift, then September brought OutKast's steady demise with "Hey Ya!" One could argue that things were headed down the sell out highway for OutKast back in 2000 with "Ms. Jackson," yet that song's success can't hold a candle to "Hey Ya!" My mother doesn't know the lyrics to "Ms. Jackson." She knows the lyrics to "Hey Ya!" Speakerboxx and Stankonia aside, OutKast once used to an innovative, original hip hop duo. They recorded such songs as "Elevators (Me & You)," "Tha Art of Storytellin' (Part One)'" and even "Rosa Parks." Just thinking about their 1994 debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik makes me sad. Big Boi saved some face with his warmly received, 2010 album Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty while André 3000 was in the movie Semi-Pro. Sure, this can all be attributed to Dré, since "Hey Ya!" is on his half of the double-solo album Speakerboxx/The Love Below. Howeverthat same double album still bears the name OutKast.

2. Kings of Leon - "Sex On Fire" (2008)

The inspiration for this list, Kings of Leon are perhaps one of rock's best-known bands. Notice I didn't say "alternative rock" or even -- gasp! -- "indie rock." No, they stopped playing that kind of music once 2008's Only By The Night hit store shelves. That watered-down, tame album featured the lead single "Sex on Fire," the final piece in the Kings' plan to conquer MTV. The legacy of songs like "Charmer," "Holy Roller Novocaine" and "Taper Jean Girl" die a little every time "Sex on Fire" or the equally as awful "Use Somebody" gets Top 40 radio airplay. Now lead singer Caleb Followill is a guest judge on Iron Chef America. I'll tell you what, a song like "Red Morning Light" sure as shit didn't land him that gig.

I know what you're thinking, "The inspiration for this stupid list didn't even take the top spot? Wow, number one must be a doozy." You're right, it is...


1. New York Dolls/David Johansen - "Hot Hot Hot" (1987)
Wait, wait -- the New York Dolls never recorded a song called "Hot Hot Hot." That's right, the band never recorded the song, but their figurehead/lead singer sure as hell did. David Johansen was the singer/songwriter of the massively influential punk band New York Dolls -- a band famous for their outlandish looks and personas, not to mention drug use. Hair metal and the Sunset Strip would have been nothing throughout the 1980s if it weren't for the New York Dolls. As well, the burgeoning, 1970s New York punk scene has the Dolls to thank for being its forefathers. The band's innovation was their unfortunate demise, as many felt they were far too ahead of their time to be a big commercial success, even by 1970s punk standards. Critics loved their albums but everyone else didn't much feel like buying them. 

For whatever reason, perhaps feeling the sting of commercial disappointment from his time as the New York Dolls' lead singer, David Johansen adopted an alter-ego -- Buster Pointdexter -- and recorded an eponymous album of calypso and lounge music covers. 1987's Buster Poindexter featured Johansen's version of the calypso song "Hot Hot Hot," originally written and recorded by Arrow in 1982. Johansen completely bastardized the song, helping his version become the most popular version amongst the hundreds of already existing covers. "Hot Hot Hot" has absolutely zero to do with Johansen's time with the New York Dolls -- songs like "Looking For A Kiss," "Personality Crisis" and "Babylon" are hundreds of thousands of miles away from "Hot Hot Hot." I know Johansen's time as Buster Pointdexter has artistically nothing to do with his time as the New York Dolls' lead singer, but it saddens me to know the same person that wrote "Looking For A Kiss" was responsible for the utterly atrocious "Hot Hot Hot." The godfather of the 1970s New York punk scene had to whore himself out to have a hit song, and for that, David Johansen takes the top spot on this list of monumental sell outs.

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