That was the recurring theme when it came to creating Slacker’s brand-new station, the “55 Best Ideas in Music History.” The brainchild of music historians (and two of the funniest guys we know), Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum, this station counts down the creative curveballs that left lasting impressions on the music world. Most of these ideas warrant a big, fat “I told you so” from their respective artists, as they started out as pipe dreams that others swore would never work.
“55 Best Ideas in Music History” spans several decades and genres, with an eclectic mix of musical gambles. For instance, what was Adele thinking when she made an entire album about one bad relationship? She was thinking all the way to the bank. Trailblazing folk icon Bob Dylan infuriated fans when he dared to plug in on an album and on tour. But adding a little electricity to his repertoire certainly received more cheers than jeers.
Slacker caught up with Craig and Rob, who also host the station, to reminisce on these musical milestones. The guys, who co-authored the hilariously poignant book, I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, explained to us how they crafted this station and which off-the-wall musical moves shocked them the most.
Slacker: How did you come up with this list of ideas and songs?
Craig: We thought about shifts that may have seemed unusual or profound at the time, but turned out to be the best thing [the artist] has ever done. We put a lot of hours in, researching and combing through the history of music, and we asked some friends for their opinions.
Rob: Let’s put the emphasis on “asked friends.” We like to crowd source as much as possible, so that other people are doing our work and we’re getting paid for it.
Slacker: A lot of these ideas were huge risks at the time, from sampling animal sounds on a song to publicly poking fun at Justin Bieber. What would you say is the biggest career risk on this station?
Craig: Biggest risk for whom? I’d say for him, really!
Rob: We’re talking about a risk/reward scenario. This shows how smart Taylor Swift is. There are lots of other less-smart women who’ve dated John Mayer and ended up miserable over it. She managed to make it work for her.
Rob: Another great example is Fleetwood Mac’s orgy. If you were in Fleetwood Mac and said to a friend, “Hey, what do you think of the idea of us all having sex with each other over a period of years?,” the friend would say, “Are you out of your mind? That’s a horrible idea!” And that’s why you should never listen to your friends. Fleetwood Mac ended up having multiple affairs with one another and then made one of the best rock records of all time, specifically about their affairs.
Slacker: A lot of these musical ideas also led to iconic moments in television and film — for instance, Blue Oyster Cult’s use of a cowbell in “Don’t Fear the Reaper” was hilariously parodied on “Saturday Night Live.” You also reference “Wayne’s World,” “The Sopranos” and “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” on this countdown. How did the big and small screens become such a big part of this station?
Craig: With “Bohemian Rhapsody” and songs like that, we wanted to tap into popular rock songs from the ‘70s and make you think about them in a new way. Plus, Rob and I think that scene in “Wayne’s World” was one of the greatest scenes in any movie in film history. And in the case of Blue Oyster Cult, it was an amazing parody of “Behind the Music” and gave the band an enormous boost.
Rob: I’d also say that Jimmy Fallon and The Roots help illustrate how we came up with this whole list: realizing we’re idiots. I remember when it was announced that the Roots were going to be Fallon’s late night band. I thought, “That’s a terrible idea. That’s never going to work.” Of course, Fallon and the Roots were right, and I was a moron. So this was a way for both of us to use our stupidity for our own personal gain.
Rob: We are both fascinated by Chris Gaines and have to restrain ourselves from not putting him in every list we do. But we’re working on the “55 Worst Ideas in Music History” right now, so maybe he’ll show up on that list.
Slacker: Without giving away your choice for the #1 best idea in music, what criteria played a part in choosing it?
Rob: The decision was once again motivated by laziness. Craig and I co-wrote a book about MTV, and it’s a topic that, for once, we know a lot about. We’d already done the research. Music videos are things we love, so this gets our personal preferences up at the top.
Craig: If you listen to pop radio today, it’s largely centered around urban music. [Our #1 pick] was really one of the primary agents to allow black pop music to become the dominant stream of pop music in America. While Dylan going electric was profound, it didn’t have the affect on music that this video had that still resonates today.
Check out our new station, “55 Best Ideas in Music History” to hear Craig and Rob’s picks for the risks that changed the course of music, along with their humorous, expert commentary. It’s a history lesson that will actually keep you awake! Also, check out the guys’ cleverly comedic ode to the good old days when MTV actually played music videos, I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution.