They say that you never get a second chance to make a first impression…unless you're a musician, of course. In what other world can you hate something with the white-hot fire of a thousand suns, only to discover one day that a switch involuntarily flipped in your head that makes you think, "You know what, I really like these guys!"? Truth be told, it happens to us nearly every day, and most of the time it's with a band or artist that we as music reviewers are supposed to love unconditionally but, for whatever reason, we just don't. Or at least didn't up until recently.
Call this the companion piece to our list earlier this year of bands that we just don't get – which was almost universally misinterpreted as a staff-wide condemnation, rather than each writer speaking for himself – only with a much more positive vibe. The Bullz-Eye writers bare their souls and confess to previous biases that have since turned to heartfelt crushes (or at the very least, tolerance of a band's existence). The list of acquired tastes is a who's who of Hall of Famers, critical darlings, and…Cobra Starship? Who let that guy in here?
Belle & Sebastian
Way back around the turn of the century, while working as a music writer for a mid-size daily newspaper, I received a review copy of Belle & Sebastian's Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant. I disliked pretty much everything about this album, from the title to the creepy girl looking into the mirror on the cover (or is it two girls?) to the liner notes about hipsters and Jesus to, most especially, the music. I had heard of this sprawling Scottish collective, and without much evidence had dismissed them as the very definition of "precious" and "twee." Then I had my evidence. Peasant is, in a word or three, pretty damn boring. A lot of it recalls ‘70s soft rock, without the fun or camp, or dreary chamber music. There's very little of Stuart Murdoch's pop genius that would mark the band's later albums.
Did I say genius? Well, yeah. A couple of years later I heard "Step Into My Office, Baby," from the 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress and was smitten. Was this the same band? I fell in love with "Waitress" and have since cherished each new release and the band's first two albums as well. It turns out Peasant was a low point in a stellar band's career. I still don't like it, but that's the sign of good relationship, right? Forgive and forget. – Jim Washington
Coheed & Cambria
There's only one thing I hate more than emo and that's prog, specifically Rush. So it's not surprising that I hated Coheed & Cambria when they first burst onto the scene since they were a combination of emo and prog, complete with a lead singer who sounded like the bastard lovechild of Geddy Lee and Neil Young. But their third album Good Apollo...Vol. 1 grabbed my attention in spite of all that, thanks to heavy metal riffs on tracks like the epic "Welcome Home." I thought that if a band is this willing to embrace the theatrics and flair of classic metal acts like Dio and Iron Maiden, I can't help but give them a chance. I went from hating them to loving them, seeing them live multiple times and playing their tracks on "Rock Band" ad nauseam. Now I think Coheed is one of the funnest bands in rock today, not afraid to go over the top (gratuitous Theremin solos!) and do whatever it takes to please their diehard fan base, including performing their first four albums in their entirety in concert over the course of four nights. Just don't ask to explain the space-opera concept that runs through all their albums. – James B. Eldred
It must have been 7th or 8th grade when I first saw the black & white video for Leonard Cohen's apocalyptic single, "First We Take Manhattan." Everything about it felt wrong to me. The odd combination of an old man on a beach singing in a monotone voice with tinny Casio keyboards behind him, along with the jarring lyrics just confused the hell out of me. Every time the local cable access channel played the clip, I would reach for the remote. As I got older and my musical tastes diversified, I would constantly read about Cohen and his influence on some of my favorite songwriters. Often when I read a glowing review about a Rufus Wainwright or Decemberists record, Cohen would be name-checked, but I remained prejudiced by my initial reaction to that video and stayed away.
Just a couple years ago, I got free passes to a screening to Lian Lunson's "Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man," a documentary on the life and music of the celebrated Canadian. My wife and I went out of pure curiosity, to finally try to understand what all the fuss was about. It did the job. Everything from the cover performances included in the film to the interview pieces with Cohen resonated with me. I went home and started downloading everything I could from the guy. All of a sudden songs like "If It Be Your Will" and "Tonight Will Be Fine" hit me like a ton of bricks. I've realized he's undoubtedly one of the finest lyricists of my lifetime and it probably just took a little living for me to grasp his work. In the time since we saw the documentary, my wife has become a complete Leonard Cohen fanatic and even skipped out on a friend's wedding to see him play a rare show here in L.A. In a songbook filled with one stunning line after the other, I'll leave you with one of my favorites from "Tower of Song" – "I said to Hank Williams/how lonely does it get? / Hank Williams hasn't answered yet / But I hear him coughing all night long / A hundred floors above me / In the tower of song." – Carlos Ramirez
My wife fell for these guys harder and more quickly than I did. When I first heard their theme song for "Snakes on a Plane," it never occurred to me that they'd be anything other than a one-hit wonder, and my opinion stayed that way even after I heard their debut album, While the City Sleeps, We Rule the Streets. It wasn't that it was bad; I just couldn't really imagine that they'd be able to produce anything else that would grab me in the same way as their debut single. My bad. You have to respect a band who senses how people feel about them and promptly serves up a single entitled "Guilty Pleasure," then follows it with a winking album title ("¡Viva La Cobra!") and hits the road to support it with the Really Really Ridiculously Good Looking Tour. And how did they first tease us with Album #3? By offering up a song called "Pete Wentz Is The Only Reason We're Famous." Cobra Starship's audience might consist predominantly of teenage girls, but I'm here to tell you that they aren't the only people who can appreciate them. – Will Harris
My first exposure to the Flaming Lips was seeing the video for "She Don't Use Jelly" on MTV's "Beavis and Butthead" show, which immediately pegged the Lips as a novelty in my mind (and not one that I even enjoyed all that much). How could one not see novelty in a song with a character who spreads Vaseline on her toast? This was kid stuff, and yes, I could be a silly kid, but where I drew my lines of tolerance for silliness were admittedly very arbitrary (example: I unironically enjoyed Mister Ed). As such, I completely shut out the Lips.
Fast forward five years later: I was just about finished with college, working at a record store, yet still very skeptical when a respected friend and coworker slipped me an advance copy of The Soft Bulletin in 1999 (10 years ago already?). His taste was generally pretty spot on, so I gave it a shot. From the first song, I heard a completely different band, one that was drawing inspiration from one of my all-time favorites – Brian Wilson. I came around almost instantaneously upon hearing "Race for the Prize," and even grew to dig "She Don't Use Jelly" too. How stupid could I have been all that time? Blame it on my youth. – Michael Fortes
Guided By Voices
The buzz was loud and clear on Bee Thousand, the lo-fi masterpiece by Dayton alt-rockers Guided by Voices. This was the record that everyone positively had to own, so I borrowed it from a friend of mine…and totally didn't get it. The songs aren't finished! Are these demos? When lead singer Robert Pollard – whose last name should be a synonym for ‘prolific' – saw a song to its completion, as he did on "Tractor Rape Chain," I was definitely into it, but too many of the songs felt like piss takes to me, so I politely stayed off the bandwagon. Five years later, he made "Teenage FBI" with Ric Ocasek, which I loved, but still didn't buy any of their records. Then they dropped Human Amusements at Hourly Rates, a compilation of Pollard's more, ahem, finished songs, and I finally bit, and the disc scarcely left my CD player for months afterward. And then, of course, the band broke up just when I was beginning to appreciate them. Luckily, they recorded 16 albums in 17 years before calling it quits. The only question now is: which one do I start with? – David Medsker
Kings of Leon
I've never been a fan of over-hyped bands. You know, the ones that are labeled as the next big thing by music fans who think they're cool just because their buddies, as well as snarky critics, think so. For me, Kings of Leon was one of those bands. I kept hearing about how epic they were, and would read in Rolling Stone or Paste about their proclaimed awesomeness. I'd go and listen to their tracks on iTunes, and would not buy a single track because the music moved me the way I'm moved by stale bread. What the hell was the hype all about? Then I inadvertently intrigued by the band's latest, Only by the Night because I'd heard that fans and critics were arguing amongst themselves that the band had lost its edge. Ah, the perfect time for a mainstream music fan like me to swoop in. I did, and almost instantly fell in love with the album. The music was more polished and melodic than Kings of Leon's earlier work, making it more attractive to me – but there was a pot-smoke-filled-arena quality about this set of tunes that brought me back to my teenage years of going to see bands like Yes, the Allman Brothers, Boston, and Black Sabbath. It was modern-day classic rock, and I couldn't stop listening. In fact, I'm still not sick of the album. – Mike Farley
Hard to believe that the site's most staunch supporter of Little Miss Understood once wanted nothing to do with her, but it's true. Mann's first big hit "Voices Carry," when she was still fronting ‘Til Tuesday, was cute and all, but once I heard "Love in a Vacuum" and those corny "Oh-oh, oh-oh" backing vocals, I checked out and wrote them off as new wave also-rans. Cut to late 1986, when the band dropped the decidedly grown-up Welcome Home and subsequently rocked my world. The following year, Mann sings backing vocals for Rush, who were co-headliners with Duran Duran to the soundtrack of my teenage life. Mann made one more ‘Til Tuesday record (the flawed but solid Everything's Different Now), then launched the inevitable, and mostly spectacular, solo career. To date I own every one of her solo records, as well as a street team-created B-sides collection, and have seen her live roughly eight times (and even met her once). I still can't bring myself to buy Voices Carry, though. – DM
While they were together, the MC5 only flourished as a regional act in and around Detroit. The kids there understood they were about rocking hard first and radical politics second, but the rest of the country didn't get it, perceiving them as a dangerous part of a scary counterculture growing out of the hippie movement. Eventually, the punks realized that the MC5 – and its Motown sidekick band, The Stooges – represented a visceral new form of guitar rock, and the politics were quite secondary to the mission to kick out the jams, or get off the stage. It's all mapped out in the David Carson's fantastic book "Grit, Noise & Revolution: The Birth of Detroit Rock 'n' Roll" and "A True Testimonial," a fantastic rockumentary whose release MC5 founder Wayne Kramer is holding up because of disagreements with the producer over soundtrack material – but can be seen if you're willing to, er, look hard for it online.
That's where my love for the band begins. Before reading the book and watching the movie, I was unenlightened, and tired/annoyed with the constant references to the MC5 in Rolling Stone and their deification in any punk history. I put them in the "legend much bigger than the actual band" category. After consuming the book and movie, I became an unabashed devotee. Bottom line: these critical darlings sound overrated and downright sloppy upon first listen to that live album. But once a true rock fan delves into the story, listens to all the music, and comes to realize the group should have been Led Zeppelin-big but for its own publicity missteps at crucial moments – and a paranoid public unready to listen to their revolutionary talk – you can't help but love the MC5. The twin monster lead guitarists Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Smith loved Chuck Berry and soul music, in true Detroit fashion, and somehow infused their blaringly loud distortion-fest songs with that basic rock stuff. Contemporary Detroit-based acts Bob Seger did the same thing, and so did Ted Nugent and Alice Cooper, all with their own spin. The MC5 was the best of the lot, and sadly, remain the least appreciated. I still only can half-appreciate the Stooges, but the MC5 has officially been enshrined in the Mojo Rock Pantheon. – Mojo Flucke, Ph.d.
"There's a time and a place for everything, and it's called college." Being a college kid myself at the time, I knew Chef's words to be both wise and true when he answered the "South Park" boys' questions about drugs in the show's second season. College equals freedom, an exhilarating liberation from the shackles of meddling parents, after-school jobs, high school melodrama, and just about any other oppressive entity that can crush a teenager's social life. College also freed my musical tastes by introducing me to bands and genres that I'd previously ignored. I finally fell in love with the Beatles, understood the genius of the Beastie Boys, and overcame my irrational aversion to Tom Petty. He had always been "that ugly dude with the awful voice" until one fateful road trip when a friend popped in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' Greatest Hits disc. I was hooked, especially once I realized just how many Petty songs I already knew and liked. I grabbed the GH collection along with Full Moon Fever and the She's the One soundtrack, and have been adding his albums to my library ever since. My wife once thought of Tom Petty as "that ugly dude with the awful voice" as well, but now counts him as one of her favorite musicians. Guess that voice is just an acquired taste. – Jamey Codding
It could have been the suits, it could have been the hair, it could have been the borderline schmaltz of the whole damn production (borderline? hell, they were more than a few steps OVER that line, right?), but everything about this overly starched quartet made me want to run to the hills, run for my life – when I was, let's say, younger. Then I backed into power pop, a rather circuitous (though typical for me) plot along the Who-Cheap Trick-Knack-Buzzcocks-Elvis Costello-Matthew Sweet-Big Star-Badfinger route, which will invariably bump you into the Raspberries whether you like it or not. Fortunately, by the time I got there (much to at least one in-the-know friend's chagrin), my ears and tastes had evolved – nay, refined – to the point where "Go All the Way," "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)," "Tonight" and countless other gems now sound like pure pop masterpieces to me. – Ed Murray
As a woman growing up in the Pacific Northwest, not liking Sleater-Kinney was akin to blasphemy. It's hard to be entirely sure in retrospect, but for a long time something about their sound annoyed me – I found it abrasive, harsh, and naively thought it sounded sophomoric. Then, spurned by a bad break-up, I found myself turning to my library in search of empowering tunes by women. Rather stereotypically, perhaps, I thought of Sleater-Kinney first, and found that I owned The Woods. I'm not sure if it's due to my tastes changing, fortuitous timing, or more patience (understanding that I might not like something immediately but love it down the line) – probably a combination of all three – but The Woods was the most kick-ass thing I'd heard from women singer-songwriters in a really long time. I heard their howling vocals and guitar shredding as an extension of that raw emotion and talent, their music all the more powerful because of it. I like them so much now that I'm embarrassed it took me so long to "get" them. – Taylor Long
I blame my parents, really. Our family cars were always stocked full of stuff like Chicago 17, or Huey Lewis and the News' Sports, or Billy Joel's An Innocent Man, or whichever Gold & Platinum collection Columbia House happened to be pimping. Nothing, in other words, that would prepare an impressionable boy for the soul-cleansing anger and true rock ‘n' roll grit of an artist like Bruce Springsteen. As far as I was concerned, Billy Joel's "Close to the Borderline" was real rock music; all Springsteen had to offer was the mindless repetition of "Born in the U.S.A." and the ugly, synth-assisted minor keys of "Dancing in the Dark." I could tolerate "Glory Days," but just barely, and when he popped up on the cover of Tunnel of Love in a freaking bolo tie, he confirmed all my worst suspicions. Of course, now that I've got a few more years under my belt, and have actually lived a little, I can appreciate Bruce's message; although I remain skeptical of the redemptive power of rock ‘n' roll, when I hear Bruce straining the cords in his neck as he tries one more time to shake the pillars of heaven, I truly want to believe. And be honest – who else could have come along in the aftermath of 9/11 and delivered an album as on point as The Rising? After years of endless dicking around in the studio, Bruce seems to have figured out how to work fast enough to drown out his inner editor – and even though the results are sometimes subpar (see: Dream, Working on a) I don't mind, because I think we need all the Boss we can get. – Jeff Giles
The Velvet Underground
My first attempt at "getting into" the VU was more of a joke than anything serious. A buddy of mine bought me the band's first album as a belated birthday gift and while I was actually surprised by "Sunday Morning," I found other tunes like "Femme Fatale," "Venus in Furs," and even the killer classic "Heroin" to be pointless bores. "European Son" even cracked me up with its crashing plates outburst. I had been a Beatles freak for years, and this stuff was just silly to me.
But then I gave the band another chance via their third album, and it suddenly all clicked. I loved each and every song on that album and soon the Velvets became my favorite band of all time, usurping even the Fab Four. I bought everything the group had released and had a newfound appreciation for the debut. Suddenly, "Heroin" mattered more than "All You Need is Love." "I'm Waiting for the Man" kicked the shit out of everything on Revolver. It was simple, it was immediate, and it sounded like it could have been recorded yesterday or two weeks from now. That the Velvets did that in 1967 was amazing. They're still amazing. Why I ever disliked them originally, I'll never know. Life without them now would be pointless. – Jason Thompson
My initial reaction to "Push th' Little Daisies," Ween's first single release on their then-new major label home of Elektra, was one of incredulity. They're kidding, right? Right? I didn't stick around to hear the answer. "You might think that I'm a loser," you say? Oh, if Dean and Gene had any idea. For years, I wrote off Ween as those jackasses who make music that deliberately tries to piss people off. Even after hearing "Japanese Cowboy," from the well received 12 Golden Country Greats album, I remained unimpressed. Anyone can steal the lick from "Chariots of Fire" and make a song out of it, right? Ah, but Ween ultimately showed me when they dropped White Pepper in 2000. It had the same juvenile sense of humor – only Ween could take a song as pretty as "Pandy Fackler" and put the line "suckin' dicks under the promenade" in it – but had incredible songwriting depth, paying tribute to everyone from Jimmy Buffett and Motorhead to Little River Band and Tears for Fears. Of course, my love for White Pepper wasn't enough to get me to buy another Ween album (and from what my friends tell me, I'm not missing much), but I no longer wrinkle my nose when someone mentions them. That's a glowing recommendation compared to my initial assessment of the band. – DM