Hate To Say I Told You So
After playing The Hives’ Hate To Say I Told You So yesterday (12 June), Radcliffe and Maconie on 6 Music discussed how the band were never likely to make it big, because bands with gimmicks never do.
Stuart said they were never likely to achieve the five-star reviews Jack White is currently enjoying, comparing them as The Hives and The White Stripes came onto the scene around the same time.
In reply to Stuart’s assertion, I tweeted him to point out that The White Stripes clearly had gimmicks of their own, with both the sibling ‘story’ and the red, white and black uniform outfits.
You can hear Mark and Stuart acknowledging my tweet on air below (apologies for the strange beach noises Mark chooses to play in the middle) and it got me thinking, do bands with gimmicks ever make it big?
The brother/sister White Stripes tale is still brought up, even now that Jack White is an all-conquering solo artist, but how important has that story and the subsequent reaction to the truth been to his career?
It seems to be a trade off. While some bands can become huge directly through their gimmick, they will likely never been taken seriously, as Stuart said. However, would they swap that for the possible obscurity that having no gimmick could have left them with? I doubt it.
The Hives’ gimmick wasn’t a particularly strong or unusual one. Wearing matching, often smart, outfits has been done by hundred of bands. I wouldn’t say it did The Hives any good or any harm. The reason they didn’t become as big as The White Stripes is that they are simply not as talented.
So which gimmicks have worked, or at least been the most infamous?
One band Mark and Stuart discussed, and perhaps the most famous gimmick in music history, is Kiss’ make up. Their made up faces have inspired a line of merchandise that far outweighs their musical output and, while they are considered a joke by many, they managed to set themselves apart in a genre as expansive as a pair of leather trousers.
Likewise, Gorillaz are at then end of the day a fairly average alternative band (except for On Melancholy Hill, which is extraordinary). But, by being the world’s first mainstream virtual band, they were at once distinctive and attention grabbing. But have they ever been any more?
OK Go revived their career somewhat with their clever, but gimmicky, homemade videos, winning a Grammy and a load more fans in the process. The attention soon faded though.
My favourite band Radiohead have also demonstrated a few gimmicks in recent times, with the name your own price scheme for the In Rainbows release and The Universal Sigh newspaper that coincided with The King of Limbs. Whether they are gimmicks or genuine attempts to be innovative and interesting is up for debate. Either way, when you have a back catalogue like theirs, you can pretty much do what you want, and both were considered a success.
And maybe that’s the point, if you’re music is good, you can do what you want. If it isn’t, while you can do things to get more attention, you will never be a better band.