For rock fans around the world, there is nothing more damaging to an artist than pop music. Rock and roll was always about going against the grain and making something that the world hadn’t heard before, and seeing your favorite bands strutting their stuff across the Top 40 is normally the sign of death. Selling out is not always a bad thing though if you do it right, and some of rock’s finest were more than willing to throw their hat into the ring.
Before we even start though, there’s a lot more than goes into pop music than just making a bunch of catchy tunes. Even though each of these artists had a handful of great songs under their belt as rockers, these records are the moments where they tried to morph their sound into something that was a lot more radio friendly and actually getting some hits out of the deal. Coming from the other end of the spectrum, this is the equivalent of getting experimental in the studio, working outside of your normal structure and trying to bring something of yourself to a more palatable package.
It’s borderline impossible to make something like this and hold on to your integrity, but every one of these bands made it look easy, stripping away the different layers of their sound and crossing over to the mainstream while never sacrificing their identity in the first place. The pop charts may have a habit of killing most rockers’ careers, but if you got just the right idea, you can have your cake and eat it too.
10. Cloud 9 - George Harrison
Towards the end of the '80s, George Harrison had pretty much washed his hands of being a pop star. The entire appeal of having a hit single wasn't really in the cards for the most spiritual Beatle, and finally being out of all his contractual albums gave him the freedom to do what he wanted. After all of those attempts to actually make a generic pop song though, it wasn't until he worked with Jeff Lynne that he actually got back on top.
Although Cloud 9 is more fondly remembered these days for George's cover of Got My Mind Set On You, the rest of the album actually blends into the rest of the '80s pop scene pretty well, from the crisp production behind the title track to actually sounding like a classic rock version of what the Cure were doing on songs like This Is Love. Since this is a former Beatle making this record though, you can hear some of those classic influences come seeping in as well, like the complex chords of That's What It Takes and the tribute to his other band on When We Was Fab.
Outside of just the pop sensibilities though, George finally feels at peace here, taking that jaded rocker that wrote songs like Taxman and making him a pop star all over again. Since the Traveling Wilburys were just a few years away as well, Cloud 9 was the first time where being an aging rock star didn't have to be all that bad.