Rock-and-roll makes for some mighty strange bedfellows.
For example, Jane’s Addiction mastermind Perry Farrell launched Lollapalooza in 1991 with artists who were stylistically diverse—Siouxsie and the Banshees, Butthole Surfers, Rollins Band, etc.—but who overwhelmingly seemed of rooted the emerging alternative rock scene (yes, even rapper Ice-T fit that bill). Contrast that with the most recent Lollapalooza, which showcased as headliners underground heroes on the order of Paul McCartney and Metallica.
It’s tempting to think, “Times have changed!” But have they?
Traveling rock shows began in the 1950s as catch-all caravans that combined teenybopper heartthrobs, rhythm-and-blues crooners, rockabilly madmen, and anyone and anything else that would get the kids out to dance.
Our present annual summer onslaught of massive outdoor festivals matches that format (e.g.—Coachella, Pitchfork, et al).
But in the decades between those two points, top-tier acts typically hit the road with just a single opening artist in tow. Almost always, the warm-up band complimented the main attraction, falling under the same general subgenre of rock. Kiss, in particular, made a genuine art of discovering and touring with dynamic new hard rock and heavy metal talent.
Occasionally, though, that formula has gone kablooey. The following ten match-ups of bizarrely incongruous artists frequently made for baffled fans, disjointed concerts, and, on occasion, outright hostility.
Still, these square-peg/round-hole combos do exude an adventurous element that rock has too often abandoned in the years since.
Either way, just imagine catching any one of these shows and thinking, “Well, it does take all kinds!”
10. Frank Zappa with Dion (1974)
The pairing of avant-garde freak-rock genius Frank Zappa with 1950s doo-wop star Dion DiMucci only seems bizarre from a distance. Zappa was a doo-wop fanatic in general and he worshipped the gritty, soulful, funny Bronx native Dion in particular.
Zappa fans knew well of Frank’s passion for street-corner harmony if only by way of Cruising with Ruben and the Jets, the 1968 Mothers of Invention concept album that cast the band in a world of ’50s Chicano street gangs and told its story through doo-wop and early-style rock-and-roll.
When Zappa had the chance, then, to hit the road in ’74 with Dion, one of his musical idols, the mad musical master jumped at the chance.
9. Black Sabbath with The Outlaws (1981)
It may seem a stretch now, but in the early ’80s, copious cultural crossover existed between heavy metal and Southern rock.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, in particular, appealed to both metal musicians and fans. In addition, Molly Hatchet could not have come off more like a metal band based on their name and their Frank Frazetta barbarian painting album covers. Countless headbangers were surprised to hear Hatchet’s good-ol’-boy rock, but many of those came to love the band’s gumption, style, and multi-axe attack.
Thus by 1981, a multitude of longhairs guzzling brews and passing joints around a boom box were highly likely to be playing cassettes by Kiss, Charlie Daniels, Blue Öyster Cult, Black Oak Arkansas, and that other madman with self-made leather boots in both camps, Ted Nugent.
Given that climate, the double bill of Black Sabbath and the Outlaws, who scored a huge rock radio hit with “Green Grass and High Tides,” seems natural for its particular moment.
What makes sense in hindsight but proved disastrous at the time was the “Punk vs. Metal” concept of having the Ramones open for Sabbath three years earlier. While late-’70s headbangers felt some sort of kinship with the Southern rock crowd, they overwhelmingly despised punk. As a result, the Ramones endured booing, jeering, and all sorts of garbage hurled at the stage.
Metalheads and punks would find their common mosh pit eventually. 1978 just was not that time.
8. Chad and Jeremy with Alice Cooper (1970)
By 1970, Alice Cooper had released two flop albums (Pretties for You and Easy Action) prior to unpleasantly freaking out the groovy-minded hippies assembled for Canada’s Strawberry Fields Festival. “We drove a stake through the heart of the Love Generation,” Alice has since noted.
Prospects looked dim, so the group ditched Los Angeles for Detroit’s pressure-cooker proto-punk/metal scene that would beget the Stooges, the MC5, Ted Nugent, and Grand Funk Railroad. Alice Cooper, upon arrival, was very much home at last.
Along the way, though, Alice Cooper had bills to pay and flower children to traumatize. The group took whatever gigs cropped up. One of those was a slot opening for gentle British Invasion folk-pop crooners Chad and Jeremy, best known for the lovely 1964 ballad, “A Summer Song.”
That show must have seemed like Gwar invading and devouring the cast of a Wes Anderson movie (and that’s a spectacle we’d still love to see).
7. Metallica with Creed (1998)
After Metallica first sledgehammered down the wall separating metal and punk with their 1982 debut, Kill ’Em All, the borders between various hard rock subgenres just kept dissolving.
As a result, Metallica and Soundgarden headlined the definitely alt-rock Lollapalooza fest in 1996, and by ’98, a swooping, vaguely Christian lite-grunge act such as Creed somehow managed to sneak under the increasingly big tent labeled “heavy metal.”
On top of that, Metallica spent the second half of the ’90s famously enraging their hardcore original fans by way of haircuts and purposefully mainstream-friendly albums. Hitting the road with Creed was perfectly in keeping with where both bands found themselves at that particular moment.
6. Toto with the Ramones (1979)
Before punk was properly understood as its own genre, the Ramones stupefied the music industry with how to classify them. To watch and/or hear these four Queens mooks in leather jackets explode rock’s basics with heavy metal fury and bubblegum pop dynamics was to be blown away by their brilliance. Still, what to do with these weirdoes?
That puzzlement led to the Ramones opening for über-commercial “yacht rock” combo Toto in Lake Charles, Louisiana one disastrous night after original, and infinitely more compatible, openers Head East had to cancel.
Unlike the hostile Black Sabbath crowd, Toto’s fans endured the Ramones politely enough. Immediately afterward, Toto singer Bobby Kimball, who also grew up nearby the concert hall, reportedly came on stage and apologized to the audience for having been abused by such “a horrible band.”
5. Simon and Garfunkel with The Doors (1967)
For Simon and Garfunkel’s triumphant hometown concert at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens, New York, Paul Simon himself requested that the Doors open the show.
“Light My Fire” had recently been a #1 pop hit, and Simon found himself intrigued by the Doors’ deep, gothic sounds and the invigorating mega-presence of frontman Jim Morrison.
Morrison, alas, did not return the affection.
Doors drummer John Densmore remembers the gig vividly: “You could feel our nervousness backstage when Paul came in to wish us luck. He was very friendly. I don’t know if it was that nervousness or that Jim just hated folk music but he gave Simon the worst vibes, just short of saying, ‘Get the f–k out of our dressing room’ to the guy who hired us. Then we went onstage and Jim didn’t give an inch. He didn’t try to connect to the audience in any way. At the end of our set during the ’Father I want to kill you’ section, Jim put all the bottled up hatred into slamming the mic down and screaming. It lasted about a minute. The audience woke up a bit and started to think about what they were seeing. After the intermission Paul and Artie walked on stage to thunderous applause.”
4. The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, and Rush with Justin Timberlake (2003)
Mammoth charity concerts almost can’t help but attract a mixed bag of performers. The 2003 Molson Rocks for Toronto event—popularly known as SARSfest—broke out the two biggest hard rock acts of all time, the Stones and AC/DC, followed by Rush as well as an array of other acts that included the Flaming Lips and the Jim Belushi-Dan Aykroyd endeavor, the Have Love Will Travel Revue.
What all the big names shared in common was a propensity to rock—all, that is, but one. Pop song-and-dance phenom Justin Timberlake met with boos and a bombardment of bottles and debris while performing.
Timberlake fared no better during the Stones set when he returned to sing “Miss You” with Mick Jagger. It took Keith Richards to calm the crowd down. Of course, once Keef spoke, everything was cool.
3. Rolling Stones with Prince (1981)
The harsh treatment doled out by Stones fans to Justine Timberlake was like a warm hug compared to how audiences treated Prince when he opened up on the Tattoo You tour.
In years past, New Orleans funk greats the Meters played with the Stones many times to great success, and even the Commodores, who were initially a very heavy funk act, did well in that slot circa 1974.
Prince, however, proved too challenging for 1981 Rolling Stones devotees.
Racism certainly can’t be discounted, but beer-drinking, stadium-going hard rock crowds of the early Reagan era really reportedly lost it when His Purple Badness would take the stage in a trench coat and then tear it off to perform while wearing only the tightest and teeniest of banana-hammock bikini bottoms.
Getting booed off the stage almost became a part of Prince’s regular set during his Stones gigs.
Of course, a few years hence, Prince would be the biggest pop-rock star on the planet and rock radio stations attempted to play catch up. Even then, it took more time for hard rock and metal fans to embrace Prince’s innovation and guitar wizardry. Eventually, everyone came to recognize the greatness that the Stones detected in Prince and just wanted to share with the world.
2. Van Halen with Kool and the Gang (2012)
David Lee Roth caught Kool and the Gang performing at the 2011 Glastonbury Festival, got blown away by the veteran funk-rock greats, and asked them to open on the next Van Halen trek.
That’s the exact answer to the question raised by many Van Halen ticket-buyers who seemed perplexed by the combination.
Even Robert “Kool” Bell, founder of the Gang, was taken aback at first. “I was kind of surprised,” he said, “because Van Halen is more on the rock side and we do what we do. I said, ’That’s an interesting combination…’ It really caught us by surprise. But the more people I mention it to, the more interesting they’re saying it is.”
The experiment worked, with fans emerging from Van Halen’s 2012 with nothing but praise and renewed respect for the openers.
1. Monkees with Jimi Hendrix (1967)
There was always more to the Monkees that met primetime eyes and Top 40 ears. Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith, to begin with, were serious and immensely talented musicians.
As the psychedelic rock revolution bloomed around them, their fellow Prefab Four members Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones joined their bandmates in both wanting to write and play their own songs and to present more challenging material to their massive pop audience.
Thus, at the lit up insistence of the all-time most screamingly popular contrived bubblegum group, Jimi Hendrix was hired as their opening act.
Tork and Dolenz caught Jimi’s literally incendiary performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and, like the rest of the world, they just wanted as much Hendrix from there as they could possibly get. Plus they were in a unique position to make that happen.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience signed on to tour with the Monkees throughout the summer. “It was evident from the start that we were witness to a rare and phenomenal talent,” Dolenz wrote in his autobiography. “I would stand in the wings and watch and listen in awe.” Tork has added of Jimi, “He such a sweet guy. It was really just a pleasure to have him around for company.”
The hyperventilating teenybopper throngs did not share such warmth. “Jimi would amble out onto the stage, fire up the amps and break into ‘Purple Haze,’” Dolenz recalls, “and the kids in the audience would instantly drown him out with, ‘We Want Davy!!’ God, it was embarrassing.”
The grand experiment fizzled out after six concerts. Everyone parted ways amicably. Perhaps it’s a testament to the chemical-inflamed sensibilities of the time, then, when Tork said: “It didn’t cross anybody’s mind that it wasn’t gonna fly.”