Here are some band members with questionable roles and a look at what they really contribute. Ratings are on a scale of one to five.
The Hype Men
Taboo and apl.de.ap - Black Eyed PeasSaturday Night Live did an entire skit about the unpopularity and/or worthlessness of the two "other guys" in the Black Eyed Peas. In the skit, the fictitious Taboo and apl.de.ap host their own show called "Our Time" but are constantly interrupted and overshadowed by will.i.am and Fergie, a la real life. The worst part? Fergie was played by Miley Cyrus. When you have Hannah Montana openly mocking you, it's a sign you're on a ride to Superfluousville.
The only discernable job these guys have in the band is to say "whoo hoo" in the background. Granted, apl.de.ap will sometimes spit out a short rap and Taboo will do some pretty impressive Jeet Kune Do moves and Michael Jackson poses, but neither of these skills are especially vital when you've got Fergie and will.i.am cowriting the songs and providing the group with a real identity. But here's the strange part: The Black Eyed Peas were around before Fergie, releasing two moderately successful albums as an old-school rap trio. It wasn't until their 2003 Elephunk album that Fergie joined the ranks and took the group to the stratosphere. Apl and Taboo have adjusted well to their new roles, enjoying their time on the fringes of fame and poking fun at how paparazzi will push them aside to get to Fergie and Will. After all, they know who is bringing home the pop/rap/rock/electronica bacon.
So what do these guys contribute? Think of it this way: a party is pumping if a lot of people are jumping around and having fun. The guests don't need any particular talent, just an interesting look and the appearance of always having a good time. If it was just Will and Fergie, the group wouldn't carry around that party vibe - they wouldn't even be a group. There's also a case for diversity, since apl.de.ap is the most famous Filipino outside of Manny Pacquiao.
Worthy Rating: 4
The Drug Dealer
Bez - Happy Mondays
And then there was Bez. Bez, or Mark Berry, joined the band through his friendship with Shaun Ryder. Bez wasn't Ryder's jam buddy or music teacher, though; he was the band's drug dealer. Now, plenty of bands depend heavily on their drug dealer but the Happy Mondays apparently needed theirs always within their reach. What better way to achieve that then to keep him onstage? But of course drug use was a huge part of the band's identity and, say what you will about their talent, we certainly can't call them phonies.
So Bez was necessary to keep the Mondays Happy by keeping them medicated. Other than that, though, he didn't exactly shine. He was most known in the band for his dancing, and the videos that Happy Mondays made at their professional peak bear witness to this. Basically, all Bez does is dance and the dancing isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, what one would call good. It certainly isn't going to twist anybody's melon. But people who dance at raves while on drugs aren't trying to impress anyone with their dancing. And Bez was almost assuredly on drugs whenever he was dancing on stage or in a video. He actually seemed to be on the same drug every time, since he danced in the same way almost constantly. Sometimes he had strange-looking glasses on, other times his clothes seemed like they were stolen from someone three times his size. On all occasions, though, Bez looked like he had no idea where in the hell he was. But he always looked like he was enjoying himself. After all, who wouldn't enjoy a career where you move around like a flailing inflatable tube man and get paid while the rest of the group does all the real work?
Worthy Rating: 4
The Pretty Boy
Lance Bass - 'N Sync
Folks outside the teenage girl demographic often mocked 'N Sync, but there was a time when they were the most popular group in the world. Their second album, No Strings Attached, was an ENORMOUS hit. In its first week the album sold nearly two and a half million copies, something that will never happen again now that downloads and iTunes are the music buying outlets de jour and de rigeour. To put it in perspective, Lady Gaga's madly anticipated Born This Way album, priced at 99 cents on Amazon to drive up the numbers, sold 1.1 million copies that first week. What was more astonishing about the success of the band is that they were, for all intents and purposes, a ripoff of The Backstreet Boys, who themselves were a ripoff of New Kids on the Block. But 'N Sync trumped all the boy bands that came before and after. They had a little something that their kinsmen and competitors O Town, BSB, 98 Degrees and LFO lacked, and it obviously wasn't proper grammar. No, 'N Sync's astonishing success came courtesy of Justin Timberlake and three role players. J.T.'s wingmen were the Bad Boy Chris Kirkpatrick, the quirky/funny Joey Fatone, and semi-talented singer JC Chasez.
And then there was Lance. Lance was definitely not the most unattractive member of the group (that prize went to Joey Fatone). His boy next door, aw-shucks appearance was incredibly endearing to young girls who liked their crushes like they liked their Juicy Juice: Sweet and not overbearing. Still, Lance didn't necessarily stand out. He was considered the worst dancer in the group, as Kirkpatrick was quoted as saying. Lance later showed that he had stepped up his game when he appeared on Dancing With the Stars, but that was long after the dissolution of the group. Bass was also the last member to join, further adding to the notion that he was less than essential. In the end, Lance's role seemed to be "cute boy who is less threatening than the other cute boys." Still, he is among the most recognizable members of 'N Sync these days thanks to his refusal to leave the public eye - in ways that have nothing to do with music. When he isn't trying to colonize space or contributing to the least shocking headlines list by coming out of the closet, he's appearing on any celebreality show that will have him.
Worthy Rating: 1
Posh Spice - The Spice GirlsYes, we know that trying to determine the most worthless Spice Girl is like trying to figure out the least flattering skin disorder. That being said, Posh Spice, known better as Victoria Beckham, might be considered the leprosy to the rest of the group's scabies.
Each Spice Girl was assigned a certain role (Baby Spice, Scary Spice, Slutty Spice, Dopey, Doc, etc.) and it can be argued that each role could conceivably have been important to the overall packaging of the product. That being said, Posh's role seemed the least essential. Her M.O. was to be a sort of snobbish vamp who pouted her lips far too often. It is also possible that she was meant to be the "hot one." This may or may not be the case, though, because you might remember that Ginger Spice was formerly called "Sexy Spice" for a good portion of the band's early fame. Sexy/Ginger was also the one who would wear Union Jack lingerie that expertly mashed her heaving British breasts up and over the top of the bustier so that her mammary runoff would make FEMA gasp. So what the hell was Victoria's role in the group? Ah yes, to stand a bit to the side and pout.
And in a cruel (or possibly humane) twist of fate, it is this detritus of a band member who is now the impediment to any more reunions of the Spice Girls. For one, she's something of a product herself, with a successful fashion line and a marriage to high profile disappointment David Beckham. Together the couple have earnings that approach $150 million. This sort of phenomenon, when a useless band member eclipses the rest of the band in fame, is known as Flavor Flav syndrome.
Worthy Rating: 1
And by the way, Harold Brown told us that Flav's mom was a concert pianist, and he has genuine musical talent, which apparently he likes to keep hidden. Seems he has us all fooled.
Pete Sinfield of King Crimson, Keith Reid of Procol Harum
Does a guy who does nothing but write lyrics really deserve band member status? When you write the words to "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" or "The Court Of The Crimson King" it sure does.
Pete Sinfield was listed as part of the lineup for King Crimson upon the release of their first album, though he didn't play in the band. He wasn't necessarily a bad guitarist, but that duty was taken up by the more able Robert Fripp. Sinfield's main contribution was helping Ian McDonald with writing lyrics for the debut album, thus making Sinfield's job title something like "backup lyricist."
But prog rock was a funny world, and in those days King Crimson would have fallen under the banner of Acid Rock. In those first years of the burgeoning music form, it wasn't always about the music. Pomp and spectacle played as big a part as lyrics and music. Remember that these were the days of cosmic fools and merry pranksters. This was Sinfield's real contribution to the band. By his own admission, he "became their pet hippie because I could tell them where to go to buy the funny clothes they saw everyone wearing." Though a phone book could have contributed almost as much as Sinfield did in that instance, he did manage to give the band an air of credibility among hippies and acid-heads. He would also offer King Crimson advice on artwork, lighting, stage shows, and other things that would enhance the Acid-inspired style the group was going for. As we've learned from that wise sage Bez, drug users are sticklers for authenticity.
As for Keith Reid, he and Gary Brooker combined to write most of Procol Harum's beloved songs, including that classic tune we mentioned earlier with the "vestal virgins" and the "light fandango." When we asked Brooker if he ever changed Reid's lyrics when he was putting music to them, Gary replied: "No, I would never think of it. Because I knew that he had thought very carefully about every single word. Every 'V' and 'N,' there wasn't anything - I mean, if I tried to take even a small adjective out of a line, it would be strongly resisted by Keith, because that would take away the sense that he had. Therefore, I've never needed to change his lyrics."
Keep in mind that plenty of people make a living with words, but there are only a few who are exclusively lyricists and have contributed to hit songs - Billy Steinberg and Will Jennings are the best examples. It's a rare skill, and a lot harder than it looks.
Worthy Rating: 5
The Spiritual Guru
Baba Oje - Arrested Development
They also had similar problems reining in their album names. Their debut smash was entitled "3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of..." This was a clever nod to the arduous process that took them from unsigned bandmates to a full-fledged group with a label. Perhaps it took them that long to notify everyone in the group that they'd been signed. At any rate, though, the group was always a stalwart bolster against gangsta rap, in those formative years when socially conscious rap battled for supremacy over its grittier and more alluring thug counterpart. Guess which won!
The two driving forces of the group, or the two development arresters, were vocalist Speech and DJ Headliner. As for the four other members (and later six), there is one that stands out significantly. His name is Baba Oje and he made a marked contrast to the rest of the band because he was in his 60s. In videos and performances he'd often be sitting in a chair, befitting a man who is easily forty years older than the rest of the group.
But is Baba Oje really useless or is his seeming stoicism a hint at his true worth? When we spoke with Speech in 2008, he had this to say: "Baba means 'father' in Swahili and Oje is his name. And he's 75 years old. When I met him he was 57 and he went to my college."
Speech explains that the concept of the old, wise mystic is an important one in Jamaican culture, where elders would freely associate with the youth in order to give them the gift of wisdom that only comes with years of experience and soul searching. In return the youthful vigor and pith that is so evident in spirits not yet crushed by the world's woes would provide the kind of chutzpah (a word probably not used in Jamaica) that, combined with grace and experience, would create transcendent ideas that would then be put into action.
As Speech went on to say, "I wanted to have an elder in the group. It was a very radical concept at the time because I didn't know any groups that had ever done that." This makes it difficult to discount the role of Oje. Who really knows how important an "elder" is to a band's body of work? Possibly less than a bass player, but consider that under Oje's watch, Arrested Development has continued to thrive, delivering an enlightened black perspective to issues like climate change, and picking up a devoted following in Japan. It is never wise to discount a muse.
Worthy Rating: 4
The Dancing Guy
Ben Carr - Mighty Mighty Bosstones
But the other, more striking feature of these name-intensive groups was their sheer size. Swing and ska both hearken back to the days of Big Band and a big band was certainly needed to handle the richly diverse sound coming out of these new acts. The Cherry Poppin' Daddies had anywhere between eight and ten members in their ensemble, while Reel Big Fish made do with a paltry six or seven, depending on the year. The Bosstones weren't ones to mess with the formula of a successful ska group and so they too had a large, bustling band. They had the necessary trumpet, sax, and trombone players and lead vocal duties were manned by the ever capable Dicky Barrett. The group seemingly had all the bases covered. A strong brass section, great rhythm players and a designated dancer.
Yes, that's right. The Bosstones set themselves apart from the flood of third wave ska groups by having a bandmember who...just....dances. Think of him as the American version of Happy Mondays' dancing drug addict. But this dancing guy somehow seemed even more extraneous than Bez (the Happy Mondays' dead weight) because of the already bustling size of the Bosstones. To this day, people still refer to this dancing guy from the Bosstones as "that dancing guy from the Bosstones," despite the fact that he has a real name: Ben Carr. Yes, Ben Carr is a full-fledged member of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones as well as the band's tour manager. So while he may be useless insofar as his contribution to the band's sound, he is most definitely indispensable when it comes to hooking the Bosstones up with proper hotel arrangements. And with a band approaching double digit size, that kind of skill can't be overestimated.
Worthy Rating: 3
The Third Wheel
Pras - The Fugees
Pras, also known as Prakazrel Samuel Michel, isn't exactly an untalented artist. He has accomplished a great many things aside from the Fugees, including acting roles and film production. So Pras isn't a hack by any means but, in regard to his role in the Fugees, he was kind of a hack. This isn't necessarily his fault, though, since Hill and Jean are such outsized personalities. What's more, many rumors as to the breakup of the group hint at an intimate relationship between Hill and Jean that ended less than amicably. So not only was Pras not much of a contribution to the Fugees, he was the only member of the group not hooking up with anybody!
But many folks don't know that Pras, like his bandmates, is also a dedicated community activist. He created a documentary about the homeless situation in downtown L.A. and also supports several non-profit groups that combat injustice in many forms. So one could argue that Pras at least fit into the socially conscious mindset of the Fugees. The only difference is nobody knew who the hell he was.
Worthy Rating: 2
June 29, 2011
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