Melvins’ Buzz Osborne picks songs by “bands that were good, but blew it”

Melvins’ Buzz Osborne picks songs by “bands that were good, but blew it”

In I Made You A Mixtape, we ask our favorite musicians, actors, writers, directors, or whatevers to strut their musical savvy: We pick a theme, they make us a mix.

The mixer: As the big-haired frontman of one of sludge metal’s longest running acts, Roger “Buzz” Osborne has earned all sorts of goodwill. Melvins inspired acts like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Tool, and Mastodon, creating an army of hard-rocking, appreciative Melvins fans working the nation’s clubs and arenas on any given night. Now in their 30th year, the Melvins are still plugging away: The band’s 21st album, Tres Cabrones, came out last November. In commemoration of that longevity, The A.V. Club asked Osborne to put together a mixtape framed by the theme of his choice. Ever the shit-starter, he picked “bands that were good, but blew it.”

Isis, “Hall Of The Dead” (2009)

Buzz Osborne: I picked these guys because we played their last round of shows with them and they were better than they’d ever been. Then they decided it was time to completely break up, which is totally and completely ridiculous. After all that work, to take a band that has never been better—live or on record—and break up, that’s the reason they’re on this list. They blew it. They were better than ever, and they blew it.

The A.V. Club: Isn’t there something to be said for quitting while you’re ahead?

BO: I think that’s ridiculous. You do this much work, so you should continue doing that much work. I’ve always had the idea that multi-millionaire rock stars should work harder than anyone, because they have the ability to do it. Look at an artist like Andy Warhol. He never stopped working even after he didn’t need to work again. I think when he died he was worth $200 million. He certainly didn’t need to work, but he did. Francis Bacon was a brutal alcoholic, but painted from like 6 a.m. to noon every single day until he died.

Those are the people who inspire me, not someone who is better than ever and decides that this is nothing and they’re going to move on. It’s ridiculous. So that’s why they’re on there. I’m friends with those guys and we went on that tour with them and were like, “You guys are better than ever! I cannot believe you’re breaking up! Why not just take a break?” “No, we’re done!” “Oh, okay.”

The Rolling Stones, “Bitch” (1971)

BO: The Rolling Stones were one of the best bands ever, and Sticky Fingers is one of the best rock albums I’ve ever heard. “Bitch” is good too. Then, in the mid-’70s, they just fell apart. I’m not a big fan of the Black And Blue album, and the last big record they did that had anything good on it was Some Girls, and that was 35 years ago. They have since continued playing. I don’t know what it is they’re doing, but the thing I imagine completely destroyed them was drugs. Nonetheless, they’ve continued and they’re certainly not better than ever. They’re the exact opposite of Isis. These guys didn’t break up when they were better than ever, and they have since not broken up at all.

I could not be bothered to see them live now. I saw them in the early ’80s and it sounded like amplified motocross. They’d literally be halfway through a song before I could tell what it was. “Oh, it’s ‘Satisfaction.’” It was this horrendous cacophony, which is good on one side, but that’s not what they were trying to do. We went and saw Pussy Galore play some Stones songs in the ’80s and that’s what they were trying to do, and that worked.

AVC: It makes you wonder why they still do it.

BO: Who knows? Brain damage? I said millionaires should work harder than ever, but they’re certainly not working harder on their craft. Mick Jagger decided he was going to put out those horrendous “She’s The Boss”—or whatever the fuck it was—records that were just God awful. Maybe Keith Richards should restart the New Barbarians, and call them The Even Newer Barbarians.

It’s horrendous, horrendous garbage. And the reason they’re on the list is that they went from being one of the best bands ever to whatever they are now. I still listen to that stuff. I think that stuff is unbelievable. I’m never tired of it and I never have been. Those records should be in every collection. If you don’t have Sticky Fingers, then you really don’t like rock music, because that’s where it all started.

AVC: Do you think the guys believe they’re still good?

BO: I don’t know. Keith Richards seems like he has a handle on it—to some degree anyway—and just doesn’t know what else to do. But as a musician myself, I feel like I can comment on things of this nature. Besides, what could I say that would ever hurt the Stones?

AVC: You’re going to blow your opening slot chances.

BO: Like I’d do it. Oh, man.

Metallica, “Whiplash” (1983)

BO: Metallica is a good example, because when their first record came out, I thought, “Oh, wow! This is a nice breath of fresh air.” From the first time I saw the back cover, it was like, ‘Those guys are ugly!’ These guys aren’t winning any beauty contests. Clearasil could use that cover as an ad, and it was great. Here’s a band where people are going to remember what the heavy metal music scene was like. There were finally bands that were emerging that were against the glossy look. AC/DC was too glossy, even though most people don’t understand that. The best band along those lines was probably Judas Priest, even though they were glossier at that point than Metallica was. Still, there were bands coming out at that time called Venom and Raven that were starting to get a bit more aggressive. Then Metallica came out, and I thought they were a great marriage of what Judas Priest was doing and what Venom was doing. It was teen angst mixed with heavy metal. What I’ve always loved about heavy metal is that it’s rebel music. Regardless of whether you like these guys, they’re pissed off. That was a total plus to me.

The song I would pick off that record is “Whiplash.” You can listen to that and imagine that there hadn’t been anything like that at the time. Now, I would like to take the band on that back cover of the Kill ’Em All album—I would like to take those guys and put them in a time machine and run them forward and make them sit through Some Kind Of Monster and say, “Guys! Do not let this happen!” You know what I mean? How could they not be appalled? They go from a song called “Whiplash” to a psychiatrist in the studio for $10,000 a week. Metal up your ass, indeed.

AVC: When do you call it quits? When is it enough?

BO: They started off so promising and ended up so ridiculous. It’s an Elvis scenario: You give any penniless hick $1 million and they’re going to go crazy. I’m sure Metallica is surrounded by sycophant yes men who do nothing but agree with them. Nobody is there to go, “Guys, this is fucking horrible and you guys are acting like idiots!” Although the new bass player has certainly been insulated from that, because he wasn’t around for some of that stuff. I met him and he was a super-nice guy. Those guys from Metallica are nice. I’m just pointing out their failures on a musical and functional level. That’s it—nothing personal.

Black Flag, “Jealous Again” (1980)

BO: Black Flag was certainly one of the biggest influences on our band of any of these bands. We were super excited about Black Flag from the beginning and then they went through this period where I thought they were unbelievable. That song “Jealous Again” is the song I want to play. They went from that to the Damaged album—which I thought was really great—into the My War record into Slip It In, which was unbelievable. In a matter of years they’d changed their entire direction, which made sense to me. I thought Slip It In was great and the tour was unbelievable. They’re one of the best heavy bands I’ve ever seen. To this day, it remains one of my favorite concert experiences.

The albums they’ve put out after that went from unbelievable to believable, and the shows were absolutely limp. When they got rid of Bill Stevenson as a drummer, they went from being one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen to one of the most boring in just a couple of years. So that’s how they blew it. Then they broke up, but they were really bad at the end. I thought they were fucking horrendous. I cannot listen to those last albums. I’m not into it. I like everything through Slip It In.

AVC: Would you go see the versions of Black Flag that are touring now?

BO: I don’t think I’d go to the Greg Ginn one. I’d probably go to the other one, because I like those guys a lot more. I certainly think Keith Morris is a great guy and Bill Stevenson is an amazing drummer. I’ve met the rest of the guys and they’re super nice, so I’d put my support behind them. I hope for the best for them. Greg Ginn was certainly a huge influence on my guitar playing. I put him up there with people like Eddie Van Halen. Eddie Van Halen changed everything; I don’t necessarily like everything he did, but he definitely changed everything.

The Who, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (1971)

BO: The Who is one of my favorite bands of all time. The Who Sell Out is one of the greatest art-project albums of all time. That record would be weird even now. Even with all the stuff that’s happened since then, it would still be odd. It was super well crafted, well thought out, unbelievable, and they were like that right up until the Who’s Next album. After that, they drifted off.

I imagine drugs destroyed them. Then Keith Moon died and they replaced him with Kenney Jones. That’s when I saw The Who and it was relatively limp. The songs were good and that helped carry it, but I thought the obvious replacement for him should have been Rat Scabies from The Damned, or Clem Burke from Blondie.

But “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” that’s one of my favorite songs. It’s everything that big arena-rock bands try to do in one song and can’t even come close to. I don’t care who they are—U2 can’t do it and Pearl Jam can’t do it. The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is one of the greatest rock songs ever written. So, to have to try and force yourself to listen to the Who Are You? album a matter of years later is a trial.

Pete Townshend is one of my favorites. I think he’s an unbelievable songwriter and I love most of what he did. This year one of my friends bought me a Pete Townshend model SG as a gift. So it’s the same model he played at Woodstock and I couldn’t have been more excited. I was almost giddy.

AVC: Would you go see The Who now?

BO: No. I saw them in the early ’80s and it wasn’t very good. I just couldn’t be bothered. What I would go see is Pete Townshend by himself on acoustic if that was possible. I think he does that every once in a while and I’d love to see that. The Who is one of my favorite bands ever. They were one of those bands where you go, “That’s why the drummer in the band is important.” Pete Townshend had this drummer to write songs for and that’s fucking amazing. He had that amazing bass player to write songs for, too. So he was halfway there. My God—two genius-level musicians to write songs for, that’ll improve everything you do! That’s a dream come true for a songwriter. But once again, they went from unbelievable to believable real fast and I’d say a lot of it has to do with drugs.

AVC: It could be drugs, but it could also be because they have a lot of yes men around them.

BO: I’ve been married for 20 years, and my wife has no problem telling me what she thinks. She’s like, “Hmmm… That kind of sucks.” We have that kind of relationship where those things happen and maybe The Who doesn’t. In the Some Kind Of Monster movie with Metallica, the drummer’s dad told him he thought what they were doing sucked. “I think you should delete all of this!” He was right. The dad looks like Gandalf, and I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie, but the movie is amazing. It’s like This Is Spinal Tap, except the band isn’t in on it. But his dad listens to some of the stuff they’ve been recording and says, “I think you should delete all of it. It’s horrible.” Exactly! Gandalf was right!

Hüsker Dü, “Chartered Trips,” “Indecision Time” (1984)

BO: I saw Hüsker Dü in the early ’80s on the Metal Circus tour, and I saw them on the Zen Arcade tour, and then we played with them after that on the New Day Rising tour. They were unbelievable. They were one of the best bands I’ve ever seen live, and they were good at what they’re doing individually. I thought Bob Mould and Grant Hart were great singers.

Then the records changed to bad versions of R.E.M. when they signed to Warner Bros. I completely forgot about everything they were doing. On New Day Rising I thought they were starting to lose a bit of their edge, and I started to lose interest in them. Before that, though, they were this dirty looking and sounding band, and I had never seen anything quite like it. They attacked their instruments in a way that I hadn’t seen. We were a three-piece band as well, so that was really inspiring to hear how a three-piece band could sound live. Then they got signed to Warner Bros. and just took a giant shit as far as I’m concerned. I don’t know how else to put it.

One of the funny things I think now is I recently saw a bio that Bob Mould had written about his career, and he didn’t even include in his bio that he had played for Hüsker Dü—didn’t even put it in there. That’s what he thinks. So what I want to do is go back and make Bob listen to a couple of songs. The first one being “Chartered Trips” off of Zen Arcade followed quickly by “Indecision Time” off of Zen Arcade and go, “Bob! This is the best thing you’ll ever do! This is not something for you to be upset about.”

The Replacements, The Replacements Stink EP (1982)

AVC: And then you have The Replacements, another Minneapolis-based band.

BO: That’s coincidental. What’s funny is that Dale [Crover, Melvins drummer] and me were talking about this. We have to find bands that we liked that blew it, not just bands that blew it. They have to be really good ones that just took a shit. With The Replacements, I can’t pick one song. What I have to do is pick the album The Replacements Stink. That whole album is only 20 minutes and to me is a perfect album, especially for punk rock bands, because it was a great marriage between The Dead Boys and something a bit more pop, with edge and aggression.

To this day, I can listen to that record and totally love it. I have to pick that whole record, because if you listen to it top to bottom, it makes sense. It has everything. It’s a great little history of rock music. I don’t think those guys got that. That was such a great record. It was so much better than Let It Be or Pleased To Meet Me. Those records are interchangeable garbage. They’re meaningless, and they’re dumb. I don’t know those guys, but I get the feeling that [Paul] Westerberg doesn’t take it seriously.

In The Replacements, you got the teen angst and the teen aggression combined with quality music. That’s hard to do. People like Alice Cooper were able to do that. It’s a tough thing to do and be smart. I was so impressed with that record and to this day am impressed with that record. So I’d put that whole record on the playlist. I wouldn’t take a song off of it.

AVC: What do you think they should have done? It’s got to be hard to capture teen angst album after album, especially as you age.

BO: You don’t have to keep doing that. You just have to realize that what you were doing was good. I got the feeling that they didn’t think that it was any good. There’s no more of that anymore. Even with Metallica, their albums still sound like there’s some sort of edge to them; it’s not just bad R.E.M. again, you know what I mean? To me, R.E.M. sounds like a metal band compared to where The Replacements ended up. They gutted everything that was good about them.

Take Tom Waits. His newest album is one of his best albums ever. He hasn’t forgotten what was good about him; he’s just improved upon it. You can tell he’s Tom Waits, because it sounds like Tom Waits and everything he ever did. But it’s an improvement, it’s a step forward, and he managed to do that.

That’s up to them to do that. If you want to gut your sound in order to sell millions of records, good luck with that. Hopefully it’ll work out for you and if it doesn’t work out, then that’s the saddest story of all. There’s nothing sadder than a band selling out and having it not work.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Spanish Castle Magic” (1967)

BO: Hendrix never lived long enough to blow it musically. There are many examples of someone who had everything and lost it all with drugs, but he was dead before he had any chance to show us what he was capable of doing. We’ll never know. I know that there were plans for him to do an album with Miles Davis and I think that would have been unbelievable. I would have loved to hear that. He would have done us all a favor by doing that.

You listen to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s version of “Voodoo Child” and then you listen to Hendrix’s version, and Hendrix’s version has soul. There’s a difference. Everything is different. Hendrix gets it. Stevie Ray Vaughan is playing all the right notes, but it’s not anywhere near as good. That’s not something you can read in a book. Hendrix just had it. He had it all. He was a great singer, a great songwriter, and an unbelievable guitar player. And now he’s dead. So that’s how he blew it. It’s the biggest blowing it of all. What a dumbass.

AVC: There are some people that argue that it was the drugs that made him artistic.

BO: So, let me get this straight, if I take LSD and heroin, I’ll play like Jimi Hendrix? Really?! I beg to differ. I guarantee there are guitarists down at Guitar Center without a record contract that are on LSD and heroin and will never make any money playing music. They’re putting that little theory to the test every day. I don’t buy it. I don’t care what you do, but I don’t see alcohol and drugs as being anything other than a way to make whatever problems you have in your life bigger. There’s not a problem in the world you can’t make bigger by drinking a fifth of whiskey. If it worked the other way, they would market it as “problem solving whiskey.” But I believe in personal freedom, and you should be able to do what you want, but you should understand that when you kill yourself with booze and drugs, I’m going to think you’re stupid. That’s just how it is.

The Cows, “Death In The Tall Weeds” (1998)

BO: The Cows are not unlike Isis in that they broke up when I thought they were better than ever. I had the extreme pleasure of helping produce their last album, Sorry In Pig Minor, and there’s a song on there called “Death In The Tall Weeds.” Those guys were maturing as songwriters, and that record is all over the place musically. There are all these songs and I didn’t make a lot of suggestions other than, “Do you guys think you could turn this five-minute song into a three-minute song?” That was it.

So, when they were recording the song, I was like, “Oh my God, this song is so good!” The guitar player, Thor [Eisentrager], was playing this guitar solo that I thought epitomized everything that was good about his guitar playing, which is that it’s rooted in rockabilly, which nobody gets, but I get. He plays this guitar solo and he wanted to record it again. I almost had to get on my knees and beg him not to re-record it, because I thought it was so good. Fortunately, he left it as it was and I think that song is great—great lyrics, great playing. On that song I made the bass player Kevin [Rutmanis]—who went on to play in the Melvins for a long time after The Cows broke up—double the rhythm guitar part. I had the bass player doubling the rhythm part on guitar as well and it has a different feel than it would have had if the guitar player played all the guitar. I think it came out amazing and that’s why I put it on there.

They blew it, because they quit. Like Isis, they quit when they were better than ever. The guitar player quit and I even offered to play with them. I was like, “I can play guitar. Just don’t break up until you figure it out!” But they weren’t having that. So that was that.

There’s an era of music from the mid-’80s to the mid-’90s and there’s a lot of bands in there that go unrecognized like Pussy Galore and The Cows that are the musical gap that bridges from the mid-’80s to the mid-’90s. Without those bands, none of the stuff that happened afterward would have been popular. Especially Pussy Galore and The Cows, you know?

AVC: What do you think of bands reuniting now? It feels so easy to break up now because in five years, you can get back together, do a reunion tour, and make more money.

BO: What were you doing for five years?

AVC: I don’t know. Being a dad? That kind of stuff.

BO: Okay, being a dad. That’s all well and good and stuff as long as someone else is footing the bill. I never had a big, fat daddy at home writing the checks for me. So I don’t know what that’s like. I also don’t have another career outside of music, which makes it even weirder for bands like The Cows and Isis that were doing better than ever to just be done. Maybe they have outside sources of income. Not to my knowledge, because I’m pretty good friends with Aaron Harris from Isis and with Cliff [Meyer] and Jeff [Caxide] and I know those guys don’t come from money. And I know The Cows certainly didn’t. I just don’t think people know how good they have it when they’re in the middle of something.

If you take a band, any band—like if Eddie Vedder were to put together another band, it’s not going to be as big as Pearl Jam. It rarely happens, and it’s tough to do. So people are like, “I’ll just break up and do this on my own,” and it doesn’t work. It’s hard to get all those ducks in line and all those planets aligned to have it just work out again as great as it is now with this combination of things.

The Melvins have been through a ton of that kind of stuff and it’s never easy and I don’t like it, but I refuse to quit. I think that we’re better than ever and we’re not afraid of change. I don’t take the success that we have lightly and I think these bands did.

The Birthday Party, “Fears Of Gun” (1983)

BO: The Birthday Party broke up for no reason that I can discern.

They’re one of the best bands of all time in my opinion. I think they are one of the most influential bands that not that many people have heard of and certainly better than anything Nick Cave ever did after that. The last two things they did, the two EPs, The Bad Seed and Mutiny, were unbelievable. That’s some of the best music that ever came out.

They’re from Australia, they broke up, and I think the bass player died after that. But they didn’t break up because someone died. They broke up before that so I’ve never understood it and, again, I don’t think somebody like Nick Cave realized how good that stuff was.

I heard that song in the early or mid-’80s after the band broke up. I heard them in like ’84 or ’85 via Mark Arm from Mudhoney. He turned me on to lots of good music and we’ve remained friends for well over 30 years. I’ve gotten a lot from that relationship. I like when someone plays something that they think you’ll like and not only is it something that you like, but it’s some of your favorite music of all time.

They blew it for some unknown reason and broke up. I think it has something to do with drugs probably, but I don’t know. Once again, I don’t think they know how good they had it. Mick Harvey and Nick Cave went on to do The Bad Seeds. The first record is okay, but it’s nothing like what The Birthday Party were to me at all. I listen to that stuff once a week at least.

AVC: So, your big advice coming out of all of this is don’t quit, and challenge yourself.

BO: Challenge yourself and realize what’s good about you from the beginning. Why was this good? Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. I’m not into people repeating what they do, but like I said with Tom Waits, he’s not repeating what he did, but he hasn’t lost what he did. I think that’s important. But you can’t also continue like the Stones have and be horrible. You have to work on this shit.

Also, I think they get wrapped up in this idea, like The Who and all these other bands that play in arenas, at some point they have to know or understand that if they’re out there playing non-venues or venues designed for things other than music is a mistake. It’s a great way for them to make a ton of money, but they already have a ton of money.

What they should do—and this goes back to the thing about them working harder than anyone else—they should now work harder by trying to provide people with an amazing place to see music like a theater or something smaller than a basketball gymnasium. I’m so not into it. “They’re playing at the Staples Center! Great! I can’t wait to go down and see a band play in the exact same place as where they play hockey!”

AVC: And play $120 to sit in the 500s.

BO: Fuck that. It’s just a rip-off. I’d rather pay $200 to see them play at the Fonda. I’d have a much better time and the audience would, but these people don’t care and that’s why they blow it. “We could make more money at the Staples Center!” Well, surely. So then it’s all about money. You already have a ton of money so you need more money? What’s the problem?

Some of it probably comes down to the fact that bands like the Stones and Metallica and The Who will spend $40,000 or $400,000 the way you or me will spend $400. They’re blowing through their money so fast that they’re like, “Oh, we need to go out for this amount of time and play all these horseshit venues.” No, no, no. What you need to do is go out and work harder at a smaller venue. Try doing that, millionaire. For those of us that are thousandaires, we’ll enjoy it more. I would be much more likely to give you my hard earned dollars that way than I would at the Enormo-dome on the edge of town so that you can pay your wife alimony, or your ex-wife. Fuck. Off.

Stuff like that doesn’t exist for me. I learned those lessons early on. One of the things that attracted me so much to punk rock was the intimacy of it. That was very exciting. Here were these bands that were playing this amazing music up close. There’s nothing like being right up close.

AVC: But if The Rolling Stones don’t have fireworks, you’ll notice that they’re 75 years old.

BO: That never bothered guys like John Lee Hooker. He managed to tour for the better part of his life. Stuff like that is for egos, but if you have to hide behind smoke and mirrors to cover up the fact that your band fucking sucks, then no amount of that is going to fool me. I just don’t like that kind of stuff. I go to a few of those once in a while and all I can think about is how much more I would enjoy this if it was somewhere else. But there’s millions of reasons bands do stuff like that. And I’m not impressed. Like I said, I think millionaires should work harder than anybody else. I don’t see anything wrong with a band coming in and playing a 3,000-seat show as opposed to one show in a 20,000-seater.

It’s ridiculous. I don’t get it. You play guitar for a living, it’s not that hard to do. Take it from me. Playing guitar in a rock band is not the hardest thing you’re ever going to do in your life, that’s for sure. It’s not easy, but not as hard as some guy who works at a skyscraper or some other horseshit job like factory work or farm work. I’d like to think those people put that perspective into place, but they never do. Get back to the basics and figure out what made you good to begin with. And I have never lost sight of that. That’s why I appreciate things like that so much when they actually happen.

You have to remember first and foremost with this list that I am a huge music fan. I love music. It’s my life, so I take it very seriously and I appreciate good things when I see them. These are little kernels of things I thought were amazing that ended up being not so amazing.

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