Black Sheep Hit

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

But some stupid No.1 hit single
Has got me in this mess...

Barenaked Ladies, "Box Set"

"... bloody wedding song."

Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin on "Stairway To Heaven"

Sometimes, a musician has a huge hit with a song that is at right angles to their usual style. For some reason, this happens very often with hard rock/metal bands who hit it big with a slow ballad. For bands with a very niche appeal, the black sheep hit is usually one of the songs "mainstream" enough to receive play on the radio stations.

While having a hit is something most bands strive for, this type of hit can develop into a millstone around their neck because they only wanted to play rock (or metal, or whatever), and now they will forever be associated with this song. Often results in Creator Backlash.

While such tracks may well be the one hit of the One-Hit Wonder, it need not be—a band with other well-known tracks may still have a Black Sheep Hit if the general public mostly thinks of the misfit song when they hear the band's name. If someone does not like the hit song, they may have no desire to check out the band's other works—and, when finally exposed to it, might be pleasantly surprised to discover that they do like the other songs. Conversely, those who do like the hit song may feel disappointed upon finding out that the rest of the band's songs sound quite different.

Compare It's Popular, Now It Sucks for the same reaction from fans. See also Old Shame, and some Signature Songs and Breakout Pop Hits. A Black Sheep Hit will be a result of Genre Adultery for many musicians. Creator Backlash is the equivalent for entire works (in any media) rather than single songs.

Examples of Black Sheep Hit include:

Modern Music

  • Metallica, "Nothing Else Matters" (pretty much the closest the band came to writing a ballad) and pretty much all of ...And Justice For All save for "One," which was the only song from said album that survived the band's live set list after the tour for the album ended.
  • As a common example of covers being black sheep hits, one of Ellie Goulding's biggest hits is "Your Song", an Elton John cover. It is a lot more piano based than her other songs, which are basically electro-pop with folk elements.
  • Scorpions, "Wind of Change."
    • Even though this song became the hymn for the Berlin Wall fall, vocalist Klaus Meine said that the song had actually been written long before, and he happened to stumble on it when looking at some annotations.
    • Also, "Still Loving You."
  • Kansas, "Dust in the Wind." Also "Carry On Wayward Son"—it lacks the "fiddle" strings that characterize many of their other songs.
    • The disco-ish "People of the South Wind" is a good example. Kansas were unusual among prog-rock bands, in that they would bend to record company pressure to write hit singles, and were able to produce songs that charted well and weren't embarrassing. Unlike, for instance, Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Since Kansas were much harder-edged than most other prog bands, they had a lot of mainstream success despite their main style being more along the lines of Yes and King Crimson, making the band itself an example of this trope.
  • Paramore's "The Only Exception" is the band's biggest pop hit, and has managed to become one of many examples of "punk band with hit ballad" syndrome.
  • Extreme- "More than Words."
  • Led Zeppelin
    • "Stairway to Heaven."
      • Never released as a single, for bonus points.
    • The reggae-tinged "D'yer Maker"
    • The Brazillian-influenced "Fool in the Rain" which managed to be the band's final Top 40 hit in the US.
  • Aerosmith, multiple times, with "Dream On," "Angel," and "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing."
    • "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" was also a black-sheep hit when Mark Chesnutt covered it; before that song, he was mostly known for his honky-tonk influences, and certainly not for pop power ballads.
  • Boston, who were stadium rockers, had two of this kind: "More Than a Feeling" and "Amanda," the latter much more than the former.
  • The Rembrandts, "I'll Be There For You." (the Friends theme)
  • Green Day, "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)." Also, to a lesser extent, "Wake Me Up When September Ends." Different from many examples in that they're not upset about it, and the songs are hardly out of place for the band anymore since 21st Century Breakdown has many similar songs.
    • Many fans of their older work dislike these songs because they are drastically different from their original snot-core style.
  • Cheap Trick - "The Flame"
  • Early on in their career "See Emily Play" for Pink Floyd.
  • Jane's Addiction - "Been Caught Stealing"
  • Aphex Twin and 'Avril 14th'. Most people don't even know it's by him but they know the song.
  • The Verve - "Bittersweet Symphony"
    • "All in the Mind," the title track of The Verve's first single, is in a very different style from the rest of the band's early output as seen on the Verve EP, which was more strongly psychedelic or shoegazer.
  • REM - "Shiny Happy People." Damn, they hate this.
    • Also, "Radio Song."
      • "Stand" may count as well.
  • Soundgarden, "Black Hole Sun."
  • Black Sabbath - "Changes" and "Paranoid"
  • Billy Idol, "Eyes Without a Face"
  • Blur, "Song 2," especially in America where it's the only song most people know by them. Ironically the song was written to parody American alternative rock at the time. Right down to the indecipherable vocals.
    • Which isn't as much of a black sheep in the context of that album, which probably changed the course of indie rock music for the next decade.
  • 311 - "Amber"
  • The Offspring - "Kristy, Are You Doing Okay?", which became one of the band's few pop radio hits in their nearly 25 year career.
  • In a bizarre twist, this happened to Disturbed in just the opposite manner: "Down with the Sickness" remains one of their heavier and most well-known songs, which has gone to undermine their slower, more melodic works in later albums. 11 million records, four number 1 albums and a Grammy nomination later, they're still seen in the public eye as that band that makes staccato monkey noises. "Down with the Sickness" was typical of Disturbed's style at the time. The slower, melodic, stuff came later as the band got more mature.
  • Modest Mouse - "Float On." While the song sounds pretty similar to their other songs, it is 1000x times more upbeat and positive than other songs by them. Gets frustrating to fans, especially when games like Rock Band seem to think that is the only song by them.
    • "Dashboard" far more so.
  • "Sweet Child o' Mine" from Guns N' Roses, the riff was written as a joke by Slash. The song was quickly written, it had been heard that Slash does not really like the song.
  • Stone Sour's two biggest hits, "Bother" and "Through Glass." (the latter starts off ballad-y and gets harder as it goes, but is still different from their other songs).
  • Finger Eleven present a variation. Until they had a hit with "Paralyzer," their best known song was "One Thing," which was far less representative of their typical style.
    • And "Paralyzer" is itself an example.
    • Also, many WWE wrestling fans are only really familiar with "Slow Chemical," which the band tailor-made for the wrestler Kane to use from 2002 to 2008.
  • Kiss released "Detroit Rock City" as a single. Yet radios liked to play the B-side "Beth" instead...
    • Their other big Top 10 pop hit was "Forever" (co-written by Michael Bolton of all people), which was a saccharine ballad like "Beth."
  • Kings of Leon's biggest hit "Use Somebody," is completely different from the rest of their catalog, which leans far more towards indie rock, or its parent album, which has a more alternative rock feel.
  • Alison Krauss & Union Station, best known for very moody, mellow bluegrass music, had its only big hit with a sweet cover of Keith Whitley's "When You Say Nothing at All." However, she's also had big hits with three duets that were a bit closer to Union Station's style.
  • The Lovin' Spoonful, "Summer in the City," which had a much harder sound than their usual folk-pop. Their second biggest hit, "Do You Believe in Magic?" was poppier than their usual sound.
  • The Stranglers, "Golden Brown," a baroque composition that was completely different from the band's earlier punk rock sound.
    • The Stranglers had no particular commitment to any one style. Their roots were actually in folk rock, but they abandoned that with the emergence of punk/new wave.
  • The Beatles declined to release "Yesterday" as a single in Great Britain for fear it would become one of these. (Let's just say that their producer proposed that it be a McCartney solo work. The world was not ready.) It became the most covered of their songs.
    • According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it's also the most covered of anyone's songs. Ever.
    • "Eleanor Rigby" is another one, for similar reasons to "Yesterday" though not as severe.
    • "Help!," originally written as a slow, bleak ballad similar to "Yesterday," was retooled into a rock song for similar reasons too.
    • "The Ballad of John and Yoko" has a similar history, being written by John and Paul as a snarky response to the media hype around John Lennon and Yoko Ono. It's credited to the Beatles as a whole, but only John and Paul appear (it was an 'on the spur of the moment' recording—to make up for it, George and Ringo appear on their own in George's "Old Brown Shoe" on the B-side of the single)
  • Frank Zappa, "Dancin' Fool." The humor is very typical of Zappa's music, but the highly commercial melody and radio-friendly production is not. Ironically he was trying to parody these effects, but Top-40 radio programmers didn't get the joke. See also "Valley Girl."
    • "Bobby Brown (Goes Down)" fits the bill as well.
  • Ray Stevens is mainly known for his novelty songs. However, he had his biggest hit with the extremely serious and sentimental "Everything Is Beautiful." He had another serious hit earlier with "Mr. Businessman" and also had a country hit with the Gospel standard "Turn Your Radio On."
  • Bonnie Tyler is primarily a pop-rock artist, however her first International hit was the country rock styled "It's a Heartache." Due to the success of "It's a Heartache" on country radio stations at the time (1978), this made people originally think she was a country singer.
  • Chumbawamba got known as an anarchistic punk band, but the only song of theirs most people could probably name is the pop number "Tubthumping."
    • It Gets Worse: Due to "anarchist punk" being virtually unknown in mainstream, and this tag being used in conjunction with every mention of the band, "Tubthumping" has become a representation of "anarchist punk."
  • Oasis' Liam Gallagher has this to say about "Wonderwall" (which is not much unlike their style - many of their songs are ballads, however, that's not the main direction the band was aiming for, but a brit rock n' roll one):

"I can't fucking stand that fucking song! Every time I have to sing it I want to gag. Problem is, it was a big, big tune for us."

  • Listen to Berlin's best-of collection and you'll notice that "Take My Breath Away," the only song they're really known for, sounds like nothing else on the disc. Berlin's usual style is high-energy synth pop; "Breath" is a rather somber power ballad.
  • Subverted with Heart; while they have long considered their run in the 1980s, which included such iconic songs such as "These Dreams" (lyrics by Bernie Taupin!) and "Alone," to be the group's Dork Age (due to them essentially allowing their record label to dictate what kind of songs to sing and controlling their public image to play up their sex appeal), the Wilson sisters have pretty much embraced the songs that they recorded during this period.
  • Ozzy Osbourne is known for the metal he does. His only two songs to chart in the top 40 in the US were "Close My Eyes Forever" (a somber, melancholy duet with Lita Ford) and "Mama, I'm Coming Home" (about his impending "retirement"; also co-written by Lemmy!), which are not indicative of the bulk of his discography. His highest-charting song in Britain, "Changes" (which hit no.1), is a father-daughter duet with Kelly, and a cover of what is itself a Black Sheep Hit of Black Sabbath's.
  • "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" by Rupert Holmes, who otherwise does serious work. This song is "the success that ruined his career."
  • Louis Armstrong, primarily a player of hot jazz, is best remembered for the sentimental pop ballad "What a Wonderful World."
    • Either that or the theme from Hello Dolly, which is a Black Sheep Hit of a different style.
  • One reason that Don McLean's successful career as a singer-songwriter was somewhat limited was that audiences and radio programmers expected his other songs to be similar to "American Pie" and were disappointed when they weren't.
  • Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" is way poppier than most of his other stuff.
    • Not that Executive Meddling didn't get its way. Here's the song as originally written: "Are you my brown-skinned girl?"
      • "Brown-eyed" can be an old-fashioned euphemism for "brown-skinned"; this was pointed out by John Fogerty in reference to his "brown-eyed handsome man" lyric in "Centerfield." See also "Good Times Bad Times" by Led Zeppelin.
  • The Beastie Boys, with "You Gotta (Fight For Your Right) To Party!" Not only was it different for being a Punk Rap tune, but most people didn't understand the irony of the lyrics. The band hates the song and hasn't played it live for over 20 years.
  • Pearl Jam had this with "Last Kiss." Even though it was a cover of an old 60's pop song, and only originally offered to the band's fan club, once radio stations picked it up it became their biggest hit.
    • The jury is still out if their second biggest American radio hit, "Better Man" also qualifies.
  • Most of The Clash's biggest hits are examples of this. Although music critics know them as revolutionaries in punk rock music (who later played reggae, jazz, world music and just about anything they could think of), most normal people know them for their pop hits "Train In Vain," "Rock the Casbah" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go."
  • Grateful Dead - "Touch of Grey." The pop song introduced them to new fans in the 80's, who their original fans absolutely hated.
  • Paula Cole's "I Don't Wanna Wait," a.k.a. the Dawson's Creek theme song. The rest of her work is much harder and darker. Yes, darker than a song about wanting to die.
  • The Cardigans' "Lovefool" is much poppier and upbeat than the rest of their work (but its lyrics are just as dark and ironic as their other songs).
    • The original music video made the intent of the song very clear: needless to say, they were forced to shoot a new one for American audiences.
  • Most people who've heard of Leslie Fish know her first for "Banned From Argo", a lighthearted song about spacers[1] misbehaving in bars and becoming Personae Non Gratae as a result. However, most of her work, even most of her filks, is some kind of protest song.
  • Sugar Ray's "Fly." To the point where they had a song that sounded like it ("Every Morning") released the first single from their next album 14:59
    • "Every Morning" was likely the result of Executive Meddling. Sugar Ray were originally an abrasive punk-influenced alt-rock band who turned out to have an unlikely talent for sweet-sounding ballads. Their singer commented that they had turned into the kind of band they hate.
  • Smash Mouth's first hit single, "Walkin' On The Sun," was a '60s-esque pop tune; the rest of their debut album was mostly pop-ska, with the exception of a cover of War's "Why Can't We Be Friends?" Like the above-mentioned Sugar Ray, who charted at about the same time, they embraced their Black Sheep Hit, and their second album was much heavier on the retro-pop.
  • Eve6 followed a similar path. The hit from their debut self-titled album, "Inside Out" was much lighter and more pop flavored than the harder-edged post-grunge style of the rest of the album. The following album "Horrorscope" was filled with mellower, poppier songs. Among several songs from that album to hit the charts was one that took them even further from their roots - the ballad "Here's to the Night", making it, arguably, a black sheep among black sheep (or maybe a black goat).
  • Coven was a hard rock band in the late '60s whose use of Satanic imagery predated Black Sabbath by nearly a year (they even had a song called "Black Sabbath" and a bassist named Oz Osbourne), and their debut album concludes with a recording of a Satanic mass performed by the group. Their biggest hit? "One Tin Soldier," a folksy Protest Song recorded for the soundtrack to Billy Jack.
    • Thus demonstrating why Satanic hard rock groups shouldn't cover songs by Canadian folk-pop groups.
  • "Lucky Man" by Emerson Lake and Palmer. Originally created as filler for their debut album, it became their most memorable radio hit. To top it off the song is a sloppy pop ballad on an otherwise jazzy and experimental album. Their other major pop hit, "From the Beginning" is similarly poppier (and folkier) than most of their other material.
  • Wild Cherry was a 70's rock band. As disco became more popular, many of their audience, particularly the black members, started asking them to play "funky" music. So they came up with the song "Play That Funky Music," which became their only number one hit, although it was nothing like the rest of their music.
  • The Smiths have 'How Soon is Now?'. It's probably their best-known song, but its dreamy atmospheric quality is nothing like their normal indie rock sound.
  • New Order's "Blue Monday" was only meant as an experiment with electronic instruments, and an encore instrumental piece which could be played after they had left the stage, but ended up as their best selling single.
  • Blondie's primary musical style is New Wave / pop-punk, but their four highest-charting singles in the US were the disco-electronica songs "Heart of Glass" and "Call Me," the hip hop song "Rapture," and a cover of a rocksteady song "The Tide is High."
    • New Wave was in its infancy in the late 70's, and punk was just starting to become big in the US. Blondie's hits mark a transition phase in American pop music from disco to New Wave.
    • Also, Blondie had a very flexible style that was tied strongly to both '60s pop and current trends. Thus, the experiments with hip-hop and disco, and the "Tide is High" cover at a time that ska was experiencing a revival were typically unpredictable moves.
  • John Cage's "4'33." Of course, what else could sound like it?
  • Butthole Surfers' number one hit "Pepper" is a style parody of Beck, and not really representative of their output, which is generally darker and more experimental.
  • Focus, "Hocus Pocus." It still gets more play than anything else they ever did (with the possible exception of "House of the King"). If you've heard it, you'll remember Thijs van Leer's yodelling performance ("...yodel-lay-ee yodel-om-pom-pom!"). It is quite distinct from the rest of their repertoire, and has misdirected potential fans in the past. However, the group never turned against it.
  • Before they enlisted Rod Stewart and changed their name to Faces, the Small Faces were a mod rock band comparable to a bluesier version of The Who. Their biggest hit—and the one song of theirs widely heard in the US—was "Itchycoo Park," a flower power number they pretty much wrote as a joke.
    • In the U.K., they scored another Black Sheep Hit with the equally jokey "Lazy Sunday." The lukewarm reception of the bands more serious songs led Steve Marriott to leave the group in order to form Humble Pie.
  • Bone Thugs-n-Harmony: The Ghetto Cowboy Song, and to a lesser extent "Tha Crossroads." The latter making them Contractual Purity in some fans eyes.
  • The rapper B.G. felt this way about the song "Bling Bling," which spawned a global phenomenon, and made the term a recognized word in the dictionary. Saying that people thought that was what he was all about.
  • Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper," a flukey breakthrough hit for a band whose previous albums are full of weird, abrasive proto-metal songs. They only other US Top 40 hit was "Burnin' for You" which actually managed to be poppier and less representative of their sound than "Don't Fear the Reaper" was.
  • The Turtles, under pressure from upstairs to put out hit material, recorded "Elenore," deliberately going for the trite and cheesy ("Elenore/gee, I think you're swell") - it was a big hit.
    • The band's best known song, the # 1 hit "Happy Together," was created in a similar way.
  • The Strawbs specialised in folk-rock, mostly based on timeless poetic themes, historical events or personal experiences. The majority of their songs originated from frontman Dave Cousins, who sung lead vocal on all but a few. "Part of the Union," by far and away their biggest hit ever, was a topical pub-rock anthem that took the rise out of the militant workers who were butting heads with the UK's employers and government at that time. It was written by Rick Hudson and John Ford and performed with John Ford on lead vocals. The huge success of this Black Sheep Hit was one of the main factors in Hudson and Ford's departure from the group, and also resulted in it being excluded from the playlist entirely when they took their next album on tour. (However, Hudson, Ford and PotU were all eventually returned to the fold.)
  • Garth Brooks, "Lost In You" from In The Life of Chris Gaines. At least, it was his biggest single pop-wise (it was his only Top 40 pop single, believe it or not).
  • Jason Aldean had his first big hit in 2007 with "Why," which was also his only love ballad for quite some time. He finally had a trio of #1 hits in 2009-2010, including the much mellower "Big Green Tractor" and "The Truth". With the release of the Kelly Clarkson duet "Don't You Wanna Stay" (a Power Ballad), "Why" now looks like much less of a Black Sheep Hit, but the other two still qualify.
    • There's also "Dirt Road Anthem", a Country Rap that's his biggest hit on the pop charts to date. Country-rap is not usually what he does.
  • The Goo Goo Dolls were originally a punk-oriented alternative band similar to The Replacements (they were on Metal Blade Records - a famous metal label and as such were a strange fit there), but they decided to record a ballad ("Name") for their 1995 album A Boy Named Goo. That wound up being a major hit (their first, after three albums). They actually decided to roll with it and wound up completely changing their style to the softer pop-rock they're known for now.
    • Actually, the Goo Goo Dolls have been doing slower acoustic songs from almost the beginning, the first one being the more jokey "James Dean" from their second album, Jed. They just started doing more of it when they figured out that John was as good at ballads as he was at rocking out and that the ballads sold better - to the point where it's most of their music now.
  • Free, "All Right Now." Before that, they mostly did slow blues-rock ballads.
  • Hoobastank, "The Reason." It's completely a ballad, contrasting strongly with Hoobastank's usual alternative rock/alt-metal style (though they are mostly the former).
  • Electric Light Orchestra's trademark sound of symphonic rock brought them fame...but their biggest hit in the US was the string-less "Don't Bring Me Down."
    • They also had two other top 20 hits in the U.S. - "Hold On Tight" and "Calling America" - which lacked strings (although it must be noted that strings had been largely abandoned by that point in their career).
  • This often happens with veteran artists who try changing their sound to meet current tastes. "Miss You," The Rolling Stones' flirtation with disco, is one example.
  • Ten Years After's biggest hit, "I'd Love to Change the World," was much softer than their usual hard-rock style.
  • Queen fans, especially those who think it all went downhill around A Night at the Opera, love to bash "We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions," even though it may well be their most recognizable single (double) to non-fans.
    • John Deacon conceived "Another One Bites the Dust" as a "little ditty about a cowboy". It was initially not intended to be a single because it was so far and away from the rest of the album, but someone suggested it should be a single. They took the risk, and you can see how it paid off.
      • Their next album Hot Space was nearly all disco-funk pieces (they tried to capitalize on the success of AOBTD), but a heck of a lot of fans didn't and don't like it at all. This troper does though.
    • "Bohemian Rhapsody," particularly the operatic middle section ("I see a little silhouetto of a man..."). Not only does it lie at one extreme of their range of styles, it also employs an eight-part harmony (overdubbed in the studio), so despite its huge popularity they have never been able to perform the entire song live.
    • "Under Pressure" was the band's only big name single to be recorded alongside an outside artist, in this case David Bowie. It's gone on to be one of their most recognizable hits. And for good reason.
  • "Dance with the Devil" was Cozy Powell's first and biggest solo hit. Unfortunately, he didn't really mean it: "I only cut 'Dance with the Devil' for a laugh, but then it escalated until I felt I was losing credibility..." It led to him quitting music and going into motor racing full time for a few months, after which he was persuaded to join Strange Brew and then Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow.
  • Sort of averted by The Flaming Lips' "She Don't Use Jelly" - the band's only American chart single. Most fans tend to be weary of it still being the first thing many people think of when they hear the band's name, but the band still like it: Even though they're increasingly playing less early material live, the song is nearly always included in their setlists.
  • The Jimi Hendrix Experience became sick of playing "Hey Joe" because it was all anyone would request. On Happening for Lulu they stopped playing it mid-song, with Hendrix referring to it as "rubbish" and launched into a cover of Cream's "Sunshine Of Your Love."
  • Filter's "Take a Picture" is a light, melodic song that stands in contrast to their darker, heavier music. This leads to a funny moment when one unfamiliar with the group first plays "Hey Man, Nice Shot" on Guitar Hero World Tour and then wonders why the band has a song on the mainstream pop-oriented Band Hero.
  • Toto's "Africa." The song was almost omitted from the Toto IV album, since the band in general was tired of it, and some members even thought it didn't sound like Toto at all.
  • Dream Theater wrote "Pull Me Under" almost as an afterthought to the album Images and Words because it was thought the album (which was released in 1992 but mostly written in 1989) needed a more straight-forward heavy song to balance out the Epic Rocking and the ballads. The song went on to be a surprise # 10 rock radio chart hit and popular MTV video. They've also expressed irritation over the immense and enduring popularity of "Metropolis Pt. 1" (although this was not a radio hit) to the point where many fans wanted to hear it at every show. Mike Portnoy once asked, "Don't you guys ever get tired of this fucking song?" and John Petrucci said the band could "play it in [their] sleep."
  • Ray Parker Jr.'s "Ghostbusters," which sounds uncannily like a Huey Lewis and the News song but sounds nothing like Parker's other work.
  • "Hey There Delilah" by the Plain White T's - their usual style is much more upbeat and is more pop-punk oriented, but their acoustic ballad was what became a major hit. Their next two Top 40 hits in the United States, "1234" and "Rhythm of Love" were also acoustic ballads (although both slightly more upbeat).
  • X Japan, "Forever Love." The song became one of the most recognized in Japan featuring in everything from an anime ending to a political campaign to being played at hide's funeral. Only problem is it's actually the lowest point of Narm the band managed to reach.
  • "Under the Bridge" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers got a lot of people buying Blood Sugar Sex Magik expecting more of the same and not an album full of funk with only maybe two other ballady songs. Imagine all the suburban housewives who liked "Under the Bridge" and wound up stumbling into "Sir Psycho Sexy"!
    • They managed an inverted version of this later on, with the hit "Can't Stop" from the album By The Way. Can't Stop is the only example of funk-pop on the album. The remaining tracks are mostly ballads, though there are a few exceptions.
  • Fans turned on to Alien Ant Farm by their hit cover of "Smooth Criminal" were probably confused when they got Criminal and 12 tracks of emo.
    • Which causes a bit of a Berserk Button among some of the earliest AAF fans. Before "Smooth Criminal" hit the radio circuit AAF were a hyped band in the local Bay Area rock scene, and they had two minor singles that received some radio play. After "Smooth Criminal," it got really hard to market "that band who did that Michael Jackson song."
    • In the UK, while AAF's most famous song is still their cover of "Smooth Criminal", most people prefer "Movies", which was pretty big when it was released.
  • A rare example where the black sheep hit was their first: Boyz II Men are known for the romantic ballads and soulful harmonies. Naturally, their first hit "Motownphilly" was an up-tempo New Jack Swing dance number.
  • Mr. Big, a band known for having one of the fastest and most technically adept guitarists in rock and metal (and this was in the late 80s, when lightning-fast guitar shredders were everywhere) and a world famous bass guitar virtuoso, naturally had their biggest stateside hit with "To Be With You," a relatively slow and simple acoustic ballad.
  • Thin Lizzy's "Whiskey In The Jar" was originally recorded as an Irish in-joke and as B-side to one of their singles. When the management got hold of it, they flipped it to the A-side and it became a massive hit, much to the band's chagrin. Metallica covering it didn't help too much.
  • Chicago's "If You Leave Me Now" was this at the time of its release. It was almost left off Chicago X for this reason. After the album was released, band member Walter Parazaider heard the song on the radio...and didn't know it was his own band's work. Needless to say, the success of the song led to a big shift in the band's style. Thirty-five years later, keyboardist Robert Lamm has been known to jokingly introduce it at concerts as, "The song that ruined our career."
  • Pretty much everything Chris DeBurgh ever did falls into three categories: 1. Michael Bolton-esque power pop beltfests (Don't Pay The Ferryman), 2. Gentle, melodic folk ballads (This Song For You), and 3. narratives (Patricia The Stripper). One time... one time... he did a mushy love song, Lady In Red. Which he specifically did as a tribute to his wife. Guess which one gets the most airplay?
  • The Cranberries' "Zombie" to an extent - they've had hits that were just as big and were more representative of their signature style, but it's one of their most famous songs and also the only heavy, grunge-influenced thing they've ever done. They specifically went for a darker, more aggressive sound in this case because they thought it would fit with the overtly anti-war lyrics. It's sort of an inverse of the typical Surprisingly Gentle Song example.
  • Canadian hair-metal band April Wine is best known for a sweet ballad with French lyrics (and a kick-ass guitar solo) called "Just Between You And Me." It was admittedly written as an attempt to bring more female members into their fanbase.
  • "Mujer Amante," a Love Song by the Argentinean Heavy Metal band Rata Blanca was their biggest hit ever. The rest of their music was 100% Heavy Metal. (Even at high speeds and heavy sound.)
  • From Argentina's border, Brazilian band Los Hermanos had "Anna Júlia," a catchy pop-rock song unlike the rest of their material (specially the one stuff came after), which they've grown to hate.
  • Sophie B. Hawkins's biggest pop hit is "As I Lay Me Down," which lacks the overt sexual content of most of the rest of her repertoire (including her other big hit, "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover").
  • Invoked intentionally by early Christian Rock band Petra, because their usual material was considered unacceptable for airplay on Christian radio.
  • Marillion had one with "Kayleigh," which is a lot poppier than their usual progressive rock style.
  • "Babe" by Styx is a slow ballad, unlike most of their other more rock-oriented works. "Mr. Roboto" is mostly synthesized, while most of their songs were guitar-based.
  • Patti Smith was a founding mother of American punk music who was shockingly profane for a female vocalist of her time, and brought to her music a strong feminist vibe. Her best-known hit is "Because The Night," a pop love ballad written by Bruce Springsteen, which contains none of these elements.
  • The Bangles write the vast majority of their own songs, but of their four best-charting singles, "Manic Monday" was written by Prince (and sounds like it, being a Suspiciously Similar Substitute vocally for his "1999"), "Walk Like An Egyptian" was a novelty song, "Hazy Shade of Winter" was a cover, and "Eternal Flame" was the only ballad on Everything.
  • Modern English were generally a moody, goth-influenced post-punk band when the jangly, upbeat "I Melt With You" became a big hit - in the US they're still considered a One-Hit Wonder (they did technically have two other hits on the Billboard charts, but one of them was just a 1990 remake of "I Melt With You").
  • 38 Special is known for their guitar-driven Southern rock. Yet their biggest hit was the synth-driven ballad "Second Chance", released in 1989 and a "comeback" single (it had been several years since they'd had a top 40 hit) to boot.
  • One of the Smithereens' biggest hits? "Too Much Passion," a light soul-pop song that sounds nothing like their guitar-driven sound. Their other top 40 hit, "A Girl Like You", is an upbeat power pop love anthem also atypical of their headier fare.
  • Pat Benatar's "Love is a Battlefield."
    • Rather typical of her later style; she and Neil Geraldo seem to indicate that their earlier style was more the result of Executive Meddling, and that a change in record label produced songs like "Love is a Battlefield" and "We Belong" that are more in line with their preferred style.
  • Slipknot's lead single off their successful self-titled debut, "Wait And Bleed" could be considered an example. While it has the speed, angst and chaotic qualities of most of their output, it's by-far the least heavy non-electronic song on the record. It's also one of the album's shortest songs.
    • Another example from may be the record's other single, "Spit It Out." While it's faster and longer than "Wait And Bleed," it's one of the band's few songs that has out-and-out rapping, causing them to often be pegged as Rap Metal.
  • The Hollies' "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress" is much harder than their usual material. Justified in that the song is a Homage to Creedence Clearwater Revival.
    • It also differs from the band's usual output in two other ways. The lead guitar was played by vocalist Allan Clarke as opposed to usual guitarist Tony Hicks, and it contains a solo vocal from Clarke (one of the Hollies' trademarks was their great harmonies).
  • Rollergirl's only major hit, a cover of Sunscreem's "Love You More," is trance, while most of her other songs are Eiffel-65 style Nu-Italo/Europop.
  • Bachman-Turner Overdrive, a band cited as one of the precursors to heavy metal, hit the US top 10 only once - with the novelty song "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet."
  • Comedian/singer Rodney Carrington rarely saw chart action due to the highly profane nature of his songs. In 2009, he hit the charts for the first time in several years with the dead-serious Christmas song "Camouflage and Christmas Lights," which is his only Top 40 hit on the country charts.
  • OutKast have long been known for their endlessly creative brand of hip hop. Their biggest hit? "Hey Ya," a Beatles-esque pop song. It is because Big Boi wasn't involved with that song. If OutKast was just Andre 3000, there would have been more songs like "Hey Ya!."
  • Todd Rundgren, despite his soulful stylings, may be best known for the latter-day Talking Heads rip-off "Bang on the Drum All Day."
    • All of Rundgren's big hits (the ones mentioned above, "I Saw The Light", "We Gotta Get You a Woman") are from the poppier side of his music. He can get really experimental and weird from time to time (A Wizard, A True Star; the early Utopia albums).
  • Shinedown's cover of "Simple Man." Constantly screamed for at concerts by drunk people who know the band only for Brent Smith's rendition of this Lynyrd Skynryd classic. Old interviews had the band stating that they would never play it live again, due to guitarist Jasin Todd's departure. It is thought among some fans that the song's resurfacing in their current Carnival of Madness tour is due to pressure from their record label Atlantic, and the band actually hates playing the song. Singer Brent Smith has been heard to drop snide remarks at fans who show up only to hear Simple Man ("How many of you want to hear Simple Man so you can leave?").
    • To a lesser extent, Shinedown's biggest hit to date "Second Chance" is not very representative of the band's typical hard rock style, although the band does embrace this song.
  • Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" is one of his best-known songs but is much harder than his other material. An inversion of the usual scenario.
  • Del Amitri's "Roll To Me" was added to the Twisted CD as an afterthought, and it's now the only song of theirs that many people know. The rest of Twisted is harder and less tuneful.
  • While Bobby McFerrin is still respected as a jazz vocalist, he's not likely to ever live down "Don't Worry, Be Happy."
  • Few people who aren't fans of flamenco music can name any other song by Los Del Rio besides "Macarena."
  • As an experimental musician, Mike Oldfield has never been interested in crafting pop hits, but he's remembered by most people as the guy who recorded "Tubular Bells," the theme from The Exorcist. Only a small part of the album-long composition was used in the film, but that part was released as a single and made the U.S. Top 10.
  • Soft Cell's megahit, "Tainted Love," is nothing like most of their other material, which is loaded with kinky sexual content that would not be played on most radio stations.
  • Queensrÿche's sole Top 40 hit, "Silent Lucidity," which is a mainstream rock ballad rather than their usual Progressive Metal.
  • Subverted hard by Genesis. Once a sophisticated progressive rock band, "Follow You, Follow Me" and especially "Misunderstanding" should by all rights have been Black Sheep Hits for them. But they seemingly decided to go with it, and soon became far better known for a string of hit singles mostly fairly similar to those songs than for their more progressive work.
    • Genesis had been making a steady progression towards the mainstream even before Peter Gabriel left ("I Know What I Like" and "Counting Out Time" are probably the most "poppy" sounding of their early stuff, despite the latter being on a double concept album). They had no serious commitment to a particular style or image; they just did what they did and followed whatever worked for them. Hell, their first singles were done "in the style of" the Bee Gees in an attempt to appeal to producer Jonathan King, and their largely forgotten first album, From Genesis to Revelation was essentially a Procul Harum/Moody Blues clone. They didn't really have much success with it until Phil Collins underwent a nasty divorce and started throwing himself at his work ("Misunderstanding", along with "Man On The Corner", were essentially Collins solo tracks that the rest of the band liked).
  • Waylon Jennings hated "Luckenbach, Texas," because it was way too conventional and derivative for his outlaw country style, but he recorded it anyway because he figured it would be a huge hit. He was right: it was his biggest hit on the country charts and crossed over to the pop Top 40 too.
  • Canadian indie-rock band Rheostatics had to write an in-universe hit single for the soundtrack of the film version of Whale Music, and the song ended up becoming an actual Top 40 hit, proving that they could write a hit single if they wanted to. They didn't enjoy the experience and never tried it again.
  • Yes - "Owner of a Lonely Heart," compared to their Progressive Rock work from before that song/album.
    • Their second biggest hit, "Roundabout" while poppy, is still "progressive", but not nearly as much as their other material.
  • The Elastik Band were a pretty obscure, short-lived band in the 60's, but later on their bizarre, politically incorrect psychedelic blues-rock single "Spazz" became a cult favorite when it showed up on the compilation Nuggets. Some time later, a compilation of their complete recordings came out, and it turned out they were otherwise a gentle folk-rock band who generally had more in common with The Byrds or The Left Banke than Captain Beefheart.
  • While Bjork is known for "being weird," it's likely that the only song of hers the average person could name is "It's Oh So Quiet," which is (a) nothing like anything else she's ever done, (b) A cover and (c) a song she detests now.
    • The relative popularity of her singles varies geographically, eg. in the UK, where she has the most chart success, "Hyperballad" and "Army of Me" were also top 10 hits. The former allowed her to avert One-Hit Wonder status, and like Radiohead and Beck who did the same thing (after a longer wait in their case), she achieved critical acclaim and established a long career.
  • Thankfully averted with Radiohead - the single "Creep" from their first album was immensely popular, so much so that they were in danger of caving under the pressure of the success. Instead, they followed it up with The Bends, and later OK Computer, two of the most critically acclaimed albums of the 90's. To this day, they continue to be lauded by critics upon new releases.
  • Jefferson Starship mostly did rockers. Their biggest hit, "Miracles," was a soft ballad.
  • Foo Fighters have a couple:
    • "Big Me", an upbeat pop rock song, was their first major hit single and unlike any of their normal hits.
    • "Walking After You", a downtempto love ballad
    • "All My Life", which is harder than their usual style, is their biggest hit in their United Kingdom.
      • "Everlong", their most popular song, is closer to emo than their usual hard rock style. This naturally makes it seem out of place when they perform it, hence why it's usually the show closer.
    • "Learn To Fly", their biggest pop hit, was one of Dave's least favorite songs (specially because its success lead him to play it every night!).
  • Rainbow was a metal pioneer, but their one and only Top 40 hit was "Stone Cold," a slow song from the Joe Lynn Turner era.
    • In the UK at least, "Since You've Been Gone" was a big hit, but it is a glam rock song.
  • Weezer's Green Album got lots of airplay for "Hash Pipe," which had a harder sound than most of the emo the band regularly played, and a much harder sound than anything from that album.
    • The Green Album's second single "Island in the Sun" then went and did the opposite, taking the album's poppy direction and going even further with it.
    • "Beverly Hills" is a better example. It's their biggest hit, and it sounds nothing like the rest of the album (Mostly soft ballads)
  • Bob Seger was first known for his garage rock and then his guitar-driven arena rock. His only #1? "Shakedown," a synth-driven song that was written by him, Harold Faltermeyer, and Keith Forsey for the movie Beverly Hills Cop II.
    • Another one of his big hits, "Shame on the Moon," managed to get enough airplay at country radio to make #15 on the country music charts, it was even written by critically acclaimed country singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell. It, too, is a (less blatant) departure from his usual sound.
  • Michael Franti is a fusion musician who has been playing professionally since 1986 and recording since 1992, with nine albums in his name in a variety of styles from jazz to reggae to hip-hop. The only song of his to get significant airplay is 2009's "Say Hey (I Love You)", a Silly Love Song that barely represents the scope of his abilities.
  • Steely Dan's biggest hit in the UK is "Haitian Divorce", a ska-inflicted song that is not only atypical of their normal jazz rock sound, but also one of their more obscure singles in their native United States. Its one of only a few of their singles to miss the Billboard Hot 100 entirely.
  • To some extent, two of the best known Dead Milkmen songs are these: "Punk Rock Girl" doesn't differ that much from their usual style musically, but the lyrical humor is a bit Lighter and Softer than usual, and Joe Jack Talcum sings it instead of their regular vocalist Rodney Anonymous. Meanwhile, "You'll Dance To Anything" does have Rodney on lead vocals and is more representative of their Take That-laden humor, but since it's a Take That to New Wave, it's based around deliberately repetitive synthesizers and drum machines instead of their usual full-band sound.
  • While parody artists such as "Weird Al" Yankovic frequently adapt their output to match the music of the times, was there anyone who watched him and his band develop their fame in the "Eat It" era who believed that his first top 10 hit in the US was going to be a rap? "White And Nerdy" is his biggest American hit to date.
  • Avantasia is a german power metal project. Their biggest hit? The pop ballad "Lost in Space"...
  • With My Chemical Romance, they like to take it to an extreme, with their entire latest album, Danger Days: The True Lives of The Fabulous Killjoys being the most successful album they've had so far, despite a different style to what they're often known for (This album was Fun Personified as an album instead of a character while they're often known for emotional 'don't stop singing' powerful songs which are often mistaken for Emo). However, to fans who listened to their previous albums, they'd know they've had similar songs scattered through their previous albums, but none had been released. This time, all but a small percentage are anything but poppy and fun. Previous non-single songs, such as House of Wolves for example, have a similar tone and style to Danger Days.
  • Within Temptation's "What Have You Done" was a commerical success, but many longtime fans dislike the presence of male vocals (especially from a singer who never appeared in any other WT track) and dismiss the song as an Evanescence rip-off.
    • It could be argued that Evanescence had their own black sheep hit with "Bring Me to Life," as that song was recorded with someone from a different band entirely, and 99.98% of their output lacks male backing vocals.
  • Iron Maiden's Number of the Beast and Run to the Hills are the two songs most commonly associated with them, despite their earlier stuff being more on the Punk side than Metal, and their later stuff being much Darker and Edgier (their most recent 4 being extremely dark, heavy and soul crushingly melancholy). However, occasionally tunes like The Wicker Man or Aces High get mentions.
  • Rise Against usually write blistering Hardcore Punk anthems, but they had a big hit with the subdued acoustic song "Swing Life Away".
  • Incubus's breakout hit, "Drive", was much softer than their past work, though they've done more like it since.
  • Bob Marley's "One Love" and "Three Little Birds" are happy anomalies in his usually serious rock reggae catalogue, but they are the songs most commonly associated with him. Similarly the album "Kaya" sold well but is Lighter and Softer than the rest of his work. It is said that he released accessible material on "Exodus" and "Kaya" so that the public would pay attention to his work for his next album Survival, which contained his most political themes to date. However, they ended up changing the public perception of him to that of a carefree hippie rasta rather than someone who was using his music to call for social change.
  • Peter Tosh's biggest hit "You Gotta Walk And (Don't Look Back)" is a very upbeat synth-heavy cover of the Temptations song, sung as a duet with Mick Jagger. Sounds nothing like his other work where he usually sounds more cynical.
  • The Barenaked Ladies ran into this with "One Week", the entirely goofy white-boy rap which finally shot them to international recognition after years of crafting intelligent, snarky pop-rock. A track off a later album hung a lampshade on the pressure they faced to repeat this success:

Kinda like the last time
With a bunch of really fast rhymes
If we're living in the past I'm
Soon gone...

  • If you want to clear out a room full of Tubes fans, put on "She's a Beauty."
  • Big & Rich is an interesting zig-zagging. Their only # 1 country hit and only Top 40 pop hit (and a minor AC hit!) is "Lost in This Moment," a wedding ballad which is quite far removed from their rock-oriented, in-your-face material such as "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)". And while "Save a Horse" is by far their best-known song, it didn't do nearly as well on the charts.
  • Brad Paisley usually records tongue-in-cheek novelty numbers, and on the rare occasion that he does a ballad, it's still got an undercurrent of humor. Not so with "Then", a veritable Cliché Storm that sounds nearly nothing like the rest of his career as far as melody or lyrics.
    • Another example of a black sheep hit from him is "Remind Me," a duet with Carrie Underwood, which is his highest charting song on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. Like "Then," it's a ballad that is much different from most of his other songs.
  • After the Fire were a British power-pop/new-wave band who had their biggest hit, “Der Kommissar,” with a cover of a Falco song that sounded nothing like their regular material. Additionally, it began moving up the charts after the band had broken up. A compilation album was quickly thrown together by Epic Records to capitalize on the song’s popularity in the US market (where none of the band’s studio albums had been released).
  • Texan alt-rock band Fastball, with Out of My Head. Out of My Head, a ballad that is different from the rest of the album, and completely different from the previous album. Granted, lead singer/bassist Tony Scalzo had Hepatitis C, and couldn't get health insurance working in a bagel shop.
  • Fellow Texans Bowling for Soup, with 1985.
  • Cherry Poppin' Daddies recorded music in practically every genre. Yet they are labeled as a swing band, thanks to Zoot Suit Riot. To be fair, Zoot Suit Riot was also the title track to a compilation specifically meant to highlight their swing material, which then became their most commercially successful album. Even before "Zoot Suit Riot" became a hit, the swing revival caused them to pick up a new fan base, so their manager suggested they put together a compilation featuring just the swing songs from their previous albums.
  • Fuzzbubble were a Cheap Trick-influenced Power Pop band. The only charting song they were involved in was a Rap Rock remix of Puff Daddy's "It's All About The Benjamins" (you know, the version that formed the basis of "All About The Pentiums)". When their full-length album finally came out, they lampshaded this a bit with it's Hidden Track - a cover of "It's All About The Benjamins" In the Style Of beat jazz.
  • Emiliana Torrinis biggest hit 'Jungle Drum' is a textbook example of this. Being very upbeat and rather poppy it was a big hit in Europe. And also completely different from her usual rather quiet, dark and bittersweet songs. Torrini herself has expressed to be rather surprised at the success of the song since it barely even made it to the album.
  • The Residents are best known by the mainstream public for their underground hit "Kaw Liga", which is a very danceable cover of a song by Hank Williams and very catchy and slick compared to their general experimental output.
  • Melissa Manchester's biggest hit and only Grammy Award winning song is "You Should Hear How She Talks About You" in 1982 which is a dance pop song while her primary music style is MOR. Her other top 10 hits, "Midnight Blue" and "Don't Cry Out Loud" are more representative of her usual style of music.
  • Yellow Magic Orchestra was to be a single album side project that parodied Exotica. Instead, the album became one of the most important in Japanese recording history.
  • Madonna's "Cherish" is a much lighter song than she usually scores hits with. She herself described it as "retarded" and almost didn't include on the Like A Prayer album, but it became a #2 hit.
  • Latin music star Thalia's "I Want You", a deliberate and successful attempt at a US crossover pop hit, but generally considered a throwaway by her regular fanbase.
  • "She Blinded Me with Science" sounds nothing like Thomas Dolby's other works.

Classical Music

  • Older Than Radio: Beethoven expressed irritation at the popularity of his Moonlight Sonata, saying "Surely I've written better things."
  • Also classical, but not Older Than Radio: Ravel's "Bolero."
  • Another classical gas: Tchaikovsky was not happy with his most popular composition, "The Nutcracker."
    • Ironically, even the "distilled" suite from the ballet contains one movement more in Tchaikovsky's usual style. In keeping with this trope, the movement is rarely heard outside full performances of the ballet.
  • Carl Orff has "O Fortuna" the first song from the suite Carmina Burana. Carmina Burana contains 25 songs, whereof the first two ("O Fortuna" and "Fortuna plango vulnera") are dark ominous awesomeness, and the rest is a variety of medieval drinking- and love songs no-one has ever heard. Compare "O Fortuna" with "Floret Silva Nobilis"
  • Gustav Holst, despite writing mainly folk-influenced works, including two great suites for military band, is known best for the far more modernistic "Planets" suite.
  • Camille Saint-Saëns did not permit "The Carnival of the Animals" to be published during his lifetime, feeling that its frivolity would harm his reputation. (The movement "Tortoises," for instance, consists of the "Can-can" theme from Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld" played absurdly slowly.) Today, it is his best-known work.
  • Almost all of Johann Pachelbel's output consists of chorales and fugues, and is regarded as relatively important in the development of the mid-Baroque chorale by musicologists, but very few people nowadays can even name a piece by him not titled Canon in D, which was the only canon he wrote and gained popularity in the 1970s.


  • Stephen Sondheim is known for difficult music that packs lots of geniusly-rhymed words with lots of chords and is extremely difficult for even gifted singers, and his shows tend to not last very long and be very popular, but get revived like crazy. For A Little Night Music, his lightest work when he got to write the musicals he wanted (and that's not saying much, as it's basically Adultery: The Musical!), he wrote a song for the non-singer Glynis Johns to sing expressing her disappointment, using short phrases. It's a very simple song, but suddenly everyone began to cover it. Even now he refers to "Send in the Clowns" as his medley of greatest hit.
  1. as in the crew of space ships