Kurt Cobain – The Dry Swamp (1996)
Mostly acoustic, produced by Mark Lanegan. For Kurt’s sake, let’s call this a post-sobriety album, recovering from Nirvana’s car crash spotlight. Quiet and quirky but not dark, more like his absurd home recordings with a few serious ballads. One (or more) would hit big, a catchy acoustic/drum machine tune made for mid-90s radio. Kurt Cobain just couldn’t help but write hit songs. Nirvana would be on long hiatus, so Dave Grohl could do his Foo Fighters nonsense. Later: Kurt strikes a deal with Geffen Records for his own label, which would release weird stuff (The Frogs, a collab with Daniel Johnston, a Thurston Moore guitar feedback EP) that wouldn’t sell any records. In the 2000s, Kurt goes into filmmaking, maybe a Gus Vant Sant-y drama about a troubled family and a documentary about The Raincoats. In 2010, Nirvana reforms for a world tour, settling in to legacy status.
Tupac & Biggie – Coast 2 Coast (1998)
I don’t think this would have been a mind blowing classic album. A few bangers, but Tupac and Biggie would be all over the glitzy late-90s pop rap sound. Don’t forget – their work aged well because it came from such a fertile era. They’d try to make a blockbuster here, succumbing to trends. Biggie would keep releasing albums with some hits and the occasional radio freestyle to remind everyone how ill he was. Tupac would remain a rap focal point before turning to acting full time around 2003, with some critically acclaimed role. How far would he have taken his political ambitions? He would have kept fighting for sure. Tupac Shakur alive in 2022 makes the world a better place.
Jim Morrison – Daddy’s Disco (1978)
Jim Morrison would have thrived in the debauched 70s rock scene with Lou Reed and David Bowie. Assuming he survived that, I could see him working with Patti Smith and Iggy Pop and that sect of artists who drew inspiration from him. The Doors would be history for a while. Consider that they were not well regarded until Oliver Stone’s 1991 film caused a cultural resurgence. But would that film even happen in this alternate reality? The Doors would still have their rightful place in dorm rooms and bars, but would Morrison still be a cult hero or just another aging rock star? I could see him making a spoken word album produced by Trent Reznor. In the 2000s he’d get a morning radio show to go up against Howard Stern. It would last two months.
Jimi Hendrix (live album with Bob Dylan – 1975)
This would be a trainwreck. And it would be Dylan’s fault. I love Bob Dylan, but his live 70s stuff could be shouty and not all that listenable on record. The question is Jimi Hendrix, whom I’m sure would amass a live archive from the 70s to rival the Grateful Dead’s. Note that his 60s live performances were often plagued by tuning issues and technical limitations, plus the erratic energy of his eye of the storm fame. Band Of Gypsies is where it’s at, and that trajectory would lead to some stellar work. How would he have responded to prog rock and Dark Side Of The Moon? Or Funkadelic? And we know that he backed the proto-rap political group The Last Poets for “Doriella Du Fontaine” which was as close to rap music as anyone got in 1969. If you study Hendrix closely, you’ll find maps for the next few decades of music.
Ol’ Dirty Bastard with Van Halen (Feb 2012 – March 2012)
Van Halen has been a dumpster fire since the mid-90s, so why not? This would be a management thing, both sides pushing for a gimmicky tour. ODB could sing “Unchained,” and the VH boys would try to replicate “Brooklyn Zoo.” It would be a fun, chaotic handful of shows before the tour fell apart. They’d blame each other, and the promoters would lose a lot of money. Poor ODB did not live to make big Wu-Tang tour money. When he died in 2004, his career was in flux and the Wu empire was scattered at a low ebb. We can only hope for a more dignified future for Russell Jones – touring with his Wu brothers, feeding his own family, with girls lined up at his hotel room on every stop.
The Beatles – Live In Las Vegas (1995)
The Beatles would have reformed in the 80s. Would the music be good? We know that Paul McCartney’s decade was suspect but let’s be fair – John Lennon was his songwriting soulmate. Lennon was just getting back in the groove with his final album Double Fantasy in 1980, which was half Yoko songs. No one could ever predict what The Beatles did, that’s what made them so special. Still their proper second act would have been onstage, where they never got a chance to stretch out in the modern rock format. I wish they’d toured in 1971, taking that rooftop act on the road. Into the 90s, I could see them in that Rolling Stones spot – giant tours that sell out stadiums and merch. As for John Lennon himself, he was born for rock elder statesman status, opining on the state of the world in interviews. And he was such a witty guy and he liked to sleep late – why not give him his own late night talk show? I couldn’t see him doing a monologue of hacky news jokes, but let him spar with celebrities and you’ve got gold.