After playing in punk bands during the early '80s, Rick Rubin founded Def Jam with Russell Simmons and helped launch the careers of Slayer, Run DMC, Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys.
But he's most recently made his reputation rehabilitating. Over the years, Rubin's demonstrated a predilection for breathing new life into bands, particularly those whose best days occurred in the '80s, like Red Hot Chili Peppers, AC/DC and potentially U2, who Rubin has worked with recently. He jump-started Johnny Cash's career with the stripped down sound of 1994's American Recordings. Rubin's Metallica album comes out next week, and if anyone can help them recover face after the sad pretension and unintentional hilarity of 2004's documentary Some Kind of Monster, it's Rubin.
But the dude can't polish a turd. See Limp Bizkit's Results May Vary for proof. In addition to his upcoming work with The Avett Brothers and Velvet Revolver, Rubin will revisit those bearded Texans of ZZ Top next year. Bad idea? Probably.
In honor of ZZ Top's upcoming Triangle appearance, we're passing along the five worst (best?) candidates for a Rubin-esque overhaul.
QUALFIED? They're like AC/DC without the leather—frequently clever songs packed in hooks and hard rock heft—but reduced to touring with the rotted husks of Journey and Heart.
WHY? At its finest, Cheap Trick cranks out top-shelf, fist-pumping, parking lot rock with the same irreverent sensibility as License to Ill. The band deserves a renaissance at least as much bearded, guitar-spinning blues minstrels ZZ Top.
POTENTIAL COVER: A raunchy, balls-out version of Fountain of Wayne's "Stacy's Mom," with a reprise of "I Want You to Want Me" in the break.
QUALIFIED? Sold at least 7 million (!) copies of Sports since '83, and participated in "We Are the World."
WHY? The time is ripe, with Garth Brooks covering "Working for a Living" and the 58-year-old Lewis edging into old age, with gray adding a patina of respectability to a guy who looks less like a rocker than Bob Saget. We say put a band behind him that knows Music from Big Pink and recast him as an Americana folk singer.
POTENTIAL COVER: A dusty, bluegrass take on Curtis Mayfield's "Pusherman."
QUALIFIED? Half of hip-hop's legendary duo Eric B & Rakim, he's been pretty much MIA for years after his solo career got lost in the flash of gats and bling. He hasn't released an album in almost a decade, despite promising a third solo joint for several years.
WHY? Rubin cut his teeth on old-school rap, but has barely recorded a half-dozen hip-hop tracks (notably Jay-Z's "99 Problems") in the two decades since Run DMC's Tougher than Leather, making this a double-pronged comeback.
POTENTIAL COVER: A chopped & screwed version of Bad Company's "Feel Like Making Love."
QUALIFIED? Coe's an original outlaw with bad boy backstory to rival Cash. Across his 50-year career, he's penned No.1 hits ("Take This Job and Shove It") and dirty-minded paeans ("Pick'em, Lick'em, Stick'em"), recorded with Pantera's Dimebag Darrell and Kid Rock, partied with Shel Silverstein, and survived a run-in with the IRS.
WHY? Chopper-riding redneck rebel, and hard rocker to boot, Coe's dying for a producer capable of channeling his hell-raising spirit, while balancing it with tender, ass-wizened cowboy ache. Given Coe's background, self-evident talent and need for re-evaluation, it's surprising Rubin hasn't called him since Cash's passing.
POTENTIAL COVER: A rollicking Bakersfield country version of Ministry's "So What."
QUALIFIED? Hell no, but industry executives must think she's cute.
WHY? If only so Pete Wentz won't be so embarrassed: Simpson's latest, Bittersweet World, cycles through producers and styles like a teen movie shopping montage, without producing anything memorable or successful. She doesn't have Shakira's hips, but perhaps she could make a go at blue-eyed soul. While she's no more suited to soul than singing, both can be punched up in the mix.
POTENTIAL COVER: A string-laden, full choir version of "Blame It on The Rain."
ZZ Top plays Walnut Creek Amphitheater with Brooks & Dunn and Rodney Atkins Saturday, Sept. 6, at 7 p.m.