5. The Darkness (2004)
The hottest band in the world, or a one note see-through gimmick? A band who had their finger on the pulse recapturing the hard rocking glory of prog, or an act with one album and a Christmas single? A stroke of genius or an embarrassment?
The Darkness divided opinion, and in truth, no matter what side of the debate you were on, you weren’t wrong. In 2004 they were gods, but the backlash was building; Zane Lowe had disowned them and fans were debating the merits of their headline set right up to the opening chords of “Love On The Rocks…”. In the end the Darkness drew a suitably sizeable crowd and delivered a hit and miss set. It was a score draw that saw the lovers and the haters slowly returning to their tents to engage in a second round of debates.
4. Razorlight vs. Kings Of Leon (2007)
How wrong can one festival get it? We all back the wrong horse once in a while, but normally when we get it wrong we aren’t taking a million pound gamble. Unlike our previous entrants there was no argument: Razorlight headlining was just plain wrong, or that’s what the fans thought at the time. They wanted the Kings Of Leon and boy oh boy did they let the organizer hear it, not just on the web, but after the Kings of Leon set as they chanted “Fuck Razorlight”, “Die Johnny Die”, and “Kings Of Leon”.
They may have faltered in 2009, but the Kings smashed it at both Reading and Leeds in 2007 proving every angry fan and demented troll right. Rarely has so much hate seemed so rational. The worst headline booking in Reading history resulted in the “great Razorlight walkout” and one of the most bitter backlashes in Festival history.
3. Guns ‘N’Roses (2010, 2002)
Oh yes, Axl Rose has kept Razorlight out of the top three by enraging the Reading faithful not once, but twice. Honestly this pick needs no explanation. We hear the tired “it’s not the same without Slash” argument pretty much every time GnR do…well…anything, and we’re also more than familiar with the unreliable Axl routine, but for Reading, GnR went one better.
That’s right, Guns And Roses decided to headline Leeds only in 2002. If the debate wasn’t heated enough already, that one decision unleashed a previously unimaginable level of vitriol as a doubled booked Axl picked a London gig over a Reading headline slot.
2. Eminem (2001)
Unsurprisingly the news that Eminem, the biggest and coolest act on the planet in 2001, would be headlining Reading had fans going wild (eventually drawing one the biggest main stage crowd in Reading history), but that didn’t stop the rest of the UK from losing their collective shit. Eminem was public enemy no.1, and when teamed up with Marilyn Manson he represented the juiciest news story in town.
From gay and lesbian protestors and outraged parents to fake chainsaws and crowd control issues (which sadly did lead to tragedy), Eminem effectively brought the circus to town. Everyone had an opinion, and for once Reading fans weren’t arguing amongst themselves, they were defending their festival against everyone else.
1. Meatloaf & Bonnie Tyler (1988)
There was no possible alternative. You may think My Chemical Romance got people’s blood boiling or that Eminem had a nation in uproar, but no Reading announcement was more controversial than the back-to-back combination of Meatloaf & Bonnie Tyler in 1988.
For those that don’t know, some bright spark decided that Reading needed a make over, that it needed to go pop, and soften it’s edge. Oddly, rather than changing the entire ethos of the festival like V did with it’s infamous (and highly successful) urban makeover, the organizers instead decided to have pop-rockers Meatloaf and Bonnie “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” Tyler follow Friday headliners Iggy Pop and The Ramones.
So for those keeping score, that meant the Reading organizer were expecting punk diehards to sing sweetly along to “Two Out Of Three, Ain’t Bad”. Instead, fans were foaming at the mouths, there was no Internet, but everyone knew what they had to do. Bonnie Tyler struggled through the bottles earning the crowd’s respect, but as Meatloaf begged for mercy he was met with a stiff bottle right on the bonce, causing the big man to storm off stage.
I don’t approve of bottling, but no expression could better have represented the outrage that greeted the new look Reading announcement. Tyler and Meatloaf were not only Reading’s most controversial announcements of all time; they were also the first truly legendary Reading bottling.