The 8 Ball 10.05.13: Top 8 One-Album Wonders
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 10.05.2013
From the Sex Pistol's Never Mind The Bollocks, It's The Sex Pistols and Lauryn Hill's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill to Jeff Buckley's Grace and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 one-album wonders of all time!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Welcome once again, ladies and gentlemen, to your favorite top 8 music column on the internet! (Unless there's another one you prefer, in which case welcome anyway.) We were out a week but we're back and this week we're looking at one-album wonders. Everyone loves a one-hit wonder and they're always fun to talk about (I certainly have before), but just as iconic and an integral part of popular music are those acts who have put out one album that becomes a phenomenon and then never tops it, for one reason or another. This week I thought would be a good one to take a look at the best of those bands throughout the ages that hit big with a full LP and then faded away.
Caveat: The term "one-album wonder" is a somewhat subjective one; some people consider groups who simply never topped their debut to fit in the category while others base it on record sales or fame. While compiling this list I was looking at acts that were almost entirely known in a positive manner for one particular album and who never got past it for whatever reason. It could be that it was the only LP they ever did or they never caught public attention, their quality dropped off or whatever. Worth noting is that I considered an artist's solo career as different than their career in a band; so for example I could have conceivably said Paul McCartney without considering his work in the Beatles, or Jack White's work with the White Stripes without thinking about his solo material. (I didn't in both cases because I'm sane, but I could have.)
It is finally worth noting that favorite one-hit and one-album wonders are among the most personal because they tend to strongly reflect the era in music that they belong to and people tend to gravitate toward a certain era of such that were specific to the eras that were formative to their musical tastes. There were certainly one-album wonders in the '50s and '60s (as well as the '00s and the '10s to date), but there aren't many of those on this list because they simply weren't as impactful on me. Doesn't mean they don't belong on yours though!
Just Missing The Cut
The Cars - The Cars (1978)
Temple of the Dog - Temple of the Dog (1991)
Counting Crows - August and Everything After (1993)
DJ Shadow - Endtroducing..... (1996)
Blind Faith - Blind Faith (1969)
#8: Joan Osborne - Relish (1995)
The 1990s were honestly one of the best times for one-album wonders. As alternative rock took its formative steps into becoming a heavyweight genre that could compete with the other radio-dominating styles of the day, hip-hop continued to break new ground and many other genres rose and fall, the musical landscape was littered with acts that rose high and then never equaled that success. It always pains me to include Joan Osborne in lists like this because the Kentucky-born blues singer has recorded seven studio albums and in my estimation they've all been incredible. None of them even remotely had the success of Relish, which is flat-out one of my favorite albums of the mid-1990s. Osborn hit the mainstream with this LP's "One of Us" but Relish is one of those albums where there really isn't a bad song in the bunch; it starts off with the fantastic "St. Teresa" and proceeds to take you on a journey through a fantastic mix of '90s alt-pop and blues sensibility. "The Man in the Long Black Coat" is an amazing cover of the Bob Dylan classic, "Right Hand Man" is a rocking little number, "Pensacola" and "Dracula Moon" are both great bluesy tracks and frankly I could continue heaping praise on each and every song right through to the mellow and beautiful "Lumina" that closes out the album. Osborne would never hit the commercial success of this LP and that sadly places her on this list, but with an album like this one should never have any regrets about their career.
#7: The Postal Service - Give Up (2003)
This is one of a few LPs on this list that made it simply because the act never recorded another album. The Postal Service was an electro-pop supergroup that consisted of Dntel's Jimmy Tamborello and Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard, with Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis providing background vocals. The trio seems like an incredibly strange combination: techno, emo indie rock and alt-country. And yet when they came together for 2003's Rise Up they put together one of the most sublime electro-pop LPs I've ever heard. It's a sound that almost seems irritating now for some, but only because Owl City completely ripped the sound off for the inferior "Fireflies." I'm all for homages, but that track (while catchy) doesn't come even close to the atmospheric qualities of this LP. When asked (and he is constantly asked), Gibbard has said that a follow-up album is rather unlikely and that is highly unfortunate. This is one of those albums that you can easily listen through from start to finish and get pretty much whatever you want out of it; it makes fantastic mood music to carry you through a drudgery of a work day or you can sit down and listen to the lyrics, really absorb the songs and enjoy them that way. I would love to see these guys to another album together but to be honest, I'm just glad we got this one.
#6: The La's - The La's (1990)
I've known people who hate the La's for bringing life to Britpop, but I'm not a hater of that genre and I have to give respect to the group for both their legacy and their sound. This Liverpool-based guitar-pop band was heavily compared to the Beatles and that's both an accurate and unbelievably unfair comparison. The group certainly has elements that sound like their hometown heroes but they were entirely their own act as well and the '60s sensibility placed within an early 1990s context just worked on every level, giving them a timeless feel that sounds great to this day. You can't quite place them in the '60s or even the '90s where they came from; there's a nebulous quality to the potential era of their sound. Meanwhile they did in fact kick start the Britpop music and many of the groups that rose in that genre from Oasis and The Libertines to Travis and even newer groups such as The Zutons were greatly influenced by them musically. The group was another one-and-done; they released this album and garnered critical acclaim, "There She Goes" became a must-listen essential pop song of the early '90s and then band problems broke then up. They get back together every now and then but we're unlikely to ever get another album and that's fine. What we did get from them was fantastic.
#5: Arrested Development - 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of... (1992)
Arrested Development helped get me further into hip-hop music than I'd ever gotten upon its release in 1992. I had listened to rap music but the greater umbrella of hip-hop had largely eluded me until this collective hit it huge with "Tennessee." I bought this album based on that and found, to my surprise, that somehow it was actually a lesser track on this unbelievable album. The group may have never even gotten close to putting out anything at this level but is that really something to complain about when you have this? "People Everyday" is a mellow, laid-back tale of a man sticking up when his date gets harassed that just works on every level and "Mr. Wendal" is a powerful activist message of hope and optimism that we could really use these days. And then there is of course "Tennessee" which may not be the best track on the album but is still a great, reflective piece of hip-hop. 3 Years is an album of spiritual awakening and social activism that resonates just as strongly today as it did in 1992. The group continues on today and they may not have the commercial following that they once did but the message continues on strongly; it's unfortunate that they fell out of the public eye.
#4: Derek and the Dominos - Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970)
You can argue that this was essentially an Eric Clapton vanity side project, but that's completely unfair in my eyes and either way Derek and the Dominos is popularly considered distinct from Clapton as a solo artist and so it qualifies for the list. The band found its origins in the fact that all the members had previously worked as part of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends at one time or another. The band was considered the name "Eric Clapton and Friends" but they ultimately decided on the name that stuck after someone (somehow) misread their provisional name of "Del and the Dynamos." This band could have gone on as a larger group but tragedy hit them constantly; eight days after they recorded a cover of his "Little Wing" Jimi Hendrix died which devastated Clapton and a second album fell apart after the standard ego-clashing occurred; Duane Allman was killed soon after in October of 1971. Clapton would move onto his legendary solo career after but from this LP we got the amazing recordings of "Little Wings," "Bell Bottom Blues", "Tell The Truth" and a little song you may have heard of called "Layla." That is one of the greatest and most iconic guitar songs of all time and with the rest of the blues-rock goodness here there was no way the LP wasn't making it onto this list.
#3: Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
This one is practically required for a list like this. Lauryn Hill is one of the more frustrating artists to go solo because no one has released a debut album quite as brilliant as Hill did and then failed to follow up. Hill was launched into stardom as a member of the Fugees, with the group's second studio album The Score from 1996 making them a household name. While the breakout success of their cover of Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly" raised them to mainstream star status, it would prove to be the group's last studio album to date once the group began looking at solo projects. Hill's solo debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill blew her bandmates' efforts away and made her the breakout superstar of the group. The album's diverse lyrical themes were accompanied with experiments in genre ranging from R&B and hip-hop to soul, reggae and gospel. It was unlike anything on the radio at that time and it earned Hill well-deserved accolades. What's more, the album's reputation has grown since to become recognized as a major influence on neo-soul. Hill would walk away from the music industry soon after, feeling that she was being controlled by her label and the trappings of fame and becoming compromised as a result. She's been a bit of a train wreck as of late and that casts doubt on whether we'll get that album we've been waiting fifteen years for, but at least we have this one.
#2: Jeff Buckley - Grace (1994)
There's no getting around this: that Jeff Buckley died so soon is a God damned tragedy. You'd think that goes without saying (anyone dying so young is a tragedy), but I think it's one of those truisms you just have to say. And a small part of the tragedy is that we never got a follow-up to one of the greatest guitar solo albums ever made. Buckley was unbelievable on the guitar, but he was also an amazing singer who had the ability to convey a world of emotion in every single note he sand. And Grace is a true watershed album that is not only instantly enjoyable but gives you something new with every single listen. I can't count how many times I've ran though Grace and yet I still find something new to appreciate. The stunning vocal work in "Mojo Pin," the virtuoso guitar playing in "Last Goodbye," the way that he makes Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" better than even Cohen's version...imagine what we could have gotten if Buckley had more time. But let me be clear; I don't love this album because Buckley died before making another one. This thing is nothing less than transcendent on a musical scale and its one of those rare pieces of music where I cannot understand how anyone wouldn't love it. Its merits are absolutely unbelievable on both technical and emotive scales. That's all you can even say.
#1: The Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks, It's The Sex Pistols (1977)
When it comes to pure impact, nothing beats this one for one-album wonders. Again here we have a group that only released one studio album but good Lord was it a doozy. Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols sparked a firestorm of controversy, from the allegedly-obscene title to the content of the first single, "Anarchy in the UK" as well as the BBC-banned "God Save the Queen." The LP had an inestimable influence on punk rock and every single genre that spun out of punk. It also doesn't hurt that it's just a bad-ass piece of music; Johnny Rotten's sneer is one of those undeniable sounds that takes you by the base of the spine and drives you forward while the sheer attitude exuded is enough to knock you flat. Is it a lyrically-poetic album? Oh, hell no. But that doesn't take anything away from the strength of the songs and sometimes subtlety isn't what you need. This is clearly one of those times. I really don't think you can underestimate what this one did for rock music and it has just as much power and attitude today, thirty-six years after its release. Among one-album wonders it's the undisputed king in my book.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
This week in the Music Video A-Go-Go I'm tossing up one of my favorite new songs of the year in Lorde's "Tennis Court." (You'll be seeing this again in a different column next week.) It still astounds me that Lorde is only sixteen years old; she has a voice as an artist that is years older than that. Check out the song below and definitely check out her LP Pure Heroine when you get a chance.
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.