The 8 Ball 5.10.14: Top 8 Worst Posthumous Albums
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 05.10.2014
From Michael Jackson's Michael and Tupac Shakur's Pac's Life to Jimi Hendrix's Crash Landing, Elvis Presley's Christmas Duets and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 worst posthumous albums 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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Top 8 Worst Posthumous Albums
Welcome back to the 411 Music Zone 8 Ball ladies and gentlemen! Jeremy Thomas back again, and this week we're looking at the flip side of last week's list. As I mentioned last time around, Michael Jackson's Xscape is set to be released next week as a posthumous album and while we've discussed a lot of the great port-mortem releases, there are far more bad albums than good ones. Always hungry for a cash grab, some labels have had no problem cashing in with substandard efforts that have caused the artists' discographies to suffer after they're gone. This week we're examining the worst of the lot...and trust me, these ones are pretty unbelievably bad.
Caveat: Relatively simple this week: I was looking at studio albums that were released after the artist (or one of the primary members of the band who worked on that album) were released. I did not include Greatest Hits albums because those are completely different. That's about it!
Just Missing The Cut
• Tupac Shakur — Until the End of Time (2001)
• Rick Nelson — Memphis Sessions (1986)
• Jeff Buckley — Songs to No One 1991-1992 (2002)
• Michael Hutchence — Michael Hutchence (1999)
• Lisa Lopes — Eye Legacy (2009)
#8: The Doors — An American Prayer (1978)
First up we have the perfect example of an album that may have had potential if the surviving artist had been around to exercise creative control but instead ended up a failure. Jim Morrison was a great lyricist who had a poetic nature to his ability to lay out words, and between 1969 and 1970 he recorded several poems. Seven years after his passing at the age of twenty-seven, the remaining members of the band got together to record backing music that could be set to the poetry and An American Prayer was born. In no way was this what Morrison had intended by all accounts and it comes off as really awkward, proof that good poems don't necessarily make good songs. Paul Rothchild, who was a producer for the band, was particularly vehement about the album and called it the "rape of Jim Morrison." This was Morrison's attempt to do something outside of the band (he had contacted composer Lalo Schifrin for potential music before he left for Paris) and it got shoehorned into the group's sound as a crass commercial grab. That alone is distasteful; the fact that the album just doesn't work makes it that much more problematic.
#7: Jimi Hendrix — Crash Landing (1975)
Jimi Hendrix's fifth posthumous album in the five years preceding his death has been labeled by some as the worst posthumous album ever. Obviously its placement at #7 shows that I don't necessarily agree, but it is certainly a slam on the memory of a legendary artist. At this point in Hendrix's posthumous career all of the remaining completed songs that were intended for a double album before his passing had been used up and so producer Alan Douglas hired several studio session musicians to overdub or re-record over most other people on the album, completely changing their tone although Hendrix's vocals and guitar work was kept. The end result is a weak album that may not be the worst thing you'll ever hear, but clearly indicates that by 1975, Hendrix's studio was grasping at straws to milk his cash cow to the end. Some of the album tracks have since been redone and come off better, but here they represent the worst in the guitar god's worst discography.
#6: Sid Vicious — Sid Sings (1979)
Who the hell thought this album was a good idea? The answer, of course, are those who saw a way to re-assemble some Sid Vicious stuff and make some money off a man whose infamy had hit new heights following his death. Sid Vicious' posthumous discography is one of the more maligned and for good reason; like another artist we'll be getting to in just a moment, he had a fairly small output from when he was alive and after his passing it became incumbant on the label to try and ride his corpse right to the bank. Most of the albums are live and have some level of value to them; Sid Sings on the other hand is the worst of the bunch, a sad collection of songs of which only one is an actual studio recording. That one is his slurring, trollingly bad rendition of Frank Sinatra's "My Way." This song has actually received quite a bit of play throughout the years and I always suspect that it's in an ironic way. The rest of the album are live recordings of cover songs that are so bad in audio quality that you can barely make them out. Sid Sings was just a bad idea all around.
#5: Tupac Shakur — Pac's Life (2006)
Most of these are on this list because they were nothing more than cheap cash grabs and as I alluded to just above, few people have had their legacies as cashed in as Tupac Shakur. This was the final of six studio albums that have been released since Shakur's death in 1996. Note that I said "studio albums." I'm not even including live albums or greatest hits compilations, instead looking at the "new material." Pac was one of the few people I considered for two entries on this list and the substandard Until the End of Time did land an honorable mention spot. At least that has a few solid tracks; Pac's Life is a badly commercialized mess where what was left of his unreleased material was chopped up and mixed around in order to get enough material for an album. In order to pad things out a host of contemporary artists were included along the lines of T.I., Chamillionaire and Ashanti and none of the tracks amounts to anything worth checking out for more than a moment or two. At this point they were scraping the very bottom of the Tupac barrell and the results show.
#4: Elvis Presley — Christmas Duets (2008)
In the interests of full disclosure, I am a bit biased against Christmas Duets because I dislike Christmas music in general. It isn't a secular disdain for the holiday, I just feel that Christmas songs are generally too kitschy or sappy. That being said, I don't think anyone really wanted to hear Elvis Presley getting metaphorically dug up so that he could sing half-hearted renditions of Christmas songs from the grave with the likes of LeAnn Rimes, Wynonna Judd, Carrie Underwood and Amy Grant. And this is nothing against any of those artists, but it just doesn't play well. Many of the songs have incredibly awkward edits and they just generally don't sound like two people singing at the same time. People seem to have disdain for the Natalie Cole/Nat King Cole 1991 duet of "Unforgettable" but at least sounds reverential. There's something oddly ghoulish about this one, which is not something I think we need from a Christmas album. These aren't even Elvis' best recordings of Christmas songs; the King of Rock n' Roll was an amazing artist but here his vocals just don't seem good at all. There's something for everyone to hate on this album and it's truly, truly painful.
#3: Michael Jackson — Michael (2010)
I was reporting on news when word of Michael Jackson's first posthumous album was released and the whole thing was an absolute mess. I very vividly remember the moment that the first single "Breaking News" released. I clicked on it to take a listen and made a face like my nose was being shoved in sour mayonnaise. The negative buzz around this was unparalleled; whether people were talking about the controversy of whether Michael even sang on the album to the scores of people close to Jackson during his calling it disgraceful, there has never been an album that I can remember being so universally reviled before anyone heard more than a track or two. And after its release we learned that it deserved all the bad buzz. And let's be clear: there are some brief signs of genius on this album. Even at his worst Michael Jackson had greatness in his work. But with this it was a case of the producers trying to string just enough of Jackson's work together in order to make some money off fans desperate for something new. Featured artists like Akon and 50 Cent added nothing of remote value and actively dragged their tracks down while the scores of producers actually AutoTuned Jackson's voice--which didn't help the "ringer voice" accusations, by the way. Nearly all of the bad buzz that Xscape is getting can be directly attributed to this mess.
#2: Notorious B.I.G. — Duets: The Final Chapter (2005)
Notorious B.I.G. has, like Tupac and Sid Vicious, seen just about every scrap of recorded demos and the like turned into full songs in order to shill them out in posthumous releases. He has a few real dogs in there, but Duets is the worst. There is legitimately more material from the other artists on this than there are of Biggie's and while Biggie's rhymes are okay, they certainly aren't his best and weighed down by the substandard work of everyone else. The worst offender is Korn, and why it was decided they should be a good collaborator for the slain rapper is anyone's guess because it's terrible. The Bob Marley collaboration "Hold Ya Head" somehow manages to make two legendary acts sound bad all in one track and most of the rest is negligable in terms of Biggie's contribution. This is a Biggie album in name only and even rappers like Eminem and Scarface don't add anything here. Throw in some serious overproduction issues and you have one of the worst posthumous albums ever.
#1: Johnny Cash — Johnny Cash Remixed (2009)
I really almost can't put into words just how bad this album is. I hesitated to put this on here, as the material is generally stuff we've heard in studio format from Cash before his passing. But the reworking of the tracks makes them new songs and turns iconic material into unlistenable disasters. How do you take a song like "I Walk the Line" and make it bad? Turn it into a hip-hop remix with Snoop Dogg that jettisons all of the music and instead inserts overproduced beats and poorly-done lyrics from Snoop. The Pete Rock remix of "Folsom Prison Blues" is just as bad, with a jangly mess of an electro-mix that shows why country and EDM just don't go together. There are ways to do albums like this, but certain artists just don't play well in modern remixes. Johnny Cash is undoubtedly one of them; his music is immortal but also distinctly tied to its time. This failed to note that and the result is pure and unmitigated audio torture. It easily tops my list of albums that likely have their artists spinning in their graves.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
For this week's Music Vide A-Go-Go, we're continuing the look ahead to next week's Xscape with the other Jackson single from the album (in this case, the deluxe edition) released thus far. Check out Jackson and Justin Timberlake together on the bonus version of "Love Never Felt So Good," which could teach some of the producers of the above music how to do it right:
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.