It seems that, in the music industry, an artist’s career is either far too long or far too short. While some bands keep going long after their sound and songwriting have lost their luster, there are others whose careers are cut short before they have time to reach their full potential by misfortune and, often, tragedy. Sometimes even only one album is enough to make an impact on passionate listeners and the entire music industry, as proven by these great albums from artists or bands who, for one reason or another, only got the chance to make one major release.
1. Grace by Jeff Buckley
Don’t be fooled by the many posthumous releases — singer-songwriting Jeff Buckley only made one album during his life, the achingly beautiful, often heartbreaking Grace. The 1994 album announced the arrival of a new crooning talent in alternative music, but Buckley’s promising career was cut short in 1997, when he took a dip in the Mississippi River at night and only resurfaced when he was found several days later. EPs, singles, and even the full album Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk were all released to ease the pain of his passing, but they all feel very unfinished, especially compared to the intelligent yet emotionally resonant triumph of Grace.
2. Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols by The Sex Pistols
If there’s any definitive proof that a shortened career can make an incredible impact, it must be the Sex Pistols’ first and only studio album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. The marketing power behind the anarchic, nihilistic image of the Sex Pistols made them the original face of U.K. punk rock, a movement that had a major impact in that nation’s late ’70s music scene, but it’s the solidly frills-free take on rock and roll, rejecting the excesses of arena rock in favor of powerful, confrontational songs, that helps the band’s legacy endure to this day. After the album’s release in 1977, the band embarked on a disastrous American tour that led to the band’s split and the self-destruction of heroin-addled bassist Sid Vicious, who died in February of 1979.
3. Ready to Die by The Notorious B.I.G.
Most hip hop connoisseurs would rank The Notorious B.I.G. as one of the greatest rappers of all time, but he only managed to release one album before his unsolved murder by drive-by shooting in 1997 in Los Angeles. He was in the midst of recording a follow-up album to his 1994 debut Ready to Die at the time of his death, resulting in two posthumous albums compiled from his unreleased recordings, but Biggie’s greatest album is ultimately the one he had time to finish. Despite the short career, The Notorious B.I.G. successfully attained the status of the savior of East Coast hip-hop while unintentionally inspiring future generations of hip hop pioneers.
4. (GI) by The Germs
The Germs were an important part of punk’s explosive heyday in the Los Angeles area, but their career couldn’t outlast the early days of the genre. They survived from 1977 to 1980, when singer Darby Crash committed suicide in December. The band left behind only one studio album, the chaotic and energetic (GI), which can’t quite capture the incoherent fervor of their unhinged live concerts. They were also featured in the documentary of the Los Angeles punk scene The Decline of Western Civilization, but The Germs’ lingering legacy extends much farther than that appearance, as many later punk rock acts cited them as an influence and guitarist Pat Smear went on to success playing with Nirvana and later Foo Fighters.
5. Since I Left You by The Avalanches
Australian electronic group The Avalanches may have released the crowning achievement of plunderphonics — the fancy name for using digital means to create songs out of remnants of other recordings. Despite an ever-changing lineup, the band has been around since 1997, though their only studio LP remains 2000’s critical and commercial smash Since I Left You, a textured, danceable collection of samples often recognized as one of the best records of the new millennium. It’s unclear why the group has yet to release a follow-up to the album, though they’ve reportedly been working on it since 2005. After 11 years without any sort of clear confirmation, The Avalanche’s sophomore LP is something like the Chinese Democracy of synth-electro music.
6. Black Monk Time by The Monks
The Monks’ one full LP never found much widespread appeal, but it seems perfectly clear that this band of avant garde garage rockers was never courting mainstream success. Formed by a group of American GIs stationed in Germany during the mid- to late-60s, The Monks played distorted, percussion-heavy rock music characterized by stomping percussion, angry repetition and unhinged vocals, a sound immortalized on their 1966 album Black Monk Time. The Monks were poorly received in concert and broke up shortly after the album. The importance of their record as a cult artifact, inspiring such later bands as The White Stripes, the Dead Kennedys, and The Fall, eventually led them to reform and tour in 1999, but they never released another album before the deaths of three founding members definitively ended their recording career.
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