It’s impossible to pin down exactly how artists create great music, just as it’s impossible to pin down why they stop. Sometimes, the inspiration and collaboration yields some kind of magic that helps a group record a true classic, and sometimes that whole atmosphere is nowhere to be found. Band dynamics end up playing a big part in the music the band churns out, which might explain why so few members of high-profile bands go on to enjoy successful solo careers of their own. As much as we all wonder about how our favorite songwriters would fare without their bandmates, the result is often underwhelming, if not downright embarrassing.
1. Roger Daltrey of The Who
The lead singer of The Who will always have a place in rock history for the passionate work he does with his legendary pipes, breathing life and urgency into songs primarily penned by his bandmate Pete Townshend. It turns out the blond rock God can’t impress without Townshend by his side to write the lyrics, but that didn’t stop Daltrey from trying anyway, releasing a series of eight solo albums between 1973 and 1992. He had a modest hit from his first album Daltrey with “Giving It All Away,” but Daltrey’s solo albums have yielded increasingly frustrating soft rock results ever since.
2. Chris Cornell of Soundgarden
The impassioned lead singer of grunge superstars Soundgarden, Chris Cornell began his solo career on its high note with 1999’s Euphoria Morning, shortly after the band’s breakup. Unfortunately for Cornell and for his fans, there’s a huge dropoff in quality for his other albums, particularly the slick overproduced mess that is Scream. The Timbaland-produced album hewed towards drum machines and ugly plastic soul with lots of vocal samples, but it nonetheless debuted at No. 10 on the charts before dropping a staggering 55 places the next week, once everyone had heard how bad the album really was.
3. Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones
Mick Jagger is one of the most influential singers and frontmen in rock history, but what can he offer as a solo artist that the Rolling Stones can’t? Not much it turns out, save for an embarrassing duet with David Bowie. Jagger has released a total of four studio albums beginning with 1985’s She’s the Boss but failed to make an impression with any subsequent records. Divorced of his band, Jagger’s soulful antics quickly become tiring, and it’s hard not to think of his studio albums as just fluff released while he was feuding with Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards. Richards said of Jagger’s last solo record, Goddess in the Doorway, “It’s like Mein Kampf — everyone had it but no-one read it.”
4. Will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas
The Black Eyed Peas don’t really belong on a list beside The Rolling Stones. The band of R&B hitmakers only really functioned as a top 40 singles-machine, churning out disposable, often lazy pop music that managed to find the charts because it’s easy to sing and dance along with. The so-called mastermind behind The Black Eyed Peas, awkward rapper-philanthropist will.i.am, apparently can’t manage the same level of success on his own, as his four solo albums to date have received little attention. Will.i.am still relies on fuzzy house beats and tired hip hop catchphrases on his solo work, including the tiresome #willpower, but with even less worth dancing to than usual.
5. Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins
The chief songwriter and sole enduring member of beloved alt-rock outfit The Smashing Pumpkins, Billy Corgan finally dissolved the group for good, supposedly, in 2000. The singer released his one and only solo album to date a few years later, titled TheFutureEmbrace. One might suspect a solo Corgan record wouldn’t be much different than a typical Smashing Pumpkins album, but the electro-tinged album was a disappointment for anyone expecting something familiar. Corgan might have known about the sour reception and poor sales that greeted his solo effort — he took out a full-page ad in several Chicago papers on the day of TheFutureEmbrace’s release stating his intention to reform the Smashing Pumpkins.
6. Freddie Mercury of Queen
Freddie Mercury’s operatic wail defined Queen’s similarly operatic brand of soaring ’70s arena rock, but it may have been the singer’s fondness for synthesized disco music that led the band astray in the early ’80s. Mercury’s first of two solo releases, 1985’s Mr. Bad Guy, seems to back up this theory, as the record finds Mercury fully embracing the trappings of his new-wave and disco influences that sounded dated even in 1985. Since the record sold poorly in the U.K. and overseas, it primarily served to bring the members of Queen closer together, leading to a return to form before Mercury’s death in 1991.
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