As the old saying goes, ‘You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain’. There’s a good life lesson in there for bands, to not overstay their welcome and quit while they’re ahead, but some artists take that mantra one step further by only delivering one album.
It’s a sad trope when bands who once dominated the airwaves and performed to thousands of fans every night become a shell of their former selves. Gradually, over time, their greatness slips away, along with the quality of their output that significantly dwindles and leaves the halcyon earlier days firmly placed within the past.
The decline is part and parcel of life. Still, the stuff of nightmares for most artists whose answer to never becoming irrelevant is to stay in the limelight for such a short time that they never teeter into relevancy from obscurity in the first place.
There’s something profound to be said for an artist who doesn’t feel pressured into chasing the potential commercial gains that are on offer from a lucrative reunion or delivering album two. These artists have stayed true to their word and have never gone back for round two.
Check out the list, below.
The 10 best one album wonders:
Them Crooked Vultures
As supergroups go, you don’t get much better than Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and John Paul Jones. Their 2009 eponymous album was a fun-filled passion project that provided Grohl with the perfect escape away from the pressures of being the lead singer of one of the biggest bands on the planet. It is one that the Foo Fighters man would love to do all over again.
In an interview with The Guardian in August 2019, Grohl stated: “It’s still hard to accept that I got to play in a band with [John Paul Jones]. Technically we’re still a band. We practice once every decade, and we’re coming up on another decade aren’t we? I don’t have any official news but there’s always something cooking.”
Fingers crossed that we get to see these three titans of rock get back in the studio and conjure up more magic together.
Derek and The Dominoes
Eric Clapton and Duane Allman were a force of absolute nature when they teamed up in Derek and The Dominoes. While they may have only released the one record together, it was one hell of a timeless creation that is up there with any album that either man has created throughout their careers.
The album spawned the titular number ‘Layla’, an effort that is a perfect example of what happens when you get two of the best guitarists in the same room to mercurially bounce off each other’s greatness.
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was initially disregarded as a commercial disaster and a critical one to boot. However, the tide would turn on the album in the years since its release, finally earning the love it deserves. Despite being released in 1970, in 2011, the record would ultimately chart in Britain when it landed at the modest position of 68.
The Postal Service
In 2003, Ben Gibbard from Death Cab For Cutie teamed up with Jimmy Tamborello and Jenny Lewis to form The Postal Service. Their album, Give Up, came out on Sub Pop and became the label’s highest-selling record since Nirvana’s Bleach in 1989.
Following the tour, the members went back to their respective careers and have resisted the pressure to ever release a sophomore effort despite the interest that seems to increase every year. In 2013, the band reunited for a reunion tour to celebrate ten-years of Give Up. Their final show took place at The Metro in Chicago on August 5th, seemingly putting the speculation about their second album to bed for good.
Lauryn Hill’s illustrious 1998 effort, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, remains her only solo album. The neu-soul effort sounds just as good today as it did when the former Fugees member released it over 20 years ago, and rather than trying to replicate it, Hill has let the strength of her album maintain her legacy sky-high.
Kendrick Lamar once said about the album, “That [record] probably had the most hits on it than I’ve ever heard. Even going back and listening to it now. Crazy, I think she was way ahead of her time—just the feeling and the cohesiveness and the concept behind it. It was just genius to me.”
The impact that The Stone Roses had on British culture is remarkable. Even though their output would only see them release two records, they are one of British history’s most important acts. While the band and their collective approach to the music industry inspired countless other groups, a lot of what makes them great can be attributed to the magical fingers of John Squire. However, his next band, The Seahorses, called it a day before they ever truly got going.
While there was vast intrigue into his latest musical venture, unfortunately, the band never quite hit the heights that Squire’s fans expected of them. Their only album, Do it Yourself, featured fleeting moments that suggested that Squire had stumbled on another strapping vehicle for his talent. However, The Seahorses disbanded two years later due to creative differences, a common theme throughout Squire’s uncompromising career.
Nevermind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols is undoubtedly one of the most influential records of all time and the archetypal one record wonder that epitomised a generation. Like the punk movement, the Sex Pistols arrived, and in a flash, they had disappeared again.
Their debut single, ‘Anarchy In The UK’, gave Britain their very own punk icons who were much more than a run of the mill garage band who may have looked the part but lacked in sustenance — the Sex Pistols were authentic. Their charismatic leader Johnny Rotten meant every last word that he snarled.
Before these brash Londoners, there was no band being as overtly political as the Sex Pistols. While there’s certainly a case for the Pistols playing up to their image and revelling in the rebellion, there’s no doubt that these working-class mavericks were pioneers in turning music into something more powerful.
Wu-Lyf arrived as the most hotly tipped band in 2011, mainly because nobody knew much about them as they refused to do any interviews, barely played live and shunned numerous lucrative record deals they were offered.
That year they shared their solitary album, Go Tell Fire To The Mountain, which matched the high-expectations that the press had placed upon their shoulders. The following year frontman Ellery Roberts announced his departure from the group, and not a peep has been heard from Wu Lyf since, apart from a hastily-deleted tweet in 2016, which read, ‘Soon’.
Jeff Buckley is the most tragic feature on this list. His life was devastatingly ended on May 29th, 1997, which prevented him from releasing a follow up to 1994’s Grace. Following that fateful day, the music world would be left in tatters mourning the phenomenal Buckley, who still had his whole career in front of him.
The legacy that Buckley left behind in his wake is one that most musicians would be envious of; the flawless Grace remains as poignant as it did when you first heard it, and it truly is an all-time classic. The singer has since had songs written about him by artists ranging from PJ Harvey, Chris Cornell and Lana Del Rey with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke also citing Buckley as an influence with his presence in modern music stronger today than when he was alive.
Temple of the Dog
With a combination of members from two of grunge’s finest bands in Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, the supergroup Temple of the Dog is one band with unfulfilled potential. A supergroup rarely sounds as akin to other bands as this one, and the groups’ shared North West heritage, meant there was plenty of DNA crossover.
The group’s lone album was released as a tribute to Mother Love Bone frontman Andy Wood who, as well as being Chris Cornell’s former roommate, was also a close friend of Eddie Vedder too. It’s one of the more heart-wrenching stories in rock and, following Cornell’s own tragic passing, has just got a bit sadder.
The La’s eponymous 1990 album was an instrumental predecessor that dictated the shift where music would soon head. Without this album being released by The La’s, Britpop doesn’t even happen. While the album famously spawned ‘There She Goes’, the whole record is a sweet enchanting sonic adventure that helped change British music’s future.
The record is one of Noel Gallagher’s all-time favourites, and he explained to The Quietus why he thinks they’ve never recorded a follow-up. “I’ve come to the conclusion he’s either shit-scared of ruining his legacy or he’s just a lazy cunt. All that said though, this is a wonderful album and I do get a great kick out of playing this to people round the world – Americans in particular – to people who have never heard of them.
Gallagher continued: “They’re always, ‘Wha… What the fuck?’ Even though it’s a standard form of guitar rhythm and blues, it’s totally unique. Nobody has done it as good as him since.”