Five Amazing Albums Everyone Overlooks (Because Their Sequels Were Masterpieces)
By: Ross Dillon | June 6th, 2013
Let me say something right off the bat. The albums in this list aren’t the best works of these bands. Their best work would come later. But just because a painting isn’t ‘Guernica’ or ‘The Mona Lisa’ doesn’t mean it’s not great:
Da Vinci’s first authenticated painting. Pretty awesome, right? Not compared to ‘The Mona Lisa’, you uncultured slob.
Bands fall into two categories, those who do a great first album, which they can never live up to, and those which progressively get better as the band’s sound develops. From the latter category here are five amazing classic records that would beat the best work of many, many bands; but don’t get any credit because the follow-up was incandescent brilliance.
We here at Cracked have a bit of a thing for the baddest motherfucker of all time.
5. The Clash, ‘The Clash’
Everyone Knows: ‘London Calling’.
That intro hook, the clever SOS at the end of the title track, brilliant songs from ‘Lost in the Supermarket’ to the almost happy-go-lucky ‘Train in Vain’: The Clash put their all into this double album, and boy did it pay off.
The Earlier Gem:
The reason they put their all into ‘London Calling’ was because their previous album, ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’ wasn’t so incredible. It did well on the charts, but they fired their manager afterwards, and had a hell of a time recording the brilliance that would be ‘London Calling,’ seeing as how the new producer would swing chairs around the studio. Before the mess of ‘Rope’ The Clash started strong, though.
‘The Clash’ was released in 1977 to acclaim. It made a number of ‘Best of the Decade’ lists at the time, since ‘London Calling’ was released on December 14, and not until 1980 in the U.S. It even made the top 100 albums of Rolling Stone.
It’s easy to see why. Each track crackles with garage punk brilliance. Unlike the sleeker sound that would define ‘London,’ ‘The Clash’ is bursting with punk’s new electricity. 1977 is when punk busted wide open, and The Clash were there with a unique sound that defined them and was copied by many others.
Looking at you, Green Day.
You can't be that surprised we'd...unless that's your 'o face' from being mentioned in the same article as The Clash.
4. Santana, ‘Santana’
Everyone Knows: ‘Abraxas’.
‘Abraxas’ came after Santana had played Woodstock, and interest in their band’s unique sound was on the rise. It spawned three singles, staples of oldies radio, especially the infectious ‘Black Magic Woman’ and ‘Oye Como Va’. A new Latin rock had begun.
The Earlier Gem:
Except that they’d already made a great album, on basically the same lines. ‘Santana’ was that debut album, and is just as tight, and rocking as the follow-up ‘Abraxas’. ‘Santana’ was marred by a suggestion, from their manager, to shorten up their lengthy jams. They tried to create singles, but without luck. With ‘Abraxas’ they’d hit that groove.
But that doesn’t mean the tracks on ‘Santana’ are failures – quite the opposite. Santana was a jam band that loved to improvise, as clips of their Woodstock performance, like this jam of ‘Soul Sacrifice’ attest.
And that, my friends, is how you jam.
While the individual tracks on the debut are shorter, the album itself has a cohesive feel of being an extended studio session of guys who want to bring a new sound to the people. That’s part of what makes an album great.
3. Fleetwood Mac, ‘Then Play On’
Everyone Knows: ‘Rumours’.
‘Rumours’ spawned four singles, and won the Grammy for Album of the Year. It sold tens of millions of copies, is a radio staple, and blended California sunshine with darker lyrics and themes.
The Earlier Gem:
The band spelled ‘Rumours’ with a ‘u’ for a reason: they started life as a British blues band, in the vein of Clapton and others. ‘Rumours’ was their eleventh album, and the tenth also did well. Their third, ‘Then Play On’ is a baroque-style suite of blues tunes. It sounds virtually nothing like the famous successors. And that makes sense, since the lineup will be almost totally different, with only John McVie and Mick Fleetwood remaining the same.
It's nice to see something last. And yes, those are McVie and Fleetwood.
‘Then Play On’ is 54 minutes long, which is jam-packed for an LP. They carefully crafted each track, and created a unified sound that permeates both sides of the album. “These are thoughtful, often fragile songs. They’re governed by understatement” acknowledges Tom Moon, who rightfully included the work in his 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die. Fleetwood Mac was a pioneer of British blues, but has since been eclipsed by their own later sound, and the fame of others in the genre such as Clapton and Jethro Tull. It deserves better recognition.
2. U2, ‘War’
Everyone Knows: ‘The Joshua Tree’.
U2 is a very divisive band. The people who don’t like U2 FUCKING HATE U2. Regardless, they band is seminal and this is predominately due to ‘The Joshua Tree’. It won Album of the Year at the Grammys, produced five singles, and made U2 a household name with 25 million copies sold.
The Earlier Gem:
U2’s third album, ‘War’ is the result when they discovered the sound they’d later perfect in ‘The Joshua Tree’. With their later superstardom continuing for decades, with later releases like ‘Achtung Baby’ and game-changing Zoo TV Tour that followed, we shouldn’t lose track of how it started. ‘War’ is an album any band should be proud of, with great production, smooth sound, and ten lean tracks, none of them filler.
It reached the top of the charts, sold well, and is still a critical favorite. 1983 may seem like light-years from their recent works, but the themes are still the same, from ‘War’ to ‘How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb’.
To pick a random song, of no note, take a listen to ‘Surrender’:
U2 was pretty awesome before the whole 'pretentious' thing.
1. The Who, ‘The Who Sell Out’
Everyone Knows: ‘Who’s Next’
The Who struck gold with their fourth and fifth albums. ‘Tommy’ finally figured out that riff they re-recorded on three different albums, that ended up being ‘Underture’ on their rock opera. But for all of the pinball wizard’s glory, ‘Who’s Next’ proved better still. Maybe because the band was able to walk away from the sound that had led to ‘Tommy’, ‘Who’s Next’ ended up being a new sound, a formerly restrained brilliance of amazing musicians. More than half the album is consistently played on the radio, and the CSI series would be lost without it.
The Earlier Gem:
‘The Who Sell Out’ is not the first concept album, but it was one of the most innovative and interesting. Rather than just picking a theme, like Frank Zappa’s ‘Freak Out!’ or story-telling like ‘Sgt. Peppers’. ‘Sell Out’ is recorded as a pirate radio broadcast, complete with fake commercials and public service announcements.
The styles are all over the place, you’d almost not recognize them as the same band that did the psychedelic anthem ‘I Can See for Miles’ also does weird little songs like ‘Silas Stingy’ and straight songs like ‘Our Love Was’. It sounds like you’ve tuned into the weirdest, coolest radio station ever. No surprise, then, that the 2009 film ‘Pirate Radio’ included ‘I Can See for Miles’. They knew they had better credit the brilliant recording that cashed in on the film’s idea forty years earlier.
Oh, and The Who actually were doing commercials at the time. So ‘Sell Out’ gets to be an artistic fuck-you as well:
It could practically have made the album.