“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” – William Shakespeare, Romeo And Juliet
A number of years ago I stumbled across a review that described an LP as the artist in question’s “eponymous album” and I didn’t have the foggiest idea what that meant. I’d never seen the word before and as I usually do, I quickly consulted Webster, despite my daughter’s ridicule for doing so – it’s how you build a vocabulary – who defines eponymous as “of, relating to, or being the person or thing for whom or which something is named.” I have to admit they use a whole lot of words just to say a work is named after the artist. I’m still not sure what the correct pronunciation of “eponymous” is and avoid the word in conversation…so much for increasing my vocabulary. I’m a “Jr,” named for my dad, so apparently that means I’m my father’s eponymous son as opposed to my brother. If I understand correctly George Foreman named all of his kids George Foreman… he must really be down with the whole eponymous thing.
There are a lot of artists who use the band name as the title of their first album. Or should we say, they named their debut album in an eponymous way… still working on the vocab! Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen and the list goes on and on, all named their first record after themselves. The debut album is a critical album in every artist’s career. It’s your introduction to a mass audience. And, as the saying goes, you only have one chance to introduce yourself (Pleased To Meet You: The Epic List of Our 40 Favorite Debut Albums). Why not use the debut album as a calling card for the band and just drop your rock n roll “John Hancock” on the front cover as a title? You want people to remember your name. Who can blame any band for doing that? One never knows how the debut is going to be received but it never hurts to name it after the band. Not everybody has an album like say, Boston up their sleeve right out of the gate. While I love all of those great eponymous debut albums, that’s not what I’m here to discuss today.
There also artists who are into the heavy Roman numeral thing. After Led Zeppelin’s eponymous (double word score?) debut they named their next two albums Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin III respectively. I don’t want to utter any blasphemy here but you have to wonder if Zeppelin just couldn’t come up with any suitable album titles? They didn’t even bother to name their 4th album. They just put four runes on it to baffle everybody. To this day people aren’t sure what to call that album (Led Zeppelin IV or Zoso or Runes). Van Halen fell prey to the Roman numeral thing on their second LP, Van Halen II. McCartney has revisited the concept of his first, post-Beatles, solo album with McCartney II and McCartney III which are apparent sequels to that experimental masterpiece debut McCartney. Peter Gabriel named all of his first four albums Peter Gabriel. He wanted his albums to be thought of as successive chapters in the same book. Talk about a guy who just couldn’t get out of his own way! While all of these albums are eponymous-adjacent, they really don’t fit what I’m here to discuss today.
I know, I know, what am I here to talk about? Get to the point.
There have been bands/artists who later in their career who have chosen to release a self-titled album. Again, we’re not talking about debut LPs or solo debuts here. There is a theory in rock n roll that when an artist does that – goes eponymous later in their career – it is typically an attempt to make either a major statement or more likely a major career re-boot. It’s the artist re introducing themselves. I was thinking about that the other day. While painters put their name on every painting they do, after the debut it’s much more rare for a musical artist to go with a self-titled album. There’s typically a motive there. Maybe the band split up for a while and they’re back together so the self-titled LP is a way of saying, “We’re back, did you miss us? (I so rarely get to quote “Hot For Teacher,” I couldn’t resist).
I began to think of some of my favorite non-debut, eponymous albums and I have to admit the ones that came to mind all have a bit of swagger. It’s that John Hancock, “I’m signing my name in big letters so the King can read it without his spectacles” kind of chutzpah. In many cases it’s more about a band coming back together and finding that shared, band identity again. To me it comes across a statement of purpose or maybe resolve. It says, this is who I am. And yes, in some cases there is an implied “Perhaps you don’t remember me?”
I came up with thirteen self-titled records that I’d count amongst my favorites. Although after laying awake thinking about it for a while, I threw in an extra wildcard album. Now I have 14 albums where the artist chose to name this particular work after themselves or to put it less clearly, the artist chose to name the album “of, relating to, or being the person or thing for whom or which something is named.” If you have a favorite eponymous LP and it’s not on this list, please put it in the comments. I’m always looking for something I missed. If you haven’t gotten into these albums, I urge everyone to do so. And yes, for all of those of you wondering, I almost put R.E.M.’s greatest hits LP cleverly entitled Eponymous on the list but I didn’t want to be a smart ass.
- Alice In Chains – After canceling a tour and basically disbanding due to Layne Staley’s heroin addiction after Jar of Flies, the band reunited and recorded this, their third full LP. It’s one of my favorite from Alice In Chains. “Heaven Beside You,” “Grind,” and “Again” rank amongst their best. Staley’s heroin addiction made recording this album painful but to me it said, “we’ve survived the storm and we’re back as a band.” Sadly, Staley never kicked the habit and succumbed to heroin only a few years later. Their Unplugged LP was his last hurrah.
- The Band – While Music From Big Pink was an instant classic, this is a better album in my opinion. It’s the moment the Band stepped out from Dylan’s shadow. This is where they made the statement that they were to be reckoned with in their own right without Dylan. Some of Robbie Robertson’s best songwriting is on this album, “The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down” and “Up On Cripple Creek” are both here.
- The Beatles – Also known as The White Album. While this self-title exercise probably had more to do with the minimalist cover art, I still think this was a statement from the Beatles. They had been off doing psychedelic music in day-glo outfits for a while even taking on an assumed identity (Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band) in order to find more artistic freedom and slip the yoke of being “the Beatles.” The band had just returned from India with a huge batch of new songs and they actually started playing the basic tracks as a band again instead of recording each part separately. While they were saying in a round about way they were The Beatles again, they were actually moving in 4 different directions as artists. Still, it’s simply one of the best albums ever.
- Buffalo Springfield Again – This may be only eponymous-adjacent but it’s too good of an album not to include here. Neil Young had quit the band after their great debut album but then returned and brought “Mr. Soul” and “Broken Arrow” two masterpieces with him. They were once again Buffalo Springfield.
- CSN – Crosby, Stills, Nash had let 7 years lapse since Deja Vu when they finally pulled it together and recorded this one. Sadly, the aforementioned Neil Young is nowhere to be found. They’d tried to do a CSNY album on the heels of their 1974 tour, tentatively titled Human Highway, but it fell apart… although there’s evidence this great LP might still be out there in the vaults, but I digress. CSN is a laid back, yacht rock kinda vibe but there are so many great songs. “Dark Star” and “Just A Song Before I Go” were huge. Crosby kills it on “Shadow Captain.”
- Sheryl Crow – OK, this is the wildcard. After the huge success of her debut, Tuesday Night Music Club, some of her collaborators began to grumble it was more their talent than hers that caused the sensation. She came back with such ferocity on her second album and the title – her name – let everybody know who was in charge on this one. I don’t write much about Sheryl Crow but she’s got some real gems in the catalog. Such swagger.
- Fleetwood Mac (1975). Fleetwood Mac had seen heights in their long and storied career, especially when Peter Green was in the band at the beginning. But after Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined and they recorded this album it was time to reintroduce themselves to the world. Needless to say the world liked what they heard. This laid the groundwork for the record breaking Rumours.
- John Mellencamp – Mellencamp had just moved to Columbia Records after a series of disappointing LPs he didn’t feel his old record company were supporting properly. This is one of the first LPs both the Rock Chick and I discovered we both owned. It’s an amazing late career rebirth. He was clearly letting us know he had plenty of creativity in the tank. He’d already had an LP named John Cougar, John Mellencamp was overdue!
- Metallica – Also known as The Black Album. Metallica had perhaps the greatest first four album run in the history of rock n roll. But they’d exhausted the long, epic song style they’d perfected over those records. Metallica was a complete change up – of style and execution – and it still is a landmark heavy metal album. Shorter songs but still heavy, heavy riffs. “Enter Sandman,” “Sad But True” and “Nothing Else Matters” are iconic tunes. Some die-hard, long time fans bemoaned they’d sold out… yes, sold out of every copy of Metallica.
- Pearl Jam – I may be the only one who thinks this but I think of this 2006 album as a major comeback for Pearl Jam after 2002’s Riot Act. Riot Act is the only Pearl Jam album I sold at the used CD store. I think the band realized they’d hit their creative/commercial low point. Pearl Jam seemed to me to be a reintroduction of a great band. Rather than just being a big live attraction it was time to do something listenable in the studio again. “Life Wasted” and “World Wide Suicide” rock with a vengeance. “Gone” and “Come Back” showed they could still do mid-tempo and ballads. All of this with socially conscious lyrics. They’ve been on a late career roll ever since all the way through their last album, Gigaton.
- Linda Ronstadt – It wasn’t the commercial breakthrough she was hoping for but backed by the future Eagles (Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner) this is where her 70s sound came together. She covers some great tunes here from “Rock Me On The Water” (Jackson Browne) to “Birds” (Neil Young). While the record buying public ignored her first two solo records – Linda Rondstadt says, “Here I come World.” Mega success was just around the corner… but don’t sleep on this album, it’s essential.
- Social Distortion – After two great (albeit somewhat overlooked) albums on an indie label Mommy’s Little Monster (named for my wife’s cat, years before it’s birth) and Prison Bound, Social D finally signed to a big label, Epic Records. As a “re-introduction” to the world, they delivered one of their best albums. If only we could get that new album they’ve been working on for the last 12 years… Like Cubs fans, I guess we have to be content saying, “there’s always next year.”
- The Velvet Underground – Their third record came after quite a bit of tumult. Andy Warhol had steered their early career during the Velvet Underground and Nico period but they’d split with both Warhol and Nico. The follow up, White Light/White Heat was an experimental, noise filled affair. Their third, self-titled record is where Lou Reed and the gang, now with Doug Yule instead of John Cale, tried to make peace with radio. I love this whole record. Not as edgy as their debut but still with songs like “Jesus” and “Pale Blue Eyes” how could they miss? Sadly, they did with the public… At least drummer Mo Tucker got to sing a song. But, as the saying goes, they didn’t have many fans but all the ones they did have seemed to have gone out and formed bands.
- Warren Zevon – After the disastrous 1969 debut, Wanted Dead Or Alive, it took Warren Zevon seven years to finally get back in the game. Warren Zevon is an absolute masterpiece of an album from a guy who should be in the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame and should have been inducted a long time ago. I recently tracked this album down on vinyl again. I could listen to “Carmelita” over and over again…
That’s it – my fourteen favorite self-titled albums. I considered calling it the BourbonAndVinyl Eponymous Albums list but that seems too self-referential even for me. Again, I think these are albums everyone should hear – and certainly the Metallica, the Beatles and Fleetwood Mac have probably been heard by most people. Even if you’ve heard these records I implore you to pull them out and listen all over again… If you’re new to classic rock and haven’t heard these albums before, I highly recommend putting any or all of these albums on and turning it up to 11… maybe put a little whiskey in a glass…