Third Time’s The Charm: The Artists Whose Third Album Was The Breakthrough

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*Only 5 LPs photographed because most of your intrepid blogger’s property is still in storage…

I don’t know if this is true or not, but it sure seems like bands have a lot more avenues to get their music out these days especially when compared to how they used to do it in the 70s or 80s… I’ve been sitting in the cheap seats watching my friend Drummer Blake work to establish his latest band the Sunset Sinners and those guys are a marketing machine. I don’t think they’re any different than any new band out there today. There are so many tools at a band’s disposal. Bands now have YouTube where they can release videos of live performances or just old school videos like Dirty Honey‘s latest. There’s so much more a band can do with social media today. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram or Twitter new bands have a way of communicating directly with fans so when a record company comes calling, the band already has a built in fan base that can literally span the globe. And now with Tik Tok that social media reach may have even gotten broader… at least that’s what my friend James tells me, he loves Tik Tok. I’m only on a few social media platforms and Tik Tok ain’t one of them. Not yet anyway. I only got on Instagram to follow the bands I love…well that and to watch videos of cats and dogs doing adorable things. I’m like everyone else in that regard. 

In the old days a band’s social media consisted of the guys in the band wandering around downtown stapling cheap copies made at Kinkos to telephone poles to announce a gig. I think there was a scene in Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ where they’re doing just that which had to be hot and exhausting in all that spandex. Typically to start a band a few like minded musicians who liked the same music might huddle together in a garage and start playing cover tunes. After a while and usually a few line up changes – often that involved someone answering an ad in the newspaper like Ace Frehley – the band might start doing gigs in front of actual people, not just distressed family members. A school dance here, a keg party there, it all helped the band to start to create a following. The band’s repertoire would expand and eventually they’d start to create their own, original music. Eventually some enterprising bar owner would let the band play on their stage… or perhaps give them a residency. Maybe Gene Simmons would show up and pay for a demo tape like he did for Van Halen…probably not but somehow  demo tapes would get made. If fortune and luck shone on the band, a record company would extend a contract… Oh, and a manager probably showed up somewhere in this process to take 10%.

When the record company would offer the band a contract you’d think all their dreams were answered. It’s the Cinderella story. Record companies today seem to only want bands who can deliver that mega-million dollar selling debut LP. Maybe record companies have always been that way? But for some bands that debut album fails to connect. Not every debut can be Boston or Appetite For Destruction (Pleased To Meet You… The Epic List of Our 40 Favorite Debut Albums). Some really classic debut LPs from the world’s biggest bands have been commercial failures. In meetings, the record company guys all act supportive, but the pressure is really on now. To make matters worse, there’s the sophomore slump that hangs over a lot of bands. Bono, in his Rock Hall of Fame speech was talking about being in a band and described the 2nd album (and he was speaking generally) as “the difficult second album.” The old saying, “You have your whole life to write your first album, and only a few months to write your second,” holds some truth. Even for bands whose debut LP had a hit single or two and sold well, a weak second album only brings more pressure. And there are a lot of weak second albums out there… U2’s October is a prime example. 

For a band whose first two albums hadn’t sold in big numbers, I can only imagine that the third album was a “make or break” situation. Today, I don’t think any current label would keep an act longer than two LPs if neither sold well. We live in an instant gratification world, and if a band’s first or second album doesn’t explode, it’s time to move on. Back in the 70s and even the 80s, record labels seemed to be slightly more patient. They would let a band develop, mostly by playing a shit ton of concerts on the road, but also in the studio and as songwriters. Sometimes all that was needed was a new producer. Maybe the band tweaks the line up. It just felt, without all the social media to help build in that fanbase, that record companies back in the day gave artists’ more time or a little more leash, if you will. 

Some of the world’s most renown artists took an entire three albums to break into that world wide fame and commercial success. If these bands were coming out today I’m not sure any record company would have stuck with them until that third album and that would be a damn shame. Here is my list of phenomenal third records that made the bands who recorded them famous. I consider each of these records essential rock and roll listening. 

Aerosmith, Toys In The Attic

While Aerosmith had the hit “Dream On” on their debut, the album didn’t make a dent. They moved in together so they could rehearse constantly and brought in renown producer Jack Douglas for their second LP Get Your Wings, which sold better. At that point Aerosmith became road warriors. They toured incessantly behind the 2nd LP which helped build their fan base but also improved their songwriting and chops. With the big singles “Walk This Way” (later redone with Run D.M.C. during their “comeback”) and my favorite “Sweet Emotion” Aerosmith became superstars. This, to me, is Aerosmith’s peak album. Even the deep tracks like “Uncle Salty” and “Adam’s Apple” kick ass. I love the first two Aerosmith LPs, but I can understand how this is the one that broke them wide and far. It’s telling that they re-released “Dream On” during this time period to try and boost sales of that debut. 

Lenny Kravitz, Are You Gonna Go My Way

While Lenny’s debut is now considered a classic, you never heard much of it on the radio. Every woman I met in the 90s, even casually, put his debut on for me to hear. Despite his unending support among 20-something aged women, his second LP, Mama Said was pretty much invisible. Then suddenly, the title track of this album exploded on to radio and MTV with an iconic video of Lenny rocking in a circular room and flinging his dreds everywhere. There are so many classic tunes on this album – “Believe,” “Heaven Help,” “Black Girl,” and “Just Be A Woman” to name a few. Yes, Lenny tends to wear his influences on his sleeve, but he distills all of them into a fantastic album here. I’m not sure he ever did anything as good as this essential third LP. 

No Doubt, Tragic Kingdom

I had no doubt back in the day that I didn’t like this band. Then the Rock Chick took me to see them live on their reunion tour and I was blown away by them. Guitarist Tom Dumont, bassist Tony Kanal, and drummer Adrian Young were lean and muscular. I wasn’t prepared for how hard they rocked. Front woman Gwen Stefani who went on to totally disappoint me on her solo career was charismatic and energetic on stage… I was mesmerized by her performance…but I’m getting off topic. After that show, I went out and bought all their albums. Their eponymous debut LP got zero support from their record label and they asked to be dropped from their contract which the label refused to do. Their 2nd album, Beacon Street Collection can be thought of as songs about hating their record company. Finally on the third LP, they pierced the grunge consciousness of the era with Tragic Kingdom. Listening to this LP all these years later, it’s a staggering leap forward from the first two records. “Just A Girl” is a woman’s empowerment anthem for the ages and it actually rocks. From that to the ballad “Sunday Morning” this album is just about perfect. 

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Damn The Torpedos 

Petty’s first two albums had classic songs and hits – “Breakdown,” “American Girl,” “I Need To Know” and “Listen To Her Heart.” Listening to those albums today you could tell this was a band who was on the verge of breaking big. Damn The Torpedoes was that quantum leap forward and coincidentally the first Petty LP I ever purchased. My brother had it before I even did. “Here Comes My Girl,” “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Refugee” were all monster hits but I like some of the deep tracks. “Even the Losers” (a personal anthem) and “You Tell Me” are stellar. I even dig “Louisiana Rain.” One of the greatest albums of all time. 

The Police, Zenyatta Mondatta 

Maybe some day someone will explain the title to me… I was in junior high when the Police’s debut album Outlandos D’Amor came out. We all loved “Roxanne.” I remember singing it like Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours, loudly, high-pitched and out of tune in study hall much to the chagrin of the teacher in charge. Outlandos was a classic despite the French title, but I didn’t know anybody who owned it. The second album, Regatta De Blanc boasted the hits “Walking On the Moon,” and “Message In A Bottle” but it didn’t seem to resonate with as many people. Frankly I thought both those tracks were on the debut. After a world wide tour, much like Aerosmith, that honed their playing and songwriting skills they returned with Zenyatta Mondatta and suddenly everyone was on the Police bandwagon. “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” about the nonsensical nature of speeches by politicians, teachers and lawyers was the first single and despite probably not understanding that, we all loved that song. I think my friend Doug saw the Police on this tour. Every song on this album could have been a hit. Between the Police and Aerosmith I think it could be argued every new band should be sent on the road for at least a year to play as many shows as they can. 

Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run

Springsteen’s first album Greetings From Asbury Park is now seen as a classic. Groups from Manfred Mann to Bowie to Greg Kihn have covered tracks from this album. Commercially though, it was largely ignored. His second disc, The Wild, The Innocent And the E Street Shuffle, which gave his backing band its name, is my favorite Springsteen album. Oddly, the great epics on that album like “Incident On 57th St,” “Rosalita,” or “New York City Serenade” were largely ignored. With his back to the wall, Springsteen wrote his greatest batch of songs. He wanted lyrics like Dylan with Phil Spector’s “wall of sound.” I’d say he checked both those boxes! Like Damn The Torpedoes this is one of the greatest albums of all time. I’m just glad Columbia Records let Bruce have a third shot at an album. They would have dropped him if this record failed… 

Rod Stewart, Every Picture Tells A Story 

After his brief stint as “vocalist extraordinaire” for the Jeff Beck Group, Stewart recorded his debut, The Rod Stewart Album, or as it was known in the UK, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down. It was part folk, part rock n roll which would set the template for the rest of Rod’s best work. It didn’t take off so he joined the Faces as their lead singer and after that, he’d release an album with the Faces and a solo album every year. It wasn’t until his third LP, Every Picture Tells A Story that he broke it big when a DJ in Cleveland flipped over the first single “Reason To Believe” to play the B-side, a little ditty named “Maggie May.” Rod became a superstar which was great for him, not so great for his mates in the Faces. I still hope Rod, Ronnie Wood and Kenny Jones can get a semi-Faces reunion together and do something. Rod was always better when he was working with a strong guitar player like Wood. 

U2, War

Boy, U2’s debut boasted the fabulous song “I Will Follow” that they still play in concert but it only made a little dent on the charts. The “difficult second album,” October didn’t do them any favors. Like Springsteen, with their backs against the wall, they retreated to Hawaii and recorded their breakthrough album. Sure, they had bigger and perhaps better albums, but War is the LP that broke them wide open… it’s also the first LP from them I purchased. The anthems “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Year’s Day” moved them in a political direction that I always loved. It’s amazing how many of these third LPs ended up being some of the greatest music ever recorded… Maybe it’s the pressure? 

The White Stripes, White Blood Cells 

Like a majority of people, this was the LP where I first discovered the White Stripes. I ended up going back and buying their previous 2 LPs almost immediately upon buying White Blood Cells. The eponymous debut was all garage-rock, meaning it sounded like it was recorded in a garage. It was raw and ferocious, naturally I loved it. Even I will admit however, I can see why that wasn’t an international sensation. Their second LP, De Stijl was, like Springsteen’s E Street Shuffle, my favorite Stripes album. It’s bluesy and punk… its blues punk. However, it also failed to resonate far and wide. White Blood Cells had the big hits that made them famous “Dead Leaves On The Dirty Ground” and “Fell In Love With A Girl” that likely drove a lot of people like me to their first two records. They may have had bigger albums but this one is almost perfect. “We’re Going To Be Friends” is the best acoustic track they ever did. “I’m Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman” has always been a personal fav. The Stripes just released a wonderful Greatest Hits album if you’re not obsessive about owning every LP but White Blood Cells is the perfect place to start with the Stripes. 

 

Most, if not all of these bands went on to storied, long careers. They all had “bigger,” better selling albums but these are such critical pieces of that later success. These are some of the greatest albums ever. I urge everyone who hasn’t heard these “third” records to do so immediately. Because as we’ve just learned, sometimes the third time is the charm. 

Cheers! Be safe out there, we’re getting closer every day to being able to some of this great rock n roll played live! 

 

 

Rock N Reunions We’d Love To See But, Alas, Will Never Happen

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*Images taken from the internet and likely copyrighted

The dreaded Holidays are upon us. With Thanksgiving on the books, we can now officially shift our focus to Christmas. Actually once Halloween hit, the stores shifted their focus to Christmas so I guess we’re behind schedule? Ah, unchecked materialism’s high holy season. The Holidays seem interminable. I have long ago confessed my feelings about the Holiday season, Confessions of an Ex-Grinch: My Christmas Epiphany. I will say, meeting the Rock Chick aka Mrs. Claus has helped turn my Xmas attitude to a more positive place. I will also admit, I’m a huge fan of Thanksgiving. I show up, drink a bunch of wine, eat a bunch of turkey and sit drowsily in front of football games on television. I give thanks knowing not everybody can celebrate like that these days. Other than St. Patrick’s Day, where I go out and drink in the streets with the rabble, you can’t beat Thanksgiving.

The Holidays can be seen, through a gimlet eye, as a mini-family reunion of sorts. On Thanksgiving, we always head over to my parents’ house. I see my brother, an in-law or two, and my aunt and uncle. They’re all great people. It’s a nice, small, controlled group. We all had enough practice veering the conversation away from politics in the Bush era that there aren’t any screaming fits accompanied by thrown plates anymore. And in our defense, that only happened once and it wasn’t in the presence of my Sainted Mother, thank God. Invariably, this small gathering of relatives and occasional stragglers turns the conversation to reunions.

For as long as I can remember, my dad’s family has been having family reunions every August. I’ve never understood the need to get everybody together on an annual basis, but hey, it’s what they do. And then they talk about the reunion for the rest of the fucking year. It’s inescapable. When I was a kid, like 12, every year I was drug out to a little farm house on the outskirts of a small town in Southeastern Kansas that was filled with people. I was a shy kid and going to this reunion was like watching someone give a cat a bath…unpleasant doesn’t cover it. My parents procreated right out of the chute – I was born 9 months after the honeymoon. Nobody else had kids with that kind of alacrity. The family reunions consisted of adults – from their 30’s to their 90s – and children who were infants to kids maybe 5 or 6. And then there was me… I was right in the middle. Not adult enough to get drunk with these semi-strangers, not young enough to play with the kiddos. My brother, the old soul that he is, would sit with the 90 year olds and talk about the heat. For me, it was 12 hours of wandering around a large farmyard, or across the street to a strip-pit (created by coal mining) that was basically a small lake that we weren’t allowed to swim in. The strip-pit’s water glimmered in front of us like the window of a closed ice cream shop. Cool and wonderful in the August heat but you couldn’t get in. I had nothing to do out there.

This has naturally colored my opinion of reunions of any kind in a very negative way. It wasn’t until I discovered that many rock bands have reunions that I realized there could be positive reunions. I’ve never even attended a High School reunion. And believe me, there have been plenty of opportunities, I graduated a long time ago. I grew up in Kansas City, but on the Kansas side, then moved to the Missouri side as an “adult”… It’s like I moved to Paris. I never see any of those people, but I know they’re out there just over the state line. I went by my 10 year reunion only to meet a friend. I thought we’d slip away from the maddening crowd and get a beer only to find out my friend had gone sober on me which was bracing because the guy could really party back in the day. I ended up sitting in a hotel room surrounded – and I mean surrounded – by sleeping children. It’s not that I was upset about it, but when I was that young, children frightened me. I still demure when someone wants me to hold a baby… I fear I’ll break it. I figure I’ve stayed in touch with anybody I wanted to from high school and I don’t need to hit the reunion circuit to compare myself and how I’ve done with everybody else still standing.

The only reunions I’m down for involve rock and roll bands. I was so immersed in music as a teenager and young adult, it felt that these guys (and gals) I was reading about in liner notes and Rolling Stone were like friends of mine. I was emotionally invested in these bands and many of their members. I certainly feel that way about the Stones. I recently saw that the feuding Robinson brothers have reunited the Black Crowes for a tour next summer. I greet that as good news. Motley Crue caused a ruckus when they announced they’re taking back the “no more tours” contract they all signed to much fanfare and are going on tour next year. I say bravo! We need kick ass hard rock in our lives. Many people long for bands to reunite, get back together, record and tour… Wasn’t it Billy Joel who once sang, “Oh baby you got nothing to play on your stereo, “Why don’t the Beatles get back together.””

I have people all the time who say, usually in a bar, “I wish XYZ band would get back together. I never got to see them.” I personally prefer these old bands record a little something new… if the chemistry is there, fuck radio, record an LP. Motley Crue had three or four good, new tracks on ‘The Dirt’ soundtrack. Hell, yes! However, even though I enjoy a band reunion as much as the next rock n roll fan, and certainly much more than a family or high school reunion, I’m pragmatic about it. There are just some bands who are never gonna get back together. While I’d love to see anybody on this list reunite even just to tour, I fear it’s just not gonna happen. I’m here with a wake-up call for you rock n roll dreamers. If any of these bands are on your Rock Reunion Wish List, alas, I’m afraid you’re not gonna see them. I limited this list to bands who have all or at least a majority of their key members still alive… I don’t have the Beatles on here as its only Paul and Ringo now. As much as I love Ringo (Peace and Love), without John Lennon or George Harrison, it ain’t much of a reunion. If a band has all original members on this side of the dirt, one has to wonder why won’t they try and make it work again? Whether it’s egos, money or chemistry gone sour, these bands just aren’t going to stage that reunion.

  1. Led Zeppelin – Even Pete Townshend said recently, “Robert (Plant) would make a lot of people happy if he’d just agree to a reunion tour.” While true, I think Plant has refused to reunite with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones for a Zeppelin tour because he fears the massive expectations that come with it. I loved the 2012 Celebration Day concert/album…they’ve still got the fire. Jason Bonham, John’s son filled in admirably. Plant won’t even record with Alison Krauss because they had such wild success he can’t face those expectations. He’s never coming around on this.
  2. Pink Floyd – After years of slagging David Gilmour, Nick Mason and the late Rick Wright, Roger Waters has pursued a reunion with these guys like a teenage boy pursing a cheerleader on prom night. Gilmour has wisely refused save for a 1 off concert years ago. With Wright gone it’s likely too late. But lets face it – there’s no way Gilmour is going to forgive the hateful shit Waters has said over the years.
  3. Van Halen – Roth can’t sing anymore. Not that he ever really could. The last time I saw these guys Roth looked like he’d had a lobotomy. Dr Rock once described their live album as sounding like a “pet store burning down.” Eddie and Alex Van Halen have become the Howard Hugheses of rock n roll… who knows wtf those guys are doing. Eddie has even bagged on Michael Anthony, the only nice guy in the band. Hell, I don’t think the the VH brothers would even entertain working with Sammy again. Sad, indeed, sad.
  4. The Faces – Rod’s management has him focused on money, money, money. It’s a shame he Ronnie Wood, Kenny Jones and while still alive Ian McLagan couldn’t have worked it out. Even with Ian gone, I’d have rather heard a Faces record than this symphonic crap Rod just put out. It’s just too late. Ronnie Lane has been gone a long time too… maybe that’s why Rod refused… but my gut feel is his management was demanding the lion’s share of the money. Sigh.
  5. No Doubt – I saw these guys in concert with the Rock Chick and fell in love with this band. Great bass, drums and guitar… alas Gwen Stefani is more focused on building her own brand and cosmetic surgery to actually commit to her original band.
  6. R.E.M. – After recording two great, late period albums these guys called it quits with more of an exhausted sigh than a bang. They seem content to just release archival stuff,  and revisiting old albums and the accompanying bonus material. They all still get along and Bill Berry is still knocking around out there. It’s baffling but these guys seem done.
  7. Rush – The same story for R.E.M. could be told for Rush. The Prog-Rock giants did their last tour and that was it. I read that Neil Peart doesn’t even have a drum kit in his house anymore. Geddy has written a book and is doing a book tour… Alex Lifeson is likely loaded somewhere in Canada. They were great the last time I saw them but as the kids say, “they done.”
  8. Simon & Garfunkel – I’m not a huge fan of these guys, I actually prefer Simon on his own. But these guys were old friends… I hate too see this kind of animosity near the end.
  9. The White Stripes – Sure, I love Jack White on his own and with the Raconteurs (LP Review: The Raconteurs’ (Jack White) ‘Help Us Stranger’) but I miss that primal White Stripes’ sound, driven by Meg White’s drum… Come home Meg, all is forgiven. She’s the Greta Garbo of rock, she wants to be alone.
  10. CSNY – I don’t think anybody will talk to Crosby, let alone work with him. He’s even admitted what an asshole he is. When Young left his wife for Darryl Hannah, Crosby was vocally critical. Hint: Don’t bag on your friends squeeze if you ever wanna see them again… trust me on this one, I learned the hard way.
  11. Oasis – Despite Liam’s begging Noel will never work with him again. Liam actually questioned the paternity of Noel’s daughter. I have loved Liam’s two solo records but he’s a terribly unpleasant man… don’t ever air guitar in the front row at his show, he’s brutal.
  12. Jeff Beck & Rod Stewart – For odd reasons Rod turned his back on the Faces but has always been receptive to working with Beck. Jeff even showed up and played a 5 or 6 set encore at Rod’s last Hollywood Bowl show. I’d love to hear these guys tear into some blues, with or without Ronnie Wood on bass. Jeff Beck is just too much of a stubborn asshole to make something substantial happen.
  13. Fleetwood Mac and Lindsey Buckingham – Stevie Nicks is now the spiritual leader of this band. It would appear that her distaste for Buckingham has spelled his doom with this band. He also recently had surgery that may have damaged his vocal chords… I hope not. He’ll never work with Fleetwood Mac as long as Stevie is alive.
  14. Guns N Roses – I was delighted Axl finally reconciled with Slash and Duff. I get that Steven addled Adler doesn’t have the chops anymore but I’d sure like to see Izzy Stradlin back in this band. He was one of the key cogs in the songwriting and if they ever want to do a new album, they need him. From what I hear, the evil money is the reason they won’t let Izzy come back. They offered him a salary vs a full cut not the ‘Not In Our Lifetime’ tour.
  15. Red Hot Chili Peppers & John Frusciante – Come back John, we need you. They wouldn’t even have to fire Josh, they could morph into a 5 piece. I think Josh is a better rhythm player anyway and then Frusciante wouldn’t have to do so much heavy lifting. Never going to happen though. Frusciante, rock and roll’s Vincent Van Gogh is clearly never coming back and it appears the Peppers have moved on albeit in a less rocking direction.

Those are my top 15 bands I’d love to see reunite who, alas, will never get back together? Who are yours? Let me know in the comments section.

Cheers!