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Six decades of One Album Wonders

Chantilly_Lace.jpg

Perhaps the only thing more disappointing than a sophomore slump is falling in love with a band's debut and never even getting a follow-up. After thoroughly enjoying my first foray into a “Six decades of...” article, I'm making sure this series doesn't follow the same fate by highlighting one terrific debut album from each decade since the 1950s that never got a follow-up studio release.

The 1950s:
The Big Bopper, Chantilly Lace (1958)

The opening phone call gimmick on Chantilly Lace with its bellowing “Helloooo Baby! This is the Big Bopper speaking!” is one of rock's great introductions. Unfortunately, The Big Bopper's exit was even more famous, though he's remembered more for the company he kept on that ill-fated plane ride than anything else he did. (Hell, he's the only one of the three musicians on that flight without a biopic.) Considering the fates of most early rock 'n' rollers, even if he had survived to make more music, he probably still would've gone down in history as the answer to a trivia question (Who originally performed “Chantilly Lace?"), and while that calling card song is the highlight and blueprint for most other songs on the album, it's certainly not short on primal pleasures. Along with the usual wailing sax and maniacal laughter, “The Big Bopper's Wedding” throws in a church organ mocking his anxieties about giving up his freewheeling life. While that tracks ends with a “Let me out of here!,” he opens the next one with a “Let me in!,” relishing the role of the Big Bad Wolf with more than its requisite menace on “Little Red Riding Hood.” The Big Bopper's sound was pure rock and roll, one that would be emulated by the raw garage movement in the next decade, and it's a shame he never got to see it.

The 1960s:
Margo Guryan, Take a Picture (1968)

Trained as a jazz musician, Margo Guryan switched to pop songwriting after hearing The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and I daresay she topped it. Guryan's breathy whisper floats atop lush orchestral arrangements for the pinnacle of dreamy 1960s pop, an album that somehow manages to be both hopeful and wistful, the perfect sunny day album and the perfect rainy day album (though that paradox is easier to achieve when you name one song “Sun” and another “Think of Rain”). After the positively brimming one-two punch of “Sunday Morning” and “Sun,” Guryan offers a mourning ode to the devastating effects a love song can have, aptly titled “Love Songs,” the rest of the tracks could easily be the song she's singing about. To cap it all off, Guryan lets her freak flag fly on the epic closer, “Love,” with a psychedelic instrumental build-up that beautifully evokes the swirling emotions of the titular experience. Though Guryan never recorded another proper studio album, many of her later songs appear on the 25 Demos release. The gradual politicization of her lyrics is in on display in this collection, resulting in “Please Believe Me,” perhaps the only love song inspired by Watergate. In the years since, she's moved even further in this direction, dropping the occasional anti-Bush song onto her MySpace page.

Honorable Mentions:
Alexander “Skip” Spence, Oar (1969); Choice track: “War in Peace”
Thunderclap Newman, Hollywood Dream (1969); Choice track: “Something in the Air”
Blind Faith, Blind Faith (1969); Choice track: “Can't Find My Way Home"

The 1970s:
Derek & The Dominos, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970)

Unlike the last two albums spotlighted, this one isn't the sole document of a singular voice, but rather a one-off showcase of two phenomenal talents, Eric Clapton and Duane Allman. (Clapton collaborator Bobby Whitlock's not bad either, but the fiery guitar work of Clapton and Allman make it pretty clear who's running the show.) Best known for the epic title track and the pleadingly beautiful “Bell Bottom Blues,” Layla is packed to double album length with equally heartbreaking blues-rock gems. A number of the tracks are classic blues songs expanded for maximum guitar frippery, with Big Bill Broonzy's “Key to the Highway” stretched out to nearly ten minutes. Clapton and Allman also let loose on a cover of Jimi Hendrix's “Little Wing” that serves as both a touching tribute to late guitar god and an opportunity to flaunt their credentials for his exalted status. Topping the covers are the album's powerful originals, mostly co-written by Clapton and Whitlock, piling on the heartache with such stunners as the gorgeous “I Looked Away” and the particularly desperate, “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” A couple live albums followed, but they lacked Allman's participation, who had returned to his stint with The Allman Brothers Band before his death in 1971. Clapton forged on with a lucrative solo career, and Whitlock, well, he probably wishes things went a bit differently.

Honorable Mentions:
The Modern Lovers, The Modern Lovers (1976); Choice track: “Roadrunner”
Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (1977); Choice track: “Anarchy in the UK”
Simply Saucer, Cyborgs Revisited (1977); Choice track: “Bullet Proof Nothing”
Death, ...For the Whole World to See (1974); Choice track: “Keep on Knockin'”
Chris Bell, I Am the Cosmos (1978); Choice track: “I Am the Cosmos"

1980s:
The Newtown Neurotics, Beggars Can Be Choosers (1983)

By 1983, punk was an entirely different beast than the politically-charged, aggressive-but-melodic punk found on The Clash's 1977 debut and its imitators. Politics were mainly found in the more assaultive hardcore genre and that was just one of the many subgenres that punk had morphed into over the years. The Newtown Neurotics, however, rooted their sound firmly in the old school, sounding like a lost relic from the landmark year of 1977, and their politics were fully intact as well. Most of their songs serve as a lyrical essay on various social issues, including a one-two punch of killer tracks tackling gender politics; “No Respect” dissects elements of male chauvinism in the English language, while “Agony” criticizes culture's machismo attitudes against men crying and links that pent-up emotion to domestic violence. It sounds pretty heady, but the music chugs along at a breakneck pace for top-notch rocking. While their lyrical aim can be summed by the track, “Get Up and Fight,” their musical ethos is shouted in “The Mess”: “Don't be so slow! Be like The Ramones! Go man, go!” It's a pretty sturdy credo, and nowhere is it better put to use than on the rip-roaring “Does Anyone Know Where the March Is?,” which throws in all the punk-fun it can cram into less than three minutes: fierce guitar throughout, background “ooo”s, Oi!-style shouts, piano lines, and a quick fart sound to end it, perhaps representing any hope for a follow-up album.

Honorable Mentions:
Operation Ivy, Energy (1989); Choice track: “Sound System”
Zimmer Frei, Zimmer Frei (1981); Choice track: “Stretta La Foglia”

1990s:
The New Radicals, Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too (1998)

This article originally started as an entry in my One-Hit Wonders Project (still yet to receive a follow-up), with the New Radicals as its focus. In 1998, the airwaves cranked out a hefty dose of pop bliss every time they played their sole hit single, “You Get What You Give,” an uplifting arena-ready gem with a rousing chorus, ample use of falsetto, and a bizarre end rant railing against pretty much anything frontman Gregg Alexander can think of, and significantly dating himself in the process. It deservedly remains their most enduring song, and while the rest of the album doesn't include any of its dated namedrops, its blue-eyed-soul-with-slight-post-grunge-crunch sound screams late '90s radio pop throughout, and that album cover doesn't help things any. If anyone in that get-up approached you at a party, the proper response would be a swift exit, 'cause there's no way he's not gonna accuse you of being shackled by the man. Sure enough, that's where most of his lyrical sentiment lies, usually cramming a laundry list of grievances against society at the end of a track like it was a Charlie Chaplin talkie. The cringe-worthiness of the spotty politics don't hold a candle to Alexander's stabs at profundity, though (ex: “I bought a ticket to the end of the rainbow” off “Someday We'll Know”). Still, if anyone's voice could come close to selling them, it's Alexander's, and with that on its side, the album overcomes its lyrical shortcomings and becomes a spirited set of glorious pop tunes.

(Note: Normally, I only post a fan video if it's either good or the only YouTube video I could find, but this one fascinates me as a tutorial on how not make a fan video. The scenes chosen are dull without the dialogue and the music never synchs up with what little action there is. Still, I watched it all the way through because it features strong use of Alexis Bledel Face, perhaps the greatest cinematic technique of this decade. Also, searching for a YouTube video for this led me to discover a bizarre fan video trend of using this song over shoddily compiled clips of famous and not-so-famous TV couples. There's Jim and Pam from The Office, Chuck and Blair from Gossip Girl, and even Ray and Neela from ER, which I didn't think anyone cared about, and I watched the last few seasons. I'm assuming all this stems from the song's use in A Walk to Remember, but I welcome alternate origin theories.)

Honorable Mentions:
The La's, The La's (1990); Choice track: “There She Goes”
Black Star, Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star (1998); Choice track: “Definition”
Jeff Buckley, Grace (1994); Choice track: “Last Goodbye”

2000s:
The Avalanches, Since I Left You (2000)

Pitchfork just named this the tenth greatest album of the decade, and it's pretty easy to see why it holds such a vaunted status. It's a remarkably cohesive listening experience stitched together from thousands of disparate samples, and apart from the madcap standout single, “Frontier Psychiatrist,” its laid-back day-at-the-beach vibe makes the whole thing seem effortless. Of course, just as Brian Wilson toiled endlessly in the studio to perfect his summer day sound, this one must have been meticulously labored-over, as not one sample feels out of place. For most of the album, it's content to simply breeze by your ears and lower your blood pressure, but a few tracks ask for more active participation in the form of dancing, chief among them being “Live at Dominoes,” which bounces along with an ecstatic disco beat and looping robovocals that surely caused Daft Punk to take notes when they were prepping Discovery. While the album feels forward-thinking in that regard, as well as presaging the remix and mash-up trend that boomed in this decade, it also hearkens back to the hip-hop tracks of the 1980s and early 1990s, whose use of all-over-the-map samples had faded significantly in the years since. With sampling's resurgence these days, it'd be the perfect time for a comeback (though I've read rumors of one sprinkled over the internet for a few years now, I'm not gonna believe anything until I hear it). Of course, it would be a tad more difficult to stand out these days, but considering The Avalanches' mastery of their craft, surely they could manage.

Honorable Mentions:
Life Without Buildings, Any Other City (2000); Choice track: “The Leanover”
The Exploding Hearts, Guitar Romantic (2003); Choice track: “Sleeping Aides and Razorblades”

Comments

  • Libby 5 years ago

    I continue to be impressed with your writing.

    ... Frontier Psychiatrist is awesome. That is all.

  • Jarrod 5 years ago

    Great article, Jon. Since I Left You is an awesome album and the video for the title song is one of my favorites. I love Take A Picture as well.