The music business is a fickle beast. Taste and trends are always changing, and if a musician doesn’t evolve or continue to put out quality music, they can quickly fall into obscurity. These 10 artists were standing on the edge of oblivion, only to release an album that reignited their careers and secured their legacy in music history.
10. The Next Day
David Robert Jones, better known as David Bowie, first achieved fame in 1969 with his song “Space Oddity.” The theatrics of his albums and his androgynous style made him stick out amongst the English rock stars of the time. He was also known for his eclectic tastes, as Bowie never seemed to settle into any particular genre. Instead, for over 30 years he released a variety of albums that were innovative and influential.
In 2003 Bowie released Reality, which was met with a lukewarm reception and moderate sales. With Reality being his 25th album, people thought that Bowie was done releasing music. What did he have left to prove? His seminal work of the ’60s and ’70s proved he was one of the most talented and original artists of all time. His work in the ’80s and ’90s showed that he understood musical trends, and even decades after releasing his first album he was releasing innovative music.
Then in 2013, he surprised the media and fans alike by releasing The Next Day after a 10-year hiatus. The album drew excellent reviews and some critics went as far to say it’s one of the best albums Bowie’s ever released. It also sold well; it was his first number one album in the United Kingdom since 1993. The Next Day was nominated for three Grammys, including one for Best Rock Album, and it was also shortlisted for the Mercury Award, which is given to the best British or Irish album of the year.
9. Van Lear Rose
At the age of 72, country legend Loretta Lynn had nothing to prove after releasing 55 albums in her long, illustrious career. She was one of the biggest country stars of the 1960s and ’70s, and there was even a movie about her life called The Coal Miner’s Daughter. Sissy Spacek won an Academy Award for playing Lynn. Lynn retired from music in the 1990s to look after her sick husband, and while in retirement she sporadically released albums, there was nothing earthshaking. Then in 2004, Lynn decided to work with a 28-year-old producer named Jack White. The two came together after The White Stripes dedicated their album White Blood Cells to Lynn and covered one of her songs. Lynn invited Jack and Meg White to visit her. After meeting them, she agreed to do an album that Jack White wanted to produce. Lynn wrote all 13 songs, while White produced, co-wrote one song, performed a duet and played a number of instruments.
The album, Van Lear Rose, was released to universal acclaim. It peaked at No. 2 on the country charts and No. 24 on the Billboard 200. The album was nominated for five Grammys and took home two, Best Country Album and Best Country Collaboration with Vocals.
Dr. Dre was one of the founding members of the originators of gangster rap, N.W.A. After leaving N.W.A., Dr. Dre released his first solo album, The Chronic, in 1992, and it was critically and commercially successful. He won the Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance, and the album also helped launch the career of Snoop Dog, who was featured on it.
After his initial success, Dr. Dre became more interested in producing and launching other artists. He released one single in 1996, “Been There, Done That” and was met with a lukewarm reception. By the late ’90s, everyone assumed that Dr. Dre was just going to be a producer and would stop releasing his own music. However, after launching the career of Eminem, Dre released his second album, 2001, in 1999. It was a hit with both critics and listeners. It reached No. 2 on the US billboard charts and ultimately went six times platinum. He was nominated for five Grammys, and won two for best Rap Performance by A Duo or Group and Producer of the Year. After proving he can still put out great solo music, Dr. Dre has turned his focus back to producing and promoting headphones.
7. Songs For Young Lovers
Frank Sinatra is an American icon. He had a plethora of hits, and starred in many classic movies. However, things weren’t always going that way. By the end of the 1940s, Americans had become disenchanted with Sinatra. People’s musical tastes were evolving away from what he performed. There were also reports about his ties to the mafia that didn’t sit well with people, and Americans were getting weary of his personal life — he had divorced his wife, with whom he had three children, and had a publicized affair with Ava Gardner. His voice had also gotten much weaker throughout the years. So by the time the 1950s rolled around, he didn’t have any movie contracts or a record label. Basically, most people wrote Sinatra off as being washed up.
Then, in 1953, Sinatra won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in From Here to Eternity. He also signed with Capitol Records, who gave him more artistic control. The first album he recorded was called Songs for Young Lovers, and Sinatra started working with band conductor Nelson Riddle. Over the next 20 years they produced some of the biggest hits of Sinatra’s career. With Capitol, he started recording albums focusing on one theme or mood. While this is common today, the concept was considered risky then. However, Sinatra released 16 albums in this style, giving him newfound fame and securing his legacy in the annals of American pop culture.
6. Brian Wilson Presents Smile
The incredibly talented Brian Wilson is one of the co-founders of the Beach Boys. Their style started off as surfer rock, but under the guidance of Wilson they became known for their sophisticated and artistic approach to pop music. The Beach Boys’ most famous album, Pet Sounds, was released in 1966 and is widely regarded as one of the best and most influential albums of all time.
The Beach Boys planned on following up their landmark album with a record called Smile, but that never happened because of Wilson’s deteriorating mental health. Instead, in 1967 they released Smiley Smile, which they recorded in six weeks in Wilson’s home studio. After this album, Wilson handed control of the band over to his brother Carl. Wilson also shelved Smile, and it looked like it was going to be one of those famous unfinished albums.
Over the next couple of decades, Wilson lived in seclusion while he struggled with his mental health. He was diagnosed with depression and schizophrenia. He had a number of nervous breakdowns and became obese. He also had problems with addictions to cocaine, LSD and alcohol. Then, in the 1980s, he started seeing a psychiatrist and in 1988 he released his first solo album. He also started to work sporadically with the Beach Boys. Throughout the 1990s, he released a few albums that received mixed reviews. But in 2004, 37 years after he started working on the album, he released Smile. It was universally adored by critics and was nominated for three Grammys. Wilson took home his first ever Grammy for Rock Instrumental Performance.
5. American Idiot
Green Day became internationally known after starting a mud fight at Woodstock 1994. Their major label debut, Dookie, would go on to sell 20 million copies and they won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Performance. After their initial success, Green Day continued to release albums that performed well on the Modern Rock charts, but their other albums didn’t enjoy the same mainstream success as Dookie.
Then in 2004, 10 years after the release of their most successful album, Green Day released American Idiot. The rock opera was a departure from Green Day’s normal three chord California punk songs. Critics and audiences were surprised at the depth of the album from a band most people had written off as a one-album wonder. Critics loved it and Green Day won a Grammy for Best Rock Performance. They gained a whole army of new fans who were too young to know Dookie. In 2015, they’ll be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.
Pioneers of heavy metal Black Sabbath formed in 1968 and released their self-titled debut in 1970. They had a massive hit with their second album, Paranoid, which was released in 1970. The band released eight albums, but by the end of the ’70s they were getting frustrated with lead singer Ozzy Osbourne. Osbourne had developed a drug habit and this led to him being kicked out. After the split, Black Sabbath released Heaven and Hell in 1980 with their new singer Ronnie James Dio, and it was well regarded. Osbourne released Blizzard of Ozz in the same year and it was the start of a very successful solo career. In the ensuing years, Osbourne became more popular than Black Sabbath, even though he was still dealing with drug problems.
After Black Sabbath released their 18th album, Forbidden, in 1995, they stopped releasing new music. In 1997, the band reunited with Osbourne on vocals and played on the Ozz-Fest tour. After the initial reunion Osbourne would occasionally play with Black Sabbath, but he still was focusing on his solo records, Ozzfest, and of course, the reality show The Osbournes.
In late 2011, the band reunited and announced they would be releasing a new album. While it was good news, not many people were clamoring for a new release. Yet, the band released 13 in 2013, making it Black Sabbath’s first album in 18 years and the first with Osbourne in 35 years. Expectations were low, but with the help of producer Rick Rubin they made an album that was liked by critics and fans alike. It was described as having the same energy and sound of their early albums, reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200, was nominated for three Grammys and won the Grammy for Best Metal Performance. Black Sabbath plan on recording a final album in 2015, which will be followed by a farewell tour.
3. Mama Said Knock You Out
In the opening lines of the title track of LL Cool J’s 1990 album, he says “Don’t call it a comeback / I been here for years.” But people did call it a comeback — one of the best in rap and hip-hop. After the immense success of his debut album, Radio, in 1985, LL Cool J released two albums that were poorly received. By 1990, not a whole lot was expected out of him. People simply thought of him as out of touch or a sellout. Then when Mama Said Knock You Out was released 1990, it showed a revitalized rapper with an edge that had been lacking in his previous two outings. He received positive reviews and sold millions of copies. It re-launched LL Cool J’s career; he would go on to release more albums and star in movies and television shows. The album is now considered a classic.
2. Taking the Long Way Home
Sometimes a comeback doesn’t need to be after a hiatus or slump. In early 2003, the Dixie Chicks had a No. 1 single and were set to go on a sold-out worldwide tour. On March 19, 2003 they were playing in London, England, when lead singer Natalie Maines said, “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.” This was nine days before the start of the US invasion of Iraq.
The comment sparked immediate boycotts, album burnings and condemnation by conservative pundits. When Maines made her statement, rock bands like Pearl Jam were continuously railing against the Bush administration, but while they angered people they didn’t even come close to feeling the wrath that the women who sang country received. A lot of comments were sexist and they were threatened with violence and death. There were massive boycotts of their music by radio stations, and people picketed their concerts across the United States.
Responding to the backlash, the lighthearted pop country band released their most personal album, Taking the Long Way, in 2006. Produced by Rick Rubin, the lead single was “Not Ready to Make Nice,” their response to all their detractors who told them to “shut up and sing.” The song struck a chord with critics and found a new audience because of the ferocity of the defiant lyrics and their passionate performance. Taking the Long Way Home was the biggest hit of their career, winning three Grammys. Their comeback album, which was written about losing fans, re-launched the Dixie Chicks and gained them more fans than they lost.
1. American Recordings
Johnny Cash’s long history of success dates back to his first single in 1955 called “Cry, Cry, Cry.” From there, Cash’s popularity grew over the ’60s and he became one of the dominant forces in country music. But by the ’70s Cash was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and the caliber of his music wasn’t nearly as good. Things reached a low point in 1986 when Columbia Records dropped him after 26 lucrative years together.
After being dropped Cash signed with Mercury Records, but by 1991, he didn’t have a label. No one expected much from a country musician who was in his ’60s. Country music had changed too much and there was no place for him. That’s why it was unusual when he signed with hard rock and hip-hop producer Rick Rubin. Rubin, who had only worked with young bands, produced the first album in Cash’s American Recordings series at Cash’s cabin in Tennessee. The stripped down album only featured Cash on an acoustic guitar, covering songs picked by Rubin and himself. The goal was to bring out what made Cash so unique — his voice. Cash had the ability to sound powerful and vulnerable at the same time. When he sang the lyrics sounded wise, yet humble.
The final product, released in 1994, was called stark and gripping. It was unmistakably Johnny Cash, but an older and wiser version. It did well with critics and was enjoyed by a younger audience whose parents would have even been too young for his music. Cash himself said the late stage of his career felt like the glory days in the 1950s because he was making the music he wanted to make. Cash released six American Recordings, and during this time he had an incredible resurgence in popularity.