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Question of the Week: What ordinal number is your favorite band’s best album?

Hey, welcome to Question of the Week, where – wait for it – every week I ask a question about pop culture! I know, it’s shocking! I figured we could do some audience participation here at the blog, and since nerds love to argue about things, I’d ask questions that allow us to argue about things! So here’s the first one:

What ordinal number is any random band’s best album?

I have a theory that bands release their best albums early in their careers. Bands tend to burn brightly but briefly (that’s a generalization, of course, but that’s the way it is), and so they crank out great music early and, if they survive, begin to coast later in their careers. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, as I’ll try to show in this post, but that’s my theory. So let’s take a look at the bands by which I own every album and see if my theory holds up (I will bold the best album in the list). Then you can chime in! (Obviously, the one caveat I have – besides the fact that you might disagree, even though I’m right – is that some of these bands are not done releasing new music. So they could do better music in the future. But we’re not concerned about the future right now, are we? So let’s go!)

ABBA

Ring Ring (1973)
Waterloo (1974)
ABBA (1975)
Arrival (1976)
The Album (1977)
Voulez-Vous (1979)
Super Trouper (1980)
The Visitors (1981)
Voyage (2021)

Right away, my theory takes a hit. ABBA isn’t really an “album” band, as they tend to write singles and then fill in the album with other, lesser songs (none bad, though, because the band is too good), but Voulez-Vous is the strongest from top to bottom, even if other albums have a few better songs. “As Good As New,” “Voulez-Vous,” “I Have a Dream,” and “Angeleyes” to begin the album is the best beginning of any ABBA album, and after “The King Has Lost His Crown,” which is a slight step down, we get “Does Your Mother Know,” “If It Wasn’t For the Nights,” and “Chiquitita.” “Lovers (Live a Little Longer)” is another slight step down, but “Kisses of Fire” ends the album with a triumph. The consistency of Voulez-Vous is what lifts it. “Waterloo” is a great track, but the rest of the album, while solid, doesn’t quite live up to it. ABBA has “Mamma Mia” and “SOS” (the latter is the band’s second-best song), but again, everything else falls a bit short. Arrival is considered by some to be the best ABBA disc, and sure, it has “Dancing Queen” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You” (two of the best-known ABBA songs), along with “When I Kissed the Teacher” and “Money, Money, Money,” but its more minor tunes, such as “My Love, My Life” and “Dum Dum Diddle” aren’t quite as good as the minor tunes on Voulez-Vous. The Album has “Take a Chance on Me” and “The Name of the Game,” but the rest doesn’t measure up. “Super Trouper” is a terrific song, as are “The Winner Takes it All,” “On and On and On,” and “Andante, Andante,” but once again, the lack of consistency dings that album. And while The Visitors contains ABBA’s best song, “When All Is Said and Done,” the album also contains a few songs that might be ABBA’s worst tunes (which, again, doesn’t make them bad). Their new one is quite good, but not a classic. ABBA was a band that tended to get better as they went along, mainly because they began writing “adult” songs, meaning songs about heartbreak that felt more nuanced and despairing than your typical “He/She broke my heart and now I’m sad” songs you often hear. Voulez-Vous is great because it acknowledges the pain of loss but also has a more mature look at new love, too, which makes it a bit more optimistic than a lot of ABBA albums. Plus, it’s the only disco album ABBA ever released, which means the songs have better beats than most ABBA songs. So there we go, my theory is already in trouble!

Number of albums: 9
Best album: 6th

The Airborne Toxic Event

The Airborne Toxic Event (2008)
All At Once (2011)
Such Hot Blood (2013)
Dope Machines (2015)
Songs of God and Whiskey (2015)
Hollywood Park (2020)

This is another tough one, because I don’t own Songs of God and Whiskey, which is an acoustic album the band released a day after they released Dope Machines, which is their “1980s” album. But I think I’m on solid ground saying that album isn’t their best, although I’m planning on buying it eventually, so maybe I’ll have to change my mind. Anyway, despite Hollywood Park being excellent (and an excellent return to form after Dope Machines, by far the band’s most uneven album), and despite the fact that “Timeless,” their best song, appears on Such Hot Blood, All At Once is their best disc. The title track begins the album with a blast, “All For a Woman” and “Half of Something Else” are two of their best songs, “Welcome to Your Wedding Day” and “All I Ever Wanted” are excellent, and “The Kids Are Ready to Die” and “The Graveyard Near the House” add a general sense of weird melancholy to the proceedings. I very much like the band, so even if I take out Dope Machines (which isn’t bad, just not great), this is a tough choice, but I think it’s the right one.

Number of albums: 6
Best album: 2nd

AWOLNATION

Megalithic Symphony (2011)
Run (2015)
Here Come the Runts (2018)
Angel Miners & Lightning Riders (2020)

This is an easy choice, as Megalithic Symphony is a staggering debut, far better than anything else that Aaron Bruno and his gang have released. Run is supremely disappointing, although I don’t dislike it as much as I used to, and their two recent albums are decent, but not great. Their first album contains “Soul Wars,” “People,” Jump on My Shoulders” (with its terrific lyric at the end: “It’s not supposed to be easy, that’s why it feels so fucking good”), “Burn it Down,” “Guilty Filthy Soul,” and “Kill Your Heroes” in succession, which is a row of songs anyone would be proud of. “Not Your Fault” is excellent, and the album ends with “Knights of Shame,” a superb 11-minute rap/ballad. This was not hard to choose!

Number of albums: 4
Best album: 1st

Bastille

Bad Blood (2013)
Wild World (2016)
Doom Days (2019)

Bastille has a new album coming out next year, so obviously this list is incomplete (see my caveat above), but their first album is still their best. I have a feeling that whichever Bastille album you listen to first, that’s the best one for you, because their music hasn’t really evolved too much over three albums. All three are pretty good, but the first is consistently the best. “Pompeii” and “Things We Lost in the Fire” begin the album, and those are two of the band’s best songs. It also includes both parts of “The Weight of Living,” which are excellent, “Icarus,” “Oblivion,” “Daniel in the Den,” and “Laura Palmer,” all of which are very good, and “Flaws,” which is probably their best song. Wild World sags in the middle a bit after the first six songs, which are very good, and Doom Days just isn’t as consistently top-notch as Bad Blood. Again, all of their albums are good, but the first just rises more above the other two.

Number of albums: 3
Best album: 1st

Cinderella

Night Songs (1986)
Long Cold Winter (1988)
Heartbreak Station (1990)
Still Climbing (1994)

As you might recall, I’m a big fan of Cinderella, and Long Cold Winter is their best album (although all of them are pretty good). It begins with a superb blues song, “Bad Seamstress Blues/Fallin’ Apart at the Seams,” and includes “Gypsy Road,” which is probably their best song, “The Last Mile,” which might be their best song if “Gypsy Road” isn’t, the excellent bluesy title track, and “Coming Home,” which might be their best song if those other two aren’t. It also has the wonderfully nasty “If You Don’t Like It” and the nostalgic “Take Me Back.” The only demerit is the inclusion of the power ballad “Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Till It’s Gone),” but it’s not a terrible song and it was their biggest hit, so there’s that. Just a strong album through and through.

Number of albums: 4
Best album: 2nd

Dessa

A Badly Broken Code (2010)
Castor, the Twin (2011)
Parts of Speech (2013)
Chime (2018)

A Badly Broken Code is a fine album, but Dessa’s second album, on which she took several songs from the first and remixed them, is better because the remixes are often richer and bolder than the originals. There’s not a bad track on Castor, the Twin, which is why it’s her best. Parts of Speech has two of her best songs – “Call Off Your Ghost” and “Skeleton Key,” but it loses steam a bit in the second half, especially when she covers Bruce Springsteen (blech) and slows things down too much. Chime is decent, but the songs are too short … which shouldn’t be a consideration, but it feels like some of them are half-formed, and that’s why they’re short. Castor, the Twin has: “551,” “Kites,” “The Chaconne,” “Dixon’s Girl,” “The Crow,” “Alibi,” “Palace,” “Mineshaft 2,” and “The Beekeeper” (this album’s versions of those songs, at least), all of which are excellent samplings of Dessa’s work.

Number of albums: 4
Best album: 2nd

Faith No More

We Care a Lot (1985)
Introduce Yourself (1987)
The Real Thing (1989)
Angel Dust (1992)
King For a Day … Fool For a Lifetime (1995)
Album of the Year (1997)
Sol Invictus (2015)

This is tough for a few reasons. I don’t own the first two FNM albums, so there’s that. However, both of those were with their first lead singer, and when Mike Patton came on board, it’s clear they were a slightly different band. I have that issue with a few bands, as we’ll see. Bands that get new lead singers (as they’re usually the main songwriters or at least co-songwriters) tend to get energized, so even if it’s their tenth album, it can be fresher than their previous work. We’ll sort that out as we go. Then there’s the question of which is FNM’s best album. I’m partial to Angel Dust, but I think I have to go with The Real Thing, as it’s more consistently good. Angel Dust is a bit more ambitious (so is King For a Day …, for that matter), but there are some down moments, and The Real Thing really doesn’t have those. “Falling to Pieces” is one of their best songs, and “Epic,” “Zombie Eaters,” “Edge of the World,” “Underwater Love,” and “The Morning After” are all excellent. On Angel Dust, “Midlife Crisis,” “Be Aggressive,” and “Crack Hitler” are three of their best songs, but some of the others don’t quite come up. Sol Invictus is a sneaky contender for best FNM album – it’s quite good, in case you missed it due to the 18-year hiatus between albums!

Number of albums: 7
Best album: 3rd (or 1st, if we want to claim Patton made them a new band?)

Fish

Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors (1990)
Internal Exile (1991)
Songs From the Mirror (1993)
Suits (1994)
Sunsets on Empires (1997)
Raingods With Zippos (1999)
Fellini Days (2001)
Field of Crows (2004)
13th Star (2007)
A Feast of Consequences (2013)
Weltschmerz (2020)

This is another tough one, as 13th Star is an excellent album, but Internal Exile edges it out. On Fish’s first solo album after he left Marillion, he reaches a bit too much for pop glory, which didn’t really come, so on Internal Exile, he’s back to singing a bit more complex and more “torch song” kind of songs, and the results are wonderful. The first three songs on the album – “Shadowplay,” “Credo,” and “Just Good Friends (Close)” are three of his best and could easily serve as a primer for the kind of music Fish generally makes, while “Dear Friend,” the title track, and “Poet’s Moon” are three more of his top tunes. 13th Star has brilliant songs, too – “Arc of the Curve” is probably the best bittersweet love song Fish has written, while “Circle Line,” Square Go,” Zoe 25,” and “Openwater” are also excellent. As he’s gotten older, Fish has gotten a bit better, honestly – after Internal Exile, his next few albums are good but not great, but his last three – including his official “final” album, Weltschmerz, which he released when he was 62 – are very good. His second album, though, remains his best, although not by too great a margin.

Number of albums: 11
Best album: 2nd

Flogging Molly

Swagger (2000)
Drunken Lullabies (2002)
Within a Mile of Home (2004)
Float (2008)
Speed of Darkness (2011)
Life Is Good (2017)

Another little anomaly, as Flogging Molly’s best album comes after they had released a few. Their first three albums show improvement with each one, and Within a Mile of Home is their second-best, but then they released Float, which is pretty clearly their worst album. I read some reviews of Speed of Darkness that claimed it wasn’t as good as their early stuff, but that’s crap, as it shows a maturity they didn’t have on their first two albums and it still bangs. Their angry songs – the title track, “Revolution,” “Don’t Shut ‘Em Down,” and “The Power’s Out” – are full of rage and defiance, but they’re still able to bring the “Irish” in songs like “This Present State of Grace” and “A Prayer for Me in Silence.” Yes, they have more “Irish” songs on their first two albums, and perhaps that’s why some people didn’t like Speed of Darkness, but those people are foolish!

Number of albums: 6
Best album: 5th

Florence + the Machine

Lungs (2009)
Ceremonials (2011)
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (2015)
High as Hope (2018)

I like the latter two Florence + the Machine albums, but the first two are clearly their best, with Ceremonials edging out their debut. Ceremonials has an odd arc – it’s twelve songs, with the middle four being a bit less than the bracketing four. “Only if for a Night,” “Shake it Out,” “What the Water Gave Me,” and “Never Let Me Go” begin the album with a powerful quartet, and “Heartlines,” “Spectrum,” “All This and Heaven Too,” and “Leave My Body” end the album. If this were an 8-song album, it would be almost a perfect album, but the middle four bring it down a bit, but not enough to keep it from reigning supreme as the band’s best album. Lungs has some great songs – “Dog Days Are Over,” “Rabbit Heart,” “Howl,” “Kiss with a Fist,” “Hurricane Drunk,” but not quite enough to pass Ceremonials. Their two more recent albums are pretty good, too, but Ceremonials stands above!

Number of albums: 4
Best album: 2nd

Foo Fighters

Foo Fighters (1995)
The Colour and the Shape (1997)
There Is Nothing Left to Lose (1999)
One by One (2002)
In Your Honor (2005)
Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace (2007)
Wasting Light (2011)
Sonic Highways (2014)
Concrete and Gold (2017)
Medicine at Midnight (2021)

This is very tough, considering two things: I don’t own the latest album yet, so maybe it’s phenomenal; and all Foo Fighters albums tend to sound a lot alike. I think Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace is their second-best album, but maybe if you ask me tomorrow I might have it first. But The Colour and the Shape is their best, I think – it has that five-pack blast at the beginning of “Doll,” “Monkey Wrench,” (“Still there’s one thing that comforts me since I was always caged but now I’m freeeeeeeeeee!!!!”), “Hey, Johnny Park!”, “My Poor Brain,” and “Wind Up,” and there’s still “Everlong” and “New Way Home” to get to. There are always good songs on Foo Fighters albums, as Grohl and the boys have been wildly consistent over the years (whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is entirely up to you), but their second album just seems a bit better than the others.

Number of albums: 10
Best album: 2nd

fun.

Aim and Ignite (2009)
Some Nights (2012)

This was an easy call, as Some Nights is a superb album while Aim and Ignite is just okay. I miss fun.

Number of albums: 2
Best album: 2nd

Genesis (with Peter Gabriel as lead singer)

From Genesis to Revelation (1969)
Trespass (1970)
Nursery Cryme (1971)
Foxtrot (1972)
Selling England by the Pound (1973)
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)

I will separate some bands into different categories if they change lead singers, if I know the music well enough to know that their sound changes. Genesis is the classic example of this – with Gabriel, they were a true “prog rock” band, and while they did that a bit with Collins, they became much more of a regular pop band with him as the singer (still a great band, just not quite as weird). So I don’t think it’s too much to consider them two “different” bands, and in their first iteration, Nursery Cryme is their best album. It is, perhaps not coincidentally, the first album with Collins and Steve Hackett, which turned them into a much more musically accomplished band. Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford were already in the group, but they hadn’t come into their own as songwriters yet, and Collins was a huge upgrade on drums. Their first album is pretty much a folk album, and it’s fairly forgettable. Trespass shows a lot of promise, with “The Knife” as its highlight, but Nursery Cryme takes them to another level. It’s the shortest Genesis album, but I don’t think that means anything. “The Musical Box,” one of their best songs, starts it off, and by the time you get to Gabriel almost whispering, “I want to get to know your flesh,” you’re totally immersed and are implicated in his creepiness. “For Absent Friends” is a charming, nostalgic song that Collins sings, while “Harold the Barrel” is probably the funniest song Genesis ever recorded, despite ostensibly being about suicide. The music on the album is superb, the lyrics are clever, and Gabriel sounds much more confident than he did on the first two albums. Honestly, Genesis’s string of albums from 1970-1974 – Trespass, Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot (which contains the magnificent “Supper’s Ready”), Selling England by the Pound, and even The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (which is a bit of a mess but contains some classics) – is as good a run as any you can find in rock history, but Nursery Cryme stands above them all!

Number of albums: 6
Best album: 3rd

Genesis (with Phil Collins as lead singer)

A Trick of the Tail (1976)
Wind & Wuthering (1976)
… And Then There Were Three … (1978)
Duke (1980)
Abacab (1981)
Genesis (1983)
Invisible Touch (1986)
We Can’t Dance (1991)

With Collins, Genesis got their “prog-ness” out of their system on their first two albums, which are quite good but seem an odd fit, as they’re trying to fit Collins into a Gabriel-shaped hole. They lost Hackett and put out … And Then There Were Three …, their first real try at pop success, but Duke, their fourth album, is where they really blended the old-school Genesis stuff with the new lust for money, and it’s a superb disc. “Behind the Lines/Duchess/Guide Vocal” begin the album with a bang, as we get a searing examination of the cost of fame, and it comes back at the end of the album with the fierce, largely instrumental “Duke’s Travels” and “Duke’s End.” “Misunderstanding” and “Turn it on Again” are terrific pop songs, and “Alone Tonight” and “Please Don’t Ask” are bittersweet love songs. “Heathaze” might be Genesis’s best song, as we get a lazy, slightly eerie tune about loss and letting go. Genesis didn’t really release a mediocre album until Invisible Touch, and We Can’t Dance was a triumphant return to form before the band disbanded and NEVER RELEASED ANOTHER ALBUM, but Duke remains the Collins-era high point.

Number of albums: 8
Best album: 4th

PJ Harvey

Dry (1992)
Rid of Me (1993)
To Bring You My Love (1995)
Is This Desire? (1998)
Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000)
Uh Huh Her (2004)
White Chalk (2007)
Let England Shake (2011)
The Hope Six Demolition Project (2016)

I don’t own the most recent PJ Harvey album, because I just get behind sometimes, but I can’t believe it’s better than the transcendent To Bring You My Love, which took the hard, nasty edge of PJ Harvey’s first two excellent albums and transformed them into deeper, still nasty but more profound songs. The album begins with the plodding crunch of the title track, with Harvey’s voice moaning from the bottom of the ocean as she rises. The album remains murky and eerie, even as we get a strong guitar presence throughout, and Harvey moves into slightly more conventional music, culminating with the astonishing and tragic “Send His Love to Me,” perhaps her best song. PJ Harvey is very talented, and she’s released some very good albums since this one (Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea is the best of those), but she’s never reached the heights of To Bring You My Love. Very few have, to be fair.

Number of albums: 9
Best album: 3rd

The Horse Flies

Human Fly (1987)
Gravity Dance (1991)
Until the Ocean (2008)

I’m not sure I should count the Horse Flies, because the group did two film scores in the 1990s, so should those count as albums? Technically, they’ve only released three studio albums, but I don’t know. Gravity Dance, their kind of off-kilter folk record, is their best, better than their two more standard folk albums, so I guess the lesson here is that if you’re going to be a folk band, add a bit of zest to your songs and you’ll have a classic (Gravity Dance is a wonderful album on its own, not just in relation to the band’s two other albums). “Roadkill,” a song about … well, you know, is superb, as are “Life Is a Rubber Rope,” “I Need a Plastic Bag (To Keep My Brains In),” “Needles on the Beach,” and “Sally Ann,” but the album really rises with “Two Candles” (the band’s best song) and the two songs that end the album, “Time Is Burning” and “Your Eyes Are Elevators.” The band’s other two albums are perfectly good, but Gravity Dance is amazing.

Number of albums: 3
Best album: 2nd

Indigo Girls

Strange Fire (1987)
Indigo Girls (1989)
Nomads Indians Saints (1990)
Rites of Passage (1992)
Swamp Ophelia (1994)
Shaming of the Sun (1997)
Come On Now Social (1999)
Become You (2002)
All That We Let In (2004)
Despite Our Differences (2006)
Poseidon and the Bitter Bug (2009)
Beauty Queen Sister (2011)
One Lost Day (2015)
Look Long (2020)

This is a tough one, because the Indigo Girls are a talented duo, so their albums are generally very good, but they also are a folksy duo, so they don’t go outside their lane too often, and a song they did in 2020 might sound very much like a song they did in 1987 (they might object, but it’s true). Most people, I suspect, would think Indigo Girls is their best album, because it has the excellent quartet at the beginning of the album – “Closer to Fine,” “Secure Yourself,” “Kid Fears,” and “Prince of Darkness” – the first and last of those are two of the Girls’ best – plus the wonderful love song, “Love’s Recovery,” but the rest of the album doesn’t quite measure up to those five songs. Rites of Passage has “Galileo,” which inexplicably became a Top Ten hit for the Girls, and that plus “Three Hits” (which precedes it) and especially “Ghost” (which follows it) make a powerful trio to begin the album, but it kind of coasts after that. There are some terrific songs on Swamp Ophelia – “Fugitive,” “Least Complicated,” “Language or the Kiss,” “Reunion,” and “Mystery,” while All That We Let In features the marvelous “Free in You,” the tragic “Come Home,” and the biting “Tether,” but the Girls’ best album is Come On Now Social, because they rock a little heavier on it and it’s the first time they really wear their sexuality and their politics on their sleeves. “Gone Again” is a sad song about not appreciating love, “Trouble” is an excellent song about our faith in God being tested because so few people act like actual Christians, “Ozilline” is an amazing song about the end of life, “Andy” is another superb, sad love song, and the album ends with the savage “Faye Tucker,” which is about capital punishment and has some of the best music you’ll hear in an Indigo Girls song. Other Indigo Girls albums might have one or two better songs, but none are as consistently excellent, and that’s why Come On Now Social is their best.

Number of albums: 14
Best album: 7th

Jane’s Addiction

Jane’s Addiction (1987)
Nothing’s Shocking (1988)
Ritual de lo Habitual (1990)
Strays (2003)
The Great Escape Artist (2011)

I don’t generally include live albums here, but in this case (and one other below), I make an exception because several songs on the first Jane’s Addiction album, the live one from 1987, do not appear anyplace else and they’re original songs. So I think it counts. Technically, their “debut” album is Nothing’s Shocking, which is also their best, but I think of it as their second one. Nothing’s Shocking begins with a weird instrumental, but then kicks into high gear with the terrific “Ocean Size” and continues with “Had a Dad,” “Ted, Just Admit It …” and “Standing in the Shower … Thinking” before it reaches the transcendent “Summertime Rolls.” “Mountain Song” and “Idiots Rule” follow before we get the heartfelt “Jane Says” (a holdover from the live album, here remastered with a bit more nuance). Ritual is a fine album, and Strays and The Great Escape Artist have their moments, but Nothing’s Shocking stands above them all.

Number of albums: 5
Best album: 2nd

Jesus Jones

Liquidizer (1989)
Doubt (1991)
Perverse (1993)
Already (1997)
London (2001)
Passages (2018)

Doubt is the only Jesus Jones album most people know because it’s the album with “Right Here, Right Now” on it (which, to be fair, is a terrific song), and it’s also their best album (although their debut is quite good and Perverse is just a shade lesser than Doubt). “Trust Me” is a good, thrashy way to begin the album, and that’s followed by “Who? Where? Why?” and the wonderful “International Bright Young Thing” before slowing down with the eerie “I’m Burning.” “Nothing to Hold Me” is a brilliantly bitter song, “Welcome Back, Victoria” is a nifty takedown of morality police, and the final two songs on the album, “Stripped” and “Blissed,” are weird, somewhat spooky, occasionally harsh techno tracks. Jesus Jones isn’t a great band, but they are fairly interesting, and Doubt is, without a doubt, their best album.

Number of albums: 6
Best album: 2nd

Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin (1969)
Led Zeppelin II (1969)
Led Zeppelin III (1970)
Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
Houses of the Holy (1973)
Physical Graffiti (1975)
Presence (1976)
In Through the Out Door (1979)

Zeppelin didn’t release a bad album, and I’m sure everyone has their favorite, but Physical Graffiti is their best, and it can lay claim to it simply by the existence of “In My Time of Dying,” which is Exhibit A for “Why John Bonham Is the Best Drummer in Rock History.” But there’s also “The Rover,” “Houses of the Holy,” “Trampled Under Foot,” “Kashmir,” “In the Light,” “Ten Years Gone,” “Boogie with Stu,” and “Black Country Woman.” I’m not going to worry too much if you disagree – the first six Zeppelin albums are stone cold classics (and the last two ain’t bad, either), so any choice is probably a good one.

Number of albums: 8
Best album: 6th

Liquid Jesus

Live (1990)
Pour in the Sky (1991)

Like Jane’s Addiction, Liquid Jesus came out of L.A., recorded a live album on Triple X Records before their official debut album, and reworked a few songs from that live album to put on the studio album. Unfortunately for them, they never achieved anywhere near the success of Jane’s, although I think they’re a terrific band. They had a nice hard edge, a vague Christian sensibility (which wasn’t too prevalent, but it was still there), and some really nice songs. Their best song, “Better or Worse” (with Bruce Hornsby inexplicably on piano), anchors this album, but “Finding My Way,” “W.H.Y.B.” (a holdover from the live album), “No Secret” (their most overtly Christian song), “Sacrifice,” “The Colourful Ones,” and “Faith to Believe” are all excellent tunes. They couldn’t sustain any momentum they had and broke up after the album came out, which is too bad. They had a lot of potential.

Number of albums: 2
Best album: 2nd

Living Colour

Vivid (1988)
Time’s Up (1990)
Stain (1993)
Collideøscope (2003)
The Chair in the Doorway (2009)
Shade (2017)

This is a tough one, because Living Colour has released four albums (their first, second, third, and sixth) that are superb, so how can I choose? I have to go with Vivid, because its songs remain iconic after so many years. “Cult of Personality” itself might elevate the album, as it retains its amazing power even over 30 years later, but “Middle Man,” “Desperate People,” “Memories Can’t Wait,” and “Which Way to America?” are also amazing, and “Broken Heart” is a stunning love song. The music is excellent, the lyrics are timely yet timeless (which, with regard to the political tracks, is kind of sad), and the album is just excellent from start to finish. Time’s Up is a bit more musically diverse, Stain is a bit harder, and Shade is a bit more mature, but Vivid is still their best.

Number of albums: 6
Best album: 1st

Marillion (with Fish as lead singer)

Script for a Jester’s Tear (1983)
Fugazi (1984)
Misplaced Childhood (1985)
Clutching at Straws (1987)

Marillion is definitely a different animal with Fish as lead singer than with Steve Hogarth as lead singer, so it’s easy to separate the two. Fish was only around for four albums before he went solo, but their albums with him are all varying degrees of excellent. The first is a bit artsy, the second a bit pretentious, and the third a bit poppy, but all are very good, and their best song, “Jigsaw,” appears on Fugazi. Misplaced Childhood, however, is a perfect album, by far my favorite of all time, and it’s the only album I can think of that qualifies as “perfect” – meaning every song is superb and I wouldn’t change a single thing about it. (I did a survey about “perfect” albums once and got far more than I thought I would – perhaps I need to do a single post about it.) On some albums, you could lose a song or two and it wouldn’t matter, but Misplaced Childhood is not one of those. From the achingly poignant “Kayleigh” to the bitterly triumphant “Childhoods End?”, the entire album soars. It’s a concept album, sure, but every song can stand beautifully on its own. I can’t really say enough about it, so I’ll stop now. But this is an easy choice!

Number of albums: 4
Best album: 3rd

Marillion (with Steve Hogarth as lead singer)

Seasons End (1989)
Holidays in Eden (1991)
Brave (1994)
Afraid of Sunlight (1995)
This Strange Engine (1997)
Radiation (1998)
marillion.com (1999)
Anoraknophobia (2001)
Marbles (2004)
Somewhere Else (2007)
Happiness Is the Road (2008)
Sounds That Can’t Be Made (2012)
Fuck Everyone and Run (2016)

This is a tougher choice, because after Hogarth got any lingering “Fish-ness” out of his system on Seasons End (which is a good album, but it feels like Hogarth is trying too hard to be like Fish) and the band’s strange attempt at pop success with Holidays in Eden (which is also a decent album, but it does have too much “poppiness”), Marillion went back to their prog roots with Brave and, between 1994 and 2001, released 6 excellent albums, all of which could claim to be the best one with Hogarth. Marbles and Happiness Is the Road are also pretty good, although they’re double albums, which are notoriously hard to fill with great songs, and F E A R, their most recent release (although another one is coming in March!) is a fine return to form after Somewhere Else – their worst album – dragged them down a bit. Afraid of Sunlight, though, is superb, tighter than Brave (which sprawls just a bit) and full of powerful and haunting songs. “Gazpacho” is not a bad opener, and “Cannibal Surf Babe” is a bit odd, but then the album really kicks into … well, not high gear, exactly, because it’s a weird, ethereal album, but it definitely achieves a higher level, with “Beautiful,” the two-pronged mirror image songs “Afraid of Sunrise” and “Afraid of Sunlight,” which bookend “Out of This World.” Then we get “Beyond You” before the album-ender “King,” a scintillating examination of fame. It’s a strange album, to be sure, but it shows that Marillion could write “prog” songs that didn’t quite fit in the “prog” mode, and it sets the tone beautifully for their late-’90s forays into trance and jazz that we find on marillion.com and Anoraknophobia. I know I gush about Marillion and don’t find any converts to their music (sad face emoji), but they really are an interesting band, and Afraid of Sunlight is a wonderful showcase.

Number of albums: 13
Best album: 4

Mary’s Danish

There Goes the Wondertruck (1989)
Circa (1991)
American Standard (1992)

The first Mary’s Danish album is its best, as the band began odd and slowly turned into a regular rock group, which isn’t bad but did make them less interesting. They had a quirky, almost rockabilly sound on There Goes the Wondertruck, as the rock sensibility of the music blended well with the country twang of their lead singers, Gretchen Seager and Julie Ritter. “Don’t Crash the Car Tonight” was their one hit, and it’s a great song, but the album also features oddball songs like “Can I Have a Smoke, Dude” (with its supremely funky bass line), “DVB” (the “V” stands for “vaginal”), and the countrified bittersweet love songs, “It’ll Probably Make Me Cry” and “Well Well.” On Circa, the band calmed down a little, even with some groovy songs like “Axl Rose Is Love” and a screeching version of “Foxey Lady,” along with the poignant “Hoof” and “Cover Your Face,” and by American Standard, they had turned into a good but less interesting straightforward rock band with a country tinge. They were still a good band, but they never really captured the nice blend of oddness and musicianship they had on their first album.

Number of albums: 3
Best album: 1st

Nirvana

Bleach (1989)
Nevermind (1991)
In Utero (1993)

This is a pretty easy choice, despite some people claiming In Utero is their best album. Bleach is raw and powerful, but the band just doesn’t have the chops yet. In Utero has some excellent songs, but Kurt seems far too bitter, as well, and it poisons some of the tunes even as it elevates others. On Nevermind, they found the perfect blend of punk anger and rock sensibility, and the songs hold up incredibly well. By In Utero, a horrific song like “Polly” would have been too caustic, but on Nevermind, Cobain finds the right level of quiet to make the horror hit harder. And “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is one of the best opening tracks on any album. So you can have your opinions, but unless you agree that Nevermind is their best, you’re wrong. That’s just the way it is!

Number of albums: 3
Best album: 2nd

Of Monsters and Men

My Head Is an Animal (2011)
Beneath the Skin (2015)
Fever Dream (2019)

I liked the first two Of Monsters and Men albums, but Fever Dream is superb, one of the best albums I’ve heard in the past decade or so, and it’s the easy choice for the band’s best. Every song has some kind of connection to dreaming, which the band works in very well. The only lesser song on the album is “Under a Dome,” which unfortunately is the penultimate song, so it doesn’t end of the highest of notes (“Soothsayer,” which ends the album, is the second-worst song on the disc, although neither it nor “Under a Dome” is bad, just not as good as the first nine songs). “Alligator” gets the album off to a strong start, but then we get “Ahay” and “Róróró,” the two best songs. “Vulture, Vulture,” “Wild Roses,” “Sleepwalker,” and “Wars” are also superb songs – we get two strong singers, Nanna and Ragnar, alternating songs and giving us strange perspectives on love and life. It’s a weird, wonderful album, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Number of albums: 3
Best album: 3rd

P.M. Dawn

Of the Heart, Of the Soul and Of the Cross: The Utopian Experience (1991)
The Bliss Album …? (Vibrations of Love and Anger and the Ponderance of Life and Existence) (1993)
Jesus Wept (1995)
Dearest Christian, I’m So Sorry for Bringing You Here. Love, Dad (1998)

This is probably not a controversial choice, despite the band’s first album containing the fairly iconic “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” and the great “Reality Used to Be a Friend of Mine” and the brilliant “Paper Doll”, but the album just isn’t as consistently excellent as their second one. “When Midnight Sighs,” “So On and So On,” “Beyond Infinite Affections,” “Looking Through Patient Eyes,” and the earnest love song “I’d Die Without You” are the highlights, but “Plastic,” “Filthy Rich (I Don’t Wanna Be),” and “The Nocturnal Is in the House” are very good, as it their cover of “Norwegian Wood.” P.M. Dawn had an unusual sound, and it was never more perfectly put forth than on their second album, even if their other albums gave us some great tunes.

Number of albums: 4
Best album: 2nd

The Pogues

Red Roses for Me (1984)
Rum Sodomy & the Lash (1985)
If I Should Fall from Grace with God (1988)
Peace and Love (1989)
Hell’s Ditch (1990)
Waiting for Herb (1993)
Pogue Mahone (1996)

I didn’t split the Pogues up into Shane MacGowan and post-MacGowan, mainly because their sound didn’t change all that much when Spider Stacy took over as lead singer. I also do not think If I Should Fall from Grace with God, which most people consider the creative high point of the band, their best album. It’s a fine album, and “Thousands Are Sailing” and “The Broad Majestic Shannon” are two of the band’s best songs, but “Fairytale of New York” is wildly overrated and the album meanders quite a bit. Rum Sodomy & the Lash is their best MacGowan album, but even that isn’t quite as good as their final album, Pogue Mahone, which apparently does not have a good reputation. But screw those people, because Pogue Mahone is a terrific disc, showing a band fully in control of their sound and able to shift easily from raucous to tender without missing a beat. It features one of their funniest songs, “How Come,” one of their darker and more Gothic songs, “Oretown,” and not only their best love song, but one of the better love songs you’ll find in “Love You ‘Till the End.” I might be in the minority, but I don’t care!

Number of albums: 7
Best album: 7th

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

Nothing But the Water (2005)
This Is Somewhere (2007)
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (2010)
The Lion The Beast The Beat (2012)

I miss Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, because they’re just a good band, but it appears they’re dead for good, as Potter continues to do solo work and she’s a relatively new mother, so she doesn’t have time for it anymore. That’s fine, though, because life goes on, and we have four quite good albums, of which the final one is the best. It’s the most musically ambitious of the band’s, as they move past their more simplistic country roots and become not only more rock, but more expansive with their experimentation. The album is bookended by two of their best songs, the title track and “The Divide,” which are linked lyrically and give the album a powerful framework. It’s too bad they collapsed after this album, because it’s clear they were moving toward a more diverse and interesting sound, and we’re not going to get it. Potter’s solo album from 2015, Midnight, hints at what she wanted to do, as it’s almost a disco album, and it would have been interesting to hear the band try different things. Alas.

Number of albums: 4
Best album: 4th

Prince

I don’t own every Prince album, but I do own 21 of his 38 albums (dang, Prince was prolific), so that’s not bad. I don’t know exactly if I own his best album, but I can’t imagine that anything is better than Purple Rain. Yes, it’s boring to cite that as his best, and some people think it’s Sign o’ the Times, but they’re wrong. Purple Rain is so good that even the many other excellent Prince albums (and there are many) pale a bit in comparison. So I could be wrong, but I suspect I’m not.

Number of albums: 38
Best album: 6th

Scissor Sisters

Scissor Sisters (2004)
Ta-Dah (2006)
Night Work (2010)
Magic Hour (2012)

The first six songs of Night Work are phenomenal – the title track, “Whole New Way,” “Fire with Fire,” “Any Which Way,” “Harder You Get,” “Running Out” – and the album finishes with “Night Life” and the epically weird “Invisible Light” (with Ian McKellen, of all people, talking about “sexual gladiators” during it), but the band’s first album is more consistently good, as Night Work slows down a bit too much in the middle and can’t match the sleaze and raunch of the first six and final songs. On their first album, “Laura” is an excellent beginning, and it’s followed by the bouncy and somewhat sad “Take Your Mama,” followed by the amazing cover of “Comfortably Numb.” There’s also the cheeky (so to speak) “Tits on the Radio” and the superbly nasty “Filthy/Gorgeous.” Overall, it’s a slightly stronger album than Night Work, which could have easily been pared to the eight songs listed above and been an almost perfect album. Que sera, sera.

Number of albums: 4
Best album: 1st

Think Tree

Eight/Thirteen (1990)
Like the Idea (1991)

I’m not going to write too much about Think Tree, an obscure Boston-based, Buddhist-influenced band that disappeared almost as quickly as it appeared, because I’m probably going to write something more substantial about Like the Idea, their second and last album, which I bought in a record store in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1992. It’s AMAZING, and it’s too bad the band never got any significant recognition. But it’s excellent, and if you happen to see it in your favorite used-record store, I highly recommend it. That’s it for now!

Number of albums: 2
Best album: 2nd

Van Halen (with David Lee Roth as lead singer)

Van Halen (1978)
Van Halen II (1979)
Women and Children First (1980)
Fair Warning (1981)
Diver Down (1982)
MCMLXXXIV (1984)

I’m not counting A Different Kind of Truth, the album the band released in 2012, as an official studio release, because a lot of it was stuff the band didn’t release in the 1970s, so there. I also don’t own it, so I can’t comment on it. However, it’s probably not better than Fair Warning, which was commercially unsuccessful (relatively, of course, as it still did pretty well) but which shows the band at their creative best. Part of the “problem” is that it’s not as “fun” as their first three albums, which had several “crowd-pleasers” – “Runnin’ with the Devil,” “You Really Got Me,” “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” “Ice Cream Man,” “You’re No Good,” “Dance the Night Away,” “Light Up the Sky,” “D.O.A.,” “Women in Love,” “Beautiful Girls,” “And the Cradle Will Rock …,” “Everybody Wants Some!!,” “Take Your Whiskey Home,” “Could This Be Magic?” – all of which are terrific songs, by the way. Fair Warning is darker and more disturbing, with the goofiness of Dave leering at “Beautiful Girls” and getting rejected replaced by the sleaziness of “‘Dirty Movies'” and silliness of “Ice Cream Man” replaced by the grunge of “One Foot Out the Door.” “Mean Street” gives us a vision of America at odds with the California Satanism of “Runnin’ with the Devil,” as on the latter, Dave sounds like he’s a tourist, while on the former, he sounds like he’s in the middle of the shit. “Women in Love” becomes “So This is Love?”, with the crucial question mark, and Eddie gets funkier than ever with the gorgeous solo. The band got scared, it seems, of where they were headed, and they pulled back with Diver Down, filling it with somewhat silly covers (although their version of “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now),” with Eddie and Alex’s dad on clarinet, is wonderful), although their best song, “The Full Bug,” appears on that album, so they didn’t completely shy away from the darker edges of their sound, and then they went full-on sell-out with 1984, which is still a very good album but doesn’t approach the interesting stuff they were doing on Fair Warning. It’s interesting to speculate what kind of band they might have become if they decided to explore their dark sides a bit more, but they didn’t. We’ll always have “Unchained.”

Number of albums: 6
Best album: 4th

(I don’t own Balance, the final Sammy Hagar Van Halen album, so I’ll skip his tenure with the band.)

World Party

Private Revolution (1987)
Goodbye Jumbo (1990)
Bang! (1993)
Egyptology (1997)
Dumbing Up (2000)

I’m always saddened when I think of Karl Wallinger, who suffered a brain aneurysm in 2001 which basically ended his career, although he’s recovered sufficiently to still record some stuff. World Party, his band (which is basically him doing solo albums and hiring some musicians to help out), has some excellent albums, with the second one being the best (although “She’s the One,” perhaps his best song, appears on Egyptology). On Goodbye Jumbo Wallinger really leans into the environmentalism that informs his music and his love of the Beatles, as “Way Down Now” can lay claim to the best Beatles song not recorded by the band. “Is it Too Late?” is a terrific and savage environmental lament, “Put the Message in the Box” is another plea for environmental kindness, “And I Fell Back Alone” is a fine love song, “Take it Up” is a great song about the emptiness of consumerism, and “God on My Side” is a wonderful atheist anthem. You can’t go wrong with any World Party album, but if you want the best, you’ll get Goodbye Jumbo.

Number of albums: 5
Best album: 2nd

I own most of the albums of several bands, but not all of them, so I didn’t include them. I’m pretty sure James’s 10th album, Hey Ma, is their best, but I haven’t gotten their two most recent ones, so I can’t say for sure. I have the first eight (of 11) Pearl Jam albums, and I can’t believe any of the three most recent ones are better than their debut, which is still an iconic album. Smashing Pumpkins has released 11 albums too, and I own the first six, but again, their first album is so good I’m not sure if their post-reunion work can match it. The Beastie Boys probably never topped their second album, Paul’s Boutique, which is one of the best albums of all time. I can’t believe Def Leppard ever put out a better album than Pyromania, their third. Trent Reznor keeps releasing albums, but I lost interest in Nine Inch Nails, so I haven’t gotten them. Are any better than Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral, his first two albums? I don’t know. Those are just some bands that I really like but don’t quite have all their albums, so I can’t make a call on their best albums. Please forgive me!

Let’s take a look at the totals here!

Okay, so the average number of albums these bands released (if we ignore Prince’s total, because that dude was a machine) is 5.7 (with Prince it goes up to 6.7). The median (with or without Prince) is 5. Their best albums average out to 2.9, so their third album. If we add in Prince’s, it’s still their third, although the number is slightly higher. The median is their second album. Only ABBA, Flogging Molly, Indigo Girls, Led Zeppelin, the Pogues, and Prince released their best albums after their first four, and only Genesis with Phil Collins, Marillion with Steve Hogarth, Grace Potter, and Van Halen had their best albums be their 4th. We have five debut albums as the band’s best and 15 second albums (out of 35 bands) as their best – 20 out of 35 bands (57%) released their best albums extremely early in their career, while 25/35 (71%) peaked within their first three albums. So while my theory isn’t perfect, it’s not bad.

Is this an objective exercise? Of course not. I had more time to listen to music when I was younger, so I absorbed it into my soul more than I do now. However, I still get new music, and occasionally the albums surprise me with their excellence, so I don’t think I’m just indulging in pure nostalgia here. But I certainly could be.

So that’s my question this week. Search your feelings, readers. What bands that you love released their best music early in their careers? Is it a trend, or just coincidence? Should some of your favorite bands just pack it in because they’ll never reach those early heights, or am I just full of it? Let me know! And fret not – I’ll do one of these every week for as long as I can, but they won’t be as long as this one!

44 Comments

  1. I agree with most of the ones I know: Prince, Genesis (Collins), Nirvana (although I like the Unplugged one too). You may be right about LZ, though I’m a sucker for III

    I own only one PM Dawn album, your best. I have other albums by your artists but not the albums you tout: Living Colour (Time’s Up), Indigo Girls (Indigo Girls), and Van Halen (four! but not Fair Warning). And I only have a greatest hits album by ABBA.

  2. Ecron Muss

    I could happily leave half the songs off Zep’s Physical Graffitti and keep half, and what is already their best work would be… er… insert suitable super-hyperbole as you wish. Never really took to the last two albums but do love Achille’s Last Stand and Tea for One from Prescence.

    I found the opposite to you with Dessa, the earlier works seem unformed to me, lacking in melody and production next to Chime. I find Good Grief to be profound in moments, actually; although I do not own or wear a nightgown, the bit about her secrets jumping the fence is brilliant, and the rest too.

    Best to you, thanks for the list!

    1. Greg Burgas

      Ecron: It does depend on what you like, and I tend to like Dessa’s rapping more than her singing. It’s weird about the production values – for some acts, it can make the music better, and for some, it can take them too far away from their roots. I don’t think it’s a bad thing for her, but I don’t think it’s as good as it could be for some acts. But I agree with you that the production of Chime is better than her earlier ones. It just doesn’t tip the scales for me, though.

  3. Darthratzinger

    Starting with the bands You list whose discographies I know:
    – Cinderella: Long Cold Winter Yup, I agree
    – Faith No More: I´m not sure. The Real Thing might objectively be their best album (all songs are killer, no fillers) but I also prefer Angel Dust, even though there are a couple filler songs on there.
    – PJ Harvey: Disagree. To Bring You my love is awesome indeed but Let England Shake is even more intense. It just takes longer to get into the album.
    – Nirvana: Agree. For once the commercially most successfull album is really by far the best.
    – The Pogues: Totally disagree, Pogue Mahone is probably their worst. Either Hells Ditch or Waiting For Herb is their best.
    Leaving out all the little obscure bands, every German band (except for two) and those that are just infernal noise to most people, these are the ones whose discographies I know best:
    – Bruce Springsteen: Really tough, either Born To Run or Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Definitely a very early one, though.
    – R.E.M.: Another tough one. My favorite is New Adventures in Hi-Fi. For most people though Out Of Time or Automatic For The People is the best album. So, not that early in the discography.
    – Black Flag: Damaged, no contest. 1st one.
    – Hüsker Dü: New Day Rising, middle of their career.
    – Weezer: Pinkerton, 2nd album.
    – Violent Femmes: s/t, 1st album.
    – New Model Army: Thunder And Consolation, 4th album, still first decade out of 40 years now.
    – Fugazi: very tough one, most people probably consider Repeater (1st) their best, for me it`s The Argument (their last one).
    – Mogwai: Mr. Beast (Nr. 5, so not that early).
    – Sonic Youth: Dirty (Nr.7).
    – Scorpions: Love At First Sting (Nr.9). There are probably a lot of people who consider one of their 70ies records the best but I can´t really get into hippie stuff.
    – Rammstein: Rosenrot (Nr. 5).
    – Iron Maiden: Number Of The Beast (Nr. 3).
    I would prefer some favorites not producing new albums (I´m looking at You, Weezer and Maiden). Others though, continue to put out one excellent record after another (New Model Army, Mogwai).

    1. Greg Burgas

      Let England Shake gets repetitive for me, because all the songs are about war and how terrible it is. I dig the album, but it falls a bit short.

      I disagree about the Pogues, but at least you didn’t say If I Should Fall From Grace with God, which is the easy choice! 🙂

      I’m not the biggest fan of R.E.M., so therefore I don’t know their discography too well, but I love New Adventures in Hi-Fi. I “poked the bear” at the comic book store recently, because the dude who works there is a huge music aficianado, and I made the claim that New Adventures is their best, which made him shake his head in disappointment.

      I’ve heard the first four Violent Femmes albums but no others, so I wasn’t confident saying their first, but dang, that’s so much better than the others I’ve heard (although I do like The Blind Leading the Naked) that I assume most people think it’s their best.

      I’ve only heard most of Repeater, and yeah, it’s pretty good. But I’m not an authority!

      1. Darthratzinger

        Ha, I had exactly the same experience concerning New Adventures In Hi-Fi if You swap the comic book store with the record store.
        Le Messor is right, by the way. You only need Queensryche up until Empire.

    2. Eric van Schaik

      “Scorpions: Love At First Sting (Nr.9). There are probably a lot of people who consider one of their 70ies records the best but I can´t really get into hippie stuff.”
      Try Tokyo Tapes. A great live album.

      “New Model Army: Thunder And Consolation, 4th album, still first decade out of 40 years now.”
      A great album, but they reinvented themselves with Between Dog And Wolf.
      They visit Amsterdam every winter and I hope to see them this year because the last 2 years COVID fucked it up. 🙁

      Rammstein: Rosenrot (Nr. 5).””
      A good album, but it clicked with Mutter for me. If all goes well I see them at our first wedding anniversary at 5/7 in Nijmegen.

      “Iron Maiden: Number Of The Beast (Nr. 3).”
      I thought they tried to hard with this one. Powerslave is it for me.

      No love for Accept? I love Breaker and Restless And Wild.
      Saw them opening for Judas Priest in Amsterdam in the 80s

      “You only need Queensryche up until Empire.”
      Agree!

  4. John King

    I get it, Calling All Stations does not exist

    a few of my favourite (British) groups

    The Move – 4 albums, the best was the first, (oddly the last album was second best though that was when they were in the process of turning into ELO)

    ELO – open to debate how many albums there were – I say 11 and 1/2 (which includes the first 2 albums with founder Roy Wood and the half album Xanadu soundtrack but excludes the 2 albums without Jeff Lynne and the solo albums by Jeff Lynne) , I consider the best to be number 7 (double album Out of the Blue)

    10CC – 11 albums, the best is probably the second, Sheet Music (Graham Gouldman agrees with me)

    Sad Cafe – 7 albums (8 if you include the lead singer’s posthumously released solo album) the best is probably the third, Facades (though the following 3 albums were all good)

  5. Le Messor

    Only … released their best albums after their first four, and only … had their best albums be their 4th. … peaked within their first three albums.

    Yeah, but how many of those bands only had two albums?

    A lot of mine are early, a lot aren’t. My theory happened while I was collecting Alice Cooper, and he released Brutal Planet after I’d started collecting; I started thinking ‘Hey, if I love this so much, what did I love him for before?!?’
    So, basically: if you’re collecting a band through their career, you’re going to love the albums that got you into them, which will necessarily be early.

    Some of my fav’rits:
    Queen:
    Queen II (2/15)
    Alice Cooper
    (28 albums and counting; I couldn’t name a favourite, but it might be either Welcome To My Nightmare (7/28), or Brutal Planet (20/28).)
    Blind Guardian
    Nightfall In Middle-Earth (6/11)
    Blue Öyster Cult
    Fire Of Unknown Origin (8/14)
    David Bowie
    Ziggy Stardust (4/27)
    Icehouse
    either Icehouse (by Flowers) or Man Of Colours (1/8 or 5/8)
    Kate Bush
    Hounds of Love (5/10) (or 11, if you count Director’s Cut)
    Malcolm McLaren
    Paris (5/5)
    Nightwish (I won’t divide by singer)
    Once (5/9)
    Pink Floyd
    The Wall (12/16)
    Queensrÿche
    Definitely the early stuff, but I’m not sure what; Empire? Mindcrime? Rage For Order? The Warning?
    (Further: I only have their first 12 albums; then they’re just not interesting.)
    Weird Al
    Even Worse (5/14)

    I’m not even counting people’s versions of Peter And The Wolf as albums. (Three of the above have them.)

    1. Greg Burgas

      I definitely agree with you that the first album you get by a group might always be your favorite, but it doesn’t happen enough times with me that I think it’s just a trend and not an absolute. But I did think about that as I was compiling this list.

      I’m totally partial to The Final Cut for Floyd. Most people would argue that it’s a Waters solo album, I get that, but I love it.

      Operation: Mindcrime is so good that I considered mentioning it, but I only have 5 (maybe?) of their albums, so I couldn’t compare it to too many others.

      1. Le Messor

        “I definitely agree with you that the first album you get by a group might always be your favorite

        That’s not exactly what I’m saying (though I understand that thinking); just the questions of, ‘if I’m in love with this band, and they haven’t produced my favourite album yet, what am I in love with?’
        I don’t think any of the albums I listed as my favourites were also my first for that band.

        You probably don’t need many more than 5 QR albums. 🙂

  6. See, when I saw this title in the Drafts behind the scenes, I thought you were talking about bands like Zep and Sabbath who have albums titled Led Zeppelin II or Black Sabbath 4, and were judging those bands and albums. I had no idea you were doing something this complex!

    As to the couple of bands where we share knowledge/love, I have to probably agree re: FNM that The Real Thing is probably a slightly better album than Angel Dust (as I fairly recently re-listened to TRT’s 2 disc version), but that anyone I’ve ever known who’s cool and digs FNM thinks Angel Dust is an amazing album.

    Whereas you’re completely wrong about Nirvana. I know, I’m more into the punk sound than you, so that influences my choice, but Nevermind didn’t really work for me as an album, even though the songs are all pretty damn good. I think In Utero is better, but even better than that is Incesticide, which I know wasn’t intended as an album, but is still a friggin’ great collection of music.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Wouldn’t that just mean the entire post would be about Chicago? 🙂

      Angel Dust has some brilliant songs, but the few that aren’t drag it down just enough, I think. But I’m not going to argue against it too much!

      I stand by my Nirvana decision!!!!!

  7. Edo Bosnar

    Hmm, let’s see:
    Rolling Stones: Exile on Main St. (12/25)

    Santana: Abraxas (2/25)

    Sly & the Family Stone: Stand (4/10)

    Yes: Fragile (4/22)

    Thin Lizzy: Jailbreak (6/12)

    Buzzcocks: A Different Kind of Tension (3/9)

    1. Greg Burgas

      I definitely don’t have enough Yes albums to comment, but Fragile seems like a good choice of the ones I’ve heard.

      Oh, I see – you’re one of those weirdos who thinks one of the final two Zeppelin albums is their best! 🙂

      1. Edo Bosnar

        O.k. I admit, the last one was me being a bit of a troll just to get your goat: honestly I don’t think I have an absolute favorite Zep album: if you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose, I’d still be stuck between II, side two of IV, Physical Graffiti and In Thru the Out Door. It’s just that in recent years, when I’ve listened to a Zep album all the way through, it’s usually the latter.

        1. Ecron Muss

          Edo, my first Yes album was Relayer (album 7), probably the album I’ve played more than any other, though maybe not as much for the last 4 decades (at least until the remix/reissue).

          Yessongs (live=5.5) is really my jam, though. And I do rate 75% of Tales from Topographic Oceans very highly, there’s just that one unlistenable side out of the four to contend with.

          I do like Jailbreak a lot, but Bad Reputation is my fav Thin Lizzy.

          Prob. agreed about Pink Floyd WYWH.

  8. Rantel

    Not necessarily my favourite bands, but some of my favourite albums:

    The Beatles: Rubber Soul (6/13ish)
    The Clash: London Calling (3/6)
    Iron Maiden: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (7/16-and-counting)
    Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (11/17)
    Red Hot Chili Peppers: By the Way (8/11-and-counting)
    Green Day: American Idiot (7/13-and-counting)

    Also: while it may not count as an official album, I maintain that Nirvana’s best release is MTV Unplugged. I could listen to that every day.

    1. Greg Burgas

      One Hot Minute drove me away from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so I’ll have to take your word for it. But Mother’s Milk is so good!

      I like Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged album, but I still think Nevermind is better! 🙂

      And of course we’re counting solo artists!

      1. Rantel

        One Hot Minute was RHCPs’ only album with Dave Navarro on guitar. After that, John Frusciante (which had played on Mother’s Milk and Blood Sugar Sex Magik) rejoined the band, and things got a whole lot better.

        1. Greg Burgas

          Yeah, I know Frusciante came back, but I have a little rule: if I don’t like two consecutive albums, I jump ship. I thought Blood Sugar Sex Magik was just okay, not great, and then One Hot Minute showed up, and I was off the Peppers’ bandwagon! 🙂

  9. JHL

    The Violent Femmes are probably the quintessential example of a band who’s first album was their best. I was at Riot Fest in Chicago several years ago and they headlined one night. At around their third song you could see people all throughout the audience realize that they were playing their first album in original track order. The band was clearly having fun with it and that show was easily the best live performance I’ve seen them do (out of at least six). They tagged three or so songs from other albums onto the end and I don’t think anybody left disappointed. The Violent Femmes may have peaked early but it was a hell of a peak.

  10. Damn, I need to write a blog post on this.
    I NEVER got into Kiss. There are groups on this list I don’t know but Kiss was the star of at least two Marvel Comics issues, which I owned at the time. Still, their music just didn’t engage me.

  11. whitecastlerun

    I think your list doesn’t show the effect as much as it really exists. You’re only listing bands that you own all or almost all of their albums. For bands that had a great album among their first couple but dropped off, you eventually stopped buying the albums. The ones on your list still had to have really good albums after their first for you to keep buying.

    I can’t think of any band I like where their first album is my favorite, but it’s usually an early one. Usually there are a couple of indie releases that just don’t have the production value to hold up, but then their first or second wide release is my favorite.

  12. Eric van Schaik

    Nice feature Greg!

    I won’t use live albums in my list. In many cases songs on live albums are so much better than studio versions. There, I said it! 🙂
    With a lot of bands I only have 1 (there best 😉 ) album. I won’t mention them otherwise the list gets far to long.
    If there is an * behind the band, there live albums are the best imo.

    Adele – 30 (this is my wifes opinion) (4/4)

    And Also The Trees – Green is the sea (6/16)

    Apocalyptica – Reflections (4/9)

    Ayreon* – Into the electric castle (3/10)

    Bjork – Debut (1/11)

    Blonde Redhead – Misery is a butterfly (6/9)

    Blue Oyster Cult* – Secret Treaties (3/14)

    Blur – The Great Escape (4/7)

    Cake – Fashion Nugget (2/6)

    Cocteau Twins – Treasure (3/8)

    The Cure – Faith (4/14)

    Dead Can Dance – Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun (3/9)

    Depeche Mode – Black Celebration (5/14)

    The Gathering – How To Measure A Planet (5/10)

    Gazpacho – Night (4/11)

    Anneke van Giersbergen – Everything Is Changing (3/6)

    PJ Harvey – Is This Desire? (4/9)

    Iron Maiden – Powerslave (5/16)

    Judas Priest* – British Steel (6/17)

    Kaizers Orchestra – Maskineri (4/7)

    Killing Joke – Fire Dances (4/20)

    Kiss* – Destroyer (4/20)

    Klone – The Dreamer’s Hideway (5/7)

    Leprous – Aphelion (8/8)

    Lush – Spooky (2/4)

    Manowar – Sign Of The Hammer (4/11)

    Metallica – Master Of Puppets (3/10)

    New Model Army – Between Dog And Wolf (12/15)

    Paradise Lost – Symbol Of Life (9/16)

    Pure Reason Revolution – The Dark Third (1/4)

    Radiohead – Ok Computer (4/11)

    Rammstein* – Mutter (3/7)

    Siouxsie And The Banshees* – Tinderbox (7/11)

    Slayer – Hell Awaits (2/12)

    Snow Patrol – Fallen Empires (6/7) (also my wifes choice)

    Supergrass – In It For The Money (2/6)

    Voivod – Voivod (1/13)

  13. DarkKnight

    Great idea Greg. I’ll throw in a couple of my faves and I’ll be going by studio albums to keep my sanity:

    Janet Jackson- Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 (4/11)

    Madonna- Ray of Light (7/14)

    Public Enemy- It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (2/15)

    Nas- Illmatic (1/14)

    Orbital- Orbital 2 (2/9)

    Underworld- Second Toughest in the Infants (4/10)

  14. John King

    I thought to have another look at this looking at the causes of good and bad albums

    There are no hard and fast rules but there are tendencies

    Many groups perform in clubs and have built up a repertoire of songs before getting a record deal so select the best ones for the first album which often results in a great album.
    Then they have to cope with the sudden success, are busy promoting the album and touring and face massive expectations for the second album which, with so little time to actually prepare often disappoints.
    Then, they build up big ambitions for an album which can be great – or they can overreach themselves resulting in a poor album.
    Troubles can flare up in the group over musical direction or personal rows – Fleetwood Mac managed to channel their problems into one of the greatest albums of all time – other groups tend to stop talking to each other and get poor albums.
    Groups sometimes try to reinvigorate themselves – sometimes they feel they are stagnating but more often adjusting to someone leaving – these albums are rarely if ever among the best and often among the worst – Calling all stations would be an example if it existed. Razorlight have demonstrated that keeping the lead singer and replacing everyone else can also be disappointing.
    And of course stagnation can occur, people can lose their “muse” or become complacent.

    Now, I will consider a couple of the groups and their albums

    the Move
    First album – five people quit their local bands to form a local “supergroup” and create a great album.
    second album – they decide to follow this with an ambitious double album BUT
    they sacked their manager after a publicity stunt put them in court
    one of the group died
    their only songwriter got writer’s block
    one or two members of the group are becoming dissatisfied with the musical direction
    end result – bad album
    Third album – Two resignations later, the only creative (Roy Wood) wants to set up a new group (the Electric Light Orchestra) but is still under contract to continue the Move and with new member Jeff Lynne do their reinvention album
    Fourth album – not much has changed but Jeff Lynne is now more fully involved in the group and they do one more album as the Move, enjoying themselves making music – not up with the first album but still good – they even finally make the American top 100 with a single (just)

    10CC
    First album – before, they had some success as Hotlegs (and as Neil Sedaka’s backing group) they make a good album
    Second album – They build on their success with better songs – a great album
    Third album – they get too ambitious and have to edit down the overlong Une nuit a Paris -still a good album featuring their greatest song
    Fourth album – Godley and Creme were becoming discontented and wanting to move on, still very good but not the best
    Fifth album – a bit of reinventing without Godley and Creme but still good
    Sixth album – new members, still good though not as good as the first 4 albums
    seventh album – group took a significant break following a road accident, after that their creativity has waned – while the extra members added to the group put in a great performance it is still the weakest of the first 8 albums
    Eighth album – an improvement but not as good as the first 6
    ninth album – conceived as a concept album but moved away to try to get hit singles and failed to achieve that
    ….group splits up for years
    tenth album – a big reunion bringing back Godley and Creme but the 4 are never in the studio simultaneously (“you can’t go home again”) Poor communication between the group and the new producer, friction between the 2 main group members
    eleventh album – relations within the group at all time low – now recording half an album each in different countries….

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