This post, from 2020, generated lots of discussion. It seemed a good time to dive back in and get some more feedback. Please let us know what you think. (Just please be kind…)
Here’s how it goes: your favorite band puts out a masterpiece and critics and fans fall at their feet. The subsequent tour is a hot ticket, the record sales in the stratosphere. That grand album puts them on a whole other level. You can’t wait until the follow-up…but when it finally comes, it’s a big flop.
Yes, we can argue that a “flop” is grounded in perception, but we can tell when a fan base is disappointed; you can almost hear the collective sigh.
Perhaps it’s pressure to repeat a hit, followed by timing, procrastination, or unfocused musical direction. Whatever the reason(s), no great group is immune. Here are ten disappointing “follow-up” rock albums.
10: Fleetwood Mac – Tusk (1979)
Rumours was the album of the year in 1977. So big was Fleetwood Mac that nearly every young girl that year wanted to look like Stevie Nicks. The album produced four Top Ten singles and is now ranked as the 8th highest-selling album of all time. Fleetwood Mac had come a long way from their ’60s blues roots and finally gotten their pay-off.
The band then took the next 30 months to deliver Tusk, a 20-song double album. In that time, the music world had gone through a metamorphosis: from hippie rock to Saturday Night Fever, to punk. After 10 straight months in a California recording studio, the band produced a self-indulgent, scattered product, seemingly trying to touch all musical genres of the day, but unsuccessfully. Although Tusk sold 4 million units, their record label measured it a failure. Why not? Rumours (a near-perfect album) was shadowing their efforts.
9: Hootie & the Blowfish – Fairweather Johnson (1996)
Sorry, I was there in the ’90s. And like many others, thought the Hooties got lucky when their 1994 debut, Cracked Rear View, became a monster. Good timing, some mainstream sounds, some MTV promotion — the album soon caught fire. The album has now reached the status of the 19th best-selling album of all time. After winning a Grammy for Best New Artist, the band’s follow-up came two years later with Fairweather Johnson, and it was indeed, only “fair.” Stylus Magazine put it this way: “Really? Everyone saw this one coming a mile off. Who was really gonna care about another Hootie album?”
8: Aerosmith – Draw The Line (1977)
After 1975’s Toys In The Attic and 1976’s Rocks, Aerosmith was about to pass Led Zeppelin as the top hard rock act of the ’70s. Rocks is considered the quintessential blueprint for heavy blues-based guitar albums (Slash from Guns & Roses has said Rocks was the album that inspired him to learn guitar). When it came time for Aerosmith to create a follow-up, the band was caught out by other priorities. Guitarist Joe Perry has said, “We were drug addicts dabbling in music, rather than musicians dabbling in drugs”….and the album sounded like it. The record was a haze of pollutants, with the band seemingly never hitting any firm ground. Soon, Perry and then Brad Whitford would leave the band, and Aerosmith would not get their act together again until the mid-’80s.
7: Squeeze – Sweets for the Stranger (1982)
East Side Story (produced by Elvis Costello) became Squeeze’s big break-through album with the single “Tempted” reaching #8 on the US charts. So diverse and complete was this album that soon the band’s songwriting team of Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford were met with wide-ranging comparisons as the new Lennon & McCartney (when Difford finally met McCartney, Paul sarcastically asked him, “Which are you, Lennon or McCartney?” and Difford humbly responded, “I’m Ringo!”).
Tilbrook has since said this level of recognition made them self-conscious when approaching their follow-up album Sweets for the Stranger. The pressure caused them to indulge in over-experimentation resulting in a completely uninspiring effort.
6: Dire Straits – On Every Street (1991)
It took 6 ½ years for Dire Straits to follow up their blockbuster Brothers in Arms. That album went on to win the Brit Award for Best Album of 1985, reached Number One for several consecutive weeks, and has sold well over 30 million lifetime copies. The album was so much part of the MTV era, that the opening riff from their massive selling single, “Money for Nothing” was used as the theme for their annual Music Video Awards program.
Then came those 6 ½ years, and Dire Straits nearly disappeared from public view. This created issues when they finally got around to On Every Street. Should they return to the complex arrangements that built their following? Or the more pop sound that had been so successful? On Every Street proved to be a compromise. Although there were some good moments on the album (“Fade to Black,” “You and Your Friends”), you have to question what they were thinking when the album’s title song is a major piano piece (with hardly any guitar). For that to happen in this band, something’s amiss.
5: Graham Parker & The Rumor – The Up Escalator (1981)
During the late ’70s, a soul-pub band produced the second-best “punk” album in history (The Clash’s London Calling being #1). Graham Parker’s 1979 Squeezing Out Sparks was a tour-de-force. Sparks put Parker and the Rumor on the map.
For Sparks, Parker dropped all the soul brass, literally buried keyboardist Bob Andrews in the mix, and broke through to mainstream rock FM radio in the US and Europe.
For his 1981 follow-up, The Up Escalator, all that recent success now had Parker hob-knobbing with the likes of Bruce Springsteen. It was suggested that Parker use young Jimmy Iovine to help with the record’s direction. Soon Bob Andrews left the band, and Iovine brought in Roy Bittan from the E-Street Band. Springsteen even agreed to appear on one of his new tunes. On paper, this was a can’t-miss blockbuster. In the end, Escalator proved to be a flat in-between job, sounding as if Parker couldn’t decide if he was going to go back to the soul side or the guitar-punk model. “Just OK” results and sales led to him canceling his US tour. Soon after, he broke with the Rumor for the next 36 years.
4: Queen – A Day At The Races (1976)
Queen’s 1975 A Night at the Opera album (with the song “Bohemian Rhapsody”) served as a historical bookend for the genre. It just a short 20 years, rock ‘n roll went from Rock Around the Clock to invading the only music category left: opera! This was breathtaking creativity never seen before in rock. The tune and the whole album elevated Queen to high-artist levels. By the spring of 1976, there were not many frat parties that didn’t have a herd of drunken guys singing the song’s middle opera section from the top of their lungs. Then came their follow-up.
A Day at The Races started wrong, right from the title. Using another Marx Brothers film-as-name said that this effort was just a continuum of A Night at The Opera. A lot of the album sounded like leftovers from prior sessions. Their “high art” didn’t find new expression.
When they did expand into newer territory, as in the song “White Man,” writer Brian May decided to address the done-before suffering of Native Americans. Suddenly, Queen was in the same neighborhood as Paul Revere & The Raiders’ 1971 hit song “Indian Reservation.”
3: Yes-Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973)
The kings of the early 70’s Progressive Rock movement had two expansive, breakthrough albums with 1971’s Fragile and 1972’s Close to The Edge. Both efforts quickly became deep-list favorites.
For the follow-up, an early bad omen came in the form of drummer Bill Bruford leaving to join King Crimson. Yes singer Jon Anderson has said he became “engrossed” in his vision for the complex musical epic that would become Tales from Topographic Oceans. After great debate, the band decided to make this a double album. The musical direction would be based on Anderson’s interpretation of the Shastic scriptures in a four-part concept (confused? – so were their fans!). The songs were so thick with useless musical padding, the band quickly ran out of new material, so they relied heavily on improvisation for a good portion of the sessions. Tales lacked direction and warmth, and you couldn’t sing along with it. Keyboardist Rick Wakeman was vocal about his displeasure and left the band after the album’s tour.
2: Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III (1970)
After their first two albums, Zep was the number one band in the world. More precisely, Led Zeppelin II was a hard one to beat. That album gave the listeners searing guitar solos, canyon-like vocals, a heartbreaking power ballad, and a hit single (“Whole Lotta Love”). Led Zeppelin was perfect for the booming FM radio market and jocks were happy to run the sequence of “Heartbreaker” into “Living Loving Maid” at nauseous levels. Man, they were big!
Related: “Led Zeppelin: Other Bands Hate Them, They Don’t Care”
After the opening cut (“Immigrant Song”) on Led Zeppelin III, the band threw a curveball, digging deep into the blues. This resulted in changing the ambiance of the band as this album would be dominated by acoustic guitars. Singer Robert Plant has since said that they were “obsessed” with a direction change, and wanted to show they actually could play “alternative” styles. For what it was, this is a true and greatly performed album. But there was little emotion in the tunes, and the fan base learned that Zeppelin, without their amped-up excitement, became just English guys playing the black man’s music. Critics asked why they would want to become the “semi-electric CSN&Y?” So negative was the music press that for the next 18 months, Jimmy Page refused to do interviews.
1: Peter Frampton- I’m In You (1977)
Frampton Comes Alive! is the best-selling live rock album of all time, and it spent 10 weeks at #1 in the spring of 1976. Recorded at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco six months prior, the double album captured journeyman guitarist Peter Frampton at his musical peak and set the standard for all live recordings. Recorded on what was then state-of-the-art equipment, the album’s single “Show Me The Way” was the highest-selling live-recorded single of all time. The album took Frampton from back-of-the-band musician to international rock frontman.
His 1977 follow-up I’m in You had “loser” written all over it…..or at least on the album cover. Now being groomed to be a big pop star (hey, he looked like Andy Gibb) the good-natured Frampton may have had people convincing him to wear silk pajamas and an open shirt without thinking more about it. The music was plain, the excitement of the live album gone. The title song’s single outsold Show Me the Way on the strength of his name, but his next single (a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,”) was a bust. Peter had gone Hollywood, and his rock fan base left him as fast as it had risen. Soon after, Frampton made another bad career move by starring with the Bee Gees in a poorly-conceived film adaption of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Frampton would not gain back his rock cred until the mid- ’80s when he served as lead guitar on David Bowie’s Glass Spider tour, receiving tremendous reviews and reinvigorating his solo recording career.
Very interesting article. I’m sure it was difficult to choose just a few insofar as there have been many over the years which could fit the criteria. Everyone has their own choices of course and should be respected. That said I will now attempt to anger millions around the world with my choice of disappointing follow up album being The Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street following Sticky Fingers.
OOOWW…not sure I’d line up with that…. Brown Sugar and B-tch kind of round that one out…but a good point! Thanks SV
Richard – I see what you mean.Sticky Fingers was a tour-de-force, a great record. How could you not be disappointed by what followed, considered by most to be the pinnacle of the Stones creativity and studio experimentation, and possibly one of the best rock & roll albums ever recorded? Wait – what?
Good & amusing article but I take issue with a couple of things. First – Graham Parker ain’t punk ! Second, Led Zeppelin 3 is a fine album & hardly lacking in emotion – “Since I’ve been loving you” exhibit 1. Lastly I may be in the minority but I love Topographic Oceans, sprawling yes but some magical moments.
Well, let’s agree, that was his closest swing at punk…. as it was nothing like the first 3 albums. Thanks- SV
Well… they will always be pub rock for me, & a damn fine band at that. Genres are meaningless anyway right ? Thanks for drawing attention to them. Hopefully some people will check them out after reading your piece. Cheers.
Holy hecking heck. In what universe is Led Zeppelin 3 dissapointing? Fantastic album.
I agree with most everything except that I think you’re way off base with Queen’s A Day at the Races. It was voted one of the 57 best albums of all time and Somebody To Love is still on rotation everywhere.Not to mention Tie Your Mother Down. I always think of NATO and DATR as a pair. They compliment each other.
I agree, The real disappointment was Hot Space after The Game
Agreed. ADATR is supreme and no dissappoinment after ANATO…….should not be here, and is it a follow up album? Its just another album really. Lets all blank Hot Space, the near career kiling LP.
Well, I’d rate ADTR over ANTO , personally 😉
This should be the first installment of a series, very well done. I’ll get you started on the next one: Matthew Sweet following up the immortal “Girlfriend” with the weakling, “Altered Beast.” GO!
Yes, a good one! Thanks – SV
Sweets FROM A Stranger. (Insert nerd smiling face emoji.)
Someone had to correct…I don’t agree with this article, I thought Tusk was a masterpiece and a lot of these other albums including the Squeeze one are very good.
I liked Tusk, too. Kind of tired of Rumors by now.
This was a very enjoyable article. One could conceive of an entire follow-up article with all examples being from the “sophomore slump” category. Many of these suffer from a quality of “everything you loved about the first album, and less.” My peers all fondly remember the first albums by The Romantics, The Knack, and the Kingbees, but none of the follow-up albums connected. On the AOR side, there was Boston’s second album, which, like Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, was long awaited but underwhelming.
I did think of the Boston album…and Meatloaf’s long wait follow-up, but I was sticking to just the top (bottom) 10 of them! Thanks- SV
I remember having a conversation about Boston’s second album, Don’t Look Back. The consensus was that it was identical to the first. The person who first brought it up was training to be a cantor. And he sings the sentence about being the same sound perfectly in pitch according to Boston extended guitar riffs. A sharp wit.
Good enjoyable article I’d agree with most except the argument that London Calling is punks best album , I’d add the Damneds Music for Pleasure however . I was so excited and then disappointed when it came out . It’s grown on me since though .
Can’t agree on Zep III. It certainly showed different sides of the band but most of the cuts were stellar. Since I’ve been Loving you may be the most heady guitar Pagey played on a Zeppelin album.
I agree. Friends, Bron-yr Aur- Stomp, That’s the Way and Gallows Pole are classics. If this is bad then it’s better than most other bands best
Personally, if we’re talking Zeppelin, I’d say Presence after Physical Graffiti was a far more disappointing follow-up than any Led Zeppelin record.
Bill, that’s one I did not think about…. Presence was indeed a disappointment, but do you think Physical a blockbuster? Thanks – SV
ABC Beauty Stab. Not a terrible album. But as a follow-up to The Lexicon of Love?
Interesting I have both albums. I cannot escape the notion that Lexicon is one of great albums of all time. I think the second album did not have Trevor Horn as the producer which took away most orchestration he brought to the first. Stab has more of a tradition stripped down rock base sound. Regardless I’d still love to see ABC live.
IMO The Up Escalator has aged well and turned out not to be the big disappointment it seemed at the time. Another Grey Area, however, is another story….
That’s funny, I still like Another Grey Area!….and the Real McCaw ..later, Human Soul was his best 80’s effort. Thanks- SV
Sweets from a Stranger had “Black Coffee in Bed”. That alone pardons the album from the list
Interesting note is that Difford and Tilbrook have said they recorded Black Coffee at too slow a pace…when you see them live, they often play it at a faster beat thus giving us an idea of how it “should” sound. Thanks -SV
I like On Every Street. Reminds me of my first trip to the UK in 1991, calling Elvis was especially popular over there at the time. The album also has the The Bug which Mary Chapin Carpenter had on her album Come On, Come on.
Some of these disappointments are good albums. The Dire Straits and Fleetwood Mac albums are good albums. A Day at the Races is in-total a better album than Night at the Opera. I’m in you is a bad song, but there is some good music on that Frampton album. Other than the title track it is a solid album. I would replace some of these with The Cars album after Heartbreak City, The Hunter, by Blondie and Discovery by Electric Light Orchestra
Very good article Steve. I would agree with most of them except for queen and if you were a yes fan, tales is pure genius. I’ll give you one more that could not meet the standards of the big hit album. What about thriller? That would be pretty tough to beat though.
On the flipside, can you think of a band that had a massive album with huge success that subsequently put out one even better?
I’m a Yes fan, and TFTO is not “pure genius” for me. It was, and is, a disappointment after not two, but three, very strong Yes albums.
Wish You Were Here following Dark Side of the Moon. One of the finest achievements in rock music.
I think it is unfortunate that those who put DSOTM as the greatest recording ever made are sadly missing PF’s work prior to DSOTM.
Personally, I rate Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Saucerful of Secrets, Meddle, and especially the soundtrack to Barbet Schroeder’s film More, as the apex of the band’s most creative period. Having seen them at smaller venues during this period, I can say their presence was far more immediate than their stadium days. In fact, I regard DSOTM and WYWH as major letdown. Animals and The Final Cut redeemed them somewhat in my estimation. If you doubt this, screen Pink Floyd at Pompeii or check out Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets performances. Simply outstanding without a trace of DSOTM.
Art, very insightful! …
Off the top of my head:
YES put our Fragile, and follow-up with Close To The Edge- I’d say that met your criteria ….
Jethro Tull did Aqualung and followed with Thick As A Brick…. Fleetwood Mac had the “Fleetwood Mac” album (when Nicks and Buckingham joined) and followed with Rumors…Pink Floyd had the Animals album and followed with The Wall….the Police had Ghost in the Machine and followed with Synchronicity. U2 did Unforgettable Fire and Follow with The Josh tree……
So there are many examples when block busters got “better” with their next album- in my humble…… !
Oh Yeah: Beatles had Rubber Soul and follow-up with Revolver…then Sgt. Pepper, …..but that’s just another level of stratosphere!
Well done, Mr. Valvano. Aside from these groups that achieved some level of longevity in the business, so many bands went off like bottle rockets only to impotently clatter back to the ground without so much as a wisp of smoke. But what I wouldn’t have given to go off just once, even if only like one of those lame 4th of July fountains they sell at Target. But let’s talk Zeppelin here for a minute. That’s The Way from Zep III is a beautiful, hauntingly mesmerizing song that will unobtrusively find its way into your subconscious until one day, apropos of nothing, there it is, playing in your head. Rest of the album not too shabby either. And to the gentleman who disparaged Presence, well, you have to listen to it after consuming a robust antipasto while lying beneath a waxing moon on a yellow blanket, maaaaaaaaan, and then you’ll get it.
Samwise, you are surely wiser than me!
“Tempted” by Squeeze was NEVER a hit single anywhere, much less a #8 hit in the US (it peaked at #45). You need some editorial fact checking!!!
That does not make it any less a worthy song.
Led Zeppelin III was indeed a disappointment to a lot of LZ fans, who wanted more of that hard rock/blues that I and II offered in spades. But it had its defenders from the beginning, and is now regarded by most fans as one of LZ’s undeniable classic albums. (The author’s comment about English guys playing the black man’s music is a little puzzling, given that side 2 of the album has at least as much to do with English folk as it does with American blues.)
Let’s do a little fine tuning: no, not all young girls during the 1970’s wanted to look like Stevie Nicks. I wish that writers would stop with the thinking that they can speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. Second, Tempted by Squeeze peaked at number 8 on the Billboard mainstream rock chart, not the Hot 100 (number 49). Maybe this article should be called 10 Disappointing Follow-Up Rock Albums, since this list pretty much stays in one lane.
The Squeeze album was so disappointing you couldn’t remember the title! Ha! Sweets from a Stranger. Pretty solid album, overall, but def no East Side Story, or Argy Bargy
I would submit to you that I agree with the gentry about A Day at the Races and LZ 3 as great albums, albeit different. I loved Draw the Line, but agree it was a little too left field for the fan base.
I would say Humble Pie’s “Eat It!” after three really strong records and the success of “Smokin’.” Record was a sonic failure. Metallica’s “Load” was a mess compared to the Black Album, and much like Tusk, it sold a lot of copies. “Emotional Rescue” or “Goats Head Soup” both followed up great Stones records with less than stellar efforts, but, in all fairness, a lousy Stones record is still better than most band’s best efforts.
I would give an honorable mention to Kiss’ “Dynasty” following up “Love Gun.” Weak sauce hahaha.
2 of my top favorites are on this list! Led Zeppelin III and Tusk. So….hello.