After Cleveland Indians’ (now the Guardians) outfielder Joe Charbonneau won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1980, there was talk he’d wind up in the Hall of Fame. But Joe, who could drink beer through his nose and once ate six lit cigarettes to win a bet, was out of the major leagues two years later. Joe’s short-lived career mirrors many a rock star who pundits believed would have a long career because of one great year only to rapidly fall off of the record charts.
Such was the case of Terence Trent D’Arby, an ex-Golden Gloves boxer who kick-started his career in 1987 with the phenomenal Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arcy. Mikal Gilmore of Rolling Stone gushed that Terence “is a magnificent and rousing vocalist who could combine the sensual graininess of Sam Cook and Otis Redding with the tonal dexterity of Marvin Gaye, Al Green, and Smokey Robinson.” Terence seconded that emotion by stating in People magazine before his debut was released: “I can justifiably say that my first album would be one of the most brilliant debuts from any artists in the last ten years.”
But Terence’s second effort, Neither Fish nor Flesh, caused Rolling Stone Album Guide to call it an “overtly experimental, cranky mishmash that makes the Beatles’ White Album look precision-tooled.”
D’Arcy fell out of favor with his fans and forever fell off the top of the charts, a fate he blamed on higher-ups in the music industry which included Michael Jackson who he called “a bona fide, life-changing pain in my ass.” Terence, who now goes by Sananda Maitreya, cryptically commented, “I happen to know there were a couple of people in very high places in the establishment who, like Zeus, were kind of amused at my little routine. Everybody was cashing in. But behind my back, more and more A-list stars were complaining about the attention I was getting. The other gods on Olympus were sending their managers to ask: ‘What’s going on?’ The establishment had to do something about it because it couldn’t have all the gods angry.” Perhaps the gods would have been happy if only Terrence had abided by the only commandment of the music business which is “Thou Shalt Make Us Money.”
Macy Gray, who Washington Post writer David Segal said had a “voice that sounds like Billie Holiday paying homage to Donald Duck,” was also a flavor of the year thanks to her tasty 2001 album, On How Life Is, which sold 3.4 million units. While her second album, Id, sold respectably it was still nearly 3 million less than her debut. Hits like “I Try” didn’t keep on coming because Macy wasn’t the most prolific writer.
She recorded back to back to back cover albums including Stevie Wonder’s classic Talking Book and did a second effort Covered, which includes a great take of Radiohead’s “Creep.” Her career mirrors that of Ricki Lee Jones; both are blessed with identifiable voices and had best-selling debuts but never again matched their rookie-year sales.
Then there are the “music veterans,” with a top ten album who never duplicate that success thanks to constant acts of self-sabotage. Harry Nilsson was one such musician but is largely remembered for being John Lennon’s fellow instigating partner-in-crime during Lennon’s “lost weekend” in L.A.
Nilsson’s first five albums were not even Top 100 material. But in 1971, Nilsson Schmilsson went to #3 and featured two top ten hit singles.
Instead of Harry capitalizing on his breakthrough smash hit, he didn’t give the people or his record company what they wanted; the follow-up, Son of Schmilsson, featured Harry snoring, bragging in the opening song “I sang my balls off for you baby,” and dropping a F-bomb in the chorus of “You’re Breaking My Heart.” He was accompanied by the Senior Citizens of the Stepney and Pinner Choir Club No. 6 as they all sing on “I’d Rather be Dead” such campfire sing-a-long lyrics like, “I’d rather be dead, than wet my bed.”
The album peaked at 12 and two years later, not even John Lennon’s signing on as a producer could place Harry’s Pussy Cats in the Top Forty. An underlying reason for the LP’s underwhelming showing is shown on its cover. A rug sits between the capital letters “D” and “S” which are emblazoned on children’s building blocks and slyly spells “DrugS.”
Harry’s health declined along with his record sales and he passed away at the not-so-ripe old age of 53. His son, Zak, summed up his father’s life: “He died because he destroyed his body for so many years with drugs and alcohol. My dad was a very intelligent man, and he could outthink, out drink and out drug almost anyone. But he also had the soul of a poor boy from Brooklyn and if you ask his friends, they will all have stories about how he possessed a base level kindness and empathy that manifested in ways like handing homeless people money or food. My dad was somebody I respected more than anyone else, and I miss him.”
Photo: Terence Trent D’Arby, 2003 (Fotopersbureau De Boer via Wikimedia Commons)