The 5 Greatest One-Album Wonders in Rock

Many rock legends spend long careers beneath the shadow of early triumphs. As they become legacy acts, they must balance new music with old hits to satiate both the fans who pay to see them and the internal struggle for relevancy.

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One way to avoid the conundrum is to drop one monumental album and then walk away. Sadly, not everyone on this list did so by choice.

Here are rock and roll’s five greatest one-album wonders.

Temple of the Dog by Temple of the Dog (1991)

In April 1991, before pop culture became consumed by Seattle, Chris Cornell released an album as a tribute to his late friend and former roommate, Andrew Wood. The frontman of Mother Love Bone, Wood died of a heroin overdose at 24.

The surviving members of Mother Love Bone—guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament—had formed a new group called Mookie Blaylock with lead guitarist Mike McCready. Singer Eddie Vedder had flown from San Diego to Seattle to audition for Gossard’s new band as he and Ament attempted to move past their friend’s young death.

Meanwhile, Cornell wrote an entire album for Wood and recorded Temple of the Dog with Soundgarden’s drummer Matt Cameron and the members of Mookie Blaylock. Gossard’s band would later change their name to Pearl Jam and their debut Ten was released in August 1991. Nirvana released Nevermind a month later and Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger dropped in October. Only with hindsight is Temple of the Dog considered a supergroup but it’s an early grunge touchstone in a year that changed rock and roll.

The La’s by The La’s (1990)

The La’s borrowed from The Who and The Beatles and their 1960s-inspired album laid the foundation for Britpop. Multiple attempts at recording the album and a revolving door of band members ultimately led to the band’s demise.

The band’s leader and songwriter Lee Mavers obsessed in the studio for three years attempting to perfect The La’s debut album. His group burned through several producers and when the album was finally released, Mavers disowned it and said, “We [hate] it. It never captured anything that we were about. To cut a long story short, too many cooks spoil the broth.”

However, “There She Goes” endures as a proto-Britpop hit as Mavers continued the tradition of groundbreaking Liverpool songwriters. Noel Gallagher cites The La’s as an inspiration.

Grace by Jeff Buckley (1994)

Jeff Buckley created one heartbreaking and beautifully moving album and then he was gone. Though Grace wasn’t a commercial smash, Radiohead probably wouldn’t have made The Bends without it.

The album features Buckley’s defining version of Leonard Cohen’s masterpiece, “Hallelujah.” But most of Grace sounds like a hymnal and his guitar playing was just as lyrical, expressive, and virtuosic as his multirange voice.

While working in Memphis, Tennessee, on his second album, Buckley went for a swim in the Mississippi River where he drowned at age 30. Grace isn’t just a powerful debut, it’s a timeless collection of tortured poetry.

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos (1970)

Eric Clapton created his best work while addicted to drugs and pursuing his friend’s wife. He’d formed a band with Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, and Jim Gordon following the musicians’ tour with Delaney & Bonnie. They recorded Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs in Miami with producer Tom Dowd.

Duane Allman’s co-lead guitar contributions, especially on the title track, pushed Clapton to the most inspired playing of his career. Pattie Boyd, then George Harrison’s wife, was Clapton’s muse, and the brilliant “Bell Bottom Blues” finds “Slowhand” curiously playing guitar in the style of Harrison while singing to his wife. However messy the love triangle may have been, it resulted in Clapton’s masterpiece.

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols by Sex Pistols (1977)

Perhaps the most punk rock thing you can do is release one groundbreaking album and then stop. Sex Pistols pissed off everyone around them—the queen; the UK charts, who refused to print the band’s name; and broadcast TV censors, whose anxiety grew over which swear Johnny Rotten or Sid Vicious would utter next.

It wasn’t meant to last. It couldn’t last. Vicious was a nihilist who was dead by 21 and Rotten (John Lydon) carried on instead with his post-punk band Public Image Ltd. But the Sex Pistols left a mark on music history and artists like Neil Young, Oasis, and Green Day.

“God Save the Queen” and “Anarchy in the U.K.” are punk anthems and the Sex Pistols’ abrasive sound, Vivienne Westwood fashion, and snotty attitude profoundly changed youth culture.

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