David Bowie - Low

It’s a new year, and every Thursday, we’re going to be publishing a new list in this space. You guys like lists, right? Good! For our first one, we got to talking about Guided By Voices, who just released a pretty great album about 25 years after their first one. And that raised the question: How many artists are capable of releasing a great album a decade after their debut?

For this list — alphabetical, not ranked — we’ve come up with 10 different albums released exactly 10 years after their respective artists first debuted. The number 10 is a fairly arbitrary one, and it meant that we excluded a whole lot of artists who did great work nine or 11 years after they first started — which meant that we had to exclude great records like Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, Prince’s Sign ’O’ The Times, Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison, the Temptations’ Psychedelic Shack, Willie Nelson’s Shotgun Willie, and U2′s Achtung Baby, which almost fit the time-frame but didn’t quite work. (And I have to say: It drives me fucking nuts that Danzig’s self-titled debut came out 11 years, not 10, after the first Misfits single.) We also have to give special runner-up shout-outs to Sonic Youth’s Dirty, the Isley Brothers’ It’s Our Thing, and Too Short’s Get In Where You Fit In, which we had to bump for the albums you see listed below.

So here’s what we came up with. If we forgot anything, let us know in the comments section.

Beastie Boys - Check Your Head

1. Beastie Boys – Check Your Head

This first entry fudges things a bit, since the teenage Beasties of 1982 looked nothing like the one that would release Licensed To Ill four years later. But they did release the ratty, rudimentary hardcore EP Pollywog Stew in 1982, which just shows you how ridiculously far this band came in a decade. Check Your Head wasn’t the trio’s best album — that’d be Paul’s Boutique, from where I’m sitting — but it did find them at the most interesting point of their evolution. They still had the punk-rap snarl of their early years, but they started mixing in live-instrumentation psych-funk and fuzz-rock, and even their furthest-out experiments had serious bite. And in terms of pure style, this was easily one of the most influential albums of the ’90s; nobody else mixed styles with anything like the Beasties’ glee and panache, and it’s still hard to imagine how skater/stoner culture would look without its guiding hand.

“So What Cha Want”:

David Bowie - Low

2. David Bowie- Low

A decade after he debuted as a starry-eyed flower-child, Bowie had already gone through about a half-dozen different personas and deeply entrenched his shifting self into British rock’s iconography. With Low, he crashed down in Berlin and went to work alongside Brian Eno, beginning a trilogy of albums that pushed his voice into strange new places. Working through the pain of coke withdrawl and figuring out how to deal with the ideas he was hearing in Kraftwerk and krautrock records, Bowie put together exactly half an album of fractured, cerebral rock. But it’s the album’s second side, made up entirely of spacey but emotive wordless synth pieces, where Bowie truly left the planet behind.

“Sound And Vision”:

The Cure - Disintegration

3. The Cure – Disintegration

The Cure arrived into the early-postpunk gestalt more or less fully formed; first single “Killing An Arab” is a small masterpiece of foreboding and bad faith. Still, it took the group a decade to fully tap into their vast reserves of warmth and beauty and really expensive keyboards. On Disintegration, a depressed and acid-dipped Robert Smith applied his pop-song chops to woozy and drawn-out song-structures, letting his sounds bleed into each other and creating a melting landscape of desperate wails and thudding bass-rumbled that congealed into some truly beautiful sugary melodies. And with “Lullaby,” he somehow pulled off the impossible task of cooing a song about a spiderman without conjuring images of Peter Parker.

“Pictures Of You”:

Fleetwood Mac - Rumours

4. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

In 1967, the British blues-rock band Fleetwood Mac debuted with the single “I Believe My Time Ain’t Long.” Ten years later, the only remaining original member was drummer Mick Fleetwood, and the band had somehow become an expert California studio-rock crew. They had also developed some dazzlingly byzantine intra-band romantic tensions, and those tensions fueled the creation of this album. On the album, the band’s members sang, in stunning multi-part harmony, about falling in and out of love with each other. It’s amazing that those recording sessions, fueled by cocaine and conflicted feelings, produced anything remotely listenable, let alone an album as gleamingly crafted as this one. It went on to sell 40 million copies, which damn.

“Go Your Own Way”:

Marvin Gaye - What's Going On?

5. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On?

Total no-brainer here. As a vital cog in Motown’s hitmaking machine, Marvin Gaye had already released 10 solo studio albums in his first decade with the label, as well as another five LPs of duets, and various greatest-hits collections and live joints. But after the sudden death of frequent duet partner, Gaye pondered quitting music entirely, even trying out unsuccessfully for the Detroit Lions; imagine all the throwback jerseys they could’ve sold! When he put together this mournful, angry orchestral-soul title track, Gaye had to battle Motown founder Berry Gordy to release it. Gordy eventually gave in, convinced that it would flop. Nope. To Gordy’s credit, he immediately commissioned an accompanying album, and this dizzying song-cycle, sung from the POV of a returning Vietnam vet, was the result. Gordy may be one of the greatest minds in the history of American music, but the initial squabble over one of the greatest albums of all time is a rare stain on his record, along with the genetic existence of both members of LFMAO.

“Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)”:

Michael Jackson - Off The Wall

6. Michael Jackson – Off The Wall

Another slight fudge. MJ didn’t release his first single as a solo artist until 1971 (“Got To Be There,” awesome song). But in 1969, an 11-year-old Jackson whooped his way into worldwide consciousness as the main voice on “I Want You Back,” the Jackson 5′s too-classic-for-words debut single. 10 years later, a still-childlike Jackson linked up with jazz-pop genius Quincy Jones and found ways to internalize and explore the disco and funk beats that were running the world at the time. The music on Off The Wall is pure liquid joy, and Jackson navigated it with an awestruck innocence that still sounds heartbreaking. He might’ve already been one of the greatest dancers on planet Earth, but he still comes off as a kid just figuring out how his body works. And if you can’t throw on “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” and set your party aflame, then your party sucks.

“Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough”:

R.E.M. - Automatic For The People

7. R.E.M. – Automatic For The People

In the decade since their 1982 debut EP Chronic Town, R.E.M. had gone from mysterious Southern postpunk savants to college-rock road heroes to actual honest-to-god rock stars, the last arriving when Out Of Time reached the soccer-mom set. When they got to work on that album’s follow-up, they reportedly tried to make something built from the scuzzy blurts of the late-’80s underground. That didn’t happen. Instead, they somehow ended up with an uncommonly graceful and mature piece of arena-pop. Rather than letting go of the expansiveness and the mystique of their great ’80s output, they found a way for that stuff to sound great on adult-contemporary radio, a near-impossible feat. Some people still seem to be laboring under the impression that “Everybody Hurts” is somehow maudlin or hackneyed, but find me another radio-devouring monster with anything like that song’s dignity and majesty.

“Everybody Hurts”:

Roxy Music - Avalon

8. Roxy Music – Avalon

By 1982, Roxy Music had moved beyond glam-rock, Brian Eno, and the casual hedonism that had once placed them at the center of the pop-music universe. And on their final studio album, Bryan Ferry and his co-conspirators had reached the Platonic ideal of their glossy smooth-rock second phase. Avalon is all shimmery, ripply, incandescent texture, every last sound so blindingly clean that you could eat off of it. It’s the sound of Ferraris revving into the sunset, of white leisure suits in balmy Mediterranean nights. And it starts off with “More Than This,” an absolutely perfect sigh of a song that, thanks in part to Bill Murray and Sofia Coppola, may be the group’s greatest enduring legacy.

“More Than This”:

Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombones

9. Tom Waits – Swordfishtrombones

Waits started his career as a sozzled down-and-out lounge-singer type with a deeply ingrained gift for writing heartstomping melodies. But by the time he got around to releasing Swordfishtrombones in 1983, he’d discovered his inner junkyard lunatic. The music became a Beefheart-damaged circus-blurt that matched his own deranged growl and maybe raised it a couple of chips. But along with all the maniacal gibbering, he also gave us some of his tenderest drunken-blues koans. Other than Rain Dogs, no Waits album walks the line between the beautiful and the bizarre as adeptly as this one.

“Town With No Cheer”:

Stevie Wonder - Talking Book

10. Stevie Wonder – Talking Book

Like fellow former Motown prodigy Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder celebrated a decade in the music game around the same time he turned 21. Talking Book came right in the middle of an absolutely unearthly run of Wonder albums — after Music Of My Mind, before Innervisions — and it found Wonder pushing his already-miasmic soul-funk sound further toward its most experimental edges. The softer moments, “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” in particular, are heart-stopping, but they coexist peacefully alongside Jeff Beck guitar flameouts and hard-funk workouts like “Maybe Your Baby.” And the album is also the home of “Superstition” a song that refuses to suck no matter how many times it appears in SUV commercials.

“You Are The Sunshine Of My Life”:

Comments (131)
  1. I can’t think of a better groove than the groove in Superstition. When those horns kick in, it’s go time.

  2. this must have been quite a research project. great picks.

  3. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  4. Mick Fleetwood and John McVie were original Fleetwood Mac members.

    • Gota say he has a point Fleetwood Mac = Mick and John so two origional members on Rumours

      • Wikipedia tells me that Bob Brunning was the original bassist. ARE YOU GOING TO ARGUE WITH WIKIPEDIA?

        • Bob Brunning was the Mac’s first bass player, though John McVie was Peter Green’s first choice and once he agreed to join Brunning was out. Sadly Bob died last November and Bob Weston, who was in the band in the early 70s and infamously had an affair with Fleetwood’s wife, died a couple of days ago.

  5. Does Nine Inch Nails Count?

    1989 – PHM

    1999 – The Fragile

    IT’s a fairly major album in my opinion.

    • Yeah, I thought about that one and then forgot to put it on that little runners-up list. But yeah, great album, excellent pick.

  6. Also Exile on Main Street

  7. Pretty sure The Soft Bulletin qualifies on both accounts.

  8. Love this list…absolutely love it!

  9. One Hot Minute? Oh wait… nvm, that album sucked.

  10. Neil Young’s Comes a Time. Neil Young came out in 1968 and Comes a Time in 1978. Also, if you give yourself a little bit of wiggle room, Neil Young came out in November 1968 on a very limited release and was re-released in January 1969. If you allow that, you could include Rust Never Sleeps instead.

  11. The exactly 10 year rule is kind of arbitrary here. However, I think a longer list (100?) of classic albums after 10+ years of an artist’s existence is a worthwhile exercise in itself.

  12. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • Dookie not their first album! Also, American Idiot really not good at all, at least from where I’m sitting.

      • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

        • If American Idiot is someone’s magnus opus, then I’m wondering what people think a magnus opus is.

        • Green Day, post-Dookie, is a terrible, terrible band. All of their biggest songs are blatant ripoffs of better songs by The Beatles, Oasis, Bryan Adams, etc. and that whiny voice is more auto-tuned than Ke$ha’s. In short, they are the worst band to ever attain their level of popularity.

      • tom, where exactly are you sitting?

      • Yeah, how full of sh!t is David Fricke, calling ‘American Idiot’ the best record of the decade?

        • Speaking of Rolling Stone writers who utter WTF-worthy statements, Rob Sheffield recently asked, “Has [Stephen] Malkmus ever written a better song than ‘Share The Red’? Don’t bet your Pavement bootlegs on it.”


          • Dude, no one should fuck with Mike Schmitt, he won 10 gold gloves, led the league in home runs 8 times, was an all-star 12 times, and is a Philadelphia hero.

            Oh wait, you’re not Mike Schmidt, you just think American Idiot is a “magnum opus.”

            People throw around Magnum Opus way too often, especially when bands still exist. For instance, saying “The Soft Bulletin” is the Flaming Lips’ magnum opus presumes the band will never release anything better than The Soft Bulletin.

            Hyperbole be damned.

  13. ddogdunit  |   Posted on Jan 5th, 2012 -14

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  14. ddogdunit  |   Posted on Jan 5th, 2012 -7

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  16. according to wiki, Pink Floyd’s Animals fits

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      • Listen to Piper at the Gates of Dawn, their first album with Syd Barrett still in the band. Certainly made me a believer.

      • Listen to Wish You Were Here. It’s not nearly as intimidating as the Wall or Dark Side of the Moon. Wayne Coyne, Thom Yorke, Christopher Owens both think they’re good, so they can’t be that bad. Also as the duck said, their early psych stuff like “See Emily Play” is also great.

        • Yeah, Wish You Were Here is the album of theirs that I’ve liked. Haven’t heard Piper at the Gates of Dawn though so maybe I’d like that also.

        • haha. the thing is, it totally is self-indulgent. but that’s sort of what’s so great about it.

          this comparison has been made before, but if you were into father, son, holy ghost, try checking dsotm out again. a few moments from that album (most notably the “come in to my heart” parts of “Vomit” and the end of “Die”) are total dark side homage.

          and i think money is probably the least representative song on the album. most of it, as you probably know, is a little spacier than that. try “us and them” for a track that captures the essence of the record well but doesn’t beat you over the head with gospel choirs, guitar solos, and all the other stuff that might be off-putting at first. (though it does have a fucking AWESOME sax solo)

    • Animals definitely fits. My favorite Floyd album. I actually heard my local, usually crappy, classic rock station play all 17 min. of “Dogs” the other day and I couldn’t believe it. I assume the DJ was fired the next day.

      • Anyone who doubts Pink Floyd just needs to listen to Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Meddle, then slowly move into the more popular stuff. I’m not a huge Pink Floyd fan, but those are the albums that most indie-types like the most, so that’s just a suggestion.

        • Anyone who doubts Pink Floyd is a great band should either stop judging them based on hearing two-minute snippets of ‘Money’ and/or ‘Young Lust’ while flipping through radio station presets or they should go see an audiologist.

  17. Dude, Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods…c’mon!

  18. You wrote Bryan Eno, it should be Brian Eno. What a shame there’s no category in Shut Up, Dude for ‘Most pointless, tedious correction’.

  19. Sugar Ray – 14:59
    Sugar Ray – Music for Cougars

    • I had the great fortune of seeing Sugar Ray live a couple years ago (long story). No joke, a portion of their set consisted of their “DJ” playing hit songs (I recall Crazy Train, Smells Like Teen Spirit, and Sweet Child O’ Mine) and Mark McGrath just singing along with them, while the rest of the band just stood there.

      They weren’t even karaoke versions!

    • WTF, i get thumbed-down out of existence for saying Green Day, but Sugar Ray gets a pass here? Yeesh.

      • Have you ever heard of “irony”? And just to be clear, no matter if it’s a so-called masterpiece or not (in my opinion, it is not at all), American Idiot was NOT released 10 years after their debut album. It was Warning (certainly no opus magnum as well). Blessed are the ignorant.

  20. Ahh Animal Collective was so close!
    STGSTV -2000
    Merriweather Post Pavilion – 2009

  21. I love David Bowie’s Low. So good.

  22. According to wikipedia Bright Eyes formed in 1995 so I’d consider 2005′s “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning”

  23. Blur apparently played their first show in 1989, so Blur’s 13 would make my list (my personal favorite Blur album).

  24. Should I feel annoyed/bewildered at the absence of solo female acts here?
    Good feature though.

  25. I know they’re very unhip calls, but :

    Heaven and Hell by Black Sabbath
    Saturday Night Fever by The Bee-Gee’s.

    • Heaven and Hell completely revitalized Black Sabbath, which was dying a slow death by the time Ozzy left the band, so I think it’s worthy.

      Saturday Night Fever has merit too. As far as being a well-constructed piece of pop culture that represents its time and place, it’s hard to beat.

      • Fever was not The Bee Gees’ reinvention – that was “Mr Natural” – but I can’t think of a single act that ever had this tremendous a success 10 years into their career.

        Paired with The Clash, that album is about the best way to define 1977.

  26. I’m sure Sir Trent Reznor is writing a complaint letter about Bowie’s Low not being # 1.

    This feature points out just how a band like the Beatles were able to release 11 solid albums in under 10 years. But I’m sure that’s another feature all in itself.

  27. Nice list of artists and bands, but you can not have a top ten list of classic albums without listing Prince and his “Purple Rain”. There are several other albums he has that defined music in their release years and beyond, like “Sign o’ the Times”. I just saw him perform at 50 years of age in North Charleston, SC and he was amazing still. He is better now at singing and playing guitar, so he should be listed here as one of the best. And yes, he is still releasing music his way today! :)

  28. Of Montreal – Cherry Peel (1997)
    Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (1997)

    Both pretty fantastic albums.

  29. Technically, David Bowie’s first single came out in 1964, so would Low really count “10 years into his career”?

  30. Thought for sure I had a few, but Elvis Costello’s “King of America”, Ministry’s “Psalm 69″, and Depeche Mode “Violator” are both 9th-year records.

    “Frank Black and the Catholics” was 10 years after “Surfer Rosa,” for what it’s worth.

  31. “I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One” misses by a year; that was my first thought when I saw this list.

  32. Also, I believe Kraftwerk’s “Computer World” would qualify

  33. Charles Mingus!

    According to Wikipedia, Mingus’ first album as bandleader was released in 1949, which corresponds nicely to his unreal 1959 output of Blues & Roots, Mingus Ah Um, and Mingus Dynasty.

  34. It might be a bit too recent, but I think Hissing Fauna, Are you the Destroyer? would be good for this list

  35. this helped my team win bar trivia last night!

  36. God I love Low. oh and Happy Birthday to David Bowie(tomorrow)!!!

  37. i’m not pulling up the dates..but i think flaming lips could have something in there, or maybe more years actually. what am i saying, i’m totally wrong. HI!!

  38. Check Your Head is not the most important Beastie’s record (that would be Paul’s), but it’s definitely their best.

  39. Underworld’s Beaucoup Fish?

  40. This is a good list. However, if you are going to count Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson’s earliest teenage/pre-teen work, it’s worth pointing out that Bjork recorded an album when she was about 11 years old, thus qualifying her entire solo career for this list, including, of course, Post. Also, as cited above, Animals and The Wall qualify and are pretty damn good.

    • The list is supposed to be composed of albums that were released precisely during the 10th calendar year after the artist’s first release. So Bjork’s whole solo catalog would not qualify. If she released an album around age 21, then that might qualify.

    • Her first solo album was in 1977, and the first Sugarcubes came out in early ’88. So close.

  41. Ryan Adams, 2005: any or all of Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights, and 29.

    (Whiskeytown’s Faithless Street came out in 1995).

  42. like i’m glad some of the albums you mentioned aren’t on this list because everyone on this list is dead, broken up or washed the fuck up; but still classic. whats going on, talking book and automatic for the people…yum

  43. Why does it have to be 10 years? U2′s Actung Baby came out 11 years after Boy and it redefined the band and the decade.

  44. Ghosts of the Great Highway, Fishscale and A Ghost is Born. Pretty much any album having to do with ghosts.

  45. Boredoms, with “Osorezan no Stooges Kyo” (1988) —> “Super Ae’ (1998)

    Though I don’t know if you would consider them to be “classic” albums…

  46. Wow great list. Time to listen to Swordfishtrombones!

  47. Destroyer’s Rubies

  48. it’s no good to judge solo artists as bands in this category particularly – a solo career allows an artist to move in whatever direction they want with complete creative control. in a band situation after so much time people grow in different directions making creative conflict. sooo a band that stays strong after 10 years is more noteworthy for longevity.

  49. Flaming Lips- Soft Bulletin
    A criminal omission.

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