Classic Rock

10 Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Who Never Topped Their First Album

I was watching the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony the other day. I usually don't watch a lot of made-for-TV rock and roll stuff, mainly because they try to be everything to everybody, but I couldn't resist tuning in to watch the RRHOF rectify the biggest of many head-shaking omissions from the list of inductees: Rush.

Being a Rush fan, I had to get that out of the way. But that's not the subject of this post (I'm pretty sure this isn't the way my Comp 101 teacher told me to set things up, but what the fuck). The subject is: 10 Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Who Never Topped Their Debut Album. (There ya go, teach.) Now let's talk about it.

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Disclaimer: Before I begin listing, let's get this out of the way: Each of these artists (except perhaps G n' R) had more than one good album -- they are in the Hall of Fame, after all -- just nothing that topped their amazing opening effort.

10. Heart, Dreamboat Annie

To be clear, it wasn't even Rush that got me to thinking about this subject -- Rush's debut was good, but nowhere near the quality of their mid- to late-'70s albums -- it was Heart, one of the other 2013 inductees.

When I tuned in, Heart was ripping through "Crazy on You" from their debut album, Dreamboat Annie, one of my very first LPs. While I marveled at how Ann Wilson could still sing so well after all these years, I thought about how many times I'd listened to the album in 35 years -- often, during those early years, while staring at the two beautiful rockers on the cover -- and how it still holds up to this day.

And I thought, "Wow, they never did top that debut album."

Then I thought, "I wonder how many other Rock and Roll Hall of Famers would fit that statement?"

Since I get paid to wonder about this kind of shit -- not very much, but I do get paid -- I figured I'd do a little "Record Store Geek research" (For similar research see: Study Shows Kids Today Are Musically Spoiled) on the subject. My corporate overlords on "Up on the Sun" love lists, so I figured I would just keep going and write one up for you. So let's keep going . . .

9. Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Crosby, Stills, and Nash

These three dudes made some amazing music together, apart, and with other bands. Their other groups (all three are in the RRHOF with other bands) and their solo albums (tough to say whether Graham's or Stephen's would be on top -- they're all phenomenal) would each make a hell of a list on their own. But nothing ever came close to the breathtaking opener. No. Not even CSNY's Déjà Vu.

8. Van Halen, Van Halen

This album is Desert Island level for me, and VH is one of my all-time faves (I'll still listen to every David Lee Roth album except 1984). Van Halen II is mostly vicious, although it cheeses out on "Dance the Night Away." Fair Warning triumphantly signaled the return of Eddie's attack mode (from the uneven Women and Children First). But both of them combined don't match our savage, yet melodic, introduction to these L.A. party boys.

7. Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton

I like the Derek and the Dominoes album the best of all Clapton's work. The John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers album is awesome as well. But when it comes to his solo stuff, the easy choice is Eric Clapton. In fact, Clapton's studio stuff went downhill after . . . and never came close. Lots of good songs, and a couple of decent albums like 461 Ocean Boulevard, but the first one, and its stellar cast of musicians (including his most of his Delaney & Bonnie/Domino mates), still reigns.

6. George Harrison, All Things Must Pass Clapton's best buddy (and my same-birthday mate!). You might have heard of him. He wrote a truckload of great Beatles songs, but thanks to the "two songs for George" rule, he still had enough for the inspirational triple album, All Things Must Pass once he went out on his own.

Sometimes you just write something that can't be beat. This was one of those times.

5. Elvis Costello, My Aim Is True

This was a tough one. I actually think I still like Armed Forces better -- probably because it was first Costello album I ever heard -- and he wrote some other masterpieces as well. But ever since I started listening to My Aim Is True it has been climbing my "most-played Costello" list, so I'll go with it.

4. Patti Smith, Horses I'm not an authority on Patti, but I really loved Horses when I finally heard it -- so much so that I went out and bought Easter and Radio Ethiopia. I usually don't trust an artist's later catalog, and neither of those albums have hit me like Horses, so I think I still have this one right.

3. Pretenders, Pretenders Another tough one. I probably listen to Learning to Crawl more often, and the follow-up is really good, too. Is Learning to Crawl better than Pretenders? Maybe, but we're gonna run with the hot, brash young Chrissie and her mostly (two out of three) soon-to-be dead band mates, and the punkish-new wave sound of their debut. My kind of "Precious."

2. The Doors, The Doors Holy treading on to hallowed ground, Batman. Doors fans are a passionate bunch (as this hilarious Kids in the Hall video illustrates), and somewhere out there is a Morrison Hotel or L.A. Woman fan that's freaking out. You know what, boys and girls? I still have to go with the groundbreaking sound of their first record. Put on the headphones and listen to it right now. Almost 50 years later, it will still blow you away.

1. Guns N' Roses, Appetite for Destruction This one is even easier than Patti Smith. As far as I'm concerned, this album is so good -- so fucking ferocious -- that it got this band into the RRHOF all by itself. Beyond it, and even with it, I'm not sure the band even did enough to get it in (my opinion is they shouldn't be there). But wow, what an album! Every time I put it on -- which is still quite a bit -- it still sounds like it just came out. Beautifully vicious.

Steve Wiley is Up on the Sun's resident Record Store Geek and Jackalope Ranch's Parent Hood. Thanks for reading.

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Steve Wiley
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