With the posthumous release this week of Jimi Hendrix’s People, Hell and Angels, which admittedly none of us has really dug into yet, we decided to explore the strange wonderful world of albums released after an artist’s death. Most of these artists died untimely deaths, but the albums on this list range from those completed (or nearly completed) while the artist was still alive to those compiled from unreleased catalogs years after. These albums also vary between solo artists dying to just a singular (but irreplaceable) member of a band dying. For our purposes, we decided to leave out live albums, because that would be opening an entire barrel of monkeys that we simply didn’t want to deal with. Enjoy, and as always let us know what we excluded, missed, or exactly how stupid we are.
10. Johnny Cash – American V: A Hundred Highways
V may not be the finest of Johnny Cash’s American recordings, but it is still a fine album by the greatest country artist of all time. Cash also holds the distinction as the only member of this list who lived his life to natural completion. Highlights include “Four Strong Winds”, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”, and “Help Me”.
9. Led Zeppelin – Coda
There are very few drummers who managed to have the effect on their outfit than John Bonham. There are even few drummers, that if they died, would also subsequently end a band as great as Led Zeppelin. But Bonham is that great, and the rest of the crew decided to go their separate ways without him. Surprisingly they have stuck to that, but at least they left the underrated Coda as a lasting memory of the “Zep”.
8. Elliott Smith – New Moon
Some people may call the recordings of Elliott Smith slight, until they eventually catch on to all the vocal and instrumental layers present in his music. This theme continued after Smith’s death on New Moon, his double LP compiled from tracks left off his self-titled album and Either/Or. Listen and feel the pain of a truly talented individual.
7. Otis Redding – Dock of the Bay
After recording his final album, Redding died in a plane crash. Dock of the Bay would turn out to be his greatest artistic achievement, straying from the strict R&B sound he had become known for. One can only wonder where Redding would have ventured if he had continued to push the limits.
6. Tupac – Makaveli
What would take most artists months took Tupac three days to write and record. Thus is the genius of this hip-hop icon, and Tupac certainly had much more left in the tank if it wasn’t for his untimely death. Highlights include “Hail Mary” and “Toss it Up”
5. Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death
While Makaveli may be lacking a little of Tupac’s post-production finger-print, Life After Death is all Biggie. From the playful beats to the hard-hitting lyrics, Life After Death just falls short of Notorious’ debut, but that is no crime. It is still typically a toss-up between the two when I want to throw on some Poppa.
4. Sublime – Sublime
Sublime was all but finished recording their self-titled smash when a heroin addiction tragically kicked lead-man Bradley Nowell. Sublime was the commercial success everyone was waiting for, and the culmination of what may be the most “fun” band of the 90’s. Unfortunately, this was to be their last album, but at least we were left with the party album of all party albums and a lot of fun along the way.
3. Jimi Hendrix – The Cry of Love
There have been a slew of posthumous Jimi Hendrix releases, but we choose The Cry of Love as the finest. Built from material meant for Hendrix’ follow-up to Electric Ladyland, The Cry of Love features Hendrix staples such as “Freedom” and “My Friend”.
2. The Allman Brothers Band – Eat a Peach
Duane Allman, who died in a motorcycle accident after recording only four tracks for Eat a Peach, but those four tracks alone are enough to push the album to number two on our list. “Little Martha” and “Blue Sky” still hold up as some of the greatest Allman Brothers tracks to date.
1. Joy Division – Closer
If you are ever feeling angsty, dark, or in imminent danger of hurting yourself, don’t put on Joy Division’s Closer to lighten your mood. Released two months after lead singer Ian Curtis’ suicide, Closer is a staple of art-rock, the original emo, and a messy bucket of pure emotion. Don’t miss it.
Todd: Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros – Streetcore
Joe Strummer died during the recording of his third album with The Mescaleros and the albums was finished and released nearly a year after the fact. It marked Joe’s return to more of a Clash rooted sound than his previous two albums with the band. It has everything from high energy rip-chord moments, to a stripped down cover of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”, to more of the punk dub that The Clash was so accustomed to. It’s diverse, and its raw, and it’s a brilliant last effort from Joe.
Wes: Janis Joplin – Pearl
Not many of the albums on this list find the artist at the very height of their artistic abilities. Pearl finds Joplin in just that sweet spot and is the go-to album for anyone who wants to get a dose of Janet.
Austin: Blind Melon – Nico
Shannon Hoon is a forgotten American treasure, and Nico exists to remind everyone of just that fact. Steppenwolf cover “The Pusher”, “St. Andrews Hall”, and “Soup” are great examples of how great Blind Melon could be.