Top Ten Thursday: Best Solo Careers

Han Solo, solo career

After dropping our Review Royale of the new Justin Timberlake album this week, we thought it would be a good idea to tackle artists that have gone solo for our list this week.  We already broke down the best albums released by an artist after going solo in honor of Jack White releasing his first solo record.  So we thought, “Why not just look at solo artists career as a whole, after leaving their band/group.”  Easy enough to find plenty to pick from, but exceedingly difficult to pick just ten for this particular list.  We had to axe a couple that simply didn’t have enough solo material to justify putting them above more established solo musicians (Dan Auerbach and Jack White).  We just can’t be sure which direction people with just one solo album will go.  Back to the band or keep going on their own.  Either way, there were some very tough cuts, but we think we came away with a list worthy of your attention.  Enjoy, and let us know who we missed, left off, or shouldn’t have included at all.

10. Justin Timberlake


Following the “hiatus” of ‘N Sync in 2002, JT quickly released his solo debut Justified.  I know of at least a few sophomores and juniors in high school who couldn’t resist the former boy-bander’s cool pop sound.  Little did we all know, Justified would serve as merely a bridge to even more progressive and layered pop sounds.  FutureSex/LoveSounds and The 20/20 Experience have done more than show off JT’s love of the backslash, affirming Timberlake as pop icon.

9. Van Morrison

van morrison

While Todd may view Van Morrison as the key to a woman’s heart, I view  him as a lounge act that rose a little too far and fast.  That being said, Morrison went on to make some very pretty, well-orchestrated music post-Them.  To cap it all off, he also holds one of the most iconic pop songs of all time, “Brown Eyed Girl”, and many well-received albums to his name.

8. Lou Reed

lou reed

Listening to Velvet Underground for the first time for me was like listening to a more honest, open Rolling Stones.  Listening to Lou Reed’s solo material after Velvet Underground is like listening to Velvet Underground had no one been there to reign Reed in.  Which is exactly what his solo material is.  With two great solo albums, and other quality work interspersed, Lou Reed was a shoe-in for this list.

7. Ice Cube

ice cube 2

The argument can be made for plenty of hip-hop artists to make the list.  Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, RZA, GZA, and Method Man have all had notable runs post-WuTang.  Wyclef has been pretty consistently good to great.  Dr Dre has had to iconic albums.  But really, when looking at the body of work, no rapper has been as prolific with as much quality work as Ice Cube.  Sure, the quality and quantity has ceased, but he had a run of six straight good to great records immediately following N.W.A.

6. Peter Gabriel

peter gabriel

Gabriel may not be “experimental” on the same level as a David Byrne, but he is pretty damn close, as shown by his work in Genesis, the state of the band after he left, and his solo work after.  Not every musician has been asked to do the soundtrack for Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ and won a Grammy in the category of “Best New Age Performance” for said work.  Yes, Peter Gabriel is cut from a different cloth.

5. John Lennon

john lennon

Unsurprisingly, John Lennon had no trouble parlaying his success with The Beatles into a formidable solo career, which was clearly cut much to short by his murder.  Who knows the wonderful and weird things Lennon could have gone on to do if he was able to live out his natural life. Nevertheless, 10 years of solo career was more than enough to get Lennon to number five on our list.

4. Paul Simon

paul simon

With his peerless voice and knack for songwriting, Paul Simon had no problem continuing his success solo after his split with Art Garfunkel.  Highlighted by his self-titled 1972 album and Graceland, there is an unbelievably strong body of work for the past 30+ years, with rarely a let-down.  Paul Simon may not often fall off the tip of people’s tongues when the category of musical titans is mentioned, but it certainly should.

3. George Harrison

george harrison

George Harrison is the most popular pick for the question “Who is your favorite Beatle?” for two reasons.  First, people like some level of modesty, which you just don’t get with Lennon or McCartney.  And second, he has the higher high (All Things Must Pass) when it comes to solo offerings.  That’s all it took for us to bump George ahead of Lennon on this list.

2. Michael Jackson

michael jackson, solo

After Dangerous, everything MJ released started to sound pretty forced and lifeless.  But that stretch of releases leading up to Dangerous, was the epitome of energy and life in pop music.  The hits are bigger than everyone else on this list, unfortunately the track record is not as long as many, and this is one case where the end of a career can not be attributed solely to death.  All that said, MJ was awesome…for a time.

1. Neil Young

neil young

After Young left Buffalo Springfield, he went on a run of albums during the 70’s that I am certain will never be matched either in the prolific nature of the releases or the quality.  Of the ten albums released in the 70’s, we would maybe consider one or two average at worst, with the rest well above average.  After the seventies it has been a mixed bag for old Uncle Neil, but there has been enough good to even out the bad, and Young has certainly not let himself go stale.

Just Missed
Todd: Joe Strummer

strummer 2

Joe Strummer, with and without The Clash, was certainly one of the most influential musical figures of his time.  But, beyond Streetcore, there is just not a lot of meat on his solo career.  I guess that’s what makes this pick a “just missed”.

Wes: Curtis Mayfield

curtis mayfield

Wes has been on an outrageous Curtis Mayfield kick as of late.  It seems like he finds a reason to throw Mayfield’s name out there, no matter what the particular weekly slant of our list is.  Best Artists of the 70’s…Wes says Curtis Mayfield.  Best Motown Artists…Wes says Curtis Mayfield.  Best White 90’s Guitar Players…Wes still throws his Curtis Mayfield hat in the ring.  We get it Wes.  You like Curtis Mayfield.

Austin: Joe Walsh

joe walsh

From the sound of his guitar to the themes of his music, you can almost always immediately recognize a Joe Walsh song.  For this reason people usually either love him or hate him.  But, I’ll give you a few more reasons to love Joe Walsh.  He is the only reason The Eagles were able to lower their douche levels just enough to maintain success for so long.  He is a crazy sarcastic dude.  And he looks like Shawn’s Dad from Boy Meets World.

Was Chet played by Joe Walsh?  You decide.
Was Chet played by Joe Walsh? You decide.

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