Editor’s Note: This list was originally released in 2012. With the release of new David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Keith Richards (Rolling Stones), and Chris Baio (Vampire Weekend) records, we thought we would revisit one of our favorite lists: our 10 favorite albums by artists that go solo.
In honor of one of our absolute favorites, Jack White, announcing the release of his first solo album Blunderbuss, we thought it might be fun to do a list of the finest solo records from people who reigned from well-known groups/bands. We decided on a couple guidelines for this category: the artist could not have had a solo career before the band (i.e. Panda Bear of Animal Collective), and it had to be a recognizable band (and not just some college garage band). We also decided it had to be a true solo project and not just a side project (i.e. McCartney in Wings, Jack White in fifty other bands not named the White Stripes).
Jazz rap trio A Tribe Called Quest was unmistakably one-of-a-kind in the early 90s, and Q-Tip no doubt led that charge. His debut solo album, Amplified is fast, calm, and nearly flawless, if it wasn’t for that horrendous Korn guestspot on “End of Times” (it was the late 90s after all).
9. Peter Gabriel-III
Gabriel and Phil Collins boxed it out for the token Genesis frontman-turned-80’s-pop-star on our list, but Gabriel’s pioneering and strength of catalog madeg him the clear choice. III is song for song his biggest knockout breeding a new kind of electro-pop.
8. John Lennon-Plastic Ono Band
When people of think of John Lennon sans The Beatles, people think of the “Imagine”, Yoko Ono, or his knack for giving peace a chance, but Lennon’s best work was Plastic Ono Band, a primal scream record where Lennon tackles his toughest demons and sounds brilliant doing it.
7. GZA-Liquid Swords
The greatest of the Wu-Tang solo efforts (with Ghostface Killah’s Fishscale being a close second), GZA showcases himself as the most intelligent, easy-flowing rhymer to come from the Clan. Liquid Swords is understated but as cool as the other side of the pillow.
6. Paul Simon-Paul Simon
Common sense would say Graceland is the obvious choice for this former half of Simon & Garfunkel, but we are the stubborn types. Paul Simon’s solo debut is about as pure and as perfect as a singer-songwriter album can be, breeding his first songs with world music influence (“Mother and Child Reunion”, “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard”) as well as his most poignant songwriting (“Duncan”, “Peace Like A River”) which is saying a lot.
5. Big Boi-Sir Luscious Left Foot
Our most recent entry on the list is no less worthy. The overshadowed member of Outkast releases a better album than I believe Andre 3000 ever could solo, with his rapping as funky and playful as it gets powered by some of the best rap production in recent memory.
4. Lou Reed-Transformer
Lou Reed is best known for being the lead of the highly influential Velvet Underground, but his solo album Transformer has become equally synonymous with Reed. “Walk On The Wild Side” is by far the best known and most amusing song on Transformer, but that fails to mention other greats like “Vicious”, “Perfect Day”, and “Satellite of Love”; all masterfully produced by the great DAVID BOWIE.
3. Neil Young-Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Neil got his start with psychedelic folksters Buffalo Springfield in the 60s and has spent the next 40 years as Canada’s greatest export, beside Terrence and Phillip. We could have put five or six different Neil albums on here as we all have our personal favorites, but we final settled on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere for hoisting some of Neil’s greatest songs in “Cowgirl In The Sand” and “Cinnamon Girl”.
2. George Harrison-All Things Must Pass
The least known Beatle released by far the best solo album of the fab four, a sprawling two disc spiritual retreat. There is an innate sense of peace that comes with listening to All Things Must Pass, which might make for much needed listening for the next U.N. Summit.
1. Michael Jackson-Thriller
One pop album to rule them all. The lead of Gary, Indiana’s finest, The Jackson Five, went on to become perhaps the greatest pop star of all time, with Thriller being his greatest achievement. One look at the track list, and it reads like a greatest hits of some of the most timeless pop songs of all time.
Few rappers tell as crazy and involved stories as Ghostface, and Fishscale highlights Ghost’s gift for storytelling. Fishscale is highly cinematic in scale, and as entertaining as a good action movie.
Wes- Lauryn Hill- The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
The former Fugee released only one solo album, but boy was it a doozy, garnering five Grammy’s and an instant classic neo-soul record. Not only can Hill sing with the best of them, but she was actually a super underrated rapper and producer as well.
Todd-Thom Yorke-The Eraser
The bug-eyed, alien-voiced lead singer of Radiohead released an excellent, moody electronic album in The Eraser. Todd and I saw him perform the album live at Coachella 2010 with Jay-Z and Beyonce as well, who sat on the soundstage five feet behind us, pre-Blue Ivy.
So there is the list. Let us know what we unforgivably missed, or got right, but still feel free to just rip on us in general.