Being as we’re shameless music geeks here at Flavorpill, we occasionally get to discussing shamelessly music geeky topics. Like, for instance, this one: great bands who’ve only made one album. The history of music is littered with bands and artists who, for whatever reason, never got beyond a single memorable record (and we’re not counting live albums or compilations here.) Some of these bands broke up, some of them were sundered by death or tragedy, and some simply went onto other things. But in every case, we’re left wondering what might have been had they got a chance to make a follow-up. After the jump, we’ve listed ten artists we’d have loved to have heard from again — what are yours?
X-Ray Spex — Germ Free Adolescents (1978)
They’re best known for their gloriously bratty debut single “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!,” but X-Ray Spex’s only album (which, curiously, didn’t include that song) was pretty much all gold. It married the sadly departed Poly Styrene’s cheerful screeching to a raucous and ramshackle soundtrack of clattering drums, guitars and Lora Logic’s saxophone. The band broke up when Styrene went off to be a Hare Krishna in 1979, leaving only this album to remember them by. Proudly unconventional and full of a wide-eyed sense of possibility, Germ Free Adolescents embodied everything that was great about punk.
The Germs — (GI) (1979)
There’s a distinct punk flavor to this list, perhaps because the whole mad whirl of craziness that surrounded the genre’s glory days didn’t allow for any great interest in anything as tedious or grown-up as career longevity. Still, the story of The Germs is particularly sad — they’d already more or less dissolved by the time singer Darby Crash committed suicide in December 1980, and their sole studio album remains as both a document of the rabid energy of early LA punk and a sad testament to the streak of nihilism that ran through the scene.
The Avalanches — Since I Left You (2000)
Assembled from over 3,000 vinyl samples, Since I Left You was a startlingly original and engaging debut record. Its long-rumored follow-up, however, has become the Chinese Democracy of sample-based electronic collage — the latest ETA, according to The Avalanches’ record label in Australia, is “some time this year.” Until it finally arrives, The Avalanches will remain firmly on the “one great album then nothing” list.
The La’s — The La’s (1990)
One all-time classic song (the timeless “There She Goes”), one hugely promising debut album, and then… nothing. The stories about The La’s fair outnumber the facts these days — the consensus seems to be that singer and songwriter Lee Mavers’ incessant perfectionism, and possibly his appetite for heroin, undermined any chance his band had at success. Mavers had several attempts are recording his band’s debut, and still apparently hated the result — since then, he’s pretty much disappeared, creating both an enduring myth and an enduring sense of disappointment that a band who could have been one of the greats have instead ended up as just another bunch of might-have-beens.
Lauryn Hill — The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
Only Lauryn Hill really knows what goes on in Lauryn Hill’s head, but whatever the reasons behind her long absence from the world of music, we’re all poorer for it. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was one of the great debuts of the 1990s, laying the way for the neo-soul revival that gathered pace in the decade to come, and marking Hill as by far the most talented of the Fugees. Since then, however, she’s largely disappeared — part of this, of course, is because she’s had six children, but there’s also been battles with her record company, a shadowy “spiritual advisor,” bewildering public appearances, and an underwhelming live album. Still, rumors continue that she’s writing new material that will one day get released. Fingers crossed, and all that.
The Monks — Black Monk Time (1966)
One of the great lost bands of the 1960s, The Monks formed in Germany in 1964. Its members were US servicemen stationed in Hamburg, and after they left the army, they took the name they’d chosen for their band to extremes — they dressed in cassocks, shaved their heads into tonsures, and also took to wearing nooses around their necks. They recorded their one and only studio album, Black Monk Time, in 1966, and it’s a pretty amazing record — the music contained therein is powerful and remarkably raw, sounding for all the world like the sort of garage punk The Stooges would be making a couple of years later. In his fantastic book Krautrocksampler, Julian Cope suggests Black Monk Time‘s sound remained so raw and visceral because it was recorded in Germany: “They wrote songs that would have been horribly mutilated by arrangers and producers had they been back in America. But there was no need for them to clean up their act, as the Beatles and others had had to do on returning home.” Whatever the case, they went their separate ways soon after its release, and although they reunited in 1999, they’ve never made another studio album.
Josef K — The Only Fun in Town (1981)
Named, as any Kafka fan will tell you, after the doomed protagonist of The Trial, Scottish post-punk quartet Josef K’s career was almost as torturous as that of their namesake. Admittedly, they didn’t help themselves a great deal — Arista tried to sign the band in the early stages of their career, but singer Paul Haig tore up the contract because he “[wasn’t] even sure we wanted to release records.” Eventually, they did make an album, although they deemed their first attempt at it “flat and disinfected,” and so re-recorded the songs, trying to “make an almost unlistenable record with the vocals mixed down really low.” They succeeded, and broke up not long afterward. These days, their influence is felt in any band purveying dance-punk, and particularly Franz Ferdinand, who are pretty much a 21st-century reincarnation of Josef K. Haig is admirably sanguine about the fact that Franz have gone onto such success: “If they tried to hide their references maybe I would be upset,” he told an interviewer in 2006, “but from the outset they acknowledged them, so it’s fine.”
Death From Above 1979 — You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine (2004)
With the band’s recent reformation, this might be one to cross off the list soon, but for now, DFA1979’s coruscating 2004 debut remains their only studio effort. It’s largely remembered for two belting singles — “Romantic Rights” and “Black History Month” — but it’s a great record throughout, a scabrous document of angry, damaged relationships.
Wolfgang Riechmann — Wunderbar (1978)
We’re huge fans of the wealth of strange, amazing music that was made in Germany during the 1970s, and we’re also fans of Hamburg label Bureau B, which seems to specialize in unearthing obscurities from this period. A couple of years back, they exhumed the one and only record by Wolfgang Riechmann, who apparently worked with luminaries like Neu!’s Michael Rother and Kraftwerk for years prior to making his debut solo album. Sadly, he was stabbed to death by a burglar three weeks after it was released in 1978. His work has largely been forgotten since, which is a shame, because Wunderbar thoroughly deserves its name — it’s a series of six spaced-out proto-Blade Runner atmospheric synth pieces (of which the title track, above, is by far the most upbeat), reminiscent of Tangerine Dream and the beginning of what should have been a productive solo career.
The Sex Pistols — Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols (1977)
The Sex Pistols barely lasted one album before sinking under the weight of their own misanthropy and Sid Vicious’s disastrous heroin addiction. Ever feel like you’ve been cheated? Perhaps, but then again, the sight of the surviving Pistols reuniting for Filthy Lucre and grinding out their songs as middle-aged men was thoroughly depressing — perhaps some things are best left alone.