The Most Insanely Prolific Artists in Music


This week sees the release of Ocean Roar, the new record by Phil Elverum, aka Mount Eerie. Apart from being a rather lovely record in its own right, Ocean Roar is notable for being the second Mount Eerie record of the year, following May’s similarly excellent Clear Moon. This makes Elverum one of 2012’s more prolific musicians, although not necessarily the most prolific, because a couple of the music world’s most famously productive musicians have also had busy years. You’ll find a rundown of these super-busy types, along with some of music’s most prolific artists, past and present, after the jump — as ever, feel free to jump in with further suggestions in the comments section.

Thee Oh Sees

First up, next week sees the release of Putrifiers II, the 13th studio album by Thee Oh Sees, who’ve released all that material in less than a decade and have averaged better than two albums a year since 2008. This is all the more impressive since they seem to basically never stop touring — god only knows when they actually sleep.

Robert Pollard/Guided by Voices

A couple of years back, The AV Club published a piece that discussed the fact that there are many modern bands who turn out a whole heap of music (it cited the startling example of Animal Collective being just as prolific as The Beatles). Curiously, the article didn’t even mention the gold standard for modern songwriting fecundity, namely Robert Pollard. Both solo and with Guided by Voices, Pollard’s output puts his contemporaries to shame — as of today, he has 1,576 compositions registered with Broadcast Music, Inc. He’s had a bumper 2012, too — he’s already released two Guided by Voices albums, as well as one solo album (and another due later this month).

Lil B

If anyone’s going to challenge Pollard on the sheer volume front, it may well be Brandon McCartney. According to McCartney himself, he’s only released one official album — Choices and Flowers, which dropped earlier this year — but barely a month goes by without a new Lil B mixtape. By our count, he’s put out 37 of them since September 2009. If he keeps up this pace, he’ll quite possibly end up as the most prolific songwriter in history. Now there‘s a thought to mull over.

Wesley Willis

Over 1,000 songs in the space of a decade, and a good chunk of them about sex with animals. Whether you think Willis was a misunderstood genius or his whole career was a distasteful modern day freak show is really up to you, but either way, we’ll surely never see his like again.

The Fall

Of course, there are some veterans who aren’t going to let these young(ish) whippersnappers put them in the shade as far as songwriting output goes. Amongst them is the permanently irascible Mark E. Smith of The Fall, who gets through albums almost as quickly as he gets through band members, and has averaged just under one studio album and one live album a year since 1979, not to mention a bunch of EPs and a veritable shitload of compilations.

John Zorn

Experimental manly man John Zorn has apparently appeared on over 400 recordings, including 52 of his own albums. We submit that if you can honestly say you’ve listened to all 52 John Zorn albums, you deserve one hell of a big gold star.

James Brown

They didn’t call him The Hardest Working Man in Show Business for nothing, y’know — like several artists on this list, Brown’s labyrinthine discography commands its own Wikipedia page, and even with such assistance it’s hard to keep track of the avalanche of records bearing his name.

Willie Nelson

Given his reputation for being music’s most prodigious stoner, it’s perhaps difficult to believe that Nelson’s also one of its hardest workers. But a quick look at his discography should disabuse you of any ideas about him sitting round getting baked all day — Nelson has released 66 studio albums (and ten live albums for good measure), as well as penning hits for plenty of other artists. Even his famously prolific country contemporary Johnny Cash didn’t manage that many (and Johnny never recorded a reggae album, either…)

Frank Zappa

And then, of course, there’s Zappa. Between 1966, when The Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out dropped, and his death in 1993, rock’s most idiosyncratic composer released a whopping 62 albums. Death hasn’t exactly slowed him down, either — in the 18 years since his demise, the Zappa Family Trust has released another 29 records, along with a bunch of compilations (which feature dubious delights like Zappa’s granddaughter singing over the backing track to “Wowie Zowie”).


And finally, a man who’s one of music’s most fascinating figures as well as one of its most prolific. It’s been 34 years since Jandek released his first record, and still no one really knows anything about him — he’s only ever given two interviews, didn’t play live until 2004, and even his real name has never officially been confirmed (although the general consensus is that he is one Sterling Richard Smith of Houston, Texas). As of 2012, he’s made 66 albums — and as if that’s not enough, one of the few things we do know about him is that he also apparently wrote seven novels before reinventing himself as Jandek.