Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Feature: Highly Influential Artists with Incredibly Sparse Catalogs

Leaving behind a legacy is a tricky thing. Plenty of bands have risen to legendary status by releasing an insane amount of great music in very short periods of time. I've alway been sort of perplexed by how many albums The Beatles delivered throughout their relatively short existence. And then there are bands that have released every single thought that comes to mind, such as Sonic Youth and Guided By Voices, whose legacies are attributed to their output being so ridiculously abundant. But every now and then a band releases one or two albums and then disappears, only to watch their legacy grow far beyond what some of their more prolific peers could ever have achieved.

So here is a list of seven bands who have become extremely influential despite having a very small body of work. My only criteria for choosing artists for this were that they only released less than three studio albums and have had a remarkable influence on music that followed them.

7) Minor Threat
Years active: 1980-1981 / 1982-1983
Sole studio album: Out of Step (1983) / EPs: 3

For a long time the only CD you could get of legendary hardcore punk band Minor Threat was titled Complete Discography. It contained 26 songs from their various short-form releases, including their sole studio album Out of Step, and clocked in at a lengthy 47 minutes. Though it wasn't actually a compilation of every song they released, it's pretty much all you had to listen to to understand why they've been so often mentioned in the decades since their breakup. Every hardcore band that has followed since their demise owe at least a little bit of their sound to Minor Threat, not to mention the ideology they so strictly followed throughout their three year existence. Sometimes the legacy a band leaves behind is culmination of their music and the scene they created, and it's hard to find a better example of that than Minor Threat.

6) Sex Pistols

Years active: 1975-1978
Sole studio album: Nevermind the Bollocks... Here's the Sex Pistols (1977) / Compilations: a shit load

The Sex Pistols are easily one of the most recognizable bands in rock--not only for their sound, but for their iconic image which made them poster boys of the 1977 punk movement--pretty much the only year they actually existed. Though their legacy can easily be credited to the amount of controversy they caused in that single year, the one studio album they released, Nevermind The Bullocks, Here's The Sex Pistols (which bassist Sid Vicious is not even featured on) is still a great fucking album. I'm not so sure they would have left behind such a legacy had Sid not been a heroin-addicted suspected murderer at the time of his death in early 1979, but whatever success they achieved was well deserved.

5) The Vaselines
Years active: 1986-1990 / 2008-present
Studio albums: Dum-Dum (1989), Sex with an X (2010) / EPs: 2 / Compliations: 2

A lot of people's introduction to Scottish indie/punk band The Vaselines came from Kurt Cobain never shutting the hell up about them. You can't really blame him. The Vaselines wrote some extremely great pop songs hidden under a bed of distortion and overdrive, which would undoubtedly influence a plethora of bands--many of them male/female duos as well. And the only way I ever remember listening to their music up until recently came in the form of a 55 minute compilation entitled The Way of the Vaselines: A Complete History, which compiled their one studio album Dum-Dum, two EPs and three additional tracks. That's only nineteen songs total. Not exactly a large body of work.

The Vaselines reformed in 2008 and released their very good second studio album Sex with an X in 2010 on Sub Pop. If you think you haven't heard them before, you probably have. Nirvana covered at least three of their songs, including "Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam" during their MTV Unplugged session.

4) Jeff Buckley
Years active: 1991-1997
Sole studio album: Grace (1994) / Compilations: 4

This one is unique (so far) in that the only reason Jeff Buckley has just one studio album to his name is because of his unfortunate accidental death at the age of 30. Had he lived, I'm certain his discography would have been lengthy and eclectic, for his debut and sole record Grace still holds up as classic of the era. Following his death, the demos and incomplete tracks for songs that would have made up his second album were released under the title Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk, produced by Nicholas Hill and Television's Tom Verlaine. Still, when all is said and done, Buckley only had a handful of songs to his credit, but remains one of rock's most legendary singers.

3) Joy Division
Years active: 1976-1980
Studio albums: Unknown Pleasures (1979), Closer (1980) / EPs: 3 / Compilations: 10 / Singles: 5

In 2012, it goes without saying that Joy Division would have been ridiculously huge had Ian Curtis not committed suicide on the eve of their first North American tour. It also goes without saying that 99% of the bands in Brooklyn today would not sound like they do had it not been for Joy Division. With only two studio albums in their catalog, they are easily one of the most influential bands of all time. Unknown Pleasures, the band's debut, holds up as a milestone of the post-punk era, while their excellent follow up Closer hints at the direction the remainder of the band would eventually move towards under the guise of New Order following Curtis' death.

A question I always find myself asking is, would Joy Division have gradually ended up sounding like New Order with Ian on vocals? It's probably a question better left unanswered.

2) The Germs
Years active: 1977-1980
Sole studio album: (GI) (1979) / EPs: 3 / Compilations: 2

Wrapping up on a trilogy of acts who ended tragically and prematurely, The Germs disbanded after lead singer Darby Crash committed suicide in 1980 at the age of 22. By that time, the Germs had already experienced a whirlwind rise and fall, becoming one of the most notorious Los Angeles punk bands and credited as one of the earliest traces of the hardcore genre that would become immensely popular in the '80s. But throughout their existence, only one studio album was released in 1979: (GI). An iconic album, both in its design and sound, (GI) holds up as a definitive document of the chaotic punk scene the Germs were so directly responsible for.

1) The Stone Roses
Years active: 1983-1996
Studio albums: 2 / Compilations: 6 / Singles: 15

If NME had their way, they would probably write about The Stone Roses every day. Actually, they pretty much already do. The band that is credited for having popularized the Madchester movement, and for opening the door to bands like BlurOasisThe Charlatans to follow in their footsteps, are often mentioned as one of the most influential groups of all time. I've yet to see a list of top albums of the 1980's without seeing their eponymous 1989 debut somewhere in the top 20. And for good reason -- it's a great record. But the fast success of the album led to them signing to a major label, which didn't please Silverstone (the independent label that had released The Stone Roses), and delayed the release of their second album Second Coming until 1994. By that time, internal conflicts and lineup changes led the band to break up shortly after the corresponding tour for the somewhat mediocre sophomore effort.

Flash forward to 2012 and The Stone Roses have reunited with plans of a massive world tour and talks of a third studio album. They could easily sell out Madison Square Garden... yet they only have two albums under their belt.

Did we leave out anyone? Of course we did. And it's probably really embarrassing. Let us know in the comments below.


  1. But no mention of the Spin Doctors???

  2. They've released five studio albums, the only thing disqualifying them from the list :)

  3. Describing the second Stone Roses LP as "somewhat mediocre" is the kindest thing anyone has ever said! Good piece, I shall do the necessary on my social media network.