Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
I had so much fun revisiting some of my favorite one-album artists in the 5-part (so far) ONE AND DONE series that I couldn’t resist highlighting those artists who managed to release two albums before closing up shop. I didn’t want to make this another multi-part series so I’ve decided to use this post to shine a spotlight on six key TWO AND THROUGH artists, with a sample from each album, and then provide a list of some others that are highly recommended to anyone who missed them during their brief existence.
Album #1 Title/Year Of Release: BELLYBUTTON (1990)
Album #2 Title/Year Of Release: SPILT MILK (1993)
For a brief period in the early-‘90s, Jellyfish was on the verge of stardom with a decent amount of exposure on MTV and late-night talk shows, as well as an enthusiastic & quickly-growing fan base, but they never broke through to the mainstream and within a few years it was over. This incredible melodic rock/power pop group was the brainchild of former Beatnik Beatch members Andy Sturmer (lead vocals & drums) and Roger Joseph Manning Jr. (keyboards & vocals). Each of their two albums has a distinct sound, with debut Bellybutton (featuring the talents of lead guitarist Jason Falkner) more straight-forward power-pop, along with slabs of light psychedelia and kitschy ‘70s references like the homage to The Partridge Family theme song in “Baby’s Coming Back,” while follow-up Spilt Milk has a broader musical palette, notably their fixation with Queen in those huge, multi-part harmonies, and baroque pop gems like “Russian Hill.” I was fortunate to see
Jellyfish on both of their tours and each was as different (and impressive) as their respective albums. The fact that Sturmer sang & played drums standing up at the front of the stage made for a unique concert experience, and their vocal interplay was among the best I’ve ever heard. I could rattle off key song titles but they’re all essential. The two that I’m highlighting here are excellent entry points for newcomers, but if you like instantly catchy melodies, inventive arrangements and tight harmonies, it doesn’t get much better than Jellyfish. Their influence has far outweighed their initial impact, with artists in many genres name-checking them over the last two decades. The fact that there’s a 4-CD box set devoted to them, as well as CDs of instrumental mixes and live performances, proves that this was no ordinary band.
Artist: DANNY WILSON
Album #1 Title/Year Of Release: MEET DANNY WILSON (1987)
Album #2 Title/Year Of Release: BEBOP MOPTOP (1989)
The first time I heard “Mary’s Prayer,” the debut hit single by Scottish band Danny Wilson, I fell in love with their slick, slightly jazzy pop sound and especially the lead vocals of frontman Gary Clark. A friend of mine who was also a fan rightly described them as a cross between Steely Dan and Burt Bacharach, with hints of lounge music as well in some of the drum & keyboard sounds they used on their debut album. The other tracks on Meet Danny Wilson are in a similar vein, at least sonically speaking, but they’re stylistically diverse and they certainly don’t deserve their one-hit-wonder status. On the debut alone there are at least five songs that could/should have been hits: “Davy,” “Nothing Ever Goes To Plan,” “Steamtrains To The Milky Way,” “A Girl I Used To Know” and album closer “I Won’t Be Here When You Get Home.” Sophomore album Bebop Moptop has a fuller and more organic sound, and it’s just as jam-packed with melodies as its predecessor. How the acoustic guitar-based stomper “The Second Summer Of Love” wasn’t at least a minor hit has baffled me for many years, and I don’t know how the trifecta of “I Can’t Wait,” “If Everything You Said Was True” and “Never Gonna Be The Same” managed to slip under the radars of radio programmers at the time. No Danny Wilson song had a bigger impact on me than “I Was Wrong.” Following an intentional scratchy-vinyl intro, its infectious harmonica refrain, bouncy rhythm and apologetic lyrics should have made this a massive hit. Instead the band split up following the album’s commercial failure, with Clark going on to record several albums before striking gold as a songwriter & musical collaborator for other artists. I still play both Danny Wilson albums frequently, and although they make me nostalgic for that era they never sound dated to me. That may not be the case, however, if you’re hearing them for the first time, but hopefully you’ll appreciate the quality of the songs.
Artist: TRAVELING WILBURYS
Album #1 Title/Year Of Release: VOL. 1 (1988)
Album #2 Title/Year Of Release: VOL. 3 (1990)
I don’t think there are many people from my generation who aren’t familiar with Traveling Wilburys, the pseudonymous collaboration between George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison (who sadly passed away shortly after the debut album was released), but I often wonder if younger fans of those individual artists are even aware of this supergroup and, if so, whether or not they take it seriously. Their first single, “Handle With Care,” showcased all of their distinct vocals, both individually & collectively, but most importantly you could hear how much fun the quintet (along with drummer Jim Keltner) was having in the studio. This sense of frivolity continued throughout their debut album, and it’s hard not to smile when you listen to the bouncy “Last Night,” Dylan’s homage to Bruce Springsteen, “Tweeter And The Monkey Man,” Orbison’s ageless soaring vocals on “Not Alone Anymore” and the infectious album closer, “End Of The Line.” There are few albums I can think of that are as full of pure joy as this one. The follow-up (cleverly titled Vol. 3) was a trickier beast, lacking the looseness of the debut along with one key Wilbury. The loss of Orbison hangs heavy over this album, so even though there are plenty of enjoyable & catchy songs (“Inside Out,” “The Devil’s Been Busy,” “7 Deadly Sins” and “New Blue Moon”), the lack of spontaneity keeps it from ever reaching the heights they achieved on Vol. 1. The addition of hard rock & blues guitar giant Gary Moore on leadoff single “She’s My Baby” may have added some surprising punch to their sound but it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the album. I enjoy both Traveling Wilburys albums and consider them (especially the debut) as essential as just about anything else in the Harrison, Dylan, Petty, Lynne and Orbison discographies.
Album #1 Title/Year Of Release: GRINDERMAN (2007)
Album #2 Title/Year Of Release: GRINDERMAN 2 (2010)
One of the great musical joys I’ve experienced in the last decade was finally discovering the music of Nick Cave, the intense Australian one-time punk rocker who later added blues & jazz to his repertoire under the name Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. I was aware of him for many years but had no idea what he sounded like. Then an article in one of the U.K. music magazines I read each month (likely Mojo) struck a nerve and I knew I had to give him a listen. Within a year I owned his entire back catalog, and one of these days I’ll write a series here on that discography. His music has morphed over the years, and by the time I started listening to him his compositions were mostly based around the piano without ever losing the edge of his more aggressive earlier work. For the short-lived Grinderman project, Cave and three of his cohorts from The Bad Seeds became a growling, snarling, sneering and aggressive blues-rock band (with the emphasis on “rock”), and electric guitar became the focal point of their music. Both of the Grinderman albums could have been released as Bad Seeds records since their earliest work had a similar raucous energy and his fans don’t have specific expectations about how the band should sound. Cave clearly felt that this was a separate entity, though, and they are quite a contrast from his more recent work. The debut features a number of instant classics like “No Pussy Blues,” “Depth Charge Ethel,” “(I Don’t Need You To) Set Me Free” and “Electric Alice.” The follow-up took a little while to grow on me, with melodies that aren’t quite as immediate but eventually work their way under your skin. “Worm Tamer,” “Evil” and “Palaces Of Montezuma” are three standouts. Cave announced that Grinderman was “over” shortly after the second album was released, but I can’t imagine that he won’t return to this project that allows him to consistently rock out like a man half his age.
Album #1 Title/Year Of Release: U.K. (1978)
Album #2 Title/Year Of Release: DANGER MONEY (1979)
It’s no secret that I love progressive rock. Before I even knew it was a subgenre I was a fan of 70s giants Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Genesis, Pink Floyd and King Crimson. In the ‘80s it was bands like Asia, Rush & Marillion, and from the ‘90s through today a prog renaissance has been taking place. There were a few eras, however, when “Prog” was considered a derogatory 4-letter-word, the first of these coming in the second half of the ‘70s when punk bands did everything in their power to topple the stadium-conquering dinosaurs, many of which were prog bands. The short-lived U.K. were the bridge between the mid-‘70s edition of King Crimson and the commercially successful Asia in 1982. Singer/bassist John Wetton & drummer Bill Bruford, both members of that Crimson lineup, teamed up with former Roxy Music/Frank Zappa violinist/synth player Eddie Jobson and jazz/fusion guitar god Allan Holdsworth to form U.K. Their self-titled debut has a dark, heavy, metallic (but not “metal”) feel, with icy synths & Bruford’s hollow-sounding drums warmed by Wetton’s powerful yet soothing vocals (which he would later bring to Asia). There are also elements of synth-pop artists like Gary Numan & Ultravox, but the odd time signatures and extended running times keep it firmly in prog territory. “In The Dead Of Night” is the ideal introduction to this album, but once that draws you in you’ll want/need to hear the rest of this brilliant record that really has no contemporaries. Holdsworth & Bruford were gone for follow-up Danger Money, which found U.K. reimagined as a guitar-free three-piece with Zappa (and future Missing Persons) drummer Terry Bozzio now on board. I always enjoyed this record but it’s not in the same league as the debut. They stretch themselves with the 12-minute “Carrying No Cross,” and the moody “Rendezvous 6:02” is one of my favorite Wetton vocal performances, but there’s also a pop element here, most notably on the proto-Asia song “Nothing To Lose.” They followed this with a live album before splitting up for other musical adventures. I’ve met a lot of fellow prog fans who love U.K., but I have a feeling they’ve been overlooked by many potential fans simply because they existed at a time when prog was at a commercial & critical low point. They should certainly be mentioned in any conversations about the greatest progressive rock acts of all time.
Album #1 Title/Year Of Release: CPR (1998)
Album #2 Title/Year Of Release: JUST LIKE GRAVITY (2001)
David Crosby has always been undervalued by anyone other than devoted fans of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (and various permutations of that group), The Byrds and his sporadic solo career. To comedians he’s the walrus-mustached, drug-addicted, long-haired hippie punchline who also happens to be one of the greatest singers of his generation & beyond, whether singing his own songs or providing the perfect harmony lines for his collaborators. The aptly-named CPR is as perfect a showcase for his talents as anything he’s ever been part of, and there’s an interesting back-story behind their formation. When Crosby was seeking a liver transplant in the mid-‘90s he reconnected with the son he had given up for adoption three decades earlier, James Raymond, who happened to be a talented singer/songwriter/keyboard player. The pair started collaborating on songs with noted session guitarist Jeff Pevar, resulting in their stellar self-titled debut album. Sounding like a modern version of Steely Dan’s studio-bound releases from the latter half of the ‘70s, Crosby’s voice belies his age and medical history, and the three vocalists intertwine like they’ve been singing together since childhood. If I have any complaints about the album it’s the 55-minute running time, as the impact diminishes by the end of the record, but that’s never taken away from my overall enjoyment. Album opener “Morrison” is the ideal place to start with CPR. If the song doesn’t touch you then you probably won’t like the rest, but for everyone else there are plenty more gems to explore. Following an excellent 2-CD live album, the group released one more studio album before calling it quits, although Raymond & Crosby have continued to work together on several subsequent projects. Just Like Gravity is nearly as strong as its predecessor, and you can hear Raymond’s confidence increasing, especially as a lead vocalist. His “Jerusalem” is the highlight of the record for me.
ANIMAL LOGIC – Animal Logic (1989) and Animal Logic II (1991)
Former Police drummer Stewart Copeland and jazz bass virtuoso Stanley Clarke teamed up with singer-songwriter Deborah Holland for this short-lived band that combined pop melodies with quirky arrangements and superb musicianship.
BERNARD BUTLER – People Move On (1998) and Friends And Lovers (1999)
Shortly after I belatedly discovered Britpop band Suede I checked out these solo albums from their original guitarist, who combined melodic rock with some psychedelic influences and (of course) amazing guitar work.
MIKE RUTHERFORD – Smallcreep’s Day (1980) and Acting Very Strange (1982)
During the commercial ascent of Genesis in the early-‘80s, and several years prior to forming Mike +The Mechanics, Rutherford released these two wonderfully quirky solo albums that remain as interesting today as they were 3+ decades ago.
GIRAFFE – The Power Of Suggestion (1987) and The View From Here (1988)
The immensely talented Kevin Gilbert, who was previously discussed in Part 1 of my One And Done series as a member of Toy Matinee, introduced his talents to the world via these two modern prog-rock records that were finally re-released on CD a few years ago.
THE HOUSEMARTINS – London 0 Hull 4 (1986) and The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death (1987)
This politically-charged but always melodic British band still sounds great today. If “Happy Hour” doesn’t bring a smile to your face you might need to seek professional help.
MANASSAS – Manassas (1972) and Down The Road (1973)
Essentially a Stephen Stills solo project, the contributions of Chris Hillman & Al Perkins, along with a number of additional musicians, made these sprawling, diverse records something completely different than anything else in Stills’ discography. One day I’ll write a post on these records, along with a later collection of rarities & outtakes.
NOVO COMBO – Novo Combo (1981) and Animation Generation (1982)
Essentially a “poor man’s Police,” this reggae-influenced offbeat pop/rock band featured Hall & Oates collaborator Stephen Dees and longtime Santana drummer Michael Shrieve. “Up Periscope” got a lot of radio play in 1981 and both albums are worth seeking out if this description piqued your interest.
OCTOBER PROJECT – October Project (1993) and Falling Farther In (1995)
A female-fronted studio project that featured the husky vocals of Mary Fahl. I saw them open up for Crash Test Dummies at a small club in New York City, where they gave out a 2-track cassette single. I was hooked immediately and both albums are lovely. They later morphed into November Project with a different singer but I still prefer these records.
THE RACONTEURS – Broken Boy Soldiers (2006) and Consolers Of The Lonely (2008)
I must be in the minority of people who consider The Raconteurs to be Brendan Benson’s band which also includes Jack White. Benson had been a favorite power-pop artist of mine since I heard his debut album 10 years earlier, and I love both of these records as well. Hopefully there will be more Raconteurs in the future, but for now they’re two-and-through.
RODRIGUEZ – Cold Fact (1970) and Coming From Reality (1971)
I still haven’t seen the movie Searching For Sugar Man, which exposed the music of this long-forgotten songwriter to a mass audience after years in the musical wilderness, but the music speaks for itself. It’s not just hype…these albums are great.
BUGGLES – The Age Of Plastic (1980) and Adventures In Modern Recording (1981)
They may only be known for “Video Killed The Radio Star” but the duo of future Yes men Trevor Horn (later a producer extraordinaire) and Geoff Downes (Asia keys maestro) crafted two synth-heavy albums of prog-pop excellence. Maybe one day they’ll get the recognition they deserve beyond their definitive song that ushered in the MTV era.
SKY – Don’t Hold Back and Sailor’s Delight
WORLD TRADE – World Trade and Euphoria
PIPER – Piper and Can’t Wait
THE KNITTERS – Poor Little Critter On The Road and The Modern Sounds Of The Knitters
GAY DAD – Leisure Noise and Transmission
CASBAH CLUB – Eastworld and Venustrophobia
E – A Man Called (E) and Broken Toy Shop
WALTER BECKER – 11 Tracks Of Wack and Circus Money
So, how many of these two-album artists do you like? Were you a fan during their limited lifespans or did you discover them later on? Which artists with only two albums to their name did I miss? I look forward to hearing from you and I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did. Thanks for reading.
********** Addendum: December 23, 2014 **********
After completing this post I was reminded of a key Two-And-Through artist I had egregiously omitted. Instead of inserting it into the original post and pretending it was there all along, I’ve decided to include it here and hopefully draw attention to a short-lived band that was very important to me at the end of my teenage years. I also added one artist to the Honorable Mention section; apologies to Mr. Becker for that oversight.
Artist: THE FIRM
Album #1 Title/Year Of Release: THE FIRM (1985)
Album #2 Title/Year Of Release: MEAN BUSINESS (1986)
Led Zeppelin has been my favorite band since around 1979, and after the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980 I have closely followed the careers of the three surviving band members. I’ve also liked Bad Company for nearly as long, but never as passionately as with Zeppelin. When Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page partnered with longtime Bad Company (and future Queen) vocalist Paul Rodgers at the ARMS Benefit Concert in 1983 at Madison Square Garden (which also included the talents of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Joe Cocker, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Simon Phillips and many more brilliant musicians), I was fortunate to witness the seeds of The Firm that would bear fruit two years later. The lineup was completed by drummer Chris Slade (the chrome-domed skin beater for Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and, later, AC/DC among many others) and bassist Tony Franklin (best known for his work with Roy Harper and as a member of Blue Murder). I’m not sure how their two albums would sound to someone hearing them for the first time nearly 30 years later, but when they were released my excitement about new music from Jimmy Page allowed me to overlook some of the inconsistencies in the songwriting and production. On the self-titled debut album, “Radioactive” was an excellent choice for leadoff single, a then-modern rock track with a quirky lead guitar figure that only Page could have summoned. It reached #1 on the Album Rock Tracks chart. The rest of the album features seemingly straightforward songs, although most of them have little rhythmic or melodic twists that make them unique. Favorites include “Closer,” “Satisfaction Guaranteed,” their version of The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (showcasing Rodgers’ soulful vocals) and the 9-minute epic “Midnight Moonlight.” Sophomore album Mean Business sounds & feels like it was written & recorded quickly. It doesn’t hold up quite as well as The Firm but there are numerous standout tracks and Page’s guitar work is more inspired. “All The King’s Horses” was a minor Pop hit that gave them their second #1 Album Rock Tracks hit. The gospel-infused “Spirit Of Love” is an inspired way to close out the album (and their brief recording career) while their version of “Live In Peace,” originally recorded by Rodgers for his 1983 solo album Cut Loose, was probably the most powerful & inspiring song in their discography. I can’t believe I had briefly forgotten about The Firm. I won’t make that mistake again.