It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when the assumption was that most popular music artists would have – at most – a couple of years of success, as their target audience of mainly teenagers would quickly outgrow them and push them aside for the next big thing. This is why at one point pop artists essentially recorded and released as much new music as they could in as short a period of time as possible. Not only that, but for rock’s first ten years or so, singles were the main focus, with full albums mostly intended to be audio clotheslines on which to hang the hits, alongside the necessary filler tracks.
Starting in the mid-Sixties, rock artists began to approach recording an album as a complete work. This almost meant that they might take a bit longer, and by the Seventies one full-length LP release per year was pretty much the norm. By the end of that decade, some of rock’s most influential bands – Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, the Eagles – took up to three years between new studio releases, and in the Eighties two to three years typically became the standard wait time for new material from a major artist (although it could easily be longer).
Most artist realize that their fans would rather wait for quality work than listen to an obvious rush-job. However, in the late Sixties and Seventies, a few major artists seemingly did have the inspiration, momentum, and obviously time to release not just two full studio albums in a single calendar year, but two of their best (in a few cases these are the band’s first and second, so it’s possible they had material already stockpiles from before they were signed). Either way, here’s a look at nine such artists and their very good years.
# 10 – KISS
Kiss would eventually establish an extensive and very loyal cult following, but during their heyday in the mid-Seventies they were probably the first to realize that their gimmick-based act (“Music was never the point,” bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons would later admit) aimed mostly at teenagers (or children) didn’t exactly offer a promise of longevity. Clearly recognizing that they needed to strike while the iron was hot, in 1976 the band would release their highest–selling album, Destroyer, and then follow it up less than nine month later with Rock and Roll Over.
Fans generally rank Destroyer, which included both “Detroit Rock City” as well as that one hit even your grandmother didn’t mind (“Beth”), among Kiss’ best, while RARO certainly kept the momentum going with songs like “Calling Dr. Love.”
# 8 – THE RAMONES
Seminal New York City punk rockers the Ramones followed up their classic 1976 debut album with a killer one-two punch the following year. The band rang in 1977 with Leave Home (a record that includes the classic “Commando”), which was joined in the growing Ramones discography that November by Rocket to Russia.
Rocket To Russia would ultimately become the band’s second-highest charting album (behind only End of the Century from a couple of years later). Russia contains essential Ramones cuts “Rockaway Beach,” “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” and “Teenage Lobotomy,” and some will argue it’s their best album. Gabba Gabba Hey!
# 7 – STEVIE WONDER
Stevie Wonder made his debut in the early Sixties touted as the musical child prodigy “Little” Stevie Wonder, and spent the rest of the decade as a successful pop hitmaker. It wasn’t until the Seventies, however, after Wonder took a greater role in the writing and production on his records that he emerged as one of the most talented and important figures in music.
His 1972 effort Music of My Mind was his first release conceived as a full-length album, and its critical and commercial success no doubt fueled his inspiration to create the masterpiece Talking Book, which came out later the same year and included the tracks “You are the Sunshine of my Life,” “I Believe (When I Fall in Love it Will be Forever)” as well the indispensable “Superstition.”
# 6 – BLACK SABBATH
Heavy metal is a style often defined by the sheer speed at which it’s played, so several generations of younger metalheads have no doubt been surprised to discover that the earlier metal was often anything but, to the point where rock critics found some of it to be just droning. However, Black Sabbath –the prototypical band of the genre – hurried along at least in terms of rolling out their earliest material, as their self-titled debut album was followed up by Paranoid barely eight months later in 1970. Both albums are considered to be probably not only the best in the band’s discography, but among the best in all of heavy metal.
# 5 – THE DOORS
The Doors were another band which didn’t rest on the laurels of a hugely successful debut, opting to get the follow-up out later in the same year. Their 1967 self-titled first album produced a number one single (“Light My Fire,” of course) and would eventually sell four million copies.
Sophomore effort Strange Days was almost as much of a commercial success and spawned the classics “People are Strange” and “Love Me Two Times” as well as the title track.
# 4 – THE ROLLING STONES
The group known as “the World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band” began giving their fans exactly what they wanted in 1963, and haven’t stopped to this day. Most of the calendar years in the earliest period saw multiple album releases, such as 1965 when they released three albums The Rolling Stones No. 2/The Rolling Stones, Now!, Out of Our Heads and December’s Children (And Everybody’s).
However, the most notable year in which The Rolling Stones released two albums was in 1967 when they released Between the Buttons and Her Satanic Majesties Request. The former had the classics “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and “Ruby Tuesday,” while the latter was not only noted but also criticized as being the band’s flagrant stab at psychedelia, at the time rock’s order of the day. Still, the Stones’ 1967 releases successfully set the stage for one of their most important works, Beggar’s Banquet, the following year.
# 3 – LED ZEPPELIN
They may have gotten their name from an offhand comment made by a member of the Who (accounts vary as to which member of the Who) suggesting that the project would “take off like a lead balloon,” but Led Zeppelin definitely hit the ground running when they released their debut album at the beginning of 1969 and then their second studio effort the fall of the same year.
Originally meant to be just an updated version of guitarist Jimmy Page’s previous band The Yardbirds (even to be called “the New Yardbirds” at one point), their two 1969 releases Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II quickly established the band as not just its own entity one of the most successful and influential rock bands of the next dozen years, creating a legacy that would well outlast them.
# 2 – ELTON JOHN
The esteemed Mr. Reginald Dwight, now known the world over as Sir Elton John, released his debut album Empty Sky in his native UK in 1969 (although it wouldn’t see release, much less success, in the US until 1975). It was through a pair of full–length releases in 1970, Elton John and Tumbleweed Connection, that Americans first got to known the artist. Know him, and obviously like him as well: perhaps looking for a fresh start for rock in the Seventies after the disintegration of the Beatles, the Altamont disaster and the deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, US listeners propelled both albums into the Top 5 and helped kick off the overwhelming success that John would enjoy over the next few years and beyond.
While Elton John and Tumbleweed Connection were two astonishing records both released in 1970, it was three years later in 1973 when Elton John made many people doubt he was even human when he released both Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player and the two record set Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
These were two amazing albums filled with hit singles that completely dominated radio on both the am and fm dials. And of course he goes and does it again in 1975 when he released both Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy and Rock of the Westies in the same year. There will never be another Elton John
# 1 – THE BEATLES
A few years later they would release a song called “The End,” but 1966 could very easily have been the end for The Beatles. They announced that would no longer be touring (considered a very risky move at the time), and were in danger of being dethroned – at least on the charts – by a manufactured American-based overnight pop sensation, the Monkees. Oh, yeah, and there was also that little matter of John Lennon supposedly claiming that his group was bigger than Jesus, a scandal which resulted in not only widespread calls for a total boycott of the Fab Four, but public burnings of their records and paraphernalia.
So what, ultimately, saved The Beatles’ collective arse? The music, naturally. That year saw the release of two full-length studio albums that some consider their best, Rubber Soul and Revolver. Both these undisputed masterpieces showed that the one-time loveable moptops weren’t just willing but in fact anxious to evolve musically, as their scope expanded to include everything from unusual instruments (at least for Western recordings) such as sitars to full orchestras. Lyrically, subject matter grew beyond boy-meets-girl, and now encompassed everything from elaborate storytelling (“Eleanor Rigby”) to deeply personal confessions (“In My Life”).
The only rub regarding Rubber Soul and Revolver came in the fact that America fans had to settle for versions of the albums with a number of tracks missing (those songs all turned up on the patchwork American release Yesterday… and Today that same year, while the original versions of the main LPs wouldn’t be available in the US until the Eighties). While Rubber Soul was released officially in 1965, the album was released in December of 1965 and is widely remembered as one of the best albums of 1966. Revolver came out about 8 months later in 1966 Still, as incredible as their 1966 output was, The Beatles were obviously far from done.
9 Rock Artists Who Released 2 Classic Albums In The Same Year article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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