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40 Greatest One-Album Wonders

The best one-and-dones: Lauryn Hill, Jeff Buckley, Young Marble Giants and more

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Some of rock’s greatest stories are short ones. After making one, solitary studio full-length, these acts were promptly derailed by death, internal band politics or the simple desire to put something down and never pick it back up. Here are the best one-and-dones.

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40. Rites of Spring, ‘Rites of Spring’ (1985)

Before Guy Picciotto and Brendan Canty went on to form Fugazi with their producer Ian MacKaye, the pair were part of the influential, raucous and raw D.C. hardcore act Rites of Spring. The band swooped in and out of the hardcore scene as fast and aggressively as any of the songs on their lone LP. Rapid and chillingly frenetic to the bone, elements of the band's visceral sound are credited as the launch of "emo," which ultimately would mutate into chart-topping pop acts like Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco. Rites of Spring balked at the term, but what is more hardcore than soul-baring expressions of love, pain and sadness?

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39. Thunderclap Newman, ‘Hollywood Dream’ (1970)

Pete Townshend's chauffeur-flatmate John "Speedy" Keen, jazz-pianist postal employee Andy "Thunderclap" Newman" and teenaged future Wings guitarist Jimmy McCullough comprised this one-hit-wonder of a band. They're best known for "Something in the Air," a throbbingly perfect pro-revolution anthem, but the rest of the trio's single album is fairly terrific as well. It revolves around songwriter-drummer Keen's contrasting fantasies about louche Hollywood pleasures along with odes to sexy country comforts. Townshend, who produced the album and plays bass pseudonymously as Bijou Drains, was sold on Keen's songwriting (he also wrote The Who Sell Out opener "Armania City in the Sky") and Newman's jazzy jangle. The band floundered onstage, however, and broke up six months after the album's release, with Newman attributing its demise to a confluence of personal and artistic differences.

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38. Silicon Teens, ‘Music for Parties’ (1980)

Had they become a Gorillaz-level success, this fictional group could have made The Big Chill soundtrack for the Blade Runner generation. Silicon Teens were marketed as a quartet of teenagers performing rudimentary pocket calculator-sounding synth-rock, blipping out cheery ca. 1962 Dirty Dancing nostalgia like "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy," "Let's Dance," "Do You Love Me?" In actuality everything was performed by Mute Records founder Daniel Miller, with Fad Gadget's Frank Tovey providing a "face" for the accompanying music video and press photo. The project's "chip 'n' roll" sound was a perfect Venn diagram of deference to pop history, deadpanned punk pranksterism and embrace of an emerging electronic revolution. Early fans of the project would include Depeche Mode, who soon signed to Mute themselves and — presumably — monopolized whatever time Miller would have had for a follow up.

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37. Hermann Szobel, ‘Szobel’ (1976)

Let's assume this lost jazz-fusion masterpiece would have never seen the light of the day if Vienna-born Hermann Szobel weren't the nephew of concert promoter Bill Graham. That stipulated, the album is a mind-bending scorcher by any standard: a deliriously virtuosic collection of zig-zagging Zappa-esque melodies and moody emotional plunges performed by an obscure quintet temporarily channeling the authority of Weather Report. Its 18-year-old pianist-bandleader, however, didn't stick around to record a follow-up. Likely suffering from mental illness, Szobel disappeared from the music world; his mother filed a missing-person report for him in 2002, noting that he enjoyed dogs and hashish. In 2015, however, Szobel reappeared in the documentary Looking for Jesus, for which he allowed director Katarzyna Kozyra to record (but not film) him on the street in Jerusalem, where he lived as an apparently homeless artist.

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36. Convicts, ‘Convicts’ (1991)

The lone LP from the Convicts — the duo of Big Mike and Lord 3-2 — is one of the filthiest, funniest documents of Houston shock-rap that followed in the wake of the Geto Boys in the early Nineties. Released on pioneering Texas label Def Jam, the Convicts took the provocative lyrics of Ice Cube and 2 Live Crew into the realm of the absolutely ludicrous and completely irresponsible: "Fuck School" is a dropout's anthem and "1-900-Dial-a-Crook" explains how to steal a car in great detail. Like a Andrew "Dice" Clay routine set to funky breaks, there are over-the-top, deliberately offensive journeys into sexism ("Woop Her Ass") and racism ("Illegal Aliens") that would justifiably be called "problematic" today. But Convicts is an artifact of a different era, a historical document of the time when rappers were America's loudest defense of the first Amendment, and mouthpieces as interested in pushing buttons as pushing boundaries. Between the jokes, there's vivid and intense critiques of the prison-industrial complex: No wonder former N.W.A member Dr. Dre was a fan. The Convicts had a brief courtship with Death Row, but the group ultimately disbanded when Big Mike went to replace Willie D in the Geto Boys in 1993.

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35. Scratch Acid, ‘Just Keep Eating’ (1986)

Following bad-trip baddies the Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid were Texas' other hot and extremely bothered contribution to the Eighties' noise-flecked "pigfuck" movement. Giving the Birthday Party's swamp-stumble the gnash of American hardcore, Scratch Acid were a puddle of venom on record and a steely force on tour (well, when they weren't flinging fake poop at audiences or stealing Public Image Limited's beer). A long tour in 1986 inflamed band tensions leading to an on-stage argument between guitarist Brett Bradford and drummer Rey Washam and they were done in 1987. Vocalist David Yow and bassist David Wm. Sims would later tighten up this mess into the lean college-rock massacre Jesus Lizard, who would ultimately sign a major label deal in the post-Nirvana bubble.

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34. Skip Spence, ‘Oar’ (1969)

Moby Grape co-founder and songwriter Alexander "Skip" Spence slipped seriously into darkness the night he attempted to fire-axe his way into a hotel room with the intention of freeing his drummer from himself. After a six-month stay in a psychiatric ward, the 22-year-old biked to Nashville, where he recorded his sole, literally solo album. Spence's ghostly, barely intelligible howl, off-register guitars and snare-heavy drumming resulted in a stirring and disturbing reflection of desperate loneliness and wild-eyed folk-rock ecstasy. What Spence considered demos, producer David Rubinson deemed acceptable for a (minimally promoted release, resulting in Columbia's lowest-selling album to date. Spence wrote and performed with the Grape intermittently but gradually descended into a quagmire of mental illness and substance abuse until his death in 1999 at age 52.

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33. Green River, ‘Rehab Doll’ (1988)

Equal parts ramshackle and ferocious, Rehab Doll is the lone full-length from Seattle supergroup-in-retrospect Green River, which featured future Mudhoney leader Mark Arm and Pearl Jam's Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard. Released in Sub Pop's earliest years, Rehab Doll is proto-grunge at its best, its mud-dipped tracks breaking down and building themselves back up in real time. Frontman Mark Arm (later of Mudhoney) sounds like he gargled with lye before cutting tracks like the boogie-gone-bad "Together We'll Never," while the band's rip-roaring cover of David Bowie's "Queen Bitch" (originally only available on the album's cassette release) hints at the wry humor that would animate much of the Seattle scene's best moments. Rehab Doll also features the second iteration of Green River's swaggering single-entendre "Swallow My Pride," which would be covered by fellow Seattle luminaries like Soundgarden and the Fastbacks during the grunge era's initial ascent.

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32. The Count Five, ‘Psychotic Reaction’ (1966)

The great British blues-rock stars may have flaunted their studied virtuosity, but this quintet of San Jose snots stripped R&B down to a rude, rudimentary swagger – and they also wore Dracula capes. Garage rock doesn't get more essential than the title track, with swaggering verses offset by periodic instrumental freak-outs and John "Mouse" Michalski's guitar buzzing like a ferocious mosquito let loose in your earhole. They serve as psychedelic tour guides on "Double Decker Bus," slobber over a gal with a "Pretty Big Mouth" and more than do right by the two Who songs they tackle. Lester Bangs, perhaps their biggest champion, couldn't help but imagine a series of even further out follow-ups, but in real life, the band members just went back to college.

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31. Operation Ivy, ‘Energy’ (1989)

Berkeley four-piece Operation Ivy were not just the lynchpins of the East Bay punk scene, but key players in the evolution of American ska. Formed in 1987, the band craftily worked reggae inflections into their frenetic hardcore furor; first in raucous 7-inch Hectic, then in their 1989 full-length, Energy. Vocalists Jesse Michaels and future Rancid leader Tim Armstrong – then known as "Lint" – hammered home their principled takes on gang violence ("Unity"), police brutality ("Officer") and consumerism ("Artificial Life") through barely intelligible, gravelly yawps. Op Ivy wouldn't survive the Eighties, breaking up just two months after the release of Energy. Their final show was on May 28, 1989 – a date also notable as Green Day's inaugural show at Berkeley D.I.Y. stronghold 924 Gilman St.

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30. The Pulsars, ‘Pulsars’ (1997)

One of the gems of the mid-Nineties alt-rock gold rush, the lone album by the brotherly duo the Pulsars is a shimmering collection of blissed-out synth-pop peppered with references to long drives to Wisconsin, pet robots and S&M. Dave and Harry Trumfio had collaborated on music since they were young; and Dave had worked with indie luminaries like the Mekons and the Handsome Family at his Chicago studio Kingsize Soundlabs. Pulsars – which came out on Herb Alpert's short-lived Almo Sounds label – was a gorgeous love letter to the early New Wave era's dark side, with tracks like "Suffocation" transcending misery with irresistible choruses and pillowy synths.   

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29. Margo Guryan, ‘Take a Picture’ (1968)

Jazz-trained Margo Guryan released Take a Picture in 1968 after about a decade of songwriting – with credits including Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and Harry Belafonte, among others. The Pet Sounds acolyte's lone full-length is an early prototype for countless lounge and dream-pop excursions, and bridges the gap between Burt Bacharach and Belle & Sebastian. The hazy production is loaded with horns, strings and sumptuous harmonies; standout "Sunday Morning" became a Bobbie Gentry and Glen Campbell duet. The album received critical praise, but Guryan had no aspirations to tour. "I didn't want to be a performer," she said in a 2011 interview. "I wanted to be a songwriter… You needed a manager, an agent, a lawyer, an accountant … people telling you what to wear, what to say, who to be. The whole thing just didn't appeal to me." 

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28. The United States of America, ‘The United States of America’ (1968)

In the Sixties, a few brave punks were not afraid to make some noise with the squawking, blipping textures of embryonic electronics. Back then, American electronic music was mainly reserved for composers and academics tinkering on wall-sized synthesizers in the Columbia Music Center. But Los Angeles sextet United States of America were a trippy, psychedelic, Communist-leaning rock band — a counterpoint to Silver Apples' proto-industrial paranoia. In turn, they made California's acid-rock present drip into the acid house future. The band jumbled all sorts of early electronics — oscillators, contact mics, synths, tape decks, — into their revolution rock, creating a future model for fans like Portishead and Animal Collective. A Molotov cocktail of intra-band fistfights, drugs, musical differences and record label politics destroyed this one-of-a-kind band before the dawn of the Seventies.

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27. CRU, ‘Da Dirty 30’ (1997)

South Bronx trio Rhythm Blunt Cru's only album – released during Def Jam's struggling years between Warren G and DMX – is a snapshot of East Coast hip-hop in the Nineties. The South Bronx trio has shades of rugged-and-raw grittiness (check hypeman and ODB soundalike the Mighty Ha on "Lisa Lipps"), trade mics with Y2K conspiracy theorist Ras Kass, indulge in oddball skits and underline it all with Jeremy "Yogi" Graham's buttery loops. Neophytes who couldn't accept Yogi and Chaddio's Tribe Called Quest-inspired mic-trading routine on the minor Rap City hit "Just Another Case" missed one of the more quirkily entertaining rap albums of the era. At least Puff Daddy recognized its charms: He recruited Yogi to Bad Boy's production squad, resulting in G. Dep's Harlem Shake classic "Let's Get It."

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26. Cassie, ‘Cassie’ (2006)

When Cassie Ventura preened and undulated in front a dance studio mirror on her "Me&U" video clip, she set magazine covers aflame and gossips wagging about her romance with mentor Sean Combs. However, a decade after underwhelming sales (and thinly veiled sexist claims that she was a prefab one-hit wonder), this collaboration with then-rising producer Ryan Leslie turned out to be the most brilliantly minimalist R&B album of its era. Her understated, nearly spoken vocal delivery proved an influence on future stars like Kelela, the xx and Jhene Aiko, while Leslie's haunting electronic arrangements perfectly complement nighttime pop gems like "Kiss Me" and "Call U Out."

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25. Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, ‘The Teenagers Featuring Frankie Lymon’ (1956)

When Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers burst onto the R&B scene in 1956 with their Number One hit "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," the music industry was still centered around selling singles. However, Lymon had so many hits in such a short time period ("I Want You to Be My Girl," "I Promise to Remember," "The ABC's of Love") that Gee Records put them onto an LP simply called The Teenagers Featuring Frankie Lymon. Most of his fans were very young without the pocket money to buy anything more expensive than a 45, so it was far from a best-seller. The Teenagers split in 1957 and Lymon attempted to go solo, but his voice deepened after he went through puberty. Like many child stars, he discovered the public had little use for him once he was older and he began a vicious descent into drug addiction. He died of a heroin overdose in 1968 when he was just 25.

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24. Dennis Wilson, ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ (1977)

Dennis Wilson was the only Beach Boy that actually surfed. He was also the most naturally charismatic and fun-loving, though by the mid-1970s his non-stop party lifestyle was beginning to take a heavy toll. The drummer was in his early 30s, but looked ten years older, and years of drinking and drug abuse added significant gravel to his once pristine singing voice. But with his brother Brian largely out of commission, he began contributing his own material to Beach Boys albums. Not happy at taking direction from his bandmates who never saw him as a serious songwriter, he began squirreling away songs for a solo album. Recording took two years, and by 1977 he was finally ready to unveil the haunting Pacific Ocean Blue. Haunting tracks like "Farewell My Friend" and "River Song" reflect his fragile state and reveal just how far he'd grown as a composer and lyricist. Work started on a follow-up but Wilson's drug abuse was spinning out of control and it remained unfinished when he drowned in 1983.

New Radicals, 'Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too'

23. New Radicals, ‘Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too’ (1998)

The project of songwriter Gregg Alexander, New Radicals hit the sweet spot between adult-contemporary and "alternative" that was just beginning to be discovered when Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too came out in 1998. A bubbling stew of influences that had glossier production and more pointed lyrics about corporate America than its alt-rock-radio brethren, Brainwashed could have been the beginning of a new pop order. "You Get What You Give," with its triumphant chorus and bootstrapping spirit, is one of the Nineties' most singular singles, while tracks like "Flowers" fused together revved-up rock and passion-fueled soul in a way that tipped savvy listeners off to Alexander's wide swath of influences. But Alexander broke up the band before the reflective "Someday We'll Know" could be released as the album's second single. He went on to become a songwriter-for-hire, penning tracks like the Santana/Michelle Branch collaboration "The Game of Love" and reuniting with fellow Radical Danielle Brisebois for the soundtrack to the 2013 romance Begin Again.

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22. The Monks, ‘Black Monk Time’ (1966)

By the mid-Sixties, Germany had pretty much had enough of the American occupying force – and so had the five discharged G.I.s who hung around the country banging out raw Neanderthal rock as the Monks. Formerly known as the 5 Torquays, the band was reconceptualized by its management, a sketchy pair of German advertising executives who talked the working-class quintet into robes, tonsure haircuts and tight neckwear. Nihilism rocks: Farfisa organ and skronky electric banjo accompanied songs like "Shut Up" and "I Hate You." Germany Polydor released Black Monk Time on the strength of the group's live popularity. But when the company's American branch passed on the album, the vexed and disheartened combo went their separate ways, eventually enjoying postponed acclaim upon their rediscovery in the early Nineties.

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21. Life Without Buildings, ‘Any Other City’ (2001)

Sue Tompkins of Life Without Buildings was a painter, not a singer, and she approached words with an experimental sense of wonder, testing to hear how her conversational lilt might inflect a simple phrase like "look around" if she repeated it in the reassuring tone of someone hoping to pet a timid bunny. The other Glaswegian art students in this band were similarly curious, channeling the adventure of post-punk without its aggression: Chris Evans' bass wends its own course underneath Will Bradley's restless drum patterns while Robert Johnson's guitar alternates between jangle, strum and cleanly plucked melody. This was pop viewed through a prism.

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20. The Exploding Hearts, ‘Guitar Romantic’ (2003)

The giddiest power-pop album of the Aughts comes with one of the saddest postscripts imaginable. Formed in the Pacific Northwest, the Exploding Hearts were just solidifying a rep for their 2003 debut, Guitar Romantic, when three of the four members were killed in a car accident coming back from a gig. The band left behind infectious blasts like "Modern Kicks" and "Sleeping Aides and Razorblades," led by departed singer/guitarist Adam Cox's blithe spirit. Throughout, the band toasts to the Clash, Elvis Costello and the Buzzcocks by shoving pop hooks and soul down punk's scream-torn throat.

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19. The Good, the Bad and the Queen, ‘The Good, the Bad and the Queen’ (2007)

"Where do I see the light?/It's all gone dead in a way," Damon Albarn sings on "80's Life," one of the perkier tracks on the paean to post-millennial wartime gloom The Good, the Bad & the Queen. Made up of Albarn, Clash bassist Paul Simonon, keyboardist Simon Tong, and percussionist extraordinaire Tony Allen, the technically nameless supergroup ("We won't make another record, and we didn't properly name the band, because a name is for a marriage," Simonon told Observer Music Magazine in 2007) got together with Danger Mouse to create what Albarn called "a song cycle that's also a mystery play about London." The album put forth its bad vibes gently but firmly, with tracks like the spacy "Herculean" and the washed-out "Behind the Sun" utilizing sparse lyrics and downtempo beats to create a record that has its post-apocalyptic feeling only heightened by its overwhelming melancholy.

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18. Mother Love Bone, ‘Apple’ (1990)

It's hard not to overstate how different rock music in 2016 would be if Seattle quintet Mother Love Bone had been able to make a second album. Their combination of Northwest grunge and runny-mascara glam sounded like a prediction of where hair metal, just beginning its decline in 1990, could go. Lead singer Andrew Wood's witchy stage persona, capped off by an inimitable yowl, transformed the taut, spiky rock turned out by his bandmates into gutter-glitter anthems, whether they were lost-highway chronicles like "Mr. Danny Boy" or otherworldly power ballads like "Crown of Thorns." Wood died of a heroin overdose just as Apple was about to be released, and the band broke up. Guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament went on to form Pearl Jam, whose chaotic take on grunge transformed the rock landscape only a year later. 

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17. The Shaggs, ‘Philosophy of the World’ (1969)

It takes all of two seconds for the Shaggs' out-rock masterpiece Philosophy of the World to fall apart into a glorious, asynchronous mess. The group was a trio of sisters from Fremont, New Hampshire whose father and manager believed in their bizarre, messy music about cats, parents, Halloween and how "you can never please anybody in this world," as Dot Wiggins sings on the title cut. Although the Shaggs were too weird for mainstream success – leading to their eventual disbandment after their dad died – their sole LP became an underground hit. Frank Zappa said they were "better than the