40 Greatest One-Album Wonders - Rolling Stone
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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.

Jeff Buckley, Grace, 30, Greatest, One-Album, Wonders, Rolling Stone, Gallery

4. Jeff Buckley, ‘Grace’ (1994)

The legacy of Jeff Buckley's delicately heartbreaking album Grace has lived on well past the singer's tragic 1997 death. Bearing a trembling balance of sparseness and desperation, Grace was a masterpiece of songwriting, musicianship and vocal prowess, with Buckley's tortured-angel voice filling each song with drama. Most notable was his cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," which turned the hymnal into a more drawn out reflection on love and faith; it's nearly usurped the legacy of Cohen's version with its frequent use as the soundtrack to climactic on-screen moments and national tragedies. Buckley did not get to witness the song's power since it was never officially released as a single during his lifetime: He was 30 years old when he drowned during a spontaneous swim in a slack channel of the Mississippi River while working on what would have been his sophomore album.

Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, 30, Greatest, One-Album, Wonders, Rolling Stone, Gallery

3. Lauryn Hill, ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ (1998)

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is a colossus of an album; a final, triumphant representation of the Afrocentric bohemianism once championed by Hill's former multi-platinum group the Fugees, and the nation-conscious ethos championed by earlier heroines such as Queen Latifah. Most importantly, it's a womanist statement on love, politics and morality; striking a balance between career and motherhood, from the joyful tribute to her newborn son "To Zion" to her fierce battle-rap dismissal of former Fugees partner Wyclef Jean on "Lost One." Just as essential to the myth of Miseducation is how Hill became the first hip-hop artist to win a Grammy for Album of the Year, only to embark on a heartbreakingly troubled retreat from the spotlight, leaving us to wonder about a sequel to this watermark that never was.

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2. Derek & the Dominos, ‘Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs’ (1970)

It's Eric Clapton's masterpiece, of course, but neither the travails of smack addiction nor his infamous infatuation with Patti Harrison deserve full credit for driving him to the most intense playing and singing of his career. Clapton was, for once, first among equals, not competing for attention in a supergroup or seeking anonymity as a sideman. As keyboardist, singer and songwriting partner, Bobby Whitlock has Clapton's back throughout, the rhythm section of bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon motor along with nuanced precision, and Duane Allman's soaring slide work is a pitch-perfect counterpoint to Clapton's own clipped, stinging phrases. The band couldn't hold it together, however, dissolving during a follow-up session.

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1. Sex Pistols, ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’ (1977)

By the time that punk firebrands Sex Pistols put out what would be their only drop of album-length venom, they were already the most notorious band in the United Kingdom. The people behind the official U.K. pop charts wouldn't even print the name of the band, pegged as foul-mouthed hooligans, when "God Save the Queen" made it to Number Two in May 1977. The LP was destined to be a cultural turning point no matter what was on it; but because Bollocks contained 12 distinctly angry salvos that begged for chaos ("Anarchy in the U.K."), reveled in laziness ("Seventeen") and embraced the obscene ("Fuck this and fuck that"), it exploded in a way that has caused reverberations in music ever since, inspiring everyone from Axl Rose to, obliquely, Neil Young. The band's lust for chaos would ultimately get the better of them, as quarreling with manager Malcolm McLaren and feelings of antipathy toward his bandmates led Johnny Rotten to quit the band onstage, a little over two months after the album came out. 

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