Iconic Classic Rock Bands And Their 10 Albums That Flopped
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The fickle finger of fame in the rock world is legendary, and this chilling gallery of epic album flops stands as a stark testament. Reaching the musical mountain peak is a Herculean feat, but clinging to those heady heights? That’s another beast entirely.
These fallen giants of rock prove that one misstep, one wrong turn, can send even the most venerated artists tumbling down the charts and into the dreaded cut-out bins.
From agonizingly long delays between albums that leave fans restless and hungry for more, to jarring sonic shifts that alienate the very audience they built their careers on, the reasons for these flops are as diverse as the artists themselves. A key band member departing can rip the heart out of the sound, leaving behind a hollow imitation of what once resonated so powerfully.
So, aspiring rock gods and goddesses, take heed! These cautionary tales serve as a grim but necessary roadmap. Before embarking on your own musical odyssey, study the missteps of these predecessors. Learn from their struggles, navigate the treacherous pitfalls of expectation, and above all, remember the fickle nature of the beast you strive to tame.
Peter Frampton – I’m in You (1977)
Following the stratospheric heights of his 1976 live album Frampton Comes Alive!, Peter Frampton returned to the studio with a confident swagger. Released in 1977, “I’m in You” became his most commercially successful studio album, soaring to the #2 spot on the Billboard 200 and achieving platinum certification.
But, despite its commercial success, it’s still considered quite a flop compared to his iconic live album. It was about one-eighth of the sales Frampton Comes Alive!, far from the predictions of many industry insiders.
Still, the eponymous title track cemented his musical dominance, hitting the #2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and even grabbing the top spot on the Cash Box chart. The album was further embellished by collaborations with musical giants like Stevie Wonder and Mick Jagger.
However, not all tracks enjoyed the same meteoric rise. Despite predictions by Record World of a “third straight single success”, “Tried to Love” stumbled at #41 on the Billboard Hot 100. Even with its “loping rhythm and blues” and “engaging” rhythm, the track couldn’t match the wildfire momentum of its album brethren.
Meat Loaf – Dead Ringer (1981)
Four years separated Meat Loaf’s rocketing debut from Dead Ringer, a gap caused by both the singer’s grueling tour schedule and, tragically, a blown-out voice. This, coupled with the absence of producer Todd Rundgren’s magic touch, left the singer’s second album commercially anemic, selling a mere fraction of its predecessor.
The road to Dead Ringer was rocky from the start. Jim Steinman, the songwriting mastermind behind Bat Out of Hell, originally planned for Meat Loaf to lead the follow-up. But between relentless touring, substance use, and sheer exhaustion, Meat Loaf lost his voice.
Steinman, faced with pressure from the record company and a voiceless singer, took an unexpected turn: he recorded the album himself, releasing it as Bad for Good in 1980. Then, he crafted a new, operatic epic for Meat Loaf – Dead Ringer.
Unfortunately, the record couldn’t escape the shadow of its legendary predecessor. Critics panned it, with Rolling Stone calling it a “cast-iron drag” and further lamenting Meat Loaf’s vocal struggles. Commercially, it faltered, a stark contrast to the meteoric rise of Bat Out of Hell.
The Cars – Door to Door (1987)
Door to Door, released in 1987, marked the final chapter for The Cars in their original form. Despite the immense success of their previous album, Heartbeat City, Door to Door met with a lukewarm reception. This underwhelming response, coupled with frontman Ric Ocasek’s apparent waning interest in the band, ultimately led to their quiet disbandment within a year.
The album saw only one single, “You Are the Girl”, make it to the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at a modest #17. Compared to the chart-topping hits of Heartbeat City, it was a clear sign that The Cars’ momentum was fading. The music itself seemed to reflect this, with critics pointing to a formulaic and uninspired sound compared to their earlier work.
The band’s breakup, however, happened almost anti-climactically. After a decade of immense popularity and sold-out stadiums, The Cars simply called it quits without much fanfare. They would reunite briefly in 2011 for one more album, Move Like This, before disappearing again just as quickly.
Door to Door serves as a bittersweet reminder of a band that redefined new wave in the 80s. While it may not be their strongest effort, it holds historical significance as their final act together, featuring the original lineup including the late bassist Benjamin Orr.
Peter Frampton – I’m in You (1977)
Bruce Springsteen is no stranger to taking creative risks. Throughout his career, he’s challenged his fans with unexpected turns, like transitioning from the bombastic arena anthems of Born in the U.S.A. to the introspective vulnerability of Tunnel of Love. While both went multi-platinum, his 1992 experiment with the twin albums “Human Touch” and “Lucky Town” yielded a different result.
Several factors likely contributed to this reception. Notably, Springsteen had disbanded the beloved E Street Band for these recordings, opting for a session musician lineup. While he’d reunite with E Street shortly after, their absence left a noticeable gap in the sound. Additionally, the content of the albums itself differed from the gritty social commentary and personal struggles that had connected with fans in the past.
Despite the mixed reception, there’s still much to appreciate in Human Touch and Lucky Town. The former, which was the commercially stronger of the two, features the title track’s uplifting rock anthem and the introspective ballad “Cross My Heart”. Lucky Town, meanwhile, delivers gems like the raucous opener “Better Days” and the poignant “Living Proof”.
Ultimately, while these albums may not stand among Springsteen’s commercial or critical darlings, they offer a fascinating glimpse into his artistic evolution. His willingness to experiment and explore new directions, even if they don’t always land perfectly, is a testament to his creative courage and commitment to pushing boundaries.
Billy Idol – Cyberpunk (1993)
In 1993, punk rock icon Billy Idol embarked on a bold and ambitious voyage into the uncharted territory of computer-generated music. His fifth studio album, simply titled Cyberpunk, was borne out of his growing fascination with technology and the burgeoning cyberdelic subculture,
His vision wasn’t solely sonic. “Cyberpunk” unfolded as a cohesive narrative, a cyberpunk story spun through music. This immersive experience extended beyond the album itself. Idol, a pioneer in utilizing digital media for promotion, leveraged the nascent internet, email, virtual communities, and even multimedia software to connect with fans and fellow musicians in ways never attempted before by a mainstream artist.
But just like the genre itself, Cyberpunk received a divided reception. While some critics and fans lauded Idol’s audacious exploration and genuine fascination with cyberculture, others viewed it with skepticism. Detractors saw it as a commercial ploy, an opportunistic attempt to capitalize on a trendy concept. They argued that the overuse of the term “cyberpunk” through such ventures diluted its original meaning and rebellious spirit.
While “Cyberpunk” may not have achieved universal acclaim, it remains a fascinating chapter in the evolution of both Billy Idol and the cyberpunk genre. It’s a reminder that innovation, even when met with resistance, can push boundaries and pave the way for future artistic expression.
Boston – Walk On (1994)
Following the pressure cooker environment of Boston’s sophomore album, Don’t Look Back, frontman Tom Scholz opted for a more deliberate pace. While a six-year absence after 1978 risked fan desertion, Third Stage in 1986 somehow recaptured their multi-platinum magic. But an even longer eight-year gap for Walk On proved a bridge too far.
Tastes had shifted – grunge had swept through the scene two years prior – and the album simply didn’t possess the songwriting power of their earlier work. The wait became a running joke, as Walk On wouldn’t be their last leisurely production (eight years until the next album!).
Despite the criticism, Walk On did achieve commercial success, peaking at #7 on the Billboard 200 and spawning the hit “I Need Your Love”. The album also showcased Scholz’s commitment to social causes, dedicating its final pages to fighting domestic violence and animal cruelty.
The legacy of this album remains a mixed bag. While it lacked the commercial and critical fire of Boston’s peak, it marked a distinct evolution in their sound, incorporating new vocal talents and experimenting with different styles. It’s a reminder that even legends like Boston aren’t immune to the challenges of adapting to changing trends, but also that their creative choices, however deliberate, continue to spark discussion and intrigue among fans.
Def Leppard – Slang (1996)
In 1996, Def Leppard, fresh off the success of their triple-platinum album Adrenalize, knew they needed a change. Their signature, massively layered sound, honed by producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, had reached its pinnacle. So, for Slang, they took a bold leap into the unknown.
This meant leaving behind the familiar comfort of Lange’s production and the iconic logo that adorned their album covers. Slang embraced a more organic approach, incorporating exotic instruments and a touch of grit, possibly inspired by the burgeoning grunge scene. It was a daring experiment, a defiant cry of “we’re still evolving!”
Unfortunately, the evolution didn’t fully resonate with everyone. While some praised the band’s newfound rawness and the expansion of their musical palette, others felt some changes didn’t suit their style. Commercially, Slang fell short of expectations, reaching a fraction of “Adrenalize’s” success.
The album received positive reviews from some critics, who lauded its refreshing immediacy and the band’s revitalized performance. Even decades later, Slang continues to spark debate. Was it a misstep or a misunderstood masterpiece? Whether you love it or loathe it, there’s no denying that this album is evidence of Def Leppard’s artistic courage and their insatiable quest for reinvention.
Journey – Trial by Fire (1996)
In 1996, rock legends Journey rose from the ashes with Trial by Fire, a reunion album marking the return of the band’s beloved 1981-1985 lineup. After a 13-year hiatus, frontman Steve Perry, bassist Ross Valory, and drummer Steve Smith united under the production of Kevin Shirley, who continues to shape Journey’s sound to this day.
The lead single, “When You Love a Woman”, soared to the top of the Adult Contemporary charts and landed comfortably within the Hot 100’s Top 20, proving that Journey’s magic hadn’t waned. Other singles like “If He Should Break Your Heart” received respectable radio airplay, solidifying the album’s success.
However, the flames of this reunion burned for a fleeting moment. Despite the commercial and critical acclaim, internal conflicts over a planned tour and Perry’s hip injury cast a shadow. The band presented the iconic singer with a stark ultimatum: undergo surgery or face replacement. This ultimately led to Perry’s departure, and tragically, drummer Steve Smith followed suit, citing a lack of interest in a Journey without Perry.
While “Trial by Fire” stands as a poignant reminder of Journey’s glorious return, it also paints a bittersweet picture of a reunion ignited and extinguished all too soon. It remains a testament to the band’s enduring legacy and a powerful farewell to what could have been another triumphant chapter in their journey.
Van Halen – Van Halen III (1998)
In 1998, Van Halen, fresh off a string of platinum-selling albums with Sammy Hagar, took a daring gamble with Van Halen III. They replaced the Red Rocker with Extreme frontman Gary Cherone, hoping for another chapter of success. Yet, what emerged was a train wreck of an album, leaving fans and critics bewildered.
Van Halen III was ambitious, clocking in as their longest record and showcasing Eddie Van Halen’s expanded creative control. He co-produced, played most of the bass, and contributed heavily to the writing. Sadly, this ambition manifested as an unfocused mess. Songwriting fell flat, production felt clunky, and band performances lacked their usual spark.
The results were brutal. Van Halen III debuted at #4 but plummeted quickly, becoming their first album to sell less than a million copies. Reviews were scathing, criticizing everything from Cherone’s vocals to the album’s bloated length. The backlash ultimately derailed plans for a follow-up, leading to Cherone’s departure and sending Van Halen into a decade-long hiatus.
Yet, amidst the wreckage, some argue Van Halen III was misunderstood. Some find hidden gems in the sprawling chaos, appreciating Eddie’s experimentation and Cherone’s unique voice. They see it as a flawed but bold attempt to reinvent themselves, a testament to the band’s willingness to take risks, even if they result in spectacular crashes.
Lou Reed and Metallica – Lulu (2011)
In 2011, two icons of music, the grizzled poet Lou Reed and the thrash titans Metallica, collided in a collaborative venture dubbed Lulu. Inspired by dark German plays and fueled by spoken word verses and crushing riffs, the album promised a unique listening experience. But instead of becoming a groundbreaking experiment, it landed with a resounding thud, leaving fans and critics bewildered and divided.
Lulu wasn’t your typical rock record. Nearly 90 minutes long, it sprawled across two discs, exploring themes of love, loss, and societal decay through Reed’s spoken word poetry over Metallica’s heavy instrumentals. It was ambitious, undeniable, and, for many, utterly perplexing.
Critical reception was scathing. Reviews ranged from bemused shrugs to outright vitriol, with terms like “unmitigated disaster” and “career low” thrown around liberally. Fans, too, struggled to connect with the abrasive soundscapes and Reed’s often monotonous delivery. Commercially, Lulu was a disappointment, selling a fraction of what either artist typically achieved.
Yet, despite the negativity, Lulu remains a fascinating footnote in the history of both artists. It serves as a reminder that even legends can take missteps, and that pushing boundaries can sometimes lead to unexpected, and not always pleasant, results.