Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Top Comebacks of the Rock Era

We considered both the success of the comeback and the length of time since the artist last enjoyed major success in ranking these Top Comebacks of the Rock Era*.  We also considered how popular the artist was prior to the comeback, and how popular they were afterwards.  (Note:  Frank Sinatra isn't included, because we consider his "comeback" to have begun in January of 1954, more than a full year prior to the start of the Rock Era.):
#11:  Green Day 
This great trio recorded the immensely successful album Dookie (10 million sales U.S., 20 million worldwide) in 1994.  But three albums and ten years later, Green Day's latest three releases combined were just half of Dookie.
In 2003, the group had recorded most of the material for a new album when someone stole the master recordings from the studio.  Green Day had to start all over, and opted for a concept album led by the title song which reflected a wave of anti-George Bush sentiment in the United States.   American Idiot gave them one of the top-sellers of the year (seven million in the U.S. and 14 million worldwide), a Grammy for Hard Rock Album, and launched them on a highly successful tour that would last two years. 
#10:  Simon & Garfunkel
After five of the most amazing albums in anyone's career, Simon & Garfunkel split in 1970 following their masterpiece Bridge Over Troubled Water.  They had become one of The Top Duos of the Rock Era*, accumulating 11 Top 20 hits, 7 Top 10's, and the #1 classics "The Sound of Silence", "Mrs. Robinson" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water".  Their last album alone sold over eight million copies in the United States and over 25 million worldwide.
Paul Simon picked up right where he left off, enjoying a highly successful solo career, and Art Garfunkel too enjoyed several solo hits, especially on the Adult chart.  The two got together in 1975 for a new song, "My Little Town", which returned the duo to the Top 10.  
But it was their reunion in 1981 that set records and drew raves.  The duo gave a free concert in their hometown of New York City in Central Park that drew over 500,000.  The live recording was released as an album, and sold over two million copies.  A video of the stellar evening was televised and released by HBO.
The success of the Central Park concerted prompted a full-fledged reunion and world tour in 1982-83, including a performance at New York City's Shea Stadium.  In 1993, Simon & Garfunkel gave 21 sold out concerts in New York.  They got back together again in 2004 with 25 shows, culminating in a finale at the Colosseum in Rome before an estimated audience of 600,000.

#9:  Mariah Carey

After a sensational debut and 11 straight Top 10 songs (#3 All-Time for Consecutive Top 10's Out of the Gate*), Mariah Carey had a chance to become the top recording artist in history.  But then, she began writing and recording in a different style, and Carey all but disappeared from the map.  A series of bizarre public appearances capped by a mental and emotional breakdown helped further sink Mariah from the respectable image she owned at the beginning of her career.  Her record company actually paid her money to stop recording.

In 2005, Carey came back from the dead with the album The Emancipation of Mimi.  It was her biggest album in ten years (selling six million copies in the U.S. and 12 million total), and won her three Grammy Awards.  Unfortunately, she only registered two Top 10 hits after that.

#8:  Roy Orbison
Orbison was one of early rock's greatest stars and most impressive vocalists, posting nine Top 10 hits with his two #1's:  "Running Scared" and "Oh Pretty Woman".  But he then went 0-53 (0 Top 10 songs in 53 releases) from 1965-1987, one of the many artists adversely affected by the Beatles, who changed music forever in 1964.
Then in 1987, Orbison began collaborating with Jeff Lynne on a new album.  Coincidentally, Lynne was also finishing production work on George Harrison's album Cloud Nine.  The three had lunch, and Harrison invited Orbison to sing on his album.  They reached Bob Dylan, who gave them permission to use a recording studio in his home.  While en route, Harrison stopped by Tom Petty's house to get his guitar.
By that night, the five had written "Handle With Care", which led to the idea of an entire album together.  They called the collaboration the Traveling Wilburys, complete with new stage names for each.
Orbison sang lead on "Not Alone Anymore", displaying his amazing vocal ability.  The album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 remained a best-seller for 53 weeks in the United States, hit #1 in Australia, and won the group a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. 

Orbison was once again in demand for interviews and concerts.  In 1988, he began working on a new solo album called Mystery Girl.  About this time, Orbison confided to Johnny Cash that he was having chest pains, but he never saw a doctor.  Orbison traveled to Europe where he performed a concert and accepted an award.  He granted multiple interviews a day.
Orbison played two concerts in the U.S., then returned to London to film two more videos for the Traveling Wilburys.  After returning home, Orbison died of a heart attack on December 6 at the age of 52.
Posthumously, "You Got It" was released as a single, and it made it to #9 in the U.S. and #3 in the U.K., his first solo Top 10 hit in 24 years.
#7:  Neil Sedaka
Neil was a star in the infancy of the Rock Era, producing 17 hits, including 5 Top 10 songs, from 1959-1964.  But then, the Beatles hit the international music scene, and Sedaka was hard-pressed to find a way to compete with the new music.  In fact, he only had four charting songs from 1964-1973.
Then, Elton John signed him to his new Rocket Records label, and the two plotted Sedaka's comeback.  The album Sedaka's Back was a compilation of songs from albums he had released in England.  When "Laughter In The Rain" reached #1 in 1974, it was Sedaka's first Top 10 song in 13 years. 
With newfound fans, Sedaka scored nine more hits, including another #1, "Bad Blood" (which he sang with Elton), as well as "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do", a #8 song that was a slowed-down version of his original hit in 1962.

#6:  Elvis Presley
The legendary Elvis Presley was without question the brightest star from 1956-1964, producing 43 hits, 32 Top 10 songs, and 13 #1 records.  But two things combined to cause Elvis's star to fade--1) Thanks to the bad advice of his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, Presley put more time into making bad movies than he did in recording, and 2) The new sound produced by the Beatles made it tough on Elvis and the other existing stars to enjoy the same level of success.
In the two years since the Beatles, Elvis could only muster one Top 10 song ("Crying In The Chapel" in 1965).  He would then go on a tremendous slump (0 Top 10 songs in 60 releases) over the next four years.  
Then, Elvis staged an amazing comeback, producing a television special called The 68 Comeback Special, in which a revitalized Presley looked cooler than ever.  This led to a resurgence in popularity and the Top 5 smash "In The Ghetto".
Elvis went on to achieve three other Top 10 hits, including the #1 "Suspicious Minds".
#5:  Eagles
When Don Henley famously quipped that the Eagles would get back together "when Hell freezes over", the group was on top of the world, with their last four albums (all of which reached #1) selling two million, two million, 16 million and 7 million, respectively.  Their Greatest Hits album released five years previous became one of The Top-Selling Albums of the Rock Era*, going over the 29-million mark.
The Eagles had become one of the most reliable and consistent musical forces in history, with 12 consecutive Top 40 hits, an incredible nine of those 12 reaching the Top 10, and five #1 smashes.  But with the breakup of the group in 1980, the members went their separate ways, and Don Henley and Frey each enjoyed successful solo careers. 

Flash forward to 14 years later, and the near ecstasy experienced by their millions of fans when the Eagles announced they were getting back together for a reunion tour.  The tour was immensely successful (sixth-highest of the decade and still the #27-highest grossing tour of all-time), with the group performing 134 shows over parts of three years, and the accompanying live album appropriately titled Hell Freezes Over sold over six million copies.
The Eagles have done several other highly successful tours since (including the #16 Tour of All-Time from 2008-11), and enjoyed seven consecutive Top 20 Adult hits, including the #1 "Love Will Keep Us Alive".  In 2007, the group released the album Long Road Out of Eden, their first studio album in 28 years, and it was as if they'd been there all the time.  The album reached #1 in Australia, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, the U.K. and the United States.  The Eagles were nominated for four Grammy Awards, and won a statue for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.  Long Road Out of Eden is now over the seven-million mark in the United States alone, and has gone over 10 million in sales worldwide. 

The Eagles achieved their comeback not because of a lack of success; rather they accomplished it because, by reuniting, they accomplished what bands such as the Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chicago and Journey failed to do--namely having the maturity to gather their original lineup back together for the enjoyment of the group members and their millions of fans.

#4:  Santana
The group that was playing Latin music before it was cool featured the amazing Carlos Santana on guitar and gave a riveting performance at Woodstock in 1969 shortly after the release of their debut album.  They released "Black Magic Woman" in 1970, which became their biggest hit--more on that later.

But after 22 years, Columbia Records dropped Santana.  The group signed with another label briefly, but then faded for several years. 
We pick their story back up in1999, when music mogul Clive Davis brought the group back, and Santana collaborated with numerous artists (including Rob Thomas, Dave Matthews and Everclear) in a stroke of marketing genius to introduce their music to a new generation.  The project was called Supernatural, and with "Smooth" eclipsing "Black Magic Woman" as their biggest career hit (12 weeks at #1), the album sold over 30 million copies and captured nine Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, and Record of the Year and Song of the Year (for "Smooth").

#3:  Aerosmith

Ten years after their last Top 10 song (a reissue of "Walk This Way" in 1977), Aerosmith was 0-13 in making the Top 10.  In fact, they didn't even have a Hot 100 song in their last six releases.  Then in 1986, the rap duo Run D.M.C. invited Aerosmith members Steven Tyler and Joe Perry to sing on their remake of "Walk This Way".  It was a shot in the arm to a band that was flailing.
Beginning with their 1987 album Permanent Vacation, the great Boston group caught a second wind and actually were more successful after their comeback than before it.  Afterwards, Aerosmith landed 10 Top 20 hits, with six reaching the Top 10.
#2:  Tina Turner
She seemingly had the makings of a star, achieving success with husband Ike Turner with their remake of the CCR classic "Proud Mary", then starring in the iconic role of The Acid Queen in the rock opera Tommy in 1976.  But then we would go seven years without hearing from Tina Turner, who left her recording label at the end of the decade.  The public wasn't aware of it, but she was experiencing a disastrous marriage with Ike, who we now know verbally and physically abused her.

Just coming back from that to be able to function again is hard enough.  But in 1984, Turner returned to the music world with the album Private Dancer.  As hit after hit emerged from the album, we could see that it was a monumental comeback, with Private Dancer reaching #1 in two countries, #2 in the U.K. and #3 in the United States.  Turner collected five hits, three Top 10 songs, and the #1 smash "What's Love Got To Do With It".  Tina won four Grammy Awards:  Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (for "What's Love Got To Do With It") and Best Female Rock Vocal Performance (for "Better Be Good To Me").
But unlike several of the other comebacks we are highlighting, it wasn't temporary.  Not by a long shot.  Turner went on to score eight more Top 40 hits and three more Top 10 songs (including two #2 songs) over the next nine years, and she picked up a further Grammy nomination and a Golden Globe nomination as well.   
#1:  Bee Gees
This trio of gifted brothers were consistent hitmakers in the 60's and early 70's, racking up 11 Top 20 hits and 4 Top 10's.  But after their 1971 classic #1 "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart", the Bee Gees failed to produce a Top 10 follow-up despite 15 released.  The last Top 20 album they recorded was Odessa back in 1969. 
Historians now refer to that period as the Bee Gees' earlier career, markedly different not only in sound but success.  In 1975, the Brothers Gibb came up with a brand new style and sound, beginning with the release of the album Main Course.  It not only revitalized their career and made them superstars; it made the Bee Gees one of the hottest acts the world has ever known. 
The group proceeded to produce 12 Top 20 hits out of their next 13 releases, with an incredible nine #1 songs, three alone from the "Saturday Night Fever" Soundtrack that the Bee Gees helped make the #1 Soundtrack of the Rock Era*.  They have sold over 21 million albums since their comeback.

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