The term “peak” is a loaded one. It’s almost entirely subjective, especially in a musical context. Does it refer to an act’s height in popularity, or does it refer to an act’s height in creativity? For example, Elton John went on being popular long after he stopped making fantastic music. It’s hard to say that he peaked too early, no matter how you slice it, though. However, what happens when a act sustains relevance and popularity, but no where near to the extent that they accomplished early on? It’s pretty hard not to call that a peak. Now, of course, one hit wonders don’t really count, by the sheer nature of their legacy. This list complies 10 bands and artists that, early on in their career, put out their most significant material. Some of them went on to crank out a few more hits, some of them dropped off the face of the earth, and some of them simply never came close to matching their biggest or best material from early on. To put it into context, Michael Jackson never matched the success of Thriller, but it’s impossible not to consider his other albums massive, culturally-significant hits. In addition, Nirvana’s Nevermind changed music forever, but their entire career is lauded. While both of these acts had a clear standout peak, their entire careers were important. Every successful musician is going to have that one big “claim to fame,” but these 10 made their only/significant mark way too early on.
Oh, Fiddy. Upon his arrival, with the backing of Dr. Dre and Eminem (HELLO!,) he had us all in the palm of his hands. For a solid two years, there was no bigger artist in hip hop, with hit after hit topping the charts. He was touted as “the next big thing,” became just that, and then what? It’s not like he’s gone away. It just seems as though the public has, more or less, lost interest in him. It’s strange, considering the backing he got.
This one is a particular shame, because these guys are wildly talented. Arrested Development was “the other white meat” of hip hop in a time when gangsta rap was dominating the genre. Instead, they took a softer, more poignant approach to their music. A.D. even walked away with the Grammy award for Best New Artist, but after a run of hits from their debut, they seemed to vanish from radio altogether. They’re still legends in my book.
In the early 2000s, what solo female R&B artist was bigger than Ashanti? That’s right, no one. Hits like “Foolish,” “Rock Wit U,” and a few duets with Ja Rule were all over radio (literally inescapable) and then POOF, she’s gone. Ashanti was Murder Inc.’s sweetheart, girl-next-door type (a strange juxtaposition with the label,) and when they fell out of relevance, she went down with them. I still think she had some hits left in her.
No one does easy listening like Christopher Cross. Maybe his songs are the punchlines to a few jokes here and there, but at large, no one remembers this guy at all. Thanks to his debut album and massive hit “Sailing,” he became the first and only artist to walk away with the “Big Four” at the Grammys in one year (Album, Record, and Song of the Year and Best New Artist.) For all of the acclaim and attention he received, he vanished rather abruptly.
Before this huge rush of British Females (Amy Winehouse, Adele, Duffy, etc.,) there was Dido, who should never be lumped in with that group. She got off two successful albums, both incredible, that yielded several international hits. Her acoustic, electronic, trip-hop sound that was driven by her soothing voice had us all captivated, but by the time her third album was released, no one seemed to care anymore. What a shame.
GUNS N’ ROSES
Now I’m going to fight this one to grave. They had hits, they sold albums, they won awards, hell they were even inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but GNR peaked hard was their debut, Appetite For Destruction. That album is legendary, you could even argue the greatest debut album ever, and everything that followed was more or less a big yawn-fest. Even looking back on their career, it all is kind of reduced to one album. Great band, but they peaked early.
HOOTIE & THE BLOWFISH
Sure, Darius Rucker is one of the biggest acts to hit country music this side of Garth Brooks, but let’s not kid ourselves, Hootie & The Blowfish is still his claim to fame. The band’s debut, Cracked Rear View is one of the biggest selling albums of the 90s, and spawned 4 incredibly popular hits. They won awards (including the Grammy for Best New Artist,) and then completely disappeared. Talk about Hero to Zero.
Keane came out during a renaissance-of-sorts when alternative rock was ushering its next generation in a big way. The British group’s debut album Hopes & Fears was piano-drived (no guitars!,) beautiful, catchy, endearing, and down right fun to listen to. Tracks like “Somewhere Only We Know” and “Everybody’s Changing” are really brilliant, and despite seemingly setting the stage to take it to the next level, they never really did. Their debut is their best by a landslide.
This one might be a controversial addition, but hear me out. Yes, Alanis Morissette has had a successful career beyond Jagged Little Pill, but let’s be honest, that album is a timeless classic; what else has she really done? For an international debut, she was placed on a “legend” pedestal, and hasn’t properly owned it. Not that she’s particularly shown the desire to, nor has she made any particularly bad music, but let’s be realistic, in Alanis Morissette’s career, JLP is a clear-cut peak.
Travis’ debut album, Good Feeling, is a great record, but their sophomore LP, The Man Who is mindblowingly fantastic. The fact that it spawned some big hits is almost irrelevant compared to just how good it is. The Scottish band went on crank out a few more hits and whatnot, but they haven’t really made music quite this good. It’s a shame they ended up becoming as lackluster as they did, especially when we all know what they’re capable of.