Fall signals a change of season, even here in Southern California. There's still plenty of good riding days ahead so it's certainly no time to even think about putting the bike away for winter, if ever. Fall is also the time for back to school, and a time when many of us motorcyclists begin battling school buses for highway space. Ah yes, school days. This may be the weakest lead-in yet to music reviews but it relates to this month's feature-a totally subjective list of the best sophomore music releases ever; in other words, second efforts. An artist's second effort is like the second time you replaced the same part on your bike-it gets easier because you've been through the drill before. You're also able to improvise in order to improve on the whole process. A few months ago, we listed our top 10 debut albums of all time, so it's only fitting that we do the same for sophomore efforts-those classic biker-hall-of-fame second efforts which in many cases dispelled the notion of a sophomore jinx. For sure there are plenty of other selections out there, but space will only permit us to list 10. If you don't agree with these choices, fine, feel free to write in and nominate your own. And so, in no certain order, here we go...
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
1969 was a hallmark in the history of rock 'n' roll. And despite the fact this album may sonically not be on the list of cruising music, it still ranks as one of the best second-efforts of all time. Neil had left Buffalo Springfield behind, and his first album Neil Young, was only four months old when this one was released. It was the age of FM radio and it embraced playing songs over three minutes-even if they weren't hit singles. Thus the album became a huge seller on the strength of the music alone. Neil was developing from a singer-songwriter into a rock band leader, and some of the songs on this album, such as "Down By The River" and "Cowgirl in the Sand," stretch out enough to let the musicians improvise and do what they do best-play. One wonders in this era of American Idol, single downloads, and disposable pop music, if performers like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Neil Young would have ever made it big.
The guys hit the big time with this one and the work remains a pinnacle achievement of the post-punk grunge movement. In fact, so much so that only Pearl Jam's Ten comes close. Nirvana was the new Doors, complete with Jim Morrison reborn as Kurt Cobain. The comparison was obvious, given their exploration of similar themes, shortened careers, and tragic endings. Nirvana changed the game for many bands and put Seattle on the rock 'n' roll roadmap (something a previous local hometown left-handed guitarist named Jimi failed to accomplish). The music itself was a brutal attack born of teenage angst, fuzzy guitar assaults, and brutal drive-by drumming attacks. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was the '90s version of "Whole Lotta Love" and that was perfectly fine to even the classic rock purists.
Led Zeppelin II
This is probably the most obvious candidate here, as Page, Plant, Bonham, and Jones proved their first album was certainly no fluke flash in the pan. For the follow-up album, they resuscitated a few more blues diddies, specifically from the great Willie Dixon songbook. The album was recorded in spurts and lurches during downtime from their US tour, and would go on to become what everyone considers to be the best heavy metal masterpiece of all time. It's stood the test of time quite well-after all, how many 40-something-year-old albums still sound this good? Would rock ever sound this good again? See the preceding album for the answer.
The Wild The Innocent, The E-Street Shuffle
Bruce's second album for Columbia was an important test to see if the label could actually establish Bruce as a rising star and if Bruce himself could achieve the moments of lyrical brilliance displayed on the critically acclaimed Greetings From Asbury Park. The label was still waiting for sales to happen, but Bruce plunged headlong into the task. Fortunately he would still have a lot to sing about. Again it came together in tough, urban, street-wise tales of a young man coming to terms with his own experiences, dreams, and desires (in retrospect it also set the tone for Born to Run, which would follow two years later). "Wild Billy's Circus Story" established the circus as a familiar backdrop Bruce would explore in depth on Tunnel of Love. "4th of July Asbury Park (Sandy)" was Bruce at his storytelling best, and the trilogy "Incident on 57th Street," "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)," and "New York City Serenade" set new standards for songwriting. One could argue with some choices on this list but this ain't one of 'em!
As home to the Dead, Big Brother, Quicksilver, Steve Miller, etc., it could be rightly argued that the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame belongs in San Francisco and not Cleveland.
Frisco was always about rebellion and it didn't matter if it was the kids on Haight-Ashbury, the Hell Angels, or left-leaning politics. The Bay Area single-handedly launched psychedelic rock onto an unsuspecting generation of music fans. "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit" summed up the Woodstock generation better than any other artists' work at Woodstock. The band's internal and external exploits were regularly revealed in the pages of a young Rolling Stone magazine (thanks in part to the then-new notion of a woman fronting a rock band). Grace Slick and company became counterculture icons and the band itself would continue to evolve and impact the rock music world for a few more decades.
Get Your Wings
Steve Tyler and band were being hailed as the new Rolling Stones upon the release of this, their second album. Much of the country was still listening to disco when this album appeared in record stores and it was the one in which Aerosmith found its own trademark sound, thanks in a big way to producer Jack Douglas. The sleaze and the swagger came together with the songwriting and even a retread like the Yardbirds' classic "Train Kept a Rollin'" sounded like something altogether new and out of control.
Together with the Allman Brothers and Marshall Tucker Band, Lynyrd Skynrd led the second uprising of the South. If Webster had a definition for "biker music," the Second Helping album cover would be next to the term. And no songs define the biker credo as much as "Call Me The Breeze" and "Sweet Home Alabama." While the South probably could have won the war if General Lee had these boys to galvanize the troops, make no mistake, this ain't unsophisticated redneck music. The guys weren't singing songs in support of Jim Crow but in support of regional pride and just plain ol' having a good time. Helped immensely by the band's twin guitar assault, the exceptional song writing skills of Ronnie Van Zandt, and the production talents of Al Kooper, it was almost enough to make the Confederate flag socially acceptable.
Creedence Clearwater Revival
It was never obvious how a musician from San Francisco became so enamored of the Spanish moss-infused bayou of Louisiana, but on Bayou Country, John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival managed to somehow channel the musical influences of the Big Easy into one big sprawling swampy gumbo. Amazing how much substance can be found in a skimpy seven tracks, but when you have songs like "Born on a Bayou" and "Proud Mary," not much else remains to be said. This was an album of all meat and no filler, and set Creedence on an amazing run of multiple hit albums and singles.
Some may have been expecting another foray into the blues, but Disraeli Gears proved to the masses that, like the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream was a power trio bent on raising a mighty ruckus. Deep Purple had yet to master true heavy metal fundamentals when Cream, who survived only two years as a band, was connecting with psychedelic-fueled audiences from London to San Francisco. Clapton, Bruce, and Baker had crafted one of the all-time greatest quintessential rock albums.
Axis: Bold As Love
On their second outing, the Hendrix Experience displayed the full range of Jimi's creativity and musicianship. Whereas the first album featured neatly contained singles, Axis: Bold As Love let Jimi's freak flag fly and gave way to spacey, exploratory compositions that challenged a listener's auditory powers. Songs like "You Got Me Floating," "If 6 Were 9," and "EXP" most certainly sounded better under the influence of controlled substances (not that we endorse this type of behavior). They balance nicely against songs like "Little Wing" and "Castles Made of Sand." Even the album cover itself invited hours of careful scrutiny. Not only did Jimi raise the bar, he literally launched it into space.