Second Helping: Life After A Big Time Debut Album

So your debut album went ‘King Midas’ and sold millions. Didn’t see that coming — what do you do next? We’re taking a look at the second album from new groups with big time debut record sales. Second offerings from mega-movers like Boston, The Cars, Foreigner, and a couple more.

In the history of classic rock, there have been maybe just a few dozen chart-topping debut albums, and many of them are found on the Rolling Stone Top 100 Debut Albums list. Since we’re talking classic rock we can’t turn back the clock so there will never be another smash debut release. In the past maybe two dozen or so records that fall into this category,  If you are talented and fortunate enough to have a mega-selling first album, what in the world could you do to repeat the feat?  Maybe put out another Gold Record. Several have done just that. The Recording Industry Association of America® defines a Gold Record as a recording that has sold over 500,000 copies; a Platinum Record is given for over 1,000,000 sales, and a Diamond Record is awarded when 10 million copies are sold.

The biggest-selling debut album in rock history is Appetite For Destruction, the initial effort by Guns ‘n Roses. The album debuted at number 182 on the Billboard 200 in the week of August 29, 1987. It did not top the chart until August 6, 1988, nearly a year later. Dave Ling, in a review for Metal Hammer magazine, dismissed the album as “an inferior mix of elements from bands such as Aerosmith, Hanoi Rocks, and AC/DC“. On the other hand, it landed in the 26th best album of the year slot in the Pazz & Jop, The Village Voice annual critics poll. In 1989, Rolling Stone ranked Appetite for Destruction as the 27th best album of the 1980s. As the album continues to sell even today, with estimated gross sales, including digital downloads, at approximately 30,000,000 copies sold worldwide.

That amount of sales is equal to 60 Gold Albums. In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked Appetite for Destruction as the 62nd greatest album of all time. “Appetite for Destruction had an unrefined, punk quality that marked a shift away from hair metal bands commercialized by MTV“, according to Jimmy Martin of The Quietus. Chuck Eddy named it one of his essential hair metal records and wrote in Spin, “[It was] the greatest album ever made about how you can’t run away from yourself.” In 2006, the album was number 2 on Guitar World magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Albums of All Time.

A year later the group, initialized as GN’R, put out a second effort, Lies. The album’s cover art is a story unto itself, as it experienced several designs and editing modifications when the recording made it to compact disc. The first change is the part where “LIES LIES LIES” was initially “Wife-beating has been around for 10,000 years.” The second alteration focused upon the “Elephant gives birth to midget” portion, while the original headline said, “Ladies, welcome to the dark ages.” The original LP contained an uncensored picture of a nude model on the inner LP sleeve. Lies has sold over five million copies.
GN'R Lies original album cover on BoomerSwag!

Original album cover

While the release is far from the normal album, it can be considered a portal that takes the listener back to a time when a rock band could take over on the world stage in the blink of an eye. The bean-counters and PR brainiacs were hard at work during the effort to drive the growing success of the guys that some call the ‘Most Dangerous Band in the World.’ At the end of the day, we have this album that has a few classic cuts that are up with the band’s best work. Following the second album, Axl Rose explained that he was excited about how the band sounded during the four final songs, at the same time he was somewhat disappointed with the sound of his voice. He confessed how his voice had been impacted by the band’s extensive tour schedule, and that he wished he would have re-recorded the vocal tracks for an additional editing session.

In the summer of 1976 rock music was inundated by “just another band out of Boston”. Their debut album, Boston, released on August 25, 1976, was almost an overnight success. The record became a piece of American culture and ranks as one of the best-selling debut albums in U.S. chart history with over 17 million copies sold. On October 26, 1976, the album was awarded Gold Record status by the RIAA, a mere 62 days after its’ release. Current worldwide sales exceed 25 million copies. It made the third slot on the U.S. Billboard 200 list, stayed on the charts for 132 weeks, almost three years, and spawned three Top 40 singles.

Two years later Boston came back with Don’t Look Back, the second studio record, which was released August 2, 1978. It sold over four million copies in the first month of its release, and was certified 7x platinum by the RIAA in the U.S. Three singles were taken from this album: “Don’t Look Back”, “A Man I’ll Never Be”, and the final cut “Feelin’ Satisfied”, was released in 1979. This album marked the beginning of the band’s legal fight with Epic Records. Scholz claimed that Epic records had wrangled the band into releasing the album long before they were ready. The album cover art allegedly inspired the box art on the Atari 2600 release of the video game Space Invaders.

From across the pond came a band of foreigners, literally. The Foreigner debut album was released in 1977 and came ashore packing a train-load of hit singles, including “Feels Like the First Time”, “Cold as Ice”, and “Long, Long Way from Home”. Additional songs include the rockingly righteous “Headknocker”, and “Starrider”, which has a rare lead vocal by guitarist and co-founder Mick Jones. Albums sales in the U.S. now exceed five million copies, and the band has gone on to sell some 70 million total albums, according to the band’s website.

Fortunately for the band, their second LP dodged the sophomore jinx. Released in June of 1978, Double Vision increased Foreigner’s early momentum, spawning three more hits (“Blue Morning, Blue Day”, “Hot Blooded”, and the album title track) while going on to rack up sales in excess of seven million copies in the U.S. alone. By the end of the decade, they were constant choices on pop and rock radio playlists, where they’d remain for the next 10 years. This album was the first of many Foreigner albums that listed A&R exec John Kalodner’s name twice on the album’s liner notes, a humorous take on the album’s title.

The debut album from The Cars is a musical offering that some have termed ‘new wave’ and in some ways, we see (hear?) why. It was released on June 6, 1978, on Elektra Records, and produced the three popular singles, “Just What I Needed”, “My Best Friend’s Girl”, and “Good Times Roll”. The breakthrough style and unique electronic influences made the effort an overall success for the band, staying on industry charts for 139 weeks. It’s the most popular and probably the band’s best album. Rolling Stone ranked the album at the 284th spot in its “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list. Drummer David Robinson, who has experience in album cover concepts and design, said in an interview that he “had designed a very different album cover [for The Cars] that cost $80.00 to design.” The cover was produced by the record company, and the album ended up at number 18 on the U.S. charts, selling over 6 million copies since it’s release.

The second Cars album, Candy-O, was released in 1979 on Elektra Records. Featuring the Top 20 hit “Let’s Go” and the semi-popular “It’s All I Can Do”, the album exceeded the commercial success of its predecessor, charting 15 places better on the Billboard Hot 100. The remarkable album cover art is from the famous pin-up artist Alberto Vargas. Most songs from Candy-O were written following the release of The Cars, so leftovers from the first album (such as the signature encore tune “Take What You Want”) were left by the wayside. The disc reached Top Three on the Billboard Top 200 charts, but the element of surprise was gone, and the band hasn’t been able to come up with anything new to replace it.

Men At Work got down to work in 1978 under the leadership of Colin Hay. In August 1982 the group toured Canada and the US to promote the album and related singles, supporting Fleetwood Mac. In January 1983, they were holding the top spots on both the U.S. Billboard album (Business as Usualand singles (“Down Under”) charts. While “Who Can It Be Now?” was still in the top ten in the U.S., “Down Under” was finally released stateside. It entered the U.S. charts at #79 and ten weeks later, it was in the top spot. Business as Usual spent an incredible 15 weeks at the top of the US Billboard 200 charts and was a huge success with 6 million copies sold in the U.S. and over 15 million sold worldwide. The album reached the top spot in six international record charts and was in the top 20 on six more national charts. It received tremendous airplay worldwide, from Italy to Japan, and most places in between. After winning the 1983 Grammy Award for Best New Artist, the band was tied up with legal issues regarding copyrights over the flute solo from “Down Under”. In July of 2010, a judge ruled that Larrikin Music Publishing (owners of the subject flute solo recording) should be paid 5% of past (since 2002) and any future profits.

Men at Work released their follow-up album, Cargo, in April 1983, which peaked at Number One – for two weeks – on the Australian charts; in New Zealand, it reached the second spot. On the international market, where Business as Usual was still riding high, Cargo appeared in the third-best spot on the Billboard 200, and got as high as number 8 in the U.K. Rolling Stone’s Christopher Connelly wrote that Cargo “may lack a track with the body-slamming intensity of ‘Who Can It Be Now?’ and ‘Down Under’, but song for song, it is a stronger overall effort than Business as Usual.” Three singles were released with moderate success, and eventually, the album achieved Platinum status. In April 2012 the group dissolved following the death of flutist Greg Ham.

We’ve tried to name a handful of groups that managed to rock the world with their multi-platinum releases. (For a lighter approach we included Men At Work – they were kinda’ “catchy”). Surely there are more of these stories out there, and if there were time and space we’d let loose with a longer list, but we think you get it.

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