While some bands keep on trucking for decades, delivering ever-diminishing returns as the clock keeps ticking in a lot of cases, others understand that it’s sometimes better to live fast and split young. Here are 21 of those bands, who only gave us one record but oh, what a record it was…
Oh, Jeff. If a tortured soul and heartwrenchingly gorgeous music are sadly frequent bedfellows, then Buckley is surely one of the most noted tortured souls of all. The singer released one superlative LP – 1994’s ‘Grace’ – before his death by accidental drowning in 1997, but what an album.
You’ll probably be familiar with at least one member of influential LA punk trio the Germs: guitarist Pat Smear went on to join Foo Fighters. But the band’s seminal 1979 LP ‘(GI)’ is far more than just an interesting curio from Smear’s past. A leading light in the hardcore scene, the band are still revered now.
Emerging just before the baggy brigade came to dominate the early ’90s, The La’s timeless melodies and jangling hooks earned them a place in music’s history books despite only coming up with one LP (1990’s self-titled album). Frontman Lee Mavers became an elusive legend, while ‘There She Goes’ remains one of pop’s most perfect tunes.
It seems odd to think that ex-Fugee Lauryn Hill only released one solo record (1998’s ‘The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill’) considering her prolonged touring and stint in the public eye. Still, the record stands on its own to this day and, after a live return following a recent stint in prison for tax evasion, there are whispers of a follow-up…
The Postal Service:
The supergroup comprised of Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Jenny Lewis and Jimmy Tamborello of Dntel united for a brief window to create 2003’s ‘Give Up’. It gained lashings of cult acclaim, and when the band reunited for a 10-year anniversary, the Album Two rumour mill reignited. It was sadly not to be though, and in August 2013 the band split for good.
Wu Lyf: In their short tenure as Indie’s Most Exciting New Band at the beginning of the decade, Manchester’s mysterious Wu Lyf built up the kind of fervent following that made their subsequent swift demise a sorry affair. 2011’s ‘Go Tell Fire To The Mountain’ still remains a masterclass in effortless, chest-bursting melody.
Them Crooked Vultures:
There was never really any question as to whether a group featuring Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones would be good, was there? Combining forces to bring rock almighty hammer of Thor crashing into our ears, their self-titled 2009 LP was a swaggering, riff-heavy masterpiece. God damn those day jobs.
Perhaps the ultimate ‘one album wonder’ band, the Sex Pistols knew that maximum impact meant burning brightly rather than fading away. After releasing the seminal punk album in ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’, the Pistols split in 1978 after perhaps the most legendary final gig ever. Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?
The collaborative project of electronic pioneer Nicholas Jaar and multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington, Darkside brought out one LP – 2013’s ‘Psychic’ – before announcing their split the following year with a message that they were “coming to an end, for now”. It was fun while it lasted.
After he parted ways with The Stone Roses, guitarist John Squire got himself a new gang. 1997 LP ‘Do It Yourself’ was recorded with Bowie producer Tony Visconti and featured a Liam Gallagher co-write, but the group still weren’t happy. “I thought ‘This sounds shit; we don’t deserve to be in this place’,” said Squire of the recordings the band were making before they split.
The comic character created by Graham Fellows went from the protagonist of a novelty single (also called ‘Jilted John’) who’d been dumped by a girl named Julie to a wannabe proper pop star. None of his other singles had the same impact and 1978 LP ‘True Love Stories’ was John’s only album before he resigned himself to one hit wonder status.
The United States Of America:
Early psychedelic explorers and electronic pioneers The United States Of America (who hailed from the singular state of California) were only together for little more than a year, but managed to make it a damn influential one. Portishead and Broadcast are among their 1968 self-titled LP’s famous fans, while the record is still held in cult acclaim.
Of all the bands that came and went in the mid-2000s indie boom, Larrikin Love surely hold the title for the biggest missed opportunity. Their 2006 debut ‘The Freedom Spark’ was a brilliantly idiosyncratic slice of escapist, urchin indie-folk, while their split the following year was met with universal dismay.
Late Of The Pier:
Forever the weird kids at the party, Castle Donington quartet Late of the Pier created the kind of gloriously hotpotch, electronic dance-punk that felt like it was beamed in from the future. 2008’s ‘Fantasy Black Channel’ was wonderfully out of sync with their contemporaries and remains their sole LP, although singer Sam Eastgate is now making music again as LA Priest.
Orange Juice may be the more successful act of celebrated Scottish label Postcard Records’ stable, but Josef K have arguably earned as much cult acclaim. 1981 album ‘The Only Fun In Town’ was a perfectly executed lesson in dry, downbeat post-punk jangles and one that still sounds fresh today.
Washington hardcore punks Minor Threat’s legacy far exceeds their short, three-year career, with single ‘Straight Edge’ inspiring the whole clean-living movement of the same name. Two compilations were released subsequently, but 1983 debut ‘Out Of Step’ remains their only studio record.
If the idea of a band of American soldiers making avant garde garage rock sounds a little bizarre, then get yourself acquainted with 1966 LP ‘Black Monk Time’. Aiming to be the “anti-Beatles”, the group combined existential musings with abrasive musicality and nooses. Clearly, the vibe was too tricky to uphold, however, as they never made a follow up.
Young Marble Giants:
Welsh post-punks Young Marble Giants only existed for two years but they spent their minimal time together wisely. Drawing from the likes of Roxy Music, Kraftwerk and Can, they compiled a muso’s wet dream’s worth of credible influences and combined them to form 1980’s ‘Colossal Youth’.
The Good, The Bad And The Queen:
OK, so there’s nothing stopping TGTBATQ from reuniting and dishing up another slice of urban melancholia, but it’s starting to look unlikely. The collaboration between Damon Albarn, The Clash’s Paul Simonon, Simon Tong of The Verve and drummer Tony Allen was a magical one that yielded one of Albarn’s best projects yet in their self-titled 2007 LP.
The Modern Lovers:
A different version taken from demo sessions exists, but The Modern Lovers’ self-titled 1976 remains the iconic Massachusetts proto-punk group’s only proper studio release. If you’re going to only do one though, you might as well do it well, and they certainly did: ‘The Modern Lovers’ remains one of the decade’s most seminal releases with ‘Roadrunner’ its pinnacle.
Derek And The Dominos:
Terrible name aside, Derek And The Dominos – the side project formed by Eric Clapton – had a brief but enduringly successful run. Their 1970 LP ‘Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs’ gave us ‘Layla’ itself and, though it initially fell foul to poor reviews, the record has gone on to be reappraised as a career peak for Clapton.