Usually when a great band breaks up and spawns one or several solo careers, it means that you’re going to get a bunch of albums that aren’t quite as good as the stuff the band did…something with varying amounts of “the old magic” that you’re hoping for but cautiously not expecting. Well, here are a few of the exceptions. These are artists that went solo and made better, more relevant music than the band that came before them.

Elliott Smith (ex Heatmiser)

Being in middle school and high school in the late 90s/early 2000s made me lose almost all hope for popular contemporary music. Quick recap: some of the cheesiest boy bands ever, commercially morphed Grunge runoff, sexually demeaning girl Pop and Pop Punk where bands confused being rebellious with just being annoying.

Elliot Smith was one of the few contemporary artists who found enough fame to get through to the young on MTV and also have something to say. He got his start in a band called Heatmiser. Can’t say I’ve spent a ton of time with his formative band, but it certainly doesn’t hold a candle to his great string of solo albums.

Nick Lowe (ex Brinsley Schwarz)

Before he became a cult figure as a solo artist and house producer for Stiff Records, Nick Lowe was the main songwriting force in flagship Pub Rock band, Brinsley Schwarz from 1969 to 1975. After a failure to commercially break out due in part to the “Brinsley Schwarz Hype,” the band still made several catchy albums of good ol’ Rock n’ Roll that served as beacons of hope for economic song craft during the days of widescreen Progressive Rock. However, the records sound a bit dusty in comparison to Nick Lowe’s solo work, which took the best of the Brinsley Schwarz sound and added a more timeless Power Pop bite and Punk era relevance.

Neil Young (ex Buffalo Springfield)

Buffalo Springfield was the commercial starting point for both Neil Young and Steven Stills. While Springfield is one of the essential Time Life bands of the 60s, for Young, it was a testing ground for finding his own sound. Songs like “Broken Arrow” and “Expecting to Fly” are symphonic and psychedelic productions that show his inclinations to do something different. Once the band split, Young’s solo career took off and one of the most eclectic and essential discographies of the era took shape.

Jay Reatard (Ex The Reatards, Lost Sounds)

This one could be argued over because The Reatards were definitely a kick in the pants for garage punk at a time when the genre was beginning to wither. The Lost Sounds were also a vital force, but with albums like Blood Visions and Watch Me Fall, Jay Reatard took his solo music to another level. With the crossover attention that Jay and others like The White Stripes and the Hives garnered by the mid 2000s, Garage Punk once again came out of its dark corner.

Gram Parsons (Ex Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers)

For all the artists who took a “Country Rock” turn in the late 60’s/early 70’s, no one went quite as head first into it as Gram Parsons. From The International Submarine Band to The Byrds to The Flying Burrito Brothers, Parsons always had a twang to his style and he definitely helped to bring Country sounds into the Pop scene of LA and beyond in the 60s. He was always on the same tangent, but as his music career progressed, his blend of Country and Rock became more and more seamless.

Honorable mentions and ones I was too lazy to write a paragraph about:

Syd Barrett (ex Pink Floyd)
Bob Marley (ex Wailers)
Scott Walker (ex Walker Brothers)
Skip Spence (Ex Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape)

– Submitted by Justin Main, Music Design