Go Solo

Several years ago, while at a party, a friend of mine remarked that musicians tend to fare better once they go solo after having been in a band. I think his statement was something like, “I should just go solo; everybody does better once they go solo.” This prompted us to start listing examples and counter examples. It dominated the conversation at that party and well beyond.

Recently, while attempting to bring some order to the files on an old hard drive, I found the list we made and was again amused. Since I now have a blog, I can post it here! And hopefully the comments feature will allow the list to grow.

I’ve added my current commentary in brackets.

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First, the rules we gradually established were:

  • The band cannot have contained the solo artist’s name (e.g. Paul Simon / Simon & Garfunkel doesn’t count)
  • The band must have temporally preceded the solo career (e.g. George Harrison / Traveling Wilburys doesn’t count)
  • Solo career means solo MUSIC career (e.g. Keanu Reeves / Dogstar doesn’t count)
  • Solo career also means SOLO career (e.g. Cracker / Camper Van Beethoven doesn’t count)
  • Success/popularity is measured by record sales (I’ve been using the RIAA database to figure gold/platinum sales — thanks, Eric [Roston, I assume? Also, this database seems a lot crappier for doing this kind of research now.])

Where there has been controversy, I’ve relayed the RIAA stats as the ratio of the number of solo records that went either gold or platinum to the number of band records that did.

[Additionally, I’ve now italicized examples on this list I find highly suspect, but that, due to the aforementioned crappification of the RIAA database, I am too lazy to do the math for.]

Ryan Adams (Whiskey Town)
Beyonce (Destiny’s Child)
Bjork (The Sugarcubes)
Bobby Brown (New Edition)
Busta Rhymes (Leaders of the New School)
David Cassidy (The Partridge Family)
Nick Cave (The Birthday Party)
Eric Clapton (Cream)
George Clinton (Parliament Funkadelic)
Phil Collins (Genesis)
Dr. Dre (NWA)
Danny Elfman (Oingo Boingo)
Eminem (D-12)
Brian Eno (Roxy Music)
Roky Erickson (The 13th Floor Elevators)
Peter Frampton (Humble Pie)
Peter Gabriel (Genesis)
Juliana Hatfield (Blake Babies)
Lauryn Hill (The Fugees)
Billy Idol (Generation X)
Michael Jackson (The Jackson Five)
Joan Jett (The Runaways)
Janis Joplin (Big Brother)
Paula Kelly (The Drop Nineteens)
Ben Kweller (Radish)
Kool Moe Dee (Treacherous Three)
Ted Leo (Chisel)
Aimee Mann (Til Tuesday)
Ricky Martin (Menudo) [This one’s weird — isn’t Menudo still a “band”?]
Natalie Merchant (10,000 Maniacs)
George Michael (Wham!)
Van Morrison (Them)
Ozzy Osborne (Black Sabbath) — 47:27
Iggy Pop (The Stooges)
Lou Reed (The Velvet Underground) — 2:0
Lionel Ritchie (The Commodores)
Diana Ross (The Supremes) — 19:5
Elliot Smith (Heatmiser)
Will Smith (DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince)
Rod Stewart (The Faces)
Sting (Police) — 32:25
Justin Timberlake (N’Sync)
Tupac (Digital Underground)
Steve Winwood (Traffic)
Neil Young (Buffalo Springfield)

And the even more controversial:
Morrissey (The Smiths) — 3:3
Peter Murphy (Bauhaus) — 0:0
Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac) — I’m leaving this up here for history’s sake, but 17:46.
Frank Zappa (The Mothers of Invention) — 1:1

Go Solo

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