10 Epic Musical Comebacks17
By Steven Novak
10 Epic Musical Comebacks
Andy Warhol said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Since the invention of the Internet, this has never been more true. But we all know, one day you are riding high and the next you’re a faint memory. To put it plainly, fame can be a mighty fickle mistress. However, you can always hope for a comeback! For a musician, staging a comeback after you’ve slipped into obscurity is never easy. Unfortunately you’re only as good as your last album. As in the KoldCast TV series Gemini Rising, sometimes returning to the studio and doing what you do best is the only chance musicians have of getting back on top. Here are the ten most improbable comebacks in the long and storied history of popular music.
Gemini Rising – Star Child
1. Nick Drake
Between 1969 and 1972 the tender-mouthed Nick Drake released three sparse, highly emotional albums that received little acclaim and even fewer sales. For the next two decades he had all but disappeared from the music scene, save for a barely worth noting cult following that held him in fairly high regard. In 2000 however Drake’s “Pink Moon” provided the soundtrack for a Volkswagen commercial sparking interest in his work and the rest as they say is history. More a come-to than a comeback, Drake’s unlikely stardom is made even more unlikely when you consider he had been dead for nearly 25 years when it arrived – having committed suicide in 1974.
2. Mariah Carey
While I’m personally not much of a fan, Mariah Carey’s return to the spotlight is not only surprising, but also fairly astounding. Prior to the release of The Emancipation of Mimi, Carey had essentially become little more than a punch line. The frustratingly stupid Glitter was not only considered one of the worst albums of the year, but one of the worst movies as well. Her sanity was in question after a blown record contract, weird messages on her website, rumors of an attempted suicide, and a truly bizarre appearance on TRL. Almost overnight though she managed to “un-crazy” herself in the eyes of the public and make a dramatic return to being one of the best selling artists the industry has ever seen.
3. Bob Dylan
Let’s be honest, Bob Dylan was in more than a bit of a funk before releasing 1997’s Time Out of Mind, and even that’s being sort of generous. To be fair, he’s always been a bit uneven as an artist – capable of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in nearly the same breath. His love of gospel music in the late 70’s brought forth a stretch of mostly forgettable music, and the listening public had pretty much written him off. With Time Out of Mind, however, Dylan proved there was at least a glimmer of interesting bits left in his gnarled voice. The album managed to find both critical and commercial success.
4. Elton John
Between the years of 1970 and 1976 Elton John was one of the most successful, not to mention, critically acclaimed, performers in the country. In 1978, however, he announced that he was “retiring” from performing. Shortly afterwards, his personal and professional career took an absolute nosedive. Sparse recordings and uninspired live performances soon followed, as well as a divorce, allegations of underage sex, drug abuse, and weight gain that had him resembling the man who ate Elton John rather than the Elton everyone remembered. On top of it all, a throat surgery ended up permanently altering his voice. Even after all that, 1990s Sleeping With the Past put Elton back on track in the eyes of both the critics and the public though. In fact, the decade would prove among the most fruitful he’s ever had.
5. Elvis Presley
By the late 60’s Elvis Presley had become a puffy-cheeked, uninspired performer that barely resembled what he once was. The girls were no longer swooning, and the audience was mostly yawning. While taking role after role in admittedly lame comedies and selling fewer and fewer records with each release, most assumed his best days were behind him. His “’68 Comeback Special” though, managed to remarkably turn things around. The singles like “In The Ghetto,” “Kentucky Rain,” and “If I Can Dream” that followed are arguably among the most honest and heartfelt he ever recorded.
6. Michael Jackson
As has been the case since the dawn of the commercial arts, death can do a lot for a career. After becoming “the king of pop” with his 1982 mega-hit Thriller, slowly but surely Jackson’s name became more synonymous with tabloid rumors than groundbreaking music. Wildly eccentric behavior, severe financial problems, a failed marriage, reported drug problems, child molestation accusations, and bizarre plastic surgeries eventually transformed him into more of a sideshow attraction than anything else. However, death forgives all transgressions. Upon the announcement of his death in the summer of 2009, the world mourned… and they purchased. Michael sold over 8 million albums in 2009 – making him the best selling artist of the year.
By the late 90s, Carlos Santana’s presence on the charts was a thing of the very, very distant past. In the hands of producer Clive Davis however, that was all about to change. Though it might seem like a novel idea at best, pairing Santana with the “voices” of popular rock at the time produced astounding chart-topping results. Santana’s 1999 album Supernatural not only sold over fifteen million copies, and won a Grammy for album of the year, but managed to make an absolute goober like Rob Thomas seem like something other than an absolute goober – if only briefly. That’s a pretty astounding feat.
The early 1980s were rough on Aerosmith. The band was a drug-addled mess toiling in obscurity. But after a seminal collaboration with Run-DMC for “Walk This Way” and their follow up album, Permanent Vacation, a couple years later, they rocketed back into the charts and the public consciousness as a whole. Commercial success after commercial success, and the lending of a few tunes to Hollywood blockbusters like Armageddon kept the ball rolling. Unlike a few other bands on the list, Aerosmith remains – for the most part – a touring, hit producing juggernaut to this very day.
9. Tina Turner
The Ike and Tina days marked a powerful beginning for the woman who would be known as the Queen of Rock n’ Roll. However, after the split with Ike, she recorded two albums that can be seen as nothing short of complete commercial failures. She was broke, struggling to survive, and by 1984, most had written off Tina Turner, the pop star, as a thing of the past. That very same year, however, much to the surprise of everyone, her album Private Dancer bolstered a number of chart toppers, thrust her into the limelight again, and sold well over 11 million copies. Overcoming a bevy of personal and professional demons that have ended the careers of so many, Tina’s success is among the most surprising the long history of music has to offer.
10. Johnny Cash
The improbable comeback of the original country music bad boy Johnny Cash involved far more than his mysterious persona and a few good tunes. In fact, it took a diagnosis of a Parkinson’s-like disorder, and a bevy of tributes while on his “death bed” to remind the mainstream that he even existed. Returning to the studio, Cash put together a number of haunting, emotional recordings that included covers of more modern day mainstream acts like Depeche Mode, U2, Soundgarden, and even Nine Inch Nail’s “Hurt.” It was a bizarre move, but also a move that earned him numerous MTV Video Award nominations and an entirely new generation of fans. Not only had his career been resurrected from near obscurity, he managed to find the greatest success of his career since the late sixties.
Gemini Rising – Episode 1
Steven Novak is a writer, illustrator, graphic designer and admitted lifelong nerd with an embarrassingly large DVD collection. He is currently working and living in the Southern California desert. His most recent fantasy/action adventure novel, “Forts: Fathers and Sons,” is available everywhere books are sold.