Welcome To The Sophomore Class: The Best Second Albums In Rock

What is the most famous sophomore album in Classic Rock history? It would have to achieve commercial success and critical acclaim way outside of any niche format the band may have debuted from on the first release. The media would have to weigh in on its groundbreaking success and the strength of its songs, performance, and ability to take the band to another higher level. It would have to be anointed by its generation as ‘groovy,’ ‘awesome,’ ‘rad,’ ‘sick,’ ‘da bomb,’ ‘cool,’ ‘off the hook,’ ‘out of sight,’ ‘solid,’ or (here in Boston) ‘wicked pissa!’

So here are the world’s biggest Classic rock bands and their second albums. Let see how they stack up.

THE BEATLES – In the America the four moptops’ second album was called, uh, THE BEATLES SECOND ALBUM. It basically collected a lot of the band’s R & B, rock and roll, and Motown covers with the monster hit "She Loves You" at the end of side 2. A fun release at the height of Beatlemania, but nowhere near the utter massiveness of MEET THE BEATLES.

THE ROLLING STONES -The Stones never debuted in America with the nuclear explosion of their friends from Liverpool; rather, they snuck in the backdoor of the Blues scene, as studied and learned from the essential America library of Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Chuck Berry. As such, without a big hit single, but mostly blues covers, the band’s first album ENGLAND’S NEWEST HITMAKERS was barely considered in the States. The second, 12 X 5, was made of stronger stuff; still mostly blues covers, but it did have “Time is on My side,” the Stones’ first top 10 U.S. hit.

THE WHO -The Who’s 1965 debut The Who Sings My Generation was anchored by its namesake hit, but it really displayed a band still transitioning from mod covers of R & B hits to a powerful and original hard rockin’ force that would produce at least three of the greatest albums of all time. The second album HAPPY JACK marked an enormous step forward for the Who. Behind Pete Townshend, one of the most visionary and intelligent songwriters in rock, the band had sold enough records in England to do what they wanted on the sophomore release. The title track went top 10 in America, but the ambitious mini rock-opera, “A Quick One While He’s Away,” as great as it was, remained a secret to all but the band’s rabid fans.

CREAM – For all the band’s legendary status, the members still only released four studio albums in a brief 2 and a half-year run. On FRESH CREAM; Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker had proven their place as the cream of the crop with a combination of blues covers with visionary experiments that mostly succeeded: “I Feel Free,” “Sweet wine,” and “N.S.U.” The follow-up, recorded in America, was the masterful DISRAELI GEARS with its massive hit “Sunshine of your Love.” Released at the height of psychedelia, with a mind-blowing cover to boot – this second album was a monster.

LED ZEPPELIN – The band’s early ’69 debut was a marvel with big sound, a couple covers, and some juggernaut originals – from “Good Times, Bad Times” to “How Many More Times.” Eight months later, the band dropped LED ZEPPELIN 2, recording it on the fly in at least 12 studios while the group toured (you can do that when you’re in your 20’s). It looked like the band had done the impossible by following up an incredible debut with a piece of vinyl that left listeners slack-jawed, if not deaf.“ Whole lotta Love” went to #4 in the States and the band ascended to cruising altitude!

PINK FLOYD – Forget it. The monster band that dominated rock radio from 1973 on was still finding its way on its first several albums. Which is not to say they didn’t have their moments, but they were scattered about like LSD sugar cubes at Syd Barrett’s pad. A SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS, the album following PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN, couldn’t quite reach the psychedelic ‘Alice in Wonderland’ standard of its predecessor.

BLACK SABBATH – As good as the band’s BLACK SABBATH debut was, recorded in a day and mirroring the band’s live set with lots of jamming, PARANOID took it up a few notches. The mighty triumvirate of Sabbath hits – “Paranoid,” “War Pigs,” and “Iron Man” are all there, plus my favorite “Fairies Wear Boots.” Tony Iommi proves he is the heavy metal riff-master and Ozzy is actually young!

VAN HALEN – After a year of hard touring, the band convened in the studio to rip out a quick addition to the catalogue. VAN HALEN 2 didn’t quite measure up to the monster first album, but I don’t think any fan was disappointed.

PEARL JAM -It’s hard to think of any album, no matter how good, that could top Pearl Jam’s debut TEN. With those nuclear blasts of “Alive,” “Even Flow,” “Jeremy,” and “Black” to carry the release to 13 million in sales in America alone, that’s an impossible act to follow. But Pearl Jam achieved a second winner in its VS album, which sounded better sonically and had its own bevy of hits. After the second release, you just knew this band was going to be around for a long time

FOREIGNER – How do you top a debut album that sells five million copies and generates three Top 20 U.S. singles? By releasing a second album called DOUBLE VISION that had another three Top 20 singles and sold 7 million!

How about these huge second albums? Bad Company’s STRAIGHT SHOOTER, Nirvana’s monster NEVERMIND, the Cars CANDY-O, STRANE DAYS by the Doors, or Ozzy’s DIARY OF A MADMAN.

I think if I have to choose, though, I’m going to give it to the deuce from the Mighty Led Zeppelin!

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