It’s either a sad or wonderful fact of life: sometimes our favorite band members decide to fly the coop and strike out on their own. Sometimes the results are absolutely disastrous. Sometimes they’re pretty good. Sometimes they even overshadow the work of the band that made them famous. Here are ten of the best.
Album Name: Slash
Slash’s recent solo album — the first under his own name, if you don’t count the Slash’s Snakepit albums — drew its fare share of controversy over some of the guest vocalists. Rock fans weren’t quite willing to accept Fergie’s track, “Beautiful Dangerous,” despite the fact that she turns in a respectably rockworthy performance. Meanwhile “Crucify The Dead” featuring Ozzy Osbourne and “Back From Cali” with Myles Kennedy, stand up shoulder to shoulder with any of Slash’s Guns N’ Roses classics. Kennedy’s performance is so perfect a match for Slash’s guitar that it’s no surprise he was enlisted for the subsequent and ongoing tour, and there has been talk that Kennedy will perform vocals on every track of Slash’s next album when the times comes.
9. David Gilmour
Album Name: On an Island
It’s a well-known fact that David Gilmour originally intended the track that would eventually become “Comfortably Numb” to be a solo track, not a Pink Floyd song. One could wonder what would happen if Gilmour withheld a few other Floydworthy tracks for his solo work. Well with On an Island, Gilmour shows that he can turn in a damn good Pink Floyd album even when he doesn’t label it as such. Gilmour very much carries on the tradition of the post-Roger Waters Pink Floyd sound, but dresses it down a little with more acoustic instruments and less keyboards. The title track is strong enough to have been a centerpiece of The Division Bell if Gilmour had written it that long ago, while “Take a Breath”features some killer Momentary Lapse of Reason-style blues/pop/rock hybrid moments, and “This Heaven” kicks in some serious Chicago blues licks.
8. Donald Fagen
Album Name: The Nightfly
Steely Dan co-founder Fagen’s first solo album was a mostly optimistic, sunny affair — certainly a world away from his aging-and-death-obsessed 2006 album, Morph The Cat. The Nightfly’s lead track, “I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)” is one of the cruisiest, happiest-without-becoming-goofy tracks you’ll ever hear, capturing the futurist optimism of the late ’50s and early ’60s. The album is streaked with great guitar work, too, courtesy of such talents as Larry Carlton, Rick Derringer and session great Dean Parks. It’s also a who’s who of great bass players: Will Lee, Chuck Rainey, Marcus Miller, Abraham Laboriel and Anthony Jackson.
7. David Lee Roth
Album Name: Eat ‘Em and Smile
As one of the most flamboyant, look-at-me vocalists in rock history, Diamond Dave’s solo work could have easily bombed. His solo cover of “California Girls,” while still in Van Halen, certainly didn’t give any indication that he was willing to share the spotlight with a forceful and powerful band of the caliber of Van Halen. So when he burst out of the gates with Eat ‘Em and Smile, all 30 minutes and 58 seconds of it, his detractors must have been knocked clear off their bar stools. Featuring drumming powerhouse Gregg Bissonette, bass virtuoso Billy Sheehan and the most likely heir to the Eddie Van Halen guitar hero throne, Steve Vai, the album picked up where Van Halen left off before they started getting all serious and dark around Fair Warning. Dave’s subsequent solo albums never recaptured the fire of this blazing debut (although A Little Ain’t Enough, featuring Jason Becker, came close a few times), but for a while DLR and his Vai/Sheehan/Bissonette combo was the wildest show on Earth.
6. George Harrison
Album Name: All Things Must Pass
George Harrison had a few very notable chances to show off what he could do in the later days of the Beatles. “Something,” “It’s All Too Much” and “Here Comes the Sun” are standout examples of the beautiful work he was capable of. But nobody quite expected such a torrential outpour of music as that which Harrison offered on 1970’s All Things Must Pass. The three-disc, 106-minute set comprised two discs of rock songs and a third disc made up of a bunch of loose jams. It was the highest selling of any Beatles solo album, and would be worthy of name checking as a classic on the strength of “My Sweet Lord” alone.
5. Pete Townshend
Album Name: Empty Glass
Townshend is one of rock’s great intellectuals, and he balances his braininess with a physical, powerful guitar style. In typical Townshend fashion, Empty Glass combined his excitable musicianship with a heady concept about tackling ones’ personal demons. “I Am an Animal” is a humble call for help, with that call answered by the devotional “Let My Love Open The Door,” which kicks off with decidedly Who-like keyboards before breaking into radio-friendly and eminently listenable pop.
4. Jimmy Page
Album Name: Outrider
Jimmy Page’s criminally overlooked solo album might suffer a little from the early days of digital recording and Page’s artistic deflation after some of the album’s original demo recordings were stolen prior to recording, but not even these minuses can cancel out the album’s many plusses. The guitar tones are crisp, clear and ringing, the playing is intricate and layered, and the guest vocalists — Chris Farlowe, John Miles, and some chap named Robert Plant — turn in over-the-top bluesy performances. “Wasting My Time,” “Wanna Make Love” and “Hummingbird” are all great vocal tracks, as is Plant’s contribution, “The Only One.” But the instrumentals, “Writes Of Winter” and “Emerald Eyes,” are brilliant proclamations of guitar dominance by Page.
3. John Lennon
Album Name: Imagine
It’s a testament to Lennon’s genius that many people mistakenly think “Imagine” is a Beatles song. How could so much talent come from just one guy? But 39 years after its release, Lennon’s first solo album still sounds current, a rich statement of intent for the post-Beatle-era John, whose previous John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band was a little more avant garde. Much of the basic tracks were recorded at home, lending a relaxed feel to much of the material, and guests include pianist Nicky Hopkins, Wishbone Ash’s Ted Turner, Yes’s Alan White and Lennon’s former Beatle buddy George Harrison.
2. Robert Plant
Album Name: The Mighty Rearranger
It may seem a little unfair to have two former Led Zeppelinites in the one list, but Plant’s solo work has charted such a unique path that it practically demands inclusion. Although his early solo albums were somewhat hit and miss, on The Mighty Rearranger everything comes together in a heady blend of middle-eastern scales, ethnic percussion, traditional folk instrumentation and classic rock stomp. Addressing his critics and contemporaries on the serpentine “Tin Pan Valley,” Plant sings “My peers my flirt with cabaret, some fake the rebel yell. Me, I’m moving up to higher ground, I must escape their hell.” That stanza sums up the searching nature of Plant’s post-Zep work quite nicely, while also delivering a swift kick to the backsides of classic rockers resting on their laurels.
1. Ozzy Osbourne
Album Name: Blizzard Of Ozz
Ozzy could have descended into obscurity after his sacking from Black Sabbath — certainly lesser setbacks have befallen stronger men than he. But Ozzy turned into that skid, straightened out and — with the help of Bob Daisley’s inimitable bass playing and world-class songwriting, Lee Kerslake’s steady work behind the drum kit and the phenomenal guitar wizardry of Randy Rhoads — recorded one of hard rock’s true classic albums. While Sabbath’s work always felt very English, Blizzard Of Ozz took on the sounds of both Los Angeles and Europe, taking Ozzy’s sound out of the dungeons and into the castles. The quartet redefined hard rock with “Crazy Train,” “Mr. Crowley,” “I Don’t Know” and “Suicide Solution,” and presaged late ’80s progressive rock with “Revelation (Mother Earth).”