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9 Solo Artists Who Are Better Than Their Bands: Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, And More

by Joey DeGroot   Aug 4, 2014 12:58 PM EDT

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How many times have you been disappointed by a solo album from a member of one of your favorite bands? Sometimes they're outright bad, but even the good ones (Morrissey, Paul McCartney, etc.) simply can't compare to their old bands. However, these nine artists broke this trend, releasing solo albums that actually surpass the work of their old bands.

1. Neil Young

Along with his CSNY counterpart Stephen Stills, Neil Young first rose to fame as the guitarist for L.A. folk rock band Buffalo Springfield, best known for its counterculture anthem "For What Its Worth." However, Buffalo Springfield's impact is minimal when compared to Young as a solo artist, who packed more classic songs into single albums than Buffalo Springfield had in its entire three-year career.

2. Elliott Smith

These days, the only way most people discover Portland indie rock band Heatmiser is through the solo career of its singer and guitarist, Elliott Smith, whose oppressively dark folk songs have proved to be much more focused, inventive, and influential than Heatmiser's punk-influenced sound.

3. Brian Eno

Though both Roxy Music and Brian Eno are among the most important acts in the history of art rock, I find myself returning to Eno's solo work more often than Roxy Music, for reasons I don't quite understand. Strangely enough, I actually feel that Roxy Music put out their best music after Eno left the band in 1973.

4. Scott Walker

When listening to Scott Walker's music from the last twenty years, it's hard to believe that he was once a member of a chart-topping pop band. Though the Walker Brothers put out some great songs during the '60s, Walker's solo albums are some of the most groundbreaking and challenging ever recorded.

5. Björk

Though Björk's debut solo album was released in 1977 when she was just 12 years old, she first achieved international success as the lead vocalist for alternative rock band the Sugarcubes, which lasted from 1986 until 1992. As fun and exciting as the Sugarcubes were, however, Björk's solo career is where her true legacy lies, fusing electronic music, avant-garde, and classical to create classic albums such as Homogenic and Vespertine.

6. Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson's last few albums may not have been anything special, but there's no denying that during the '80s, Michael Jackson was pop music, topping every other artist on the planet and outdoing the great successes he had playing with his brothers during the late '60s and '70s.

7. Jay Reatard

During his tragically short lifetime, Jay Reatard was a member of a huge number of bands, including the Reatards, Lost Sounds, and Terror Visions. However, the two LPs and countless singles he released as a solo artist ended up being the best things he ever produced, ending his career on a brilliantly high note.

8. John Frusciante

I know most people won't agree with this entry, but I'm the sort of person who cringes every time he hears the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the radio, which is why I find guitarist John Frusciante's experimental solo work to be so much better. After listening to something like Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt, it's frankly baffling that it comes from the same guy who wrote "Give It Away."

9. Justin Timberlake

I'm not here to diss *NSYNC or anything like that. They were probably the best of late '90s-early '00s boy bands (I liked them better than the Backstreet Boys, anyway), but Justin Timberlake has proven himself to be the Michael Jackson of the group, taking creative control over his solo albums and delving into far more interesting and substantial music than he ever did with his band. 2013's The 20/20 Experience sounds like the kind of album that Prince should be making these days.

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