Totally off the top of my head here, but I just heard “Back in Black” by AC/DC and it made me wonder: Has any band ever lost a critical member and come back to record as great a record as Back in Black? I mean, how many bands can lose someone with as distinctive a voice as Bon Scott, then find out one of their roadies sounds the exact same way? And then record the best album of their career? Answer: At least one, and they are from Australia. (And we can argue about Back in Black being their best record if you want, but go anywhere and people know the hits from Back in Black.)
Let’s see…The Pretenders lost their lead guitar player and their bass player (both badasses) in a matter of months, and Chrissie Hynde responded with Learning to Crawl, which only had about six awesome singles. Certainly one of the best records of 1984.
Metallica lost Cliff Burton after 1985’s Master of Puppets, then came back two years later with Jason Newstead at bass and the …And Justice For All double album, which was the last great Metallica record (about which there is no argument). Not a lot of impact on the band’s sound one way or the other; Metallica would have exploded in 1987 one way or the other.
I don’t think this technically counts, but after D. Boon died in a 1985 car crash the remaining Minutemen, Mike Watt and George Hurley, joined up with another guy and released some really great records as fIREHOSE. (Not Firehouse, a hilariously bad hair metal band.) But I suppose if you count fIREHOSE you end up counting Foo Fighters and others and that’s not what this is really about. Still, do yourself a favor and make sure to find a copy of the Minutemen’s Double Nickles on the Dime. A damn shame about D. Boon.
Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis killed himself in 1980 and by 1981 the remaining band members had become New Order, who went on to greater success than Joy Division enjoyed, and by 1983 recorded Power, Corruption, and Lies, one of the great records of the 1980’s for the song Blue Monday alone.
Brian Jones died in 1969, but he was two years from having been a real and contributing member of the Rolling Stones by that point. Ironically, Jones was the one who founded the group.
The Allman Brothers lost Duane Allman (a huge, historic loss) and Berry Oakley within a year of each other in motorcycle accidents (that occurred only three blocks apart in Macon, GA) and in short order came back to record Eat A Peach, with the great song Ramblin’ Man. A fine comeback for sure, though it helps when your “second” guitarist is Dickie Betts.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers lost guitarist Hillel Slovak to a heroin overdose in 1988, then found a 20 year-old guitar prodigy named John Frusciante and recorded two blistering, beautiful albums, Mother’s Milk and Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The Chili Peppers were going to be big anyway, no question. The Slovak-era records are fantastic in their own right, but put the headphones on and listen to the intricate guitar parts (and multiple styles) Frusciante uses on Mother’s Milk and BSSM.
Of that list I’d have to give the Best Death Comeback Record to…Back in Black, with a close second to Mother’s Milk. It feels like I’m missing a very obvious one, though. Add to this list…