8 Of the greatest second albums of all time

Rosie Pentreath

These eight artists proved that the age old “tricky second album” doesn’t have to be a curse…

The second album curse is all too real for many artists, especially those that break through with a debut that has fans and critics alike raving. Think of famous sophomore flops like Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, which was created in the shadow of their 1977 debut Rumours (the eleventh best-selling album of all time in the UK, according to Forbes) or, more recently, Welsh Singer Duffy’s retreat into relative obscurity after her second record Endlessly failed to live up to her Grammy-winning 2008 debut, Rockferry.

While the pressure of living up to head-spinning debut success—or even putting pen-to-paper after having produced a sellable collection of songs—is understandable, there are those that overcome the second album curse and even manage to produce a second album that outperforms the first. So in no particular order, here are eight of the greatest examples of all time.

 

1. The Beatles – With The Beatles

The Beatles’ second album, With The Beatles (1963), was released when Beatlemania was just starting to get into full swing. Whilst the first record (Please Please Me from 1963) was famously made in one epic Abbey Road studio session, the second took a bit more time but contributed to the momentum that propelled The Beatles’ to superstardom.

The album held the top spot in the UK charts for 21 weeks when released and remained in the charts for a total of 40 weeks. Soon after the success of With The Beatles, the band led the “British Invasion” of UK pop and rock artists in the United States. 

 

2. Amy Winehouse – Back To Black

Tragically, Amy Winehouse only released two studio albums before her death in 2011. Whilst the acclaimed Frank (2003) propelled Winehouse to fame, it was Back To Black released in 2006 that would sky-rocket her into international consciousness. 

Time declared the first single, Rehab, the best song of 2007 and singles Back To Black and You Know I’m No Good also dominated charts. Winehouse picked up no fewer than five Grammys for the album and, although her career was marred by drug addiction and ruthless paparazzi chase-downs, it has memorialised her as an entirely unique singer and songwriter of true genius.

It’s heart-breaking to think what might have been had we not lost so incredible a musician far too soon.

 

3. The Fugees – The Score

The second and final album from Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel—who together formed The Fugees—was massive. While the first record they released, Blunted On Reality in 1994, barely scratched the surface, The Score (1996) was multi-platinum selling and included massive hits Killing Me Softly and Ready Or Not.

 

4. Radiohead – The Bends

Radiohead arrived with a solid debut: 1993’s Pablo Honey gave us Creep and Anyone Can Play Guitar so naturally there was some anticipation for the band’s follow up.

The Bends (1995) delivered. The multi-platinum-selling album solidified the band’s melancholic, anxious rock and tracks like Fake Plastic Trees, High And Dry and Street Spirit (Fade Out) remain essential staples of the Radiohead repertoire.

 

5. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II

Led Zeppelin may have famously named themselves after a giant sinking balloon, but that didn’t stop them becoming one of the most popular and innovative rock bands of all time.

Their second album, Led Zeppelin II, was their first to make it to No. 1 In both the UK and US album charts and tracks like Whole Lotta Love helped hail in a new sound that would come to define the whole next decade of music.

 

6. Carole King – Tapestry Carole

King’s second album, Tapestry spent a staggering 302 consecutive weeks in the Billboard 200 album chart from 1971 to 1977, setting a record only recently beaten by Adele (see No. 7).

The album is credited with paving a new way for female vocalists, and includes You’ve Got A Friend and Where You Need, covers of which were also huge hits for James Taylor and Barbra Streisand respectively.

King has 17 studio albums under her belt, but none are quite as iconic and beloved as Tapestry.

 

7. Adele – 21

In 2017, Carole King’s record for number of weeks spent in the Billboard 200 album chart was finally broken when Adele’s second album, 21, claimed the accolade.

A second album worthy of her acclaimed 2008 debut, 19, 21 earned Adele numerous Grammys and is one of the best-selling records of all time. 

 

8. Nirvana – Nevermind

Nevermind, Nirvana’s 1991 follow-up to their modest debut Bleach, may have been the album that birthed Smells Like Teen Spirit—arguably *the* defining rock song of the ‘90s—but before the single’s unexpected explosion, commercial success wasn’t on the cards for the record.

By January 1992, however, it had knocked Michael Jackson's Dangerous off the US Billboard 200 chart’s No. 1 spot and claimed a solid place in music history.