I have previously talked about debut albums on my TOP 10 Classic Rock Debut Albums (make sure you check it out). This time, however, we will talk about the sophomore releases because I truly believe that in the majority of the cases, a sophomore album may turn out to be way more important for a band than their debut.
A second album can serve different purposes and can be designed to achieve specific goals. For some bands it’s a second chance to make a better first impression; for others, though, it’s another way to strengthen their position on a certain scene and in a certain genre. In addition, a sophomore album can also be recorded to illustrate a band’s artistic growth and creative strength since the majority of debut releases focus more on the commercial, universally-likable characteristics of the genre. There are, of course, cases in which we observe the so-called “sophomore slump” – a band with a great first release and an unworthy, highly disappointing follow-up. We, however, won’t be talking about those. Today, I will specifically focus on the exceptional ones; the sophomore releases which left such a lasting impression on me for one reason or another. One more thing – interestingly, with each band out there, my personal favorite releases always turn out to be either the debut or the follow-up. I guess you can say that I prefer the early, more passionate and “hungry” stages of a band.
Hope you enjoy reading my list and make sure you comment with your personal favorite sophomore release! Cheers~
Def Leppard – High ‘N’ Dry (1981)
Please don’t tell me you were surprised to see Def Leppard’s phenomenal second release “High ‘N’ Dry” on top of my list…
Def Leppard’s “High ‘n’ Dry” has always been somehow ignored or even forgotten due to the ultimate smashing hit records “Pyromania” and “Hysteria” that follow it. Yes, those two albums are the ultimate masterpieces of the ’80s rock scene and definitely two of the greatest and most well-polished rock records of all time. However, the NWOBHM gem, “High ‘n’ Dry” offers something different and its beauty definitely lies in its raw hard rock energy, rough heavy metal sound and straight-up clean production. “High ‘n’ Dry” was definitely a step up in song-crafting in comparison with their debut album – “On through the Night” – the riffs were more tasteful and Joe Elliott definitely improved his vocal performance. What’s quite impressive about it is that the record was released at the very beginning of the ‘80s – at that time the hard rock/metal/pop recipe hadn’t been fully mastered; however, those guys somehow managed to come up with a very definitive sound. “High ‘n’ Dry” is a simple album with catchy rockers and mild, even innocent lyrics. The instant pop standout and the album’s finest moment has to be “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak”. With this song, Def Leppard set the standard for power ballads. “On Through the Night” and “Another Hit and Run” are heavier tracks with catchy hard riffs and loud climaxes. “High ‘n’ Dry (Saturday Night)” is the obligatory song about letting loose and having fun. “Switch 625” pleases with its fine melody and vocal intensity. It has to be their greatest instrumental so far. “High ‘n’ Dry” shows a young, maturing band, hungry for success and ready to take over the world. It is definitely one of those “feeling good” old rock ’n’ roll records that you can always enjoy and rock on to!
Dokken – Tooth & Nail (1984)
It was basically do or die for Dokken after the minimal success of their 1983 NWOBHM debut, “Breaking the Chains”. The label barely agreed to give them a second chance but thank God they did, otherwise this brilliant smoking-hot second release, titled “Tooth and Nail” would’ve never happened. The band’s crave for success and recognition are quite obvious on this record, hence the title.
Despite the ongoing creative clashes between Don Dokken and George Lynch, along with the slow, rather unfulfilling start of the album, “Tooth and Nail” still impressed fans and critics with unique qualities, such as mean guitar solos (courtesy of George Lynch, of course), memorable vocals (thanks to Don Dokken) and a fantastic hard rock (but not too hard) atmosphere. The most important song on “Tooth and Nail” has to be the power ballad “Alone Again” which actually became the reason why Dokken’s name finally reached the surface. The playful “Just got Lucky”, the intense “Into the Fire” and of course that rough and dangerous Judas Priest sounding title song “Tooth and Nail” are some of the others worthy rockers you can find on this album. Overall, “Tooth and Nail” turned out to be а perfect mixture of heavy/speed metal and pop rock (getting more towards the heavy metal). I cannot put Dokken or this album in a category with other “hair metal” bands like Winger or Motley Crue despite popular opinion. If you are looking for something that goes beyond the lighter pop (hair) ‘80s metal, make sure you check out “Tooth and Nail”.
Firehouse – Hold Your Fire (1992)
1992 was a marvelous year for rock music, if the last one to be perfectly honest. Grunge was knocking on the door and fans were letting it at the expense of hard rock. Firehouse was one of those bands that got the boot way too early. Imagine if they released their strong self-titled debut album and their even stronger sophomore album in the early ‘80s…!?
“Hold Your Fire” was an absolute sensation, despite the horrible timing. Where do I even begin? Timeless melodic rock classics like “Reach for the Sky”, “Sleeping With You” and of course, the obligatory power ballad, “When I Look Into Your Eyes” left quite the impression and are still part of any AOR fan’s playlist. My personal favorites include the empowering rock anthem “Rock You Tonight” and the exciting title track (more or less thanks to that thrilling intro). I don’t think Firehouse illustrated that much of an artistic growth with their second release; it was more of a continuation to their debut, polishing and solidifying their position as the hottest new AOR treasures. Mainstream or not, I strongly recommend this album to everyone who is looking for energy, capable of blowing up your entire universe. I would like to say huge thanks to vocalist C.J. Snare who makes this experience so memorable and ear-pleasing every time I listen to the album.
Cinderella – Long Cold Winter (1988)
Many people refer to Cinderella’s “Long Cold Winter” as their finest release and they are probably right. I couldn’t let go of my adoration for “Night Songs” but “Long Cold Winter” is a more than a worthy successor in my book. Cinderella made a little shift from a signature glam metal to more blues-oriented rock, reflecting Tom Keifer’s influences and childhood adoration for the blues.
The triple platinum “Long Cold Winter” is an absolute masterpiece of the genre and I’m not just saying it because I’m a die-hard fan of Cinderella. When we talk about this album, all discussions must naturally start with the most breathtaking power ballads of all time, THE power ballad of power ballads, “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)”. Once you come across this song, every perception for a ballad you had so far will be completely shattered to pieces; not to mention your expectations which will fly up to the sky. I would love to go back in time and listen to the song again for the very first time; it’s definitely a once in a lifetime kind of song. “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)” is not the only song on “Long Cold Winter” that can take your breath away, though. “The Last Mile”, “Gypsy Road”, “Coming Home” and of course that heart-stirring bluesy title song are all valuable assets to the album. There’s a reason why it reached a platinum status and more or less, that reason is called Tom Keifer. You just gotta respect him for his superb songwriting and singing skills!
Giant – Time to Burn (1992)
Giant’s sophomore album, “Time to Burn” became reality in the early spring of 1992. The follow-up to their successful 1989 debut, “Last of the Runaways” didn’t get the attention it deserved, despite the band’s obvious musical growth. From the fiery opening track “Thunder and Lightning” to one of the most emotional power ballads of all time – “Lost in Paradise”, the whole album showcased Giant as everything but your ordinary AOR band. With his beautiful voice, Dann Huff brought so much color to the spring of 1992. “Thunder and Lighting” and “Stay” are some of the other gems from “Time to Burn” which received some considerable time on the classic rock radio stations. Overall, this album remains highly underrated, despite being one of the best sophomore releases and one of the finest releases of 1992, in my opinion. It took Giant 9 years to come back with “III”, which is also worthy of checking out by the way.
Asia – Alpha (1983)
This right here has to be one of the most special sophomore releases in my book of rock. ASIA debuted in 1982 with a monstrous self-titled album which not only celebrated the perfect music partnership of legends Steve Howe, Carl Palmer, Geoff Downes and John Wetton but also became one of the essential AOR albums that ruled the 80s. With radio-friendly classics like “Heat of the Moment”, “Sole Survivor” and “Time Again”, the album was destined for commercial success. One year later, however, ASIA released a worthy sophomore album, titled “Alpha”, which in its own way became a valuable ‘80s classic. The second date with ASIA was definitely less tense and more familiar, more sensitive even. Unfortunately, “Alpha” couldn’t meet the industry’s expectation and despite its platinum status, critics often refer to it as somewhat a failure. Sadly, this album turned into one of the most underrated ‘80s rock records of all time, despite the wonderful playlist it offers. “Alpha” may not be as strong or as important as “Asia” but it still holds a place in our heart and once you hear songs such as “Don’t Cry”, “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” or The Beach Boys sounding “Open Your Eyes”, you will most certainly fall under the magic of the album. There are great and good songs on this record, but the level doesn’t go below that. The album is a festival of romance, under a sky of gorgeous lyrics and touching music. I often referred to “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” as one of the most beautifully written ballads of all time, for instance.
All in all, “Alpha” is not as strong as their debut album but it still carries valuable characteristics that makes it a great ‘80s rock record
Boston – Don’t Look Back (1978)
It’s a mission impossible to try and top Boston’s 1976 self-titled debut album. That groundbreaking release, featuring the classics “Peace of Mind” and “More Than a Feeling” is the ultimate classic rock staple and the greatest milestone in Boston’s career. Nevertheless, the 1978 follow-up, “Don’t Look Back“ is definitely not an album to ignore. I will skip the comparisons with that enormous first release, though they seem to be inevitable when we talk about Boston. Instead, I will jump right into the music talks to remind people that Boston DO have other great albums other than their debut.
The title track is one of Boston’s highest-charting singles and the album itself is certified 7x platinum – that should tell you something. The gentle “A Man I’ll Never Be” is my personal favorite though sometimes it gets hard to pick just one track once you play the entire album. “The Journey”, “It’s Easy”, “Feelin’ Satisfied” …each song is a peaceful, soul-soothing and highly admirable piece of a great rock puzzle. Mr. Everything, a.k.a Tom Scholz once again crafted something truly magical.
Strangeways – Native Sons (1987)
In 1987, the British-American AOR/Melodic rock band Strangeways released arguably their finest work, titled “Native Sons”. The follow-up to their respectable 1984 eponymous debut also proved that the right singer can make all the difference in the world. Original vocalist Tony Liddell was replaced with Terry Brock – a renowned back-up singer for some of the biggest names of the era, including Foreigner and Journey. What followed after he stepped in as the new frontman, could easily be described as pure musical magic. “Native Sons” is a brilliant melodic rock record that guarantees you nothing but delight and feelings of great pleasure. The album carries all the best genre elements of the era, including colourful keyboards, splendid guitar playing and glittering hooks. Add Terry’s powerful vocals, the edgy hard-rock vibe and the A-level songwriting and you end up with a melodic treasure that could effortlessly stand on its own two feet against the big AOR titles of the late ‘80s.
“Dance With Somebody”, “Only a Fool”, “Empty Streets” and “Never Gonna Lose it” are just a few of the warm and powerful 100% AOR-authentic masterpieces you can find on “Native Sons”.
Foreigner – Double Vision (1978)
I will be very brief with this one because when we talk about Foreigner and this album in particular, no words are needed. After their highly influential 1977 debut, arena rockers Foreigner came back with what is often referred to as one of the finest albums of the genre and one of Foreigner’s best, most critically-acclaimed works. We can undoubtedly conclude that they did wrap up the ‘70s with quite the style, setting up the mood for the changes that were about to come in the ‘80s.
“Double Vision” got certified Platinum just a week after its release; imagine the impact and universal acceptance and love it got. It’s all justified though but I mean how can it not be? With astonishing tracks like “Hot Blooded”, “Blue Morning, Blue Day”, “You’re All I Am” and “Spellbinder” no wonder people are still enthusiastically talking about and listening to this album. Not only that, but no self-respecting radio station can afford to avoid some of these classics; they are on a high demand, that’s for sure. One more reason why I consider this album as both an upgrade and a total success, has to be the presence of “Tramontane” which is the only instrumental tune Foreigner have released up to date on a studio album. All in all, this right here is a pure example of how a well-done, going-one-step-further album can became a milestone for a band’s career.
Cream – Disraeli Gears (1967)
Last but not least, I just had to include Cream’s finest, most precious work of art, titled “Disraeli Gears”. Not only did this album introduced the holy trio of Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce to the American audiences but it also showcased how a band can achieve success if only they dare to dig deeper and fearlessly experiment with their music. “Disraeli Gears” showcased the band’s shifting interest from blues, to psychedelic rock. Moreover, it was on this album that Eric Clapton perfected his guitar skills and cemented his position as one of the finest guitarists of his time.
Let’s talk songs. “Sunshine of Your Love” – do I have to say more? That’s the song that changed the rules of the game, set new standards and became an inspiration for many upcoming artists. That mesmerizing intro and those lyrics can never disappear from your mind and soul, once you have listened to the song. It’s not only the massive hit “Sunshine of Your Love” that makes the album so intriguing. My personal favorites include “We’re Going Down”, “Strange Brew”, “Take it Back” and “World of Pain”. I only wish Clapton was leading vocalist on more songs.
Bad Company – Straight Shooter (1975)
Led Zeppelin II (1969)
The Beatles – With the Beatles (1963)
Van Halen II (1979)
TNT – Knights of the New Thunder (1984)
Yngwie Malmsteen – “Marching Out” (1985)
Europe – Wings of Tomorrow (1984)
Ratt – Invasion of Your Privacy (1985)
Tesla – The Great Radio Controversy (1989)
Dream Theater – Images and Words (1992)