10 Biggest Album Flops
This chronological countdown of rock’s Biggest Album Flops shows that the only thing harder than making it to the top of the music world is staying there. Some of classic rock’s biggest artists have found themselves suddenly out of favor — with piles of unwanted albums, cassettes or CDs filling the cut-out bins — as a result of making fans wait too long for their next album, or changing their sound too much, or splitting with a key band member. So, all you future rock stars, be sure to read and learn from these 10 tales of woe!
Peter Frampton’s multi-platinum 1976 breakthrough ‘Frampton Comes Alive!’ was both a blessing and a curse. Must be great to have so many new fans after all those years toiling as a member of Humble Pie and an underappreciated solo artist, right? Well, not if only a small fraction of them wanted to hear you grow or evolve, as Frampton admirably attempted to do here. His reward? About one-eighth of the sales of his landmark live set. Even though this was one of rock’s biggest album flops, we should note that it was still good enough to score a platinum award.
It took Meat Loaf almost four years to follow-up his smash album ‘Bat Out of Hell,’ partially because the singer blew out his voice on tour. If you ask Rolling Stone, he came back too soon: “His vocals here are alarmingly awful, the star apparently having lost the ability to hit notes and form coherent syllables at the same time.” Between the long wait, reviews like Rolling Stone’s and the absence of producer Todd Rundgren‘s pop genius, this poor sucker never had a chance, managing only a fraction of its predecessor’s sales.
Although the Cars’ previous effort, 1984’s ‘Heartbeat City,’ was their biggest-selling album ever, it seems that frontman Ric Ocasek had lost interest in the group by the time this follow-up arrived. Neither the album nor the stale, formulaic single ‘You Are the Girl‘ made much of a dent in the charts. The group soon split up in a surprisingly quiet manner, considering their popularity over the past decade. They reunited 24 years later for one more album and then disappeared again just as quickly.
Bruce Springsteen has frequently demonstrated a willingness to challenge his devoted fan base with surprising new records. For example, he followed up the anthemic ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ with the subdued, introspective ‘Tunnel of Love’ — and still went multi-platinum. But he didn’t fare quite as well with these twin 1992 albums — the heavily labored ‘Human Touch’ and the more off-the-cuff ‘Lucky Town’ — which earned less-than stellar reviews and sold considerably less than his previous efforts. The fact that he broke up the beloved E Street Band was probably part of the problem. Wisely, he reunited them a few years later, but he also continued recording non-commercial albums such as 1995’s solo ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad.’
File this big album flop under “reached too far.” Idol courageously added dance and techno influences to the blend of rock, punk and pop that had earned him a string of million-selling albums. Both in his lyrics and with the innovative marketing of the album, he did, in fact, anticipate the merger of music and computer culture pretty well. But the hooks weren’t as catchy as his previous efforts, and people definitely weren’t ready for this new sound or lyrical focus from Mr. ‘Rebel Yell.’ As a result, the record was a resounding flop that stopped Idol’s recording career in its tracks. It would be more than a decade before he made another studio album.
After feeling rushed to complete ‘Don’t Look Back,’ the 1978 follow-up to his band’s mega-platinum debut album, Boston frontman Tom Scholz clearly decided to take as much time as he needed to finish his records from then on. Obviously, a band risks being forgotten by going away for six years, but somehow 1986’s ‘Third Stage’ was still a multi-platinum smash. But the eight year wait for ‘Walk On,’ their next album, proved too much. Changing tastes can take some of the blame — the grunge wave had passed through two years before — but the album also lacked the songwriting strength of earlier records. One thing this flop didn’t change was the band’s working speed: It would be eight more years before they released their fifth LP.
Wisely realizing that they had pushed their massively layered, Mutt Lange-produced formula as far as it could go on 1992’s triple-platinum ‘Adrenalize,’ Def Leppard bravely opted for a more organic approach on ‘Slang.’ They jettisoned their famous logo, expanded their sonic palette with exotic instruments and attempted to bring more grit to their music and lyrics. But some of these (possibly grunge-influenced) changes didn’t suit the group, and ‘Slang’ failed to reach one-third of ‘Adrenalize”s total sales. But the album may get a second chance: Def Leppard are reportedly planning an expanded reissue of the project.
How could the first Journey album featuring Steve Perry on vocals in more than a decade possibly become one of rock’s biggest flops? Well, for one thing, it was a much more mature, serious and therefore less fun effort than ’80s smashes such as ‘Escape’ and ‘Frontiers.’ Secondly, the band was unable to embark on what would have been the surefire success of a reunion tour due to the singer’s hip injury. Also, you’d have to figure that if the group had placed its famous scarab on the cover instead of whatever the hell’s going on here with this cat, they could have tacked on at least another 500,000 sales.
After splitting up with David Lee Roth at the height of their fame and somehow going on to even greater commercial (we didn’t say artistic) success with Sammy Hagar as their frontman, Van Halen had every reason to think they could succeed with yet another lead singer. But all this unfocused mess of a record did was prove how much the band’s former vocalists contributed to the songwriting process. It became Van’s Halen’s first album to sell less than a million copies, and helped send the band into semi-retirement for more than a decade, until the release of 2012’s Roth-helmed ‘A Different Kind of Truth.’
OK, granted, they didn’t expect this thing to fly off shelves like it was part two of the ‘Black Album.’ A nearly 90-minute song cycle based on the work of a bleak German poet who’s been dead for 100 years has a certain built-in commercial ceiling. But we’re guessing Lou Reed and Metallica didn’t figure this highly anticipated collaborative effort would be one of the worst-reviewed, most-mocked releases in recent history either. The upside? Anything either of these two legendary acts releases next has got to be an improvement. Right?