DIY?… Because they could – Rock’s Greatest “One Man Band” Albums

Authored by Dale Nickey:

The “One Man Band” is the lone wolf in the ecosystem of music. Not only are they multi-instrumentalists, they have upped the ante by declaring, “we don’t need no stinkin’ band”. Whereas Brian Jones was the ultimate “jack of all trades” when it came to the band dynamic, he would have fallen short trying to make a coherent album all by his lonesome. Here then is my list of the greatest “One Man Band” albums of all time.

“McCartney” (Paul McCartney)

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The Beatles were in the process of a very messy divorce. Paul was depressed, drinking, bearded and smelly. Linda was fed up and demanded he get up off his arse and do something. Macca’s first solo album was result. Paul puttered around his home studio, played all the instruments, and knocked out this home baked little gem. Beatlesque’ genius rears its head on “Maybe I’m Amazed”, and lightweight Wings-Pop is presaged in the humble ditty “Lovely Linda”.  Not the magisterial mission statement one might have expected from Paul’s first solo long player; but maybe that’s part of this album’s charm and longevity.

“Emitt Rhodes” (Emitt Rhodes)

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Emitt Rhodes should’ve been a contender. He had the looks, talent and work ethic. During the swinging sixties he honed his multi-instrumentalist chops as leader of the chamber pop group The Merry-Go-Round which had a modest hit with “You’re A Very Lovely Woman”. At the dawn of the 70’s he signed a solo deal with ABC Dunhill and repaired to his parent’s garage to build his own studio with his $5,000 advance money. There he produced the McCartneyesque’ DIY masterpiece “Emitt Rhodes”. The album charted well (#29 on Billboard) and the critics swooned. All systems were go for a productive career to rival that of Todd Rundgren or perhaps even Macca himself.  ABC Dunhill had other ideas, all of them bad. First they rigidly held him hostage to a contract that required one album every 6 months. Being an artist, who wrote, produced, performed and engineered his work in its entirety, this blueprint was untenable and illogical.  Rhodes reasonably lobbied for a more sane release schedule. After all, his debut effort was a commercial and critical success. If it ain’t broke, don’t break it, right? No deal. ABC Dunhill not only refused to nurture their budding solo star, they sued him for $250,000 for breach of contract and withheld his royalties for failure to deliver his albums in a timely manner. Through clenched jaw and gritted teeth Rhodes recorded two more solo albums before calling it quits.  Rhodes then walked out of the machinery and refused to make anymore solo records. Instead, he sustained himself as a recording engineer and studio owner. ABC Dunhill’s handling of Emitt Rhodes was one of the most colossal corporate blunders since the Boston Red Sox sale of Babe Ruth.

“Olias of Sunhillow” (Jon Anderson)

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By 1976, Yes had pretty much conquered every mountain that poked out of the sky. They’d had hit singles. Their double LP concept album “Tales Of Topographic Oceans” shot to number one on both sides of the Atlantic. They were headlining stadiums. Their (then current) album “Relayer” saw them at the peak of their musical powers. What next?….Solo albums of course. For Jon Anderson, this meant spending his Yes lucre on lots of cool instruments and recording gear and building both a studio and album from scratch. Normally a lead singing specialist, Anderson pushed himself and played all the instruments and sang all the vocals on “Olias….”. The album was a dense and eclectic affair even by Yes standards. However, it charted surprisingly well, and was arguably one of the forerunners of the “New Age” genre. Echos of “Olias Of Sunhillow” can be found reverberating through much of his subsequent work, most notably his ethereal collaborations with synthesizer master Vangelis.

Arc Of A Diver – Stevie Winwood

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The 1980’s separated the men from the boys literally and musically. You were either a groovy young thing or you adapted to sound like a groovy young thing.  ZZ Top added buzzing synth washes to their roadhouse musings and struck pay dirt. Yes cut the length of their songs and their hair and scored a worldwide numero Uno with “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”. Bruce Springsteen ditched his beard, buffed up, and sang zippy ditties about “Dancin’ in the Dark” and “Hungry Hearts”. Stevie Winwood had to fashion a similar re-calibration. Previously a band musician (Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith), he ushered in the new decade by entering the studio alone and shutting the door behind him. When he emerged, it was with the DIY masterpiece “Arc Of A Diver”. Previously a piano/Hammond man, Winwood now discovered the joys of synths, midi and beat boxes. “….Diver” was an unqualified smash and set the table for more of the same. Winwood’s solo success during the 80’s and the revenue it generated probably had as much to do with Traffic’s induction into the Rock And Roll HOF as anything the band accomplished during it’s brief heyday.

John Fogerty – “Centerfield”

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In the late 60’s and early 70’s, Creedence Clearwater Revival broke the bank with an impressive string of top selling albums and singles. However, when Fogerty wanted to leave the band and Fantasy Records to go solo, he had to give up all future royalty rights to his Creedence songs. The deal cost Fogerty millions. Fogerty refused to perform his most popular hits for several years rather than line the pockets of his enemies. Due in part to the psychological stress, his first two solo excursions were shaky and marginal affairs. However, the third time was the charm with “Centerfield”. Fogerty sang all the vocals and played all the instruments and fashioned a sound that was. well….identical to CCR (see “The Old Man Down The Road”).  Baseball metaphors abounded as John Fogerty got back in the game, hit a grand slam with a #1 chart topper and took Comeback Player of The Year Award. “Centerfield”  replenished the Fogerty coffers. Eventually, Concord Records bought up Fantasy and Fogerty was able to renegotiate a deal that provided closure.  However, Fogerty’s image will forever be tarnished by his decision to exclude his Creedence band mates from the Hall Of Fame Induction performance honoring the band’s admittance to the hall. Fogerty may have occupied Centerfield, but he was never a team player.

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