This is a list of surprising failed first attempts at fame by artists who later became extremely popular. When they were first released, many of these records didn’t even sell enough copies to make it to the charts, and they were either ignored by contemporary critics or given negative reviews.
David Bowie – ‘David Bowie’ (1967)
The first impression Bowie gave in 1967 was very different to the type of music that would later be associated with his name. ‘David Bowie’ is the work of an artist still searching for his own voice, which he’d undoubtedly found shortly afterwards. It peaked at number 125 on the UK Albums Chart and Bowie was dropped by Deram Records as a result – a decision they must have regretted two years later, when his second LP featuring ‘Space Oddity’ was released.
The Velvet Undergound – ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ (1967)
‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ received hardly any reviews when it first came out. It did reach number 129 on the Billboard 200 chart in the US but didn’t appear on the UK charts until 1994, when it came 59th. Now widely considered a definitive early piece of alternative rock that has influenced generations of artists, it has sold 560,000 copies since being reissued in 1991.
Genesis – ‘From Genesis To Revelation’ (1969)
The English progressive rock band’s first release went virtually unnoticed. Their name wasn’t even included on the cover, after refusing to change it when it was discovered that a little known American band also called themselves Genesis. Their next album also failed to chart, and the following two weren’t very successful either. The group’s much needed breakthrough came in 1973 with ‘Selling England by the Pound’.
Yes – ‘Yes’ (1969)
Although it did receive some positive reviews, ‘Yes’ was a commercial failure, and it didn’t make it to the charts at all. 1970’s ‘Time and a Word’ achieved moderate success in the band’s homeland, and 1971’s critically acclaimed ‘The Yes Album’ reached number four in the UK and has been certified Platinum in the US.
Alice Cooper – ‘Pretties for You’ (1969)
Alice Cooper’s debut bears more resemblance to the music of early Pink Floyd than the band’s later sound, which was established before the frontman became a solo artist. Out of everything he’s done to shock the world, ‘Pretties for You’ could be the most surprising endeavour he’s ever been involved in, with its psychedelic and progressive sound. It received highly unfavourable reviews and peaked at number 193 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart.
Elton John – ‘Empty Sky’ (1969)
‘Empty Sky’ didn’t appear on any charts and wasn’t even released in the US until 1975. But everyone has to start somewhere… Due to the lack of critical and commercial recognition of Elton John’s debut, many are not even aware that he’d released a record before the following year’s self-titled LP.
The Carpenters – ‘Offering (Ticket To Ride)’ (1969)
Originally released as ‘Offering’ in 1969, the Carpenters’ debut album was later reissued as ‘Ticket to Ride’. It didn’t receive many reviews and didn’t make it to the charts until the duo achieved widespread popularity in 1971.
The Mothers of Invention – ‘Freak Out!’ (1966)
The debut of Mothers of Invention, fronted by Frank Zappa, was neither a commercial nor a critical success, peaking at number 130 on the Billboard 200 chart. However, it did gain the band a considerable underground following. It has since been ranked 246th on Rolling Stone magazine’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list.