10 Best And Worst Solo Careers

With Ian Brown, Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Bjork...

At ten, the antithesis of cool – the worst perpetrators of musical crimes. At one, the most infuential and heroic saviours.

Today we look at the solo careers of some of the biggest names in music. From Mick Jagger’s solo work away from The Rolling Stones, Ian Brown’s rebirth following the death of The Stone Roses, Beyonce’s ascent from Destiny’s Child and Bjork’s post-Sugercubes heights.

Let countdown commence!

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In the 1960s, Jagger was the strutting embodiment of rebellion, a figurehead to a new generation of restless youths, dissatisfied with society and the conservative morals of post-war Britain. The Rolling Stones provided the decade with the suggestion of danger; their music was raw, misogynistic and virile. The band flirted with sex, drugs and satanism. Mick Jagger, standing at the front of the quintet, was public enemy number one to anyone over thirty. Fast-forward twenty years, and Jagger was struggling to balance a growing reputation as a social climbing lothario with his band’s (read: Keith Richards’) tolerance of him. Believing his own hype, Mick struck out on his own, but without his soul brother Keith, ‘She’s The Boss’ had none of the Stones’ unpredictability or life. Come 2001, and ‘Goddess In The Doorway’ manages only around eight hundred sales on the first day. Another Stones tour would be just around the corner..

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At the dawn of re-manufactured pop were these five girls who collectively tried to paint a living cross-section of Britain. The sexy black dress, the slumber sexed blonde, the sporty if somewhat trashy goer, the bolshy black girl and the ‘English Rose’. Young girls weren’t invited to Britpop, so when these five ladettes came along they were fast embraced. Before the bitching started backstage in a horror show of oestrogen, hairspray and footballers’ cum, The Spice Girls rocked our pop spots as even cynical male journalists mumbled their favoured fantasies. They also sold more records than any other girl group in the world EVER. What next? Well, all five did their best, yet it was tepid tosh in comparison to the global domination of ‘Wannabe’ being a No.1 hit across thirty-one countries. And that was their debut single. Since going solo they were all running on fumes. Their strangle hold on the charts faltered and their captivation of a generation of teen girls vanished faster than a hymen on prom night. Right back at ya!

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Whether it’s the comfort of having millions in the bank, or a string of blonde women to your name, or perhaps it’s having lived in the States for so long, Rod Stewart has become an anemic replica of his former self. Churning out rasping croons of torch songs that are best forgotten above a faceless band that clearly couldn’t inject any ounce of emotion into the music, Rod is light years from the heady, gaudy days of the original lad band, The Faces. Resplendent in various styles of clashing tartan, the booze-soaked Faces were the soundtrack to any discerning Saturday night in the early-Seventies, and their live shows promised nothing but a good time. Unlike now, when all a Rod Stewart gig promises you is bankrupting ticket prices and a glut of Celtic shirts.

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Either you vigorously hated Take That or you creamed your leg every time then did ANYTHING. Let alone you spotting Gary Barlow popping out to buy more Barcardi Breezers when you were stalking him. Ah, those were the days. However, even those that hated Take That and their every cheesy back-flip could grudgingly admit Robbie was ‘alright’, after he had the imagination to leave the world’s biggest boy band before emerging from the heavenly maelstrom of Glastonbury gurning his chops off on Es and being best mates with the Gallagher brothers. High five Robbie! What ensued, however, was him soundtracking every work place leaving do or birthday as anthems like ‘Angel’ allowed drunken idiots to wet themselves over a wet wank that seemed to make Robbbie more depressed than those that used to hate him. Stoke’s finest export, Robbie’s cultural weight could be measured with half a bowl of Rice Krispies. Although they also make an interesting noise when you pour milk over them. That’s about it.

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Never mind those insurance adverts – Iggy Pop is a fearless savant whose wayward career has seen more than his fair share of crimes. From self-mutilation on stage to endeavouring to hoover up half of Columbia, Iggy knows no limits. The Stooges were four incendiary brats from Detroit, who invented punk rock years before John Lydon considered a name change. When Iggy went solo in ’76, with the patronage of one David Bowie, it was amidst The Dame’s self-imposed exile in Berlin, where the city’s robotic electronic scene infused Pop’s debut, ‘The Idiot’. While this and the rest of Bowie’s Berlin oeuvre paved the way for the post-punk and industrial scenes, it’s a shame that neither of the protagonists can remember much about making it.

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Everyone knew Ian Brown couldn’t really sing. The Stone Roses were three incredible musicians and a powerhouse of belief, swagger and revolution who looked like a monkey. Thus, for Ian Brown to be the only man of the Roses to sustain a solo career was quite the feat. Whilst Mani galvanised Primal Scream into a proper band instead of a cloud of session players, John Squire teamed up with a busker. What did King Monkey do? Wrote odes to ‘F.E.A.R.’ and supplemented his slightly one-dimensional tunes with a sprinkling of Roses anthems. He told Clash it’s because he didn’t want to be a florist. Either way he bloomed into more of a leg-end capable of occasional brilliance and the mascot of an age where people believed a little bit more in purity and taking on the world with psychedelic anthems. Though that was probably just because the Es actually worked then.

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It’s hard to imagine the cantankerous old man that Neil Young has become ever being the ideal band-mate. As if anyone could stand a chance telling him what to do – case in point: Young’s latest album cover art was a self-portrait taken on his phone. And there was no happy slap in sight! However, ol’ Shakey paid his dues in Sixties scenesters Buffalo Springfield, where his weird hippy guitarist role sat at odds with the obsti-nate lead singer, Stephen Stills. What Stills must have thought when Neil’s trippy orchestral songs were brought to the studio is unknown, but what’s evident is that by taking matters into his own hands and setting his own creative parameters, Neil Young carved a niche for himself as the Seventies’ archetypal troubadour. The ultimate lone swordsman, he even infiltrated Crosby, Stills And Nash, wrestling control from his former band-mate and friends, and becoming the de facto leader whom everyone now relies on for direction. Mutiny!

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The King of Pop needs a showing here. As a music journalist I’ve been coughing up bit of Jacko editorial in my sleep for months now, yet we can’t refute that his solo career was one of the most dazzling and latterly bizarre journeys in music. He was a star from the off, yet few men will dominate so many hearts again. The Jackson 5 were great. Michael’s surreal world of pop was way better. And the mo’fo MOONWALKED into our hearts. Who had done that before? He had spaceships and cartoon pals. He had Neverland and a chimp that was seen to be his advisor. Cru-cially though, he also had all the tunes. ‘Beat It’ and ‘Billie Jean’ are loved even by bitter paraple-gics everywhere. Sadly for the deceased Jacko ‘Earth Song’ blotted his jotter so bad that he’s nestling below Beyonce. And his babysitting record wasn’t amazing. Going solo was never meant to be easy, but before he imploded in every direction this man bossed every show.

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The fatal flaw of Cheryl Cole’s bid for superstar-dom is that, despite all her attempts to permeate the nation’s hearts as a pop princess, her music is the abominable offspring of a house full of song-writers paid to churn out vapid doctrines to riddle the charts with. She thought that by launching her-self apart from Girls Aloud while appearing on TV every Saturday night for six months would mean instant iconic status – unfortunately her album had about as much depth as a sanitary towel, and was discarded just as often. To take notes from a master, one need look no further than Ms. Knowles. Fleeing Destiny’s Child to become to star she had always been groomed to be, when it came time to find a hit, she only had to look to her boyfriend – the King Midas of hip-hop, Jay-Z. With a sprinkle of magic Hova dust, the dazzling Beyonce became a house-hold name, a brand, an instant consumer product, and a purveyor of top-drawer R&B. ‘Crazy In Love’ still makes menopausal women embarrass their sons at social gatherings, such is the penetration of Beyonce on modern culture. And the other two Des-tiny girls? Well, Burger King are always hiring…

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Volcanic elf and unstoppable vocal whirlwind Björk Guðmundsdóttir perhaps has startled us most. Her previ-ous band The Sugarcubes were Iceland’s most successful band until Sigur Rós toddled along. Though with a poulation of just three hundred thousand, Iceland’s music scene has to be more confusing than trying to chop out lines in a blizzard. Yet, going solo to preserve relations throughout the band, Björk has been screaming originality at every turn. Cleverly working with the world’s best experimental electronic musicians has allowed her to reinvent a new sound with all seven albums. The sheer power of her voice, its experimental carpet bombing of notes and melodies and her ambiguous use of noises as an alternate language means the producers had a fucking field day. Mark Bell from LFO, Matthew Herbert, Howie B, Tricky, Matmos and even Graham Massey from Manc rave gods 808 State. Working with first producer Nellee Hooper resulted in her cunningly titled first album, ‘Debut’. It wasn’t simply an exercise in English but also warped dance pop that saw it lauded in 1993 as the year’s best album, but also gave us truly beautiful but twisted experi-mental folk in ‘Human Behaviour’ and club smash ‘Big Time Sensuality’. From here she’s never stopped. Hurl in her videos, which were all made by the world’s best again – such as Gondry and Cunningham – and you have an artist whose epic artistic vision is turbo-charged by the talents around her sending the whole concept of Björk into another dimension. We suspect she’s only getting started too. Unleash your trippy Umpalumpa brass section!

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