Are solo efforts ever better?

I’m sure someone will think of something, but IMO, I can’t think of any artist that went solo and produced a significant amount of material that was “better” musically than what they did with their bands. Paul Simon did some decent stuff, but I don’t think it ever reached the artistic levels of what S&G did together.  Sting, Fogarty, Bruce…  I guess Diana Ross and Beyoncé were far more successful solo, but I think the Supremes and Destiny were more of window dressing for the star and less of a collective effort. Again, IMO. What do you think?  


@russ69 - good one on Phil Collins. And fast too. Although, strictly speaking, all the others I mentioned were the “stars” of their bands, while Phil was just a sideman with Gabriel and Genesis. 

Lou Reed, though he wasn't the star.

The Fab Four sans Ringo.

George Gobel, after he parted with The Knaut so Knotty Boys, is a no brainer.



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That's a good spot!

It seems as if going solo does not lead to better things.

Perhaps it's usually just more of a case of 'artistic differences' or just plain greed?

Or perhaps it's a case of most artists doing their best work during their 20s.

Neither Keith Richards not Mick Jagger ever managed to get anywhere near their Stones output.

Richard Thompson had a bit of success but you can't call his solo career a rip roaring success.

Bryan Ferry found his niche outside Roxy but whether it was better is up for debate

John Lydon started well and then trundled on for a while with PiL but there's little doubt that it's the Pistols he is remembered for.

Debbie Harry, Chris Stein hardly matched their Blondie output.

Neither Mike Heron nor Robin Williamson managed to recapture some of the magic of the Incredible String Band.

The only clear exceptions might be Paul Simon and Van Morrison.

Simon's s solo work, There Goes Rhymin Simon, One Trick Pony, Graceland, Songs from the Capeman are all up there with his Art Gafunkel collaborations.

Van Morrison's work outside Them has attained legendary status but he was still only a youngster when he went solo.

Gabriel is a good vote here.  No chance on Sting.  

@dekay the Beatles are the epitome of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.  Not sure many would agree with your assertion.  

I’ve already snuggled into my Audiogon winter hibernation, but this topic is just too irresistible to not participate in. In alpha order, including names perhaps unfamiliar to some:


- T Bone Burnett. His pre-solo group (with fellow members Steven Soles and David Mansfield) was named The Alpha Band (three albums).

- Peter Case. Originally a member of The Nerves (with Paul Collins---later of The Beat---and Jack Lee---writer of "Hanging On The Telephone"). His second band was The Plimsouls.

- Kasey Chambers. The fantastic Australian singer, originally a member (along with her mother, father, and brother) of The Dead Ringer Band.

- Eric Clapton. The Yardbirds, of course. He’s on the Five Live album, then about half the songs on the For Your Love album (with Jeff Beck on the others).

- Ry Cooder. Prior to getting his Warner Brothers deal, Ry was in The Rising Sons (with Taj Mahal and Ed Cassidy, the latter later in Spirit), then Captain Beefhearts Magic Band (first album only).

- Sam Cooke. Originally in the Gospel group The Soul Stirrers.

- Elvis Costello. From 1974-76 EC was in a Pub Rock group named Flip City.

- Marshall Crenshaw. Originally a member of the touring cast of Beatlemania.

- Rodney Crowell. Prior to embarking on his solo career, Rodney was a member of Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band, then a member of The Cherry Bombs (along with Vince Gill and Tony Brown, the latter later to become a very hot Nashville record producer).

- Dave Edmunds. Dave’s pre-solo group was Love Sculpture (one Blues album, one semi-Progressive---ala "Sabre Dance"). His 1970’s and 80’s albums are fantastic, as is the one album by his group with Nick Lowe, Rockpile.

- Robben Ford. Before moving to L.A. to eventually work with Joni Mitchell, Miles Davis, and George Harrison---as well as making a number of solo albums, Robben was in a Northern California band with his two brothers, The Charles Ford (their Dad) Band. I saw them live quite a few times.

- Vince Gill. Vince got his start as a member of The Pure Prairie League, then The Cherry Bombs (with fellow member Rodney Crowell).

- Debbie Harry. Deb began as a background singer in the hippie band Wind In The Willows (one album, undoubtedly terrible ;-) .

- John Hiatt. Before getting a solo deal, John was member of a group named White Duck (two albums on Uni Records, not very good imo).

- Waylon Jennings. Originally the bassist in Buddy Holly’s road band. Waylon gave up his seat on the plane that took Buddy’s life to The Big Bopper, who also went down in that Iowa corn field.

- Albert Lee. Prior to moving to America and working in the bands of Emmylou Harris and The Everly Brothers, and then later embarking on a solo career, this incredible guitarist was in the Welsh band Heads Hands & Feet.

- Darlene Love. One of the greatest voices of our lifetimes, Darlene was originally a member of The Blossoms.

- Nick Lowe. NIck started out in the UK Pub Band Brinsley Schwarz. His solo recordings made with the members of Rockpile (Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremner, and Terry Williams) are fantastic.

- Moon Martin (writer of "Bad Case Of Loving You" and "Cadillac Walk"). Pre-solo, Moon was a member of Southwind (two albums on Blue Thumb).

- Van Morrison. Them, of course. I saw Them live when Van was still in the group.

- Maria Muldaur. Originally in The Jim Kweskin Jug Band.

- Wilson Pickett. Originally in The Falcons.

- Robert Plant. Prior to Led Zeppelin, Robert (and John Bonham) were in Band Of Joy.

- Boz Scaggs. Originally the rhythm guitarist (only) in The Steve Miller Blues Band. I saw this line up once, pre first album (the Blues was dropped from the name).

- Phil Spector. Phil got his start as a member of The Teddy Bears. He wrote their hit single "To Know Him Is To Love Him".

- Chris Stapleton. Before going solo, Chris was a member of The Steeldrivers.

- Marty Stuart. Before going solo, Marty was already a show biz veteran, having joined Lester Flatt’s band at the age of 14! When Lester retired, Marty moved over to Johnny Cashes road band.

- Stevie Ray Vaughan. One of Stevie’s many pre-fame bands was named Triple Threat Revue, with the fantastic singer Lou Ann Barton (you NEED her excellent Jerry Wexler-produced album Old Enough).

Terry Williams. Before joining up with Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe, this fantastic Rock ’n’ Roll drummer was in the Welsh band Man. After Rockpile Terry joined Dire Straits.


There are plenty of others, which is why the op’s statement that he couldn’t name any astounded me.

Peter Frampton-

Recorded one of the highest selling albums of all time after going solo. It was all downhill from there.

I will through my vote in for Peter Gabriel. While I like his time with Genesis, I feel he had more room to be himself on his solo work. A good deal of excellent material to discover. .

I also prefer Genesis with Phil out front, even on material Peter originally sung. Phil as a solo artist is very strong as well and there is quite a bit of great songs in his catalog and perhaps more accessible to a general audience,

Overall, I like them both. 

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I managed to leave out a few prime examples from the San Francisco Bay area:


- Stevie Nicks & Lindsey Buckingham. Prior to moving to L. A. and securing a record deal, this duo were members of The Fritz Reiner Memorial Band (shortened to simply Fritz after being being challenged by the conductor’s estate). I saw them live only once---opening the 1968 Santa Clara County Folk/Rock Festival. If you look hard enough, you can find a pic of Fritz on stage at Mother Butler High School, Stevie in a prom dress/formal wear (the Catholic girls school had a serious dress code). The duo’s sole 1973 album on Polydor now fetches somewhat serious money, in spite of it being not very good (imo, of course).

- Prior to joining Copperhead (John Cipollina’s post-Quicksilver Messenger Service band), bassist/songwriter/singer Jim McPherson was in San Jose band Stained Glass (two albums on Capitol Records).

- Prior to joining Moby Grape, Skip Spence was a member of The Jefferson Airplane (first album only). Moby Grape was a serious step up from The Airplane.

- Prior to launching a solo career, Dan Hicks was the drummer of The Charlatans (one album).

- Though I much prefer The Sons Of Champlin to Chicago, joining the latter no doubt resulted in a serious career boost for Bill.


And then there is Tom Petty, originally a member of Mudcrutch.

S. Winwood, M. Jackson, are good ones. I do not prefer the pop oriented Genesis era.

Jeff Beck, David Sylvian, Eric Burdon, Barry Adamson, Brian Eno, Vangelis, Klaus Schulze.....

I think he took the bass  player and someone else too though. Got away from Jeff Beck. 

@bdp24 - I think it’s another case of my not writing clearly enough in my OP. Obviously, there were many artists that broke away from bands and made it big. Hendrix was a backup guitarist for the Isley Bros as I recall. What I was thinking of were people who fronted monster bands already, that went solo. As I mentioned, Sting, Bruce, John Fogarty come to mind. Not really talking about sidemen that broke out like Frampton. But MJ killed it, of course. Speaking of Frampton, he has a solo acoustic double album out which is very good. Does the old hits, but just acoustic guitar and voice. Sometimes a bass in there as well. 

Very few famous groups then onto a famous solo career. Commodores Lionel Richie,  Cream Clapton, Beatles Mccartny that's it. 


I'm not sure I understand your breakdown of solo artists, it doesn't follow @chayro 's original post.

Are you saying Debbie Harry was better solo than when she fronted Blondie? And Clapton, you don't mention Cream. Was his solo career better? 

Rockpile is a complicated one. Dave Edmonds is a great talent and is intertwined with Nick Lowe and Rockpile. IMO, solo Edmonds would be greater than the one-off Rockpile. I was lucky enough to see Rockpile live as headliners circa 1980. 

How 'bout if we clear up the Solo Artist vs. Group Artist to-do by looking at the album's front cover? Does the album cover have the band's name or the artist's name? If it's both, the group name still gets the chicken dinner. Even better, how 'bout we look at the album's edge and see whose name is there?

Sometimes it's not that clear cut.  Brian Wilson post Beach Boys may have an artistic edge, but certainly not popularity.  Frank Zappa post Mothers Of Invention by volume alone overwhelms the earlier work.

Nile Rodgers production work after Chic is vast and very impressive.  Bill Nelson's work post BeBop Deluxe could be obscure, but reached heights that the band did not.  Janis Joplin was certainly most popular as a solo artist after Big Brother & the Holding Company.  Elvis Costello as a solo act has released a number of superb recordings throughout his long career.  Curtis Mayfield achieved greater fame as a solo act than with the Impressions.  Finally, Mick Taylor's s/t debut album is far better than his output with the Rolling Stones.  The songs weren't up to the Jagger/Richards level, but the performances were better.  Unfortunately, he never reached that level again.

@lowrider: No, I’m saying Debbie Harry was better in Blondie than she was in Wind In The Willows, which of course doesn’t conform to the point of the post. Guilty as charged! Many people refer to her as "Blondie", though that is actually the group’s name. I consider the other members of Blondie as Debbie Harry’s back-up band. I never cared for Blondie, and have never heard Harry’s solo albums, so can’t comment. I assume they are even worst than those of Blondie.

As for Dave Edmunds, his pre-solo group Love Sculpture were relatively successful (at least in the UK, where "Sabre Dance" was a hit single). I much prefer his post-Love Sculpture music. I too saw Rockpile live, with Moon Martin opening. Great double bill! As good as Rockpile was, Edmunds live was even better.

Nick Lowe’s group Brinsley Schwarz were also well known in the UK, and again I prefer his post-BS music. Moon Martin’s pre-solo group Southwind had two albums on a major label, and toured the states. John Hiatt is very well-known, and his solo work is far better than was his stuff in White Duck. The Steeldrivers are very well known (at least to fans of Americana), and Chris Stapleton is now a huge solo artist. Not "monster" enough? ;-)

I didn’t realize only guys who "fronted monster bands" were eligible. What constitutes a "monster" band? Vince Gill was very well known as a member of Pure Prairie League. Do you guys listen to only "monster Rock bands"?! ;-)

I don’t care for most huge stars, whether as members of a band or solo. The Stones/Mick Jagger/Keith Richards? Who cares?! The Who/Roger Daltry/Pete Townshend? Likewise! II guess I’m talking to the wrong audience. Back to hibernatin'.


Maybe Monster could also mean popular. Pure Prairie League sure qualifies. Also Brinsley Schwarz, agree with you about Nick Lowe and Dave Edmonds (super talented).

I must say I was a Blondie fan from the beginning, seeing the band play in NYC 1976, 77. Debbie's solo work was weak. She had success with dance club stuff.

I think he took the bass  player and someone else too though. Got away from Jeff Beck. 


That someone was Ronnie Wood. They formed The Faces with members from Small Faces.

It's a fine line between better and different. I applaud musicians who have the courage to make a clean break rather than staying in the comfort zone of their bands viz. Paul Weller, Mark Knopfler and Sting. Of those three, only Mark Knopfler's post-band music really appeals to me, but I appreciate what Paul Weller and Sting have done post the Jam and the Police.

First, a mea culpa on my part. Some of my above nominations are completely inappropriate in terms of the thread’s stated topic and intent, some of them noted by others as being sidemen who later became "leading men" (using the analogy of actors). I will also concede that most of my choices had not been in "monster" bands, but rather in cult-level ones. I don’t consider that distinction artistically relevant, but this is not my thread ;-) .

But there is one name that simply can not be ignored: Richard Thompson. While his output in Fairport Convention may be the equal of his solo work in terms of quality (imo an unnecessary comparison), his solo body of work is far more extensive in quantity. Live on stage Richard is absolutely, unbelievably great! See him before he dies :-( .

And then there is David Lindley. Though he made his name playing on the albums of many of the L.A. singers/songwriters, Lindley was before that in the L.A. band Kaleidoscope. I much prefer his solo albums, and live he is astounding! Sharp dresser, too ;-) . 

A couple of these might be arguable depending on your tastes and preferences.

Joe Walsh

Donald Fagen


Natalie Merchant

Janis Joplin

Billy Idol

Ice Cube

Ronnie James Dio

Sammy Hagar

St. Vincent

Joan Jett


Tom Petty

If you start digging into jazz, it would be easy to come up with a list 2 or 3 times longer.

I'm with lowrider57 when it comes to Debbie Harry and Eric Clapton. I saw Deborah Harry and Blondie at the Santa Monica Civic. They were just plain fun. I still listen to a couple of their albums.


As for Clapton, thanks to his work with the Blues Breakers and Cream, he remains my favorite electric guitarist. He's the reason I bought an electric guitar. I got to say, though, that when I saw him in concert he was a bit of a snooze.

Todd Rundgren > The Nazz.

Michael Jackson > The Jacksons

Bjork > The Sugarcubes.

Neil Young > Buffalo Springfield.

Brian Eno > Roxy Music

I would push back and vouch for Sting's solo career. The Police were The Police and no one can ever take their genius and influence away from them, but Sting has managed to carve out a memorable and influential solo career more successful and deep than his Police days. Then again, he also has grown up, too.