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The Best and Worst Solo Artists from Bands or Groups
From Group Work to Solo Projects
If you've noticed, every ten or so years there is an outbreak of solo acts in music. And these aren't you requisite Best New Artist Grammy candidates, but artists who left the comfort and protection of a group to seek success and validation as a solo act.
And while there are some we automatically root for some to go on to bigger and better, there are those who should have realized their better with their group. So this hub will focus on those who have succeeded immensely, failed spectacularly, or somehow made it but not as big as they thought.
The Heavy Charting Crew
If you ever watch a group, duo, or band perform on The Today Show, The View or back in the day TRL and Soul Train, you can almost spot the superstar in waiting. They have that certain it factor that distinguishes them from the rest of the group; whether it's the gleam in their eyes or the way your eye always goes back to them, you just know they're itching to bust lose.
Now of course, while you see it they automatically know it and are probably planning their exit or hiatus from the group. So without further ado, here's a short compilation of the best solo artists to leave their respective groups.
Paul McCartney- While he's technically known as Sir Paul McCartney now, for the purposes of this hub, I'll keep it simple. The Beatles are arguably the best band in music history, due in no small part to McCartney's contributions as a songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist. But after the group disbanded, he went on to massive success in the band wings alongside his late wife Linda. In many ways Paul McCartney, is the premiere example of a modern solo artist. He knew his strengths and played to them in such a way that we had no choice but to continue to follow our favorite Beatle.
Chaka Khan- Listening to Chaka Khan can only make you feel good, so it's no wonder she decided to be the only feel good voice on the record. While she did have some amazing songs with her former group Rufus, nobody really remembers Rufus without her. Her seething vocals can make you fall in and out of love within the same song.
Michael Jackson- A former duet partner of McCartney, Michael Jackson was the one member of the Jackson 5 who we all knew would explode into the stratosphere. With his unique status as a triple threat singer/dancer/songwriter, he held us captive up until his tragic death with his one of a kind music and style. His Thriller album also holds the title of being the best selling album of all time. All future boy band members looked to him as the model for a career as a solo artist with genuine musical credibility.
Dr. Dre- Arguably the most iconic producer in all of hip-hop, he's done quite well for himself as a solo artist despite only releasing two albums so far. He began is career as a DJ but found success with NWA in the late 80s. Due to problems within the group, he went solo and released the classic hip-hop album The Chronic in 1993.
Gladys Knight- One of the premiere women in soul music, she's been performing since the age of seven. Her professionalism and stage presence has kept her very active in an ever-changing musical landscape. While The Pips helped her along, it was her voice that illuminated the pains and triumphs of the Civil Rights era.
George Michael- Speaking of former members of a bubblegum pop juggernaut, this list isn't complete without George Michael. Everyone wanted to sing-along to his hits in Wham!, but once he went solo he became even bigger. In many ways, his solo career has served as the catalyst to his myriad personal and professional problems but that doesn't distract from his genuine artistry and distinctive style.
Gloria Estefan- Even though her voice was the lone standout in the Miami Sound Machine, it wasn't until she fully came into her own in the late 80's with the monster album Let It Loose. Now considered the Queen of Latin Pop she hasn't slowed down after over 30 years of recording and touring.
Teddy Pendergrass- He not only made Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes a success with is distinctly unique voice, he also did well as a solo artist. Pendergrass was a pioneer in having ladies' only concerts, a tradition now followed by artists like Tyrese.
John Lennon- Arguably the most iconic Beatle, he proved he was more than just a great team player with his solo effort. And while his life was tragically cut short, he gave us many things to think about through his music.
Lionel Ritchie- Distinctive is the name of Lionel Ritchie's game. And while many people forget he was essentially the backbone of the Commodores, in the 1970s he made sure that in the 1980s we remembered who he was. Can't Slow Down was an apt title for his mega album in the 1980s, because he didn't. Ritchie not only toured and performed his own material but he co-wrote major hits for acts as diverse as Kenny Rogers. While the younger generation may only know him as Nicole's dad, some of us know there's more to the story.
Patti LaBelle- Ms. Patti headed two groups before finally going solo in the 1980s. From there, she was a one-woman, shoe-kicking, stage-stealing dynamo. With hits such as "On My Own" (with Michael McDonald) and "New Attitude," she consistently gave her all to every song she put out.
Sting- With a name like Sting, you're bound to leave an impact. And he's done just that. With his unique voice and insightful writing style, Sting has become the elder statesman of rockin recent years. His songs have provided a soundtrack to our lives for nearly 30 years.
Ice Cube- Also from NWA, Ice Cube was the first to leave the group for solo success. Not to be outdone, he became an acclaimed actor known for such movies as Friday, Boyz N Tha Hood, and Are We There Yet. Cube has now started his own production company and also is behind the scenes working in television and films. He hasn't abandoned hip-hop and is still making music to this day.
Tina Turner- In 1984, she proved what many people knew already, that she didn't need Ike. With her raspy vocals and trademark swagger she established herself as a one of a kind rock icon.
Phil Collins - It goes without saying the Phil Collins was one of the big men of 1980s music alongside Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie. But his style was all his own. A combination of soulful vocals, haunting lyrics, and a truly unique presence has made him one of the best selling solo artists in history.
Will Smith- Even though the Fresh Prince made it clear that Jazzy Jeff was the DJ and he was the rapper but he went solo in the 1990s after making it big on television. The rest is history.
Cher- For all intents and purposes, she was Madonna before we knew Madonna. Her style morphed from the friendly sing-along pop she did with Sonny to a more diverse style that included disco, dance, and rock music. Cher also became the first artist to reach number one on the Billboard charts across six different decades.
Sam Cooke- Arguably music's first real crossover artist Sam Cooke is not only an icon but someone who really redefined music with his voice and delivery. After leaving the Soul Stirrers, he wrote and performed most all of his own music until his untimely death in 1964.
Peter Gabriel- Although he is on the more artistic side of things, his works have garnered major acclaim critically and he has managed to sell millions of records. With material that ranged from the political like "Biko" to songs that emphasized the romantic "In Your Eyes," he never ceases to deliver great, inspiring music.
Beyonce- I don't really need to say more than that, do I?
Busta Rhymes- Not only does he have quite possibly the most awesome rap name of all time, he was one of the driving forces behind Leaders of the New School. Following their infamous public demise on Yo! MTV Raps, he took over the 90s with some now classic hip-hop hits and music videos.
Justin Timberlake- Quite possibly the latest male artist to make it big after massive success in a group, Justin Timberlake has proven that you shouldn't judge an artist by his past. After releasing two massively successful albums, he's taken a break but has vowed to make another album much to the delight of his many fans.
George Harrison- The quiet Beatle made a lot of wonderful noise in his solo career. He didn't have the same kind of success as John and Paul, but he was okay with him. George continued to perform his critically acclaimed, insightful material up until his death.
Almost, But Not Quite
Everyone knows who went solo and soared or who went solo but crawled back to the group (or obscurity in some cases) but then there are those who do okay but never really establish an identity or persona outside their respective groups.
Gwen Stefani- I'm very glad she taught me how to spell bananas, but beyond that Gwen Stefani's solo career has been a bizarre combination of hit or miss. While her style as a solo artist was unique from No Doubt, it also wasn't very impressive at times. Fortunately, she's decided to go back to No Doubt and create another awesome album.
Joey McIntyre- The cute one from NKOTB went solo the same year as Jordan Knight but had steady success and has since released a few more albums without much fanfare. His approach was decent in combating his boy band image by also going on Broadway.
Fergie- Fergie Ferg is the duchess of hip-hop flavored pop, but her own solo album was more frivolity than substance. With the exception of "Big Girls Don't Cry" she didn't really breakout of the Black Eyed Peas shadow.
Daryl Hall- He really did try, but it just never works. Hall needs Oates like cake needs ice cream. His voice is amazing but the material he chose as a solo artist, paled in comparison to his works with our favorite mustachioed sidekick.
Kool Moe Dee- Once part of iconic hip hop group Treacherous Three, he ventured out in the mid 1980s and had a good string of hits including "Wild Wild West. " However, he got caught up in changing times as gangsta rap took over.
Diana Ross- While I know that she is revered the world over as an icon, her voice doesn't have the texture or power to hold the material it was sometimes given.
JC Chasez- Here's a rule of thumb, if you're going to come out as a solo artist don't come out the same time as the most popular member of the group. Unfortunately, JC didn't follow this rule and was forever subject to Justin Timberlake's shadow and being a judge on America's Best Dance Crew.
Q-Tip- No, not the kind for your ears! Q-Tip was the guiding force of hip-hop's A Tribe Called Quest but after parting ways in the late 90s he had a couple of big hits in "Vibrant Thing" and "Breathe and Stop." After that, he went MIA on the hip hop scene.
Kelly Rowland- The same rule of thumb applies to her as it did JC Chasez. Even though she did come out slightly before Beyonce', she really had no chance of derailing her fellow group member. But I do think she has done quite well with the smash it of Motivation in 2011.
Barry Gibb - While he had musical magic with his younger twin brothers, on his own he didn't have the same unique imprint.
Lauryn Hill- I wish she was not in this category because with her talent and drive, she deserves to be at the top of the list. After parting ways with her fellow Fugees, her landmark debut album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is among one of the best albums of the 1990s and she swept the Grammys in 1999. Unfortunately, massive success led to several personal issues and she's never managed to top the charts again.
Ralph Tresvant and Bobby Brown (New Edition)- While Bobby Brown did have a massive album, he never really followed that success consistently with other major hits. And Ralph Tresvant unfortunately was another victim of bad timing with somewhat intriguing material.
Philip Bailey- Everyone's favorite falsetto master had it going on in his duet with Phil Collins, "Easy Lover." Without him, it was another much harder story.
Ronnie Dunn (Brooks and Dunn)- Dunn was originally a solo act before teaming up with Kix Brooks (who will release his solo album on Sept. 11, 2012) but has only had moderate chart success and was later left Arista Records.
Steve Perry- Steve Perry was one of the premier voices of the 1980s as part of Journey but conflict prevented him from remaining a part of the group. He had pretty good success with "Oh Sherrie" but other than that he's gone underground since his second stint with his old group in the mid 90s.
Michelle Williams (Destiny's Child)- I sometimes feel bad for Michelle Williams. While she got to be a part of Destiny's Child, her name is most likely confused with actress Michelle Williams. And unlike her fellow former band mates she mostly has pursued opportunities in Gospel music and on Broadway. So she did not do all that badly.
Wyclef Jean- Wyclef Jean is a great producer and artist but most of his songs outside of the Fugees have not been as memorable.
Brian Littrell- Our favorite BSB member has had interesting success in the Christian market with his solo efforts, despite leaving the comfort of his pop background. While he's succeeded in some ways, I'm sure many people didn't know he even went solo.
Good in Theory
Now while you might balk at my list below, let's be honest it's the ugly truth. And by ugly I mean bad covers, bad attempts, and bad returns.
Mick Jagger- I know, he's a knight. I know, he's part of one of the most iconic groups in rock history. But that is not enough to justify the hot mess that was his solo effort. And that especially goes for his duet with David Bowie, a cover of Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street." We were running Mick, not dancing.
Ex-Temptations (Dennis Edwards, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks)- Before you unfollow me forever, let me explain. The Temptations were so amazing that it's easy to see while lightening can't strike twice. While they did have their own hits such as "Don't Look Any Further" and "Keep on Truckin'", the magic that made them so illustrious in the Tempts was a mere gleam when they went solo.
Ringo Starr- Ringo, Ringo, Ringo. Really that's all I have to say but let me clarify it's not because he was the drummer. No, it's because his voice didn't have the same appeal as the other three of the Fab Four. And he didn't even compensate with the material, so...
Wanya Morris- He has released some material and is working on a project, but let's be honest. It's hard for us to see him beyond the sweetly passionate begging he does at the end of every Boyz II Men song.
AJ McLean- The resident bad boy/ cray-cray of BSB released a project in 2010 but I'm sure you knew that one.
Howie D- Know as the other other one from BSB- I forgot he tried to go solo.
Nick Carter- Well, he may have beaten former boy band arch-rival Justin Timberlake at arm wrestling but he didn't have the same upper hand musically. His album went a little past gold in 2002 and in 2011, he tried again. Yeah, I just found that out too.
Anyone from the Spice Girls- I'm sorry, but you know you were thinking the same thing. I won't bother to name all of them, but let's be honest they work better together than apart.
Jordan Knight- I think Jordan Knight is the foxiest New Kid but unfortunately it didn't translate musically. He had one major hit in 1999 with "Give It To You" but tanked out. Why? Well, he interrupted the great boy band movement of the late 1990s and by that time the girls he wooed in the 1980s were women of the 1990s who didn't have time for Mr. Knight.
Speech (Arrested Development)- If you don't remember this artist just think about that song "Tennessee"- that was Speech's group. After a grand total of a couple of albums and decent hits, he went solo only to find a following in Japan.
Nick Lachey- For every Michael Jackson or Justin Timberlake there's about fifteen Nick Lacheys. 98 degrees wasn't the most successful boy band of the late 90s and Nick only really gained notoriety after his relationship with Jessica Simpson hit the airwaves of MTV. He decidedly made the decision to go SoulO in 2003, with less than stellar results. He tried again with 2006's post-divorce album What's Left of Me, but then his record label pulled the plug before he could give us a third album.
Jermaine Jackson- Jermaine had minor success with some R&B hits outside of J5 but everyone knew he was no Michael.
Marques Houston- You probably recognize the name but not from music. Marques Houston also portrayed the poor man's Urkel (Roger) on famed 90's sitcom Sister, Sister. But he was also a member of too small for their baggy pants group Immature. He went solo in 2002, but to little fanfare.
Omarion- Speaking of little fanfare, I'm sure you've forgotten this kid too. He was a member of blink and you'll forget group B2K and went solo with similar results to several other boy band alumni.
El DeBarge- I am sure if you watch the Game on BET you know that he was the inspiration for Malik's infamous nickname but he was actually a part of the family group DeBarge with his brothers and sister. He left in the mid 1980s to go solo but drug use derailed him. He made an excellent comeback attempt in 2010 at the BET Awards but unfortunately his old demons came back to haunt him.
Ashley Parker Angel- No, he's not a girl. But he did sing for them. As part of the super-low on the totem-pole O-Town, he had to know it would not last forever. He did land his own reality show in the mid-2000s and had some modest success, but then he disappeared!
Rev Run and DMC- As with New Edition, they work best together. It's hard to picture DMC's distinctive swag without anyone else but Run's subtle witticisms. They both went solo in the 2000s following the tragic death of their beloved friend and DJ, Jam Master Jay.
Raphael Saadiq- As one of the leaders of the New Jack Swing movement, he was the driving force behind his brother and cousin in Tony! Toni! Tone! but as a solo artist his biggest success is either in collaborations or songwriting. I cannot blame a guy for trying!
Eddie LeVert- The O'Jays is probably one of my favorite R&B groups of the classic soul era that were not at Motown. But unfortunately, Eddie LeVert is just jumping in the game as a solo artist coming out this year with his debut album Eddie LeVert: I Still Have It. However, after surviving the deaths of his two sons, he is definitely a strong and influential voice for any fan of pure music.
JT Taylor (Kool and the Gang)- While most of us remember the jams of Kool and The Gang, many of us probably forgot Kool went solo. And no, he didn't go back to the gang. He's released four albums so far with a minor hit or two to boot.
Will. I. Am- I just found out Will.I. Am has released three solo records with a fourth on the way. Yeah, I didn't know that one either.
People Who Went Solo Before Fame
This list is quite interesting. Some people who are now major recording artists originally were part of a package deal but due to other circumstances, they pursued success on their own and won.
Billy Joel- The Piano Man tried to be a rock man in hard rock group Attila. But eventually went solo after the material crashed and he had an affair with his bandmate's wife (who would go on to become his first wife). It's understandable how that would break up a group. In the long run, it paid off and Joel is know a pop culture icon the world over.
Britney Spears- The Princess of Pop almost went the Spice Girls route in the late 90s. She had agreed to be a part of girl group Innosense- who were co-managed by boy band impresario and later crook Lou Pearlman and Justin Timberlake's mother Lynn but decided to go on her own. Britney did the right thing- she blew up and Innosense blew apart!
Rick James- That's right, the king of Punk-Funk was a part of a group called the Minah Byrds in the late 1960s and they were signed to Motown. However, money and management issues led to an ultimate parting of ways for the group and Rick James honed his skills as a songwriter at Motown before blowing up in the late 1970s.
Bobby Womack- While he was known before going solo as part of the Valentinos with his brothers. They had a few R&B hits but following the death of Sam Cooke their mentor, they broke up. Womack used his songwriting skills and eventually made it big in the late 1960s.
Missy Elliott- The multi-talented Missy Elliott was not only in the early 90s R&B group Sistah, she was a member of a musical collective founded by Jodeci member DeVante Swing. However, after Sistah took a hiatus and Swing's collective bombed, Elliott became a songwriter and producer before taking over hip-hop in 1996.
R. Kelly- As with any story concerning R.Kelly, its complicated. His first album Born into the 90s- was credited as R.Kelly and Public Announcement. However, following the success of that, he gave them another announcement, he was all on his own. It worked out pretty well for him.
Al Green- His initial love of music drew him to become a part of a group with his friends. But the group name Al Greene & The Creations (later Soul Mates) said it all. Eventually he went solo and became an icon of sweet soul music.
P!nk- Honestly, I cannot imagine P!nk as a singer in a group but she was. Similar to Fergie she was in an all female R&B group and were pursued by LaFace Records. Label head L.A. Reid saw P!nk's potential and convinced her to sign without her group members. I think we all L.A. Reid a huge thank you for that one!