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Some of the greatest solo musical artists of all time got their start in a successful band. Here’s a list of some of them. Stay tuned for a future post for some additional artists that started in a band.
Michael Jackson – The King of Pop started in The Jackson 5 in 1965 at the age of 5, and he continued to perform with his brothers until 1984, even as his solo career was sky rocketing. Jackson’s first solo single was released in 1971. Jackson went on to become #4 on the marksmusicmania.com list of the Greatest Artists of All Time (see my September 30, 2018 post for more).
Peter Gabriel/Phil Collins – The band Genesis had the unique distinction of launching 2 solo careers. Gabriel was a founding member and lead singer of the band from 1967 until he left in 1975. Genesis released 6 albums with Gabriel as frontman – Gabriel went on to release 13 solo studio albums, have 4 songs top the Billboard charts, and win 6 Grammy awards. Phil Collins joined Genesis in 1970, and after Gabriel left, he took over the lead vocalist role (while still performing as drummer) after numerous auditions of potential vocalists proved fruitless. Genesis had much greater commercial success under Collins, with 12 singles reaching the top 5 of various charts, including Invisible Touch, which topped the Hot 100 chart. Collins began his solo career in 1981, releasing 8 studio albums, while remaining with Genesis until 1996. Four of his solo albums were multi-platinum, with No Jacket Required selling over 25 million copies worldwide. Collins won 8 Grammy awards as a solo artist or songwriter.
Justin Timberlake – Several members of the boy band NSYNC had solo careers, but Timberlake’s career made him one of the most popular entertainers of the 21st century. He was a founding member of NSYNC in 1995 at the age of 14, and the band’s 3 studio albums were all multi-platinum, with 2 of them achieving diamond status. When the band split up in 2002, Timberlake launched a solo career and quickly earned a reputation of a pop music mega-star. He had 13 singles in the Hot 100 top 10, including 3 consecutive #1 songs. He acted in over 20 films. He won 10 Grammy awards, and won 4 Emmy awards for his appearances on Saturday Night Live.
Beyoncé – Before becoming a cultural icon, Beyoncé was a founding member of the vocal group Destiny’s Child, which formed in 1997. She remained with the group for its entire 10 year run, producing 4 songs that topped the Hot 100. Beyoncé began her solo career in 2003, and all 6 of her studio albums went multi-platinum. She had 13 singles in the top 10, with 6 topping the Hot 100 chart. She received a staggering 70 Grammy nominations – the most nominated woman in history – and her 24 wins are the second-most of any woman in history.
Eric Clapton – Arguably the greatest guitarist of all time, Clapton is the only person inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 3 times – once as a solo artist, and twice as a member of a band. He was a member of The Yardbirds from 1963 to 1965. From there, he joined John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers for one year. In 1966, he formed the power trio Cream, and Cream was a commercial success until it split up in 1968. He then performed in Blind Faith, then Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, and finally Derek and the Dominos in 1970. His time with The Yardbirds and Cream earned his induction into the HOF. His first solo album was released in 1970, and there were over 40 albums subsequently released, many of which were multi-platinum, and his 1992 classic Unplugged sold over 26 million copies. He won 17 Grammy awards as a solo artist, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Paul McCartney/John Lennon/George Harrison/Ringo Starr – All 4 members of The Beatles had successful solo careers. McCartney’s made him one of the most successful performers of all time – as a solo artist (including his time with his band Wings), he has released over 50 albums, with 9 songs reaching #1. He is a 6 time Grammy winner as a solo artist, 9 times with the Beatles, 2 with Wings, and once with the surviving members of Nirvana. Lennon released 13 studio and live albums after The Beatles, with six top 5 hits, and two #1 songs. His Double Fantasy album won the Grammy award for Album of the Year in 1981, shortly before his death. Harrison released 12 solo studio albums, along with 2 more as a member of The Traveling Wilburys. He had 3 singles top the Hot 100 chart, and he won 2 Grammy awards for his solo work, plus another as one of The Traveling Wilburys. Starr released 20 studio albums as a solo artist, with 8 songs in the top 10, and topped the chart twice. All 4 of The Beatles are inducted into the Rock & Roll as solo artists as well as with The Beatles.
Special note – The Yardbirds were fortunate enough to have 3 of the greatest guitarists of all time. Clapton was replaced by Jeff Beck, and Beck was replaced by Jimmy Page (of Led Zeppelin fame). When Rolling Stone published their list of the Greatest Guitarists of All Time in 2015, Beck was #5, Page was #3 and Clapton was #2. That’s impressive talent there!
Special note two – John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers have had some impressive alumni. Over 90 artists have been members of the band over the years. In addition to Clapton, other members include Mick Fleetwood and John McVie (who later formed Fleetwood Mac) and Mick Taylor (with The Rolling Stones from 1969 to 1974).
Watch Clapton and Harrison perform While My Guitar Gently Sleeps, from 1987. Also performing here – Phil Collins and Ringo Starr on drums, Jeff Lynne (ELO, Traveling Wilburys) on guitar, Elton John on keyboards (you know Sir Elton), and a few others.