Led Zeppelin Houses of the Holy

When Do Bands Peak? (Part 2)

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at when bands peak – I’ve always enjoyed band’s later albums where they are more confident and more diverse. My graphs based on my ratings bore this out – this graph was based on 24 bands, where I’ve covered at least their first 6 albums on this site. The graph showed that overall, bands build up through their second and third albums, before peaking with their fourth and fifth albums, then going into a decline. Not every band fits this profile, but the graph showed this is the overall pattern. The results looked like this:


One question I had was whether I favour bands’ 4th and 5th albums, or if they’re actually considered stronger overall. To verify my findings, I looked at the same 24 bands in Rate Your Music (https://rateyourmusic.com/). If you’re unfamiliar with the site, it’s a ratings aggregator, where music fans can rate albums and the site database holds average ratings for each album.

Please note that Rate Your Music rates out of 5, while I rate out of 10, so the scales of the two graphs aren’t comparable. Also, because it aggregates scores, most albums score between about 2.5 and 4.1 out of 5, so it’s not surprising that the graph is flatter and the trends are less pronounced. This is the Rate Your Music scores for the same 24 artists used in the original graph* (see below for the list of artists):


As you can see, the Rate Your Music results are similar to my results – it’s less pronounced, but the fourth and fifth albums are still the strongest, and there’s a drop off from the 5th to the 6th album, just like on my graph. If there’s a difference, it’s that generally the debut album scores better on Rate Your Music than with me – as noted in the first post, I often find debut albums a little bland, and prefer bands as they become more adventurous and diverse.

24 bands seemed a little low, so I tried adding a “control group” of an extra 10 bands to see if it made a difference. It mainly served to pull the overall ratings down – many of the original 24 bands used are among the most critically acclaimed bands of all time. The line with the extra 10 bands is blue, while the original RYM line is orange. The extra ten bands used are listed at the bottom of the page.


The extra ten bands used do show some evidence of the famous sophomore slump, which wasn’t as evident in the original graph  – the bands include a couple from the class of ’77 who had a ill-received second album (XTC and The Jam),  and another couple who hadn’t hit their stride by the time of the second record (Earth, Wind and Fire, Yes). It might be interesting to look at the first three albums of a wider group of bands to see if sophomore slump is quantifiable.

But overall, it looks like bands peak with their fourth and fifth albums – it’s not just a personal preference but an observable trend.

When did your favourite band peak?

* Original 24 Bands Used
The Beatles, The Byrds, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Decemberists, Eagles, Genesis, The Go-Betweens, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, The Moody Blues (in this case, I forgot that Days of Future Passed wasn’t their debut, until after I’d run all the numbers and prepared this post, but I think it’s OK to count it as a debut as it feels like the work of a new band….), The New Pornographers, Pearl Jam, Pink Floyd, Prefab Sprout, Queen, Radiohead, Red House Painters, R.E.M., Roxy Music, Split Enz, Steely Dan, Talking Heads, U2, Wilco

** Extra 10 Bands Included in Control Group
The Jam, The Tragically Hip, Earth, Wind and Fire, Echo and the Bunnymen, Phoenix, The Posies, Ween, XTC, Yes, Fairport Convention

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Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande.
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  1. in most bands famous or not there are no more than two or three albums for the average listener. touring & promo work & wealth if successful dim the quality of output.

    • It’s interesting what the cutoff point is for bands. Feel like solo artists generally stay interesting longer – don’t have to balance the egos of multiple people if you’re a solo act.

      • Yes indeed & The Beatles a classic example with a fairly short span in real terms. The Who lasted longer & yet their best work was within a short time frame. Often The Rolling Stones early albums are very undervalued & Andrew Oldham played a key part. Stadium rock as well as mass open air festivals leave me cold but The Stones have endured. But no original studio work for years since A Bigger Bang? Dylan also very quiet these days but solo artists indeed have less problems and most know when to take a break. Older bands or singers touring in old age has mass appeal but the most exciting vibrant singer I ever saw was Wendy O Williams in Holland. Madonna still appeals to me with her sheer fitness levels like Mick Jagger’s standing to her.

  2. When are you planning to publish your results in a scientific journal?😀
    While I’m sure one can always find exceptions to the pattern you found, intuitively, it makes a lot of sense to me overall. Most artists who have longevity develop and grow over time.

    • Yes, and because we’re only looking at artists with at least 6 albums, bands that had one big album and never followed it up successfully probably quit before they get to 6 albums. I think the big exception is bands who started in the early 1960s – bands like The Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys made a few basic (and often very good albums because they’re all talented people) but didn’t hit their stride quite a few albums into their career.

  3. This is a great and I think you are on to something here. I was thinking of a couple bands that have enough albums and they fit this people such as Collective Soul, Bon Jovi and even Lep.

  4. Prince really hit his stride with the third album, Dirty Mind, peaked at six, Purple Rain, and stays solid until album 10, Lovesexy. Album 15, Come is the first real dud.
    Metallica hits their stride with #2 Ride the Lightning, then peaks at #3 or 5, (Master of Puppets or the Black Album)depending on whether you prefer the longer or shorter songs.
    All opinions open to debate, of course.

  5. Another splendid post – interesting to see the pattern holds.
    I think it would fit for many of my favourites with 6+ albums with the odd exception. Weezer’s would be off the charts early on and then be up & down and Radiohead would likely shift to the left by 1 album or so!

  6. I see you have departed from the conventional wisdom of the “difficult third album”, with the first being full of good stuff they’ve had a lifetime to write and the second using up what didn’t make it onto the first, plus some filler, while for the third they have to write 10 songs in a hurry.
    Personally, I find people run out of things to say after a few albums (I even gave up on my beloved Neil Young about 20 years ago) and later ones can be rather lame. On the other hand, sensational first albums are also few and far between, with honorable exceptions being Led Zeppelin’s mighty, blues-based debut before they got ideas above their station and The Smiths’ self-titled first, which positively screams its right to be heard.

    • I normally hear about the difficult second album. I might do a first three albums stats thing sometime, on solo artists and bands, and see how that goes.
      I don’t know if it’s totally running out of ideas but also settling down and starting a family etc, and less angst.

    • It would depend on how much material a band has left over after the first album. I read somewhere that The Doors were using songs from their initial songwriting burst into the third album.

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