The 30 Best Sophomore Albums of All-Time

For musicians, few things are more terrifying than releasing a stellar debut album and having label executives, critics, and fans anticipate an equally remarkable follow-up. Far too many artists and groups have fallen victim to this heightened awareness from the music community. There’s a reason why the “sophomore slump” is so feared. It happens to tons of artists.

While many artists stumble on album number two, some have looked down the barrel without flinching. Many of those on this list have gone on to have storied careers. Being able to ignore expectations, excitement, and buzz and create excellent music that realizes the promise of your debut is a sign of special talent. To celebrate artists who have avoided the sophomore slump, we gathered 30 of our favorite second albums, listed below in chronological order.

Bob Dylan ― The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan offers one of the most famous opening tracks in rock history. Bob Dylan begins his second record with "Blowin' in the Wind," one of the most important songs in American culture. Other hits include "Masters of War" and "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," setting the stage for one of the most iconic careers in music. 

Van Morrison ― Astral Weeks (1968)

Though Van Morrison has come under fire lately for his controversial COVID-19 takes, nothing will take away from his brilliant second album, Astral Weeks. The album blended folk, rock, blues, and jazz unlike any before it. That combination may seem commonplace today, but it was revelatory when Astral Weeks was released in November of 1968. Perhaps more impressive than the concept, though, was that Morrison recorded the album in September and October of that same year. 

The Band ― The Band (1969)

For a bunch of Canadians (and Levon Helm), The Band had a pretty good grasp of American culture and the nation's history. On their self-titled second album, they set out to create a concept record tracking a history of Americana that honed in on the people and traditions that make this country unique. The album includes hits like "Jawbone, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," and "Up On Cripple Creek," capturing a world that no longer exists but is easy to imagine.

Neil Young with Crazy Horse ― Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (1969)

The lore surrounding Neil Young's Everybody Knows This is Nowhere is almost as famous as the seminal album itself. Neil wrote a number of the songs, like "Cinnamon Girl", "Down by the River", the title track, and "Cowgirl in the Sand," while he had a 103 °F fever. The title track also uses a scratch vocal take Young had used for a demo, with the singer deciding to use it on the album because he liked its rawness. Though the stories surrounding the album are legendary, the album remains a masterpiece because of Young's unparalled songwriting.

The Stooges ― Fun House (1970)

For some reason, albums by The Stooges had trouble sticking upon initial release. The band is now widely celebrated for helping develop modern punk rock, but albums by Iggy Pop and his band were generally overlooked. Fun House, like the band's first record, didn't gain a massive commercial following, but it's widely considered an absolute classic in the rock canon.

Bruce Springsteen ― The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973)

You'd be forgiven for overlooking Bruce Srpingsteen's second album, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. Springsteen's third album Born to Run, is widely considered his best, in addition to being one of the most influential albums in rock history. But The Wild is stellar in its own right. Though it's only seven songs long, many of the tracks top five minutes in length. The b-side of the album also includes "Rosalita," which is still a favorite among Springsteen fans.

Public Enemy ― It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)

Following their 1987 debut, Yo! Bum Rush the ShowPublic Enemy had high expectations for their follow-up. When they began recording It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, the group set out to record the rap equivalent of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, a popular album noted for its strong political commentary. The group, led by Chuck D, achieved their goal, creating one of the most impactful albums in rap history.

Beastie Boys ― Paul's Boutique (1989)

The odds were stacked against the Beastie Boys as they prepared to record the follow-up to their debut smash, Licensed to Ill. The trio was deemed a one-hit wonder by critics and the band's label, Def Jam. They were also estranged from producer Rick Rubin, who helped the trio cultivate their famous sound. Though Paul's Boutique didn't sell as well as the band's debut, it's widely considered one of the best rap albums of all-time, as innovative as it is immediate. Often called "The Sgt. Pepper of rap," Paul's Boutique outran the hype.

The Pixies ― Doolittle (1989)

Surfer Rosa is still one of the best debut albums of all-time, but its success didn't faze The Pixies. They doubled down on its success with Doolittle, which become one of the most influential in the history of alternative rock. While "Where is My Mind?" from Surfer Rosa remains the band's most famous song, Doolittle was more cohesive and includes hits like "Debaser," "Monkey Gone to Heaven," and "Mr. Grieves."

Ice Cube ― Death Certificate (1991)

Ice Cube is known as a founding member of N.W.A., an actor, and the man behind the Big 3 basketball league, but his solo career is celebrated amongst hip-hop fans worldwide. Death Certificate followed his Kill at Will EP and is mostly known for being Cube's most successful release after leaving N.W.A. It also includes one of the best rap diss songs in rap history, the scathing, blistering "No Vaseline."

My Bloody Valentine ― Loveless (1991)

My Bloody Valentine's seminal Loveless is known as one of the most torturously recorded albums in rock history. The band ripped through nineteen different studios and several engineers while recording the album. While the album was a critical and commercial hit, bandleader Kevin Shields was purportedly so difficult to work with that MBV's label dropped them after the album was released. Despite the drama, Loveless remains celebrated for the way it reimagined rock music and redefined the way musicians approached the guitar.

Nirvana ― Nevermind (1991)

Nevermind may just be the most successful second album in rock history. Nirvana built upon the raw, pummeling sounds of Bleach but sharpened some of the edges and proved that their innate ability to pen catchy, memorable songs while retaining artistic integrity was, and still is, unmatched. Aside from hit singles like "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nevermind is perhaps most celebrated for bringing grunge music to mainstream audiences.

A Tribe Called Quest ― The Low End Theory (1991)

The Low End Theory was a stark departure from A Tribe Called Quest's debut, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. Whereas its predecessor was a part of hip-hop's golden age of boom-bap bass and braggadocious lyrics, Low End Theory was backed by minimalist beats and lyrics that were more inspired by the world the group was living in. Executives and critics doubted the album's commercial viability, but the group proved the doubters wrong. The album went gold a year after its release.

Pavement ― Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994)

On Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Pavement sound like an entirely different band than the group that recorded their debut, Slanted and Enchanted. Instead of lo-fi fuzz, the band cleaned up their sound and managed to retain their fan-approved slacker aesthetic. Despite the laid back approach, Crooked Rain includes a number of hits like "Cut Your Hair" and "Gold Soundz."

Björk ― Post (1995)

Björk's first album, Debut, was produced almost entirely by Nellee Hooper. For her second album, Post, she handled most of the production herself, inviting co-producers such as Hooper, 808 State's Graham Massey, and former Massive Attack member Tricky. The album continues the themes of Debut, playing with pop, IDM, techno, dance, and jazz. Post helped usher in the art-pop movement, and without it, it's hard to imagine artists like Grimes and FKA Twigs existing in the capacity they do now.

Mobb Deep ― The Infamous (1995)

To think that The Infamous, one of the great albums in rap history, was almost never released is terrifying. Mobb Deep, the duo of Havoc and Prodigy, released their debut, Juvenile Hell, in 1993. The commercial results were so underwhelming that the group was dropped from their label. They eventually found a new label and decided to produce most of the album themselves, giving The Infamous the murky, dark feel fans now celebrate.

Oasis ― (What's the Story) Morning Glory? (1995)

Oasis' debut album, Definitely Maybe, was raw and unfiltered, an incisive look at one of Britian's most exciting bands.  With their follow-up,  (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, the band began an unabashed pursuit of superstardom. The group has never been shy about their rockstar ambitions, and on Morning Glory, they penned anthemic ballads and songs with absolutely massive choruses. After hits like "Wonderwall" and "Champagne Supernova," British rock would never be the same again.

Radiohead ― The Bends (1995)