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Posthumous Albums

Music | By The Top 13 on March 24, 2010

After the death of singer-songwriter Mark Linkous earlier this month, many wondered whether the Sparklehorse album he had recently recorded would be released. Already, one posthumous project, his "Dark Night of the Soul" collaboration with Danger Mouse and David Lynch, is scheduled for release later this year. While posthumous releases can be risky propositions and sometimes feel slapped together simply to make money for the late artist's estate, there are some musicians whose best albums have been released after their deaths. With Linkous in mind, we decided to give another listen to many of the notable albums that fall into this category. Here are the Top 13 Posthumous Albums of all time.

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Joy Division - Closer

1

Joy Division - Closer

1980

Released just two months after the suicide of songwriter and lead singer Ian Curtis, Joy Division's sophomore effort would go on to become perhaps the most influential album of the post-punk movement. In early May 1980, Curtis was struggling with marital woes and seizures caused by his epilepsy. At the same time, his band was preparing to release its second album and to head out on its first U.S. tour. The pressure was apparently too great for Curtis, who hanged himself. Two months later, this haunting, inventive album was released and became viewed as Joy Division's masterpiece.

Nirvana - Unplugged in New York

2

Nirvana - Unplugged in New York

1994

Though Nirvana had taped its performance for MTV Unplugged in November of 1993, the band's label didn't schedule its album release until shortly after lead singer Kurt Cobain killed himself the following April. When it hit stores as the first Nirvana release after Cobain's suicide in November of 1994, it debuted at number one on the Billboard albums chart and was later awarded a Grammy for Best Alternative Album. Unlike most MTV Unplugged releases, Nirvana's breathtaking performance included few of the band's hits and featured six cover songs, including stunning renditions of Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World" and Lead Belly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night."

The Notorious B.I.G. - Life After Death

3

The Notorious B.I.G. - Life After Death

1997

Released just two weeks after Biggie was killed during a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles, this double-disc set is considered by most critics to be among the best hip hop albums of all time. One of only three hip hop albums to ever sell ten million copies in the U.S., Life After Death features the mega-hits "Hypnotize" and "Mo Money Mo Problems" and was nominated for three Grammy Awards. Though similar in tone to his gritty classic debut Ready to Die, Biggie's follow-up also earned more mainstream attention by effectively merging gangster rap with pop hooks and beats.

Mother Love Bone - Apple

4

Mother Love Bone - Apple

1990

The only full-length album from this Seattle blend of early grunge and glam rock, Apple was initially scheduled to be released just days after frontman Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose in March of 1990. When Apple was eventually released four months later, it achieved only modest commercial success, though critics overwhelmingly praised it. Indeed, the album ranked fifth on our Top 13 Grunge Albums. Though members of Mother Love Bone went on to form Pearl Jam, it is Wood's vocals - reminiscent of T. Rex's Marc Bolan - that make this album so memorable.

Elliott Smith - From a Basement on the Hill

5

Elliott Smith - From a Basement on the Hill

2004

Smith hadn't finished work on this, his sixth studio album, when he was found dead in his Los Angeles home in October of 2003 from two (purportedly self-inflicted) stab wounds to the chest. To finish the album, his family brought in Rob Schnapf, Smith's producer on several of his prior classics, including XO and Figure 8. Though some of the darkest songs from Smith's sessions were left off From a Basement on the Hill, what remains is a fitting farewell to a fantastic singer-songwriter. Featuring Smith's trademark melancholy 1960s pop sound, this became one of Smith's most commercially successful albums.

Gram Parsons - Grievous Angel

6

Gram Parsons - Grievous Angel

1973

Just weeks after recording this, his second solo album, alt-country pioneer Gram Parsons fatally overdosed in a Joshua Tree hotel. Released four months after his death, Grievous Angel, like Parsons' debut, was critically acclaimed but made little impact on the charts. The former member of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers entered the studio with only two new songs and filled out the album with outtakes from previous sessions, new versions of songs previously released by his old bands, and a number of covers. Still with protégé Emmylou Harris providing additional vocals, this album is a country rock classic.

Sublime - Sublime

7

Sublime - Sublime

1996

After lead singer Bradley Nowell's fatal heroin overdose just two months prior to this album's scheduled release, MCA nearly shelved Sublime's major label debut. Ultimately the label and remaining band members decided to release the album, though its name was changed from Killin' It to an eponymous title. Featuring Sublime's familiar mix of ska, reggae, and alternative, this album easily became the band's most successful, selling over six million copies on the strength of seven singles, including "What I Got," "Santeria," and "Wrong Way."

Johnny Cash - American V: A Hundred Highways

8

Johnny Cash - American V: A Hundred Highways

2006

Released nearly three years after Cash's death, this album was the first of two posthumous American series albums produced by Rick Rubin and released on his American Recordings label. Cash's very first studio album to reach number one on the Billboard albums chart - like the rest of the somber and moving American series - American V: A Hundred Highways features a few original numbers and a series of covers, including songs penned by Bruce Springsteen and Hank Williams. The black-and-white video for "God's Gonna Cut You Down" below includes appearances by numerous A-list stars paying their respects to Cash, including Johnny Depp, Kanye West, Kate Moss, Bono, and Justin Timberlake.

Janis Joplin - Pearl

9

Janis Joplin - Pearl

1971

Universally considered the greatest female rock vocalist of the 1960s, Joplin had nearly finished a month of recording sessions for her fourth album on October 1, 1970. Three days later, she fatally overdosed on heroin. Accordingly, when Pearl was released four months later, the album featured some of Joplin's very last recordings, including one song, "Buried Alive in the Blues," which is an instrumental because she died before laying down vocals. The album, Joplin's first with the Full Tilt Boogie Band, shows off her iconic raspy, wailing voice on hits including "Me and Bobby McGee" and "Move Over."

Ali Farka Touré - Savane

10

Ali Farka Touré - Savane

2006

One of Africa's most renowned musicians, Touré was suffering from inoperable cancer as he prepared to record what would be his final album. With Touré - considered by many to be Africa's greatest blues guitarist and singer - unable to leave Mali, a mobile studio with panoramic views of the Niger River was set up on the top floor of a thatched roof hotel, where he and producer Nick Gold recorded this album. Savane, released a little more than four months after his death, is a stunningly beautiful work, made even better by the unique acoustics created by the makeshift studio.

Chris Bell - I Am the Cosmos

11

Chris Bell - I Am the Cosmos

1992

Released fourteen years after Bell died in a one-car accident in his hometown of Memphis, this is a terrific collection of songs from a founding member of Big Star, one of the most important power pop bands of all time. Bell recorded this album over a three-year period after he left that band when its first album failed to find commercial success, but didn't have a chance to release it prior to his death. I Am the Cosmos received significant and well-deserved praise from music critics when it was finally released, and features several influential and oft-covered songs, including the title track and "You and Your Sister," which were previously released together as a single.

J Dilla - The Shining

12

J Dilla - The Shining

2006

With Dilla's health failing in late 2005, he asked multi-instrumentalist Karriem Riggins (a friend and fellow Detroit native) to help him finish this album. Though The Shining was only 75 percent complete at Dilla's death several months later, Riggins took on the task of finishing the album as he thought his highly influential friend would have. Released six months after Dilla passed away, this soulful album - only his second solo full-length with vocals - features the adventurous beats that put Dilla on the map, along with cameos from many of the rappers he had produced tracks for, including Busta Rhymes and Common.

Otis Redding - The Dock of the Bay

13

Otis Redding - The Dock of the Bay

1968

Though this is a compilation full of singles and b-sides, The Dock of the Bay also includes Redding's career defining single (which he recorded just three days before he died in a place crash) and, thus, deserves a spot on this Top 13. Redding was known as the "King of Soul," though many of his more popular songs were just as much rock as they were soul. On the strength of "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," which Redding hadn't even finished at the time of his death, this album became his most successful ever, topping the charts on both sides of the pond and leaving fans wondering what could have been.

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Comments Leave a comment

stillathreat ★★

Posthumous albums? I prefer Posdnuos albums.

8:41 AM   Mar 24, 2010

johndoeaa 

Jim Croce - "I Got A Name" should be on this list.

12:01 PM   Mar 24, 2010

ajay ★★

Elliot Smith's New Moon is excellent, as well. Though I guess that's more of a compilation album.

8:24 AM   Mar 25, 2010

Sura 

One of my little secrets..I performed On the Dock of the Bay for my 5th grade Talent Show....I was a weird kid.

4:15 PM   Mar 25, 2010

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