The Top 10 Artists That Should've Quit When They Were Ahead

May 24, 2009

There are so many talented musicians that left this world during the peak of their career. Some say it’s tragic, and others may argue that it protected them from getting old, losing their talent, and eventually selling out. Short of dying, strategic retirement stops the artist from creating works that will stain their career, and it keeps a pure and perfect image of them in the minds of their dedicated fans.

10. U2


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I’ve said in the past that Joshua Tree is not my favorite U2 album, but if Bono and the boys stopped making music around this time they would be hailed as one of the greatest bands of all time--no questions asked. Thanks, Brian Eno.

Instead, U2 seems to deliver watered-down throwaway pop-rock year in and year out. If I have to sit through another crappy award show performance with Bono still acting like he’s hip and relevant, I’m going to puke up my Cheerios. The band has become a cartoon cutout of their former selves. The only reason why dedicated fans still rush to see them is so they can watch the band perform the classic hits that made them popular in the first place. I don’t think die-hards are really praying for U2 to do Zooropa in its entirety on a live stage. If so, they should be stoned to death. Either way, the band’s image would have been immortalized if they went off the grid before they could do an incredible amount of damage to themselves by trying to consistently recreate the same success as The Joshua Tree.

Bono’s humanitarian is one of the few notable thing he’s done in the last 20 years.

9. Rivers Cuomo


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After the release of Pinkerton, something happened to Rivers Cuomo. He changed. The dork who was attending Harvard and used his new knowledge of music theory to expand his art was no more. There have been a number of rumors regarding Rivers’ mental issues and I’m not really sure what to believe. The only proof I have is in the music and The Green Album showed Rivers devolve into a paper-thin version of the person he use to be.

In my opinion, Weezer’s The Blue Album and Pinkerton are two if the best albums of the ‘90s. The Green Album was a whole different story. The album lacked the band’s initial imagination, intelligence, and dry wit of their first two classic LPs. I think things would have been a little bit better for Rivers’ music legacy if he had just pulled the plug on his music career and did something else.

8. Nas


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If you look up lists of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, Illmatic usually rates in the top three spots. This is because it’s one of the greatest f***ing albums ever made.

Now if Nas realized this and bought a Winnebago before the release of It Was Written, fans and journalists would have turned him into a hip-hop legend and we would be putting him in the upper echelon of the greatest MCs of all-time without even batting an eye. I do understand that some may do this now, but with tracks like “Hate Me Now” there are numerous weak elements of his career that can be used as ammo against the New York native’s so-called greatness. Even though It Was Written was looked at as not being on par with Illmatic, sentimental classics like “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)” would have easily eclipsed any harsh criticisms if he had hung up his mic.

7. Metallica


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…And Justice For All and Death Magnetic are both very good efforts, but if the entire band of Metallica retired after the fatal bus crash that took Cliff Burton’s life back in 1986, we would have been left with enough thrash to satisfy all of us till the end of time. The only thing that I could argue, though, is the fact that Metallica’s 1989 tour might have been the very best in the history of their career. The band was tighter than ever and they were playing with a ferocity that could have rivaled any metal band of that era. Even Slayer. Yeah, I said it.

With that said, things would have been much better off if the entire machine known as Metallica hadn’t made it into the 1990s. Just the idea of the band not meeting Bob Rock makes me very, very happy.

6. Eric Clapton


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Clapton has had a pretty wild career. If the man had ridden off into the sunset before he could make it to the ‘80s I can guarantee you there would have already been a movie made about his life and it probably would have been directed by Marty Scorsese. From The Yardbirds to Cream to Blind Faith and even to Derek and the Dominos, this man has had one of the most legendary musical careers in the history of popular music.

I’m not gonna get too deep about the tragedies of his life and how he persevered to get to where he is today, but I will try to state my case on why it would have been better if his music had ceased by the end of ‘70s. The early 1980s saw Clapton return to form and prestige due to numerous collaborations with some of music’s biggest names, but the content itself was nowhere the caliber it had been in the ‘60s-‘70s. His new over-produced Phil Collins sound transformed Clapton from a raw blues axe man into a packaged product ready for the new MTV audience. Even if you like the unplugged version of “Layla,” you do have to admit it was kinda sad to hear Clapton’s music get so mellow and completely predictable.

5. Eminem


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I’ve said this many times in the past, but one more go ain’t gonna hurt nothin’. 8 Mile was a pretty good movie, but we all know that this caused the end of Eminem. Everything he did after this was complete sentimental bulls***. If it wasn’t for the popularity of “Lose Yourself” he probably would have never attempted more hip-pop ballads like "Like Toy Soldiers" and "When I'm Gone." Marshall was never the same MC after the release of this song. His anger, raw energy and unpredictable lyrical content went right down the freakin’ tubes.

If Em would have called it quits after The Marshall Mathers LP and did his reclusive Elvis thang, his legacy would have been much better off. Just seeing him try to be controversial in the video for “We Made You” brings a tear to my inner-eyeball.

4. Brian Wilson


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Here goes nothin’. Out of the gate I have to say that Brian recorded mostly all of the tracks on Smile before he went completely off the deep end on cocaine. It was possible to get your hands on numerous bootlegs before the 2004 version was even reworked. If he took time off to address his battle with drugs and never returned, Wilson and The Beach Boys' legacy would have been impossible to deny. With Brian gone, The Beach Boys would have been looked at in a whole different light. Even though he had nothing to with the recording of “Kokomo,” I’m sure people just assumed Brian was involved in the project because he was alive and still touring with the band. Damn you, Cocktail soundtrack.

The release of Smiley Smile was the band's true fall from greatness, due to the fact that it was a pieced-together LP that consisted of new mediocre songs and unused instrumentals from Brian’s original Smile. This failed attempt at releasing the greatest rock 'n' roll album ever destroyed Brian and the band was never the same again. For me, the release of Smile in 2004 had less to do about the music and more to do with the return of Brian himself. The press received on Wilson’s triumphant return just seemed to overshadow the music.

Brian will still be looked at as one of the greatest musical minds of our time, but seeing him in such a zombie-like sedated state for the past few decades just seems to be very harsh and cruel to the incredible man he once was.

3. Axl Rose/Guns N' Roses


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Axl had his shot to redeem himself with Chinese Democracy and failed with flying colors. We all gave the guy a chance to make up for years of band drama, endless recording sessions, and walking out on live shows. And don’t get me started on the douchiness of Velvet Revolver. If the band folded up the tent in ‘92 we would have had no The Spaghetti Incident?, no breakup, and no f***ing rehab. GNR would have been placed on the same pedestal as Jimi, Morrison, and Skynyrd. Our memories of them would have been pure and not tainted with images of Axl and his horrible hair extensions at the 2002 Video Music Awards.

2. Michael Jackson


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After the massive success of Thriller in ’83, Michael Jackson was a changed man. The unprecedented fame, money, and power all went to his head and transformed him into a completely different beast. How many pop stars have you seen run with an army of a third world country? The man was like a God to some people. This kind of attention and worship led Jackson to believe that he was something supernatural. When he performed at the BRIT Awards in 1996, surrounded by children and a rabbi while making Christlike poses, it made me realize that this man had truly lost his natural mind.

Could you imagine what would have happened if he retried in his prime, though? The chances of child molestation charges making the front page of the paper would be lessened. The same goes for the nose-collapsing crap. We would have statues of the man all over the country. He was 30 years old when Bad was released, and that would have been the perfect time for him to step away before everything spun out of control. Imagine if he did it just after the 1984 Pepsi burning incident.

1. Elvis Presley


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On March 24, 1958, Elvis was inducted as a U.S. Army private at Fort Chaffee near Fort Smith, Arkansas. There are Presley fans out there that feel that The King was never the same after he got back from his stint in the service. John Lennon was even quoted as saying, “Elvis really died the day he joined the army. That's when they killed him, and the rest was a living death.” I completely agree with this. He was never the same artist. Not only did they shave off his legendary locks, they seemed to strip him of his balls and unpredictable energy. He did have a few good tunes after the army, but it was never quite the same.

Elvis had also been introduced to amphetamines around this time in Germany and we all know where this led him. This is why it would have been much better for his legacy if Elvis has just stepped away and avoided getting fat and dying on a toilet.