5 Artists Whose Second Acts Surpassed Their First

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Rocks Off has always had a soft spot for Rick Nelson. Although our oldest memory of him is probably hearing about the plane crash outside Texarkana that killed him, his band and his fiancee on New Year's Eve 1985, we're also old enough to remember actually his songs like "Hello, Mary Lou," "Lonesome Town" and "Travelin' Man" on oldies radio.

In rock and roll's early days, Nelson was probably most important as one of the music's main ambassadors to Middle America via his performances on the long-running ABC sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Even Sun Records founder Sam Phillips said he thought Nelson "really got right with it."

Nelson, whose sons Gunnar and Matthew - yes, the "(Can't Live Without Your) Love and Affection" twins - bring their traveling tribute to their father to Cypress Saturday night, did something almost no other musician or pop star has been able to do: With his late-'60s/early-'70s group the Stone Canyon Band, he surpassed his earlier work, certainly in terms of critical esteem if not commercial success ("Garden Party" excepted). SCB is routinely cited alongside Buffalo Springfield, Poco and the Flying Burrito Brothers as one of the pioneers of country-rock and, much later, alternative country.

This is not an easy feat to accomplish. The musical landscape is littered with the carcasses of Electrafixion, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - remember them? They released an album in October - Alter Bridge, and many others who found out the hard way that lightning rarely strikes twice, and that they're lucky enough that it struck once. Here are five artists who managed to make it past those odds.

5. Public Image Ltd.: Rocks Off will confess to liking "Pretty Vacant" and about half of Never Mind the Bollocks, but the Sex Pistols were callow and could barely play their instruments, much more Malcolm McLaren's marketing ploy than an actual punk rock band. John Lydon's next band Public Image Ltd. was loads better, experimenting with dub and dance music while their albums maintained a steady string of snide commentary on pop mores that was much more subversive than anything the Pistols ever did. Lydon recently reassembled PiL for a string of UK shows, and we hope to God they come to the States.

4. Gwen Stefani: This was a tough call. No Doubt certainly made its mark on '90s rock, especially after lightening up on the ska and turning up the Gwen-and-Tony angst on 1995's Tragic Kingdom. (Our favorite has always been 2000 New Wave tribute Return of Saturn.) But once Stefani went solo after 2001's Rock Steady, she stumbled on a formula for hip-hop-friendly dance-pop that made her the Madonna of her generation, at least until Lady Gaga came along.

3. Queens of the Stone Age: Kyuss lovers, we hear what you're saying. But only the highest among you would argue that Josh Homme left that high-desert band in the dust with Queens of the Stone Age. One of today's biggest (and best) modern-rock groups > cult stoner-metal favorite. Sorry, that's just the way it is.

2. Waylon Jennings: Ol' Waymore had a coin flip for not being remembered as one of Buddy Holly's Crickets who went down in the famous "Day the Music Died" 1959 plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. But after a long, frustrating Nashville apprenticeship you can glimpse on The Johnny Cash Show DVD, Jennings grew his hair, studied up on Bob Wills, started hanging out with Willie Nelson and became the stuff of outlaw-country legend.

1. Sammy Hagar: Not for his work with Van Halen after "I Can't Drive 55" or Chickenfoot (gross), but the other way around: For establishing himself as a reliable if somewhat single-minded hard-rock hitmaker ("Keep On Rockin'," "Rock N' Roll Romeo") after first making a name as the singer for arguably America's No. 1 Led Zeppelin riposte, Montrose. In fact, we'd argue that Hagar's body of work as a solo artist is greater than his stuff with those three groups combined, although it might take a shot or two of his Cabo Wabo tequila to do it.

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