5 Artists Whose Second Acts Surpassed Their First

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.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray