10 Great Spinoff Albums
Dig into this list of deep treasures from the multiverses of your favorite bands
Back in the olden days – and by that, I mean the pre-downloading and streaming era when fans bought albums or CDs and listened to them in their entirety – dedicated rock fans also used to enjoy “spinoff” albums, those made by members of their favorite bands.
Thinking: What other tricks do they have in their bag? Tricks that don’t relate to their main band?
Generally, those albums were made by the lead singer and/or songwriter and/or guitarist. But that’s not what we’re talking here.
This is more specific criteria: Really good albums by members of successful rock bands made while they were still in those bands. But – and here’s the big caveat – we’re talking albums not made by the stars of the band. Or frontmen like Peter Gabriel or Ozzy Osbourne going solo. Not talking about Keef spinning off New Barbarians nor Roger Daltrey Riding a White Horse. Not Peter Hook when he was in New Order, playing in Revenge. Not Black Francis taking a Pixies leave and become Frank Black. Not Alan Vega when he was part of Suicide or Johnny Thunders when he was a Hearbreaker gone solo. Not Ben Orr from the Cars, because he was (mostly) the lead singer. And, sorry to say, not Brian Eno because his universe-changing first solo album came out after he exited Roxy Music.
That said, the guidelines or “rules,” as they were, are a bit fluid, vis-à-vis defining the “lesser-known” members. Also: “Lesser-known” does not mean insubstantial. All these folks below were pretty important to the larger entities they served. It’s just that they had something else to say, something meaningful in one way or another.
Keith Moon (The Who, drummer): Two Sides of the Moon
AUDIO: Two Sides of the Moon (full album)
Moonie was arguably rock’s greatest drummer, a comically wretched singer and not a songwriter at all. So, here he barely drums – absolutely no solos! – sings best he can and covers songs you may fear he’ll butcher. He does, sort of, but really doesn’t. He re-endears them to us. There is incredible charm in this vulgar, silly, passion project, and got some help from Hollywood Vampire pals like John Lennon, Ringo and Harry Nilsson. Flo & Eddie, Dick Dale. “Move Over Ms. L” is a Lennon-penned killer rocker, but the highlights may be Moon warbling “Don’t Worry Baby” (by his favorite band the Beach Boys) and the Beatles’ “In My Life.” The closing-track, “Together,” is all boozy brotherhood and tomfoolery.
Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music, guitarist), Diamond Head
AUDIO: Diamond Head (full album)
Yes, Manzanera played a key role in Roxy, but let’s face it, Roxy was Bryan Ferry’s vehicle and by no means a traditional guitar-oriented rock band. The guitarist needed some room to roam. This starts with Robert Wyatt (singing in Spanish), includes varied instrumental mood pieces – some funky and jazzy – utilizes various Roxy people and, at times, is winningly Eno-infused. If you’re skip-tracking, go to the Manzanera-Eno co-write, “Miss Shapiro,” a six-and-a-half minute dazzling tower of meaningful non-sequiturs and crash-bang rock dynamics that wouldn’t have been out of place on “Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy).” Manzanera also had a worthy prog rock/jazz fusion band, Quiet Sun.
Tom Tom Club (Talking heads bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz + others) Tom Tom Club
AUDIO: Tom Tom Club (full album)
As the Heads got more art-funky – not a bad thing, mind you – Chris and Tina (married in 1977) got more island-y and clubby, embracing clever rap and light, highly rhythmic pop jams. And scored some hits with “Wordy Rappinghood,” “Genius of Love,” “Under the Boardwalk’ (gorgeous) and “The Man With the Four-Way Hips.” A most delightful offshoot, they were there when was a Talking Heads, and, later, an entity unto themselves when there wasn’t. Is there a Tom Tom Club now? I asked Chris: “Our last tour of USA. UK and Europe and Japan was in 2013. We may or may not tour again.”
Richard Wright (Pink Floyd keyboardist): Wet Dream
AUDIO: Wet Dream (full album)
Wright’s solo debut was, most certainly, Floydian in mood, texture and sonics. Just without David Gilmour’s screaming/bleeding bluesy psych guitar and Roger Waters cynicism and sarcasm. Floyd sideman/guitarist Snowy White is here, though. There’s some sax, some sadness, some resignation, a lot of sublime, understated beauty. “A lot of the things I write would be melancholic,” Wright told me in 1997. “And melancholic is an emotion that is certainly about sadness, but it’s also about peace as well at other times. The Pink Floyd, largely due to Roger’s lyric input, has been known to deal with the dark side of life, The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall particularly. But as a person, I’m not preoccupied with it.”
Richard Lloyd (Television, guitarist), Alchemy
AUDIO: Alchemy (full album)
I know an argument could be made that Lloyd was every bit Tom Verlaine’s equal – and TV was/is very much an interlocking guitar-oriented band – but Lloyd had a different voice and style on his own, much more pop-centered and bittersweet. Technically, this album came out while Television was broken up or on a long hiatus, but before the release of their second album, “Adventure.” Lloyd was something of a mess at this time; I interviewed him then and can confirm and he’s said as much in his memoir. But damn, this is good. And “Blue and Grey” is a genuinely wistful heartbreaker.
John Entwistle, (The Who bassist) Rigor Mortis Sets In
AUDIO: Rigor Mortis Sets In (full album)
Much like Moon sort of played lead drums, the Ox sort of played lead bass. But, most of The Who’s music was written by Pete Townshend and sung by Roger Daltrey, so Entwistle had plenty of time to pursue other creative outlets. And pay bills. The man spent like a monster, rang up debt and toured clubs frequently with his solo band to keep his head above water. (Or sleeping in satin sheets.) He had a penchant for old-time rock ‘n’ roll – something The Who had largely jettisoned by then – and had, as we know, a mordant sense of humor. He made six LPs and Rigor Mortis is my favorite. Cue up “Peg Leg Peggy” and “Made in Japan.”
The Other Two (New Order keyboardist Gillian Gilbert and drummer Stephen Morris) The Other Two & You
AUDIO: The Other Two & You (full album)
First off, big points for the moniker. How often have we all referred to this (married) couple as “the other two)? First it was Ian Curtis (in Joy Division), then Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook, as became the nucleus of New Order. Hooky is long gone (much dissent about how/why/who did what) NO and Hook carry on separately. The Other Two’s music isn’t radically divergent from New Order’s eletcro-dance music – mostly smooth, gentle and pulsing with a twist being it featuring Gilbert’s seldom heard voice in the main band and Morris’ further exploration of electronic drum patterns. Get this: Kim Wilde – who I love – was initially recruited to do vox, but Gillian ended up taking the spot.
Bootsy’s Rubber Band (Parliament-Funkadelic bassist Bootsy Collins) Stretchin’ Out in Bootsy’s Rubber Band
QAUDIO: Stretchin’ Out in Bootsy’s Rubber Band (full album)
Not a radical departure from the mothership, but this is Bootsy’s slant on psychedelic crazy-ass funk jams. Bootsy introduces himself as not “the friendly ghost” but the “holy ghost” and, later, of course, as the “funky ghost.” It’s a cartoon universe and a damn fun one. I mean, you gotta like “Psychoticbumpschool” just from the title. Able licks from various funkateers including guitarist Eddie Hazel.
Mickey Hart & the Rhythm Devils (Grateful Dead, percussionist), The Apocalypse Now Sessions – The Rhythm Devils Play River Music
AUDIO: The Apocalypse Now Sessions – The Rhythm Devils Play River Music (full album)
There are myriads of Dead spinoffs, but my favorite is this under-the-radar underscore from Hart and company (Billy Kreutzman and Phil Lesh along with Airto Moriera and four others). I talked to Hart when it was released and I’ll cede the floor, agreeing with everything he said then: Hart characterized it as a disturbing album – not the kind of record to sing along with or relax to. “People like to hear the hooks and verses,” he says, “and I can’t, in all honesty, do that. This stuff is beyond that; it needs understanding.”
The penetrating jungle rhythms created by Hart and his comrades are often haunting and jarring, not unlike, says Hart, the pulse of war as he perceived it from “Apocalypse Now.”
“The aural sensation of war was my primary concern,” Hart explains. “I mean, is war supposed to be likable? I intended to bring back the feeling of the war, and war is not played in melody and harmony. War is a rhythm – listen to the guns or the choppers or the motor of the boat. It’s so interlocked and overlapping.”
The Adult Net (Led by Brix Smith, singer-guitarist, The Fall), The Honey Tangle
AUDIO: “Honey Tangle”
Not an album per se, but a batch of singles, including this gem, “Waking Up in the Sun.” Imagine being in the Fall and getting to make an album without Mark E. Smith hovering about, glaring, declaiming, snorting and throwing spanners in the works. (Imagine being married to him too, as Brix was.) Listen to this. Pure pop joy by the ocean, waking up in the sun. Well, actually, a deeper dive into the lyrics suggests maybe it’s not all that beatific … Shockingly, perhaps, The Adult Net was Bangle-y more than Fall-y. Then again, if you’re going to make a break from the Fall do it up big. Brix was feted and cursed (mostly cursed by the hardcore faithful) – for bringing a pop sensibility to Mark E.’s demented and demanding clanging and wordsmithing.
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Alchemy will be re-released for Record Store Day next April, in vinyl….