A couple weeks ago, my wife set the theme for this two-part blog post on a tee.
We were driving back from vacation, listening to Sirius XM, and a solo performance from one of the Beatles — probably McCartney — came on. Jeanne wondered aloud if there was another rock and roll band whose members enjoyed as much success as solo artists as the Beatles? Off the top of my head, I couldn’t think of one, but promised I would look into it.
But to consider the question, you have to start from the fact that the Fab Four was and is in many ways a singularity. There just aren’t many groups who had the kind of success the Beatles had, broke up as early as they did, and had decades of time to work on their solo careers.
The numbers are eye-popping: more than 600 million records sold worldwide, 183 million in the U.S., making them the best-selling musical act of all time in both categories. Lots of those were sold after they broke up, but they were together as a band for basically 10 years.
As individuals, the Fab Four backed that up with solo success, particularly Paul McCartney. Post-Beatles, their bassist recorded 24 albums: solo, with his first wife Linda and with Wings, considered one of the most successful bands of the 1970s.
Seventeen of those McCartney/Wings LPs sold in the Billboard Top 10, and seven of those were No. 1s. Sir Paul also cut 36 Top 40 singles — nine of them chart-toppers — and won 18 Grammy Awards.
George Harrison was the first Beatle with a solo project, but his post-Beatle career was cut short by his death in 2001. Still, he recorded 12 solo albums (two of them still while a member of the group), nine of them Top 20s, including two No. 1s; his 13 Top 40 singles included three chart-toppers and a No. 2. And he did OK with the Traveling Wilburys, too.
John Lennon’s solo career was cut even shorter — he was killed by an assassin less than 10 years after the Beatles broke up. Still, he nearly matched Harrison’s output: 11 LPs as a solo artist, with wife Yoko Ono or with the Plastic Ono Band; seven Top 15 LPs, 3 of them No. 1s; and 13 Top 40 singles, including two No. 1s and two others in the Top Five.
Ringo Starr, like McCartney, continues to record and perform. He has recorded 20 solo LPs, four of them selling in the Top 25, one of those a No. 2; he’s also cut 11 Top 40 singles, eight of those Top-10 sellers, two of them No. 1s. Then there are the nine albums, mostly live, of his All-Starr Band, and the success of its annual tours.
Fleetwood Mac was a monster in the mid-to-late ’70s, but its chronology, regarding solos and spinoffs, is confusing. An early British blues-rock band dating from the late ’60s, it was critically-acclaimed and musically well-regarded, but didn’t have much chart success until Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the group in later ’70s.
Most of Mac’s 120-million-plus records sales were after that. The numbers — like some of the other successful groups — were jaw-dropping: after only one FM record had charted in the album Top 40, six of the group’s post-Buckingham-Nicks LPs were Top 10s, three of them No. 1s. One of those, Rumours, spent almost eight months atop the charts.
But Mac’s decades of existence makes the post-group solo thing tougher to evaluate. Peter Green was an original member of the group who exited early and cut seven solo albums and 11 singles — without much in the way of chart success.
Bob Welch, a later member of Mac, left after only a short stint with the band, but had more success: two Top 20 LPs, six charting singles, including a No. 8. John McVie, one of the founders, did one solo disc, which did not chart.
However, the lady who would become his wife, Christine Perfect, recorded three solo albums, one under her maiden name. Ms. Perfect/McVie also had two singles that charted, both Top 40s one of them a No. 10 on Billboard.
The Mac member with the most solo success, though, was Stevie Nicks, who recorded seven solo albums starting with Bella Donna, a 1981 No. 1; four of the others were Top 10s. She also had 11 charting singles on her own — seven of those Top 20s, plus hit-single collaboration with Don Henley, Tom Petty, John Stewart and others.
Another hugely successful band from the ’60s (100-plus million records sold) was the Four Seasons. They still tour, albeit with an almost completely different lineup than back when they were pumping out Top 10 singles (three straight No. 1s in ’62-63!).
Billed lately as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, their front man is the only remaining original member, but has also recorded 11 studio LPs, two of which made the Top 100. But most fans would be hard-pressed to name another member of the band, other than perhaps Bob Gaudio, who left the band and went into music production.