On his 66th birthday this month, musical legend David Bowie shocked the public by proving he wasn’t dead. He did so by releasing “Where Are We Now?”, the lead single from his forthcoming album The Next Day, his first LP in a decade. Suffice to say that the music press was beside itself with excitement upon learning of this.
Bowie hasn’t been the only musician thus far in 2013 to pop his head out again after a long hibernation. Both Justin Timberlake and the reunited Destiny’s Child have dropped new singles. Meanwhile, My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields continues to maintain that his group’s two-decade-in-the-making follow-up to Loveless is almost done for serious this time you guys.
Not every long-desired comeback is victorious. Even when a song is merely okay (sorry, Mr. Bowie), we might cling to it in the heat of the moment because it reminds us of what we have been longing for—see The Guardian‘s coverage of Bowie’s return, which at times resembles fannish hyperventilating. But on occasion, an artist does come back swinging, and swinging hard. This week, Sound Affects pays tribute to those who have taken their knocks only to return in most admirable fashion by offering up a selective listing of ten of the better return-to-form singles. Feel free to suggest your own favorites in the comments section.
If you think the pop world moves fast now, imagine how anyone could’ve though that the Rolling Stones had sputtered out creatively before their first decade was finished. Unlike their friendly rivals the Beatles, the Stones’ psychedelic excursions during the Summer of Love were seen as bungled (and potentially fatal) missteps, with legal difficulties and a split with manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham doing nothing to help matters. Aware that they had to reclaim their mojo, the Stones regrouped and retrenched into their blues roots, roaring back in May 1968 with the first great rock ‘n’ roll comeback single, and the group’s most potent 45 since their career-making “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. The strident “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is base, primal energy, where the group digs back down into the dirt and reemerges with an air-punch-inducing caveman guitar riff and a Mick Jagger more concerned with yowling like a degenerate than proper enunciation. It’s goddamn glorious.
A fortuitous partnership with guitar genius Randy Rhodes saved Ozzy Osbourne from life as a washed-out drug casualty after being booted from Black Sabbath. This career-saving match first announced itself to headbanging record buyers with “Crazy Train”, a menacing rocker which has since become a mandatory track in any metalhead’s music library. Rhodes would only record one more album with Osbourne before his tragic death in a 1982 plane accident, but the music he made with the Prince of Darkness—particularly “Crazy Train” and its parent LP, Blizzard of Ozz—ensured that the Ozz’s prominence in the metal pantheon would never be endangered again.
By the early ‘80s, soulster Marvin Gaye was consumed by drug woes, and his longstanding relationship with his label Motown had fizzled out following the contentious release of the 1981 album In Our Lifetime. But Gaye managed to pull himself together long enough to return to the upper reaches of the singles charts again with “Sexual Healing”. Gaye’s velvety boudoir soundtrack was a super-smooth, unrushed delicacy, one that surely schooled an upstart generation of Jheri-curled lotharios on how it was done. Sadly Gaye’s hard-won comeback was brief; two years later he was dead, shot by his own father.
“Don’t call it a comeback!” As the ‘80s gave way to the ‘90s, LL Cool J’s star power wasn’t necessarily slipping, but his prominence was under assault—hip-hop’s game was constantly being upped, and the genre’s first solo superstar found himself challenged by rivals who wanted to prove themselves bigger and deffer. LL silenced all doubters with the title track to his fourth album, taking all comers and KOing every last one of them over the course of nearly five hard-hitting, unrelenting minutes. LL was always one to boast, but on “Mama Said Knock You Out” he’s positively possessed as he delivers his righteous rhymes, and the result remains the crowning achievement in his three-decade career.
In the era of arena-sized country, Johnny Cash was an anachronism, at best considered a rusted old legend whose triumphs were all won long ago. Producer Rick Rubin thought differently, and thus began Cash’ American cycle of albums, where minimal instrumentation and cleverly chosen covers (Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden, among them) allowed the focus to be fixated squarely on the Man in Black finest qualities: his voice and his powerful presence. “Delia’s Gone”, Cash’s first single for Rubin’s American Recordings label, was a cold splash of water in the face of gussied up studio country: a bare-bones murder ballad sung by that unmistakable baritone, sounding equal parts callous killer and haunted sinner. It was just one long overdue reminder of why Cash was an American musical institution.