On their best days, most musicians can barely muster the energy, talent, and good luck required to release a single hit record at a time. However, there has always existed a certain subset of artists hellbent on ignoring conventional wisdom in favor of doing things their own way. Throughout the last half-century of popular music, a few of these ambitious souls have attempted a seemingly suicidal proposition: releasing more than one record on the same day (or very close to it).
Forget the dangers of cannibalizing sales or frying fans’ attention spans. Whether they had devised a sprawling artistic message, developed diverging sounds that demanded equal attention, or simply exited the studio with more material than they knew what to do with, the musical acts on the following list all presented their fans with an option and an opportunity: to buy two (or more) records instead of one and enter into a headphone odyssey that lasts longer than the average spin.
Earlier this year, rumors emerged that Kendrick Lamar might be doubling down on his latest game-changer, DAMN.. Those headlines, of course, turned out to only be rumors. But this Friday, Deer Tick will manage to do what even King Kendrick couldn’t pull the trigger on when they release Deer Tick Vol. 1 & Vol. 2. So, we thought we’d look back at how doubling down worked out for other notable artists. Here’s a sampling.
Note: Most of these albums came out on the same day, but we also included a couple of examples that were intended to be companion records, even though more time passed between their release dates. We also specifically excluded record combos that artists went out of their way to declare unrelated: You’re welcome, 2015 Beach House.
Photo by Philip Cosores
Why Two?: On his 2017 combo, Atlanta rapper Future took the same tack as Nelly did 13 years prior, splitting his releases into the two sides of his personality: the one with the grandiose ambitions willing to toss fuel on any fires (Future) and the one with the sensitive side that’s battling the less desirable effects of all those rowdy nights out (HNDRXX).
Compare and Contrast: We already knew that we could depend on Future for a good time, and tracks like “Good Dope” bear out that assumption. However, HNDRXX’s glimpse behind this swaggering curtain is even more fascinating. Here, Future trades his usual booming trap production for more delicate examinations of addiction, loneliness, and the prices of fame.
Reception: Released a week apart, Future and HNDRXX became the second pair of back-to-back releases on this list (after System of a Down) to both top the Billboard charts. They’re also the only entries here to do so in consecutive weeks.
Should These Have Been a Single Album?: No. True versatility is a rare commodity, and the ability to express these multifaceted aspects of a personality is even rarer. When it’s executed as successfully as it is on these records, it deserves room to stretch out a bit.
Frank Ocean (2016)
Why Two?: In 2016, it finally happened. Four years after Channel Orange cemented his voice as one of the most vital (and vitally important) in hip-hop, Frank Ocean returned. Like any just king, he shared his bounty with his subjects: A day after releasing his much-teased visual album, Endless, Ocean completed his return to glory with Blonde, the proper studio follow-up to one of the most important hip-hop records of the last several years.
Compare and Contrast: Taken together, it’s easy to categorize Endless as Blonde’s arty prelude; its stream-of-conscious strings and synths lack the urgency of tracks like “Nike”, “Ivy”, and “White Ferrari” but still succeed in their mission to remind listeners at large of Ocean’s genre-hopping auteurship.
Reception: Taken together, Endless and Blonde represent two of the great musical feats of 2016. Separately, opinions differ; critics at Spin compared the record to a “dream journal of an album that raises more question […] than it answers. Conversely, Blonde was met with near-universal praise; our Nina Corcoran noted that “for the first time in a long time, an artist riding on hype surfaced with an album that lives up to the very hype that lifted it.”
Should These Have Been a Single Album?: No. While Endless may lack the essential qualities of Blonde, its pre-release hype and inventive distribution acted as a John the Baptist for Blonde’s Jesus, preparing the faithful for the more powerful masterpiece that was close at hand.
Prince (2014 and 2015)
Why Two (Twice)?: Because it’s Prince. Prince could do what he wanted, when he wanted, and however often he wanted. Side note: Writing about Prince in the past tense still makes me really, really sad.
Compare and Contrast: Like Springsteen before him, Prince was coming off his longest layoff as an artist when he released Plectrumelectrum and Art Official Age in 2014. While the former hews pretty closely to the funk-rock paradigm that Prince brought to rare air in the ’80s and ’90s, the latter isn’t afraid to lose sight of land; plus, it gave us the meta pleasure of the pancake-championing, Chapelle’s Show-name-checking “Breakfast Can Wait”. The following year’s Hit n Run combo was less surprising, but still had its moments; the topical “Baltimore”, released in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown, Freddie Grey, and countless other young African-American men, even found Prince making a welcome excursion into the realm of political pop.
Reception: Critics were all over the place on these four albums; for every glowing review (the LA Times’ Randall Roberts categorizing Prince as “an explorer freshly refueled by the Mothership and eager to roam”), there are relative pans (our own Geoff Nelson offering the devastating assessment of Prince “[presenting] only an aped version of his one-time vitality.” The general consensus places Art Official Age first, Plectrumelectrum last, and the Hit n Run records someplace in between.
Should These Have Been Single Albums?: Again, maybe. Quality-wise, there’s definitely an argument to be made for trimming (and even excising Plectrumelectrum completely), but that’s contrasted against the knowledge that there’s no more truly new Prince material in the pipeline. Me? I’ll take too much over not enough any day.
Green Day (2012)
Why Three?: When your frontman describes your latest project as “epic as fuck,” it’s almost always time to pump the breaks. That is, unless you’re Green Day, whose twin late-career successes of American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown emboldened them to attempt the rarely executed triple-album maneuver in the fall of 2012. When your last two albums have sold a jillion copies, every song in your latest sessions must be worth releasing, right?
Compare and Contrast: Well, not totally right. However, there are definitely high points on ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré!, which were billed, respectively, as Green Day’s take on power pop, garage rock, and arena anthems; “Kill the DJ” sounds like the unholy (but not unpleasant) marriage of Weezer and Fountains of Wayne, “Stray Heart” bops along with the girl-group infectiousness perfected by the band’s alter egos Foxboro Hot Tubs, and “X-Kid” sounds like … well, a pretty good summation of the growing-up process for one of the world’s biggest pop punk bands.
Reception: Sometimes, overkill kills; caught up in the rush to record three records’ worth of material, the band forgot to focus on quality control (or at least concentrate all of the good tracks on the first album. Thus, this trio ended their short streak of No. 1 albums, which they eventually restarted with 2016’s Revolution Radio. Let this be a lesson, I guess.
Should These Have Been a Single Album?: Yes. There’s probably a No. 1 album among the 37 tracks that make up these records; as it stands, you just need an entire afternoon and evening to edit them down yourself.
Albums: Heavy Rocks (May 24th, 2011), Attention Please (May 24th, 2011)
Why Two?: Because. When you’re one of Japan’s preeminent experimental metal bands, sometimes you just have a lot of say.
Compare and Contrast: Although both generally adhere to the band’s brand of black-hole-heavy drone metal, Heavy Rocks and Attention Please set out with two different goals in mind; the former aims to reimagine and reassemble the riffage of the band’s 2002 release of the same name, while the latter harbors shoegaze-ier ambitions built upon the back of vocalist Wata’s smoky croon.
Reception: Our own review called Heavy Rocks “a choppy listening experience” hampered by “[a] large amount of filler.” Attention Please earned better marks; in his 7.1 review, Pitchfork’s Grayson Currin called the metal/shoegaze hybrid “the better, if unforeseen, avenue for Boris’ future.”
Should These Have Been a Single Album?: No. There’s room in the world for both of these records; for every person (like me) who prefers the accessibility of “Party Boy”, there’s someone for whom the trudging thrash of “Czechoslovakia” speaks more than volumes, and who am I to judge?
Photoy by Philip Cosores
Albums: Microcastle (Aug. 19, 2008), Weird Era Cont. (Oct. 28, 2008)
Why Two?: When Microcastle leaked to file-sharing sites in 2008, Bradford Cox was understandably cheesed off. He was even madder when he himself accidentally revealed the existence of Weird Era Cont., the surprise companion piece intended to add an element of excitement to the record’s physical release date that October, through his own Mediafire account.
Compare and Contrast: The biggest difference between Microcastle and Weird Era Cont. came during the recording process; instead of working together in the studio as they did on Microcastle, Deerhunter members often recorded their contributions to Weird Era Cont. on their own and often in demo-level conditions. As a result, nothing on the “bonus” disc quite approaches the anthemic heights of “Nothing Ever Happened” or The Velvet Underground languidness of “Agoraphobia”; however, if you can listen to songs like “Focus Group” and tell me you’re unhappy they exist, I’ll have some choice words for you.
Reception: Taken as a pair, Microcastle and Weird Era Cont. earned praise both among the top albums of 2008 and the decade; in Pitchfork’s roundup of the top records of the 2000s, Patrick Sisson lauded the record’s “[ability] to sweep up listeners in a tempest of hazy, anxious joy.”
Should These Have Been a Single Album?: No. While it’s true that Microcastle’s masterpiece status is assured the moment that “Twilight at Carbon Lake” reverberates away, there are enough “a-ha!” moments on Weird Era Cont. to render it less of a dashed-off bonus disc and more of a fun-house mirror that reflects the ambitions and eccentricities of its main album in new (and often revelatory) ways.
System of a Down (2005)
Photo by Philip Cosores
Albums: Mezmerize (May 17, 2005), Hypnotize (Nov. 22, 2005)
Why Two?: Ok, so these records weren’t released on the same day, but they could’ve been; recorded largely during the same sessions, Mezmerize and Hypnotize built upon the breakout success found by System of a Down after the release of 2001’s melodic metal masterpiece Toxicity. Like many of the other highly successful groups on this list, Serj and the gang were feeling magnanimous, so who are we to judge?
Compare and Contrast: As is the case with many albums on this list, System of a Down’s simultaneous release pairing has a clear winner; though Mezmerize and Hypnotize didn’t have the sonic or lyrical divergences that mark many doubled-up albums, the former did have twin hit singles (the anti-war “B.Y.O.B.” and the operatically romantic “Question!”), which means it pips its companion album at the post in terms of songs that were definitely on your iPod during most of 2005.
Reception: Since they were released a few months apart, Mezmerize and Hypnotize both have the distinction of placing at No. 1 on the Billboard charts during the same year. They also both went platinum and left System of a Down fans eager for a follow-up … which is now 12 years in the making. If the band suddenly announced another double release for 2017, what do you want to bet that the result would be the same.
Should These Have Been a Single Album?: No. There may have been a chance of overexposure at the time, but if these two records are the band’s swan song, let’s have as much of them as possible.
Bright Eyes (2005)
Albums: I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning (Jan. 25, 2005), Digital Ash in a Digital Urn (Jan. 25, 2005)
Why Two?: By 2005, Conor Oberst had transcended the claustrophobic confessionals of his early Bright Eyes albums and begun, with 2002’s Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, earning his generation’s requisite comparisons to Bob Dylan. Thus, it was time to lean into Dylan all the way by going folk and electric at the same damned time.
Compare and Contrast: I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning finds Oberst dipping his toe into the waters of Americana, exploring the contours and concerns of the nation while still shading ramblin’ songs like “At the Bottom of Everything” and “Road to Joy” with the melancholy that earned him his fame. Digital Ash in a Digital Urn is more introspective and more sonically adventurous; inspired by Ben Gibbard’s successful translation of his Death Cab wistfulness with The Postal Service, Oberst also recruited Dntel’s Jimmy Tamborello to add some electro uncertainty to the record’s classic Bright Eyes anxieties.
Reception: Oberst’s comfort zone-busting divergences earned him general acclaim from critics at the time, with I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning earning uniformly higher placement on year-end lists (as well as more successfully predicting Oberst’s trajectory as a songwriter). The records’ twin singles (“Lua” and “Take It Easy/Love Nothing”) also topped the Billboard singles charts. One critic who remained unswayed was AllMusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine, who derided the experiment as “[proving] without a shadow of a doubt that instead of reaching musical maturity, he’s wallowing in a perpetual adolescence.” Ouch, Steve. Ouch.
Should These Have Been a Single Album?: No. Conor Oberst earns the right to enter the company of Springsteen, Waits, and the rest by delivering two distinct records that both advanced his then-newfound Great American Singer-Songwriter persona while also tapping into the of-the-moment experiments with IDM and indietronica.
Albums: Sweat (Sept. 13, 2004), Suit (Sept. 13, 2004)
Why Two?: Sometimes you get halfway through a project and realize you’re trying to walk down two roads at once. Such was the case for Nelly during studio sessions for what would become Sweat and Suit. Instead of marrying his twin ambitions of producing a danceable heir to “Hot in Herre” and exploring new territory in the world of sexy slow jams, he gave each concept its own record in which to breathe.
Compare and Contrast: After the club successes of “Air Force Ones”, “#1”, and the other classics of Nellyville, conventional wisdom suggested that the bangers of Sweat would prove the more successful collection. However, Suit is the surprise winner of the twosome, from both a thematic and versatility standpoint; “My Place” is a genuinely sweet ode to love and fidelity, and “Over and Over” explores the fallout from that good love gone bad with an assist from none other than Tim McGraw!.
Reception: Along with Guns N’ Roses, Nelly’s gambit was the most successful of any of the ones on this list; like Use Your Illusion I & II, Sweat and Suit debuted at No. 1 and No. 2 on the charts and were both certified at least platinum. Suit also produced more top 10 singles, even though Sweat did notch a No. 1 in the form of “Flap Your Wings”.
Should These Have Been a Single Album?: Maybe. There’s nothing preventing someone from combining the singles, along with their favorite deep cuts, into a respectable single disc. However, like some of the other artists on this list, Nelly had earned the right to a little excess, and the results make it hard to begrudge him the opportunity.
Tom Waits (2002)
Albums: Blood Money (May 4, 2002), Alice (May 4, 2002)
Why Two?: Tom Waits’ relationship with theater stretches back to the late ’80s, during the development of The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets with author William S. Burroughs. Waits, along with his wife and collaborator Kathleen Brennan, continued that partnership in the ’90s, crafting scores for two more stage shows: 1992’s Alice and 2000’s Woyzeck. In 2002, they released these two complementary scores as a pair of albums.
Compare and Contrast: Both Alice and Blood Money (the retitled score of Woyzeck) ooze with Waits’ usual noir menace, but the flavors of the lyrics shift to match their respective plays’ subject matter: Alice twists the story of Lewis Carroll’s unhealthy obsession with the inspiration for his famous tales into a dreamy, elegiac descent into fractuous psychosexual despair, while the brawnier Blood Money enumerates humanity’s injustices and hypocrisies that drive good soldiers to bad murder.
Reception: Both records were universally acclaimed, with Alice being the slightly better reviewed of the two. In its joint review, Entertainment Weekly said “you’d be hard-pressed to find sounds this spookily evocative anywhere outside the grooves of scratchy old 78s.” We concur.
Should These Have Been a Single Album?: No. In addition to the difficulty of combining the music from two divergent plays into one cohesive album, there’s enough good material here to warrant the double dipping. Plus, as Waits’ output has slowed in the years since, it bears repeating that there’s no such thing as too much Tom Waits.
Insane Clown Posse (2000)
Albums: Bizaar (Oct. 31, 2000), Bizzar (Oct. 31, 2000)
Why Two?: In 2000, Violent-J and Shaggy 2 Dope were at the height of their malevolent powers: In the previous year, they’d hit #4 on the Billboard charts with The Amazing Jeckel Brothers, snagged a slot at music festival/anger management retreat Woodstock ’99, and feuded with Eminem. If they wanted to release two albums on the first Halloween of the new millennium, who on earth could’ve stopped them?
Compare and Contrast: There’s not much to differentiate these two: Both records are filled to the very top with Insane Clown Posse’s trademark carnival-themed sex-and-murder comedy rap-metal. …man, that’s a weird trademark. They branch out a little on Bizzar, though; single “Let’s Go All the Way” is a cover of the minor Sly Fox hit from 1985 and was the subject of a failed Juggalo-led attempt to bum rush the phone lines and crowd shots of MTV’s Total Request Live in a bid to get the duo some airplay.
Reception: Pretty bad! For instance, NME called the two records “a loathsome cavalcade of brutal sex and gleeful violence so sewer-minded you wonder if that stupid make-up isn’t just to disguise their manhole-cover mouths.” Dang.
Should These Have Been a Single Album?: Yes. Or an EP. Or a single. Or maybe just an entry on our upcoming “Lost Albums of the 2000s” list.
Bruce Springsteen (1992)
Albums: Human Touch (Mar. 31, 1992), Lucky Town (Mar. 31, 1992)
Why Two?: In 1992, Bruce Springsteen was coming off the longest album release layoff of his entire career, as well as the 1989 breakup of his vaunted E Street Band. He’d begun recording Human Touch not long after the split, but label delays and a nearly two-year recording schedule left it languishing on the shelf. In the meantime, the newly revitalized songwriter banged out an album’s worth of extra songs that became Lucky Town. Figuring five years was a long enough wait, he released his first E Street-less records on the same day in March of that year.
Compare and Contrast: For good and ill, Human Touch sounds like a record that was years in the making. Springsteen’s talents are plenty evident (I always liked the title track’s yearning balladry), but the overly polished production values and mundane slice-of-life observations (man, “57 Channels (and Nothin’ On)” was dated before it was even written) seem like a waste of effort. Recorded in a quick couple of autumn and winter months, Lucky Town has more of the raggedness that fans of vintage Springsteen crave; “Better Days” covers the same mundane domestic terrain as much of Human Touch, but does so with a heart and vigor that’s often missing from the other record.
Reception: Everybody had a hunch that the E Street Band would be a hard act to follow, and everybody was generally correct; while Human Touch was greeted warmly enough (the Chicago Tribune praised it for its “stadium rock and soul crafted for the ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ crowd”), others, such as AllMusic’s William Ruhlmann, criticized it as overthought genre pop and “[Springsteen’s] first that didn’t at least aspire to greatness.” Lucky Town fared better; in his companion review, Ruhlmann praised the record for a return to “the rage and the humor, the sense of compassion, the loyalty and commitment” that typified Springsteen’s best prior work.
Should These Have Been a Single Album?: Yes. Although the process that brought us Human Touch was necessary to the creation process for Lucky Town, the latter’s combination of confessional lyrics and spur-of-the-moment energy beats the former’s meticulous (and boring) production schedule. If Springsteen had just released Lucky Town that day in March, no one would’ve been the wiser or poorer for it. Note: For fun, our own Dan Caffrey did his best to make a superior Boss album by combining songs from each.
Guns N’ Roses (1991)
Albums: Use Your Illusion I (Sept. 17, 1991), Use Your Illusion II (Sept. 17, 1991)
Why Two?: Use Your Illusion I & II comes from a band at the height of its creative and commercial powers seeking a means by which to outdo itself. Now international superstars thanks to the massive success of Appetite for Destruction, Axl, Slash, and the gang hit the studio and wound up with so much new material (and so much still-workable old material dated prior to Appetite for Destruction) that largess (and the promise of fat bank) was the only option.
Compare and Contrast: More musically and emotionally complex than Appetite for Destruction, the material on these two records represented growth (if not necessarily maturity) from the band’s breakout days. That comes in the form of musical sophistication (the epic balladry of “November Rain” on Use Your Illusion I) and topicality (the surprising peacenik imagery of “Civil War” on Use Your Illusion II), as well as the band’s increasingly firsthand lyrical (and personal) struggles with drug addiction; “Bad Obsession” takes on a whole new meaning when paired with drummer Steven Adler’s debilitating struggles with heroin and cocaine.
Reception: Use Your Illusion I & II is probably the most successful simultaneous album release of all time; the two records debuted at No. 1 and No. 2 on the Billboard charts and were eventually certified 7x platinum by the RIAA. A New York Times piece from the week of the release claims that more than 500,000 copies sold in just two hours and that was in an age when people actually had to leave the house to get their music.
Should These Have Been a Single Album?: Nah, man. When you’re pre-Chinese Democracy Axl Rose, you deserve a little leeway.
Frank Zappa (1979 and 1981)
Albums: Joe’s Garage Act I (Sept. 17, 1979), Joe’s Garage Acts II & III (Nov. 19, 1979); Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar (May 11, 1981), Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar Some More (May 11, 1981), Return of the Son of Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar (May 11, 1981)
Why Two?: When it comes to an artist as well-known for ostentatious prolificacy as Frank Zappa, the question isn’t so much “why two?”, but “how didn’t this happen more often?”
Compare and Contrast: The material here exists at opposite ends of Zappa’s kaleidoscopic catalog; the twin records of Joe’s Garage contain a satire-filled rock opera about censorship, sex, and the absurdity of the powers-that-be, while the Shut Up ‘n Play trio act as an outlet for Zappa’s improvised guitar solos.
Reception: People were pretty into Joe’s Garage’s social critiques, with Rolling Stone’s Don Shewey going so far as to call it “Frank Zappa’s Apocalypse Now.” They were equally ebullient about the Shut Up ‘n Play trilogy, though they all seem to agree that these are records best enjoyed by advanced Zappa-ologists.
Should These Have Been a Single Album?: Joe’s Garage: No, despite some flagging attention spans during the latter tracks, Joe’s Garage deserves the room to breathe, grow, and surprise that’s afforded any opera. Shut Up ‘n Play: Yes. Come on, guitar dudes. Get your jollies elsewhere and on fewer records.
Albums: Paul Stanley (Sept. 18, 1978), Gene Simmons (Sept. 18, 1978), Peter Criss (Sept. 18, 1978), Ace Frehley (Sept. 18, 1978)
Why Four?: Because they could. By 1978, Kiss had released four platinum albums (Destroyer, Rock and Roll Over, Love Gun, and the live album Alive II). How do you challenge yourself after that kind of success? By giving every member of the band free rein to record their own solo record and then releasing all four of those records on the same day.
Compare and Contrast: Without the help or input of their fellow band members, the men of Kiss were free to indulge whatever flights of musical fancy they desired. For Paul Stanley and Ace Frehley, that meant more muscled-up hard rock that sometimes succeeded (Frehley’s ripping “Snow Blind”) and sometimes treaded water (Stanley’s limp “Take Me Away (Together as One)”. Peter Criss and Gene Simmons aimed toward less Kiss-like sonic landscapes: Criss’ attempts at slow-jamming ballads (“You Matter to Me”) and early-rock resurrections (a cover of Bobby Lewis’ “Tossin’ and Turnin'”) fell almost universally flat, while Simmons’ willingness to get genuinely weird (the man closed his record with “When You Wish Upon a Star”, people) left his album the most intriguing of the four.
Reception: People were just as into these solo experiments as they were Kiss’s full-band efforts; all four went platinum, extending Kiss’ chart streak to eight in a row. Critically, there were more ups and downs, with the eventual consensus charting one win (Frehley), one solid effort (Stanley), one interesting experiment (Simmons), and one outright failure (Criss).
Should These Have Been a Single Album?: Material-wise, maybe. There were probably enough solid cuts between the four to equal or exceed Kiss’ other then-recent successes. Stunt-wise, though? Absolutely not. This is an exercise in ’70s rock excess that I fully endorse in full Kiss Army face paint.
Plastic Ono Band (1970)
Albums: John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (Dec. 11, 1970), Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band (Dec. 11, 1970)
Why Two?: John Lennon and Yoko Ono shared more than just a marital bed; they also shared a backing band. Their Plastic Ono Band began as a high-concept (and ever-revolving) session outfit for the pair’s late-’60s experimental records. By September 1970, the group pared down to drummer Ringo Starr and bassist Klaus Voormann, who acted as the joint-custody session players for Lennon and Ono’s high-profile reemergence into post-Beatles performance.
Compare and Contrast: Though they were released on the same day (with nearly the same cover), Lennon and Ono’s records walk divergent paths; John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band showcases Lennon’s sophisticated pop balladry alongside muscular explorations of his own fractured psyche, while Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band careens through a roaring collection of avant-garde experiments that still sound ahead of their time in 2017.
Reception: Of the two, Lennon’s record is the better regarded; you’ll find it high on best-of-all-time lists from publications from Rolling Stone to Time. Though it was widely dismissed at the time, Ono’s record has earned a much more laudatory critical reappraisal; its 2016 reissue earned a 9.1 and Best New Reissue status from Pitchfork.
Should These Have Been a Single Album?: No. Although they share the same personnel, these Plastic Ono Band records each tread the singular paths set out for them by their auteurs. The world needs both.
Moby Grape (1968)
Albums: Wow (Apr. 3, 1968), Grape Jam (Apr. 3, 1968)
Why Two?: Packaged together as the joint second album from psychedelic San Francisco jam band Moby Grape, Wow and Grape Jam attempted to build on the success of the band’s self-titled debut with quality music and novelty: As touted in an ad from Billboard around the time of release, buyers received two full LPs for just $1 more than a single record.
Compare and Contrast: These are very different records, by almost different bands; while Moby Grape’s core five appears at full strength on the polished, rootsy Wow, guitarist Peter Lewis skipped the improvisational Grape Jam entirely and was replaced in the sessions by guests including fellow guitarist Mike Bloomfield and pianist Al Kooper. Their talents come in handy on that record’s improvisational jams, while Lewis adds the cohesion needed for the more radio-ready songs of Wow, including “Murder in My Heart for the Judge”, a swaggering blues rock tune that’s since been covered by everybody from Three Dog Night to Nellie McKay.
Reception: This then-novel release strategy worked well enough for the band: Wow/Grape Jam cracked the top 20 of the Billboard 200 and remains Moby Grape’s highest-charting record.
Should These Have Been a Single Album?: Probably. From both production and songwriting standpoints, Wow is clearly the dominant album of the two (that Billboard ad even refers to it as “real Moby Grape”) with Grape Jam functioning more as a bonus odds-and-sods EP than a proper standalone album. Hey, at least it only cost $1.
Albums: Wear Your Love Like Heaven (Dec. 1967), For Little Ones (Dec. 1967)
Why Two?: As with Moby Grape’s albums, this 1967 two-fer from Donovan was originally designed as a double album (A Gift from a Flower to a Garden), but the two records within also received solo releases: Wear Your Love Like Heaven was designed as a pastoral collection of psych-tinged, plugged-in pop for older listeners, while For Little Ones gathered together an all-acoustic set meant to connect with their hip younger siblings.
Compare and Contrast: Gentle and upbeat, the tracks on Wear Your Love Like Heaven traverse the fantastical landscapes that aren’t dissimilar to those found in classic British literature; there’s a dash of Lewis Carroll in “Land of Doesn’t Have to Be” and the words of Shakespeare himself in “Under the Greenwood Tree”. The title track is also one of Donovan’s best, doing more with a simple list of painter’s pigments than most songs do with coherent thoughts. Though it’s billed as the children’s album, For Little Ones merely continues the storybook vibe, trading trippy electric effects for the tinkers, mandolin men, and magpies that traipse through Britain’s older folk traditions.
Reception: These are records best enjoyed together; AllMusic’s Bruce Eder credits it for “[overcoming] its original shortcomings and [standing] out as a prime artifact of the flower-power era that produced it.”
Should These Have Been a Single Album?: Maybe. Setting aside the electric vs. acoustic argument, these two records tread similar enough territory (and contain enough B-side-level fluff) to be condensed into one disc. That said, they’re harmless enough, so why not let the kids (and their older brothers) have some fun?