It’s always intriguing when an artist makes one great album and then retreats to obscurity. Whatever the reasons ? lack of label support, self-sabotage, public indifference or a combination thereof ? when such a phenomenon occurs, the album in question generally becomes a cult-classic. With one exception (you’ll know it when you see it), the 10 albums below fit that category.

Moby Grape : Moby Grape (1967)

This San Francisco band made a handful of albums, but their 1967 debut towers above the rest. Thanks mainly to guitarist/songwriter Skip Spence, the disc staked a unique place in psychedelic rock with its root-based blend of blues, country, and folk. Poor management and bad luck ? along with Spence’s burgeoning mental instability ? scuttled what might have been a brilliant career.

 

Hampton Grease Band : Music To Eat (1971)

Purported to be the second worst-selling album in Columbia Records’ history, this two-disc opus has since earned a reputation as a masterpiece. A kaleidoscopic blend of Zappa-like guitar improvisation and whacked-out jazz, the set is the sonic equivalent of Salvador Dali in full flamboyant splendor. Guitarist Glenn Phillips (not the former Toad the Wet Sprocket guy) has since made some of the best-ever instrumental guitar albums.

 

ABC : Lexicon Of Love (1982)

The '80s New Romantic Movement often seemed more about style than substance, but ABC's sparkling debut was the exception to the rule. A lushly produced synthesis of James Brown, David Bowie, and Lawrence Welk, the disc occupied a sweet spot where funk, glam, and disco met. The band went on to score several minor hits, but nothing came close to the visceral excitement of the group’s first album.

 

Mary Margaret O’Hara : Miss America (1988)

The impact of this cult classic extends from the early ’90s Lilith Fair crowd to Michael Stipe at his most vocally adventurous. A heady mix of jazz, pop, and cabaret, O’Hara’s songs are breathtakingly unique, and she delivers them like a banned angel thrashing at the gates of heaven. Disillusioned with the intricacies of the record industry, O’Hara has since made scattered recordings for a variety of projects, but no additional full-length solo albums have been forthcoming.

 

 

The La’s : The La’s (1990)

No album from alternative rock’s heyday sported a fresher pop sound than this effort from the La’s. Drawing from the softer side of the ’60s British Invasion ? the Hollies, the Searchers, and early Moody Blues ? the band mixed jangly guitars and hook-filled melodies to craft sublime pop gems. Word has it that main songwriter Lee Mavers was such a perfectionist, further La’s albums simply couldn't meet his high standards.

 

Thunderclap Newman : Hollywood Dream (1969)

Fronted by the man (John “Speedy” Keen) who wrote the opening track for the Who’s The Who Sell Out, Thunderclap Newman appeared to be the new Beatles when the band formed at the end of the ’60s. Anchored by the hit single “Something in the Air,” this Pete Townshend-produced disc remains an Anglo-pop classic. Why the album didn’t sell a gazillion copies (frustrated, the band members soon went their separate ways) is an enduring mystery.

 

Skip Spence : Oar (1969)

Tenures in the Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape set the stage for the skewed brilliance of this sole effort from Skip Spence. Wildly original, Spence’s psychedelic folk rock and twisted blues mirrored his personal demons. Tragically, Spence spiraled into mental illness not long after the album was recorded, and never recovered.

 

Rock City Angels : Young Man’s Blues (1989)

For a brief moment, these brash rockers shared a spot with Guns N’ Roses as the most raucously promising band of the late ’80s. This debut shows why. A searing slice of infectious punk-metal, the album sounded like a bluesier version of the original Alice Cooper Group. Poor marketing and suspicious record company shenanigans doomed Rock City Angels to flash-in-the-pan status.

 

Sex Pistols : Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols (1977)

Sure, the Sex Pistols released more albums in the wake of their debut, but nothing comes close to matching the cherry-bomb blast of this definitive punk statement. In a no less profound manner than Elvis did two decades before them, the Pistols forged a perfect template from which future rockers could draw. Thirty years on, the album sounds as fresh as ever.

 

Cowboys International : The Original Sin (1979)

No album bridged the gap between punk and New Wave as effectively as this lost classic. Getting help from former Clash drummer Terry Chimes and future PIL guitarist Keith Levene, leader Ken Lockie put punk muscle into some of the most infectious pop songs of the era. Tellingly, on its annual “Best Albums” list, “Melody Maker” magazine awarded the disc the No. 11 slot for 1979, sandwiched between the Clash’s London Calling and Graham Parker’s Squeezing Out Sparks.