The most obvious example of this is The Beatles, of course. Mere months after releasing the old school Help they released Rubber Soul. As much a quantum leap as RS was to Help, the next one, Revolver, was more so over RS, and the boys just kept going: Sgt. Peppers, White Album, Abbey Road (I never count Let It Be). I was born in early 1968, so I wasn’t there to witness this transformation first hand. When I started really listening to The Beatles none of this was a surprise to me; by then I had read a ton of essays outlining their massive short-term growth.
Musical peaks were plentiful in the 1960’s, although most of the general public didn’t recognize them as such until much, much later. The Zombie’s Odessey and Oracle, released after the band called it a day, didn’t get any recognition until quite recently. The Kinks released their masterpiece, The Village Green Preservation Society back in the day to very little fanfare, but the album is now considered one of the very best and is being rediscovered by thousands each year. Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys, an album that is now considered the BEST ALBUM EVER by most of Europe and ranks #2 (just behind Sgt Pepper, usually) here in North America, was ridiculed and ignored in 1966. Again, I wasn’t around back then. Even if I was I might have ignored them like the rest of the population.
But I was around for quite a number of transformations, have witnessed first hand mediocre bands turn into something beautiful and groundbreaking. Most importantly I was able to recognize and appreciate it at the time. In order to appreciate the leap you have had to be familiar with what came before. There were many great albums I “was there for”, and I recognized their brilliance and potential future influence, but I can’t talk about the transformation as a first hand thing because I was introduced to those bands via their “best”. Albums such as Screamadelica (Primal Scream) and Jesus Of Cool (Nick Lowe) spring to mind.
But as I said I was present for a few, and here they are:
The Clash: From Give ‘Em Enough Rope to London Calling
The Replacements: From Hootenanny to Let It Be
Radiohead: From Pablo Honey to The Bends, and then OK Computer.
The Smiths: From Meat Is Murder to The Queen Is Dead
Joe Jackson: From Look Sharp! To I’m The Man to Beat Crazy To Jumpin’ Jive to Night And Day.
The Flaming Lips: From Clouds Taste Metallic to The Soft Bulletin
Wilco: From Being There to Summerteeth To Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Beck: From Mellow Gold to Odelay
Beastie Boys: From Licensed To Ill to Paul’s Boutique
LCD Soundsystem: From self titled debut to Sound Of Silver
Supergrass: From I Should Coco to In It For The Money
Talking Heads: From Fear Of Music to Remain In Light
New Order: From Movement to Power, Corruption and Lies