50 of the best posthumous albums
When musicians die, their music lives on. In some cases, albums released after the death of the artist brings a poignant quality to their work, inviting listeners to hear the music in a new light. Stacker gathered information from various news and entertainment sources like Variety, Paste, Vice, and Rolling Stone to compile a list of 50 of the best posthumous albums by some of music’s greats.
Whether a solo album by a former member of one of Canada’s great rock bands, a spoken-word album by a lizard king with a backing track by the band he left behind, or a live album by a band that defined an era of confused flannel-wearing kids, they have all become an important part of music history. Some albums were released within days or months of the artist’s passing, and others came years or decades later. Not all the stories are pretty, nor all the albums perfect, but they have each earned their spot on this list for one reason or another. These acclaimed albums span different genres, decades, and cultures.
Many of the artists on this list died young. Several were members of the infamous and unfortunate 27 Club. Many of their deaths seemed senseless and violent, including airplane crashes and drug overdoses. Perhaps their deaths colored the way fans viewed the albums released by families, estates, or record companies after they died.
One of the albums was a debut released just a month after the death of a teenage Mexican American singer who was killed in a plane crash. Several albums on this list flew up the charts, extending and solidifying the place of the artists in the annals of the music industry.
Sit back, turn up the volume, and join Stacker as we pay tribute to these late, great artists and the albums they left behind.
'The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory' by Tupac Shakur
Tupac Shakur recorded the tracks for his fifth studio album in August 1996. By the time of its release on Nov. 5 of the same year, under his alias Makaveli, Shakur had been killed in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. The album was one of the rapper’s darkest, and though Tupac’s career was short, he is still considered by many, including other rappers, to be one of the greatest rappers of all time.
'Mystery Girl' by Roy Orbison
While visiting his mother’s home in December 1988, Roy Orbison suffered the heart attack that ultimately killed him. After his death at 52, “Mystery Girl” was released on Jan. 31, 1989. It was his first studio album with new material since 1979 and featured contributions from other musical greats.
'Circles' by Mac Miller
Music heavyweight Jon Brion worked with Mac Miller on what would be his final album. Released after his untimely death at 26 from an accidental drug overdose, “Circles” was meant to be a companion album to “Swimming,” the album released two months before Miller’s death. Many saw the album as a reflection on the mental health struggles of the millennial generation.
'Pearl' by Janis Joplin
Released three months after Janis Joplin’s death from a heroin overdose at the age of 27 in October 1970, “Pearl” was her second and final studio album and includes the posthumous hit “Me and Bobby McGee.” It peaked at #1 on the Billboard chart and continues to impress listeners. In 2012, the album made Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
'Closer' by Joy Division
At the age of 23, Joy Division lead singer and lyricist Ian Curtis hung himself in his kitchen just before the band was set to head out on an American tour. A vinyl reissue of their posthumous album “Closer” comes 40 years after its original release in 1980 just months after Curtis’ death, proving the timelessness of the post-punk British band.
'Genius Loves Company' by Ray Charles
The late, great Ray Charles completed his final album, “Genius Loves Company,” a series of duets, with the help of fellow music greats including Van Morrison, Sir Elton John, and Norah Jones. The album, released less than three months after Charles’ death at 73 of complications from liver disease, shot up the Billboard charts, won eight Grammy awards, and was his first top-10 album in 40 years.
'Dreaming Of You' by Selena
American singer Selena was shot dead by the former president of her fan club, Yolanda Saldívar, on March 31, 1995, at 23 years old. Her fifth and final studio album, “Dreaming of You” was the only album not produced by her family. Having left an indelible mark, it remains one of the best-selling Latin albums in the U.S. of all time.
'Blackstar' by David Bowie
Technically not posthumous but close enough to tinge his last album with the melancholy quality of posthumous works, David Bowie's "Blackstar" is an intoxicating album with a motif of death. Writing for The Guardian, Jude Rogers called “Blackstar” “the biggest work of death-art ever to hit the internet.” Indeed, the album, released on the singer’s 69th birthday and just two days before his death on Jan. 10, 2016, left fans wondering about his death from liver cancer and became his first #1 record in the United States.
'Xscape' by Michael Jackson
The king of pop’s second posthumous album, “Xscape,” was better received by critics than the first controversial album, "Michael," which was released after his death at 50 from cardiac arrest due to a combination of drugs given to Jackson by his personal physician. The album features eight songs that came from unfinished tracks Jackson originally recorded between 1983 and 2002. “Xscape” was released on May 9, 2014.
'Milk and Honey' by John Lennon and Yoko Ono
The recordings sessions for the final album released when John Lennon was alive, “Double Fantasy,” were meant to yield two albums. Lennon was shot on Dec. 8, 1980 by a fan, so he never finished the second album. Yoko Ono did manage to release some of the material more than three years later in 1984 with the posthumous album “Milk and Honey,” Ono and Lennon’s sixth and final album together.
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