10 career-altering third albums from bands in the 1960s and '70s

Things changed for these groups with their third full-length releases.
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I’ve dabbled in screenwriting for many years, and one of the things I became aware of early on is the standard progression of screenplay drafts. Your first draft is usually a mess. But there is an organic energy that unifies it. It all comes out of a singular mindset. The second draft, after everyone and his lawyer weigh in on the first draft, does usually fix some of the first draft problems, but it also does harm.

With so many voices, the draft plays like a shapeless mishmash of ideas and perspectives. Second drafts often constitute a necessary step backward in order to ultimately move forward. You move forward on the third draft. You have worked through the problems, tried different solutions, and figured out what makes things better and what doesn’t. You have incorporated outside perspectives and your voice is once again organic. The third draft, in many cases, is where things tend to get a lot better.

I have this theory that musical acts function the same way. Not all the time, of course. But the pattern holds true a lot. The first album is energetic and organic. The second is a bit of a hash. The third album leaps forward.

Ten 1960s and 1970s bands whose third albums changed their lives

I developed this idea when writing about a couple of major artists recently. Specifically, it was in a soon-to-be-published piece about the Offspring’s third album Smash, which came out the same year as Green Day’s third album Dookie. It also applied to Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic. When I wrote about Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark (her 6th album), I noted that she had taken a big step forward on her third – Ladies of the Canyon – a few years earlier.

I think there’s something to this. Sure, plenty of bands kind of go all in on the first album and climb no higher. Artists as diverse as T Rex, Blood Sweat and Tears, and Joe Jackson did arguably their best work on their first studio releases. The CSN boys actually did it twice – the first time sans Neil Young – and the second time with him. There’s no guarantee here. But it sure seems to happen a lot.

Don’t believe me? Here are some examples, just from the 1960s and ‘70s. Ten third albums which saw some pretty important artists take one giant step forward.