Posthumous releases can be a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, it’s always interesting to hear new material from our favorite artists who have died or whose lives were tragically cut short. At the same time, though, it’s hard not to shake the feeling of “if they really wanted us to hear this, they would’ve released it when they were alive.” Ultimately, there are some posthumous albums that are essential for any music fan, while others are strictly for die-hard fans of the artist in question. This week marks the release of Jeff Buckley’s new compilation, You and I, and with that in mind, we wanted to list some of the best and most revelatory posthumously released albums of all time.
Nick Drake — Time of No Reply (1987)
Nick Drake gave us just three proper albums before his death in 1974, but 13 years later, a collection of outtakes were released, and they have become an important part of his legacy, as tracks like “Thoughts of Mary Jane” and “I Was Made To Love Magic” rank among Drake’s most beloved songs. With Drake giving us precious little music during his short life, these outtakes were a treasure trove for fans, who now had a little more to remember him by.
George Harrison — Brainwashed (2002)
A year after Harrison’s death from cancer in 2001, his final studio album — and his first since 1987 — was released, and the result was one of his best. The single “Any Road” was the type of relaxed, wise song that Harrison had been giving us ever since “Here Comes the Sun.” Elsewhere, “Marwa Blues” is a surprising instrumental composition, while “Rising Sun” is a lovely ballad worthy of a spot on All Things Must Pass. Undeniably, Harrison went out on a high note, even if he wasn’t around to see it.
Jeff Buckley — Live at Sin-e (Legacy Edition) (2003)
Okay, this is a bit of a hedge. Technically, Live at Sin-e was initially released in 1993, well before Buckley’s death. However, that version was a mere EP, consisting of 26 minutes worth of material. The Legacy edition presented the entire two and a half hour show in its complete glory. Buckley goes through beautiful renditions of future classics like “Mojo Pin,” and “Lover, You Should Have Come Over,” while also giving us stirring covers of “Strange Fruit” and “I Shall Be Released.” This was the definitive recording of one of Buckley’s most famous shows, and any fan of his should own it.
Nirvana — Live at Reading (2009)
This double live album of Nirvana’s performance at the 1992 Reading Festival in England was a poignant reminder of just how much of an incendiary rock ‘n roll force the band was. At more than 78 minutes, the band plows through several Nevermind tracks, bringing Kurt Cobain’s rage at the system into a rather vivid light. It reaches its peak at the very end, with a blistering performance of “Territorial Pissings.” Anyone interested in more Nirvana live material might also enjoy the 1996 set From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah.
Jimi Hendrix — Valleys of Neptune (2010)
First off, Hendrix’s posthumous discography is extremely complex and convoluted, with a ton of stuff being released; some of it good, some of it not so good. It can get rather complicated. That said, if you own his three proper albums with the Jimi Hendrix Experience and want to press on further, this is certainly a fine place to start. There’s a lot to love on this outtake collection, particularly a nearly 7-minute instrumental cover of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” Some of the tracks here may be a bit fragmented or incomplete, but they nonetheless do a fine job illustrating what a brilliant musician Hendrix was.
Amy Winehouse — Lioness: Hidden Treasures (2011)
After the stunning, revelatory genius of 2006’s Back To Black, Winehouse’s 2011 death would mean we would never see a proper follow-up. All wasn’t lost, however, as we did get this outtake compilation that features Amy at her best. Here, she takes on standards like “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “The Girl from Ipanema,” along with originals like “Between the Cheats,” which features her legendary sense of humor. When listening to this album, it’s hard not to think that if she had survived to make another true album, it would have been something incredible.
Johnny Cash — Out Among the Stars (2014)
There are multiple posthumous Cash releases that are worth your time, including the final two entries of the American Recordings series, but this one is of particular note because of the story surrounding it. This album was initially recorded during the ’80s, generally considered one of the lower points of Cash’s career. Recorded between 1981 and 1984, the album was shelved until 30 years later, when producer Billy Sherrill remastered it. The result was a surprisingly strong set that gave Cash fans some great new songs to become acquainted to.
Michael Jackson — Xscape (2014)
The first posthumous MJ release, 2010’s Michael, was a fairly lukewarm collection of outtakes, but things got much better the second time around. Digging deep into the vaults, Xscape unearthed tracks from throughout Jackson’s career, such as the Thriller-era “Love Never Felt So Good,” which became a top 10 hit. The lone complaint here is that it’s 34 minutes, which is a bit short. Still, a crucial release for any Michael Jackson fan.