When a popular artist passes away, their demos and unreleased songs take on a new significance. For fans, those snippets are the last link to their favourite artist’s work, hints of what was to come had things gone differently. Occasionally, however, an artist’s label attempts to milk their brand for everything it’s worth and create posthumous albums of “legacy music” that will keep the cash rolling in.
Sometimes posthumous releases get it right and are released respectfully – Lil Peep’s Come Over When You’re Sober Part 2, and Elliott Smith’s From A Basement On The Hill both honoured what made each artist so great in life. However, more often, posthumous albums end up feeling like morbid exploitation, taking songs never planned for public release and reworking them for modern audiences in a way that completely destroys the essence of a late musician.
Whether it’s Tupac performing duets with artists he never met or utterly bizarre remixes of Johnny Cash’s most famous work, there’s no shortage of posthumous albums that should have stayed locked away; these are ten of the worst.
TupacLoyal to the Game (2004)
When Tupac died in 1996, the noted workaholic left behind hundreds of unreleased recordings. To keep his name alive, his estate re-produced many of these songs with modern studio techniques and added contemporary guest stars, but this destroyed the potent dark west coast funk that punctuated the original recordings.
One of the worst examples of this strategy was Shakur’s fifth posthumous album Loyal to the Game, which was produced entirely by Eminem. Having Pac duet with Dido and rap over bombastic beats Eminem would usually spit fart punchlines over was particularly misguided, but doctoring the late rapper’s voice so he says “Drop that beat Em!” and “G-Unit in the motherfucking house!” is so disrespectful it makes the Coachella hologram look like a moving tribute.
Jimi HendrixCrash Landing (1975)
Using several studio musicians, who had neither worked with or known Hendrix, to over-dub his recordings was a blasphemous decision by producer Alan Douglas, with Crash Landing easily the worst of the legendary guitarist’s many posthumous albums. Scraping the barrel of unreleased demos and live performances, Crash Landing adds too much polish over the top of Hendrix’s trademark booming psychedelic sound. The songs sound synthetic and clean, the opposite of the raw improvisation Hendrix prioritized on masterpieces such as Electric Ladyland.
Amy WinehouseLioness: Hidden Treasures (2011)
Amy Winehouse was a perfectionist who didn’t release music unless she thought it was absolutely flawless. Knowing this completely sours her first and only posthumous album, which feels like it has desperately raided the late singer’s archives. Covers like The Girl from Ipanema and A Song For You were just warm-up moments for Amy and should have remained private, while another version of Valerie is the very definition of unnecessary.
Elvis PresleyChristmas Duets (2008)
Taking Elvis’ famous Christmas Album from 1957 and cheaply using Pro-Tools to combine it with tacky new production and sickly phoned-in vocals from the likes of LeAnn Rimes, Olivia Newton-John and Carrie Underwood is exactly the disaster it reads like. Christmas is cancelled.
Lisa “Left-Eye” LopesEye Legacy (2009)
The only posthumous release from late TLC rapper Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, this album takes the emcee’s unreleased vocals and mismatches them with tinny beats and bizarre collaborations (looking at you, Bone Crusher). In life, Lopes possessed an unpredictable firecracker energy, but in death, she’s a passenger on her own album, which prioritises cheap-sounding trap production and forgettable guest stars over preserving any of her spirit.
Johnny CashJohnny Cash Remixed (2009)
Designed as a tribute to the late country star, this poorly conceived remix album is, in fact, a tone-deaf insult to Johnny Cash’s legacy. So bad it sometimes appears like a comedy sketch on how not to make a posthumous album, this record sees Cash’s Get Rhythm turned into disco-house and I Walk The Line made into a rap duet with Snoop Dogg. Enough to make you don the black for good.
QueenMade In Heaven (1995)
For the band’s first release after Freddie Mercury’s death in 1991, the remaining members of Queen worked with unreleased vocals the enigmatic singer recorded in the last few weeks of his life. The end product is schmaltzy and soppy, with the silly livewire energy that made Queen so famous sorely missing from Made In Heaven. Obviously designed to pull on the heartstrings and stretch out their record sales, this is the kind of eulogy you won’t feel ashamed rolling your eyes during.
Faith Evans and The Notorious B.I.GThe King & I (2017)
There’s scraping the barrel and then there’s The King & I, which slows down famous Biggie verses so they can fit into ballads sung by the late rapper’s wife, R&B singer Faith Evans. Slowing down Biggie verses so they sound like a budget Sinatra and pairing them with Evans’ overblown R&B vocals (check out the dreadful Don’t Test Me) gives the album something of a ‘YouTube mashup’ feel. It’s especially hard to imagine Biggie signing off on a track like Ten Wife Commandments, which takes his classic DJ Premier-produced banger (Ten Crack Commandments) about the rules around being a successful cocaine dealer and turns it into a manual of how to have a good marriage.
The DoorsAn American Prayer (1978)
Released seven years after Jim Morrison joined the ’27 Club’, this album took unreleased recordings of Jim reading his poetry and got the remaining members of The Doors to create music around these readings. It’s awful. Morrison sounds like a drunk doing a bad Rimbaud impression and it’s blindingly obvious his poetry was never intended to go with music, especially the elevator jazz that’s present here. If you want to hear Morrison reading stirring poetry that goes perfectly with music then listen to Crawling King Snake instead.
Kurt CobainMontage of Heck: The Home Recordings (2015)
To accompany director Brett Morgen’s intimate documentary about the Nirvana frontman, this album, filled with unreleased home recordings Cobain had made, many before he hit the big time, was also released. A few of these demos remind us just how deeply hypnotic Cobain’s voice was, yet hearing these private recordings also feels exploitative and something a notoriously shy person would never have signed off on. Cobain did more than enough in his 27 years – these songs, which mostly feel a little like a breach of Kurt’s privacy, should have been left in a safety deposit box somewhere.