This is the very work that practically begins the career of a creator. This is the hit that gives the creator success in their medium. This is the Breakthrough Hit
You can bet that any creator who you can name off the top of your head has his/her breakthrough hit. For some creators, it could be the very first work he/she created. For others, it comes only after a series of unsuccessful attempts, although these early attempts stand a chance of being Vindicated by History
. For many of these, creators are often subject to the curse of Tough Act to Follow
, as practically every subsequent work may be compared to the breakthrough.
Compare Killer App
(equivalent for game systems), Star-Making Role
(equivalent for actors), and Gateway Series
(equivalent for an entire genre or multimedia franchise). Compare and
Contrast Magnum Opus
, another landmark in a creator's career. There may be some overlap for a few creators, but Magnum Opus usually represents the pinnacle of the career while Breakthrough Hit represents the beginning. Contrast Creator Killer
and One-Hit Wonder
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Anime and Manga
Authors and Artists
Film - Animated
Film - Live Action
- The Terminator for James Cameron.
- The Dollars Trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly) for Sergio Leone.
- American Graffiti for George Lucas, although Star Wars: A New Hope made him a household name.
- Jaws for Steven Spielberg. It was actually his fifth film; His firsts, The Sugarland Express, and Duel and a host of other TV Movies he directed are long forgotten today.
- Alien for Ridley Scott. While his debut film The Duelists is critically well regarded, it's been largely forgotten by mainstream audiences.
- The Lord of the Rings put Peter Jackson on the world stage, though Heavenly Creatures is the film that brought him to Hollywood.
- Pulp Fiction for Quentin Tarantino. Reservoir Dogs became a retroactive cult classic off of the success of Pulp Fiction.
- The Godfather for Francis Ford Coppola. He won an Oscar for his screenwriting in 1970's Patton, but he was still considered an unknown quantity when he helmed The Godfather.
- Taxi Driver for Martin Scorsese. He had two major releases prior to the film: Mean Streets and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. The former, while highly praised and a modern-day classic, was a flop upon release, whereas the latter, although more successful and Oscar-winning, didn't exactly have Scorsese's directorial work at the center of the acclaim. Taxi Driver is viewed as the film that made him a household name.
- Carrie for Brian De Palma. After a series of independent studio films, Carrie became his first hit.
- Clerks for Kevin Smith. It was an indie film, but it made his name and led to big-budget projects.
- Romancing the Stone for Robert Zemeckis. At the time, Zemeckis was known for directing two commercial flops and writing the screenplay to Steven Spielberg's 1941. Back to the Future was a further breakthough for him afterwards.
- Halloween (1978) for John Carpenter. Many of his earlier films are now seen as cult classics, but Carpenter's first genuine hit came with the 1978 slasher.
- Rosemary's Baby for Roman Polanski.
- Animal House for John Landis.
- The Usual Suspects for Bryan Singer and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie
- π for Darren Aronofsky. This indie film was lauded by critics and made his name in the industry.
- Memento for Christopher Nolan, although he didn't really become a household name until The Dark Knight Saga.
- El Mariachi and later Desperado for Robert Rodriguez.
- Annie Hall for Woody Allen. He was more known as an actor and writer prior to Annie Hall.
- Platoon for Oliver Stone. He was an established screenwriter at the time, known for his work in Scarface (1983) and Conan the Barbarian (1982). Platoon was his first hit as a director.
- Laura was the film that made Otto Preminger's career as a producer-director, though he had not only directed several previous films but produced one as well (In the Meantime, Darling).
- Boogie Nights for Paul Thomas Anderson. Hard Eight, his first feature film, never made it past a limited release.
- Fanboys for Kyle Newman.
- RoboCop for Paul Verhoeven internationally. He was well known in the Netherlands for years.
- Three Kings for David O. Russell. He enjoyed an ever more successful period starting with The Fighter in 2010.
- Saturday Night Fever for John Badham. The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars, his first film, went largely unnoticed.
- The Omen for Richard Donner.
- Splash for Ron Howard as a director. Night Shift was a moderate hit for him, but is today remembered for That's What Friends Are For, which became a future hit collaboration for Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight.
- Do the Right Thing for Spike Lee.
- Bad Boys for Michael Bay.
- Flashdance for Adrian Lyne.
- Predator for John Mc Tiernan.
- Top Gun for Tony Scott.
- Stripes for Ivan Reitman.
- Das Boot for Wolfgang Petersen.
- Drive made Nicolas Winding Refn's name in Hollywood, though he was already very popular in Denmark for Pusher.
- sex, lies, and videotape for Steven Soderbergh.
- Sense and Sensibility for Ang Lee in Hollywood.
- 12 Angry Men for Sidney Lumet.
- Seven for David Fincher.
- Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for Mike Nichols.
- Godzilla (2014) for Gareth Edwards.
- The Toxic Avenger for Lloyd Kaufman.
- The Warriors for Walter Hill.
- Klute for Alan J Pakula.
- Diner for Barry Levinson.
- American Beauty for Sam Mendes.
- The Sixth Sense for M. Night Shyamalan.
- This Is Spinal Tap for Rob Reiner.
Live Action TV
- All in the Family for its creator, Norman Lear, and its four principal cast members: Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers. The four actors had guest roles and so forth before the show that made them household names.
- All That for Dan Schneider.
- Law & Order for Dick Wolf.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer for Joss Whedon and Jane Espenson. It also gave a start for Steven S. DeKnight (Spartacus and Daredevil).
- CSI for Jerry Bruckheimer as a TV producer (since he was already famous for his film work).
- Veronica Mars started Rob Thomas's career as a television producer, although his book Rats Saw God started his career as a novelist.
- Heroes for Tim Kring (although his previous series Crossing Jordan lasted longer).
- Magnum, P.I. for Donald P. Bellisario.
- LOST for J. J. Abrams (though he'd already written or co-written several films and this wasn't his first series, having previously co-created Felicity and created Alias).
- Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers for Haim Saban.
- Double Dare (1986) for Marc Summers and Nickelodeon.
- Survivor for Mark Burnett.
- Two and a Half Men for Chuck Lorre (Though he was already known for Grace Under Fire and Dharma and Greg).
- Grey's Anatomy for Shonda Rhimes.
- H.R. Pufnstuf for Sid And Marty Krofft.
- House of Cards first put Netflix on the map as a provider of original programming (not counting revivals), becoming a highly acclaimed show and Emmy success, but Orange Is The New Black blew it out of the water in popularity and became to them what The Walking Dead is to AMC and Game of Thrones to HBO.
- Arrow for Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg. Berlanti and Guggenheim worked on the less successful but still well-recieved Eli Stone beforehand, while Kreisberg was a writer for various shows.
- Game of Thrones for David Benioff and DB Weiss. Benioff was a prolific author and screenwriter and was probably best known for his screenplay to Troy, which while very successful hasn't made a fraction of Game of Thrones cultural impact. Weiss was also and author and screenwriter, but didn't have much to his resume at the time of the show's launch.
Dance and Electronic
- Alabama: The Fort Payne, Alabama quartet did have some chart entries. The first song, "I Wanna Be With You Tonight" from 1977, was but a blip on the radar, but "I Wanna Come Over" from December 1979 got Randy, Teddy and Jeff into the top 40 for the first time. Despite CD availability, "I Wanna Come Over" rarely gets airplay these days, while "My Home's in Alabama" got to #17, and still remains a popular classic cut despite its low peak. However, it was 1980's "Tennessee River" that got them to the top for the first time, starting a string of hits that lasted into the late 90s.
- Rodney Atkins, "If You're Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)". Also a "first single from second album" type (he had a top 10 hit in 2003), although well before his first album, he had a single way back in 1997 that went nowhere.
- The Bellamy Brothers: Brothers Howard and David, natives of Darby, Florida, had a double-breakthrough. The first came in 1976 with their country-pop crossover hit "Let Your Love Flow," which was a No. 1 pop hit and barely missed the top 20 on the country side; despite the relatively low country chart peak of "Let Your Love Flow," it still gets a fair amount of oldie airplay today. Then they went a couple of years without a hit, until bursting back in 1979 with the most famous pick-up line in history: "If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me." A No. 1 country smash, the song catapulted the Bellamys into country stardom during the 1980s, and they still are in demand today despite having not hit the country Top 40 since the very early 90s.
- Brooks & Dunn: Both Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn had a bunch of songwriting success, but very little to show for it as solo recording artists, as none of their singles (recorded individually) came close to reaching the top 40 of the country charts. Then some bright fella had the idea to team these two guys together. It worked, and starting with a ditty called "Brand New Man" (No. 1 in the late summer of 1991), the two scored an incredible 20 No. 1 hits together and more than a dozen more top 10 hits. They are the most successful country duo of all time.
- Garth Brooks: "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)" was his first single release and first top 10 hit, and "If Tomorrow Never Comes" was his first No. 1 hit, but it was "The Dance" that made him a superstar.
- Luke Bryan: Although his debut album was a modest success and spawned a pair of top 10 hits, the first single off his second album ("Do I") went to #2 and became his first Top 40 pop hit, thus helping to launch him into the mainstream for good.
- Glen Campbell: He had been the part an instrumental group (a post-"Tequila" Champs) and was a member of The Beach Boys during their many tours. In the mid 1960s, he began recording solo hits, and had his first top 15 country hit in February 1967 with "Burning Bridges." A well-done ballad written by Walter Scott, that song is largely forgotten today ... and ironically enough, the follow-up, a John Hartford folk song called "Gentle On My Mind" (released in July 1967) fared even worse on the charts it barely even broke into the top 30, and in fact didn't even make the Hot 100's top 40. Yet, "Gentle on My Mind" (which has since become an iconic country music hit, and has been covered by dozens of country and pop/rock superstars) is the one that's remembered today as Campbell's breakthrough hit and sparked a career that's won him international acclaim.
- Kenny Chesney. Already one of many in the "hat act" boom of the mid-90s, Chesney had three albums under his belt by 1997, but none had produced any really big hits. Although "She's Got It All", the first single off his fourth album I Will Stand, was a three-week #1, he stumbled a bit after that, and finally locked himself in as a hitmaker with the six-week chart-topper "How Forever Feels" in 1999. The subsequent years would find him moving from mainstream country to a unique style more influenced by arena rock, Jimmy Buffett-esque island tunes, and introspective ballads, culminating in 2004 with his most successful album to date, When the Sun Goes Down.
- Eric Church had great commercial success with his first two albums, but neither produced a major hit: nothing off the first album got far into the Top 20, and after calling a mulligan with "His Kind of Money (My Kind of Love)" (which never appeared on an album), he got two minor Top 10 hits off his second disc. But his third album, Chief, got him into #1 territory for the first time with "Drink in My Hand" and "Springsteen". These songs were also crossover successes, getting him into Top 40 on the Hot 100 for the first time. "Springsteen" remains his best-selling single.
- Church's breakthrough also led to a breakthrough for his producer Jay Joyce, who was mainly a rock producer otherwise. After "Drink in My Hand", Joyce began producing for other country music singers, including Randy Rogers Band, Little Big Town, Thomas Rhett, and Gary Allan.
- John Conlee: "Rose Colored Glasses", his first single, hit #5 in 1977. He followed it up with the #1 "Lady Lay Down." He never stopped churning out hits throughout the 80s, despite a slight slump in the early 80's which he recovered from two years later.
- Earl Thomas Conley: He started his career in the 70's, releasing singles without his middle name that stalled in the bottom half of the country charts. 1980's "Silent Treatment" brought Conley to the Top 10 for the first time, and then, he finally topped the charts with "Fire and Smoke" later. The follow-ups didn't do as well, unfortunately. However, when he released his next album, after "Heavenly Bodies" scraped the lower end of the top 10, he returned to #1 with "Somewhere Between Right and Wrong" (which surprisingly flopped in Canada). After a re-recording of his first chart entry "I Have Loved You Girl" hit #2, he had a huge streak of #1 hits that lasted throughout the 80s, and saw Top 10 as late as 1991.
- Eli Young Band, a Texas country group, had been recording since 2002. They had minor chart action from their first major-label album Jet Black & Jealous, including the near-hit "Always the Love Songs". But the first hit off their second album, "Crazy Girl", became their first chart-topper and the biggest country hit of 2011. Since then, they've had two more #1 hits.
- Donna Fargo: "The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A." was just that when she finally scored her breakthrough hit in the summer of 1972. Beforehand, the wistfully sweet-voiced singer and Mount Airy, North Carolina native had released a handful of single releases and in fact won the Best New Female Artist award from the Academy of Country Music in 1969, but remained unknown to most until her signature song became a huge country and pop hit. One of her very earliest releases was an uptempo song called "Daddy," which she originally released in 1968, but at the time failed to chart; she finally had a top 15 hit in 1979 with a re-recording of the song.
- Larry Gatlin: A renowned Nashville songwriter in the early 1970s, Gatlin recorded his first album in 1973 and late that year, released his first single, "Sweet Becky Walker," a ballad (which showcased his sweet tenor falsetto) that reached No. 40 in January 1974. In the late summer of '74, he issued his second hit, the uptempo "Delta Dirt," which did even better: No. 14 at mid-fall. But neither one are played today; it's the third single, the top 5 hit "Broken Lady," that got Gatlin finally noticed by millions of fans. It also was another first: The first single to feature (and credit) his brothers, Steve and Rudy. The act today is Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers.
- Freddie Hart: He had released several singles during the late 1950s through mid 1960s, and although a fair number reached the top 30 (and a couple did sneak into the top 20), and he had one top 10 in Canada, Hart never did have that one key hit. Several record labels saw little to no hit-making potential in Hart. Then, in the summer of 1971, his ballad "Easy Loving" caught on like wildfire, and by that September, Hart had a No. 1 smash on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart (as well as Canada's country chart) ... and a top 20 pop hit to boot, a true breakthrough if there ever was one!
- Hunter Hayes: Hayes had been a touring musician since age four, playing accordion at various festivals and gigs in addition to releasing several mostly Cajun-themed albums. After writing a song for Rascal Flatts, he charted his first hit with "Storm Warning", which reached #14 on the country charts. But it was the country-pop crossover smash "Wanted" that introduced him to the mainstream.
- Lady Antebellum, "Need You Now". Technically, "Love Don't Live Here" was a major hit on the charts, and "I Run To You" hit #1 beforehand; it also hit the Hot 100's Top 40. However, "Need You Now" was their breakout on pop radio. In fact, many people are unaware that they had a full album out before that song...
- Miranda Lambert: She had already scored two platinum albums by late 2007, but the biggest hit off either was "Gunpowder & Lead" at a mere #7. Finally, Revolution brought Lambert her first Top 5 hit with "White Liar"note , and her first #1 with "The House That Built Me", which spent four weeks on top (likewise, it brought her to the pop Top 40 for the first time). Since then, her career has been nothing but high notes.
- Little Big Town: They first signed to Mercury in the late 90s, but achieved nothing more than a backing vocal credit on a Collin Raye album. They got a dark horse Top 10 hit in 2005 with "Boondocks", followed by three more hits (including the #4 "Bring It On Home") which helped boost their first Equity album to platinum status. However, the lead single from their next Equity album stalled out in the mid-30s, and the label closed soon afterward. Capitol Nashville then took control of that album, but failed to get a hit out of the two singles they chose. And just when it looked like the #6 hit "Little White Church" (the lead-off to their fourth album) might finally be their breakthrough, that album's next two singles fizzled out just shy of Top 40. In 2012, LBT finally got that breakthrough with "Pontoon" (the first single off their fifth album), which became their first #1 hit (and Top 40 pop hit) and netted them several awards.
- Loretta Lynn: Her breakthrough came in 1960, when the Butcher Holler, Kentucky native and "Coal Miner's Daughter" had her first major hit, "Honky-Tonk Girl." Success didn't become sustained until her second big hit, titled (incidentally enough) "Success," and thereafter came her iconic series of hits that pushed the boundaries of country music.
- Martina McBride, "My Baby Loves Me" in 1993. It was the first single from her second album, The Way That I Am. This album also included her Signature Song "Independence Day". Although the next album (Wild Angels) got Martina her first #1 with its title track and another Top 10, she kind of went quiet after that, only to experience a second breakthrough in late 1997 with "A Broken Wing". This song became her second #1, her first solo hit on the Hot 100, and pushed her into the country-pop crossover territory that made her a force to be reckoned with through 2003.
- Reba McEntire In 1978, the pretty, red-headed 22-year-old native of Chockie, Oklahoma, was paired with a successful country artist of the time, Jacky Ward, for a song called "Three Sheets in the Wind." The song broke through and soon became a top 20 country hit for Ward and McEntire ... but the even more amazing thing is, the song would mark a turning point in both singers' careers. Ward would see his career fade less than two years later; McEntire, however, had her breakthrough solo hit in 1980 with "(You Lift Me) Up to Heaven," and she has never looked back. While Ward is largely forgotten, McEntire went on to a career that's included 24 No. 1 hits (amongst more than 50 top 10 singles) and gold albums, an acting career that has included a hit TV series and Broadway starring roles, and a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
- Tim McGraw In 1992, McGraw a handsome young Delhi, Louisiana, native and son of Philadelphia Phillies great Tug McGraw signed a recording contract with Curb Records and released a self-titled album. From that came his first single, "Welcome to the Club," which (depending on the publication), may or may not have become a top 40 country hit in early 1993; two other singles failed. Curb Records, however, saw hit-making potential in McGraw, and in early 1994 released the album Not a Moment Too Soon. The release of the lead single, "Indian Outlaw," was indeed not a moment too soon: The song which controversially paid homage to Native American culture soared to No. 8 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, and was even a top 20 pop hit, and since then McGraw has never looked back, scoring 23 No. 1 hits and nearly 50 top 10 singles, earning a high profile marriage to Faith Hill and a lucrative acting career to boot.
- Ronnie Milsap: Although he had two top 10 hits beforehand ("I Hate You" and "That Girl Who Waits on Tables," both 1973), those songs are largely forgotten today. His third top 10 hit "Pure Love," which topped the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in June 1974 is often considered his true "breakthrough" and is, as a result, the oldest Milsap song in many country music libraries.
- Anne Murray: One of country and pop music's first true divas, this native of Halifax, Nova Scotia had a few minor hits in her native Canada in the late 1960s and appeared as a regular on several TV shows in Canada. A little "Snowbird" in the summer of 1970 changed her future forever ... and Murray would go on to massive worldwide success, with the bulk coming in the United States and Canada during the 1970s through early 1990s.
- Willie Nelson: The legendary songwriter, poet, actor, activist
the list goes on. It all began as one of Nashville's bright new songwriters in the early 1960s, and his songwriting breakthrough came with a hit Claude Gray recorded called "Family Bible." Dozens of songwriting hits followed, most notably Faron Young's "Hello Walls" and Patsy Cline's "Crazy." But even though he had a top 10 country hit of his own in 1962 called "Touch Me," that one key hit eluded him for years. Most, if not all of his songs were critically acclaimed, but just didn't have that hit. That is, until 1975 when he released an album called Red Headed Stranger and he dipped outside of his own catalog to an old Fred Rose-penned song called "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain." The song was a massive No. 1 country smash early in the fall of 1975 and a top 20 pop hit as well, and he finally etched his name into the realm of success, and had dozens of more hits to follow.
- The Oak Ridge Boys: One of three most successful country groups of the 1980s Alabama and The Statler Brothers were the other two the group traces its origins to the 1940s, when they were a gospel-based group called the Oak Ridge Quartet. Multiple membership changes took place through the early 1970s, but they became renowned for their four-part harmonies and enthusiasm for gospel music. Once the membership was sustained in 1973 except for a few years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it's been Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban the group began drifting toward mainstream country music. And in 1977, they had their first big country smash, the No. 3 hit "Y'All Come Back Saloon." While they always did gospel music in the years since and, in fact, several of their later 1980s mainstream songs did have Christian themes one cannot ever imagine them not doing songs like "Elvira," "Bobbie Sue," "American Made," "Gonna Take a Lotta River" or their other major hits.
- Jake Owen: He had two modestly-performing albums for RCA Nashville before "Barefoot Blue Jean Night", the title track and first single from his third album, became his first #1. He followed it up with three more off the same album.
- Buck Owens: Depending on one's definition of success and breakthrough, either one of two songs could be considered his breakthrough for the originator of the Bakersfield Sound: "Under Your Spell Again," his first top 5 hit from November 1959; or "Act Naturally," the Johnny Russell-penned song that became Owens' first No. 1 hit from the summer of 1963. Often lost are the early hits, where Owens and his band, the Buckaroos, were perfecting their new sound that would eventually result in 20 No. 1 hits from 1963-1972 and make Owens a household name, long before Hee Haw was a twinkle in that show's creator Sam Louvillo's eye.
- Dolly Parton: The native of Sevier County, Tennessee, released two singles that were local successes but failed to reach a national audience. After a lucrative contract with Monument Records and a few non-charting singles, she finally hit paydirt with her 1966 single "Dumb Blonde." Shortly thereafter, country music superstar Porter Wagoner asked her to be on his show to perform as a regular. Although she recorded solo songs, she was primarily Porter's duet partner in those days, their first top 10 hit together being "The Last Thing on my Mind" in late 1967. Her first really big solo hit was in 1970 with "Muleskinner Blues," a rollicking, modern remake of an old blues tune done by Jimmie Rodgers. And it just kept growing and growing ... movies, TV shows, multi-million selling LPs and songs ... it just went on.
- Ray Price Many consider the Cherokee Cowboy's breakthrough was his double-A sided monster hit from 1954, "I'll Be There (If You Ever Want Me)" and "Release Me" (the latter famously covered by Engelbert Humperdink). However, Price had enjoyed consistent, if not spectacular success with lost gems like "Jealous Lies" (1950), "If You're Ever Lonely Darling" (1951), "Talk to Your Heart" (1952) and a cover of the Perry Como hit "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes" (1953), but most of those early songs are long forgotten and rarely played today ... even though they like his later hits such as "Crazy Arms" (1956), "City Lights" (1958) and "Heartaches by the Number" (1959) introduced to fans a critical part of his style: the 4/4 honky-tonk rhythm.
- In a way, too, his cover of Como's pop song would foreshadow Price's even later success in the Nashville style, most notably on 1970's "For the Good Times." Indeed, "For the Good Times" was Price's big pop breakthrough. A No. 1 country hit, the song gained mass Top 40 airplay and peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 10 on the Adult Contemporary Singles chart.
- Charley Pride: The first widely successful African American artist, Pride's breakthrough was actually a song that never charted on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart — "The Snakes Crawl at Night," from the spring of 1966. However, to make his breakthrough song and the first few follow-up singles successes, the singles that were distributed to radio stations and record stores featured no photographs of the young native of Sledge, Mississippi. (Country music at the time was exclusively a white medium.) Once he had sustained his success, it was revealed that he was black ... and country fans embraced him. He is still the most successful non-white country music artist by far.
- Eddie Rabbitt: As with Milsap, his "breakthrough" hit came after he had already scored a number of moderately successful songs. For Rabbitt, the breakthrough was 1976's "Drinkin' My Baby (Off My Mind)," and that put two other top 15 hits the ballads "I Should Have Married You" and "Forgive and Forget," both 1975 off everybody's minds. The two earlier songs are available on iTunes, but they are all but forgotten otherwise.
- Some even consider his 1970s songs "forgotten," looking at his early 1980s crossover hits first, with "Drivin' My Life Away" as his true breakthrough.
- Eddy Raven: A rare Cajun country singer, he had been performing since the early 1970s and sporadically making the charts. Although he first hit Top 10 with "She's Playing Hard to Forget" in 1982, it wasn't until a change to RCA in 1984 that he first hit #1 with "I Got Mexico." That was the first of 17 Top 10 hits that he would have between then and 1990, despite being the first single off his sixth studio album.
- Charlie Rich: He had two top 40 pop hits in 1960's "Lonely Weekends" and 1965's "Mohair Sam," but otherwise, nothing major came out of him. That is, until 1972, when he scored a top 10 country hit with "I Take It On Home." That got the ball rolling, and a year later, things were busted wide open with two huge hits: "Behind Closed Doors" and "The Most Beautiful Girl," the latter one a No. 1 country and pop smash.
- Marty Robbins: This true cowboy, whose musical styles were vastly diverse and ranged from straight pop and rockabilly to western and Hawaiian and true traditional country, got his start on his own radio and later TV show in Phoenix, Arizona. After being discovered by fellow up-and-coming star "Little" Jimmy Dickens, he got his first big break and signed with Columbia Records and by becoming a favorite on the Grand Ole Opry. On the radio and at record stores, he was a hit right out of the gate, with his first song, "I'll Go On Alone," becoming a big No. 1 country hit in early 1953. And it didn't stop for three decades even after his untimely death in 1982.
- Kenny Rogers: In 1968, he fronted a rock group called The First Edition, and recording mainly psychedelic rock Rogers broke through with a song called "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)." But while most psychedelic rock-only artists stuck around the scene a brief time, those that considered Rogers a one-trick pony didn't know this guy very well, as he came through in 1969 with his folk-countryish "Ruby (Don't Take Your Love to Town)." After switching to his current country-pop style he later released a string of singles in the 70's; of all those, it was 1977's "Lucille" that finally earned Rogers his true country-pop breakthrough and began his longest run of sustained success, which would last through the early 1990s.
- Taylor Swift: "Our Song" (third single from first album) at country radio, as it was her first #1 hit. "Love Story" (first single from second album) elsewhere, as it was her first massive crossover.
- As with Eric Church and Jay Joyce above, Swift's breakthrough was also one for her producer, Nathan Chapman. He had almost no production experience before Taylor's first album, but has become a popular Nashville producer, working with Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban, The Band Perry, and Shania Twain among others.
- Mel Tillis: The singer with a Stutter Stop a stutter that goes away when he sings made his first breakthrough as a gifted songwriter, with his first songwriting top 5 hit being Webb Pierce's "I'm Tired," and his first No. 1 hit, Pierce's "Honky Tonk Song" He went on to write dozens of hits, the most famous being Pierce's "I Ain't Never" (later recorded by Tillis, which became a No. 1 country hit), Bobby Bare's "Detroit City" and Kenny Rogers and the First Edition's "Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town." As a singer, Mel's big breakthrough was 1966's "Stateside," the song that went on to be a signature of sorts "Statesiders" was the name of his backing band; however, his first top 10 hit and a string of uninterrupted success through the 1970s and early 1980s was 1969's "Who's Julie."
- Randy Travis: In a very odd example, Travis's breakthrough was a re-release of his first major-label single. That song, "On the Other Hand", only went to No. 67 its first time out. The label followed it up with "1982", which went to No. 6. Afterward, they made the extremely unorthodox move of re-releasing "On the Other Hand," which turned out to be the right move it went all the way to No. 1 and started a very fruitful career. Travis was seen as one of the artists who moved the genre back to a more traditionalist bent following the Urban Cowboy-esque pop crossovers of the early-mid 80s, and he continued to have hits as late as 1999, with a momentary return in 2003.
- Josh Turner: "Your Man". Yet another example of the "first single from second album becomes first #1" variant. Although "Long Black Train" from the first album had an extremely long chart run that got it to No. 13, that song (which sounds more like a 1940s gospel song than anything in mainstream country) is mostly forgotten today.
- Shania Twain, "Any Man of Mine". Twain already had a solid, if unremarkable album for Mercury in 1993 which sounds like it could've been recorded by just about anybody. After getting "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?" to #11 in 1995, she followed up with this #1 smash from her album The Woman in Me, thus paving the way for a country-pop career that made her one of the most famous Canadian country singers ever, not to mention one of the best-selling. Her next album, Come On Over, is the best-selling every by a female artist, and produced a staggering twelve singles.
- Conway Twitty: Harold Lloyd Jenkins, who according to legend took his stage name from the names of two towns on a map (Conway, Arkansas and Twitty, Texas), has two to his name, each representing his start in a particular genre. When he was a teen heartthrob in the rock music world in the late 1950s, he first hit it big with "It's Only Make Believe." Amazingly, that 1958 No. 1 million seller stuck with him throughout his country music career ... and it was a 1968 top 5 hit called "The Image of Me" that was his first big country hit, after which followed his immortal hits such as "Hello Darlin'" (1970) and "You've Never Been This Far Before" (1973), five No. 1 duets with Loretta Lynn and 33 more solo No. 1 hits.
- Keith Urban: The New Zealand-born Australian cut an album in his homeland in 1991, and spent the next several years finding some bit parts in Nashville. He founded a short-lived band called The Ranch, which scraped the bottom of the country charts with two cuts from their only studio album in 1997, and followed with his first American solo album for Capitol Records in 1999. The album was somewhat successful, getting him a Top 20 right away with "It's a Love Thing", followed by the top 5 hit "Your Everything", the #1 "But for the Grace of God" (which ended a nearly three-year spell in which no artist on Capitol's Nashville division topped the charts), and the #3 "Where the Blacktop Ends". After a nearly year-long hiatus, he returned in late 2002 with "Somebody Like You", a six-week #1 hit that started a streak of Top 10 country hits that remains unbroken more than a decade later. "Somebody Like You" was named by Billboard as the biggest country hit of the 2000-2010 decade, and everything before it has long since been forgotten.
- Keith Whitley'. His debut EP A Hard Act to Follow was a bomb, and 1985's L.A. to Miami was only mildly successful despite producing a Signature Song in "Miami, My Amy" and having not one, but two of its tracks Covered Up by other superstars of the era (Randy Travis with "On the Other Hand" and George Strait with "Nobody in His Right Mind Would've Left Her", although the latter was recorded by Dean Dillon first). But he had his breakthrough in 1988 with "Don't Close Your Eyes", the third single off his 1988 album of the same name. The song started a streak of five straight #1 hits that managed to outlive the singer himself, who met his untimely death from alcohol poisoning at 34 in 1989.
- Hank Williams, Jr.: The son of country music's premiere superstar, "Bocephus" notched his first hit at age 15 with "Long Gone Lonesome Blues." At age 17, he spoke about "Standing in the Shadows" and how he vowed to someday break free. He couldn't — soft ballads were his main bread-and-butter throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, and his first two No. 1 songs were ballads: "All for the Love of Sunshine" and "Eleven Roses." It wasn't until his 15th year on the charts, several years after his fall off a tall mountainside, that he finally broke free with what is considered his signature song: the autobiographical country-rocker "Family Tradition." Put in perspective, Hank Jr. had had 11 top 10 hits, including two No. 1 singles before his true breakthrough. Despite his outspokenness that has sometimes landed him in hot water, Hank Jr.'s unique fusion of country, his father's songs and southern rock have made its mark on the genre.
- The Dukes of Hazzard's lead stars:
- John Schneider: In the early 1980s, right at the height of his fame as Bo Duke on The Dukes Of Hazzard, someone had the bright idea that he would make a great singer. They were right, and in 1981, his first single a cover of Elvis Presley's "It's Now or Never" was a top 5 country and top 15 pop smash. Ah, but its success, that song is rarely heard today. What's considered his career breakthrough came three years later with "I've Been Around Enough to Know," the first in a string of No. 1 and top 5 country hits through 1987.
- Tom Wopat: Had a somewhat less successful career in the late 1980s, with his first top 20 hit being "True Love (Never Did Run Smooth)" in 1986.
- Daft Punk and their first album Homework as well as its leading single "Da Funk". Their album Random Access Memories and its lead single "Get Lucky," however, transformed them from a cult act to a mainstream pop act.
- Avicii: "Levels," to the point that he's been working hard to distance himself away from the hit (he expressed disgust at how overplayed it is at clubs) and it didn't appear on his first studio album True. He had a few minor hits such as "Seek Bromance," but "Levels" really established himself as a superstar. Outside of the club scene, and in a few countries where "Levels" flew under the radar (such as the U.S.), "Wake Me Up" broke him into the mainstream and has become a much bigger hit than "Levels" ever was.
- Skrillex: He broke through with the EP Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites as well as its title track released as a single. The single remains his best-selling single to date.
- Owl City: "Fireflies" was the first big hit for the electronic musician, but proved unable to score a successful follow-up.
- Ellie Goulding: "Starry Eyed", considered the first true showcase of her dreamy, ethereal style. In the U.S., this honor goes to "Lights".
- Eminem: "My Name Is". It was the first single from his first major record label effort The Slim Shady LP, and the music video would eventually reach the #1 spot on Total Request Live (a spot usually dominated at the time by the likes of the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC and Britney Spears), starting him on his path to stardom. "My Name Is" didn't really go very far on the Billboard Hot 100 ("The Real Slim Shady" was his first top 10 there), but since it is very well-remembered, it's a much more appropriate song to hold this title.
- Things Fall Apart for The Roots. It was their fourth studio album, and the first one to sell at least 500,000 copies, as well as the group's first Grammy award for the single "You Got Me"note .
- Jay-Z: This Brooklyn rapper initially charted at #3 on rap albums and #23 on pop albums with his debut album Reasonable Doubt, which is often considered to be his best record to this day. He eventually cemented himself as one of the most successful rappers of all time with his third album Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life, and although it was criticized for being much more "poppy" than his earlier hardcore work, it became his first #1 on the pop album chart.
- Kanye West: Yeezy first established himself as one of rap's best producers with his mentor Jay-Z's album The Blueprint. He aspired to be a rapper himself, but many didn't believe in his ability to rap at first. Despite this, he eventually released The College Dropout, a massive critical and commercial success.
- Dr. Dre and Ice Cube: Following their acrimonious split from Eazy-E and the breakup of NWA, both Dre and Cube released solo albums that would later be considered classics of the Gangsta Rap sub-genre—The Chronic and AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, respectively.
- Snoop Dogg: Back when he was called "Snoop Doggy Dogg", he broke through with "Gin and Juice", the second single from his debut album Doggystyle.
R&B, Blues, and Soul
- Burt Bacharach and Hal David: The legendary songwriting team began working together in 1957, and almost immediately had their first breakthrough hit: "The Story of My Life," a No. 1 country and No. 15 pop hit by Marty Robbins. Dozens of hit singles followed, including those as diverse as Dionne Warwick, Herb Alpert, B.J. Thomas, The Carpenters, Bobby Vinton, the 5th Dimension, the duet pairing of Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald, the 1980s synth-pop duo Naked Eyes and many others.
- The Bee Gees: The three Gibb brothers Barry, Robin and Maurice are so closely identified with disco that their 1960s and early 1970s output is all but forgotten. But let's remember that as awesome and defining of a dance-based disco band that they were, they also had the pop/close harmony side in which they excelled, and it was their first top 20 hit, "New York Mining Disaster" from 1967, that gave fans their first taste of the brothers' Gibb. Their early top 20 hits are also proven breakthroughs: "To Love Somebody" and "Massachusetts," also from 1967, charted even higher and has been heavily played on oldies stations, and 1968's "I Gotta Get a Message to You" broke them into the top 10 for the first time. They had a hiatus in 1969 and most of 1970, but broke back through at the end of 1970 with "Lonely Days," their biggest hit yet, and topped the Hot 100 for the first time with "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" in the summer of 1971. And then, after a few of their follow-up releases charted progressively lower, they had another breakthrough their disco-years breakthrough, and it was by doing a little "Jive Talkin'," a No. 1 smash in August 1975. The Bee Gees' music wasn't the same since then, and it is the Gibbs' third breakthrough that is generally regarded as the one that brought them the most lasting, sustained success.
- Justin Bieber: "One Time" was the song that first garnered him attention, but it was "Baby" that turned him into a superstar. It is now his Signature Song.
- Blondie: Prior to 1979 and the release of the group's album Parallel Lines, this new wave-punk band from New York City had a cult following but not a mainstream one. Then, Debbie Harry and her bandmates rang in 1979 with a daftly new sound: a mix of disco and a mix of new wave to serve as the perfect bridge between eras of prevailing styles, and it was a "Heart of Glass." The song, the band's breakthrough, quickly went to No. 1 and became one of its signature songs.
- Frankie Valli And The Four Seasons: New Jersey born-and-bred Francesco Stephen Castelluccio (better know to us as Frankie Valli) had been recording since the early 1950s, and issued his first national hit in 1953: "My Mother's Eyes," which fell just short of the Billboard pop chart. Through the next nine years, he and his group released just over a dozen singles, but none were smash hits
that is, until August 1962, when a new song called "Sherry" hit the airwaves. That song, "Sherry," became a huge No. 1 hit and finally launched the group, led by Valli's powerful falsetto vocals, into stardom
and it never stopped.
- As a "solo" artist, Valli released several songs from his 1953 debut, but it wasn't until 1967 when he released "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" that he proved he was just as good "solo". That led to signature "solo" hits like "My Eyes Adored You" and "Grease."
- Andy Gibb: Barry, Robin and Maurice's kid brother became a star in his own right. After a failed single release in late 1976, he recorded the smash hit "I Just Want To Be Your Everything," which became a No. 1 hit in 1977 and eventually became one of the biggest hits ever in pop music.
- Hall and Oates: This Philadelphia-based duo fused elements of pop, soul and rock music to create "rock and soul." In the fall of 1973, Daryl Hall and John Oates recorded and released "She's Gone" as a single but it went nowhere. In December 1975, they issued their next single, "Sara Smile"
and nearly 4 1/2 months later, in April 1976, it became a legitimate top 10 hit. "She's Gone" would then be reissued in August 1976, and it finally became a top 10 hit, paving the way for their first wave of success that also included the No. 1 hit "Rich Girl." After that, their success subsided, but then came a second breakthrough in the late fall of 1980 with their remake of the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." Although that was only a No. 12 hit, it provided more than enough momentum to make them one of the most successful acts of the 1980s, with five No. 1 hits starting with 1981's "Kiss On My List" and a bunch of top 10 hits to boot.
- Michael Jackson: The album Off the Wall and its lead single "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough" codified much of what made the "King of Pop" famous, helping establish him as the definitive musician of The Eighties. He was already noted as the lead singer of the The Jackson Five, and already had a solo career started even while he was with them (he had one #1 hit and two other top 10 hits at that point), but Off the Wall established what he would be known for for many years to come.
- Carly Rae Jepsen: After three years of mild success (but only in Canada), the Canadian Idol contestant skyrocketed to international fame after the release of "Call Me Maybe" thanks to the support of Justin Bieber. Most people aren't even aware the single came from an EP, or that she released a full album three years earlier.
- Lady Gaga: "Just Dance," after several years in the business and a shift from being a piano-pop-type singer/songwriter.
- Cyndi Lauper: In the late 1970s, this completely hot singer from Queens, New York released a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "You Make Loving Fun," which is forgotten today. In the early 1980s, she fronted a new wave-punk band called Blue Angel. Few remember her output from their one album, but it did show stylistic trends that would appear in her far-more famous music of the mid-to-late 1980s. Her breakthrough, from early 1984, proved more than just that "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" it proved she was around to stay, with a famous career in professional wrestling and recording ballads (most notably, "Time After Time" and the sugary sweet "True Colors") and uptempo songs alike becoming an iconic figure of the 1980s to boot.
- Lorde: "Royals", probably one of the most unlikely megahits ever. Just a 16-year-old girl living on the outskirts of Auckland, New Zealand, who prior to had never even been to America got discovered singing it by an agent at a school talent show. Next thing you know, "Royals" topped charts worldwide including the US Pop and Alternative charts (staying on the former for a whopping nine weeks, the longest of any female artist that year, and became the first female artist to top the latter since before she was born), which made her the first New Zealand artist to achieve this feat. Her debut album Pure Heroine went double-platinum, outselling some of the biggest pop acts in the business.
- Madonna: The girl who would practically challenge every censorship trope, particularly during the 1980s and early 1990s, had a good-sized dance hit in 1982 called "Everybody." But not everybody remembers that song
they remember her late 1983 breakthrough hit "Holiday," which despite reaching only No. 16 paved the way for massive success later in the 1980s her first top 10 was "Borderline" in mid-1984, and her No. 1 hit came in December 1984 with Like A Virgin plus a career that's included acting, being a best-seller author (although several of her books have been banned), entrepreneur and philanthropist.
- Olivia Newton John: She had some success in the United Kingdom and her native Australia, but in the United States, her big break came with the 1971 single "If Not For You." On the pop side, the song just missed reaching the top 20, but it was a sign of things to come for the beautiful Australian. Although a follow-up hit eluded her for the next two years, she continued to have several hits worldwide ... and then in 1973, she really broke through with "Let Me Be There," her first huge country smash hit and a top 10 pop hit as well. She had arrived, reaching the pinnacle of multi-genre success in 1978 with her starring role in Grease and in 1981 with her huge hit "Physical."
- One Direction: "What Makes You Beautiful." While they were well known in the UK on the X-Factor, international audiences didn't discover them until this song became a massive worldwide hit. The band's popularity would begin to eclipse that of reigning teen phenomenon Justin Bieber at that point.
- Katy Perry: She first started recording music under her birth name, Katy Hudson, but after she adopted her mother's maiden name, she broke through with the album One of the Boys and its lead single "I Kissed a Girl", which rebelled against her fundamentalist Christian upbringing and establishing her as one of the decade's biggest pop women.
- B.J. Thomas: This handsome country-pop singer from Hugo, Oklahoma, had his first hit that was a cover of an iconic country song, and his second and true breakthrough was a song that would later be covered and become an iconic hit in pop music. That first hit came in 1966, with a song that was a then little-known B-sided hit for Hank Williams Sr.'s biggest hit, "Lovesick Blues," the song being "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." In the years since, Williams' version would become a staple of classic country playlists. Meanwhile, for Thomas, his true breakthrough came in the winter of 1969 with a song that became iconic with its 1974 "ooga-chaka, ooga-chaka" remake by Blue Suede "Hooked On a Feeling."
- On the country charts, although his first No. 1 hit, "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" and the follow-up "I Just Can't Help Believing," did get some country airplay as a recurrent/oldie in the early- to mid-1970s, it wasn't until 1975 that he had his first major hit on that chart: "Hey Won't You Play Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song."
Rock and Metal
- Prince Many consider his 1983 hit "Little Red Corvette" to be his breakthrough hit, reaching No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1983. Nobody, it seems, remembers his true breakthrough: "I Wanna Be Your Lover," which stopped just short of the top 10 in January 1980, some three years earlier. Additionally, his second bonafide hit, "1999," is considered to have come after "Little Red Corvette" (No. 12 in the summer of '83), forgetting that "1999" was climbing the charts in October 1982 (stopping at No. 44).
- Billy Ocean The Trindad-born R&B singer had a moderate hit in 1976 in the United States with "Love Really Hurts Without You"; that, plus at least two other late 1970s songs, were huge hits in the United Kingdom. But his real U.S. breakthrough didn't come until 1984, when he scored with "Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)."
- The Commodores: This American funk band, which originated in Tuskegee, Alabama, began by recording strictly funky soul during the early and mid 1970s, and their first hit was the instrumental hit "Machine Gun" in the summer of 1974. But fans know them far better for their smooth ballads, most of them led by their most dynamic and prolific member, Lionel Richie. Their first ballad hit was "Just to Be Close to You," and that became their breakthrough hit in the spring of 1976. The Commodores became so closely identified with R&B ballads that they had only one funk-styled hit after that: 1977's "Brick House" they instead focused on memorable songs like "Easy," "Three Times a Lady," "Still," "Sail On" and "Lady (You Bring Me Up)."
- As for Richie, what else can be said that hasn't? In 1980, he had his first major solo songwriting hit apart from the Commodores with Kenny Rogers' "Lady," and as a solo artist apart from the Commodores, he recorded the lush duet with Diana Ross "Endless Love," a nine-week No. 1 hit in 1981. He even spread his wings into the country arena, scoring his first big hit in that genre with "Stuck On You" in the summer of 1984.
- Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul had a top 10 pop hit early in 1967 with "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," but that bluesy soul song is all but forgotten today. Aretha's follow up would gain far more "Respect," and forever be ingrained in American pop culture.
- Marvin Gaye: A key member of the Motown scene from the 1960s through his untimely death in 1984 (OK, by the early 1980s, he was recording on Columbia Records ... still), Gaye's souful sound took root in the early 1960s, with his first big hit coming in 1963 with "Pride and Joy," although many consider his real breakthrough to be the original version of "How Sweet it Is (to be Loved by You)" two years later.
- Gladys Knight & the Pips: In 1961, this family soul group from Atlanta Georgia (leader Gladys Knight, her brother Bubba, and cousins William Guest and Edward Patten) had their first national hit in 1961 with "Every Beat of My Heart." Credited just as Pips, the song was just a "pip" on the radar for the then 16-year-old Gladys and her mates, and even though it was a strong No. 6 hit it has long since been forgotten. Fast forward 6 1/2 years later, and a record deal with subsidary Motown label Soul Records, the group tried their luck again ... and finally had their true breakthrough with the original version of "I Heard it Through the Grapevine." "Grapevine" (which became even better known by Marvin Gaye later in 1968) would set the stage for their 1970s hits, most notably "Midnight Train to Georgia."
- The Supremes: In the early 1960s, this Detroit-based girl group fronted by Diana Ross (with Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson joining in) struggled to find that breakthrough hit. No fewer than five singles had been released from 1960-1963, with only the fifth of them barely making a dent in the song "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes," which reached No. 29. That was the group's first top 30 hit, but the follow-up, "Run, Run, Run," fared far worse. Before Motown Records could run, run, run from Diana, Florence and Mary, the group released the latest sure dud single, "Where Did Our Love Go." But this was no dud ... but rather, the song that finally caught on. Less than two months after its release, instead of finding itself at the bottom of the discount bargain bin at record stores, "Where Did Our Love Go" went straight to No. 1 and in addition to being the breakthrough, led to the most successful girl group of the 1960s. (Florence later left, replaced by Cindy Birdsong.)
- As far as Diana Ross goes, after departing the Supremes in January 1970, as "Someday We'll Be Together" was at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, she had a very lucrative solo career (musically and acting, and many TV appearances). Her first solo hit, "Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand" was a top 20 hit in the late spring of 1970 and has been closely tied to her career, but what really made her star was her dramatic redo of the Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrill smash "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."
- Chris Brown: "Run It!".
- Ray Charles: "I Got a Woman." It introduced his revolutionary fusion of R&B with Gospel, which would later become the Soul genre, and was his first #1 on the R&B chart.
- Pat Benatar: Probably the most successful female hard rock artist of the 1980s, and one of the few solo female artists to consistently be played on classic rock stations, the queen of hard rock had to suffer a "Heartbreaker" to score her first really big hit in early 1980. Bigger hits followed: "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," "Treat Me Right," "Fire and Ice," "Love is a Battlefield," and so on. Being an early staple artist of the fledgling MTV (the music-intensive cable television network debuted in mid-summer 1981) definitely helped.
- Rick Springfield: Although he peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the folkish "Speak to the Sky" in 1972, the song sounds nothing like the song most regard as his true breakthrough hit "Jessie's Girl," from 1981. In fact, given that most of Springfield's later hits had the power pop sound of "Jessie's Girl," fans generally are unaware that "Speak to the Sky" was ever associated with him (although he does still perform the song in concert, albeit in his trademark power-pop arrangement).
- Fleetwood Mac: Hardcore fans knew this Anglo-American band as a British blues-oriented rock group, featuring the two men whose names make up the band's name (Mick Fleetwood and John McVie). Formed in 1967, they had major success in Great Britain but, except for a few alternative stations, weren't really that well known in the United States. That is, until 1975 when the band — with newcomer members Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks having joined the fold (Christine McVie came on board in 1970) — the band released an album, titled, appropriately enough, Fleetwood Mac. This new album showcased their pop-oriented sound, and featured their U.S. Top 40 radio breakthrough songs, starting off with "Over My Head," "Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win)" and "Say You Love Me." Christine McVie at one point retired but has since returned, and Buckingham and Nicks also briefly left the group at various times, but for the most part the five core members of Fleetwood Mac's success has remained intact.
- Elvis Presley: It really depends on what one defines as "breakthrough." In 1955, he was charting only on the country chart with songs like "Mystery Train" and "That's Alright, Mama," and at the end of the year was climbing the charts with his first No. 1 country hit, "I Forgot to Remember to Forget." All of those titles were for the Sun Records label legendary performances to be sure from the King of Rock and Roll. But then in 1956, he signed with RCA, released a cover of a Mae Axton-penned tune called "Heartbreak Hotel" and his career broke wide (and it really is wide) open.
- The Beatles: They got their start in the United Kingdom, and had several huge British hits prior to their little trip overseas to the American shores. Their first hit in their homeland was "Love Me Do," a top 20 hit on the UK chart in the fall of 1962. Their second hit, "Please Please Me" in the winter of 1963, reached No. 1 in the UK, but when released in the United States at about the same time, few people did more than shrug their shoulders. Then came January 1964, the release of "I Want to Hold Your Hand," and some exposure on The Ed Sullivan Show ... and an incredible musical legacy that had been sewn in England finally took root in North America, and popular music was changed forever. (By the way, "Please Please Me" was re-released in the U.S., and this time skyrocketed to No. 3, held out by "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You.")
- As solo artists, the breakthroughs for the Fab Four:
- John Lennon: "Give Peace a Chance" (1969) or "Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)" (1970); both were top 10 hits, but the latter is far-better remembered today.
- Paul McCartney: Either "Another Day" or "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey," both 1971 and from his album Ram. Although "Another Day" was a top 5 hit in the spring of 1971, "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" — and not just because it was his first solo No. 1 — is far better known.
- George Harrison: "My Sweet Lord." Reaching No. 1 the day after Christmas 1970, he was the first Beatle to have a solo No. 1 hit. (Incidentally, 17 years later, he was the last to have a solo No. 1, with "Got My Mind Set on You.") As a member of the Beatles, the first song that really got him noticed was something called ... well ... "Something," the flip side of "Come Together."
- Ringo Starr: "It Don't Come Easy," from the spring of 1971. Although the song was not his first single release — that honor goes to "Beaucoups of Blues" a year earlier, shortly after the breakup of the Beatles — this was his first legitimate hit. Ringo, incidentally, was the last Beatle to taste individual success, but for a time in the 1970s, he was more consistently successful than Paul.
- Motorhead: Ace Of Spades.
- Genesis: Although they had a top 25 hit with "Follow You, Follow Me" in 1978, there was no "Misunderstanding" this English band's true breakthrough came in 1980.
- Phil Collins: Collins, the most successful solo member of the group, broke through in 1981 with "In the Air Tonight."
- Slayer: Reign In Blood. Before that, they were just another thrash act. Afterwords, they were one of the thrash acts alongside Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax.
- The Kinks: "You Really Got Me". Prior to this, they had two unsuccessful singles.
- Elton John: Self-Titled Album and "Your Song" were his breakthroughs. His first album Empty Sky, which was released under his real name Reginald Dwight, was unsuccessful.
- Bruce Springsteen: Born To Run." Although he never had a Top 10 hit until 1980's "Hungry Heart," his 1975 debut hit which sputtered out at No. 23 remains got him on the covers of Time and Newsweek (the same week), resulted in a parody of both the singer (Bruce Stringbean and the S Street Band) and song ("Born to Add") on Sesame Street'' and remains a staple of oldies and classic hits station playlists.
- Pink Floyd The album The Dark Side of the Moon. For a specific song, "Money" is probably the best fit. They did have a couple of UK hits in the late '60s, but they're mostly forgotten today.
- Billy Joel: "Piano Man." His first top 10 hit was 1977's "Just The Way You Are."
- The Moody Blues: Days of Future Passed.
- Jethro Tull: Aqualung''.
- Korn: Follow the Leader.
- Linkin Park: Hybrid Theory.
- Limp Bizkit: Significant Other.
- Electric Wizard: Dopethrone.
- New Order: "Blue Monday", "True Faith" and Substance in the U.S.
- Pentagram: The compilation First Daze Here: The Vintage Collection is the closest they'll probably ever get to this trope.
- Supertramp: Their first two albums were commercial failures, and then Crime of the Century was released to commercial and critical acclaim, with "Dreamer" being a major hit.
- David Bowie: 1972's "Starman", a last-minute addition to The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (because RCA wanted a song they could push as a single), finally established him as a topflight act after four previous albums and only one Top 5 hit — he'd been recording since 1964. Of course, that previous top 5 hit, "Space Oddity," is one of his best-known songs.
- Opeth: Blackwater Park.
- Black Sabbath: Paranoid.
- Led Zeppelin: "Whole Lotta Love".
- AC/DC: "Highway to Hell".
- Deep Purple: "Hush" was their first hit, but "Smoke on the Water" was the song that established their legacy.
- Yes: The Yes Album was their first album to have significant sales, and their only single from that album, "Your Move", was also their first song to make the top-40 in the US. It also established their symphonic-prog rock sound that they would become known for.
- The Red Hot Chili Peppers: They first started to chart in the US with Knock Me Down, worldwide with their cover of Stevie Wonder's Higher Ground, and became superstars after a label change and Blood Sugar Sex Magik, which spawned the inescapable crossover smash "Under the Bridge".
- Nirvana: "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and its parent album Nevermind.
- Alice in Chains: Their single "Man in the Box", which brought them into MTV's Buzz Bin and served as one of the heralds of the imminent alternative explosion. The following year brought them even more critical and commercial success with their sophomore album Dirt.
- Nine Inch Nails: Pretty Hate Machine, which hit the top 100 on Billboard's album charts in fall of '91, almost two years after its release, thanks to Lollapalooza exposure and "Head Like a Hole" being added to MTV's Buzz Bin. The next few years saw their star rise, with the '92 EP Broken debuting at #6 and the Downward Spiral bowing at #2 and making a bonafide star of Trent Reznor.
- Pearl Jam: The band might as well be one for Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, who came out of Mother Love Bone.
- '''Soundgarden: They were the first Seattle band to score a major label deal, and gained exposure in the grunge explosion of '91, but their big breakthrough came in '94 thanks to "Superunknown".
- Metallica: They had reached the top 30 with "Master of Puppets", but their mainstream success begun with "One" (which was even their first music video), and the top 10 album that yielded it, "...And Justice for All".
- Green Day: They first rose to fame at the height of the Alternative Rock craze of the 90's with their album Dookie, and it was specifically "When I Come Around" that broke them in a big way to general pop audiences. However, it was not until the success of American Idiot, specifically "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," that Green Day transitioned from a popular rock radio act to mainstream music icons. Fortunately, this hasn't created false perceptions that American Idiot is their debut album, since at the very least "Good Riddance" is as well-known among the greater public as their mid-'00s hits.
- The Offspring: Smash, and its lead single "Come Out and Play."
- Cannibal Corpse: Tomb of the Mutilated.
- Judas Priest: Screaming for Vengeance, specifically the single "You've Got Another Thing Comin'."
- Dragonforce: "Through the Fire and the Flames" and only after its appearance in Guitar Hero.
- REM: While their first albums had some popularity, particularly on college radio, they only broke into the mainstream with "The One I Love".
- 311 311: "Down," in 1995.
- Megadeth: Countdown to Extinction.
- Pantera: Vulgar Display of Power.
- Sepultura: Beneath the Remains for the metal community; Roots for the mainstream.
- Queen: Averted. While Bohemian Rhapsody from A Night at the Opera was very successful and in hindsight seems to have caused the band's popularity, they'd actually had several lesser hits all along their earlier career and already had an audience.
- Nickelback: And how. "How You Remind Me", a song by an unlikely small-time Canadian hard rock band with no mainstream hits in any country, shot to US No. 1 and became the biggest-selling song of the year 2002, securing them a career for the rest of the decade. "Leader of Men" was a top 10 hit on rock radio, but received very little alternative radio play and did not chart on the Hot 100.
- Iron Maiden: The Number Of The Beast. Specifically, the title track and "Run to the Hills".
- If AllMusic's "album pick" for an artist isn't a Greatest Hits Album, it's usually one of these.
- Journey: Originally this band was an experimental prog-rock band called "The Dead on Steroids". With the addition of the talented Steve Perry in 1977, they recorded the album Infinity, and its lead single "Wheel in the Sky" cemented them as an enduring sound of their time.
- Aerosmith: "Dream On." According to Steven Tyler, he was insecure about how his voice sounded on tape with all other songs on their debut Self-Titled Album, and he decided to use his "real" voice for this "Dream On." It paid off, and it's now one of their signature hits and a staple of classic rock radio. As mainstream acts, the album Toys in the Attic and "Walk This Way" broke through past core rock stations and into mainstream radio.
- U2: They started with a few low-charting singles, most notably "I Will Follow" from Boy, but the album that brought them into prominence was the politically-minded War, which had their first successful single internationally: "New Year's Day." However, the song didn't really catch on in the U.S., in where "Pride (In the Name of Love)" brought them to the top 40 and "With or Without You" to the top 10.
- Evanescence: After releasing a few demos, this gothic alt-metal band released the full studio album Fallen, and its single "Bring Me to Life" became on of the biggest hits of the Nu Metal era.
- Paramore: They first exploded onto the modern rock scene with "Misery Business", the lead single from their second album Riot!, and established themselves as a band with a bright future. Eventually, after a shift from their Emo/Pop Punk style to a pure Pop Rock/Power Pop style, their fourth album Paramore and its single "Still Into You" established them on the pop charts (also leading to inevitable cries of "sellout").
- Rammstein: "Du Hast" and its parent album, Sehnsucht.
- Kate Bush: "Wuthering Heights". Hounds of Love and "Running Up That Hill" were her American breakthrough.
- Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat for Andrew Lloyd Webber.
- Tancredi for Gioachino Rossini.
- Nabucco for Giuseppe Verdi.
- Rodgers and Hart made their breakthrough with Garrick Gaieties, a 1925 revue that began as a benefit concert put on to furnish the Theater Guild's new home.
- Rienzi was Richard Wagner's third opera and the first to be produced to success. Wagner later disowned it, however.
- Le Cirque Rιinventι for Cirque du Soleil. In hindsight, this show (the company's third) has a lot of Early Installment Weirdness, being conceptually simple compared to what followed, but it was their first show to tour beyond Canada and served as an introduction to the contemporary circus genre for U.S. audiences who mostly knew only the (at the time) fairly stale traditional style performed by Ringling Bros. and the like.
- Cabaret for John Kander and Fred Ebb, and Harold Prince as a director. (Prince had been previously involved with the hit shows The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, West Side Story, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Fiddler on the Roof, but only on the producing side.)
- Brigadoon for Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.
- Jerome Kern's songs for the 1914 musical The Girl from Utah moved him into the top tier of Broadway songwriters. Ironically, he wasn't the principal songwriter, which he had been on two less successful previous musicals, though a new Medley Overture was devoted to his interpolated songs.
- Peter Grimes for Benjamin Britten.
- Agnes de Mille had her first major success on the ballet stage with Rodeo, and shortly thereafter made the breakthrough in musical theatre which had previously eluded her with Oklahoma!.
- Manon Lescaut for Giacomo Puccini.
- Beyond the Horizon for Eugene O'Neill.
- All My Sons for Arthur Miller.
- Oklahoma! for Rodgers and Hammerstein. The two writers were known independently beforehand for productions such as Show Boat (for Hammerstein) and A Connecticut Yankee (for Rodgers), then Oklahoma! ensured that the two creators would be inseparable in public knowledge from then on.
- West Side Story for Stephen Sondheim.
Sony Computer Entertainment
Microsoft Game Studios
Other Publishers and Developers
- Alex Kidd In Miracle World became the breakthrough hit for Sega in Europe, Australia and Brazil, where the Master System might even have outsold the NES. It is however the original Sonic the Hedgehog that made Sega popular in the US and was the title that was sold with the Genesis and even then it took Sega to make Virtua Fighter in order to have any sort of popularity in Japan since that particular game was the one that sold the Sega Saturn there.
- Half-Life for Valve Software.
- Final Fantasy I for Square. It was originally titled as such because it was thought the company would go under after making the game. As of this writing, the series is in its fourteenth edition, with many different branches and spin-off series.
- Final Fantasy VII was even more of a breakthrough, since that game took the Final Fantasy franchise from popular-but-cult to international JRPG phenomenon (it was the first installment released in Europe, as the series had been virtually unknown in that territory up until that point). FFVII was also the breakthrough of character designer Tetsuya Nomura.
- Dragon Quest I for Enix, the JRPG juggernaut's other half.
- Warcraft: Orcs and Humans for Blizzard Entertainment. You could make an argument for World of Warcraft, as well.
- Bejeweled for PopCap Games.
- Spyro the Dragon for Insomniac Games.
- Disgaea: Hour of Darkness for Nippon Ichi Software.
- Mega Man 2 for Capcom (and Keiji Inafune) on home consoles, and Street Fighter II in arcades.
- Mega Man Zero for Inti Creates, a studio created by former Capcom employees.
- Rayman for Ubisoft (and Michel Ancel).
- Batman: Arkham Asylum for Rocksteady Studios.
- Viewtiful Joe for Clover Studios.
- Bayonetta for Platinum Games, Clover's successor studio.
- Scribblenauts for 5th Cell.
- Worms for Team17.
- Ninja Gaiden (the NES/Famicom game, not the arcade game) for Tecmo.
- Nobunaga's Ambition for Koei.
- Space Invaders for Taito Corporation.
- Pac-Man for Namco.
- Borderlands for Gearbox Software.
- Lunar: The Silver Star for Working Designs.
- Grand Theft Auto III for Take-Two Interactive's Rockstar Games branch, less than two months ahead of Max Payne. They've had many modest hits prior to GTA 3 including its direct predecessor, but none of them have made a fraction of 3's cultural impact.
- Command & Conquer for Westwood Studios.
- Baldur's Gate for Bioware.
- Persona for Atlus in Japan, Persona 3 worldwide.
- Contra for Konami on home consoles, its fame owed mainly to a certain cheat code in the NES version. Castlevania was a cult hit at the time, and the franchise never became super-popular until long after Contra.
- Gex for Crystal Dynamics.
- Tomb Raider for Eidos Interactive.
- Pitfall for Activision in the Atari 2600 era, and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater in the PlayStation era. Call of Duty provided the company with yet another breakthrough.
- Dark Cloud for Level-5.
- R-Type for Irem.
- Harvest Moon for Natsume.
- The .hack Conglomerate for CyberConnect2.
- Guilty Gear X2 for Arc System Works.
- BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger for Aksys Gamesnote .
- Mortal Kombat (1992) for Midway Games. It was one of the most popular and best-selling games of the 1990s, and also one of the most controversial, directly leading to the creation of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.
- The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind for Bethesda Softworks. Oblivion and Skyrim took the franchise to even greater fame afterwards.
- Gunstar Heroes for Treasure.
- Shining Force for Camelot Software Planningnote .
- Odin Sphere for Vanillaware.
- The King of Fighters '94 for SNK. Its popularity surpassed the games it was spun off from (Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting) and quickly became a recognizable franchise of its own.
- Drakengard for Cavia.
- Dark Souls for From Software.
- Bomberman for Hudson Soft.
- Pong for Atari.
- IL-2 Sturmovik for 1C Company.
- The Zen Pinball/Pinball FX collection for Zen Studios.
- The Unreal series, specifically Unreal Tournament, for Epic Games.
- Wolfenstein 3D and Doom for id Software (and two of its producers, John Romero and John Carmack).
- Duke Nukem 3D for 3D Realms.
- The Madden NFL series eventually became this for Electronic Arts, as it wasn't until the 2000s that the series became synonymous with football in video games.
- Fate/stay night for Type-Moon.
- Maniac Mansion for LucasArts.
- Crysis for Crytek. Far Cry, the studio's previous game, was also a hit, but Crysis made Crytek well-known for pushing the boundaries of PC graphical hardware.
- FreQuency and Amplitude brought Harmonix into the gaming business, but it was their first entry in the Guitar Hero franchise that made them a household name in the Rhythm Game genre.
- King's Quest for Sierra.
- MapleStory for Nexon.
- Ragnarok Online for Gravity.
- DoDonPachi for Cave.
- Pokιmon Red and Blue for Game Freak. The company produced a few games before Pokιmon (and a few after), many of which have faded into obscurity.
- Operation Flashpointnote for Bohemia Interactive.
- The Sam & Max: Freelance Police episodic series proved to be very successful for Telltale Games, inspiring two additional "seasons." A few years later, their award-winning adaptation of The Walking Dead would give them even further fame.
- Lineage for NC Soft in its native South Korea, and City of Heroes and Guild Wars overseas.
- The Longest Journey for Funcom.
- Magicka for Paradox Interactive.
- WCW vs. nWo: World Tour for THQ.
- The Witcher for CD Projekt RED.
- Super Stardust HD for Housemarque.
- No One Lives Forever for Monolith Productions (not to be confused with Monolith Soft above).
- Earthworm Jim for Shiny Entertainment.
- Just Cause 2 for Avalanche Studios.
- Max Payne for Remedy Entertainment.
Western Animation (excluding Film)
- Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies:
- Porky Pig, introduced in 1935's "I Haven't Got a Hat," was their breakthrough star. Incidentally, Porky wasn't the main star of this film: the twin dog duo of Ham and Ex (who sing the title theme), were earmarked as the future stars of Warner Bros. cartoons.
- Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd: "A Wild Hare," released in 1940. Earlier cartoons had templates of both characters, but this was the first film to feature official versions of the iconic cartoon stars.
- Daffy Duck: "Porky's Duck Hunt" from 1937, in which he was a supporting character who drove Porky Pig nuts.
- Sylvester the Cat: Although his first film was "Life With Feathers" (where a suicidal bird tries to get eaten but the cat refusing because he thinks he's poison), it was the puddy tat's pairing with a certain yellow, blue-eyed canary the Tweety Bird, in "Tweetie Pie" that made our hapless, lisping black-and-white cat a star.
- Foghorn Leghorn: The loud-mouthed rooster's breakthrough was "Walky Talky Hawky."
- Tex Avery: his first big hit was his 6th short "I Love to Singa" (1936).
- Bob Clampett: his first big hit was "Porky in Wackyland" (1938).
- Steamboat Willie for Walt Disney.
- Woody Woodpecker for the Walter Lantz cartoon studio.
- Rugrats for Klasky-Csupo studios and Nicktoons on Nickelodeon.
- Dexter's Laboratory for Genndy Tartakovsky, and Craig McCracken as a writer.
- The Powerpuff Girls for Craig McCracken as a producer, also giving a start to Lauren Faust as a writer and director.
- The Fairly OddParents for Nickelodeon animator Butch Hartman.
- Batman: The Animated Series for Alan Burnett, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm.
- Gargoyles for Greg Weisman.
- John Kricfalusi had a long career before then, but The Ren & Stimpy Show is what made him truly famous.
- The Simpsons for Matt Groening and for the Fox network.
- South Park for Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
- Family Guy for Seth MacFarlane. It also gave a start for Dan Povenmire via its "Road To" episodes.
- Johnny Bravo for Van Partible. It also gave a start to the aforementioned Seth MacFarlane and Butch Hartman (as well as Steve Marmel) in the art of writing.
- Ben 10 for Man of Action.
- Gerald McBoing-Boing for UPA.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and/or Transformers Prime for The Hub network.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender for Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante Di Martino. It also gave a start for Dave Filoni (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) and Giancarlo Volpe (Green Lantern: The Animated Series).
- Ducktales for Walt Disney Television Animation.
- Sixteen for Fresh TV.
- Gravity Falls for Alex Hirsch.
- Inspector Gadget for DiC Entertainment.
- Doug for Jumbo Pictures.
- Recess for Paul Germain, Joe Ansolabehere, and One Saturday Morning.
- Wolverine and the X-Men for Christopher Yost.
- The Spectacular Spider-Man for Victor Cook and Andrew Robinson.
- Regular Show for JG Quintel.
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold for James Tucker and Michael Jelenic.
- Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated for Mitch Watson.
- Green Lantern: The Animated Series for Jim Krieg.
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars for Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching, Katie Lucas, Matt Michnovetz and Brent Friedman.
- Adventure Time for Pendleton Ward.
- The Flintstones for Hanna-Barbera.