This list started out as a list of big breakout albums, the album that broke a band into the charts and got them noticed - finally. After struggling for many years, the band makes it big with this album. To qualify, they had to have struggled with at least 2 albums that didn't bring them fame.
Then we notice an incredible number of bands made it big on their 4th album! That was a weird coincidence, likely due to the fact that record companies used to sign bands to a 4 album deal. If they didn't make it in 3, the 4th had to chart or they would be dropped. That pressure seemed to have worked time and again! This phenomenon happened most often in the 70s. Nowadays, bands only get 1 album and then are dropped if it doesn't go gold. Quick money has ruined the record industry. But... we still have the past. Here are the biggest breakout albums that were a band's fourth:
1 - Queen - A Night at the Opera. (1975) While their 2nd album, Queen II, was a masterpiece, it only was appreciated years later. Yes, their third Sheer Heart Attack finally charted. But it was their 4th, A Night at the Opera that rocketed Queen to superstardom, largely thanks to Bohemian Rhapsody.
2 - Jethro Tull - Aqualung. (1974) The band enjoyed a great deal of fame in the UK before this, and a modicum of airplay in the US, but it was this fourth album that made they globally famous. Aqualung became one of the biggest albums of all time and is remembered to this day. It also set the stage for their next, Thick As A Brick, which went to #1 worldwide.
3 - Kansas - Leftoverture. (1976) After three relatively unnoticed LPs, Kansas released #4 with "Carry On Our Wayward Son." It became one of the biggest albums of the 70s.
4 - Journey - Infinity, broke the Top 20 after the addition of Steve Perry on Vocals. "Wheel in The Sky" got a lot of FM airplay. It would take a few years before Escape took them to #1, but Infinity saved the band.
5 - Rush - 2112. (1976) The record company was so disappointed with the sales of Rush albums, they said they planned to drop them unless they had a hit on the 4th album. They refused to give in to pop, and did a prog rock album they could be proud of. Surprisingly, despite no single, the album charted and made them famous. This lef next to A Farewell to Kings, which rocketed to the Top 10.
6 - Cheap Trick - Dream Police. It was a smash hit in 1979 and pushed the band to the Top 10.
7 - Soundgarden - Superunknown. Released in 1994, it finally took them to #1 and was their 4th album.
8 - AC/DC - Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976) After 3 failed albums, the band shot to #3 on the Billboard Charts in the US with this album, including the title track single and "Jailbreak" that hit the Top 40. After a lineup change, they went gold.
9 - Metallica - And Justice for All (1988) finally brought them into the Top 40 and saved their record deal. While many say it was an uninteresting album, you can't deny it got them into the spotlight.
10 - Kiss - Destroyer was their fourth LP and took them from the bottom of the charts to the Top 20 thanks to a ballad called "Beth." They were inches from failure and cancellation but were saved by a ballad. Irony.
- Also check out the Top20 Debut Albums of all Time on Top2040.com
Below are big breakout albums from rock bands where it was not their Fourth:
Styx - The Grand Illusion was a monster hit with "Come Sail Away" one of the most played songs on ehr radio that year. It was their 6th album, their 3rd with A&M, and their 2nd with Tommy Shaw. After floundering for years and losing more than one record deal, they brought Shaw on board and shot to the Top 40 with Crystal Ball. But the follow-up, The Grand Illusion took them to the Top.
Bon Jovi - Slippery When Wet, their third LP went #1 after years of struggling.
Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon was a monumental hit after many albums that barely reached the charts at all.
ELO - A New World Record and Out of the Blue were their 6th and 7th and took them into the Top 10.
Bob Segar - Face the Promise, his 6th LP, went to Top 10, after a decade of no hits and raking the bottom of the charts.
Pantera - Far Beyond Driven went to #1 after 4 failed albums and a 5th that almost charted. Suddenly, bam! they zoomed to the top with this breakout album.
R.E.M. - Out of Time reached #1 in 1991, after six failed albums and a small fan base. Success took a long time, but it finally came thanks to the smash single "Losing My Religion" that had regular play on MTV.