“Don’t call it a comeback, I been here for years,” rapped LL Cool J on the smash 1990 single “Mama Said Knock You Out.” The song did indeed help kick off a new chapter for the pioneering rapper’s career, which continued to yield hits throughout the 1990s and beyond. Yet his words ring true in that his rapid return to the charts wasn’t one of the biggest comebacks in music history – which is littered with epic rises and falls. What’s important is that one keeps playing the game just as LL Cool J did when his momentum started to wane in the late 1980s.
So who did stage some of the biggest comebacks in music history? To determine the biggest comebacks in music history, 24/7 Tempo reviewed performance data for the top 40 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100. Artists were ranked based on the gap in time between the entrance of one Top 40 hit and the exit from the charts of their prior Top 40 hit. Holiday songs and older releases that became popular years after their initial release were not considered. Chart data is current through February 11, 2023. (These are examples of some classic songs that have returned to the Billboard Hot 100.)
Some of the artists on our list are relatively obvious, in that their descent into the abyss and meteoric return to the spotlight has become the stuff of legend. A quick example is Ozzy Osbourne, who’s staged not just one but multiple comebacks throughout his long career. (For comebacks in a different arena, read about the most unbelievable comebacks in sports history.)
On the less obvious side of the aisle are performers such as Carly Simon or Del Shannon, who remain synonymous with a specific musical era. Their purported “comebacks” are really more like late-stage flashes in the pan than they are full-blown career revivals. Nevertheless, the data has spoken and we’re certainly not trying to discredit their achievements.
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