“Ain’t no grave can hold my body down,” Johnny Cash once sang. Truer words were never spoken — assuming he meant his body of work.
Proving yet again that death is seldom a bad career move in the music biz, the Man in Black is back with his latest posthumous album Out Among the Stars. Compiled by his son John Carter Cash and consisting of previously unreleased (and newly refurbished) recordings Cash made with countrypolitan producer Billy Sherrill in the ’80s, it’s just the latest of more than 300 — yes, 300 — archival releases, box sets and compilations issued in the decade since his death. And while Cash may be one of the busiest bodies in the biz, he’s far from alone. Here are five more artists who are even more prolific in death than they were in life:
Died: Aug. 6, 1977
Posthumous Output: 900 albums
The King is dead. Long live the King. More than 35 years after he left the building, Presley is one of the most dependable dead rockers. Thanks to the canny marketing of his estate and label, fans can count on annual archival releases around his birthday, the anniversary of his death and the holidays. To their credit, however, most of the official offerings are a cut above the usual cash-ins, expanding his historic albums, eras and shows with rare outtakes, video and first-rate packaging. To that, we can only say: Thangya. Thangyavurrymush.
BUY: 2010’s Complete Elvis Presley Masters, a 30-CD set with all his recordings, including 103 rarities.
Died: Sept. 18, 1970
Posthumous Output: 300 albums
Have you ever been expropriated? Jimi has. When the guitar god choked on his own vomit, vultures were quick to pick his musical bones. Studio tapes, live jams, demos and pre-fame fare flooded the market willy-nilly in cobbled-together releases — some with session musicians overdubbing the bass and drum parts. Jimi’s family won the rights to his music in 1995 and have righted the ship with the help of long-time producer Eddie Kramer, re-releasing Hendrix’s music with the respect it deserves and allowing new generations to experience him properly.
BUY: 2010’s West Coast Seattle Boy: The Jimi Hendrix Anthology, a career-spanning box of rare recordings.
Died: Aug. 9, 1995
Posthumous Output: 150 albums
Deadheads have ample reason to be grateful. Although guitar guru Garcia died nearly two decades ago from a heart attack in a rehab facility, the band’s long strange trip keeps on trucking via countless live albums, due to their liberal taping policy and seemingly bottomless archives. What non-Deadheads may not know, however, is that Garcia also had a prolific career outside the Dead, fronting his own band, collaborating with several prominent musicians — and apparently never playing a note he didn’t record.
BUY: 2001’s The Golden Road and 2004’s Beyond Description, two box sets housing the Dead’s official output from 1965 to ’89.
Died: Sept. 13, 1996
Posthumous Output: 50 albums
Thug life didn’t end so well for Shakur. Death is another story. Mere weeks after his fatal drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, the revered rapper’s first posthumous album arrived. It was followed by a half-dozen more, each more depressing than the last, as producers cut, pasted and manipulated leftover vocal snippets with new music. Thankfully, there hasn’t been a release since 2006, suggesting the barrel may have finally been scraped dry. More good news: The Shakur hologram that appeared at 2012’s Coachella festival hasn’t been seen since.
BUY: 1998’s two-disc Greatest Hits compilation.
Died: Dec. 4, 1993
Posthumous Output: 30 albums
Only in it for the money? Not the Zappa Family Trust. Granted, the necessity of releasing dozens of albums by the Mothers of Inventions’ prolific iconoclast — who died of prostate cancer at age 52 — may be debatable. But there’s no questioning the quality of the product that continues to poot forth from the vast archive of Zappa’s Utility Muffin Research Kitchen; the majority of the releases consist of previously unreleased, high-quality studio and live recordings that are welcome additions to any fan’s collection.
BUY: 2011’s Carnegie Hall, a quadruple-live album of two stellar 1971 shows.