Breakthrough, Bored, Genius: what else fits this pattern?

Can you please think of any other examples that fit this pattern, in any artistic or creative genre?

There’s a phenomenon I call BBG: Breakthrough, Bored, Genius.

Artist creates first big, popular breakthrough hit (book, album, whatever). The world loves it, everyone showers praise.

Artist delivers follow-up under some pressure. It’s not as good, or doesn’t meet with the same popular acclaim, and lots of people get bored and lose interest in the artist’s work at this point.

Artist, somewhat annoyed at the fickle public response, goes into “I’ll show them!” mode and delivers work #3, a piece of genius.

Example 1: Joseph Heller. Catch-22, Something Happened, Good As Gold.
Example 2: Mike Oldfield. Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge, Ommadawn.

Do you know any other examples of this pattern? In any artistic medium, any period?

Could probably think of dozens if I put my mind to it.

How about Paul Simon?

Even if you ignore the whole Simon and Garfunkle days, “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon” in 1973 was a pretty big hit. Followed by the somewhat lesser “Still Crazy After All These Years” and two large forgettable albums. Then he came out with “Graceland” in 1986, thirteen years after “Rhymin’ Simon”, and long after he had been dismissed as just another relic of the 70’s. “Graceland”, of course, went all sorts of platinum.

So essentially a sophomore slump with the added bonus of a great third thing…

Sam Raimi qualifies:
The Evil Dead - Crimewave - Evil Dead II

I’m sure there’s others, I just can’t of them right now.

John Travolta in the '70s.
John Travolta in the '80s.
John Travolta in the '90s.

Deep Purple might qualify. Their first single was “Hush” in 1968 which was a cover of a Billy Joe Royal song from 1967. A couple of other bands had also covered the song but it was the Deep Purple version which became a hit.

They followed it up with “Kentucky Woman” which was another cover (of a 1967 Neil Diamond song). This single did not do anywhere near as well.

Some people might have been writing the band off as a one-hit wonder that got lucky with one cover song. But then in 1973, the band released an original song* “Smoke on the Water” which became their biggest hit.

*Original if you ignore the fact they stole the opening guitar riff from “Maria Quiet”, a 1966 bossa nova song by Astrud Gilberto and Gil Evans.

One of the classic books on software engineering is “The Mythical Man-Month” by Fred Brooks. He has a chapter on The Second System effect (or something like that). He claims that it is pretty common in creative fields–the first work is controlled, spare, clean, creative; the second work is a hot mess.

Apple in the 80’s
Apple in the 90’s
Apple in the 00’s

Something Happened, while even more inaccessible than Catch-22, is arguably more brilliant in its portrayal of the inanities versus expectations of marriage and family. That it is not a novel I would care to read again does not detract from the genius behind it.


I quite agree. I read it from cover to cover and enjoyed it for many reasons. All I’m saying is that it didn’t receive anything like the same acclaim as C-22, and many people ‘switched off’ to Joseph Heller at that point, hence they missed out on the brilliance and wit of his next book.

Back to the Future Parts 1, 2, 3

In a completely unrelated field, Lockheed Aircraft had the beautiful and innovative Electra, followed with the derivative Lodestar, then came back with legendary Constellation. Douglas had a similar experience with the DC-3, the underrated DC-4, and the immensely successful DC-6.

Thank you for these examples, which come from a world I know nothing about. I’m interested in as many examples as possible, from as many different spheres as possible, so your contribution is very much appreciated.

Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, 3 fit this bill.

I was about to comment that this depends on whether you’re talking about the Japanese or US games…but I guess it doesn’t. Either “Super Mario Bros 2” is seen as a slump, although I’m one of the guys who will go on record absolutely loving the US SMB2.

Rabbit, Run
Rabbit Redux
Rabbit Is Rich

Related: Second Album Syndrome, which we used to call Second Album Crisis. Wiki has a listing of that under Sophomore slump. It captures the first 2 steps.

Plenty of bands were one hit or one album wonders. So methinks the OP reflects a winnowing process. Some people only have one work of art in them.

Touch of Grey was the Grateful Dead’s first Top Ten Single.

So all the rest of Updike’s many novels, written before, between, and after those (and, in some cases, better known than at least the latter two Rabbit books), are of no relevance to his creative trajectory?

And you forgot Rabbit at Rest.

Personally I enjoyed Rabit Redux more than Rabbit is Rich (but that may reflect more on where my life was at when I read them, more than on Updike, or the several works’ inherent merits).

Larry McMurtry may fall into this category. He had some early success with books like Terms of Endearment, and then not much. Then came Lonesome Dove, one of the greatest novels ever written, and easily (in my opinion) his best work.

Raiders of the Lost Arc
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

I would even expand Raimi’s career as:
“Evil Dead Trilogy”
“String of largely forgettable films and cheeseball syndicated Saturday afternoon sci fy fantasy shows on the WB network”
“Spider Man Trilogy”.

Please, Please Me
With the Beatles
A Hard Day’s Night