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The late giants of rock: Legacy of pop's tragic stars

Two months after Charlie Haddon plunged to his death, his band's new album, released today, is set for large sales
  • @emilydugan

Musicians die, music lives for ever, goes the received wisdom. Rock history is replete with artists who did not live to get old but refuse to fade away: Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Eva Cassidy to name but a few.

Charlie Haddon, lead singer of the north London band Ou Est Le Swimming Pool, was an unlikely candidate to join what Cobain's mother called "that stupid club" of stars who are – to put it crudely – worth more dead than alive. But in August, Haddon fell to his death from a telephone mast after a gig in Belgium, aged just 22.

Thanks to the coverage of the tragedy, the release of their album today will almost certainly get the type of attention and sales that previously the group could only have dreamed of.

The chances are that if Haddon had not died as he did few of us would know, or care, anything about Ou Est Le Swimming Pool, a synth pop band in the guitar age. But the same is true of Cassidy, Nick Drake and, to a degree, Jeff Buckley.

Formed in 2008, the band had yet to release an album and was supporting better-known artists such as La Roux and Example. Today, however, record shops are bringing in extra stock to prepare for an anticipated increase in demand for the album, The Golden Year.

While this may appear callous, on past experience it is simply prudent, as the relationship between death and music is undeniable.

Michael Jackson's music made more money ($1bn) in the 12 months after his death last year than during his whole 40-year career. On a less stratospheric level, sales of Nirvana's last album, In Utero, more than doubled in the week after lead singer Kurt Cobain killed himself.

Before Cassidy's death in 1996 she was little known outside of Washington DC, but her posthumous albums have sold more than eight million copies. And when the rapper The Notorious B.I.G was killed, aged 24, in a drive-by shooting, his album Life After Death was released just 15 days later and went straight to No 1 in the US.

Gennaro Castaldo, an HMV spokesman, confirmed its stores had increased orders of The Golden Year. "We do get this emotional response when people die, and people will go and buy a CD."

A spokeswoman for Ou Est Le Swimming Pool said that it had been a tough decision to release the album. "Of course there's more coverage because of what happened, so inevitably it will be more high profile than it would have been. The band sat down with Charlie's family, who all agreed that's what Charlie would have wanted."

Jamie Fullerton, the news editor of music magazine NME said: "They say life brings out the best in people and death the worst. But any posthumous commercial spike from an artist is usually down to cynical marketing rather than mortality – as the multi-million-pound record deals signed pretty much while Michael Jackson's cheeks were still warm demonstrate."

It remains to be seen whether Haddon's place in musical history will echo those of Notorious and Cassidy or will be summed up in a Wikipedia footnote. But his contemporaries will gather to remember him at a charity concert, called Chazzstock, at Koko in Camden, north London, tomorrow. The gig, in aid of the mental health charity Mind, will feature artists such as the Kooks, and former Spandau Ballet singer Tony Hadley.

Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, 27

Died April 1994 by shooting himself in the head.

Cobain, the troubled lead singer of Nirvana, became an icon for the slacker generation. Painfully shy, he battled with a crippling heroin addiction. Songs such as 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' remained on heavy rotation on MTV in the early 90s.

Before death Sales in the hundreds of thousands.

After death Sales of all Nirvana's albums soared in the immediate aftermath of Cobain's death. Nevermind, recorded in 1991, has gone on to sell some 26 million copies worldwide since his death.

Jeff Buckley, 30

Died May 1997, drowning in the Wolf River, Mississippi.

Son of folk troubadour Tim Buckley, Jeff started his career playing in New York cafés. Soon after, major label success beckoned and he received critical acclaim for his debut album, Grace.

Before death Moderate success with Grace.

After death His haunting cover of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' reached No 1 in the US and No 2 in the UK. Other posthumous releases have renewed interest in his work.

Nick Drake, 26

Died November 1974 from an overdose of antidepressants.

The English singer-songwriter is best known for his sombre, acoustic guitar songs. Shy and awkward, he shunned the limelight and failed to find a wider audience during his short life.

Before death Small cult following.

After death Ranks among the most influential English singer-songwriters of the past 50 years. Volkswagen used the song 'Pink Moon' on a Cabrio advert and within a month Drake sold more records than he had in 30 years.

The Allman Brothers Band, Duane Allman, 24

Died October 1971 in a motorcycle accident.

Duane Allman established a fierce reputation as lead guitarist and as an in-demand session musician, recording 'Layla' with Eric Clapton.

Before death Modest success with the band's first two albums.

After death Eat a Peach reached No 4 on the Billboard chart in 1972.

Aaliyah, 22

Died August 2001 in a plane crash in the Bahamas.

Brooklyn-born Aaliyah was pushed into the entertainment business by her parents and dabbled in acting, modelling and singing from a very early age. She worked with Missy Elliott and Timbaland, as well as appearing in the martial arts flick Romeo Must Die.

Before death Good sales; eight million copies for her first album, One in a Million.

After death Album sales exploded. The single 'Rock the Boat' was released shortly after her death. Album sales now estimated to be between 24 million and 32 million worldwide.

Joy Division, Ian Curtis, 23

Committed suicide in May 1980.

Curtis was lead singer with Mancunian post-punk rockers Joy Division, known for his baritone vocals, gloomy demeanour and 'possessed' stage presence. Curtis's legacy remains strong due to songs such as 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' and 'Transmission'. The singer killed himself on the eve of what would have been the band's first US tour.

Before death Cult success in the UK, especially in their native Manchester.

After death The band's second album Closer quickly climbed through the charts in the months after Curtis's death, selling some 250,000 copies. Two biopics have also since been made, dramatising the band's history.

Eva Cassidy, 33

Died November 1996 from melanoma.

Cassidy had gained a small following due to her unique interpretations of folk, gospel, country and blues songs.

Before death Virtually unknown.

After death Her 11 posthumously released albums have sold more than eight million copies.

Michael Jackson, 50

Died June 2009 from drug-induced cardiac arrest.

Though Jackson was one of the most successful entertainers of all time, he waned towards the end of his career. Dogged by allegations of child abuse and financial difficulties, Jackson would never shift as many units as he did with the likes of Thriller.

Before death One of the most successful entertainers of all time.

After death Became the biggest-selling artist of 2009, selling 35 million albums. Has generated over $1bn in the past 12 months.

The Notorious B.I.G, 24

Died March 1997 after being shot in a drive-by shooting.

Rapper Christopher Wallace was the East Coast foil to the West Coast's Tupac Shakur. His album Ready to Die was the only one to be released while he was alive.

Before death Moderate acclaim.

After death Album Life After Death was released 15 days after his death and went to No 1 in the US. Has since had two further No 1 albums.

Patsy Cline, 30

Died March 1963 in a plane crash.

Cline was one of the greatest country singers of all time, known for her rich tone and hits such as 'I Fall to Pieces', but her popularity has grown even further since her death. Has influenced later generations of female singers, including kd lang and Linda Ronstadt. Her performance of 'Crazy', written by Willie Nelson, is regularly featured on movie soundtracks.

Before death Regular chart-topper in the country charts.

After death In 1973 she became the first female solo artist inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and Patsy Cline's Greatest Hits album, released in 1967, continues to appear in the country music charts.