Sophomore Slump? The best 2nd albums of all time

Some pretentious wanker once said that you have your whole life to write your first album, and six months to write the second. Certainly, there are many examples of brilliant first efforts that were followed by total duds. Fortunately, it sometimes works the other way. Some bands manage to put out second albums that make the first seem like a rough draft. The second album comes, well, closer to that to which the first aspired.

Joy Division: Closer
Released in July 1980, it is easily the best rock album of that lamentable decade. Closer improved upon Joy Division’s excellent first album; and, unfortunately, inspired countless incompetent imitations.

Ramones: Leave Home
This wasn’t the epochal event that their first album was, but I like the production better on this one. There’s not a bad track on here. This is everything that hard rock album should be.

Roxy Music: For Your Pleasure
I love this record. In fact, everybody can love this record. It doesn’t matter if you are a highly educated onetime punk rocker who spent his youth engaged in bloody fist fights against gangs of Nazi skinheads outside of Black Flag gigs, or if you are a pathetic baseball cap wearing whitebread prog rock loser who spent his youth holding up a lighter at concerts by such luminaries as Gentle Giant. Nope, it doesn’t matter.
Some more beuaties...

Blondie - Plastic Letters
Bruce Springsteen - The Wild, The Innocent & The E St. Shuffle
Martin Sexton - Black Sheep

Cheers, Spencer
no other comes close--led zep 2nd
Johnny Winter - Second Winter
Stevie Ray Vaughan - Couldn't Stand The Weather
Melvin Taylor - I'll Play The Blues For You

Led Zepplin II
Lynard Skynard- Second Helping
Aerosmith- Get Your Wings
The Allman Brothers- Live at the Fillmore East
Black Sabbath- Paranoid
Cream- Disraeli Gears

-One of the largest disparities between one and two is My Bloody Valentine's This is Your My Bloody Valentine and Isn't Anything.

-Smashing Pumpkins' Gish and Siamese Dream. I have a soft theory that if Siamese Dream came first, the Pumpkins wouldn't be in their historical backseat to Nirvana.

-Curve. I like their fist and second equally, but probably a better case for quality can be made for Cuckoo, which even the band likes better.

Elvis Costello-This Year's Model
Steely Dan - Countdown to Ecstasy

Mahavishnu Orchestra (John McLaughlin) - Birds of Fire
Jeff Airplane, Surrealistic Pillow
Big Brother, Cheap Thrills
Santana, Abraxas
ANY Beatles.
I second "Led Zeppelin II" and add Radiohead's "The Bends" and Lou Reed's "Transformer."
a bit obvious, but the Clash, London Calling
also, Wilco, Being There
I would nominate Bob Dylan's first two:

"Bob Dylan" followed by "Freewheelin'"... the first being adequate, while the second is a classic.
Queen, Queen II, quantum jump in sophistication from the first album, all the elements were there in the first one, but didn't really come together until II. Also Be-Bop Deluxe, Futurama, the first one (Axe Victim) while good, was pretty straightforward rock.
Shersta, London Calling is The Clash's third album!
Give 'Em Enough Rope was the second and was largely dismissed at the time.

I would also agree with The Bends and Queen 2 and Dylan as Christopher points out.

It's also good to see that The Beatles are so good any of their records could be considered to be their second... now that is magic.

blues travelor- travelors and thieves

melissa etheridge- brave and crazy

jetrho tull - stand up
slam dunk if you're over 50--cream: disraeli gears..seeing clapton live at this time was about the best live show i've seen..

You're right! I had completely forgotten a completely forgettable album. Though now as I think about it some more, I guess you could argue that London Calling was the Clash's 4th album (the UK version of their first, followed by Give 'em Enough Rope, followed by the US version of their first [which had some different songs]).
Deju Vu - CSN&Y - not saying the first was a dud, it sure wasn't but again, Neil Young wasn't on the first, so the second was a bit more creative IMO.

Another "ditto" for Led II
Jimi Hendrix ,Axis Bold as Love
PearlJam's "Vs." was a sweet follow-up.

Nirvana's "Nevermind."
Rush Fly By Night
The Police Reggatta de Blanc
Emerson, Lake and Palmer "Tarkus"
The Yes Album
A few that came to mind: Bruce Springsteen's The Wild, The Innocent, and the E-Street Shuffle; Chicago second release; Allman Bros. Idlewild South; Neil Young's Everybody Knows This is Nowhere; Jackson Browne's For Everyman
Sufjan Stevens "...Michigan"

Although "Enjoy Your Rabbit" is chronologically his 2nd, it's more an experimental piece than anything and Greetings from the Great State of Michigan seems more his sophomore record. A masterpiece in every way and one of the most played here.
The Yes Album is superb, but it is their third LP. Time and a Word is their 2nd, and unfortunately that one doesn't belong on this list.

A couple more...
Jefferson Airplane - Surrealistic Pillow
REM - Reckoning

Santana Abraxas
First few that came to mind -

Hendrix - Axis: Bold as Love
Pearl Jam - Vs
Metallica - Ride the Lightning
Santana - Abraxas
Led Zepplin - Led Zeppelin 2
Tool - Undertow or Aenima, depending on what you'd call Opiate. Opiate was their first release, but it was a 6 song EP, which 2 songs were live songs.
1-Steely Dan-Countdown to Ecstasy
2-Rickie Lee Jones-Pirates
3-Anita Baker-Rapture
4-Dream Theater-Images and Words
Zep II
Radiohead "The Bends"
Nirvana "Nevermind"
Half a stretch,

Buckingham/Nicks with Fleetwood Mac: Rumours
Gasoline Alley by Rod Stewart was a great sophmore realese. It was a snapshot of what was to follow with Every Picture Tells a Story
well Layla and other Assorted Lovesongs is probably a no brainer. I did not care for his debut but Derek and the Dominoes came to play on this recording and it doesn't hurt that Duanne Allman was on it neither.
I beg to differ, "Give 'Em Enough Rope" is a tremendous album and equal to anything else they did.
Jethro Tull-Stand Up
My One And Only Thrill, by Melody Gardot. A stunning follow up to her debut album, _Worriesome Heart_.

January, by Marcin Wasilewski Trio. Even better than _Trio_, their debut album.
Bridge of Sighs
The Freewheelin'-Bob Dylan
Piano Man- Billy Joel
The Stooges-Funhouse. In my opinion the best rock n roll album ever made.
Santana, "Abraxas"
The Doors, "Strange Days"
Allman Brothers, "Idlewild South"
Paul Simon, "There Goes Rhymin' Simon"
Dawgfish, great choice on The Doors-Strange Days. Easily the equal of the (st) and LA Woman. Omit Light My Fire and Riders on the Storm from those recordings and Strange Days is the definitive recording.
Norah Jones "Feels Like Home" is not only better than her Grammy-winning debut album, but one of the best female albums ever.
i have to second a few that were already mention.
Zep II
Cream Disraeli Gears
Santana Abraxis
Dylan Freewheelin'
Airplane Surealistic Pillow

Glad to see this thread pop back up from 2004. Was not aware of it. Very much agree with those nominating "The Wild, The Innocent...". I'm listening to "The Bends" right now. Didn't realize it was a sophomore release. Just getting into Radiohead over the last few months. I'd like to add The Band's self-titled "brown" album to the list.
Easy...Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.
You really blew my mind. Before I even finished reading your thread, I was thinking of Roxy Music's second, "For Your Pleasure". The first was a never to be forgotten masterpiece that I treasure and still listen to, but the follow up was all that and more.
Along the same lines I would have to mention the Cars. Loved the first album, but Candy O was even better.
lots of good picks above, but the ones that really register as showing the most evolutionary growth from the debut are nirvana/nevermind, meat puppets II and van morrison/astral weeks.
Neutral Milk Hotel, Oasis, Nirvana, Jane's Addiction, Ray Charles, Al Green, The Doors, The Pretenders, Jackson Browne, Steely Dan, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, REM, Daft Punk, AIR, The Faces