When rock bands switch lead singers… let’s discuss…

No… this is not a joke… I want to have a serious discussion about what happens when rock bands try to carry on after parting ways with the ‘voice’ of the band. It seldom works out well. I mean, AC/DC rocked it. That was pretty seamless. When Bon Scott died in 1980 at the age of 33, and Brian Johnson stepped in, the band hardly missed a beat with the Back In Black album.

This is an exception to the rule. Of course, there are a lot of situations where a band that nobody ever heard of got a new singer and then they became famous, but let’s ignore that for now.

Maybe I should start at the beginning. I am a rock dinosaur. A friend of mine once called me ‘Arty-fact of the 70’s’… probably the cleverest thing that guy ever came up with in his entire life. But it is so true. I just recently compiled a bunch of CDs so I can drive around cranking the good hard rock/heavy metal of the 70’s. Now obviously, new bands have had less time to have to worry about such a major change as replacing their lead vocalist. But a lot of the bands from back in the day are still around. And trust me, as a guy who has been in a few bands, people can get on each other’s nerves as the years roll by.

Also, people tend to die… especially rock musicians, for some strange reason. And musicians still need to make money, whether someone quits the band or not. But this isn’t about musicians still playing music. This is about one thing: should a band keep the same name and music if the singer leaves?

Way back when, a little musical group called Led Zeppelin lost their drummer to… extenuating complications of not-quite natural causes… and the band, to the dismay of millions, decided they could not, in good conscience, continue on as the same band… and this is the DRUMMER, for crying out loud. Yes, their drummer was that good, but drummers and bass players, you can always find one of those…

But I respect their decision. It was the right thing to do. And the Zep was one of my favorite bands. Ironically, one of my other favorite bands was Bad Company. No, they didn’t have the pure musical talent of Led Zeppelin… nobody did or does… but they were the best freakin’ garage band of all times. Paul Rodgers voice was soulful and gripping. Their music was simple, primal, powerful, and awesome for driving around in your car or… for romantic interludes… let’s face it, Zep is too varied and complex for romance… you will throw your back out or break a hip.

But then Paul Rodgers left Bad Company… and they kept going as Bad Company… damn it…

Okay, I am now going to list a few bands that I don’t give a crap about, but that do fit into this scenario, just for the sake of the discussion we are all going to have… right?

Queen. You knew they would show up here. I found them to be a tad too melodramatic for my taste. Yes, I see the pure talent and skill. Yes, their operatic bent is fascinating. And Freddy Mercury was out of this world… so can they still be Queen. In another supreme twist of irony, Paul Rodgers… yes, of Bad Company fame… stepped in as vocalist for a while. And I guess people liked it. They toured and stuff. I was still pissed at Paul for bailing on me, so  I have no idea what that sounded like.

Van Halen. Whatever. I always found ‘Diamond’ Dave (David Lee Roth) to be so full of himself that I just couldn’t take the band seriously even though Eddie Van Halen shreds of guitar. Then, Sammy Hagar took over the microphone… and guess what, I still didn’t care… even though Sammy was the front man for Montrose… (With Ronnie Montrose on guitar, responsible for the song: Rock Candy, still the best poll dancer/stripper anthem in Rock History)… Hey, don’t judge me, these are the rock and roll facts.

Genesis. Peter Gabriel led the band to… well, not huge fame, but a recognized art-rock band… and then they sort of took off after the drummer, Phil Collins switched over… Okay, in retrospect, this doesn’t really fit the parameters, because even though the change pissed a lot of people off, more people ended up liking it, so let’s move on…

Black Sabbath… we could spend a week talking about the Ozzy Osbourne/Ronnie James Dio switches… so go ahead with that… and I guess, for the record, I was a fan of their early stuff.

Journey… This band, and I admit they had a few decent songs, but what they had that most people liked, was a guy with a big nose and a good voice named Steve Perry. (The weird thing… hello thing, I was wondering if you would show up… is that their best known songs have actually gathered momentum after Perry left the band, because they are used for all sorts of un-rock and roll type things) After Perry left, they got another guy named Steve. Who didn’t sound like the first Steve. And I respect that… They didn’t try to just carry on as if nothing had happened. They tried to move on. But people wanted a guy who sounded like the first guy. So the band did a world-wide search, and from a YouTube video, they found some kid named Arnel Pineda living in the Philippines who was… now get the irony of this… singing in a TRIBUTE band… a Journey tribute band… but he sounded like Steve Perry.

So this is what I want to know. Is Journey doing a parody of themselves? Are they doing a tribute band version of their own band? Right now, you can buy tickets to see Queen… with Adam Lambert, former American Idol star, doing the vocals… be still my heart.

Okay, I admit that this isn’t a topic that will appeal to most of you. And I typed a lot of words, which also won’t appeal to a lot of you. That is why I did this on a weekend… when traffic is always slow, and if only 5 people read this, I will blame it on that. I really did this post for one reason. Synchronicity. My wife and I were talking about this very thing just a few days ago. Then, my mom sent me an article about the upcoming Queen shows… she thought that would appeal to me, which shows that she might be getting senile. But I found the coincidence to be too much to ignore… hence this post.

So tell me what you think. Is it no big deal, or is it a deal breaker?

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40 Responses to When rock bands switch lead singers… let’s discuss…

  1. benzeknees says:

    I think Adam Lambert will be good touring with Queen, but then I like Adam Lambert anyway & I liked Queen too! I would see that show if I could have a booth to myself with handicap access, etc. (you know because I can’t get sick from other people’s germs or I may end up in the hospital). So now you know why I don’t go anymore, but with all the right circumstances, I would go to this one.

  2. JMC813 says:

    To me, the ONLY Van Halen was with David Lee Roth, You are spot on with the Brian Johnson AC/DC thought. At least for the “Back in Black” and For Those About To Rock” albums. After that is questionable. I liked both versions of Sabbath. I was a huge fan of Ronnie’s vocal delivery. And the Bonham reference is SPOT ON. Zeppelin was not Zeppelin without “Bonzo”. Even when his son sat in. They did the right thing not moving forward. The only worse tragedy would have been if RUSH tried to replace Neil Peart during the times of his family tragedies. Luckily they decided to wait for him to return or shut the band down all together. Such a class thing to do. Especially when there really would be NO replacing Neil. In my opinion he is neck and neck with Bonham in terms of being the greatest rock drummer in history. Now, just be glad you never bothered with QUEEN when Paul Rogers joined. It was really just too much like Bad Co. doing Queen covers. His voice is too distinct to pull off Freddie’s stuff. Not to mention the range differential. And now they have Adam Lambert???? I don’t even want to know………UUGGHH. Thanks for this post. I couldn’t agree more on the front man front. One last thing in terms of changes that succeeded? My ALL TIME FAVORITE metal band of all time Iron Maiden. When Bruce Dickinson stepped in for Paul Di’Anno, It changed that bands future, and the future of metal forever. Up The Irons!!!! Rock On Art!!

    • I didn’t go into bands that faded out before a change… I have to admit that Bad Company did a few weak albums at the end. And bands I loved did a lot of bad songs. When I was putting together my driving CDs, I realized that Montrose has some sucky tunes.

      • JMC813 says:

        Very true. They can’t all be platinum. So much music to cover if we were to try and break it down too much. I think you did well to cover the most recognizable offenders. Oh yeah, and one more similar to the Journey saga. When Rob Halford left Judas Priest they hired a very talented vocalist from a Priest tribute band. Ripper Owens did a fantastic job but it just wasn’t Rob. Ripper is doing very well on his own now and Rob is back with Priest, and all is right with the world. For the time being anyway

  3. Led Zeppelin… sigh. There were rumors earlier this year that they would reunite for Glastonbury. I told my husband if that happened we were going to Scotland (or wherever that festival is). But apparently it was just a rumor and they are never going to play together again…

    To me, Journey seems like a tribute band. That guy has a great voice but it just doesn’t seem the same, the feeling (vibe, whatever) doesn’t seem to be there. The were playing here recently and I have no desire to go see them unless Steve Perry comes back.

    Last night we stumbled upon a “Guns N Roses” concert on t.v. Axl Rose sounded great but it’s not the same either. And a few years ago we saw Slash play with his band at a small venue here. They played a lot of GnR songs, and they sounded great, but it wasn’t the same. To me, it’s gotta be about more than a voice sounding the same. If a band is just “hiring” a singer that doesn’t work -at least for me it doesn’t.

  4. If a singer dies, and the band wants to continue, I don’t see why they can’t. Sometimes it works out (AC/DC) and sometimes it doesn’t (INXS, Cars). If the band wants to continue, but one key member doesn’t want to tour, they can get a replacement (Styx, Yes, Journey).
    Yes has had a ton of members, and each has had varying levels of input.

    They can use the same name as long as they don’t try to trick the audience. But in the unique case of Queen, no one could replace Freddie Mercury, not even that guy who was on Britain’s Got Talent. That’s why they tour as Queen + Paul Rodgers, or Queen + Adam Lambert.

    The thing is, when the main songwriter leaves the band, if it continues touring it’s a fan band. And after a certain number of years, a band is a fan band. (Fan band = band that tours mostly on its classic period/greatest hits, and barely release anything new which is barely listened to when they do.)

  5. jatwood4 says:

    I adored Queen, and Freddie was a god. Having said that, though, I loved Adam Lambert from the first time I saw his video of “If I had you.” I can’t wait to see what they’ll do together. Thanks for the update!

  6. caslee2000 says:

    Personally, I think that changing a key member of the band – lead singer, lead guitarist – creates a different band, and should be named as such. Mind you, that new band can cover some songs of the original band (provided no one will be suing anyone), but I really believe they ought to change names and re-form under that new band name. Just my two cents!

  7. Geez. You forgot Letzte Instanz…

  8. Depends on the band. Some singers just can’t be replaced, while others can replace them and bring a new vibe to the band.

  9. Jean says:

    When they changed the ingredients of Diet Coke, they didn’t keep calling it Diet Coke, now, did they? They called it Coke Zero. The band members are the ingredients of the band brand, and switching ingredients is not going to fool us. Way to call them out on it, Arty-fact.

  10. Lucy says:

    Very well done. I haven’t heard all these names in the same place since never. There was one and only one Freddy Mercury. but I did hear a guy on The Voice a couple of seasons ago that was so close.. Great post. Lucy

  11. Paul says:

    Pretty cool stuff Art – I’m of the same vintage (like a good wine-Ha!). Fleetwood Mac had a number of iterations with different members, even Peter Green. Until Stevie Nicks kind of took over with her boyfriend. But Mick Fleetwood was the center, so the name stuck, even though they changed genres a number of times. Should they have changed names with each change in member or genre? This brings up the question of exactly what is it about a band that indentifies that band or makes it unique. And should the name stay with that identifier or with the combination of circumstances that makes up the band at a given time? Very metaphysical of you Art.

  12. Reblogged this on idealisticrebel and commented:
    You rocked this post. Congrats! Hugs, Barbara

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