Lead singers can be a finicky, fragile lot. They develop "creative differences." They leave for solo projects. They wilt under psychiatric distress, get carried away with drugs, or at worst, off themselves. It’s a tricky proposition to carry on as a band after your lead singer decamps. Some groups have done it with textbook grace — AC/DC, Genesis (to the chagrin of purists and Peter Gabriel fans alike) — while others — INXS, who turned the event into a bloody reality show — impaled themselves with the same manoeuvre.
While the singer swap sounds like an affliction of the ‘70s and ‘80s, reserved for synth rock, hair bands, and metal, it happens (with limited success) all the time. Manchester indie outfit Wu Lyf continued under the name Los Porcos once Ellery Roberts declared the band was dead to him. Girls totally folded up when singer Christopher Owens decided to go solo. Yuck guitarist Max Bloom has taken up mic duties on their latest (which released at the beginning of the month), and though they’ve lost at least one order of magnitude of that snotty-young-Brits-unabashedly-do-American-indie charm, Glow and Behold isn’t half bad.
Here’s a list of bands that got better (or at least still ruled) once their singer quit, was fired, or otherwise departed.
Damaged, Black Flag's first studio album, featured their fourth singer. While some quibblers might say they preferred Keith Morris, the original frontman who went off and founded the Circle Jerks, and some like the Dez Cadena-fronted band (an even fewer bunch might say they liked the Ron Reyes-era band — or "Chavo Pederast" as they credited him — that appeared in The Decline of Western Civilization,) the Black Flag revered by most starts and ends with Henry Rollins, who joined in '81 at the behest of hardcore guruji Ian MacKaye.
Mick Fleetwood and the McVies had recorded nine studio albums before they brought in Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks to replace Bob Welch (who was himself a replacement for Danny Kirwan and Peter Green before him) for Fleetwood Mac's 1975 self-titled album. Instead of plunking down "Rhiannon" or "Landslide" from that album, let's pluck "Go Your Own Way" from the cornerstone of any record collection, Rumours (also one of the best-selling albums of all time) to really demonstrate just how Buckingham and Nicks made this band synonymous with cocaine, L.A., and the self-indulgent maximalism of the '70s. Somehow, I mean each of those things in a good way.
The Buzzcocks replaced Howard Devoto, who went off to college (and later started post-punk pioneers Magazine) with Pete Shelley in 1977. Nothing against Devoto, but Shelley, with those bratty, high-pitched vocals, can basically call all of pop punk his progeny. Seriously, listen to this song and tell me it doesn't make Wavves kind of redundant.
When Alvin the Chipmunk-aping vocal experimentalist Tyondai Braxton hung up his hat after 2007's excellent Mirrored, Battles were able to bring Gary Numan, Blonde Redheads' Kazu Makino, Boredoms' Yamantaka Eye, and Matias Aguayo into the vocal booth (the prowess of ex-Helmet, ex-Don Caballero, and ex-Lynx, as well as three worthy releases already under the Battles moniker probably helped).
When Grace Slick replaced Signe Anderson in Jefferson Airplane in October '66, her powerful contralto found a perfect backing in the San Fran psych-folk outfit. Plus she brought "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit" in tow, two tunes she'd been working on with her previous band, the Great Society. Those would become Jefferson Airplane's most enduring tracks.
The legend goes that American singer Malcolm Mooney left Can on the advice of his psychiatrist, that their frenetic, sometimes formless music was driving him crazy. But it turns out that was a bit of fanciful, record label yard-spinning done for marketing's sake. He just didn't want to live in Germany anymore. Regardless, it's albums number three and four, Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi, featuring the yowls of Japanese busker Damo Suzuki that have become kraut classics.
Again, purists might favour Iron Maiden singer numero uno, Paul Di'Anno (who succumbed, at least professionally, to the coke monster), but it's hard to argue that Maiden didn't lock in their identity and reach their popular apogee until Bruce Dickinson stepped in for 1982's The Number of the Beast, which sports the two Maiden songs every Dick and Jane knows how to hum.
Television began in '73, featuring the twin vocals of Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell, later of the Heartbreakers and Richard Hell & The Voidoids. Supposedly, the epic Marquee Moon outpaced Hell's technical ability, which was more given to the lively stage show, and so the band bounced him. And with all due respect, good riddance. This thing's a masterpiece.
Don't get me wrong, Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett stuff is truly incredible, especially, for real psych heads. But The Piper at the Gates of Dawn probably isn't the one Floyd record your Mommy or Daddy held onto. It certainly isn't the record that pop culture has immortalized as the superior soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz. Save that regard for the later work of Misters Gilmour, Waters, and Wright. Indeed, something everyone can get lifted to.
Faith No More
American alt-metal band Faith No More had no fewer than six vocalists — including Courtney Love at one point, and scoring a modest hit behind Chuck Mosley with "We Care A Lot" — before landing Mr. Bungle's Mike Patton in 1989, and taking off. Patton's storied five-octave range made him a versatile counterpoint to contemporaneous metal bands like Guns N' Roses, who Patton would rip on and rip off in the same song.