It comes as no surprise that, when a lead singer leaves a band, either by death or inter-band conflict, it brings up the question–should the band continue? We are all aware that Nirvana didn’t continue after the death of Kurt Cobain, but many other bands decided to carry on anyway. In the case of death, most of the bands on this list really didn’t benefit from the lead singer’s demise and probably shouldn’t have continued to record albums and continue to go on tour. Despite what some people may think, the lead singer isn’t always the heart of the band, but in many of these cases, they undoubtedly were.
The Australian hard rock group released six albums with lead singer, Bon Scott before he died of acute alcohol poisoning in 1980. For a while, AC/DC talked about calling it quits, but they decided to keep at it. They auditioned Brian Johnson, whom was picked to replace Scott. The band went back into the studio and recorded their most successful album to date, Back in Black, as a tribute to their fallen former lead singer. Not only did the record sell over 10,000 units in its first week, but it also went on to sell over 50 million copies worldwide. Maybe they didn’t need Scott, after all.
9. Judas Priest
The British metal band, who formed in the ‘60s with Rob Halford as lead singer, didn’t find mainstream international success until their 1980 album, British Steel. After spending a couple of decades with the band, Halford exited the group in 1991. During his time outside of Priest, Halford recorded material with a couple of his other bands. Tim Owens, who sang in a Priest tribute band, took over lead vocals in 1996 and recorded two albums with the group. In 2003, Halford decided to rejoin the band for their reunion tour, thus, ousting Owens. Since the coup, Halford’s remained a staple of the group and will be releasing a new album with them soon.
8. Lynyrd Skynyrd
The Southern rock band is best known for ubiquitous hits like “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird” and sadly, for three of the original members expiring in a plane crash in 1977. One of those three victims was lead singer and songwriter, Ronnie Van Zant. The band took a decade-long break after the crash but reformed in 1987, with Ronnie’s brother Johnny, taking over lead vocals. They continued to release albums, including one as recent as 2012. At one point, a legal battle ensued over the band touring and making money, therefore, exploiting the band’s name. The settlement entailed the widow of Van Zant receiving a share of the tour profits and having at least three of the pre-crash original members in the band at all times.
7. Black Sabbath
Ozzy Osbourne is one of the most famous faces in music, mainly because he fronted heavy metal pioneers, Black Sabbath for a decade. The band released their first two albums in 1970: a self-titled record followed by Paranoid, which released their best-known song “War Pigs”. After boozing a little too much and not wanting to contribute ideas to the band, Osbourne was fired in 1979 and replaced by Ronnie James Dio (who’d later start his own band, Dio). The band marched on and kept releasing records. Dio left in 1982, and from then on, the band saw a revolving door of lead singers—four more. Osbourne, finally sober, rejoined the band in 1997 for their reunion tour. Osbourne and other members of the band released solo records but reunited again in 2012, to play a few music fests and record their first new album in over 15 years. Last year’s 13 album was the first new record that Osbourne performed on, since 1978’s Never Say Die! The band really is much better with Osbourne in it.
Many people probably don’t realize that Peter Gabriel was the band’s original lead singer, not Phil Collins. The prog-rock quintet formed in the late ‘60s with Gabriel as frontman. After releasing a few albums, Gabriel departed the band in 1975 for personal reasons and to focus on his solo career, reducing the group to a four-piece. Instead of outsourcing the position of lead singer, the band approved Collins’ request to take over (he was the band’s drummer, mind you). Another member left the band in the ‘70s, and Genesis became a trio–but a very successful trio. Their 1986 record, Invisible Touch, a pop record, became their highest-selling album. Deciding to focus on a solo career full-time, Collins left the group in 1996 and was replaced by Ray Wilson. The band broke up soon after but regrouped with the original trio in 2007, for a 20-city tour. It was just announced the entire original band, including Gabriel, are making a Genesis documentary together.
5. Alice in Chains
Singer, Layne Staley led the Seattle band to worldwide acclaim in the early ‘90s, with their grungey Seattle sound. Their EP, Jar of Flies became the first EP to ever hit number one on the Billboard charts. They sold millions of records and had several Grammy nominations, but Staley was a heroin user and that inevitably affected the band. The group took a break in the mid-‘90s to recoup, but Staley died of an overdose in 2002. With the remaining members intact, Alice in Chains tapped new lead singer, William DuVall and released two more albums, which weren’t as well-received as the prior records with Staley.
Even though the band went through a couple of lead singers before they landed on Steve Perry in 1977, Journey found their greatest success with him, including their first platinum album that unleashed their most popular song, “Don’t Stop Believin’”. The entire band went on hiatus from 1987-1995 but in 1998, Perry left the group and was briefly replaced by another Steve–Steve Augeri–who lasted until 2006. A year later, Journey found current lead singer, Arnel Pineda through YouTube. The band recorded a few albums together and continue to tour with Pineda.
The Australian band formed in the 1970s, with Michael Hutchence as the affable lead singer and lyricist. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the hit-makers infiltrated the U.S. and topped the charts with now-classic pop songs, “Need You Tonight” and “Never Tear Us Apart.” After 20 years as frontman for the band, Hutchence hanged himself in a hotel room in 1997. The rest of the band picked up the pieces and entered a reality competition in 2005, called Rock Star: INXS to find a new lead singer. The winner was J.D. Fortune, who released the album, Switch with the band. Ciaran Gribbin took over vocal duties after Fortune departed the band in 2011. After a brief tour, INXS finally called it quits in November 2012.
2. The Doors
One of the most revered rock bands of all time, the Doors lost charismatic front-man, Jim Morrison in 1971, to a supposed suicide (an autopsy was never done). In the mid-’60s to Morrison’s untimely death, they released a few albums and had huge hits with, “Break On Through” and “Light My Fire.” For a couple of years after Morrison’s death, the remaining members continued as a trio and recorded a couple of albums, but they chose to sing the vocals themselves instead of replacing Morrison. Although, Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger reunited in 2002 and formed, The Doors of the 21st Century, without drummer John Densmore (he refused to participate) and new lead singer, Ian Astbury. There was a legal dispute with the name, so they simplified it to Manzarek-Krieger. They toured and performed Doors’ songs until Manzarek’s death in 2013.
Before 1980, Queen already had major hits with “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Will Rock You.” By the mid-‘80s, the group grew even bigger and became an arena rock band. Lead singer, Freddie Mercury wrote the lyrics and was the heart of the band. Despite denying he had AIDS, Mercury succumbed to the disease in 1991, but not before recording two more albums with Queen. After Mercury’s death, the remaining members played with guest singers and then recruited, Paul Rodgers in 2005, to do the first full-fledged band tour since 1986. Currently, American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert is taking on the Mercury role for live shows.
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