We're the Replacements: The Top Nine Bands Who Did Better With a New Frontman

January 7, 2010

Some bands are a group effort, but with other bands, one guy gets all the credit, becomes the face of the band...and then he's gone.  Sometimes, though, it turns out the frontman was the one holding them back from fame and fortune.  Here are a bunch of bands who should've ditched their frontmen a hell of a lot sooner.

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By Dan Seitz

9. Survivor


Survivor, with lead vocalist Dave Bickler, released a minor song you might have heard of called "Eye of the Tiger."  After the minor success of said movie theme song, they put out the album "Caught in the Game," which wasn't quite as successful.  Soon after that album tanked, Bickler became ill and had to drop out, so they recruited Jimi Jamieson, whose biggest achievement to that point was singing background vocals for ZZ Top.

They promptly put out Vital Signs, which had three hit singles, followed by When Seconds Count, which didn't even crack the top twenty but still sold half a million albums.  Survivor broke up in 1989, giving it eleven years before the inevitable reunion tour, while Bickler went on to sing for the Bud Light "Real Men of Genius" promos.


8. AC/DC


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Okay, okay, AC/DC didn't fire Bon Scott, and they weren't planning on doing it, but unfortunately Scott's vomit, as we all know, had other ideas.  At least he died like a rock star.

On the other hand, after they hired Brian Johnson they completed Back In Black, and it's kind of hard to argue with the results. Black is the fourth highest-selling album in the U.S., as in ever, and gave us classic love ballads like "You Shook Me All Night Long" and "Hell's Bells."  And, a few road bumps and crazy drummers aside, they've been going strong ever since.  In fact, just this year they finally took the title of highest-grossing Australian act from the Wiggles, fixing a long-standing blemish on Australia's reputation as the manliest country on earth.


7. Journey


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Journey started out as a bunch of San Francisco musicians playing jazz fusion, and was about as successful as any jazz fusion band is.  Once they realized that jazz fusion wasn't going to make them rich or even get them laid, they hired front man Robert Fleischman to try a more contemporary sound.  To give you an idea of just how well that went, the first time a Journey track Fleischman sang on was released fifteen years after it was recorded.

After packing Fleischman off to a career of solo albums nobody bought, they hired Steve Perry off of a turkey farm (no, really, at the time, Perry was working on a turkey farm).

Seven best-selling albums, several epic power ballads, and one very regrettable arcade game later, Perry left the band in 1998.  A decade later, after years of toiling in semi-obscurity, the rest of the band found a Filipino singer doing a great Steve Perry impersonation on YouTube and hired him...yielding yet another platinum album.  Never underestimate the power of power ballads!


6. Iron Maiden


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Forget losing the frontman, Iron Maiden went through more band members than a nymphomaniac groupie.  At the start, between Steve Harris and Dave Murray, it was like a heavy metal soap opera: somebody was always being fired, quitting, or both at the same time.  At one point Harris fired the entire freakin' band.  Finally, they locked in their lineup, including epic metal front man...Paul Di'Anno.

By 1981, whether it was because Paul Di'Anno wanted to go in a deep, profound new artistic direction (his version) or because he did more drugs than was healthy even by metal standards (everyone else's version), Di'Anno got the boot and was replaced with Bruce Dickinson.  For some reason, having a stable frontman helped the band: the first album Dickinson was on, Number of the Beast, went to number one in the U.K. and was top of the charts across most of the world as well, and Maiden's been doing pretty well ever since.  Well, except for the VH1 reality show with the plane.  That was just embarrassing.


5. Black Flag


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Punk bands are never noted for their stability, but even by that standard, Black Flag is just a little bit special.  They managed to drive away one singer because a show got too violent, forcing them to play "Louie Louie" (and later getting him credited as Chavo Pederast), and then managed to wear out the voice of Dez Cadena, who luckily was a pretty good guitarist.

Stuck for somebody to scream into the mic, Henry Rollins happened to be handy, and they hired him.  They promptly recorded and released Damaged, one of the greatest punk albums ever and the peak of Black Flag's catalog.

Then they weren't legally allowed to use their own name for a couple of years because of a legal argument with their original label.  So they were successful and kept their punk cred!

4. Joy Division


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If you've ever had a girlfriend who is even mildly pretending to be goth, you've heard some Joy Division songs, likely "Love Will Tear Us Apart."  Unsurprisingly, the lead singer of such happy little ditties, Ian Curtis, had serious emotional problems and committed suicide right before Joy Division was going to tour the U.S.

The band, not wanting to break up, decided to form a new band: New Order, which would go on to pioneer synth dance music.  In fact, New Order's first band line-up was everybody from Joy Division, plus the drummer's girlfriend on keyboards.  Their first album even featured two songs that Joy Division hadn't gotten around to recording before Curtis's death and pretty much sounded like Joy Division minus Ian Curtis, this being right before the terrible moment the ‘80s discovered synthesizers and dance music.

In short, if Ian Curtis had just found something to live for, ravers never would have existed and we would have had a better, more loving world.


3. Pink Floyd


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If there's an all-time king of the face of the band ditching the band, and the band just keeps on going, it's Pink Floyd.  It's happened to them not once, but twice.

The first time was with lead singer Syd Barrett, who's mostly famous these days for having consumed more drugs than the entirety of Woodstock and going insane.  After Barrett quit, the guy you've heard of, Roger Waters, took the lead.

Under Waters, Floyd released Animals, Wish You Were Here, The Wall, which introduced us to the idea of literal talking buttholes, and of course the obscure cult classic Dark Side of the Moon, which sold about 45 million albums, making it one of the best-selling albums worldwide, and stayed on the charts for fourteen years.  Waters also wrote the hit single off of Moon ("Money"), in what turned out to be one hell of an irony considering how much of the long green Moon pulled in.  And once somebody figured out where to drop the needle, it probably made sure The Wizard of Oz kept selling copies, too.

Waters eventually chose to quit, and actually announced that because he was quitting, Pink Floyd was breaking up. When the rest of Floyd said they were quite happy to keep going without him, he sued.  And lost. 


2. Genesis


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Keeping up the theme of two frontmen ditching in a row, except this time around they're both guys you've actually heard of.

Genesis was started by Peter Gabriel and friends in 1967 because nobody wanted to play the music they were writing.  After putting out a string of classic progressive rock albums, which is literally one of five times those seven words have been strung together, Peter Gabriel left the band in 1975, a year after one of their singles finally charted somewhere, to crank out arty world music and generally try (and fail) to outweird David Bryne.

After auditioning about 400 lead singers, the band decided "to hell with it" and made Phil Collins, at that point the drummer, the lead singer too.  This turned out to be a great idea, because about five years later, Collins began selling obscene amounts of albums and suddenly Genesis was popular, mostly because people probably mistook Genesis for Phil Collins' side project.  Collins at least had the decency not to leave the band until 1996, well after the band was done cruising on his coattails.

And how lucrative are Phil Collins' coattails?  So popular they've managed to beat even U2 in record sales.


1. Van Halen


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We couldn't wrap this article up without bringing up the single biggest fight in popular music: a guy who can't drive 55 versus Howard Stern's would-be replacement.

Some people are dedicated to David Lee Roth, some people are dedicated to Sammy Hagar, but the truth is, after Roth quit and started singing songs about how everybody should feel bad for him because he was knee-deep in women paying him to bone them (which clearly proves he's not gay, nope, not at all, no way no how), Van Halen took off.  They had their first #1 album, 5150, the first of four #1 albums with Hagar at the wheel.

Of course, Roth sang all the Van Halen songs anybody actually remembers, but we're sure Hagar takes some small measure of comfort in his massive pile of money.