When I heard that Stone Temple Pilots had fired their lead singer Scott Weiland, and replaced him with Chester Bennington from Linkin Park, I was shocked and a little disturbed. It made me question whether a band can be successful after the death or departure of their lead vocalist. Does a band die after the death of their frontman? I mean, who could imagine The Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger, The Who without Roger Daltrey, or Led Zeppelin without Robert Plant.
AC/DC are one band who have experienced greater success after the demise of their lead singer. When tragedy struck, and Bon Scott died from excessive drinking, the band hired Brian Johnson and recorded Back In Black. This album was a huge success, selling over 50 million copies worldwide, proving that a band can actually bounce back from disaster.
Alice in Chains are another group who refused to disband after the death of their lead singer. Layne Staley died tragically of a cocaine and heroin overdose in 2002, leaving the band in limbo. Staley had an incredibly unique voice, which provoked Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder to pen a fitting tribute called 4/20/02 – the date Eddie found out about Layne’s death. Vedder described how nobody could come close to the raw, pain-filled, vocal style of Staley. William DuVall did go on to replace Staley, and helped Alice in Chains continue to have further success, and they were last seen rocking at this years Download Festival.
There are a few other bands, such as Genesis and Fleetwood Mac, who have continued to be successful after a band revamp – but are these bands the exception to the rule? There are some bands who are defined by their frontman’s unparalleled sound. After the death Of Kurt Cobain in 1994, Nirvana ceased to be. Nobody could recreate Cobain’s intensity or talent, and out of the ashes of Nirvana rose the Foo Fighters, with Dave Grohl taking on lead vocals. Joy Division knew that Ian Curtis’ manic energy and his haunting voice was a huge part of the band’s signature sound. After his untimely death, Joy Division’s remaining band members went on to form New Order. In my opinion, some voices are just too iconic and distinctive to replace- some rock legends have created a unique sound that can’t be imitated. Often, after this sound is lost, their popularity with true fans can never be maintained.
A band who got it wrong were INXS, who held an X Factor style competition to find someone to permanently replace Michael Hutchence. The winner was an Elvis impersonator who failed to recapture the original magic of INXS, and was a sign that perhaps some singers are just irreplaceable. The success of Queen, after the death of Freddie Mercury, is debatable. Queen continued as Queen + Paul Rogers and embarked on a world tour, but Queen will always be Freddie Mercury to his devoted fans. Freddie Mercury is often described as one of the greatest front men ever, with a phenomenal vocal range that captivated audiences throughout the world. He had a flamboyant presence and a charisma that made him irreplaceable.
I believe that some bands are too iconic to survive the loss of a lead singer, and when a iconic rock legend leaves a band or dies, the band dies with it. The lead vocalist provides the signature sound that makes the fans fall in love with a band. Once this sound has gone, it is difficult for a band to revisit it’s earlier success. But maybe I’m being to harsh, maybe a band can survive with the rest of it’s band members. After all, it was the iconic Freddie Mercury who sang ‘On with the show! The Show Must Go On!’