In rock n’ roll, loss of a lead singer usually signals immediate death. Sure, drummers and guitarists are important to the band (bass players? Hmm….), but unless your name is Keith Richards or the Edge, the band will move on without you and probably not miss much of a beat. But lose the singer? The voice? That’s like Jennifer Grey’s new nose: We still like you, but we miss the old nose.
To resurrect one of my all-time favorite Internet memes, The Friday Five, here’s my list of five bands who went out and got a new nose and survived and thrived. Of course, this list is highly subjective. That’s the beauty of The Friday Five. It’s there for you to agree, disagree, add, respond and so on. Without further adieu…
I admit I’ve never been a huge fan of Journey. Steve Perry was shown the door in 1998 and, after nearly a decade of wandering aimlessly, the rest of the band found their replacement in Arnel Pineda. Now, to me, Journey has become nothing more than a cover band of itself, but Journey fans don’t seem to miss Perry too much. So, yeah, Journey makes this list. Barely.
You remember Survivor, don’t you? Of course you do. In 1982, everybody new Survivor, thanks to their sports/rock anthem, Eye of the Tiger. Its inclusion in the movie, Rocky III, launched Survivor to instant stardom. Survivor would go on to become a staple on MTV and rock radio throughout the 80s.
Incredibly, Survivor established the majority of its success with a different lead singer. David Bickler handled vocals on Eye of the Tiger, the band’s first No. 1 hit and only international No. 1 song. Soon after its success, Bickler was shown the door and Jimi Jamison entered. With Jamison handling vocals, Survivor released a string of hits: I Can’t Hold Back (No. 1), High on You, The Search is Over and Burning Heart. The 90s and beyond were not kind to Survivor (as with most 80s bands), but there’s no denying their success with Jimi Jamison.
For the better part of two decades, Queen sat dormant, thanks to the sad death of Freddie Mercury. Sure, they gigged and recorded with Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers a few years ago, but no one really paid any attention. And then along comes Adam Lambert. The groundwork was laid back in 2009, when Lambert, as American Idol finalist, performed with Queen on the show’s season finale. The chemistry was obvious.
Fast forward five years and Queen + Adam Lambert embark on a massive world tour, including Queen’s first shows in the United States since 1980. And the crowd went wild. If I’m not mistaken, they sold out pretty much every U.S. show they performed. No one can replace Freddie. But with Adam Lambert, Queen found a frontman capable of carrying the Queen torch for a new generation of fans.
2. Van Halen
The greatest rock ’n roll soap opera this side of KISS. Dave vs. Sammy is a debate that will rage on forever among Van Halen fans until the day they die. Whether you love him or hate him, though, Sammy Hagar’s 11 year stint at the band’s lead singer was a rousing success. Not bad, considering Hagar was following a wildly successful era when Van Halen had truly reached the peak of its critical and commercial success with David Lee Roth. No question, the 1984 album was a monster. How could a new singer follow that? Roth’s departure left a daunting hole in the band that no one believed could be filled by anyone other than Roth. Hagar stepped in and the band played on to continued success. Four No. 1 albums. 16 million in record sales and four massively successful world tours with Hagar cemented his bona fides as a Van Halen frontman.
Of course, this soap opera didn’t end there. Sammy’s no longer in the band—and Van Halen could also make the list of Bands Who Failed Miserably With New Lead Singers (I’m working on it) when they brought in Extreme’s Gary Cherone—but those Sammy years were pretty good for VH.
No rock band that I can think of has lost such a huge part of their signature sound and rebounded so strongly with a new lead singer better than AC/DC. Bon Scott died in 1980, just six years after the band formed. He left behind a magnificent legacy of rock music: Dirty Deeds, Highway to Hell, Big Balls, Whole Lotta Rosie. Jailbreak, It’s A Long Way to the Top and much, much more. That, alone, is an impressive catalog. AC/DC still makes the Rock HoF with that list, if they pack it in after Scott’s death. But how did they respond? With a new lead singer and one of the most essential rock n’ roll albums of the century: Back in Black, the fifth best-selling album of all time
How would the fans react? Would they embrace him? Thirty-five years later and counting, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Johnson’s résumé of hits has been astounding: Back in Black, Hell’s Bells, For Those About to Rock, Thunderstruck, You Shook Me All Night Long, and on and on and on. There isn’t a person in the world who hasn’t heard at least one AC/DC song, thanks in large part to Johnson’s work as the band’s singer. Not bad for a replacement singer.