I’m sure there are plenty more that could’ve made this list. I focused on five of my favorites…along with the fact that most of these are among the most successful rock bands ever. I suppose it should come as no surprise that the same font that feeds the creativity and energy of these musicians also produces major-league volatility. Sure, it sucks when “creative differences” causes your favorite band to crash and burn. But there’s a fair amount of schadenfreude in watching the drama unfold.
This is my top five. Your mileage may vary. Enjoy.
For a band with a larger-than-life stage show, KISS’s off-stage history has been just as interesting. We already know they have never been darlings of the rock media, but so what? Their music and their shows are fun. And, Rock & Roll All Nite truly is the official anthem of rock ’n’ roll. You’d think a band on top of the world could stay there and do nothing to ruin it, right? Wrong.
There’s no question Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons run the band. They showed Peter Criss and Ace Frehley the door—twice—and have never looked back. In recent years, all four original members have written tell-all books harping on one another and spilling all the secrets. The main takeaway from the books? Gene’s an asshole, Paul is a control freak, Peter’s a lousy drummer and a lousy person and Ace is an unreliable drunk, junkie weirdo racist.
In many ways, this band reminds me of pro wrestling. They maintained their stage personas for so long to project a certain image that was almost completely opposite the behind-the-scenes reality. Start reading liner notes on old albums and you realize how many times Gene, Paul and their producers brought in session musicians to perform in place of Peter and Ace.
The 1996 reunion brought the soap opera to its fever point, as the band repeated years of history over the course of four or five years. Just like before, Peter was the first to go, followed by Ace. Why? Same reasons as before. Second verse, same as the first.
Most fans now accept the current incarnation of KISS as nothing more than a money-grab for Gene and Paul. However, they’re still touring—in makeup—and slinging mud with their former bandmates along the way. To be fair, Peter and Ace are slinging it back, too. At this stage of the game, I find the sniping to be more comical and entertaining than disappointing. In many ways, it mimics that whole pro wrestling vibe. Will the original four ever perform together again? Doubtful. There’s entirely too much bad blood to make anything beyond a cordial meet-and-greet happen. In the meantime, I guess we’ll just have to enjoy the soap opera for as long as it endures.
This band was pretty popular back in the 90s. I wasn’t much of a fan, but there’s no denying they were a critical and commercial smash. They were just one in a long line of British acts saddled with that “the next Beatles” moniker. Oasis had a great, unique sound, a talented songwriter in guitarist Noel Gallagher and a talented, albeit temperamental, lead singer in Noel’s brother Liam.
The volatile Gallagher brothers produced some great music and, by all accounts, great live shows, but that volatility also led to infighting and breakups. Anyone remember Oasis’s performance on MTV’s Unplugged in 1996? Noel handled all the vocals because Liam refused to perform. Same thing happened on part of their U.S. tour that year as well. The fact that Oasis lasted until 2009 is a bit of a surprise, honestly. Their popularity waned by the following decade. I don’t blame that entirely on the drama, but I’m sure that didn’t help.
Like I said, I was never much of a fan of Oasis. I thought their lead singer was a jackass and that kinda turned them off to me. But I did like a couple of their songs, I have to admit; especially Don’t Look Back in Anger, which was sung by Noel, not Liam.
Some of you may be saying, “whaaaat??” But it’s true. The Beatles became a muted, passive-aggressive soap opera in their latter years. The casual fan probably doesn’t even know George Harrison briefly quit the band as they were rehearsing and recording what would become Let It Be. While the fans fixated their ire on Yoko Ono—because she was surgically attached to John Lennon’s hip—time has since vindicated Yoko a bit, because it was John who was so insecure and paranoid that he needed her by his side nonstop. And it was John’s decision to quit the band that ultimately led to the breakup.
Inner-band drama notwithstanding, the soap opera was sometimes sillier and weirder. Case in point: the “Paul is dead” conspiracy rumors that persisted in 1969. Fans pored over the Beatles’ music, images and stories for evidence to support the theory that Paul was, in fact, dead; killed in a car crash in 1966 and replaced by a lookalike. I’m still not sure why the photo of him barefoot on the cover of Abbey Road was considered evidence, but whatever.
Over the last few years they were together, the Beatles basically became session musicians for one another’s songs. That’s nowhere more evident than on Abbey Road and The White Album, so, in fairness, the soap opera never hurt the music. They just seemed to be going their separate ways.
Once the Beatles officially announced they had broken up, that soap opera continued throughout the early/mid 1970s and got a little heated, occasionally, as Lennon and McCartney traded shots at one another in the press and in recordings. Of course, that soap opera came to a screeching halt on December 8, 1980.
Paul was criticized by the press for not being sad enough about the murder of John Lennon. And a few years ago, Yoko Ono took a few swipes at Paul’s songwriting with her “June with a spoon” comments, to say nothing of the revelation that Lennon all but disowned his eldest son, Julian. And, of course, the Paul vs. John debate continues to wage on, so there’s that, too. Mild soap opera or no, the one certainty is the Beatles left behind a musical legacy that is unparalleled.
Theirs might be the most public of all the soap operas, so there’s really no point in rehashing every detail, is there? It’s pretty simple: Van Halen gets huge in the 70s and early 80s…lead singer quits the band…Sammy Hagar joins the band…Sammy Hagar is fired…band works with old lead singer then remembers why they hated him in the first place and booted him…brought in a guy no one ever heard of and he never even laid down a single track…hired Extreme’s lead singer, the world looked on in astonishment…new album with Extreme singer sucks hard and he leaves the band…Sammy comes back for a tour with VH while Eddie decides to live in a whiskey bottle for the duration of the tour…band splinters apart (again)…Eddie sobers up…Eddie gets cancer…Eddie beats cancer…Eddie has hip replacement surgery…Eddie is pretty much a fucking mess, medically speaking…original lead singer rejoins the band while fan-favorite bass player gets booted and erased from VH history as bandleader’s son joins the band…they tour…they record a new album…they tour again…they release a live album…they tour again, but no one talks to one another. They just tour. And go home.
That about sums it up.The funniest thing about Van Halen is, no matter where they are and what they’re doing, fans always wonder if it’s going to hold together long enough to get to the next gig. So far, it’s lasted with David Lee Roth back in the fold longer than I expected. I don’t think Hagar will ever tour or record with Van Halen again, which is too bad. Both the Dave and Sammy years yielded some pretty great music.
Now, as the band is heading into its sunset years, Van Halen has become essentially a nostalgia act. Sure, they released a new album a few years ago; but even that was cobbled together with a lot of pre-1990 demos. The soap opera’s become much less volatile in recent years, but every so often fans are treated to a flare-up. I imagine it’ll be this way until they’re all in the ground. Heavy drama, great music. At least there’s that.
Guns N’ Roses
Let’s get one thing straight, right off the bat: the band with whom Axl Rose records and tours under the Guns N’ Roses banner these days is many things: a bloated mess, an homage to Rose’s arrogance, a waste of time and space. What it is not: Guns N’ Roses. It is ABSOLUTELY NOT Guns N’ Roses!! You can’t call your band Guns N’ Roses when you don’t have Slash, Izzy Stradlin and Duff McKagan or Steven Adler (or Matt Sorum) laying down the music. When 80 percent of the original lineup has either quit or been fired—when they were responsible for that signature G N’ R sound—you cannot call your band Guns N’ Roses, Axl. And that’s why this band is a colossal soap opera: Axl freakin’ Rose.
Back in 1991, when they released the Use Your Illusion albums, I told a friend, “this will be the last we hear from Guns N’ Roses. Basically, I was right. “The Spaghetti Incident?”, released in 1993, was largely culled from the Use Your Illusion sessions. And oh yeah, they’re all cover songs.
The Guns N’ Roses soap opera began firing on all cylinders during the band’s tour in 1991. Between diving into the crowd to confiscate a fan’s camera, storming off stage which caused fan riots and refusing to go on until well past the posted start time, Rose’s onstage antics began wearing out both his bandmates as well as the fans. Of course, the worst of it happened in August 1992, when Guns N’ Roses cut short their performance in Montreal at the same gig where Metallica’s James Hetfield stepped into an onstage pyrotechnic and went off like a human roman candle. The frustrated fans rioted, as a result of Rose’s “sore throat.”
From about 1993 – 2008, Guns N’ Roses became the Axl Rose Revolving Door Show. As all the remaining original members exited—along with several other ridealongs—Guns N’ Roses became nothing more than a narcissistic shit show for its prima donna asshole lead singer. Oh sure, he finally released Chinese Democracy in 2008, but no one cared. Rose and his band toured, too, but no one cared. The bottom line: it isn’t Guns N’ Roses.
The rest of the original band members went on to other projects; some memorable, others, not so much. Izzy Stradlin released a couple critically acclaimed albums in the mid-90s. Slash has done well as a solo artist, as a member of Velvet Revolver (what Guns N’ Roses would sound like without Axl Rose singing) and as being something of a weird rock ’n’ roll mascot that turns up in weird places. Seriously, Slash, with a Black Eyed Peas during a Super Bowl halftime show? Wha??? Is this what happens when rock stars sober up? Eesh.
If Axl Rose would ever get his head out of his own ass and reconcile with the founding members, Guns N’ Roses could sell out a world tour in about an hour, guaranteed. But who wants to put up with Axl Rose? The dude has nothing but contempt for everyone around him, including the fans.