By Brian Ives
In the past few days, news has circulated that AC/DC are planning on continuing their current tour with a replacement singer filling in for Brian Johnson, who is suffering from hearing loss.
Johnson has said—according to comedian Jim Breuer’s podcast—that he believes the band has already hired a replacement, and he’s not happy about it.
Clearly, AC/DC doesn’t let anything slow down their rock and roll train: when longtime drummer Phil Rudd ran into some legal problems, they quickly replaced him with Chris Slade (who had been in the band for a few years in the ’90s). Founding guitarist Malcolm Young was suffering from dementia; they soon replaced him with Malcolm and Angus Young’s nephew, Steve Young.
And, of course, Brian Johnson isn’t even the band’s original vocalist. First, of course, there was Dave Evans (who never recorded with the band, but has offered to return to the group all the same), followed by the late, great Bon Scott. Johnson joined after Scott’s death in 1980; he debuted with 1980’s Back In Black, which was by far their best selling album.
But lightning rarely strikes twice, and so we’d implore AC/DC to think carefully before trying to replace the iconic frontman who ushered in the band’s most popular era. Yes, we just published an list called “8 Singers Who Could Fill in for AC/DC’s Brian Johnson,” but we weren’t serious!
Perhaps our mere plea isn’t enough. Here, then is a list of bands who made unfortunate decisions in regards to replacing their frontmen.
Van Halen and Gary Cherone: The gold standard of a legendary band making a lineup change that just didn’t work. The original Van Halen, fronted by David Lee Roth, is one of the most celebrated bands of the late ’70s and early-to-mid-’80s. When they replaced him with Sammy Hagar, they scored four #1 albums in a row. But when they tried to replace their singer a third time, with former Extreme frontman Gary Cherone, it just didn’t work. After one album and tour, Cherone was out.
What happened next: Van Halen and Sammy Hagar reunited for a tour; years later they reunited with Roth.
Yes and Trevor Horn: By the end of the ’70s, Yes fans were well aware that the band has a lineup that was often in flux. Guitarist Steve Howe replaced Peter Banks. Drummer Alan White replaced Bill Bruford. And original keyboardist Tony Kaye was replaced by Rick Wakeman who was replaced by Patrick Moraz who was replaced by the return of Rick Wakeman (we think he’s joined and quit at least two or three more times, we’ve lost count). Two guys, though, were indispensable: bassist Chris Squire and singer Jon Anderson. Sadly, by 1980, Anderson had quit (and so had Wakeman, again). They replaced those guys with both members of a new wave duo, the Buggles (famous for “Video Killed the Radio Star”). The resulting album, 1980’s Drama, was something of a commercial dud, and fans — many of whom were unaware that Anderson was no longer the singer — were increasingly annoyed during the tour. The band soon broke up.
What happened next: Chris Squire and Alan White reformed Yes with Jon Anderson and original keyboardist Tony Kaye; their reunion album was actually produced by Trevor Horn. In more recent years, Downes has actually rejoined the band.
Motley Crue and John Corabi: To be fair, the early ’90s weren’t going to be kind to the Crue no matter what. But to make things worse, they replaced original singer Vince Neil with John Corabi. After one album, 1994’s Motley Crue, Corabi was out.
What happened next: Vince Neil rejoined the band. Corabi, meanwhile, joined the Crue’s buddies in Ratt. And Corabi even joined the Crue on stage at a 2008 show, sharing the mic with Vince Neil on a cover of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.”
Stone Temple Pilots and Chester Bennington: In 2013, after firing troubled lead singer Weiland, STP replaced him with Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, debuting at KROQ’s Weenie Roast and releasing a surprise single, “Out of Time.” They toured and released an EP, High Rise.
Genesis and Ray Wilson: For years, the British prog-rock band seemed to have a policy against outsourcing. Singer Peter Gabriel quit in 1975; drummer Phil Collins took over as the vocalist. In 1977, guitarist Steve Hackett left. No problem: bassist Mike Rutherford took over guitar chores, and they jokingly named their next album … and Then There Were Three. But in 1996 after Collins left, they couldn’t downsize anymore (and neither Rutherford nor keyboardist Tony Banks would have cut it as the lead singer). So they found Scottish singer Ray Wilson and released Calling All Stations in 1997. The album didn’t go over well, their U.S. tour was cancelled and the band split up.
What happened next: In 2006, Phil Collins returned for the “Turn It On Again” tour, and he recently told Radio.com that he wouldn’t rule out working with the band again in the future.
Black Sabbath and Glenn Hughes: Black Sabbath and original singer Ozzy Osbourne was a match made in heavy metal hell; the music they made influenced generations to come. After Ozzy’s departure, they recruited former Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio; that lineup was legendary in its own right. But Dio left, and they pulled off a replacement singer an unprecedented third time with former Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillan. But Purple reunited, and Gillan left Sabbath to rejoin. Improbably, the next Sabbath singer was former Purple bass player, Glenn Hughes. And that was one change too many: it just didn’t work. To be fair, the album they recorded, Seventh Star, was intended to be a Tony Iommi solo album, but was released under the band’s name, and Hughes found himself, uncomfortably, as the new singer of Black Sabbath; on tour, he was singing Ozzy and Dio’s songs, something he had little desire to do. He ended up parting ways with the band during the tour to promote their only album, 1986’s Seventh Star.
What happened next:Sabbath returned with yet another new singer, Tony Martin, but would go on to reunite with Dio and Ozzy over the years. They’re currently on their “farewell tour” with Osbourne. Hughes and Iommi have since collaborated outside of the confines of Sabbath, and Hughes is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next month with Deep Purple.
Deep Purple and Joe Lynn Turner: Speaking of Deep Purple, they’re another band who had one vocalist change too many. The started out with Rod Evans during their psychedelic garage rock era. He was replaced by Ian Gillan, one of the guys who defined the heavy metal wail. And he was replaced by David Coverdale, who also sang in the blues rock vein. Then, in 1976, the band broke up. They reunited in 1984 with Gillan back in the band, leading to two successful albums, 1984’s Perfect Strangers and 1987’s The House of Blue Light. But then, tensions between Gillan and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore soured and Gillan quit the band, to be replaced by Joe Lynn Turner, who had sung with Blackmore in the ’80s as a member of Rainbow. They released one album, 1990’s Slaves and Masters, before parting ways with Turner.
What Happened Next: Gillan returned to the band, but then Blackmore quit; the band’s drama continues today.
Suffice to say: often replacing the singer of a band doesn’t work out, especially for a band who has pulled it off before. And how many bands are taken seriously when they hire a new frontman four-plus decades into their career? So, please, AC/DC: carefully weigh your next decision.