The Show Must Go On

Totally off the top of my head here, but I just heard “Back in Black” by AC/DC and it made me wonder: Has any band ever lost a critical member and come back to record as great a record as Back in Black?  I mean, how many bands can lose someone with as distinctive a voice as Bon Scott, then find out one of their roadies sounds the exact same way?  And then record the best album of their career?  Answer: At least one, and they are from Australia.  (And we can argue about Back in Black being their best record if you want, but go anywhere and people know the hits from Back in Black.)

Let’s see…The Pretenders lost their lead guitar player and their bass player (both badasses) in a matter of months, and Chrissie Hynde responded with Learning to Crawl, which only had about six awesome singles.  Certainly one of the best records of 1984.

Metallica lost Cliff Burton after 1985’s Master of Puppets, then came back two years later with Jason Newstead at bass and the …And Justice For All double album, which was the last great Metallica record (about which there is no argument).  Not a lot of impact on the band’s sound one way or the other; Metallica would have exploded in 1987 one way or the other.

I don’t think this technically counts, but after D. Boon died in a 1985 car crash the remaining Minutemen, Mike Watt and George Hurley, joined up with another guy and released some really great records as fIREHOSE.  (Not Firehouse, a hilariously bad hair metal band.)  But I suppose if you count fIREHOSE you end up counting Foo Fighters and others and that’s not what this is really about.  Still, do yourself a favor and make sure to find a copy of the Minutemen’s Double Nickles on the Dime.  A damn shame about D. Boon.

Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis killed himself in 1980 and by 1981 the remaining band members had become New Order, who went on to greater success than Joy Division enjoyed, and by 1983 recorded Power, Corruption, and Lies, one of the great records of the 1980’s for the song Blue Monday alone.

Brian Jones died in 1969, but he was two years from having been a real and contributing member of the Rolling Stones by that point.  Ironically, Jones was the one who founded the group.

The Allman Brothers lost Duane Allman (a huge, historic loss) and Berry Oakley within a year of each other in motorcycle accidents (that occurred only three blocks apart in Macon, GA) and in short order came back to record Eat A Peach, with the great song Ramblin’ Man.  A fine comeback for sure, though it helps when your “second” guitarist is Dickie Betts.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers lost guitarist Hillel Slovak to a heroin overdose in 1988, then found a 20 year-old guitar prodigy named John Frusciante and recorded two blistering, beautiful albums, Mother’s Milk and Blood Sugar Sex Magik.  The Chili Peppers were going to be big anyway, no question.  The Slovak-era records are fantastic in their own right, but put the headphones on and listen to the intricate guitar parts (and multiple styles) Frusciante uses on Mother’s Milk and BSSM.

Of that list I’d have to give the Best Death Comeback Record to…Back in Black, with a close second to Mother’s Milk.  It feels like I’m missing a very obvious one, though.  Add to this list…

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11 Responses to The Show Must Go On

  1. Charley says:

    well done. It also raises the question of the more typical case: bands that end up being wrecked by the death of a member. I imagine that list is longer, but The Who losing Keith Moon comes to mind. INXS basically turned into a reality show after Michael Hutchense. Skynyrd, etc. But maybe these bands were on the decline by then anyway? How many potentially great bands never realized that potential because they lost a member too early? Lots to think about here.

  2. MrFares says:

    We can debate whether they go on your list or Charley’s but here are three that sold more and charted higher post-loss of a leader: B52s, enesis and Pink Floyd.

  3. pipelineblog says:

    Indeed, much to consider. First, to address MrFares’ comment: Yes, I would include the B-52s on my list because the dude died, and he was, as I understand it, the main musical driver for the band. Of course when you have Fred Schneider and Kate Piersall on the vocals that band was always going to sound that way to some extent. But the music itself went from a more guitar-driven sound to something else.

    Genesis and Pink Floyd are tougher cases because their people didn’t die, they just left (or were kicked out). And that, of course, is a much longer list of bands to consider. Still, excellent examples of the overall theme, a band changing the roster and then thriving.

    One hilarious example comes to mind from the Wilco movie “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”. Creative differences lead one of the guitarists to exit/be pushed from the band. And he seems completely bewildered by it, saying to the camera in disgust, “I thought this was a BAND. But I guess it’s really just Jeff Tweedy and Wilco.” And he was right.

    Charley’s alternative examples of bands that ceased when a member became deceased are spot-on, and of course this is where the Minutemen become a prime example. And any Replacements fan knows that when Bob Stinson got kicked out the band, things were never the same.

  4. Charley says:

    well, if you expand it to people who just get kicked out of bands, then the list definitely gets much longer. Vesuvius comes to mind.

  5. Clint says:

    I think we would run out of space if we listed bands that blew up when a member died. The only notable band I can think of off the top of my head that may qualify under Doug’s list is Quiet Riot. Randy Rhoads formed that band. He died in the early 80’s and Quit Riot reformed. Metal Health was the first album they spit out after he died. The only caveat I throw out is I know he also played for Ozzy and I am not really sure of that relationship.

  6. kelly says:


  7. Becky O says:

    Spinal Tap. Lots of dead drummers.

  8. Stanton says:

    Here’s a curveball: Foo Fighters. Wouldn’t have come about without the death of Kurt Cobain. And Grohl’s stuff, especially that first album, made me reconsider Nirvana as perhaps more than a grunge-Athena, sprung fully formed from Cobain’s head.

  9. pipelineblog says:

    Stanton, check out the Nirvana song “Marigold”, which I only heard recently when I got the “With the Lights Out” box set. I believe it’s Grohl’s only lead vocal with Nirvana. Hearing that, then hearing the first Foo Fighters record, is pretty interesting. Were those songs originally conceived as Nirvana songs?

    Also, this makes Dave Grohl Phil Collins, and Kurt Cobain Peter Gabriel.

  10. Stanton says:

    Sorry I missed where you mentioned Foo Fighters in the body of the post. My eyes glaze over when it comes to some defunct bands. Speaking of which, have you heard the Uncle Tupelo song ‘D. Boon?’

    I have heard Marigold before, but wasn’t aware it predated Foo Fighters. Let’s just cut to the chase: Best non-Nirvana Curt Cobain album: Hole’s ‘Live Through This.”

    Finally, I think Pink Floyd takes the prize in the category. Syd Barret might as well have died. And if Dark Side of the Moon wasn’t exactly their NEXT album, it did stay on the charts for like 30 years, basically created a genre, and you can watch The Wizard of Oz to it.

  11. Sean says:

    And then there’s Fleetwood Mac. Probably the best-selling blues band in Europe in the late 60’s and early 70’s, then they lose founder/frontman/guitar god Peter Green to schizophrenia and generalized craziness. They follow that up by losing nearly-as-good Jeremy Spencer to a religious cult, Danny Kirwan to alcoholism, a handful of fringe members to “artistic differences,” and Bob Welch to exhaustion. Somewhere in the middle of there, they had to contend with a fake Fleetwood Mac touring under their name. And THEN they made Rumours.

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