When the lead singer leaves a platinum-selling rock band, the remaining members will sometimes try to revitalize by recruiting a new frontman – often someone younger and relatively unknown – in an attempt to infuse new blood into the ongoing saga. This usually don’t work, and almost inevitably the original vocalist will end up coming back. Here are some examples of lead singers who were hired by the bands with grandiose expectations but ended up instead as a footnote in their history, appearing on as little as one studio release (if that) before the prodigal sons returned.
# 9 – Dave Coutts/TALK SHOW (aka STONE TEMPLE PILOTS)
Not quite a pure example but close enough: In 1997, five years of commercial success for Stone Temple Pilots was derailed by lead singer Scott Weiland’s drug use, solo pursuits and increased apathy. The other three member recorded with ex-Ten Inch Men vocalist Dave Coutts under the name Talk Show, whose self-titled (and only) album sounded, looked and smelled like an Stone Temple Pilots release – it just didn’t sell like one. Stone Temple Pilots reunited for three more albums but Weiland left for good in 2013. Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington stepped in for a while, but Jeff Gutt has been fronting Stone Temple Pilots since 2017.
# 8 – Noel Burke/ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN
After lead singer Ian McCulloch moved on from the influential new wave band (from whom some say U2 “borrowed” their trademark sound) in 1989, the remaining members at first put out an open call for would-be replacements to send in demo tapes and head shots (it’s too bad for the band TV reality competitions weren’t around yet), but ultimately found Noel Burke through more conventional industry channels. Still, the resulting album Reverberation (1990) sold so poorly the band’s label dropped them. When McCulloch and Sargent patched things up in 1994 they clearly agreed on at least the old wine/new bottle approach, electing to record and tour under a new moniker, Electrafixtion. However, they hopped back down the Bunny(men) trail three years later, and they’re still there.
# 7 – Every headbanger and his brother/BLACK SABBATH
Even though their biggest album was called Paranoid, prototypical heavy metal outfit Black Sabbath had genuine reason to be concerned for most of the Eighties and Nineties. The band found a surprisingly strong balance after Ozzy Osbourne’s departure with new vocalist Ronnie James Dio, and even after Dio’s own exit the future looked at least stable when Ian Gillian stepped in. Gillian would leave after a single Black Sabbath album (the ironically-titled Born Again), and beyond this you’re going to need a scorecard.
Singer David Donato never made it past the rough demos, then after recording with Glenn Hughes (also ex-Deep Purple), Ray Gillen did the corresponding tour. There was also Jeff Fenholt, who has publicly claimed that in early 1985 he had been the vocalist (why not? It seems like everyone else has at some point).
Tony Martin managed to stick around for five studio albums (all commercial bombs), but even that run was interrupted by a sole release featuring the returned Ronnie James Dio. Luckily, in 1997, everyone finally got what they had been waiting for all along, when Ozzy Osbourne rejoined.
# 6 – Johnny Edwards/FOREIGNER
Critics would often label groups like Foreigner “faceless bands,” suggesting that were they to alter the line-up no one would notice or care. It turns out they were wrong, which was unfortunate – for the band. In 1990 Foreigner replaced departed longtime lead singer Lou Graham with Johnny Edwards, a veteran of Montrose, King Kobra and several other hard rock bands. Reaction to the resulting album, Unusual Heat, was unusually chilly for a band accustomed to platinum sales and Top 5 chartings – Unusual Heat topped out at a jaw-dropping number 117 in Billboard. Graham rejoined in 1992 – with Edwards, of course, out – but the band’s downhill trajectory could not be reversed (Graham left for good in 2004).
# 5 – Trevor Horn/YES
After longtime front man Jon Anderson left Yes in 1978, the progressive rock outfit’s remaining members made the somewhat ambitious move of incorporating new wave duo the Buggles “Video Killed the Radio Star” – into the band, with Geoff Downes now playing keyboards and Trevor Horn taking over lead vocals. Ironically, the resulting album, Drama (1980) wasn’t much of a musical departure, but despite that (or because of it) Drama became the first Yes album to miss the U.S. Top 10 since Time and a Word a decade earlier. The band went on hiatus but Anderson returned a short time later for what would become Yes’s all-time most successful release, 90125 (don’t feel too bad for Horn, though – he produced that record, as well as the platinum follow-up, 1987’s Big Generator).
# 4 – Gary Cherone/VAN HALEN
Van Halen could practically copyright the media term “highly publicized departure.” Although that of Sammy Hagar in 1996 was followed by a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reunion with original singer David Lee Roth, it was announced shortly after that Gary Cherone would be assuming the permanent position behind the mic. Gary Cherone was hardly a cover-band wannabe, having fronted successful Boston hard rock band Extreme, but there was clearly no saving the resulting album, Van Halen III, which became the first Van Halen album ever to not go platinum.
Gary Cherone – whom it was later admitted was effectively forced upon the Van Halen by the label – agreed to leave, in probably the only amicable split in the band’s history. Since then, Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth have both come back and then left yet again, with the most recent development being Sammy Hagar indicating that he might be willing to return.
# 3 – Ray Wilson/GENESIS
In 1985 Phil Collins told Rolling Stone “the next person to leave Genesis will finish [the band].” The other members apparently missed that memo, since after Phil Collins left in 1996 they hired 28-year-old Ray Wilson, who had previously fronted Scottish grunge band (yes, there’s such a thing) Stiltskin. Although his heart clearly seemed to be in it, Wilson’s youth, hair and nondescript vocal style all made him a conspicuously poor fit for Genesis.
The British gave a cordial reception to the album Calling All Stations, but when Americans for the most part hung up on it. The band was put on indefinite hiatus with the general understanding that they were done with Wilson. Collins rejoined in 2007 for a hugely successful world tour, and in 2020 that same line-up announced new tour dates.
# 2 – John Corabi/MOTLEY CRUE
Nearly three decades later, it’s still unclear whether Vince Neil was fired from Motley Crue in 1992 or if he quit. What was certain is that the band intended to carry on without him, recruiting singer John Corabi from the L.A. glam band Scream. The new lineup’s self-titled 1994 album went Top 10 but otherwise performed too far below expectations, and supposedly it was Corabi who suggested resuming contact with Neil (whose attempted careers as both as a solo music act and a race car driver had failed).
Lest it seem they were throwing the new guy under the tour bus,Motley Crue originally indicated that Neil and Corabi would co-exist in the band. This seemed unrealistic, and it was: by 1996 the switch back was complete, with Neil completely reinstated and Corabi gone.
# 1 – Tim “Ripper” Owens/JUDAS PRIEST
It seemed like the ultimate Rock and Roll fantasy come true: after losing original lead singer Rob Halford in 1992, Judas Priest contacted Akron, Ohio singer Tim “Ripper” Owens about taking over the job. Owens was not merely the vocalist for a Judas Priest tribute band, he had been rabid devotee of the group since his childhood. The whole thing was touted as the perfect triumph-of-the-underdog story and even inspired a major Hollywood movie (Rock Star). However, after several years and two studio albums, no amount of hometown-boy-makes-good rhetoric could keep fans from longing for Halford’s return, which happened in 2003 after Owens graciously stepped aside.