Five bands who replaced their frontmen (with varying results)

Today in nostalgic pop punk news, the now sans-Tom DeLonge version of Blink-182 are reportedly working on material for a new album with their newest member, Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba. While the prospect of new Blink makes me more than a little hot under the collar, is it really new Blink when it’s going to be lacking that familiar angsty, nasally whine of DeLonge’s that made every Blink-182 song so instantly recognisable?

To be honest, this is really just going to feel more like Box Car Racer feat. Matt Skiba than anything else I’m predicting. Or it could be worse. Or maybe it’ll be amazing. Music history shows that either outcome is more than a possibility. Just a few of the bands who’ve tagged out their original frontman for another:

5: Stone Temple Pilots – with Chester Bennington

If you’re a fan of 90s grunge, there weren’t many names bigger than Stone Temple Pilots. Responsible for some of the hardest rocking sounds of that decade with hits like Plush, Interstate Love Song, Big Empty and Trippin’ On A Hole In A Paper Heart. 

Frontman Scott Weiland has battled his fair share of demons throughout, the band going on more than a few breaks and hiatuses throughout their three decades. The final straw came in 2013, after months of speculation that Weiland was hoping to return to Velvet Revolver, the bizarro world incarnate of Guns N’ Roses. With plenty of names in the mix for the new frontman role, the rest of STP decided they really didn’t give two shits and hired this guy:

Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, the less terrible Limp Bizkit. Uh… sure I guess. Their first single as Stone Temple Pilots was this.

Connect-the-dots, paint-by-numbers, whatever you want to call it, this is the worst kind of derivative hard rock out there. Stone Temple should really have just called it a day and moved on. An EP that was received pretty ordinarily soon followed and they’re apparently still a band, despite all the evidence suggesting that they shouldn’t be.

4. Joy Division to New Order

Here’s an example of a switch in frontmen that worked amazingly well. After the devastating loss of original Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis in 1980, a history of depression and mental illness bringing his life to a tragic end shortly before the release of their second album and first ever American tour, the other members of the group decided to keep going.

Bernard Sumner, the guitarist for Joy Division, took over the vocal duties and the band changed their name to New Order. From there they became one of the forerunners at the head of the New Wave movement, creating synth-pop sounds that were miles ahead of the game and writing massive hits like Blue Monday and Bizarre Love Triangle.

It worked, in my opinion, because of the name change. The Joy Division name was rightfully associated with the haunting, gothic baritone of Ian Curtis and to have kept that name while now using the vocals of Brian Sumner simply for the sake of a credible and recognisable moniker would have been something that may have alienated fans of the original band. By changing the name and the sound, New Order were able to forge a brand new path to continue on, one that was so successful in its own right that they’re still around today.

3. Mötley Crüe – with John Corabi

Mötley Crüe are what would happen if four sexually transmittable diseases came to life and picked up guitars. They were hedonistic, lewd, crude and just the wildest band going for the majority of the 1980s. They played a brand of heavy metal that was dirty enough to distance itself from the saccharine pile of hair metal bands at the top of the charts at the time while still incorporating a lot of the style and the pop elements that made those bands so successful.

Then just about every rock and roll cliche imaginable happened to them. Most of them ended up in rehab, bassist Nikki Sixx even died for a couple of minutes. They cleaned up and released Dr. Feelgood in 1989 but then the 90s rolled around and grunge happened. All of a sudden nobody gave a shit about hair metal, the Crüe included.

Singer Vince Neil either was fired or just up and quit (they still all can’t agree on it) and the band decided to carry on with one John Corabi of little known LA hard rock group The Scream on the microphone. What followed was uh… awful. In an attempt to stay relevant, they went all over the shop. They tried to sound like Nine Inch Nails and adopt a more contemporary industrial sound. Crickets. They also tried to go grunge as well, see if you can listen to all six and a half minutes of this horror:

None of the young crowd took their new sound seriously because they were fossils trying to make music well out of their depth, and they couldn’t sell tickets to the nostalgia crowd either because they all wanted the familiar voice of Vince Neil out front. The rest of the band also (according to Corabi himself in their amazing autobiography The Dirt) treated their new frontman with nothing short of contempt while he was part of the band. And so after just one album, the band fired Corabi (at his suggestion no less) and replaced him with old mate Vince, still releasing albums that were never anywhere near as good as their 80s work but at least able to sell out arena tour after arena tour flogging their old hits.

2. AC/DC – with Brian Johnson

Right before Joy Division made their change to New Order, Aussie hall of fame rockers AC/DC experienced a tragedy of their own, losing original frontman and all-around legend Bon Scott to acute alcohol poisoning. It was an absolute tragedy, the band having just broken into the lucrative American market and looking poised to be huge. Most predicted it would be the death blow for AC/DC, until they linked up with new frontman Brian Johnson and proceeded to blow up on a scale larger than anyone ever expected.

Unlike Joy Division, they continued using their original name. Back In Black, the first album the band put out with their new frontman, became their most successful to date. It sold over 50 million copies worldwide and is only behind Michael Jackson and Thriller for the highest selling album of all time.

That is absolutely huge, even more so when you consider how drastically the vocal sound of the band changed with its frontmen. Johnson’s vocals were raw power where Scott’s had been slithery sleaze, but fans accepted the change with open arms and proceeded to catapult AC/DC into the stratosphere as one of the biggest bands of all time.

Critically, Back In Black was their peak and they never released a better album, oftentimes devolving into the dumbest of generic arena rock, but their level of success after such a tragedy is yet to be ever repeated.

1. Black Sabbath – with Ronnie James Dio and Ian Gillan

The grandfathers of heavy metal music and so many of its subgenres. Black Sabbath were a revelatory experience when their self-titled debut album dropped in 1970. Doomy, dark and demonic, featuring guitars with the feedback cranked and the wailing, unforgettable lead vocals of showman-extraordinaire Ozzy Osbourne. 

Sabbath, like Stone Temple Pilots many years later, went through plenty of ups and downs in terms of original frontmen, the Ozzman doing just about every drug known to mankind while almost swigging booze in his sleep. Whenever Ozzy departed, the band were quick to replace him and the results often varied enormously.

After the band got tired of Ozzy’s shit for the first time in 1979, they replaced him with then Rainbow lead singer, a singer who was diminutive in stature but possessed vocals that soared up in the heavens (rest his soul), Ronnie James Dio. Some of the band’s greatest work was done with Dio, who brought about a change in both sound and attitude. They recorded two albums together, Mob Rules and the utterly amazing Heaven And Hell.

It seemed like the new Sabbath were going to be just fine without Ozzy, who was busy forging his own marketable solo career. Creative differences between Dio and the rest of the band began though, and when he left in late 1982, founding members Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi decided to replace him with the then vocalist of everyone’s dad’s favourite hard rock group: Deep Purple. It sounded approximately this terrible:

Born Again is frequently regarded as Sabbath’s critical and commercial nadir. It was reprehensible to say the least. Their tour in support of the album, replete with a stage set like Stonehenge, had the immortal piss taken out of it in the This Is Spinal Tap mockumentary.

Gillan went one and done with the band and Black Sabbath ran through a whole mess of nobody vocalists for years after that, hooking up with Dio again for a brief period, before Ozzy rejoined them in 1997. They’ve been kicking around since then (with Dio once more touring Heaven And Hell again in 2007), the band currently comprised of Ozzy, Geezer and Iommi. They reportedly have one more album left in them, their twentieth, and a final tour in 2016 before retirement.

Their career remains an example of how new frontmen can work like magic and how they can fail in a disastrous explosion of awful. A rock and roll tale that is almost Shakespearean.

We wish Blink-182 all the best and look forward to seeing how their new frontman situation plays out.