Bands have often had to change their lineup due to reasons like conflict, untimely death, new opportunities, or just bad timing. Although there’s a fear that replacing a member could lead to the fall of the band, luckily that’s not always what happens– in some situations, the group finds equal or even greater success. Such is the case with bands like The Rolling Stones, with the death of Brian Jones and the departure of Mick Taylor, or like Van Halen, with the firing of David Lee Roth. Below are other famous examples.
Music Groups Who Found Success After a New Lineup
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Since forming in 1983 in Los Angeles, lead singer Anthony Kiedis and bassist Flea have been the only consistent members of Red Hot Chili Peppers. The original guitarist, Hillel Slovak, helped define their sound but sadly passed away in 1988. It wasn’t until his replacement John Frusciante joined that they found superstardom, especially with the release of the band’s highly successful albums Blood Sugar Sex Magik in 1991 and Californication in 1999. Frusciante has since left the band, and although still popular, they haven’t stayed at the level of success they once were.
Childhood friends Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic formed Nirvana in 1987, but the band went through five different drummers before settling on Chad Channing, who was featured on their 1989 album Bleach. Although now a well-known album, it had nowhere near the same popularity as 1991’s Nevermind, which was released after the band added Dave Grohl as their permanent drummer. Nirvana is considered one of the most influential bands of all time and are credited as one of the lead pioneers of the grunge movement. Their popularity hasn’t waned, even though it’s been 27 years since Cobain’s death.
AC/DC’s original lineup when the band formed in 1973 consisted of guitarist brothers Malcolm and Angus Young, singer Bon Scott, drummer Phil Rudd, and bassist Mark Evans. Evans was fired from the band in 1977 and replaced by Cliff Willams, and Scott died from alcohol poisoning in 1980. Although many bands would probably disband after losing their lead singer, they decided to keep at it, eventually hiring vocalist Brian Johnson. With the new lineup now in place, AC/DC released Back in Black, which shot them to even greater fame, as it became the second-best selling album of all time. Sadly, Malcolm Young died in 2017.
The Pretenders formed in 1978 with Chrissie Hynde (lead vocals and rhythm guitar), James Honeymoon-Scott (lead guitar, backing vocals, and keyboard), Pete Farndon (bass guitar and backing vocals), and Martin Chambers (drums, backing vocals, and percussion). Sadly, Honeymoon-Scott and Farndon both passed away in 1982 and 1983, respectively. By then, the band had already released two successful albums, Pretenders in 1980 and Pretenders II in 1981, so it was hard to imagine that they would be able to continue when the original lineup was already well known. Hynde didn’t give up though and found new members in order to record the album Learning to Crawl in 1984, which contained the mega-hit “Back on the Chain Gang” as well as several other popular singles. The album became a critical and commercial success, peaking at #5 on the U.S. Billboard Charts and becoming the band’s highest-charting album.
Perhaps one of the most famous examples, The Beatles started playing in clubs in 1960 with Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and George Harrison on guitar, Stuart Sutcliffe on bass, and Pete Best on drums. McCartney took over the bass when Sutcliffe decided to leave the band in 1961 to study art. Unfortunately for Best, he was replaced by Ringo Starr in 1962 (but not by his own accord) and it was only a year later that The Beatles found worldwide fame. Best has since become the archetype for “being famous for not being famous.” Although Best wasn’t initially told why he was fired from the group, the other Beatles later claimed that they didn’t feel they had any chemistry with him.
The Yardbirds/Led Zeppelin
Although the Yardbirds original 1963 lineup featured vocalist and harmonica player Keith Relf, drummer Jim McCarty, guitarist/bassist Chris Dreja, and bassist/producer Paul Samwell-Smith, it was the later members who would individually become some of the greatest and most well-known musicians of all-time: Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck. Clapton joined in October of 1963 and the band scored its first major hit with “For Your Love.” Clapton left in 1965 but recommended Page, who was a young session guitarist, to replace him. However, Page declined and in turn recommended Beck. Samwell-Smith eventually left, and Page agreed to join. When the group was in the midst of breaking up, they were still contracted to tour, so Page stayed on, recruited some of his own musician friends, and called the group The New Yardbirds. They would eventually change their name to Led Zeppelin, and the rest is history.
Fleetwood Mac started as a British blues band in the late 1960s, founded by guitarists Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer, drummer Mick Fleetwood, and bassist John McVie. Green left the group due to an illness that was later diagnosed as schizophrenia, and Fleetwood and McVie transitioned into a softer rock sound after recruiting McVie’s wife Christine in 1971 and Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks in 1975. The new list of musicians proved to be a huge success; their 1975 album Fleetwood Mac shot to #1 in the United States and their album Rumours from 1977 produced four top 10 singles and remained on the music charts for 31 weeks.