Bands That Made Good Albums After Losing Their Main Guy

Every ship has a captain, that guy that tells everyone what to do, where to go and is ultimately responsible for everything. A band’s captain is their figurehead. It’s usually the lead guitarist, or the lead singer. Sometimes the figurehead and the main songwriter are one in the same and sometimes the position is shared amongst members of the band*, but there is usually a single member of the band that the public looks to as being the genius behind the music – whether they are or not is another story.

So what happens when the figurehead leaves the band? Sometimes the band presses on, often to disastrous results, and sometimes the band just calls it quits and breaks up. However, sometimes someone else in the band takes up the slack and proves to be just as good or even better than the previous songwriter, or a new singer or guitarist is hired and is just as able to convey the songwriter’s music as the last guy. Here are seven bands that flourished after losing their main songwriter, with before and after songs for each band.

Fleetwood Mac

Lead by Peter Green from 1967-1970, Fleetwood Mac was originally a heavy blues oriented band, with a relatively dark sound. Peter Green was both lead guitarist and lead singer, but he soon descended into an acid induced madness, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Fleetwood Mac’s most famous song from this era was the last one Green wrote, and you can literally hear the madness taking over him.

Fleetwood Mac eventually bounced back in 1975 with a self-titled album, and the vocal duties spread out across Christine McVie and newcomers Lindsay Buckingham and his girl Stevie Nicks. The result was a much poppier, upbeat sound, that while different is still just as good. I’m really happy that I grew out of my heavy metal days early on in high school so I can comfortably listen to Fleetwood Mac while I drive and not feel like a pussy.

Peter Green Album to Check Out: Then Play On – 1969
Lindsay Buckingham/Stevie Nicks Album to Check Out: Rumours – 1977

Black Sabbath

Speaking of heavy metal, one of the few metals bands I listened to in my early teenage years that I can still appreciate is Black Sabbath. While they may have worn black and sung about the devil in a few songs, they still knew how to groove and their music doesn’t sound like a bunch of sourpuss nerds trying to sound fearsome.

Everyone knows their original front man was Ozzy Osbourne, and the band’s work with him remains their best work. However the first couple of albums they made with Ozzy’s original replacement, Ronnie James Dio, are really just as good. While Ozzy was the voice of Sabbath, the bassist, Geezer Butler was the real man behind the music and he wrote just as well for Ozzy as he did for Dio.

Ozzy Osbourne Album to Check Out: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath – 1973
Ronnie James Dio Album to Check Out: Heaven and Hell – 1980

Bad Religion

Bad Religion is the child born from the loins of lead singer Greg Graffin and lead guitarist Mr. Brett. Looking at the albums and EPs recorded between the years 1981-1994, one would find that the songwriting duties were distributed pretty evenly between the two men. Then around the time their 1994 album Stranger Than Fiction was released Mr. Bret left so that he could focus more time on Epitaph, the punk rock record label he owned.

Now it was up to Graffin to pick up the slack and write double the amount of songs he usually did. The result isn’t bad in the least, Graffin and Mr. Brett are both great writers, but the Graffin-only albums do feel a little thinner. Mr. Brett ended up rejoining the band in 2002 for The Process of Belief and has been back with the band ever since.

Mr. Brett-Greg Graffin Album to Check Out: No Control – 1989
Greg Graffin Only Album to Check Out: The Gray Race – 1996

Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd was in a very similar situation as Fleetwood Mac back in the late 60s. They released Piper at the Gates of Dawn under the stewardship of main songwriter/lead singer/lead guitarist Syd Barrett, but by the time their second album A Saucerful Secrets was released in 1968, Syd had also descended into madness. He proved to be far too unstable to remain a part of the band, and the rest of the band brought on guitarist David Gilmour to pick up the slack. Pink Floyd’s work with Syd Barrett was very psychedelic and acid-tinged, and the band floundered for a few albums before finding their voice without him.

Bassist Roger Waters and guitarist David Gilmour emerged as the band’s new leaders, often sharing vocal and song writing duties and in 1973 they released their most popular (and one of the most popular albums of all time) Dark Side of the Moon. As the 70s progressed Roger Waters began to take on more and more of the songwriting responsibilities, culminating with his magnum opus, 1979’s The Wall. Waters eventually split from the band in the mid-80s, with Gilmour replacing a couple of albums totally under his stewardship.

Syd Barrett Album to Check Out: Piper at the Gates of Dawn – 1967
Roger Waters/David Gilmour Album to Check Out: Animals – 1977


Genesis is one of the more interesting cases on this list. The band released six albums with Peter Gabriel on lead vocals, and acting as the face of the band, to critical acclaim. Their last album with Gabriel was the epic double album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Genesis got their start as the greatest progressive rock band, with Peter Gabriel’s sharp voice and theatrical presence leading the band.

During The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour Gabriel decided that it was time for him and the band to part ways and the rest of the band decided to move on without him. For their new vocalist the band looked behind the drum kit and raised their drummer Phil Collins (affectionately known as The Phil) from the drum set to the center stage microphone. Oddly enough, The Phil and Peter Gabriel have rather similar voices, and in the early albums after Gabriel’s departure Genesis continued to make progressive rock albums akin to their Gabriel-era work. That changed in the early 80s and Genesis started churning out synth-laden hit after synth-laden hit like “Invisible Touch” and “Land of Confusion”.

Peter Gabriel Album to Check Out: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway – 1974
The Phil Album to Check Out: Abacab – 1981

Depeche Mode

Vince Clarke founded Depeche Mode in the late 70s, and he wrote most of the material on their debut album Speak and Spell released in 1981. He wrote a lot of bouncy, light synth pop littered with incredibly naïve, happy go lucky lyrics. It’s great. It’s a fun, chipper album and it’s impossible not to smile when listening to it. But after it was released he ditched the band.

Band member Martin Gore took over songwriting duties and started crafting out a new direction for the band. Over the course of three albums Gore stripped away the synth pop and began writing songs that felt darker and more sensual and one were the naïve love songs. Gore is a far more mature songwriter and he is not afraid to give his songs a more carnal edge. Depeche Mode would be nothing however without Dave Gahan’s signature baritone voice, and is still going strong. Their last album, Sounds of the Universe was released in 2009 and is just as great as their albums from the late 80s-early 90s.

Vince Clarke Album to Check Out: Speak and Spell – 1981
Martin Gore Album to Check Out: Violator – 1990

Joy Division/New Order

I saved the most interesting case for last. Joy Division was formed in 1976 by guitarist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook, drummer Stephen Morris and singer Ian Curtis. They were originally known as Warsaw, and recorded an album under that moniker that wasn’t released until the 90s. While they initially started out as a Sex Pistols influenced punk band, the band worked with producer Martin Hannett to craft a more textured and nuanced sound that fits more into the post-punk genre of music. Peter Hook’s treble-tinged bass often drove the songs, with Bernard Sumner content to hold back on the guitar until it was necessary, unleashing blasts of melody that hit harder because they weren’t leading the song. However, Joy Division is really remembered for Ian Curtis. The vocalist had a deep, soulful voice and his lyrics fit Sumner’s music like a glove. He was also kind of a horrible person, who cheated on his wife and didn’t bother to raise his kid. He also suffered from epilepsy and he committed suicide shortly before the band was to embark on their first American tour.

After hearing the news of Curtis’ death the rest of the band made the bold decision to not carry on under the name Joy Division. They stayed together, with Sumner taking over vocal duties, and adding Morris’ girlfriend Gillian Gilbert as keyboardist/guitarist and they called themselves New Order. Their first album, Movement, was very much in the vein of their Joy Division work, but after that they began to incorporate more and more synthesizers and adopted dance music and the club scene to create some of the best pop songs of the 80s. Sumner’s songwriting did not diminish at all in New Order and they’re just as good, if not better than Joy Division.

Joy Division Album to Check Out: Unknown Pleasures – 1979
New Order Album to Check Out: Power, Corruption & Lies – 1983

Who’d I miss? My knowledge of music doesn’t extend much past the early 90s.

*The Eagles are an example of a band where the songwriting/lead singing duties are spread across two men, and both Don Henley and Glenn Frey are seen as the figureheads of the band. Fuck Don Henley, I’m a Glen Frey man all the way. He was in Miami Vice!


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Categories: Music

Author:Colin Holmes

I love movies. I love watching them and I love writing about them. My taste ranges from Jean Pierre Melville to Jean Claude Van Damme and everything in between as long as it isn’t mediocre. I’ll take a crazy failure of a movie over a middle of the road one any day. I'm an American currently living abroad in Oz and am relishing how my accent makes me sound like a cowboy to everyone I meet here.

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