Feature photo by Heather Kaplan
Stone Temple Pilots have officially announced that their search for a singer to replace the late Chester Bennington has come to an end. The unnamed new singer will make his or her premiere with the band live at The Troubadour in West Hollywood on Tuesday, November 14th.
The announcement inspired us to revisit our top five best and worst replacement singers in music history. Now, mind you, we wanted to keep each choice to one name — otherwise we would have just listed every Dead Kennedys frontman that didn’t go by Jello Biafra — so hopefully that clears up some confusion.
And before you reply, “What? No women?” Here’s something that female singer-songwriters can celebrate everywhere: They’re irreplaceable. Really, we couldn’t think of one female singer that fit either side of the line, which, technically, is a major compliment. We think.
Anyways, debate, suggest, or sing.
Brian Johnson (of AC/DC)
Who’d He Replace? Bon Scott
Years Active: 1980-present
Why Do We Love Him? It takes more than mere skill to fill the shoes of a legend. But when Brian Johnson mustered the courage to join AC/DC after the tragic death of Bon Scott, he not only filled the void, but helped propel the band to previously unprecedented heights of success. What’s more, it took him virtually no time at all to lock into the band’s formula. Johnson’s voice, albeit gruffer than Scott’s, came in pretty close to the real thing, and the runaway success of Back In Black more or less cemented his place in the band.
Best Example: Back In Black might as well be the roadmap for how to successfully transition into life with a new singer
Greatest addition beyond vocal duties: More than 30 years later, there’s still nothing cooler than that Kangol hat, right?
You could do worse: Noddy Holder, singer for English glam rockers Slade, auditioned for Johnson’s gig. Let’s just be thankful that didn’t pan out.
Sammy Hagar (of Van Halen)
Who’d He Replace? David Lee Roth (twice)
Years Active: 1985-96, 2003-05
Why Do We Love Him? In the mid-80s, Hagar was basically regarded as the intellectual that would turn Van Halen into a Serious Rock Band after leader singer Roth sputtered out of control. Because of Hagar, time has told that Van Halen has stood the test of time. We also now have the song “Pleasure Dome”.
Best Example: Fast song: “Right Now”; slow song: “Love Walks In” (a song about aliens, which comes up later!)
America: 2008 Republican campaign chose a song from Van Hagar’s album F.U.C.K. to play over Governor Sarah Palin’s introduction at a rally in Ohio. No statement was issued by Hagar. Three years, later Hagar claimed he was abducted by aliens.
Don’t judge a book by its cover if the cover has Sammy Hagar on it: Hagar’s autobiography held the #1 spot as a New York Times bestseller. Hagar also jammed with National Book Award winner Patti Smith when they were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the same year.
-Sarah H. Grant
Al Barr (of Dropkick Murphys)
Who’d He Replace? Mike McColgan
Years Active: 1998-present (with Dropkick Murphys)
Why Do We Love Him: Things were clicking for the Dropkick Murphys when singer Mike McColgan left the band to become a Boston firefighter in 1998. Fortunately, the band found another gruff, blue color Boston punk vet in Al Barr to step into his footsteps. Formerly of The Bruisers, Barr’s hoarse, sandpaper bark stands in sharp contrast to McColgan’s pronounced New England drawl, but the earnest, working class aesthetic has remained firmly in tact in the years since his arrival. Now 15 years later, the band isn’t just keeping at it, they’ve amassed the kind of cultish adoration worldwide they never before could have imagined.
Best Example: The band has had plenty of proud musical moments since Barr came on board, but 2001’s Sing Loud, Sing Proud stands above the rest.
Best raucous declaration of stubborn Boston Pride: “Kiss me, I’m shitfaced.”
You could do worse: Sure beats the hell out of the guy from Flogging Molly.
Phil Anselmo (of Pantera)
Who’d He Replace? Terry Glaze
Years Active: 1986-2003
Why Do We Love Him? Well, you both love and hate Phil Anselmo, but let’s focus on the love. Pre-Anselmo, Pantera was a pitiful glam rock band, less Cowboys from Hell and more Cowboys from Heyyyy. When Anselmo arrived, the band all but disavowed their spiked bracelets and charm earings and went on to write three mainstream metal albums that would wipe hair metal off the map. His performance on Anselmo would go on to occasionally make some racist comments and essentially drive a wedge through the band with his drug and alcohol abuse, but that scream of is tears paint off the walls.
Best Example: Anselmo’s whole performance on “This Love” is one of the best metal performances of all time.
Still got that glam in him: Echoing Dimebag’s harmonics at the end of “Cemetery Gates” showed just how high he could sing — unbelieveably high especially when you compare it to what he was doing a few years later on “Drag The Waters”
For best: What if Dee Snyder wanted to forgo his glam rock fame, and put on a ripped jeans and a confederate flag t-shirt? Would the world still be around today?
Phil Collins (of Genesis)
Who’d He Replace? Peter Gabriel
Years Active: 1970-96 (became sole lead singer after Gabriel’s departure in 1975), 2006-11 (reunion)
Why Do We Love Him? Duke? Genesis? Invisible Touch? Those are good enough reasons, right? Look, Genesis has had more facelifts in their near-50 year history than every cast member of General Hospital combined. Still, Collins is widely considered by many Genesis fans as the primary vocalist, specifically for his output, his range, his style, and his performances. Originally the band’s drummer, the outfit gave Collins a shot at the mic following hundreds of auditions amidst the recording for 1976’s A Trick of the Tail. When it came time to perform live, members Bill Bruford and Chester Thompson assumed percussion for the band on-stage, while Collins joined in briefly during lengthy instrumental passages. #teamwork
Best Example: “Land of Confusion” says it all, but leave it to Rolling Stone for the truth:
Phil the Shill? Phil the Shill, indeed.
You could do worse: In an alternate universe, some guy named Mick Strickland nabbed the role, and Collins never ever stood center stage. To hell with that universe.
Gary Cherone (of Van Halen)
Who’d He Replace? Sammy Hagar, but also David Lee Roth
Years Active: 1996-99
Why Do We Hate Him? It’s not that we hate him — no benevolent VH fan should — it’s that we pity him. When Hagar bailed and shit didn’t work out (yet again) with Roth in the mid-’90s, Van Halen went searching for another vocalist to keep the banner going. Their manager Ray Danniels recommended a voice from another band he managed: Extreme’s Gary Cherone. Things didn’t last too long, though, resulting in one of the worst albums of the ’90s (ahem, 1998’s Van Halen III), and another that was shelved indefinitely.
Granted, Cherone did dust off a number of Roth-era crowd favorites on their 1998 U.S. tour, but he just couldn’t measure up to the hype and the jig was up. Soon after, an easy formula was etched into stone, one that would never again be tested: No Roth, No Hagar, No Halen. This explains why VH’s next album, A Different Kind of Truth, didn’t surface until last year.
Best Example: Tell me somethin’ Riggs!
Move over, kid. On Van Halen III‘s forgettable closing track, “How Many Say I”, even Eddie grew tired with Cherone, pitting him on backing vocals as he took center stage — an unheard of move at the time for the collective.
You could do better: One lanky, elephant gun-toting, former DJ-turned-celebrity-whackjob named David Lee Roth. Court adjourned.
Paul Rodgers (of Queen)
Years Active: 2004-09
Who’d He Replace? Freddie Mercury
Why Do We Hate Him? We don’t hate Paul Rodgers, really, or for that matter Bad Company. When it comes to finding a vocalist of a different, but familiar, style to pay tribute and inspire some singalongs, Queen could certainly do worse. However, for all his talents, Rodgers lacks a flair for the outrageous. His performance style is one that finds safety behind the microphone stand, rather than owning the stage with Mercury’s signature charm and pomposity.
Best Example: Their 2009 comeback album The Cosmos Rocks did anything but.
The Moment That Said It All: For “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Rodgers stepped aside for a video of Mercury performing the song live:
You could do better: Queen + Paul Rodgers and other famous fans such as Matthew Bellamy and Adam Lambert, alongside a Freddie Mercury hologram. Just kidding. Some things are best left alone.
Rome Ramirez (of Sublime with Rome)
Who’d He Replace? Bradley Nowell
Years Active: 2009-present
Why Do We Hate Him? Imagine Sublime with all the fun sucked out, and you’ve got Sublime with Rome. Nowell slipped between English and Spanish, utter filth and innocent rhymes with an infectious charm. Ramirez does his best, but the dangerous edge is gone, and with it the very spirit of the music.
Best Example: Witness, for example, “Chica Me Tipo” (or “Caress Me Down”, or “Right Back”, or any track, really) versus anything on SWR’s one release, Yours Truly.
A for effort: To be fair, it’s not Ramirez’s fault that Nowell was inimitable. It’s not like anyone else would’ve done better.
For worst: Just go back to 40 Oz to Freedom. There’s no substitute for the original here.
Blaze Bayley (of Iron Maiden)
Who’d He Replace? Bruce Dickinson
Years Active: 1994-99
Why Do We Hate Him? He replaced the Bruce Dickinson — simple as that. Although he toppled over hundreds of auditions in 1994, his contributions to the English outfit resulted in two of their lowest charting albums: 1995’s The X Factor and Virtual XI in 1998. Despite the singer’s ambition and outright devotion, fans just didn’t share those qualities with him. File under: “Oh well.”
Best Example: So. Fucking. ’90s.
Just Blaze Bein’ Blaze: In 2003, Blaze recorded a re-arranged version of “Sign of the Cross” for his live album, As Live as It Gets. Good thing there’s no bad blood between he and Eddie.
You could do better: Gary Cherone? Kidding. No, only one Dickinson for this outfit.
Doug Yule (of Velvet Underground)
Who’d He Replace? Lou Reed.
Years Active: 1968-73 (became sole lead singer after Reed’s departure in 1970)
Why Do We Hate Him? Yule was a more-than-serviceable number two, his original role in the Velvets upon John Cale’s departure, singing lead on five excellent cuts between their third and fourth immortal LPs: The Velvet Underground and Loaded. But when he got the chance to show his stuff as uncontested frontman for their fifth and final official LP, Squeeze, we got the chance to forget there was ever a fifth Velvet Underground album.
Best Example: Squeeze
And the award for the least celebrated rock star to ever hold claim to “frontman for one of the most important bands ever” goes to… Exactly.
You could do better: Few knew what to make of the Velvet Underground in their time, so it’s almost inconceivable that they’d have made an outside hire to replace Reed. Assuming they were going in-house all along, they could have at least punctuated their run with an interesting bang instead of a fart noise by making Squeeze the Maureen Tucker record – though she bailed after Loaded as well. The innovative drummer sang lead on the occasional Velvets song, including “After Hours” and “I’m Sticking with You”, two of their catchiest ever.