Our number 1 post of all-time continues to be Take The Lead: Bands With More Than One Singer and so why not do a second post? Despite there being several more bands to choose from it’s still a pretty small and distinguished club. Also, to clarify again, these are bands where there is more than one singer taking on the lead vocals concurrently, not bands that changed their lead singer over time, like Van Halen. This also isn’t R.E.M. because Michael Mills sang one or two songs in the span of the group’s life. It’s not a group where others do back up vocals only or even a band who has an artist who has gone on to do a solo album, but never sang lead with the band, think Keith Richards. So let’s see what we’ve got.
Is it me or are fewer bands allowing for more singers? I don’t mean the boy bands or the unknown bands but rock bands. Maybe the question should be: are there still rock bands? I don’t remember many grunge bands having two singers, maybe Alice in Chains qualifies. I feel like we have to go back in time to find bands where both singers not only traded off songs but quality for either singer did not tail off. I still refuse to write about The Beatles, they may be the biggest of this category, what else can be said about the Beatles? I’m not going to do the Monkees either – I have written about them in the past and for now will leave them to the side. But I did take the time machine again to the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys is one of my all-time favorite bands. A lot of people will say they are just a fun surf band with no real substance. Maybe that’s what Mike Love turned them into during the “Kokomo” years, but that just isn’t true. Their album Pet Sounds is as complex as it gets and inspired The Beatles to write Sergeant Peppers. The Beach Boys have multiple singers, but the two I care about most and the most prolific are Brian Wilson and Mike Love, two very distinct voices. Love has the nasally whiny type voice and Brian the beautiful falsetto. The Beach Boys to me are really only 1963-1967 or so. They did some great work after that too but that was mostly Dennis and Carl Wilson with the best stuff. The sixties though was their prime. A good amount of the earlier records Mike took the lead with Brian backing up along with the others. You hear this in “Surfin USA”, “Fun, Fun, Fun”, “Be True to Your School” and many others. But Brian had his share of hits too and those songs may be the most beautiful and appreciated, “Surfer Girl”, “In My Room”, and “Don’t Worry Baby” to name a few. Pet Sounds is mostly sung by Brian although my favorite Beach Boys song is “God Only Knows” by Carl. Brian produced a lot of the early albums and changed the Beach Boys from a garage band to a well-orchestrated produced band. On Pet Sounds he was able to use instruments and sounds that had never been heard before. The drugs probably helped too but he is a genius. The Beach Boys sound still lives on and continues to influence the bands and music today.
Bonus: Brian is the only Wilson brother left, Dennis drowned in the 80s and Carl succumbed to lung cancer. The Beach Boys still perform today but their current incarnation really only has Mike Love and a sometimes Al Jardine.
MG: The Beach Boys are one of those acts that I know are a great American band, but I never made a connection to their music. I’ve certainly been exposed to many of their hits, which are fine, just not something I ever bought albums of to listen to. “Kokomo” in the 80s was awful, though – shouldn’t have tried to do a comeback, although the song did well commercially so what do I know.
Starship is an interesting choice because I am not a “Starship” fan I guess but I appreciate what they brought to the 80s and Grace Slick has a phenomenal voice. This group started way back in the ’60s as Jefferson Airplane and they also had multiple singers. Marty Balin, Grace Slick, and others. “White Rabbit” is in the hall of fame of songs for me. Slick’s voice is awesome. This group turned into Jefferson Starship and had hits with “Miracles”, “Find Your Way Back”, and “Count on Me” with Balin and Slick but also adding in Mickey Thomas. Finally, in 1984 they became Starship with only Thomas and Slick doing the singing. Despite the Hall of Fame credentials of the previous two bands, Starship actually had bigger hits. They only had two albums and three big hits but all three went to number 1. “We Built This City” was their “masterpiece” and has a bat-shit crazy video to go along with it, which we discussed in our I Watched My MTV post. “Sara”, the other hit from Knee Deep in the Hoopla, was their ballad and cursed Saras everywhere almost as much as the name Gloria does now thanks to Laura Branigan. Their last major hit was “Nothing’s Gonna Stop us Now” which is a great song. It appeared in the great Kim Cattrall film Mannequin, also has a great video with Slick as the mannequin pursued by Thomas. Thomas and Slick had great chemistry and their voices worked great together but they could have used more hits. Little known favorite “It’s Not Over (‘Till It’s Over) is a great tune as well and maybe my personal favorite.
Bonus: Mickey Thomas still plays with Starship today while a version of Jefferson Starship does as well, unfortunately, most of the members of the original band have passed and Grace Slick in her 80’s is known not to be well.
MG: I have liked some of the hits from the various incarnation of this band, although I never bought an album from them. Agree on “White Rabbit” and it might make my top 25 songs. “Somebody To Love” is another classic I enjoy – used in a lot of 60s era movies/TV. My favorite of theirs in the 80s was “No Way Out”. For some reason many self-anointed critics consider “We Built This City” one of the worst song of all time, but it’s not that bad – I could name a hundred songs that hit the top 40 that were worse.
Styx was a blockbuster band of the 70s and 80s cranking out tons of hits. I liked them a lot, my brother even more so. They had great videos as well. The one thing about this band is they didn’t seem to know what they were. Singer Dennis DeYoung loved the theatrics and the ballads and singer/guitarist Tommy Shaw wanted to rock out. I loved both versions but they often seemed to be two different bands fighting against each other. They both have voices made for the music they like. Shaw handled the rockers “Renegade” (I once did karaoke to this song), “Fooling Yourself (Angry Young Man)”, and “Too Much Time on My Hands” and DeYoung the ballads, “Babe”, “Lady”, and “The Best of Times” to name a few. For me it worked, there was a yin and yang to the band. I always preferred Shaw although I never followed him to Damn Yankees. The band started to go south when DeYoung wanted to go more theatrical and create rock operas. The album Mr. Roboto put a schism in the band that has never been repaired. Although the song is fun, it’s not really a Styx album. I would have loved them to stay together but it was not to be. It may have been for the best because at the end of the day the two styles were bound to clash. After Shaw’s sojourn to Damn Yankees and other minor projects, he reformed what was left and did his own version of the band without DeYoung.
Bonus: DeYoung claims he would do a reunion but Shaw and other band members believe it would be negative to the band so DeYoung has formed a new band and tours as Dennis DeYoung and the Music of Styx playing their big hits.
MG: During the 80s I was definitely partial to DeYoung’s songs, and loved “Mr. Roboto” (still do – though not as much as a certain friend of ours). Now, though, I’d put Shaw’s songs on the same level and maybe even like them a bit more as rock songs. I also enjoy a few of the hits from Damn Yankees, although the genre might be best described as Frat Rock. I appreciate bands that have distinctive sounds depending on the singer/songwriter – I wish there were more of them.
I’m not sure why, but I enjoy writing about this topic so I’m glad we are back for another group of bands. I generally try to stay more modern than DJ when it comes to music, but finding a popular band from the past three decades with more than one lead singer is nearly impossible. It’s sad, really, when you think about it. I know I’m sounding old-mannish when I say this, but what are the modern equivalent of bands like The Eagles, or Starship Or Heart? Anyway, enough lamenting. The music is still there if I want it – not like these bands’ catalogs are gone. If anything, streaming services like Spotify make them more accessible. Here are my picks:
During the 80s I was a big Don Henley fan, and even liked most of Glen Frey’s solo hits, but I never bought any Eagles albums. That’s not to say I wasn’t familiar with their music – there was no escaping it if you listened to the radio from the mid-seventies through the eighties – and I didn’t mind their stuff, just never prompted me to buy their albums. I dug into their catalog for this post, and was struck by how quickly they hit radio gold in their career. The first two tracks off their 1972 debut album, “Take It Easy” and “Witchy Woman”, would become iconic songs for them and concert mainstays. The two tracks are perfect to compare Frey and Henley’s vocal styles: Frey sounding like a self-taught vocalist with a country influence, Henley with the silky polish and range of a seasoned pro. As songwriting and lyrics go, I might even prefer the Frey songs, but for my money, Henley has one of the best voices in rock and roll of all time. The addition of guitarist Joe Walsh in 1975 gave the band a more hard rock sound on certain tracks, and he even contributed lead vocals at times. As far as their album-making goes, when you listen to their catalog it’s remarkable how well Frey’s and Henley’s songs fit together, even though they are distinctive. Their 1975 album Take It To The Limit was their first of four straight albums to go to #1. Their first greatest hits album (1971-1975) is amazingly still the best selling US album of all time. Perhaps second only to Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles inner band strife is legendary, with several members leaving and being replaced, mostly due to conflicts with Frey, depending on who you believe. They were smart, financially, to reunite in the mid-90s as they made a ton of cash off baby boomers on their multiple tours, which have continued despite Glen Frey’s death in 2016.
Bonus: The band first performed under the name “Teen King and the Emergencies”. How the name “Eagles” came about is disputed – but it was first proposed during a group outing in the Mojave Desert (undoubtedly under the influence of some substances). Glen Frey always insisted the band’s name is not “The Eagles” just “Eagles”.
DJ: I never got into the Eagles although it’s funny I prefer Henley and Frey’s solo work more. I can sing all their hits but I just never got excited about them. I do love “Desperado” an all-time great track known for it’s use in a Seinfeld episode. Maybe I should revisit I don’t know.
If you look at the total catalog of songs The Clash recorded, you may not consider them a two-lead singer band, since Joe Strummer was lead on the vast majority of their songs. However, Mick Jones sang the lead on several key songs, including two of their biggest hits: “Train in Vain” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go”, with both songs continuing to have staying power even today (the latter track was prominently featured in Stranger Things). During the 80s, to me the Clash was a one-hit-wonder, with “Rock The Casbah” the only song I knew. Later I discovered more of their catalog and was exposed to their milestone album London Calling – considered by many critics to be one of the greatest rock albums of all time. Joe Strummer was the flag bearer for the political/social activism of the band – both in their song lyrics and other activities. One of my favorite tracks of theirs in this vein is “Know Your Rights”, a song that may not be musically remarkable, but the direct, caustic lyrics are excellent – and as relevant today as they were then (the opening lines: “You have the right/Not to be killed/Murder is a CRIME!/Unless it was done/By a policeman/Or an aristocrat!”). Jones’ songs tilt more to the melodic and pop sensibility, which is why they were so radio friendly, and it was something he would continue with the subsequent band he formed Big Audio Dynamite. The Clash was the poster-child for a band that burned twice as bright but half as long. Within six years of forming in 1976, the were starting to fragment and would completely call it quits in 1986. For their short run, though, they became the standard for punk rock and arguably the biggest rock artists in London during their time.
Bonus: The list of artists influenced by The Clash is long and diverse. Bono once said: “They wrote the rule book for U2”. Chuck D of Public Enemy credited The Clash for opening the door to the use of overt politically and socially conscious lyrics, and other acts like Bruce Springsteen, Green Day, and Rage Against the Machine were also similarly inspired.
DJ: Overall I like The Clash. I still enjoy “Rock the Casbah” and “Train in Vain”. It’s too bad Strummer died young. The Clash is definitely one of those bands that if you like you get street cred because they are not for everyone. “White Riot” is probably my all-time favorite Clash tune. Mick Jones has some good tracks with Big Audio Dynamite I and II.
Tears For Fears
Considering this is one of my favorite bands, it is odd that I never considered using Tears For Fears for either posts until a close friend of mine pointed out last week that they did actually alternate singers between band founders Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith. Even then, I thought Orzabal sang most of the hits and Smith only a few tracks – only to find out Smith sang many of their big hits – up to a certain point in the band’s career. Much like the arrangement between Ric Ocasek and Ben Orr of The Cars, one of them, Orzabal, wrote the lyrics, but for whatever reason they split singing duties (and like The Cars, their voices were so similar it is hard to tell the difference between the two, AND a third similarity – Orzabal/Ocasek were the lead guitarists and Smith/Orr were the bassists for their respective bands). On their debut album, The Hurting, Smith actually sang all of their hits: “Change”, “Mad World” and “Pale Shelter”. On their 1985 breakthrough album, Songs From The Big Chair, Smith again had the lead vocal on their first single “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”, which would become a worldwide phenomenon and their signature song. However, their next four singles: “Shout”, “Head Over Heels”, “Mother’s Talk” and “I Believe” would all feature Orzabal in the lead. With it being the mid 80s, MTV was in full swing and Orzabal featured prominently in all four videos, further making the case for him as the band’s front man. I don’t know enough about the history of the band to know why the lead vocals shifted so dramatically to Orzabal, but perhaps that was the start of the acrimony that led to their split after only one more album. On Sowing the Seeds Of Love in 1990, Orzabal established his position as the primary lead vocalist. In fact, Smith sang only one song on the album, “Advice For The Young At Heart”, which was a minor hit for the band. Despite the success of the album and tour, Smith and Orzabal parted ways shortly after. Perhaps there is a biography out there that explains why the lead vocals shifted from Smith to Orzabal, but it just seems odd that a band would have a successful formula and then change it for no obvious reason. Maybe Orzabal just enjoyed being front man and thought he deserved the opportunity to sing since he was writing all the lyrics.
Bonus: Roland Orzabal retained the rights to the band’s name and released two more successful albums without Curt Smith. Over a decade after their split they reunited and released the album Everybody Loves A Happy Ending in 2005. It had a minor hit “Closest Thing To Heaven” (sung by Orzabal).
DJ: Another band I wasn’t a huge fan of growing up although I loved “Head Over Heels”. I was pretty sure they had two lead singers. But what kills me is I thought they were together for Elemental. I loved “Break it Down Again” and didn’t realize Smith had left. Unlike the Eagles who I will often say I dislike, I really had no opinion either way of these guys but I know they were pretty big in their time and I respect their music. I know “Mad World” is a giant song for them and is pretty well-written.
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