Earlier this week, rock band AC/DC announced that Guns N’ Roses singer Axl Rose would be taking over as the vocalist for the band for the remainder of their scheduled tour.
This is all following the very abrupt departure of longtime vocalist Brian Johnson, who was ordered a few months ago by doctors that he must stop performing or face total hearing loss. Johnson, lead vocalist for AC/DC from 1980 until this year, has been a vital part of the band’s sound since the death of former lead vocalist Bon Scott in 1980. Both Johnson and Scott have lent their unique voices to the band and contributed to a sound that has always been undeniably “theirs.”
Love them or hate them, AC/DC’s sound is unmistakable and has to do in large part to the vocals. This is the case a lot of times for bands and music groups; in many cases, the vocalist of the band can become the identity of the band. However, without that voice, does the band lose their identity?
There are a lot of cases where the loss of a lead singer of the band is something that the band doesn’t see coming, or have control over. In cases where the lead singer passes away, the band is often faced with a tough decision: do they retire the band, or do they press onward with someone else on lead vocals? For a band like Queen, where Freddie Mercury’s voice is as iconic as the band’s existence as a whole, it is awfully difficult to fill those shoes. While Adam Lambert’s voice is not exactly dissimilar to Mercury’s, no one will ever have the spark that Mercury did, and Queen never was quite the same after his death.
There are other cases where the replacement singer for a band becomes more iconic of a voice for the band than the original was. Such was the case from Brian Johnson and AC/DC, and the same can be said for Bruce Dickinson in Iron Maiden. Dickinson replaced original vocalist Paul Di’Anno after two albums, and the rest is heavy metal history. Dickinson’s voice and Iron Maiden are virtually synonymous; when you think of Iron Maiden’s sound, chances are that you are imagining his voice.
Then, there are cases where bands have had multiple lead singers, each with their own distinct style and contribution to the band’s sound, and where hardcore fans exist for each. In particular, I am talking about Black Sabbath, and their time with Ozzy Osbourne as lead singer, and then their time with Ronnie James Dio as lead singer. Osbourne is the best known of the singers that the band has had, and his voice is probably the most iconic to their sound. However, Dio’s contributions to the band were enormous in terms of stylistic changes and creating a new era of Sabbath. The band even changed its name at one point to “Heaven & Hell” with Dio at the helm. There are hardcore fans of the Dio years, who prefer the work the band did under his leadership. I personally think Dio’s voice is one of the best heavy metal voices to ever exist. However, I fall on the side that strongly prefers Osbourne’s voice as the signature voice of Black Sabbath.
All of that being said does the replacement of the lead singer of a band completely change the way you view a band? Does it destroy a signature sound, or can the band’s sound stay separate from the singer, even after their departure?