With the sad news of Gord Downie’s death, a mere two weeks after the sudden death of Tom Petty, it put me in a reflective mood. After the death of Prince in 2016, I wrote about the tragedy of losing too many musical icons too soon. The past year has shed light on a different issue: the loss of Front-Men. The guys who stand at the front of the stage, singing, leading and interacting with the crowd, are becoming more and more endangered. Gord Downie, Tom Petty, Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington and Greg Allman, all lost in 2017, were more than just part of a band, they WERE the band. If personality was an instrument, most of these guys would be considered world class players.
Historically, bands who attempt to continue without the original lead singers, fall flat. INXS, Van Halen, Foreigner and even Journey before they stumbled upon Arnel Pineda, were basically the answer to a trivia question. I don’t expect The Tragically Hip, The Heartbreakers, Linkin Park or the Allman Bros Band to ever continue in their current form with a new singer. Soundgarden may do a tribute tour with guys like Eddy Vedder and Dave Grohl filling in on vocals but the band as a whole is likely done. The personality of a band hinges on the charisma of the Front-Man and they are becoming fewer and far between.
Dave Grohl is clearly the current king of Front-Men in a very small kingdom. Obviously Bono and Eddy Vedder are exclusive to their bands but they have both been around forever. Adam Levine is now better known as a judge on The Voice than as the singer for Maroon 5. Can you name three lead singers for recent bands? I can’t name any. That might point more to the fact that my tastes in music precede current acts but if there is a band out there with a lead singer who almost seems bigger than the band, I would like to know who. Flipping through the Billboard charts, I find mostly solo acts. Imagine Dragons are a decent band but I couldn’t name any of them. Same goes for The Killers and The Chainsmokers. Maybe you can make an argument for Coldplay but it would be a weak one.
I’m not sure if it is ego or just greed but there just seems to be a lack of band-focused artists. Everyone seems to want their own name on the marquee and while there is nothing wrong with that, it is a subtle but massive change in the music landscape. Image now comes before music and its not something that I see as a good thing moving forward.
So, while I mourn for Gord, Tom and the others, I’ll be celebrating bands like U2, Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam for being the last of something that used to be great.