The Top Ten All Time Best Replacement Lead Singers in Rock and Roll

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The Misfits' Michale Graves
Nothing pisses rock fans off worse than the lead singer of their favorite band being replaced. This happens across genres, but it's most common within hard rock -- pop, country and R&B vocalists' departures are usually a precursor to their solo efforts; very rarely does their band continue without them. Hard rock and heavy metal fans, on the other hand, see their favorite bands as a cohesive unit, so when a singer leaves, the rest of the band often make an attempt at continuing without them. Additionally, metal singers are more likely to storm off and leave a popular band -- they're apparently a moody lot.

We have lots of sympathy for the folks called in to replace departing vocalists. Oftentimes, tensions within the band caused the original vocalist to leave; the new singer is thrown straight into the lion's den. If the rest of the band accepts them, they must then overcome the hurdle of the fans' devotion to the original lead singer. It's even more difficult if the band found success with the original singer; the sound changes with a new guy (or girl), and fans, who became so attached to the original sound, don't even give the replacement a chance. Critics and music journalists, who should by all means be the voice of reason, are just as apt to drink the haterade; brief Googling produces endless lists of the Worst Replacement Singers Ever.

So, in support for the brave men and women who have dared attempt to fill the shoes of departing vocalists, we've collected our top 10 favorite replacement singers. Because replacement singers are common in hard rock, this list leans toward the heavy side of music. If we've forgotten anyone, let us know in the comments; please also feel free to rip our choices to shreds. We understand that this is your way of showing us you care. 

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10. Michael Graves (the Misfits). Glenn Danzig's boozy bellowing helped put the Misfits on the map, but Graves' spot-on live capabilities arguably make him the better singer. Graves' tone was much cleaner than Danzig's, which of course made lots of Misfits fans mad, but the Misfits put out several solid, underrated albums with Graves (most notably 1998's American Psycho), and were able to update their sound for a new generation. Nowadays, they've gone the Genesis route and chose their singer from within the ranks (bassist Jerry Only), but their stint with Graves was the last stand for that band making any musical progress.

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9. Tim "Ripper" Owens (Judas Priest). When your fantastic lead singer leaves, you have two  options: you can replace him with someone who sounds different (see: Van Hagar), which often necessitates a complete revamp of the band's sound. Or, you can do like Priest did upon the departure of legendary frontman Rob Halford. You can find a soundalike. Priest were too far along in their career to find a singer who might change their sound, so they recruited Owens, who at the time was fronting a Priest cover band in Akron, Ohio. Owens' tale is the stuff of legend: plucked from obscurity to replace one of the greatest vocalists in history, he capably handled the position, and his rags-to-rock star story was inspiring enough to make a movie about it (the Marky Mark flop Rock Star). After Halford rejoined Priest, Ripper continued on as the last word in tribute vocalists; he's now fronting Dio's Disciples. Soundalikes aren't very well accepted by fans; Ripper, the only soundalike vocalist on this list, remains the most beloved.

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8. Graham Bonnet (Rainbow). When the departing vocalist is as peerless as Ronnie James Dio, it might be prudent to look outside the box when replacing them, as Rainbow did when they recruited Bonnet, a disco crooner with powerful lungs. Rainbow began as a solo project for Deep Purple's Richie Blackmore, although the band later became more closely associated with Dio's name. Bonnet was only with the band for two years before the mercurial Blackmore fired him; this was par for the course for Rainbow's swiftly rotating lineup (Blackmore blew through 21 accompanying members in the band's 20-year career). Rainbow had more success with Joe Lynn Turner, who joined after Bonnet, but Bonnet was the better vocalist.

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7. Sammy Hagar (Van Halen). When a band replaces their vocalist with someone who sounds nothing like the original guy, it often changes the entire landscape of the band's music. This explains the howls of protest that emanated from Van Halen fans when the band replaced the legendary David Lee Roth with Montrose frontman Hagar. But here's the thing about Sammy: Although he couldn't hold a candle to Roth's charisma, Sammy was a more consistent live vocalist; his studio tracks were great; and his tone was distinctive and appealing. Van Hagar successfully changed their sound to accommodate Sammy, and they put out an impressive body of work that was more commercially successful than their work with Roth.

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6. Phil Collins (Genesis). If your singer leaves, you can begin the frantic search for a new one. Or, if you're Genesis, you can simply get one of the other guys in the band to sing. After Peter Gabriel left, Genesis reportedly auditioned hundreds of lead singers before finally settling with what they already had.


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70 comments
DEPatton
DEPatton

Mike Patton and Greg Puciato first sprang to my mind when I read the article's title. As great as Chuck Mosley (not to forget the Faith No More singers before him) and Dimitri Minakakis were in their own right, Patton and Puciato gave those bands the vocal punch (and versatility) they needed to make their breakthrough.

McPhail
McPhail

Didn't we do this in 2011? I doubt any punk band belongs in a top 10, but...


Can't put the Misfits Gaves in place of Danzig over Henry Rollins with Black Flag 



michael_scott9158
michael_scott9158

An old man's view....

1)  Brian Johnson for Bonn Scott in AC-DC

2)  Bruce Dickenson for Paul Di'Anno in Iron Maiden

3)  Sammy Hagar for David Lee Roth in Van Halen (hated the switch and turned the band from hard rock to pop rock but gotta respect a band taking such a chance to change their entire sound after so much success).

4) Ian Gillian for Rod Evans in Deep Purple

5) Ronnie James Dio for Ozzy in Black Sabbath

6) Todd LaTorre for Geoff Tate in Queensryche (Tate lost his voice, lost his class and led this band to the "Queensryche Cabaret"...PLEASE???)  The new "Queensryche" album with LaTorre sounds much more like classic Ryche).

7) Phil Collins for Peter Gabriel in Genesis

8) Tim "Ripper" Owens for Rob Halford in Judas Priest (Glad Halford is back but amazed this kid could could fill those shoes for 2 albums and a live DVD.

9) David Gilmour for Syd Barrett in Pink Floyd (vocals and lead guitar)

10) Johnny Van Zant for Ronnie Van Zant in Lynyrd Skynyrd (sentimental favorite)

In each of these instances, the singer was only replaced because he could no longer perform or because he, the singer himself, decided to leave the band and go solo....or in Geoff tate's case, just went nuts.

Under that criteria, bands like Journey, Styx, Foreigner, etc...do not qualify.  Sorry. 

CharlesM
CharlesM

I'm surprised there's no mention of Journey, who have had TWO hugely successful replacement lead singers using both approaches.  Steve Perry replaced Gregg Rolie and changed the band's sound from a jazzy-rock fusion to straight arena-pop. THIRTY years later, the band found Arnel Pineda - a Steve Perry soundalike - in the Phillipines, and enjoyed renewed commercial success.


I should also point out that Rick Wright carried a lot more of the lead vocal duties when Pink Floyd left Syd Barrett behind than David Gilmour did, and the lead vocal duties always rotated among the members after that. Even Nick Mason sang lead on one classic song ("One of These Days"), though the lyrics consisted of only a single line. I'm betting that the author of this piece has a difficult time distinguishing between Wright's vocals and Gilmour's. 

davidgasten
davidgasten

I'd like to mention a couple of recent replacements have been wildly successful:  Mark Tornillo in Accept (replacing Udo Dirkschneider) and Todd La Torre in Queensryche (replacing Geoff Tate). Both revitalized their respective bands and changed them for the better to the point that they will never need the previous vocalists again.

And here's a failure that I thought was great but just came at the wrong time: Ray Wilson in Genesis, replacing Phil Collins for one album in the 90's. They really did everything right, it's just that by that time Genesis had become "That band that Phil Collins is in". Ray did a great job of balancing the Gabriel and Collins sounds and brought the band into the 90's and closer to their prog roots all at once.  It was a shame that it didn't turn out so well, but Ray Wilson Genesis has gotten a solid following over time.

Shark
Shark

Van Halen more commercially successful with Sammy than Dave?  Sounds like the author didn't bother to look at sales numbers.  VH sold MILLIONS more albums with Dave than Sammy.

poppymann
poppymann

What about Turbonegro replacing Hank with Tony? It's like AC/DC neither sound like the other.

Trina Taki Hendrix-Hamilton
Trina Taki Hendrix-Hamilton

before looking at this, I assume Sammy Hagar is on this list? I mean David Lee Roth was explosive but Hagar did hold his own surprisingly well.

Joe Bannon
Joe Bannon

If you're singing someone elses song, it's karaoke.

Jerome Chavez
Jerome Chavez

I'm disappointed Phil ANSELMO didn't make this list.

Jon Jackson
Jon Jackson

Yeah, hates Brian Johnson? Nobody thought that. Ever. Ever ever ever.

jamessavik
jamessavik

*Sighs* You know you are getting old when the only concerts you want to see would require a seance.

Chris Churchman
Chris Churchman

I'll pretend I did not read what you just wrote about the Misifits.

GavinCleaver
GavinCleaver

If you're going to do metal, surely Greg Puciato being parachuted into Dillinger Escape Plan on the strength of a demo tape has to be up there

KD5NR
KD5NR

There are people who actually follow Journey ?

garyputo
garyputo

ARNEL PINEDA of JOURNEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DeathBreath
DeathBreath

Ok, I will give you Brian Johnson & the short-lived replacement for Halford, but please, Sammy?  In the 1980's, I saw the original Iron Maiden.  Both are fine lead singers; however, I grew to abhor Maiden.  There is a reason they were pelted with eggs.  Fuck Iron Maiden. 

Fantasticsmith
Fantasticsmith

What about Henry Rollins (born Henry Garfield) for Black Flag? Although he was their fourth singer, he became the face of the band.

Jim C
Jim C

I know I'm in the extreme minority..but I thought Queen's pairing up with Paul Rodgers was brilliant.

JoeDirte
JoeDirte

I'm not arguing the inclusion on this list, but, as a matter of fact, Hagar absolutely blows.

Tommy2Shoes
Tommy2Shoes

Grace Slick replaced Signe Toly Anderson in Jefferson Airplane. That has to be the most successful switch in rock history.

warbaby
warbaby

The misfits were over when Glenn left. Great singer and songwriter. You be taking out your you know what.

brian
brian

You missed REO speedwagon.

Godotnut
Godotnut

I wonder if the author listens to much metal?

Suzinne
Suzinne

What about that Asian guy who stepped in to front Journey when Steve Perry was no longer interested?  The singer was Arnel Pineda, and the band discovered him via youtube.  And the guy has serious pipes.

inarchetype
inarchetype

Cannot BELIEVE Bernard Sumner was passed over for this list!

airforceteacher
airforceteacher

It's too bad you couldn't throw a nod to Christian Contemporary music / Christian Rock.  Petra is probably the all-time favorite Christian Rock band, and they went through a similar vocalist change around the same time Van Halen did - gravelly replacement singer John Schlitt from Head East took over from Greg Volz and his 5 octave clarity.  Even though they were the biggest name in Christian rock already, Petra had their biggest hits after the change.

Six Pack
Six Pack

A list absent Henry Rollins addition to Black Flag is a total fail. 

wiseoneinheartland
wiseoneinheartland

While Ronnie James Dio is legend, and Graham Bonnet was a unique contributor to Rainbow deserving mention, I otherwise disagree and honestly feel that Joe Lynn Turner's voice is one of the most glorious I have ever heard in rock. Suffice it to say, he is perhaps one of the most under-noticed and underrated rock voices around. He has many of the most loyal fans around worldwide and continues rocking to this day. Don't believe me? Check out his facebook page Joelynnturnerofficial.    

MOTÖRHEAD
MOTÖRHEAD

What about Ian Gillian replacing Rod Evans in Deep Purple? 

Garrick Rothstein
Garrick Rothstein

Lest we forget Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone being replaced (after his untimely death) by Eddie Vedder to form Pearl Jam. How many of those other bands have been around as long AND had the lasting quality that Pearl Jam has?

purplelvstuff
purplelvstuff

Journey without Steve Perry isn't quite the real thing to me....but, I'll give Amel props.

MattL1
MattL1

It makes sense that a lot of these bands sucked both before and after the singer change.  #coughvanhalencough

Mcgmdws
Mcgmdws

Three times I've attempted to watch the Floyd movie Pulse. It is tiresome and unwatchable. Without Waters there is no Floyd. Just some guys pretending and ponderous.

WHEE
WHEE

Mike Patton replaced Chuck Mosley

dleland
dleland

Actually, PJ wasn't just MLB with Eddie instead of Andrew. Stone and Jeff stayed the same, but Bruce Fairweather and Gregg Gilmore wasn't included either. So Stone and Jeff started jamming with Mike McCready. Eventually, they needed a lead singer for the new band. Later Eddie was added on vocals and Dave Krussen was added on drums. Less than half came from MLB.

Katy
Katy

Oh, right.

Then there's the guy who sings Dennis DeYoung's parts on the new STYX tours.... and Peter Cetera left Chicago YEARS ago... 

Paul S
Paul S

on that note, Phil had always sung backup with Genesis, and at times was more of co-lead singer with Gabriel. Still, as inconsistent as Peter Gabriel was a singer he has an amazing and unique voice with a ton of soul.

michael_scott9158
michael_scott9158

Oh Please.  First off, "Pulse" is NOT a movie, like with a plot, it's a documentary about the Division Bell Tour.  "The Wall" was BOTH an album and a full length movie and I'm sorry. but most critics agree that the movie version sucked.  AND most critics agree that the best song on "The Wall" is one of the few songs that included Gilmour's collaberation with Waters, Comfortably Numb".   The simple truth is that Waters was the stronger lyricist by far but Gilmour brought the musicality to the band.  Without his vocal abilities and guitar arrangements, you would NOT have Pink Floyd.  If I had to chose between "The Final Cut", the last Floyd album with Waters, or the "Division Bell", the actual last Floyd album, I enjoy the music on the "Division Bell" much more.  Waters is a great talent but he is and always has been an ego maniac.  It took all the members of Floyd to make the band.

Laura
Laura

Faith No More had tons of singers before Patton.  Fun fact: Courtney Love briefly sang with them during that time.  However, they didn't have much success before Patton.

JensBloomquist
JensBloomquist

Peter Cetera was himself the replacement for the original lead singer who had died.  I think that's a pretty successful succession.

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