Monday, January 21, 2013

It’s The Singer, Not The Song

I was listening to one of my favorite albums recently, Vital Signs by Survivor. One of the songs on it is called “It’s The Singer, Not The Song.” It got me thinking: is that true?

Granted, most of my musical knowledge comes from the 1980’s, but I started to think about rock groups that have had hits with different lead singers, as well as singers that left their groups that went on to have successful solo careers. I

t seems a common story from bands around that time was that they would get popular, and then the lead singer would leave for any number of reasons to pursue a solo career. Sometimes that worked out for the lead singer, most times it didn’t. And sometimes the band carried on and did fine.

Some lead singers that left successful groups to have hit solo songs include Sting from The Police, Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel from Genesis, and Peter Cetera from Chicago.

Peter Cetera
I recently posted the question on Facebook about which groups had a lead singer leave, and still managed to get a hit with a different lead singer. I got all sorts of responses.

Probably the most well-known is Van Halen. With David Lee Roth, they had hits like “Jump” and “Panama.” With Sammy Hagar, their hits included “Why Can’t This Be Love?” and “Right Now.”

The group that led me down this train of thought was one as well. Survivor had a mega hit with “Eye of the Tiger” sung by Dave Bickler, yet after he left the band and was replaced by Jimi Jamison, other hits included “High On You,” “I Can’t Hold Back” and “The Search is Over.”

One of the most popular groups to have a revolving door of lead singers is Toto. Granted, some of these musicians have been with the group the whole time, but take a look of which of them sang on various hits: Bobby Kimball sang “Hold the Line.” David Paich sang “Africa.” Fergie Frederiksen sang with Paich on “Stranger in Town.” Steve Lukather sang “I’ll Be Over You.” Joseph Williams sang “Pamela.” They even had yet another lead singer in Jean-Michel Byron who sang on some new songs, though none of them were hits.

So, is it the singer, or the song that makes the difference? John Wetton of Asia had a number of hits with the group, and while he put out many solo albums, none of those songs got heavy radio play.

Personally, I think successful groups are due to the collective members of the band—though the singer tends to get the most attention. A perfect example of this is the group Genesis.

Picture of Genesis back in the day
Phil Collins had huge hits both as a solo artist ("In the Air Tonight," "Sussudio,” and "Against All Odds") and also as the singer for Genesis (“Invisible Touch,” “Land of Confusion,” and “Misunderstanding”).

But Genesis as a group also had hits with different lead singers. Before Peter Gabriel left the group, he sang on the hit, “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” before having solo hits like “Sledgehammer,” “Solsbury Hill,” “Shock the Monkey” and “In Your Eyes.”

A little less know is a song by Genesis called “Congo” that was considered a hit by yet a different lead singer for Genesis, Ray Wilson, who took over for Phil Collins in 1997.

Mike Rutherford, who also played in Genesis, had quite a successful career outside of Genesis with his band Mike + The Mechanics, probably best known for their songs “The Living Years” and “All I Need is a Miracle.”

But wait, there’s more! Steven Hackett who was the original guitarist for Genesis had a solo hit with “Cell 151” and later, he joined GTR who had a huge hit with “When the Heart Rules the Mind.”

So, is it the singer, or the song? I say it’s a combo. After all, how many songs have been redone by other artists and have become hits. But that’s a blog for another time.

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