The Replacements: 8 Times Superstar Bands Spectacularly Survived New Lead Singers
Years before Sammy Hagar proved there was life after David Lee Roth for Van Halen, Dennis Edwards showed us that “irreplaceable” frontmen aren’t always what they seem to be.
With the passing of Dennis Edwards on February 1 from meningitis complications two days shy of his 75th birthday, the world has lost another musical great. But the vocal virtuosity that Edwards displayed on The Temptations’ second-phase hits like 1970’s “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” and 1972’s “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” aren’t the extent of his musical legacy.
Years before Sammy Hagar proved there was life after David Lee Roth for Van Halen, Edwards showed us that presumably irreplaceable frontmen aren’t always what they seem to be. Even after founding member David Ruffin left The Temptations in 1968, in some ways, thanks to Edwards, the best was yet to come.
His booming baritone became the foundation and the cornerstone of The Temptations’ psychedelic era in the late-’60s and early ’70s, powering hits like “Cloud Nine,” “Runaway Child, Running Wild,” “Psychedelic Shack,” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” He even pulled off the lead-singer-goes-solo-and-scores-massive-hit feat with his 1984 number-two R&B single “Don’t Look Any Further.”
In honor of Edwards, here are my Top 8 replacement lead singers, people who tried — in some cases, successfully — to pull off the impossible dream of making us forget they weren’t the first ones at the microphone.
8. Jason Scheff in Chicago — replaced Peter Cetera in 1985
The 23-year-old tenor’s voice had more than a passing resemblance to Cetera’s, which might explain the veteran band’s continued success with its new frontman in the second half of the 1980s. The group would go on to score five more Top 10s on Billboard’s Hot 100, including “Will You Still Love Me?” in 1986 and 1988’s “Look Away,” which became the enduring band’s third number one.
7. Mickey Thomas in Jefferson Airplane (later Starship) — replaced Marty Balin and Grace Slick in 1979
It might be one of the greatest travesties in the history of rock & roll, but there’s no denying the the band formerly known as Jefferson Airplane in the ’60s and Jefferson Starship in the ’70s would enjoy its greatest commercial success as Starship in the ’80s. Even with Slick back in the fold, it’s hard to imagine the mid-decade number-one hits “We Built This City” and “Sara” without the man who sang lead on Elvis Bishop’s 1976 number-three single “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.”
6. Jean Terrell in The Supremes — replaced Diana Ross in 1970
Speaking of “It’s Not Over (‘Til It’s Over),” it was far from over for The Supremes after Ross left in 1970. The reconfigured trio added five more top-twenty singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 to their tally, including the top-tens “Up the Ladder to the Roof” (No. 10) and “Stoned Love” (No. 7).
5. Sammy Hagar in Van Halen — replaced David Lee Roth in 1985
For all of the band’s chart success with Roth, the quartet never landed atop Billboard’s Top 200 album chart until Hagar took over. In fact, all four of Van Halen’s studio albums with Hagar — 1986’s 5150, 1988 OU812, 1991’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, and 1995’s Balance — soared to No. 1.
4. Michael McDonald in The Doobie Brothers — replaced Tom Johnston in 1975
Despite the classic-rock status of Johnston-sung Doobies hits like “Listen to the Music” and “Long Train Runnin’” and Patrick Simmons’ “Black Water” (No. 1 in 1975), would we really be talking about these non-sibling Brothers in 2018 without McDonald and his game-changing contributions like “Takin’ It to the Streets” and “What a Fool Believes,” which became the band’s second chart-topper in 1979 and won Song of the Year and Record of the Year Grammy Awards in 1980?
3. Phil Collins in Genesis — replaced Peter Gabriel in 1975
In the beginning, Genesis purists may say it all went downhill after Gabriel’s departure, but there’s no denying that the British band’s commercial clout really kicked in when drummer Collins took over at the mike. In the end, it all turned out for the best. If the switch had never happened, we might not have Gabriel’s peerless solo work (which includes the 1986 commercial peak that was So) and Phil Collins may not have gone on to become one of the biggest solo stars of the ’80s. Say what you will about treacly Phil Collins pop like “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” and “One More Night,” but “I Missed Again” still stands up to any underrated ’80s gem.
2. Dennis Edwards in The Temptations — replaced David Ruffin in 1968
1. Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks in Fleetwood Mac — replaced Bob Welch in 1974
The incomparable Christine McVie may have been already in the house, but Fleetwood Mac became true monsters of rock with the changing of its guard in the mid-’70s. Without it, the world wouldn’t have had one of the biggest albums of the ’70s (1977’s Rumours), Bill Clinton wouldn’t have had his 1992 Presidential campaign song (Rumours’ “Don’t Stop”), and I wouldn’t have my all-time favorite ’70s album (1979's Tusk).