Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published March 19th 2019
When singers go rogue
Often in the life of a band, the lead singer – and so usually the front-man and centre of attention – decides that he (for it is normally a "he") can go it alone, without the help of the band-mates who got him there in the first place. While this might smack of ego, there are times when the singer's vision for music does not match the rest of the band, or the singer just wants to try something different. However, ego cannot be ruled out…
Now, not every lead singer who goes off and does his own thing succeeds. I love the band Queen but Freddie Mercury's solo work was not the best. Yes, Barcelona, the album he did with Montserrat Caballe was quite magnificent, but that was him striking out in a different musical direction and was not a solo work. Likewise, The Rolling Stones are a magnificent band, but I find Mick Jagger's solo work a little dull, to be honest. Now, neither of these two released awful albums, but they just aren't as good as hoped for.
Having said that, there are plenty of lead singers who have released awful albums.
But I don't dwell on the negative.
Now, before I begin, there are some noticeable absences. No-one from The Beatles, The Eagles, Split Enz or Black Eyed Peas as they all had more than one person who could be classified "lead singer". In a similar vein, Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel both fronted Genesis, and so I have not included works by either of those two. Also, this list is about solo recordings. So someone like John Lydon who left the Sex Pistols to form a bunch of other bands is not here. Also, the key word is "solo", not "duet", so the songs I've looked at are just credited as solo works.
This is also a song list, not an album list. Some lead singers released a great song and then… well… yeah. Nothing. Of course, in some cases, it was just a brief flirtation, but in others, it was an attempt at a solo career that went nowhere. Still, others continued their solo career while being members of the band. Some returned to their original band with their tail between their legs. And some just seemed to disappear. Still, lead singers can and have released some great solo stuff.
Midge Ure The Band: Ultravox I have briefly mentioned that I am a fan of Ultravox and that followed through to Midge Ure's solo works. The lead single from his first album The Gift was a great song called 'If I Was', one that lacked some of the electronic dominance of Ultravox's work, enough that it had a different sound and feel. And then, I think his third or fourth album Breathe came out and it was magnificent as well, quite Celtic in feel. And then he was back in Ultravox for the under-rated Brilliant album. Success in band and solo. And all people remember is 'Vienna'…
'If I Was' by Midge Ure
'Dancing With Tears In My Eyes' by Ultravox
Stan Ridgeway The Band: Wall Of Voodoo In the 1980s Wall Of Voodoo released a few songs that hit the charts, then the lead singer went solo and had a couple of songs that made an impact before he went into doing a lot of soundtrack work. Fine. There is not a lot to say here, not a lot to see. This is not a band or artist I have followed religiously, but Seven Days In Sammytown was a great album by Wall Of Voodoo, and the song 'Drive. She Said', with its great story and quite cool spoken word pieces is a forgotten classic.
'Far Side Of Crazy' by Wall Of Voodoo
'Drive, She Said' by Stan Ridgeway
Roger Hodgson The Band: Supertramp
In the 1970s, early 1980s Supertramp seemed to be everywhere. With the falsetto voice of Roger Hodgson leading the way, their sound was unique, their lyrics complex and deep, and they struck a chord with a great many people. Then, in 1983 Hodgson left to pursue a solo career and the album In The Eye Of The Storm was released. I love that album! And then… well, he released a second album but was injured quite badly in a fall and things have been very low key ever since then. But that debut solo album – wow.
'Had A Dream' by Roger Hodgson
'Dreamer' by Supertramp
Rob Thomas The Band: Matchbox 20 I've mentioned Rob Thomas before, but his band, Matchbox 20, were one of those bands you could not avoid for a while there. Not that that was a bad thing, they had some great tracks. I guess my issue with Thomas' solo work, which I really like, is that it does not deviate too far from the band. Oh well, good music is good music, however you look at it. However, I don't follow the band that closely. I know they released an album a few years ago and Thomas has a solo album due out sometime this year (2019), so his status with the band – no idea!
'Someday' by Rob Thomas
'3AM' by Matchbox 20
Roger Waters The Band: Pink Floyd Waters was the driving force behind Pink Floyd's most popular albums – Wish You Were Here, Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall. He took lead vocals (shared at times with David Gilmour) as well as played bass and wrote a lot of the songs. And then there was some sort of internal friction, he left, tried to disband Pink Floyd and failed (and Delicate Sound Of Thunder came out which was amazing), and created some incredible solo work. Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking, Radio KAOS and Is This The Life We Really Want? are simply superb. But my favourite is Amused To Death. It is to me quite an angry album, but I love it. This is one man who did not let his lack of original band stifle his creativity at all.
'What God Wants (Part 1)' by Roger Waters
'Brain Damage/Eclipse' by Pink Floyd
Feargal Sharkey The Band: The Undertones
The Undertones were one of the many punk bands that emerged in the late 70s, but they released a song that became an anthem of sorts for the punks of the time – 'Teenage Kicks'. Then, in the mid-80s, the band split, and Sharkey went solo. He had a slew of hits in the mid-80s, and then seems to have faded from at least the international spotlight. I will say, though, as much as I like his music, he held a concert in Adelaide where the tickets were quite expensive for the time, came onto stage late, performed for all of 45 minutes, then left. Disappointed the crowd big time. But the music is still incredible.
'You Little Thief' by Feargal Sharkey
'Teenage Kicks' by The Undertones
Holly Johnson The Band: Frankie Goes To Hollywood
In the mid-80s, you could not go anywhere without hearing a track from the awesome Welcome To The Pleasuredome album by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. A heap of singles from it (including an incredible cover version of Springsteen's 'Born To Run'). Then, like that, it was over. But lead singer Holly Johnson released a solo album that did not do as well as people might have hoped. But the lead single from it is stunning – 'Americanos'.
'Americanos' by Holly Johnson
'Relax' by Frankie Goes To Hollywood (nice video version)
Roger Daltrey The Band: The Who
And we finish with a man who regular readers will know I am a huge fan of, from a band that I think are simply awesome. The Who continue to release albums that are incredible, while Daltrey's solo output has been nothing short of remarkable. I said in my review of his book that he neglected to mention my favourite solo Daltrey album Under A Raging Moon; shame because it is one of the best albums of the 1980s in my opinion. The Who, of course, are just fantastic, and their last studio album (2006's Endless Wire) was a worthy addition to their canon.
'After The Fire' by Roger Daltrey
'Who Are You' by The Who
And there you have it – lead singers who released great tracks as solo artists.
And, if they're not careful, this is where their career ends…