You’re Out of the Band
The Temptations, Pink Floyd, Genesis and the Beatles—just to name a few—are all bands that either kicked out or lost an original member right before skyrocketing to fame. Would any of these groups have been as successful if their original members had stuck around? It’s hard to say, but rock-and-roll lore certainly would be missing some legendary drama.
When uncooperative lead singer David Ruffin of the Temptations missed a performance in Cleveland so he could attend his singer girlfriend’s show instead, his bandmates finally kicked him to the curb. With his cocaine addiction causing him to flake out and his prima donna behavior causing the rest of the Temps to freak out—Ruffin would ride to shows in a private, mink-lined limousine, for example—the band replaced him in 1968 with Dennis Edwards.
But Ruffin refused to remain exiled. Instead, he turned up during concert tours, climbed onstage and sang his parts regardless of whether any other Temptations wanted him there or not. Mistaking this strange tenaciousness for dedication, the group gave him a second chance and kicked out Edwards. There was no denying it—the crowd went wild for Ruffin. After all, Ruffin had sung lead on the band’s first number-one single, “My Girl,” and his voice was a feature of the group’s signature sound. The cycle of ejecting and replacing members continued, however. The Temptations tally: Over time the group consisted of a whopping 22 different people.
In 1967, when Pink Floyd founding guitarist Syd Barrett’s erratic, LSD-induced behavior made it impossible for him to perform, his old school pal David Gilmour joined the band as a fifth member. Barrett took to wandering around onstage in a psychedelic haze rather than playing the songs, and Gilmour soon took his spot permanently.
According to band legend, on January 26, 1968, with Roger Waters behind the wheel of his Bentley and the rest of the band packed in the backseat, Pink Floyd headed to a gig and simply decided not to pick up Barrett. No one remembers whose idea it was, but one of them asked, “Shall we pick up Syd?” to which another responded, “Let’s not bother.”
With Barrett out, Waters took over songwriting for the pivotal concept albums The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall. Irked at being replaced, Barrett was rumored for a while to appear in the audience at Pink Floyd gigs and angrily stare down Gilmour while he was onstage. Barrett later had a brief solo career, but after that ended and his money ran out, he became something of a recluse, spending his time painting.
During the tour for Pink Floyd’s 1979 album The Wall, members of the prog-rock group showed their animosity for one another in simple ways—parking their four Winnebago RVs in a circle with doors facing outward, for example, so they could avoid confrontations. Hostilities boiled over during work on their next record, The Final Cut (1983). Bassist Roger Waters accused guitarist David Gilmour of not contributing to the songwriting, and Waters took full credit himself. The album’s liner notes read, “Written by Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd.”
Waters went solo, releasing The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking in 1984. Gilmour took the lead of Pink Floyd, releasing A Momentary Lapse of Reason in 1987. An angry Waters threatened to sue the band’s promoters for using the Pink Floyd name. He tried suing Gilmour, too, but lost.
Gilmour’s Pink Floyd and the solo Waters toured concurrently, confusing fans into thinking Floyd wasn’t the real thing without Waters and/or Waters mustn’t be good anymore, since Floyd wasn’t backing him. Waters added to the befuddlement by selling a tour T-shirt with the mocking slogan “Which One’s Pink?” Despite such antics, post-Waters Floyd’s Momentary Lapse outsold the band’s earlier Final Cut.
Pink Floyd and Genesis are two of many English bands to achieve success in the U.S. in the late 1960s, but they have more in common than that. For instance, when Pink Floyd gave its drug-addled guitarist Syd Barrett the boot, the remaining bandmates worried about their creative direction—Barrett had been chief songwriter and frontman for their early fame. Genesis had similar worries when primary lyricist Peter Gabriel called it quits in 1975.
Barrett and Gabriel were not only these bands’ driving creative forces; each had a dynamic, enthusiastic stage presence. Gabriel dressed in eccentric costumes—one framed his head with a slightly alarming giant flower—and Barrett leaped around wildly while performing. Their mellower replacements didn’t attract the same attention.
After Phil Collins was promoted from within to become Genesis’s new “front” man—singing from behind his drum kit—the group’s progressive-rock sound grew more poppy and radio friendly, eventually yielding its first U.S. hit, 1984’s “That’s All,” with many other charting singles to follow. Pink Floyd also reinvented itself when bassist Roger Waters assumed songwriting duties from Barrett. Waters created music just as trippy but much darker—and more commercially successful—than Floyd’s earlier material.
Syd Barrett’s drug addiction undermined his behavior during two widely watched TV interviews. On white-bread singer Pat Boone’s show, Barrett simply stared off into space, and on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand he seemed shell-shocked. Eventually Pink Floyd had to consider how these lapses might limit the band’s success, and the rest agreed behind Barrett’s back to kick him out.
The Beatles came to a similar realization—and also gave a cowardly kiss-off—when they decided to lose their original drummer, Pete Best. Many myths attempt to explain why Best came to worst, such as jealousy over his being the most handsome Beatle and potentially the biggest heartthrob of the group, as well as concern about his being too square (he refused to grow his hair long or take drugs). But his fellow Beatles claimed Best just wasn’t musically up to par, and they feared he would hold them back. After a professional drummer had to take his place during recording sessions in 1962, the other Beatles were convinced Best was not living up to his name—so they had their manager do the dirty work and break the bad news to him.
Drummer Pete Best and guitarist Stuart Sutcliffe are two former Beatles criticized for their subpar musical abilities. During one of the band’s auditions, Sutcliffe turned his back to the club’s manager, who was judging the performance, thereby suggesting he couldn’t play well. The manager purportedly said he’d give the Beatles the gig only if they fired Sutcliffe. Because of his close friendship with group leader John Lennon, however, the Beatles kept him around. Sutcliffe enjoyed painting more than music (he worked in abstract expressionism and ultimately left the group for art school), and his instrumental skills were indeed limited. He stuck to playing simply the lowest notes of chords instead of branching out into more intricate territories of sound. Best was harshly criticized when he was ejected for his poor drumming skills. He fell into the same trap as Sutcliffe, sticking with simple patterns and playing mostly four counts to each song, the easiest, most generic beat used in rock music.
Both men made their bandmates jealous in other ways, however: Crowds praised Sutcliffe’s singing on his signature cover of Elvis Presley’s ballad “Love Me Tender,” and female fans flocked to Best for his rugged good looks.
Shortly after Pete Best was kicked out of the Beatles, Ringo Starr took his place as drummer. But when the relatively inexperienced Starr was forbidden to play on the band’s recordings (as Best had been before him), he feared he might be “Pete Bested”—i.e., fired. Ringo had nothing to worry about. Despite his technical limitations, he is considered a great rock drummer for his hard-hitting consistency, and his sonic experimentation contributed to the Beatles’ success: He tuned his drums low and used muffling devices, techniques that influenced many later drummers.
One such disciple was Phil Collins of Genesis, who has claimed Starr’s drumming inspired him to begin making music in earnest (he had started playing drums at five years old on a toy kit he received for Christmas). He practiced by playing along with the radio, never learning to read music. Collins has called Starr “vastly underrated.” Even a great drummer today, he has said, couldn’t perform some of Starr’s tricks, such as the complex fills on the song “A Day in the Life.” Collins even appeared as an extra in the Beatles’ first film, A Hard Day’s Night. He screams his head off in a quick concert close-up.
Peter Gabriel quit Genesis in 1975 for personal reasons, including the need to spend time with his wife and ill baby daughter, but tension had been growing between him and his bandmates because his flamboyant stage presence began commanding too much audience and media attention, leaving the other members on the sidelines. Even though he created his signature elaborate costumes to visualize the entire band’s musical ideas, his mates felt his sole position in the spotlight was ruinous to the group’s collaboration. Despite hosting many auditions for a replacement, however, they never found the right person. Instead, proving that sometimes what you’re looking for can be right in front of your face, the band eventually promoted its own Phil Collins from drummer to lead singer. Genesis remained a four-piece until guitarist Steve Hackett also went solo, two years later, prompting the band’s next album title, …And Then There Were Three… (1978).
Stuart Sutcliffe quit the Beatles to pursue art instead of rock and roll, but they didn’t try to replace him. Like Genesis, the group continued as a four-piece, in its case remaining that way to the end—the reason Sutcliffe is often called the fifth Beatle.