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

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

5. Jean Terrell (the Supremes). Motown president Berry Gordy recruited 24-year-old club singer Terrell to replace the departing Diana Ross in 1969, amidst falling record sales that plagued the formerly unstoppable Supremes. Although the group never repeated the success they had with Ross, the group had several top 10 hits with the angelic-voiced Terrell, including "Stoned Love" and a cover of "River Deep, Mountain High" in which the Terrell-led Supremes teamed with the Four Tops.

4. Brian Johnson (AC/DC). Why do people hate this guy? Seriously, he had some of the biggest shoes to fill on this list. Bon Scott's vocals were amazing; although Johnson has the same dirty, growly feel to his singing, he doesn't sound like Scott, and he doesn't try. Not only did AC/DC replace their vocalist, but their first album with Johnson, Back In Black, was the biggest album of their careers. From the first clangs of the bell that open up the album, it was obvious that AC/DC weren't going anywhere after Scott's untimely demise.

3. David Gilmour (Pink Floyd). Critics love to wax poetic about Gilmour's guitar playing -- he is one of the best. Brought in as a fifth member, then bumped to lead vocals after Syd Barrett's breakdown, Gilmour's hypnotic vocals lent a featherlight edge to Floyd's solid progressive rock base. Gilmour's vocals gave the musicianship and songwriting room to shine, and we've gotta say it, post-Waters Floyd gets way too much hate.

2. Ronnie James Dio (Black Sabbath). It's easy to talk about dead artists being greater than they really were; in the case of Dio, however, the posthumous accolades feel like he's finally getting the credit he deserves. Dio, who turned down a scholarship to Juilliard as a youth, was introduced to the Sabbath guys by Sharon Osbourne after he left Rainbow; his addition breathed new life into the ailing Sabbath, and fans count Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules among Sabbath's best albums. His further work with

1. Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden). If you want to talk to the most obstinate, know-it-all rock dudes ever, find some rabid Paul Di'Anno purists*. They are correct that Di'Anno was a great live singer with serious versatility; they are also correct that the first two Maiden albums, which feature Di'Anno, are spectacular. However, most Maiden fans discovered the band with Dickinson on vocals. His voice is a vital part of Maiden's magic to a generation of headbangers who came of age to this music. Dickinson's vocals have become a caricature -- would there be Spinal Tap without Maiden? -- because his sound resonated so strongly with listeners, and meshed so well with the band, that it's burned into our brains.

*Iif you want to see something funny, look at the comments on anything Paul Di'Anno on YouTube. Metal fans are nothing if not entertaining.


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