Lead singer takes a break: best and worst examples

Sometimes, once every album or so, someone else in the band gets to sing lead. Who should have been told to keep their mouth shut, and who should have considered starting their own band?

And can we agree now that Ringo doesn’t fall into either camp?

A favorite from my worst examples list: “Mother” (Andy Summers) and “Miss Gradenko” (Stewart Copeland) from Synchronicity.

Well, Fleetwood Mac brought in Dave Walker for one LP (Penguin), on which he sang two songs; of these, “Road Runner” stands in my book as one of the group’s all-time lows, with Walker singing in a grunt-sweat-and-strut style more suited to Grand Funk Railroad or Bad Company than anything that Fleetwood Mac were ever about.

On the other hand, “Rocket Cathedrals” off Be-Bop Deluxe’s first LP (Axe Victim), sung by bassist Robert Bryan, is one of my favorites by that band.

I also happen to very much like “In Another Land” on the Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, written and sung by Bill Wyman. I bet some people would list that in the “big mistake” category, though.

“Mother” is what made me think of this topic.

Buck Dharma sang on enough of Blue Oyster Cult’s big hits that a casual fan might not even realize Eric Bloom was supposed to be the lead singer.

On Steely Dan’s debut, Can’t Buy A Thrill, there were three instances of this…David Palmer did the lead vocals on “Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me)” and, more famously, on “Dirty Work”; and Jim Hodder took the lead on “Midnite Cruiser”. While I like “Dirty Work” and “Midnite Cruiser”, I can’t say I blame the Dan for deciding to stick with Donald Fagen at the end of the day.

I keep thinking up Bests:

  • The Stones: Keith Richards singing Happy and Before they Make Me Run

  • Squeeze - Paul Carrack singing Tempted, not Difford and Tilbrook

  • The Romantics - the drummer (apparently named Jimmy Marinos!) sang That’s What I Like About You, not their normal leads.

Ben Orr–The Cars bassist–was superb on “Drive.”

He was a lead singer. Ocasek was one, too, but Orr could actually sing. He sang their first single, Just What I Needed, and many other of their hits.

Ringo really shone bright on “Don’t Pass me By.” Nearly as great as “Octopus’ Garden”

Okay, you can take Ringo off the table, but George Harrison definitely could carry his own band.

And let’s not forget that Eric Clapton was not Cream’s lead singer.

Jeff Beck sang lead on one Yardbirds song: “The Nazz Are Blue.”

To be fair to Summers’ voice, I think Mother is so bad that no one’s voice could have saved it.

“Ooh-La-La” and “Debris,” sung by bassist Ronnie Lane, are two of my favorite Faces songs.

Yeah, The Cars are one of those bands, like the Beatles, the Eagles, or Pink Floyd, who had multiple lead singers. Ocasek said something like, “If a song really needs to be sung well, Ben does it.”

Speaking of Pink Floyd, can we count their “Have a Cigar,” which features lead vocals by Roy Harper, who wasn’t even a member of the band? Harper was a well-known folk singer, though, so I suppose it’s not like handing off the mic to someone who’s never even carried a tune before.

Wait, what? Stewart Copeland wrote Miss Gradenko, but if that’s him singing it, his voice is virtually identical to Sting’s.

Agree on “Mother”, wholeheartedly, although not sure that’s not Sting singing. Like someone above said, it’s so bad, it doesn’t matter WHO sings.

If Peter Gabriel is your lead singer and bails on you, give the drummer a shot at it.

Good catch. Maybe Exapno thought he was posting in the “Lead songwriter takes a break” thread—which, come to think of it, might be interesting.

The current thread is somewhat similar to these past threads: Greatest Hits By (Not the lead singer) and Best songs not sung by the lead singer (though the emphasis isn’t exactly the same).

Another best: Dee Dee Ramone singing lead on Wart Hog.

You’re kidding, right? I came to post these as “worsts”.

In other ill-advised singers, anything John Entwistle sang, either with the Who or even more, in his solo albums. The guy could write a good song, but just was not cut out for lead vocals.