Why don't rock bands have multiple lead singers anymore?

In the classic rock era, so it seems, it was a pretty frequent (if not universal) occurrence that the lead singer of a band would step aside for one or two songs an album and let someone else sing a song. All four Beatles sang lead on various songs, as did all three members of Cream. In the Who, Pete Townshend sang a few songs on every album, and John Entwistle usually sang the songs he wrote himself. Fleetwood Mac, at its peak, had Stevie Nicks, Lindsay Buckingham, and Christie McVie all handling singing duties. In Blue Oyster Cult, guitarist Buck Dharma almost sang more songs than the “official” lead singer Eric Bloom, and even drummer and bassist Alan and Joe Bouchard sang a lot of the time.

In contrast, I can’t think of a single rock band of the last 25 years or so which has anything other than one person who sings lead on all the songs, not stepping aside even for B-sides or the deep album cuts. The closest things I can think of are duets, songs where someone who’s not a member of the band is explicitly billed as a guest artist, or pop or rap groups (like the Backstreet Boys or the Black Eyed Peas) where none of the band members play instruments anyway.

Why the changing trends? Or am I just not listening to the right material? Are there any rock bands that do do this kind of switching off?

Multiple singers are still pretty common in indie rock, punk, and industrial. Sonic Youth, Fugazi, Pigface (which has a perpetually rotating line-up), Blink-182, Rancid and so on.

Individuals sell better than bands, generally. Unless it’s a boy band where you’re actively trying to feed slash fiction among tweens, you generally want to emphasize the one lead singer (AKA lead dancer) and the rest of the band is just “the backing band”.

Basically, during the 60s and 70s, bands were self-formed and largely self-produced, writing their own music. Before the 60s and after the 80s, bands are run by big business and generally have song-writers.

Post-70s, in particular, the focus is on fashion and dance moves more than it is music. Even where the band does write its own music, the key goal is to find a lead who you can sell to a particular clique. You’re unlikely to find a band with multiple members who have the right appeal, in this way, but of millions of garage bands to choose from, you can find a reasonable few with just one.

I don’t know if it’s less common nowadays or not, but there are still plenty of bands like that. One of my favourite bands, They Might be Giants, is based around two members who both sing a lot. Their first album came out 26 years ago so you might argue they’re the product of an earlier time, but they’re still going and they still share.

Looking through my music I see a lot of other bands where vocal duties are shared, at least occasionally. I also see a lot more bands that I have no idea about. Perhaps you’re just not interested enough in newer bands to realize that they do this.

Looks like this is also a case of the confirmation bias that is especially strong when comparing music of different times. There is a point when a person is most interested in music. They talk about it with their friends and seek it out. They find interesting things that they like, and ignore the rubbish. Then later, they become a far more passive consumer of music and they just hear what is most popular. They mistakenly assume this is the best that contemporary music has to offer and become even less interested in digging out the good stuff. Anyway, I think some of your points are way off.

I think it would be more accurate to say “Basically, during the 60s and 70s, bands (you listened to) were self-formed and largely self-produced, writing their own music”. Actually I think “largely self-produced” is probably inaccurate for any period anyway. The Monkees and the Jackson 5 are obvious examples of “manufactured” bands of the era.

To say “after the 80s, bands are run by big business and generally have song-writers” (assuming you mean a song-writer that’s not a member of the band) is also far too general . I listen to hardly anything that matches this statement.

You need to listen to more music. This is still really common.

I mean c’mon, your city’s own Beat Happening and Sleater-Kinney have multiple singers.

Or, the band just had more than one member who regularly sang lead.

When I consider my own favorite bands, a clear majority of them have more than one member who regularly sings lead. And I too have wondered why this seems to be less common nowadays.

Heh heh. You said “doo doo.”

If, by “of the last 25 years,” you mean that they’re still active within the last 25 years, I can think of plenty of examples. (Heck, the Beach Boys have been doing this for 50 years now.) If you’re limiting it to bands formed less than 25 years ago, it becomes significantly harder but still not impossible. (The New Pornographers spring to mind.)

I wonder how much this is correlated to songwriting. In most (though not all) of the examples I can think of where there are multiple lead vocalists in a band, the band members typically (though not universally) tend to sing lead on the songs that they themselves wrote and brought to the band. Are bands with multiple songwriters also becoming less common?

Just looking through my music, here are some bands I know do this. I suspect there are many more in my collection that I don’t realize do it.

Arctic Monkeys, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Blur, Kasabian, The Last Shadow Puppets, Oasis, The Pixies, Queens of the Stone Age, The Raconteurs, Red Hot Chili Peppers, System of a Down, They Might be Giants and the White Stripes.

I’m listening to Captain Kelly’s Kitchen by Dropkick Murphys as I write this – I count three lead vocalists on this one track alone.

Some good “recent” bands that have had shared lead vocals to one extent or the other:

Rilo Kiley
The Avett Brothers
Belle and Sebastian
Tilly and the Wall
The Magnetic Fields
Flight of the Conchords
Mates of State
The Moldy Peaches
The New Pornographers
Southern Culture on the Skids
Tegan and Sara

I’m not sure if it was more prevalent or not in the olden days, but it still happens a whole lot.

My husband has been in various bands over the years and everyone had at least one singer that does back ups and will step up for a song or two to give the lead singer a break. I think when “making it”, the lead singer is the one that records and the back up singers continue as such. I really don’t think that has changed much over the years and the bands mentioned are the minority. Having two lead singers that also are musicians willing to share the limelight is rare.

Hahahah, Fugazi and Sonic Youth both came to mind. Unfortunately, they aren’t around anymore :slight_smile:

Alkaline Trio, Wolf Parade (who are on and off), Real Estate (sorta), Animal Collective, Sloan, Chromatics (on their latest) and Summer Camp.
Some really good modern band have more than 1 vocalist.

I’d add Arcade Fire as a band that has multiple singers, although I guess Win Butler sings the most.

The Rescues are my current favorite “multiple lead singer” band.

The Drive-By Truckers is another recent/current rock band with multiple lead singers.

In rap*, there are very few groups coming up anymore - back in the 80’s and 90’s there were more (Run-DMC, Public Enemy, NWA, Beastie Boys), and the various group members would all take turns on the mic.

Nowadays, it’s pretty much all individual artists - but there’s still a lot of guest vocalists, coming in to do a verse or sing backup. Nearly every song is credited as “Rapper X feat. Rapper Y and Singer Z”

*I know, this thread is about rock, but it seems relevant.

The XX
Matt & Kim
Dirty Projectors

Smart-assed answer: because most stages are not large enough to accommodate two lead singers’ egos?

Yeah, I’m lucky that I’ve gotten to see both bands play in the past, a hard thing to do in a medium-sized city like Indianapolis. At least both were within the last few years relatively speaking.

The Eagles have always featured all of its members singing lead, including on their most recent album, “Long Road Out of Eden.” Of course, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, and Tim Schmit have also released solo albums. As well as former members Don Felder and Randy Meisner.