Tuesday, February 21, 2012

At what point is it a different band? (part 3)

Awhile ago (here and here) I talked about the question of when a band has changed enough that, even with the same name, it's a different band. In those posts I looked at specific issues with specific bands. In the first, I considered Dr. Feelgood, a band that -- through a variety of personnel changes -- no longer contains any of its original members. In the second, I considered Ducks Deluxe, a band that broke up in 1975 and reunited more than thirty years later.

In a more general sense, the question of whether a band is still really the same band comes down to who is the creative force, and who gives the band its sound. Granted, that's all kind of vague, which leaves lots of room for debate.

People often refer to "early Beatles" or "late Beatles" to distinguish, because the band's later psychedelic sound was so vastly different from the earlier merseybeat. Heck, even when they made Abbey Road, trying to back to their earlier style, they produced a record that bore little resemblance to their early material. But because of the continuity -- no breakups and no change in personnel (at least once they got famous) -- no one thinks of them as different bands.So, could the Beatles have replaced anyone and still been truly the Beatles? Lennon and McCartney were the creative axis. George Harrison was, by far, the best musician in the group, and Ringo gave the band its goofy factor. So it's easy to say that each of the four was a necessary ingredient in the band.

the Merseybeat Beatles

The psychedelic Beatles
But I don't think so. I'll buy Lennon and McCartney -- each was necessary for the band to truly be the Beatles. But Harrison? As good as he was, he could have been replaced. There are lots of other good guitarists who could have stepped in. And similarly, Ringo could have been replaced. I'll note that for a time it was thought that all four members of the Who were essential. But when Keith Moon died, he was replaced by Kenney Jones and the band played on. I'll admit that there were some (purists?) who didn't accept it. But there are also some who haven't come to terms with the idea of Pink Floyd without Syd Barrett. Backing up to the Who, though, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend are the essential ingredients. I realize, of course, that events being what they are, I'm not going out on much of a limb by saying that.

To take an example from the other end of the spectrum, there's Squeeze. The band has gone through more lineup changes than anyone would care to remember. But through it all they remained Squeeze because Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook were there.

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