Top Five Acrimonious Breakups in Rock and Roll

Posted: July 13, 2012 in Brian Jones, Johnny Marr, Morrissey, Rolling Stones, The Smiths, Tom Petty, Uncategorized

You never hear of a second violinist leaving a symphony in a huff, and still complaining about it years later. Not so in rock and roll. What surprised me while writing this piece is how common the acrimonious breakup is, and how wide spread they are over history. I am no psychologist, but I am guessing that perhaps it is rooted in the rebellion and independence that underpins the music. There have been some great ones. Here are my Top Five.

Next week: Top Five Chuck Berry Riffs (following my pilgrimage to St. Louis to see Chuck next Wednesday).

1. Brian Jones and the Rolling Stones

You have to know that to get kicked out of a band, of which Keith Richards is a member, for drug and alcohol abuse is going some.

Brian Jones was a founding and influential member of the Rolling Stones, even coming up with the name of the band. However, as the focus shifted from him to Mick and Keith (because of their increasing writing prowess), Jones became increasingly isolated, both personally and musically. To compound matters, Brian’s then girlfriend Anita Pallenberg left him for Keith while the Brian was hospitalised for drug issues during a trip all three took to Morocco.

Brian officially left the band on June 9, 1969 after a string of drug related difficulties, legal and otherwise. The official statement was that his departure was voluntary; the otherwise un-contradicted real story is that he was asked to leave. He was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool a little over three weeks later on July 3, 1969. Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman attended his funeral, while Keith and Mick were conspicuously absent.

Here is Brian with the Stones in a 1964 appearance on the Mike Douglas show, covering Chuck Berry’s “Carol”.

2. The Smiths

If I was to do a list of “Top Five Bands Who Were Together Only Five Years But Had and Still Have Enormous Influence”, The Smiths would be at the top. They ruled the so called “indie” world before there really was an indie world, from 1982 to 1987. Johnny Marr played guitar and shared writing duties with morose lyricist and frontman [Steven] Morrissey. While no real explanation for their breakup has ever been proffered, we can only assume it was most unpleasant: Morrissey once said “I would rather eat my own testicles than re-form The Smiths, and that’s saying something for a vegetarian.” I think would prefer to sit at home with my Smiths’ box set, recently remastered by Johnny Marr.

3. Tom Petty and MCA Records

Tom Petty, one of the great songwriters of my generation, was signed by ABC Records and recorded by that label’s Shelter Records division. Two albums later, ABC was sold to MCA. Petty refused to be assigned to a new record company without his consent. Rather than record for MCA, Petty put his money where his mouth was and went into debt to the tune of $500,000.00 to record the band’s next album. He then eventually declared bankruptcy, thereby (sorry, my day job’s language is intruding here) gaining another lever in his negotiations.

MCA eventually caved (another legal term), re-negotiated the deal and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers went on to release their multi-platinum, named for the occasion album “Damn the Torpedos” on a subsidiary MCA created for them.

The story was chronicled for posterity in 1989′ s “I Won’t Back Down” on Petty’s first solo release “Full Moon Fever”. This is the official video. Pay particular attention to the identities of the drummer and the rhythm guitar player standing on the right.

4. Oasis

What is it about brothers in bands? The Davies, the Wilsons, the Fogertys: the list goes on. My favourites though are Liam and Noel Gallagher. They seem to have been intent on breaking up Oasis from the time the band was formed in 1991, there being one well publicised incident after another well publicised incident between the lads. The band split in 2009, after almost two decades of revolving side men, followed by (you guessed it) a libel suit brought by Liam against Noel. Not to be outdone, Noel counterclaimed for damages allegedly arising out of Liam’s conduct from 1994 to 2005. A lawyer’s dream this pair are.

The only appropriate Oasis song here is “Don’t Look Back in Anger”.

5. Guns n’ Roses

This is another band that has been breaking up for decades. Born in LA as an antidote to hair or glam metal Guns n’ Roses have had a rocky ride from the beginning. After drummer Steven Adler was kicked out for drug abuse in 1987 following the hugely successful album”Appetite for Destruction” (Adler being Brian Jones, with the rest of the band being Keith Richards) battles ensued between Slash and Duff McKagan, and Axl Rose over the band’s direction, along with the almost predictable law suits, no shows at concerts and every other thing upset rockstars do. At some point during all of this, it is clear that Rose demanded the rights to the band name. How it came to be transferred to him is less clear.

The boys are still not speaking: Axl was a no-show at the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year.

“Welcome to the Jungle” indeed.

  1. jcs says:

    Nice list! Hope the trip to see Chuck Berry in St.Louis goes well.

    On Guns & Roses, they were doomed from the start and they found out the hard way in St. Louis years ago that midwestern fans wouldn’t tolerate their antics (and proceeded to destroy an arena and much of GNR’s gear).

    That rebellion can easily extend to the fan base! I’m sure Axl will never forget St.Louis!

    • topfivevinyl says:

      Thanks James.

      We had the GnR no show and ensuing riot in Vancouver as well. Was never really a fan, but I give them their place.

      Full Chuck report in due course.


  2. earthboy011 says:

    The Beatles break-up definitely should be in this list. Talk about acrimony! It shook the world. It was all very public, with name-calling (John being called anti-Semitic), press releases and even litigation. Some of it is laid bare in the Let It Be documentary that coincidentally was being filmed at the time of the break-up, which extended over a period of months.

    I also think the Supremes deserve consideration here. Ditto for The Mamas and Papas and Pink Floyd. Again, so many to choose from, there is a lot of room for disagreement, BUT the Beatles deserve a place on the list.

    Why in the video does it say that Brian Jones is playing lead guitar? He’s playing a shuffle rhythm while Keith does the Chuck Berry licks. Notice that Bill Wyman is “playing” an electric guitar as a bass. This is a synced version, which is how a lot of the TV shows operated in the 60’s. But not Ed Sullivan!

    • topfivevinyl says:

      As always, you make a compelling case. Very compelling. Maybe I should do a supplemental post “The Most Acrimonious Breakup in Rock and Roll”. Or re-title this one “Top Five Acrimonious Breakups in Rock and Roll Apart From the Beatles”.

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