And Then There Was One...

Is a band still relevant when there is only one (or no) original member?

We all experience it, ‘loss’. We experience it as individuals within our circle of friends and families. We experience it collectively, our larger circles, our towns, communities, going right up to our country, our planet, and our universe.

Loss comes to us in many ways, death, accidental or self-inflicted (note the recent suicides by recording artists), feloniously (murder), sickness, drugs, alcohol, accidental (plane, train and automobile), voluntarily (quitting, divorce, exile, firing (probably involuntarily), moving away, etc.).

Any loss is the greatest for the individual who is left behind, he or she is the one who experiences the loss often the most. Among life’s losses is the loss of original band members which leads to only one original band member left playing in the band. Sometimes it is unavoidable (or even tragic) and sometimes it just happens. The synergy in a band can change over time, leading to a lack of cohesion and members deciding to leave, or being shown the door. As a fan, I have a choice to continue to follow and listen to the successor band, or to move on and drop the band from my playlist after the departure of the original members.

Is the band worse off with the absence of its bass player, lead guitarist, drummer, or lead singer? Does the music suffer with a band that is left with only one original member? Is the original band still relevant when only one of the members is ‘original’? Is the band name an empty totem? Like many answers to questions, it depends.

I assert, the departure, voluntarily or not of band members, leaving only one original band member only matters to this fan if the original sound and production quality of the music is diminished. If I still enjoy the music the band creates I have no complaints. If the band’s sound transcends the members’ departure and I as a fan still experience the feeling I get listening to their music, I am less interested in the personnel remaining in the band. If on the other hand the songwriting and production is over shadowed by the replacement member’s particular “style”, I will follow the former performer because it’s the music’s style, the originality, the unique sound that I follow.

The Beach Boys. An example of this fan not following the original band with the departure of the key personnel.

When I listen to The Beach Boys circa 1960’s I became an uber fan. Their music inspires me. No one would argue that in the Sixties, The Beach Boys with Brian Wilson, his brothers Carl and Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, and cousin Mike Love embodied great music. To me they did and always will.

Of these original band members, Carl and Dennis are now dead. Mike Love, the original band cousin carries on The Beach Boys name. Brian tours under his own name and joining him is Al Jardine. There is more original Beach Boy’s DNA in this duo than in Love’s band. As a fan, I don’t much follow Love’s Beach Boys. I do however follow Brian Wilson. Why? Because Wilson’s songwriting, arranging, production, lyrics, and melodies are the essence of what got me interested in their music in the first place.

Love presents his show as The Beach Boys. And they do a good job of sounding like The Beach Boys circa 1960 (maybe the best Beach Boys cover band there is). Love is an original member and owns the legal rights to the group’s name so he has every right to call his group, The Beach Boys. But is it, really? I assert as a fan, Brian Wilson is the creative soul and the legitimate embodiment of the original Beach Boys and to this fan that is The Beach Boys music I listen to and want to follow. Come to think of it, I cannot recall listening to Mike Love’s Beach Boys in the 80’s, 90’s, or up to today. Reunions do not count and in fact support my point. Brian is and remains the elixir of The Beach Boys sound. Also, I do follow subsequent releases of unpublished songs, but again it’s principally Brian Wilson that gets the hook in me. It is Brian Wilson that keeps my interest, as a fan, in The Beach Boys’ sound and music.

The Temptations. I follow the band till this day, regardless of personnel.

I am and became a fan of the Temptations’ gospel based harmonies and the Motown R&B sound. I never really focused on the band’s personnel. The lead – singer role started with Al Bryant and passed to Eddie Kendriks to David Ruffin to Dennis Edwards (I had to look that up). Despite these changes for me it is the band and the hit singles which always sounded like the Temptations.

The whole was greater than the parts. The best analogy is, I was and am a fan of the team, like being a fan of the New York Yankees and not any particular line-up and certainly not any individual player. For me the brand or the franchise is the Temptations (its harmonies and sound in all its glory).

Coming to the end of this thought.

In closing, as a music fan, I fall in love with a band’s sound, the song writing, the melodies and harmonies, the arrangements, the recording styles and not the individual players. If the band members stay together and I don’t grow in my appreciation of the sound of their subsequent albums I will drift away and stop listening to the band that calls itself by the original band name.

I will however, follow the personnel that creates the music that captivated me in the first place, example, Brian Wilson. On the other hand if I remain a fan of the music (its style, its arrangements, its production qualities etc.) I really don’t pay attention to who is the lead singer or keyboard player. The Temptations are an example of this.

In the end, I have a choice. The original band never really dies, because I can find the music that got me interested in the first place on Spotify, even if it’s a one-hit wonder. I can also, as a fan, follow the bands original personnel from band to band or in the case of solo artists (Bob Dylan) from genre to genre.

What will win out is how long my preferences and tastes for a style of music lasts and whether I listen only to the original because what followed isn’t what I liked about the band in the first place.