Rock history is full of dramatic stories and events that changed the course of music development. With so much adrenaline and excess, things can quickly get out of hand. And they did on many occasions. Personal relationships within the most successful bands changed over the years, often causing irreparable damage.
We can name dozens of highly publicized breakups over a half-century timeline. It is definitely not the complete list of rock bands falling apart. Yet, these five cases are among the most infamous fallouts in the music industry.
We cannot but start with the band that started it all. The Beatles were the first superstars in rock music as a collective entity. The Liverpool quartet took less than 10 years to take the world by storm and fall apart. The tremendous success was built upon the most glorified partnership in rock’n’roll history. John Lennon and Paul McCartney started the band as best friends. From the early 60s, this enormously talented tandem gave the world some of the most memorable and cherished songs. But the perfect partnership declined by the decade’s end, leading to The Beatles’ breakup. And it was only the start of the feud between both primary songwriters that lasted for several years.
The last years of the Liverpool quartet saw increasing creative conflict within the band. Lennon and McCartney competed with each other to have more input into the albums. Even if the songs were credited to both of them, there were primarily individual sparks of one or the other. The love story of John and Yoko Ono added to the deterioration of relationships within the band.
In their solo years, McCartney and Lennon fired slants at each other through some hidden and not-so-hidden messages found in the lyrics. It was fueled by the case of the band’s dissolution brought to court by Paul. McCartney made a dig at Lennon in his song “Too Many People.” John answered furiously with his “How Do You Sleep?” aimed entirely at his former bandmate. It consisted of lyrics like “The only thing you have done was yesterday / And since you’ve gone, you’re just another day.”
Eventually, Lennon and McCartney reconciled, and for a few years, it all seemed like water under the bridge. But the hopes for The Beatles’ reunion never came to fruition. The tragic death of John Lennon took way too early one of the most significant music talents in history.
Dramatic upsets and fiery confrontations fill the entire history of Pink Floyd. The strife between the co-lead singers of the classic lineups Roger Waters and David Gilmour has lasted for decades. It recently peaked in one of the most bitter rivalry episodes among those brilliant musicians. Waters and Gilmour took almost opposite sides regarding the ongoing war conflict in Ukraine. And on top of that, Roger, the primary songwriter and lyricist during the Floyd golden years, shocked everyone by claiming that he had re-recorded their most iconic album, The Dark Side of the Moon.
The feud was going on and off, starting from the early 80s or before. In fact, Pink Floyd overcame the withdrawal of its early leader Syd Barrett when Gilmour filled in for the founder singer and guitar player who was burdened by mental issues. David on guitar and Roger on bass, along with Nick Mason on drums and Rick Wright on keyboards, worked as a close-knit team for several years to conceive legendary albums like the aforementioned Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here and The Wall. But already in the making of the last classic album, the relationships within the quartet deteriorated significantly. Waters fired Wright, and one album later left himself. The bassist claimed he was quitting the band while the other members were determined to move on. This turn of events triggered a lawsuit that was won by the Gilmour team.
However, a one-off reunion happened two decades later for a special occasion. Waters, Gilmour, Wright, and Mason, were back together on stage for the 2004 Live Aid concert. Sadly for their millions of fans, the classic quartet never repeated such a gig. It became impossible to do when Wright passed away in 2008. And the recent outbursts made it even more unlikely to see Gilmour and Waters again back together onstage.
Something fundamental will undoubtedly be missing if we don’t include Deep Purple in the article. In fact, among the rock superstars, this is the band that went through the most lineup configurations of all. And how many lineups can we count? At least nine. Yes, nine. And the drummer Ian Paice is the only constant member of the English band throughout its whole history.
With so many personal changes, there were undoubtedly some infamous fallouts between bandmates. The classic lineup, also called MKII (Mark 2, the second of the nine known versions of the band), consisted of Paice, bassist Roger Glover, keyboard master Jon Lord, guitar hero Richie Blackmore, and amazing frontman like Ian Gillan. This quintet lasted for four years gaining enormous success. But in 1973, only a year after releasing their most recognized song, “Smoke on the Water”, Ian Gillan left the quintet. He admitted later that quitting Deep Purple at its peak was due to growing tensions within the group and exhaustion from excessive touring. Soon after, Glover was no more part of the band too.
The remaining musicians found more than suitable replacements in Glenn Hughes (bass and vocals) and David Coverdale (lead vocals). But MKIII lasted only for about two years before another personal change happened. This time it was Blackmore leaving, dissatisfied with the musical direction shift coming under the Hughes and Coverdale influence. MKIV was a short-living phase after Tommy Bolin, Blackmore’s replacement, died in December 1975. The band broke up, and the hiatus lasted for eight years.
The classic lineup got back together in 1984. Deep Purple reunion was more than successful, but it didn’t take long before personal differences emerged again. Once again, it was Blackmore versus Gillan clash, forcing the singer to leave in 1989. But later, the other three members, Paice, Glover, and Lord, wanted Gillan back in the band. Blackmore accepted it grudgingly. The second MKII reunion marked one of the lowest points in the band’s life, as Gillan admitted himself. Finally, it was the controversial guitar player who left the band, never to return. And even if there were other changes, the most turbulent years of Deep Purple were over.
Guns N’ Roses
Once, they were dubbed “The most dangerous band in the world,” and there were plenty of reasons to call them that way. Guns N’ Roses gained almost immediate success after releasing their debut album, Appetite for Destruction. But when drugs, booze, egos, ambitions, and pressure combine, the mix can be really hazardous. And so was the case with Guns N’ Roses.
Indeed, it started long before the Use Your Illusion albums were released. One night in the late 80s, Axl Rose came up on stage only to throw a bomb, saying he was leaving the band. “I’m tired of too many people in this organization dancing with Mr. God Damn Brownstone,” said the frontman, using the name of one of the debut album songs to hint at the heroin abuse by three of his bandmates – lead guitar hero Slash, rhythm guitar player Izzy Stradlin, and drummer Steven Adler. Apologies and promises followed that statement, so Axl was quickly returned. But it was not the last time some original members left the band. Actually, they all did except for Rose.
Tensions within the band strained significantly after the Use Your Illusion tour. In the early to mid-90s, Axl made it clear to the others that he would rule the project in a pretty autocratic manner. Adler and Stradlin were already out by that time. But when Slash left in 1996, followed by bassist Duff McKagan the next year, it seemed that once the biggest rock’n’roll band in the world was falling apart. But it wasn’t the end.
Axl Rose moved on with other musicians, but he could record only one album with the new and ever-changing lineup. It took over a decade to finish Chinese Democracy which was still far from the previous level of success. And the relationship between the star duet Axl and Slash seemed to be broken forever. Rose referred to his then-former axeman as being like “cancer.” When asked in a 2012 interview whether there is even a slight chance for a reunion of the core band, he responded like this: “Not in this lifetime.”
Well, less than four years later, these words proved wrong. In 2016, Guns n’ Roses were back together. Or at least Slash and Duff buried the hatchet with the frontman. “A lot of the tension has dissipated. We don’t have all those issues anymore”, explained Slash. Guess what the reunion tour’s name was? “Not in this lifetime.” The most famous members of the band were back together on stage, showing a sense of humor towards their previous fights. Axl, Slash, and Duff still play in the same band, called Guns n’ Roses. On top of that, it is active and going on tour in 2023.
The Manchester band grew stardom in the mid-90s, jumping on the brit-pop wave. Oasis was indeed closer to rock’n’roll golden standards, and the fundaments of the success were built on the partnership between the Gallagher brothers, Liam and Noel. But the seeds of dissent and personal fallout were also among the siblings.
The band started in 1991 and ended up 18 years later. Throughout its whole history, there have been controversies between Liam and Noel. The latter is the older brother and the last one to join the band. Both shared vocals and contributed ideas to the breakthrough albums Definitely Maybe and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory. But the Gallagher brothers have always been outspoken and direct in their approach. And this led to their demise.
It all happened suddenly on a late summer night in Paris. The Manchester band was due to perform as one of the Rock en Seine festival headliners in 2009. But the gig on 28 August never happened. A vicious quarrel between Liam and Noel culminated so severely that the older brother immediately quit the band. It is said that things got out of hand when the younger sibling destroyed one of his relative’s guitars. Noel confirmed the rift later that night. “It is with some sadness and great relief… I quit Oasis tonight. I simply could not go on working with Liam a day longer”, said the older brother statement.
The group disbanded after the lead guitar player had gone. In fact, they continued under the Beady Eye moniker for some time. Still, the lineup had already changed significantly compared to the original personnel even before that night in Paris. Later Noel Gallagher kind of felt sorry for his actions. “If I had my time again, I would have gone back and done the gig. We may never have split up.” But the reunion never happened. By now, but it could be somehow…
That’s it. There are many other stories of splits and breakups – how Ozzy Osbourne left Black Sabbath and got back later. The same applies to Bruce Dickinson and Iron Maiden, Rob Halford and Judas Priest, and many more examples. But these five dramatic stories relate to all the explosiveness and unpredictability of rock music.
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