Musicians have long had reputations for not being the easiest people to get along with. Although music is, in many ways, the great unifier, bringing people together from every walk of life under the same roof, it is ironic that many of our musical heroes are actually very stubborn individuals, with an inclination for belligerence and battling with one another.
In a sense, this is understandable. Thousands adore them, and in some cases millions. Their egos and self-worth are therefore wildly inflated to a level way beyond the normal. Furthermore, penning numerous classic songs must also account for the elevated personal opinion of themselves, as adding something iconic and everlasting into popular culture is no easy feat and, usually, gets its just rewards.
Off-stage, musicians are typically free-spirited individuals who can’t and won’t be tied down by any social construct or rules. This stereotypical character of a musician has long been established, stemming from the ’50s and the excessive behaviour of rock ‘n’ roll’s original bad boys, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, to name but a few.
If one was to think of your favourite musician, it is likely that their life would have been a tale of run-ins with the law, hedonism and ample amounts of excess. Although this is a stereotype that has long since been proven futile, with musicians these days opting to live a cleaner, more laid back lifestyle, we still get numerous examples of musicians being difficult towards each other. There have been innumerable instances of arguing, bickering and even fighting.
When you ponder a scene where musicians are squabbling about the music, or physically fighting over one thing or another, with YouTube giving us numerous examples of such a spectacle, you slowly begin to understand that all musicians share the trait of being perfectionists. Given a piece of music is deeply connected to its author, this is not surprising.
Being a perfectionist, protective of your work, and always wanting to save face are three key elements that culminate in band members coming to loggerheads. It has to be done one person’s way, but this doesn’t suit another, or one person thinks they’re above their peers and gets above their station. You get the gist. Musicians are like the Roman Senate, so often willing to draw the daggers on a bandmate at the drop of a hat.
Music is a dog eat dog world. A world of manoeuvring and not short of Machiavellian characters. The annals of musical history are teeming with stories of in-fighting, feuds and messy breakups. It is in the latter category that we get our story today.
We’ve listed the ten messiest band breakups of all time. Featuring some of your favourite bands, expect to see clear examples of narcissism at play and no end of clashing egos.
The 10 messiest band splits:
The Smashing Pumpkins
Chicago’s premier alternative band, the Smashing Pumpkins, have given us no end of classic tunes. Formed in 1988, they went a run through the ’90s that marked them out as one of the most influential guitar band’s of all time. Encompassing goth, shoegaze, metal, and psychedelia, their back catalogue is a colourful collection. However, it wasn’t all smashing for the Pumpkins.
Drug use, band incest and frontman Billy Corgan‘s inflated ego and weird soft-boi attitude, all culminated in the band’s classic lineup calling it quits at the end of 2000. Bass player D’Arcy Wretzky’s departure in 1999 seemed to be the final nail in the coffin. Kicked out or walked, it is unclear, but in the years since the original breakup, there was no end of tit for tat exchanged between the former members of the Pumpkins. Famously, Corgan labelled Wtreztky a “mean-spirited drug addict who refused to get help”. He also claimed that guitarist James Iha had a lot to do with the band’s original dissolution. In addition to claiming he was kicked out for being mean spirited and battling his own addiction, Corgan claimed in 2004: “the depth of my hurt (from Iha) is only matched with the depth of my gratitude”.
Iha responded to Corgan’s claims in 2005, saying, “No, I didn’t break up the band. The only person who could have done that is Billy.” Ultimately, the group needed a break from each other. Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain wouldn’t return to the fold till 2018.
Things had allegedly been hotting up for a while between Oasis’ Noel and Liam Gallagher before it eventually came to a head in August 2009.
Scheduled to appear at Paris’ Rock en Seine festival, the two brothers had a physical fight backstage. It is said frontman Liam smashed one of Noel’s guitars in a fit of anger, which was one move too far for Noel.
Shortly after the scuffle, the band officially announced their breakup.
Clearly, after 20 years of a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, the brothers’ personality’s were no longer compatible. What ensued has been a very well-publicised spat of varying temperatures ever since.
The Everly Brothers
Ah, good old brotherly love. For a point in time, the Everly Brothers were hailed as music’s most exemplary familial partnership. Formed in 1956 as a duo, together, Phil and Don Everly wrote some of the most influential music ever put to wax. However, like with everything, it had its sell-by date, and this came in 1973.
Things reached boiling point at a show in Santa Ana, California. Don had been battling with addiction for years and showed up to their show inebriated. He was so out of it that he couldn’t remember the lines to the hit songs he’d played a hundred times. Phil was so enraged he physically broke a guitar over Don’s head and stormed out of the venue. They wouldn’t speak again until the death of their father ten years later, but even then, it was tense. They did briefly reunite for a tour in 2005, and that was to be their last as both brothers have now sadly passed away.
For a time, The Eagles were California’s most beloved band, and one of America’s hottest musical exports. Formed in 1971, the band made their biggest impact across the rest of the decade. Their fifth album, 1976’s Hotel California is hailed as a classic across the board. Called “the biggest band in America” the Eagles were seemingly invincible. However, fast forward to the early ’80s and fame had made an indelible mark on the band.
Original members Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon quit because they hated fame and the noxious working environment. Joe Walsh struggled with addiction, and lead guitarist Don Felder thought he was being treated as a second-class citizen within the band. In addition to the personal problems, the band were becoming increasingly sterilized. Playing events such as political benefits, Felder had enough.
Felder spoke his mind to co-lead singer Glenn Frey, which turned out to be a big mistake. Frey was enraged. That night, at their show the pair threatened each other via their microphones. Felder knew that Frey wanted to fight him after the show, so he quickly departed from the venue, and avoided all-out conflict. This was the last Eagles performance for a long time.
A tale as old as time. The most well-known and well-documented band split there has ever been. The biggest band in the world, the Beatles were a true cultural phenomenon. Formed in 1960, and splitting in 1970 over ten years it is safe to say that the Beatles changed music forevermore. They pioneered songwriting, recording techniques and album artwork, you name it they were the first to do it.
By 1966 the Beatles had stopped touring, and this new character of the band led to their best work, but also led to exhaustion, drug use and infighting. They even wrote song’s directed as digs to one another. Frontman John Lennon decided to the band in 1969, without any formal announcement to the media. In fact, the public did not cotton on until Paul McCartney announced his first solo album in 1970. Then Lennon made his statement. It was all over. The run-up to, and fallout from the split is a real knot of its own.
Guns N’ Roses
Possibly the band that embodies rock ‘n’ roll excess the most, hard-rockers Gun N’ Roses were bound to implode at some point. A notoriously difficult band to deal with, each member came with their own set of problems. The band’s debut album Appetite for Destruction was a smash hit, and the level of superstardom it brought also came with ample amounts of drugs and inflated the band’s egos to a ridiculous level.
Fast forward to 1990 and things started to unravel. Drummer Steven Adler was fired for his crippling drug addiction and frontman Axl Rose became unbearable. He would turn up late to shows, and allegedly he even held the band hostage one night before a gig forcing the other band members, Duff McKagan and Slash to sign away their rights to the band’s name. In 1993, Axl called Slash a “cancer” and that signalled the end of the band’s original iteration. Slash and McKagan wouldn’t return until 2016.
The Beach Boys
Surf rock legends, The Beach Boys, are the most famous example of a band actually splitting in two. Drug use, death of founding members and inflated egos all add to the band’s long, winding history. Aside from the pioneering music, the rivalry between mastermind Brian Wilson and Mike Love was always a blight on the band. Their relationship is the embodiment of antithesis. Democrat vs Republican, Affable vs Villainous, you get the picture.
There have been numerous court cases that have also added to the mire. These days Mike Love tours around using The Beach Boys name and Brian Wilson and Al Jardine tour with their own iteration of the band, but are by law not able to use the Beach Boys moniker. Find out more, here.
Another famous split. British prog-rock heroes Pink Floyd had numerous schisms over the years. Mainly characterised by the perennial sparring between main songwriters Roger Waters and David Gilmour, other members Richard Wright and Nick Mason would also not escape the fallout.
Waters left the band in the mid-’80s, and what followed what as a legal dispute over the use of the band’s name, and an era that was characterised by “duplicity rather than diplomacy”.
Gilmour claimed Waters left the band to hasten its demise, and Waters claimed that the other three band members ousted him, and had threatened to sue unless he walked. The band would reunite for brief performance at Live Aid in 2005, but by 2006 they were “definitely deceased”.
Simon and Garfunkel
Unlike Wilson and Love, Simon and Garfunkel’s bitter rivalry was not always so. Believe it or not, they were once best friends who decided to go into the music business after meeting in elementary school in 1953. A tale as old as time, Simon and Garfunkel’s short career became marred by jealousy and backstabbing.
Garfunkel was jealous of Simon getting all the songwriting plaudits so used to demean him and belittle him about his stature and insecurities. It all got too much, and the band split in 1970.
Each reunion has been brief, as the pair are the living, breathing definition of chalk and cheese. Mort Lewis, the band’s manager, once said “They both envied the other’s place in the team”, and this summed up the pair’s relationship perfectly.
Read about the split in more depth, here.
The new wave trio, The Police‘s career, lasted from 1977 to 1984. They had many hit singles, are and are retrospectively hailed as one of the defining groups of the era, with each one of its three members massively respected in their own ways. However, the band was also marred by infighting, the clashing of egos, aided by the fact that none of the band members had anything in common apart from music.
Things finally fell apart for The Police after their 1984 tour for the smash-hit album, Synchronicity. Sting was getting sick of drummer Stewart Copeland and Copeland was getting more and more frustrated with the way the band was starting to become centred around, what he saw as, Sting’s overly inflated ego. Things got so contrite that Copeland had ‘Fuck. Off. You. Cunt.’ written on his drumskins.
Allegedly, Sting flew off the handle at Copeland and guitarist Andy Summers. Sting cited the fact they had nothing in common and “left” the band to embark on a solo career. This was probably best for each member as they all went on to enjoy solo success in their respective musical fields. They did manage to reunite for the meal ticket of their lives, the 2007-2008 reunion tour.