A few weeks ago, a series of concerts by AC/DC were cancelled after doctors told singer Brian Johnson that he had to stop touring immediately or risk permanent hearing loss. This was a huge disappointment for fans, especially considering the band were touring on the back of one of their strongest albums, 2014’s Rock or Bust and selling out wherever they went. The fact of the matter is Brian Johnson is 67 years old and the band plays hard hitting rock and roll – if he can’t continue on because age has caught up, there’s no shame in that.
But the story doesn’t stop there. According to various reports and rumours, when Johnson’s doctors told him he had to stop touring, the rest of the band (read Angus Young) decided to fire their singer of 36 years and carry on with a replacement vocalist. Keep in mind, as of this writing, this is all speculation and conjecture from various unnamed sources. However, if these stories do prove to be true, and that goes with a new singer, one would have to look at the decision as one of the worst in the history of rock.
Replacing a lead singer is a dicey proposition at the best of times. Few bands have pulled it off successfully. AC/DC got lucky when Brian Johnson stepped into the shoes of Bon Scott following Bon’s death in 1980. That being said, the band was not as huge as they would become, and Johnson’s entry would help expand their audience.
Van Halen also got lucky when, following the 1985 departure of the seemingly irreplaceable David Lee Roth, they joined forces with Sammy Hagar, who was already an established singer as both the frontman for Montrose and as a solo artist. The band didn’t have to start from scratch and, in fact, had their biggest commercial success with Sammy up front. They also had their biggest flop when, in 1996, they kicked Sammy out and replaced him with former Extreme vocalist Gary Cherone.
Other established bands have replaced their lead singers in recent years to varying degrees of success. Journey brought in Arnel Pineda, a singer from the Philippines, and have had their greatest run since Steve Perry was in the band. Styx has been fronted by Canadian Lawrence Gowan since 1999, while Yes has seen two lead singers pass through their ranks since 2008, and have drawn rave reviews for their Complete Album shows.
However, AC/DC remains one of the biggest bands on the planet, and the idea of their iconic frontman no longer a part of the mix would certainly dampen the band’s reputation in the mind of many fans. While artists need to make a living, and while there’s no reason they shouldn’t stop playing, in some cases, contemplating other means of performance might be the right move. When Robert Plant told the remaining members of Led Zeppelin that he wasn’t interested in touring with them following their amazing 2007 reunion at London’s O2 Arena, the band rehearsed with a number of lead singers, including Myles Kennedy and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, but the name was never on the table.
So, should Angus Young, the sole remaining original member of AC/DC, decide to carry on the band’s legacy, he should – but without Brian Johnson behind the mic, and founding members Malcolm Young and Paul Rudd no longer part of the band, perhaps it would be wise to honour the legacy by going out as Angus Young and Company, or something else, and let the name AC/DC die a noble death.