10 Classic Bands with One Original Member


The Fall

While the Fall have earned their place in post-punk canon, snarky ringleader Mark E. Smith is known for adopting a “burning bridges” approach to membership. With the 2013 release of Re-Mit, the band’s 30th studio album, Smith has reportedly sacked over 66 members, many of which are former roadies, managers, and girlfriends. Constant lineup modifications have culminated in a prolific discography that features several stylistic transitions, including staples like Live at the Witch Trials (1979) and Perverted by Language (1983). Though the band has kept a consistent roster for several of its recent albums, their upcoming release Sublingual Tablet may bring about new changes and signal yet another era for the group.

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Guns ‘n Roses

From his blatant lack of compromise to spearheading one of the most notorious band break-ups in music history, GNR frontman Axl Rose is known for his antagonism.
The band seemingly owned the world with the release of Appetite for Destruction (1988) and the double-album Use Your Illusion (1991), only to enter a downward spiral that resulted in the dissolution of the original lineup by 1997. Rose experimented with several members before releasing the highly anticipated but god-awful Chinese Democracy in 2008. Still utilizing the GNR moniker, the songwriter is currently touring with a call sheet that includes keyboardist Dizzy Reed and Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson.

The Beach Boys

While the Beach Boys are primarily known for their surf ‘n sun image and the influential album Pet Sounds, the band experienced numerous tribulations during their heyday. A persistent drug addiction and manic-depression led to personal turmoil for Brian Wilson, who was forced to leave the group by the early 1970s. The Boys’ fractious state was compounded by other factors in the coming decades, including the deaths of founding members Carl and Dennis Wilson. Wilson cousin and notoriously arrogant new-age guru Mike Love has kept the moniker alive as the sole original member and continues to tour with a revolving line-up  – a roster that recently included John Stamos of Full House fame.


Now considered part of thrash’s “Big Four,” Anthrax formed in 1983 after rhythm guitarist Scott Ian was influenced by hardcore punk and British heavy metal. The pioneering act has sifted through several members over its 32-year existence, including three vocalists and four backing guitarists. Like other bands, the perpetual shifts in membership prompted an experimental style that resulted in an innovative collaboration with Public Enemy as well as bringing thrash metal to mainstream audiences. The current incarnation of Anthrax consists of Ian, drummer Charlie Benante, bassist Frank Bello, vocalist Joey Belladonna, and recent guitarist Jonathan Donais.

Black Flag
A product of the American alternative scene in the western US, Black Flag was formed in Hermosa Beach, California by guitarist Greg Ginn and his brother Raymond Pettibon. From 1976 until their initial break-up a decade later, the band racked up a roster of more than 15 members. In addition to boasting four bassists and even more drummers, the distinction between first vocalist Keith Morris and successor Henry Rollins is often regarded as a split in the group’s history, dividing fans into devout and different camps. Ginn briefly reformed Black Flag in 2003 before recording an album with an all-new lineup in 2013.

The Smashing Pumpkins

From Gish to last year’s Monuments to An Elegy, alternative gods The Smashing Pumpkins have provided music consumers with a diverse range of material that seems guaranteed to satisfy. Ringleader Billy Corgan has not only proven responsible for this output, but also for the firing of several band members. The original incarnation of the band, which included guitarist James Iha, bassist D’arcy Wretzky, and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, achieved substantial success with Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995) but dissolved by the end of the 1990s. More than a decade later Corgan continues to make music under the Smashing Pumpkins name with touring musicians and guitarist Jeff Schroeder, who is the group’s secondmost consistent member.

King Crimson

Following in the footsteps of colleagues such as Yes and Curved Air, avant prog rockers King Crimson have maintained a routinely changing lineup since the band’s inception in the late 1960s. The group has a roster of over 21 members but is best known for the lineup found on In the Court of the Crimson King (1969), which includes guitarist Robert Fripp, percussionist Michael Giles, multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald, and vocalist Greg Lake (later of supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer). In spite of dabbling in other projects with Brian Eno and former Police guitarist Andy Summers, Fripp has remained the sole consistent member and has performed on every release. Though the band has not recorded an album since 2003, he continues to tour under the King Crimson moniker with new performers.

The The

The The is the eclectic new wave-oriented project of artist and songwriter Matt Johnson, who formed the band after placing an ad for musicians in New Musical Express. Though recent years have seen a slew of hired guns, the group’s most famed roster is derived from 1983’s Soul Mining – which produced the single “Uncertain Smile” – and primarily comprises Johnson, bassist Camille G. Hinds, and drummer Andy Duncan. The The has also recruited notable special guests in its decades-long existence, including no-wave experimentalist J.G. Thirlwell, former New York Doll David Johansen, and Soft Cell’s Marc Almond. While Johnson hasn’t released a proper album since 2012, talks of a new record are beginning to surface in post-punk revival circles.

The Cure

Much like the Fall’s Mark E. Smith, Cure frontman and goth poster-boy Robert Smith (no relation) has developed a penchant for impatience regarding his bandmates. Initially formed as “Malice” in 1976, the Cure saw popularity in a post-punk world with the single “Boys Don’t Cry” and Three Imaginary Boys. The band cultivated an atmospheric, dreary output until the early 1980s, when original members were fired in favor of Smith’s desire for a more accessible sound. Decades later the group has comprised between 15 and 20 members, with bassist Simon Gallup appearing on the highest number of recordings (apart from Smith). Though they have not released an album since 2008’s poorly received 4:13 Dream, Smith and Gallup continue to tour, often performing albums in full.


Though mainstream audiences best remember Journey as being a pet project of vocalist Steve Perry, the band had humble beginnings. Guitarist Neal Schon (formerly of Santana) and keyboardist Gregg Rollie formed the band in 1973 after deciding to pursue a jazz fusion style similar to that of their pedigree. The group took a different direction by the turn of the decade when they hired Perry and manager Herbie Herbert, who helped propel Journey to the Top 20 with “Any Way You Want It” and “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’”.  Rollie left the band in 1980 and was replaced with Jonathan Cain, who helped co-write many of the hits found on the super smash Escape, including “Who’s Crying Now” and the pop ballad “Open Arms”. By the mid-1980s through the 1990s the band saw a number of changes in its cast and subsequently declined in popularity, only to find its career revitalized by the addition of young Filipino vocalist Arnel Pineda in 2007. Schon serves as the only original member of the group and continues to tour with keyboardist Jonathan Cain. Journey’s most recent album, Eclipse, was released in 2011 to lukewarm reviews.

Photo credit: By dave1968 (guns24) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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8 comments to “10 Classic Bands with One Original Member”
  1. I’ve lost track of how many members GNR has had over the years. It’s frustrating when you think of how good they were back in the Appetite days

    • The unfortunate thing about GNR is its member rotation is completely antagonistic in nature. King Crimson and similar bands have swapped members so often (the running joke is “who is in Yes this week?”), but prog as a whole is more communal in terms of how musicians work together. Axl is just an egotist who surrounds himself with people who will do his bidding and/or subscribe to his philosophies, and they eventually fall out of favor with him.

      • Yeah Axl seemed to be at the root of GNR’s problems. I went back and listened to the Use Your Illusion albums not too long ago and the one thing I took from them after listening to them after all those years was how obvious it was that those albums were the point where Axl’s ego took control. Those albums were still pretty good but it’s easier to see now that they were the beginning of the end

        • Slash always characterized the Illusion albums as the GNR version of the White Album, which I’m generally inclined to agree with. There are good tracks on it, but it’s so incohesive as a double LP that it’s hard to sit through. Axl’s visions were too grand for GNR, who based their entire existence on being offensive and down ‘n dirty. It was a big turning point.

  2. My first concert was Guns ‘n Roses at the Nutter Center in 1992. Sound Garden was the opening band. GNR did not come on stage until a ridiculous hour due to Axl supposedly injuring his hand. I did not have my driver’s license and my poor mom had to wait in the lobby; there was no way I was leaving. And back then there were no cell phones. Just an example of why the band broke up, Axl had no appreciation for his fans.

  3. I am wondering if Guided by Voices counts for purposes of this list. Ditto Built to Spill, which has as part of its “manifesto” that they change lineups (minus Doug Marsch) with every album. They have incidentally played several consecutive albums with more or less the same lineup, but never expressly so.

  4. Mitch-
    I think if the band is sufficiently under the control of one very domineering personality so that the lineup changes constantly enough, this would be kosher for purposes of the list.

    Gotta love splitting hairs though.

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