What’s An Original Band, Anyway? Part 3

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There are other bands that don’t quite fit any pattern.  Genesis is like a less extreme version of Steely  Dan: it got pared down, but it didn't feel diminished. They continued to produced music at the same level, and enlisted the same people to "rebuild/restore" the band for the live shows. There's a level of constancy with them, at least until Mr. Collins left.

At that same end, but in a different shape, we have the great progressive rock band Yes. They have been through a myriad changes, which have, for the most part, been amicable. Only one member (the bassist!!) has been a constant in all this time, which is just over 45 years. They have released 20 studio albums of new original material. Despite the rosters changes - at last count, 20 different players can be counted as Yes-men - the brand is strong with this one.

In point of fact, the line-ups were constant over long periods of time, the most stable being the 1970s, with Chris Squire, Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman and Alan White, and the 1980s, when Trevor Rabin replaced Howe, and Tony Kaye (one of the originals!) taking back his keyboard duties from Wakeman. This brought a harder-edged, less-epic, more radio-friendly musical format.

In 1991, the two current factions, colloquially called Yes-West (the current line-up) and Yes-East (made up of previous members and once called ABW & H), happily collided. They all collaborated on, and then recorded, the "Union" album, with the bassist Chris Squire at the pivot point. Although it is now disliked by the members, it sold one-and-a-half million copies. From there, there was a hiatus, and notable personnel changes, with Wakeman's son taking over his father's keyboard duties, and a vocalist from a Yes tribute band (!) in place of Jon Anderson. (On a side note, we need to mention that after all that music, they have yet to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And who will perform on that glorious day?)

Along the scale, we have so many scenarios. We have already mentioned Rush. They would also be a member of that slice of bands where the very beginning lineup changed or got tweaked early on, but everyone sees that as the original. Or consider Deep Purple. They make no qualms about the fact that the various configurations continued as "true" Deep Purple. As I noted above, we (or was it they) have even "numbered" these more-or-less stable configurations (ie Mark I, Mark II, etc.) The 
classic line-up is, to me (and I believe, many, many others) the second one - Blackmore, Lord, Paice, Gillan and Glover). Throughout it all – even to this day - the only truly "original member” is the drummer Ian Paice. Again, to revisit Kiss, many people consider the initial line the only true one. As time progressed, they could now be considered no different than a brand - like Heart and Steely Dan - with the principals running the show, and sidemen filling the requisite positions.

When the Beatles broke up, there was no return, there could be none; there was no thought of it, no glimmer of hope. While the remaining members eventually still played the tunes, it was a tribute more than anything else. Paul performed the the songs, as was his right since he (co)-wrote most of them. (Sting still regularly plays Police tunes.) 
Nirvana is another perfect example at that far end point of the spectrum. Queen should have been there as well: Freddy Mercury was not replaceable in any sense of the word. Touring with two members and saying it's not a "reproduction or an imitation" is being disingenous. And it's just one step away from being a cover/tribute band.

Again, recent viewing provides another convoluted example. Bruce Springsteen had already entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. Fifteen years later, the band itself is inducted - with Bruce giving the speech. That outfit was rather constant, undergoing minimal changes, with players leaving and then returning (and even re-added to the line-up, as the replacement(s) were not ousted but kept).

Which brings us to Led Zeppelin, the band that brought all this to the fore. They decided, and rightly so, that when Bonham died, they could and would not continue. But they eventually did, when Page and Plant got together and played the tunes, and released two albums. Over the years, they have played several shows and reunions (Live Aid, Tribute to Atlantic Records & Ahmet Ertegun). I think maybe Plant likes to tease, and won't completely close the book on this great chapter of his life. Page, the man who essentially put the group together, would like it to continue. He's the keeper of the flame (and the faith), so to speak. The show in 2007 with Bonham's son is the closest they would ever get to the original.

And here's where I have the problem: Plant didn't mind touring with Page and without Jones. So why not tour with Jones and Jason? It would have made more money that the next two biggest tours combined. It would have boggled the collective mind of Rock'n'Roll. Don't do a half-assed thing, and then later turn down what would be as close as you can get to the original. It might even be closure for everyone! Other bands have offered (and delivered) much worse. And if they really are done, why the recent re-released, re-mastered, value-added version of their albums?

I am convinced that there are many, many more examples, but like Da Vinci said of art (be it books or record albums or paintings - or this essay) this won't ever be finished, only (gently) abandoned. I leave it to the reader to pick it up and add to it.

MB