The Best Personnel Changes In Rock, Part One!

Slim Dunlap Replaces Bob Stinson in the Replacements

Now, before you scoff at the idea that ANYBODY could replace Bob Stinson, let me just say that I completely agree, BUT Stinson was out of the band no matter what.  They could either break up and blow all of the momentum that they'd built up or they could find another guitarist and carry on.

Even then, before they'd become the RRHOF-nominated legends that they are today, fans of the band were highly skeptical that there was anybody capable of filling Stinson's shoes without also bringing some considerable baggage of their own.  So when it was finally announced that the band's new guitarist was Slim Dunlap, a journeyman guitarist for the likes of Curtiss A and others, it drew an audible "Who?!" from the peanut gallery but ended up being a great fit that led to the Pleased To Meet Me Tour being a great success.

Oh sure, there were the occasional onstage meltdowns, but Slim's calm demeanor, Stonesy vibe, and ability to shift musical gears (whereas Stinson pretty much only had the one gear "Fast & Loud") gave Westerberg the confidence to pull off the quieter material in concert.  This new live stability was integral to the band's transition from America's favorite ne'er-do-wells to legitimate contenders.

Dunlap's involvement on Don't Tell A Soul allowed the band to add a few colors to their arsenal, resulting in an album capable of swinging for the fences ("I'll Be You" and "Talent Show") as well as incredibly nuanced performances like "Achin' To Be".  For a band that could very well have ceased to exist after Stinson's departure, Dunlap provided the necessary chemistry to ensure that the party would continue for another two albums.

Phil Collen Replaces Pete Willis In Def Leppard

After their second album High N Dry had established them as an up & coming hard rock act in the US - part of the whole "New Wave Of Metal" movement - the band was literally on the verge of mass stardom when Pete Willis' alcohol intake was making his live performances less and less acceptable.  They could either tolerate the behavior and potentially throw away all hopes of breaking through to a larger audience or remove the problem altogether.  Thing is, the twin-guitar attack of Willis and Steve Clark was dependent on natural chemistry between the two.  Could it be recaptured?

Enter one Phil Collen, who the band lured from fellow UK "New wave of metal" act Girl and whose presence was an immediate positive influence.  His meticulous studio approach melded well with producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange's painstakingly precise studio approach during the final stages of the Pyromania sessions and later resulting in the mammoth success of the band's '87 record Hysteria.

Sparks Recruit Bates Motel (aka Gleaming Spires)

After two disappointingly unsuccessful albums for Bearsville in the early '70s, the brothers Mael fired the rest of the band, moved to England and became giant superstars there with their operatic style of pop that resulted in the immediate Top 10 hits "This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us" and "Amateur Hour".  After ten years in the UK, the brothers had established themselves as a formidable brand in the UK, but were still largely unknown in their own homeland (the highest charting album during this time had been Propaganda, which peaked at #63).

Though the band had returned their base of operation to the sunny environs of L.A. in '76, most of America had yet to know it, even as the band's dabbling in disco had resulted in hits across Europe.

By 1981, the band was itching to return to a more rock-based format, but dreading the idea of putting together yet another Sparks line-up from scratch. Instead, the Maels merely recruited L.A. band Bates Motel to be their band and went on to enjoy their greatest stateside success with the albums Angst In My Pants (featuring their first MTV hit "I Predict") and Sparks In Outer Space (their duet with Go-Go Jane Weidlin "Cool Places" peaked at #49).

Jonathan Cain Replaces Gregg Rolie In Journey

As popular as Journey may have been in the late 70's, with hit albums Infinity, Evolution, Departure, Steve Perry wanted to take things in a more pop-based direction, leading Gregg Rolie to leave yet another hugely popular band (he had quit Santana in '71 at the height of their popularity).

Cain, whose band the Babys had opened for Journey in 1980 before imploding due to personality conflicts, was hand-picked by Rolie to be his replacement.  Perry's hugest concern was whether he and Cain could write together, but such worries quickly fell away after the pair penned "Open Arms", which would go on to become their biggest hit to date (#2).  With Cain co-writing every song on his first two albums with the band, Escape and Frontiers, the band's success skyrocketed.

Neil Finn Replaces Phil Judd In Split Enz

Although we in the States barely know of any other incarnation of Split Enz, the band was already beloved in their homeland of New Zealand (and Australia) due to much of the material penned by founding member Phil Judd.  So when he left the band following a particularly harsh UK tour where he and Tim Finn came to blows, many feared that the band's songwriting heart had left with him.

Though his presence on '77s Dizrhythmia was minimal, Neil Finn's affinity for live performance made him an invaluable addition to the band.  After years of being abused by audiences for their weird and admittedly off-putting theatrics, Finn was the necessary bridge between band and audience necessary to attain greater commercial heights.  Of course, once he began contributing songs and sharing singing duties with brother Tim, his value increased further, especially when his song "I Got You" became the band's first U.S. hit and True Colors their first Top 40 album in the States.  On Waiata, Neil's two songs "One Step Ahead" and "History Never Repeats" each went Top 10 in Australia while Tim's lone single "I Don't Wanna Dance" fizzled at #65.  Neil would later leave the band to form Crowded House and enjoy widespread North American success that immediately dwarfed that of Split Enz.

Dave Grohl Replaces Chad Channing In Nirvana

While the band had attaining a certain level of indie-rock success with their debut Sub Pop album Bleach, it was evident that, as Cobain's songwriting skills improved and the band's musical direction began to shift from angry post-punk to a more melodic sound, they had to find the right drummer capable of holding his own in the studio as well as over the course of a long and potentially grueling tour.

Thus, Grohl's addition provided the rock solid rhythmic foundation for Cobain's songs to truly soar.  Could other drummers have pulled it off?  Sure, but Grohl's affable "I'm just happy to be here" personality made him capable of rolling with the ever-changing moods of Cobain while, at the same time, delivering the much-needed muscle the band would come to depend on in a live setting.  While Novaselic's bass playing was perfunctory, Grohl's playing was absolutely essential to Cobain's material translating to a mass audience.

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