Merge’s recent remastered deluxe editions of Sugar’s Copper Blue and File Under: Easy Listening should be all the proof music fans need to accept that Hüsker Dü wasn’t the only outstanding act to count guitarist Bob Mould as a member. With all the breakups, deaths, and solo outings that commonly occur in pop history, it’s always rewarding to see a group formed out of the aftermath of a highly-regarded ensemble’s demise or splintering maintain a batting average that competes with its parent — especially since most of the time the spinoff of a Clash or a Rage Against the Machine or an Oasis is a underwhelming Big Audio Dynamite or an Audioslave or a Beady Eye. Bands on both ends may not muster similar levels of fame or sales, but like Sugar, a select few second acts have earned their place in history as more-than-able successors. Today, Sound Affects lists just but a few of the most exemplary examples.
The Yardbirds Begat Led Zeppelin
This is the gold standard all spinoff groups have to live up to. During the British Invasion of the 1960s, the Yardbirds were the leading force in the UK blues-rock scene, boasting no less than three insanely influential lead guitarists (Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page) during its existence. In 1968, the band fell apart, and it was up to Page to fulfill outstanding tour dates by putting together a New Yardbirds roster filled out with banshee-voiced Robert Plant, workmanlike multi-instrumentalist John Paul Jones, and hard-hitting drummer John Bonham. No one would have guessed that the new lineup of session musicians and Black Country unknowns would eventually conquer and help define the sound of the 1970s with its majesty and sheer heaviness. One name change, several classic rock staples, and a gazillion records sold later, and the mighty Zeppelin is forevermore one of the most legitimate contenders for the title of Greatest Rock Band Ever.
Joy Division’s Ian Curtis was one of those totemic frontmen, the sort that inspires intense, almost cult-like devotion from fans. His 1980 suicide on the cusp of ascending new career thresholds should have left guitarist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook, and drummer Stephen Morris creatively crippled for the rest of the careers. Instead, the three decided almost immediately that they had no other option but to carry on. With Morris’ girlfriend (now wife) Gillian Gilbert drafted in and Sumner reluctantly taking the mic in Curtis’ stead, New Order overcame tragedy with a stunning run of singles that have shaped electronic dance music in the last 30 years as much as Joy Division has informed post-punk rock — arguably even more so.
Metallica hadn’t even recorded its first album before it unceremoniously kicked out lead guitarist (and contributing songwriter) Dave Mustaine. Mustaine was understandably angry and deeply hurt by this turn of events (especially since the band hadn’t expunged the riffs he had written along with their author), so no wonder that his course of action was to form a band that had the talent to rival his old outfit in the thrash metal stakes. Meaner, sharper, and more uncompromising than Metallica, the aptly named Megadeth has justifiably earned and maintained a place as one of metal’s top dogs. While the relationship between Mustaine and Metallica has vacillated between cordial and bitter depending on who says what at the wrong time, metal as a whole has been all the better for having these two constantly (if maybe not admittedly) one-upping each throughout the ’80s and ’90s.
There was a point in the mid-’80s when this trio of hardcore punks-turned-alt-rock pioneers could justifiably been considered one of the best bands in the world. Melodically gifted, viscerally passionate, and boasting two top-flight songwriters in Bob Mould and drummer Grant Hart, Hüsker Dü was responsible for no less than five classic albums (two of them double-LPs). After the Dü broke up in 1988, Bob Mould released two critically-lauded solo records before putting together another trio just in time for his brand of loud guitar rock to become the newest musical craze. Though Sugar was clearly the Bob Mould Show, the phenomenal band chemistry and a golden songwriting streak made the laser-precise singularity of vision a compelling draw rather than a limiting factor.
After Kurt Cobain’s generation-defining suicide, everyone was expecting Nirvana stickman Dave Grohl to either disappear or sit behind the kit for another group. Unbeknownst to the masses, Grohl was a fine songwriter, singer, and guitarist in his own right. The drummer had been stockpiling songs during his tenure with the grunge trio, and after a long grieving period he set about recording his best work with him playing every single instrument. If things had gone differently, 1995’s Foo Fighters would have been an surprisingly adroit footnote, a cassette-only release by an anonymous author too afraid to put his real name on the spine. But then the music industry caught wind of its charms, and Grohl wound up putting together a proper band consisting of Nirvana touring guitarist Pat Smear and the rhythm section of Seattle emo ensemble Sunny Day Real Estate to promote it to a very receptive public. Over 15 years later, the Foos’ stadium-filling post-grunge anthems “Everlong”, “Learn to Fly”, “Best of You”, and many more are proof-positive that Grohl’s little one-man recording project wasn’t a creative fluke, and that the guy was born to be the sort of frontman who has crowds numbering in the tens of thousands hanging on his every word and gesture.