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Bands Going Solo – In Pairs?

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Last week was a very interesting week in the UK’s music world. Madonna became the most successful solo artist ever in the UK album charts, just beating Elvis Presley’s record of 11 no 1 albums with her latest ‘MDNA’ and Will.I.Am cried on TV’s The Voice.

Will.I.Am’s performance as a judge on The Voice – and those tears, particularly – earns him many more British fans. He has come across as a funny, intelligent man with a clear ambition to beat all-comers even though he never quite made it big going solo. It’s hard to top the The Black Eyed Peas one of the biggest pop acts off all-time, but Fergie did reached number 3 in the UK singles charts in 2006 with her anthem ‘London Bridge.’

Which begs the question. How many successful bands have had two artists that made it big going solo?

Going Solo

I guess the first would have to be The Beatles – monster success on both sides of the Atlantic, followed by varying degrees of success as solo artists. Certainly, Paul McCartney’s longevity could only be dwarfed by the intense, incredible success of John Lennon in the 1970s. The single ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’ was released just eight weeks before his murder in 1980 and although the ensuing album ‘Double Fantasy’ was less well-received, the single made it to number one in both the UK and US charts. George Harrison’s legacy is as much in the co-founding of HandMade Films (Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and 127 Hours), while Ringo Starr will always be best-loved by a certain generation as the narrator of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.

Sting and Stewart Copeland

My favourite pair is definitely Sting and Stewart Copeland. Although the former has undoubtedly had more popular success going solo (and his ‘Dream of the Blue Turtles’ is definitely coming onto my desert island), Copeland is a musicians’ musician. Named as the fifth greatest drummer of all time in 2010 by readers of Rolling Stone magazine, he may be American, but we still love him over here in the UK. The precise, energetic drum lines he produced on all The Police albums are extraordinary. It says a lot that he has two forthcoming dates in July at Ronnie Scott’s, that haven of jazz where only the best get to set up their kit.

Like it or not, Genesis saw the birth of both Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. Gabriel has made his name in recent years as a fierce campaigner for human rights, but both men have had success going solo, with Collins’ record sales exceeding those of Genesis.

For every band that’s had musicians leave to great (or greater) solo acclaim – Michael Jackson from The Jackson Five, George Michael from Wham!, Robbie Williams from Take That, Donny from The Osmonds, Roger Waters from Pink Floyd, Paul Weller from The Jam – there are those, like Queen, The Rolling Stones and ABBA whose greatest success comes with togetherness.

And then, of course, there’s the big question, the elephant in the room. Are we defining success in purely financial terms? Does it have to be measured in record sales? What about some ‘higher’ artistic criteria? Some of the artists who have left popular bands while going solo ‘disappeared’ and are doing what they love. Which is why those ‘Where are they now’ features are always interesting to read.