Black Sabbath lucked out when they brought in Ronnie James Dio to replace Ozzy Osbourne 1979. Sure, the original lineup is what a majority of fans will call their favorite (and is the version Black Sabbath wants you to remember as the band reaches its end), but the Dio era was undoubtedly successful at keeping Black Sabbath’s legacy alive. So it would’ve been safe to assume Sabbath would’ve lucked out again with Ian Gillan, who stepped in when Dio left the group in 1982. After all, he was the frontman of another iconic 70s hard rock act, Deep Purple. Yet somehow Black Sabbath fronted by Gillan didn’t work out… at all. Initially planned to be named something else (but pressured by its label to keep its original name), Black Sabbath with Gillan released the critically panned album Born Again in 1983, and followed that with a disastrous tour that many thought inspired a classic scene in This Is Spinal Tap.
By 1984, Gillan left and rejoined Deep Purple. But that isn’t where Sabbath’s lineup turmoil ends. Even after reuniting its original lineup for a one-off performance at Live Aid in 1985, Iommi attempted to keep Sabbath alive with numerous new lineups. The remainder of the 80s saw another Deep Purple alumni Glenn Hughes take a turn singing on Sabbath album (though in Iommi’s defense, he intended that one to be a solo record), as well as Tony Martin try his luck on three records (during his first tenure that is… more on that in a second). And that’s not even including the singers who toured with Sabbath or attempted to record demos with them during that time period. But anyways, those particular albums were poorly received, while Sabbath struggled to fill theaters on tour.
That’s when Sabbath decided to reunite its Dio-era lineup, releasing their bestselling album in over a decade, Dehumanizer in 1992. Then Dio abruptly quit after Black Sabbath even considered taking Ozzy up on his offer to open for his final two No More Tours dates in California. While Sabbath went to only play the gigs with Rob Halford filling in, as well as join Ozzy and Bill Ward for an encore set, Iommi went on reinstated singer Tony Martin. They even released three more forgettable Black Sabbath albums together (some say, including Martin, that these were simply “filler” albums to fulfill Sabbath’s deal with I.R.S. Records before moving onto a full fledge reunion). Finally by 1997, the reunion everyone wanted to see happened.
Granted, some of the material (including Headless Cross) Sabbath recorded without Ozzy or Dio has gone on to gain a cult following years after its initial release. Regardless, though, a majority of the 80s and 90s proved to be a troubling time for Black Sabbath. However, that hasn’t stopped Iommi from working with his “other” former frontmen outside of Sabbath. He finally got to make a few solo records with Glenn Hughes on vocals (including 2005’s Fused), and even recorded a charity single with Ian Gillan. Plus, Iommi seems interested in doing something with Martin again.
Ah, Guns N’ Roses… proof that sometimes having its original singer isn’t enough to keep fans interest. Granted, even with a constantly revolving lineup and a long-delayed album that many joked would never come out, the “new” GN’R (as it was often referred to) were still able headline festivals and pack large venues… for the better part of a decade, that is. However, as the years went by, the constant lineup changes and long waits (both for Chinese Democracy and Axl Rose to actually show up to a gig) started to take its toll on fans.
We could do a whole dissertation on what went wrong during the Chinese Democracy era, and why fans didn’t (or simply couldn’t) connect to the new lineup. Regardless, Axl finally realized that something wasn’t working, and this year will do the exact thing he swore he’d never do “in this lifetime”: tour with Slash again.