12 of the most infamous band break-ups

14 January 2022, 17:00

The classic line-up of the Sex Pistols in 1977:  Sid Vicious, John Lydon, Steve Jones, Paul Cook
The classic line-up of the Sex Pistols in 1977: Sid Vicious, John Lydon, Steve Jones, Paul Cook. Picture: Bill Rowntree/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

What happens when musical differences get in the way of band harmony? Why do groups break up, guitarists flounce, or singers head out the door?

  1. Sex Pistols

    Manager Malcolm McLaren decided to launch the Pistols on the American public by sending them off on tour around the Southern states of the country. The resulting set of shows were horrible and singer John Lydon's resentment of McLaren only intensified after he was told the band were due to travel to Rio to make a record with "Great Train Robber" Ronnie Biggs. He jumped ship and formed the more experimental Public Image Ltd. Punk was dead, man! Until 1996, when Lydon joined the surviving members for a reunion.

  2. The Smiths

    Following the release of their fourth album, Strangeways Here We Come, in 1987, an exhausted Johnny Marr took a break from the band, only to be confronted by an NME story claiming they'd split. Erroneously convinced that Morrissey had planted the story, Marr confronted the tensions within the group and confirmed he'd jumped ship. The rest of the 'Miffs then declared they'd be auditioning other guitarists, although they ultimately threw in the towel.

  3. Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars

    The Spiders were only a made-up band designed to support David Bowie on tour supporting the Ziggy Stardust album, but the assembled musicians who'd worked with the star for three years - Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder and Woody Woodmansey - were still surprised when Bowie announced that he was splitting the band up onstage at London's Hammersmith Odeon on 3 July 1973. He announced before the last song: "This particular show will remain with us the longest, because not only is it the last show of the tour, but it's the last show that we'll ever do." All three of the Spiders appeared on his next album, Aladdin Sane, but the retirement of the Ziggy character signalled the musician's desire to spread his wings.

  4. The Clash

    Once the poster boys of punk, after original drummer Topper Headon was fired in 1982 over his heroin addiction, guitarist Mick Jones was fired a year later, leaving frontman Joe Strummer and bassist Paul Simonon to put together the band’s final album, Cut The Crap, with other musicians. Released in 1985, it felt like a relic from another era, and The Clash officially disbanded the following year.

  5. The Stone Roses

    At The Stone Roses’ show at Glasgow’s Hampden Park on 24 June 2017, Ian Brown told the crowd: "Don't be sad it's over, be happy that it happened." Does that mean it’s all over for the Roses? Again? Time will tell.

  6. Oasis

    We all know about the infamous Oasis split in 2009: was it about a Pretty Green ad in the V Festival programme? Or was it an argument between Liam and Bonehead that was the final straw for Noel Gallagher? Who knows. But the original Oasis bust up was drummer Tony McCarroll. In 1995, the tub-thumper was "ousted" from the group, with Noel saying : "I like Tony as a geezer but he wouldn't have been able to drum the new songs". McCarroll took the Gallaghers to court claiming unpaid royalties, and was later awarded half a million for his trouble. He had to pay £200k costs, so it wasn't as generous as it may first seem.

    Read more: Why did Oasis split? The full story of Liam and Noel Gallagher's feud...

  7. New Order

    Bassist Peter Hook was in the original line-up of Joy Division, alongside guitarist Bernard Sumner and drummer Steve Morris. When JD singer Ian Curtis died by suicide in 1980, the remaining three members carried on as New Order, employing Gillian Gilbert on keyboards. In 2007, Hook claimed New Order was over, but Sumner and Morris hit back, claiming it wasn't up to him to split the group. New Order reconvened without the bassist while Hook has toured the band's old material.

  8. Pink Floyd

    Floyd schism #1 came in 1968 when original frontman Syd Barrett left the band after his erratic behaviour made him a liability. But the big split came following the release of Floyd's The Final Cut in 1983, which was a Roger Waters solo album in all but name. A squabble over management and royalties led to Waters claiming that the others - ie, David Gilmour, Rick Wright and Nick Mason - could no longer use the Pink Floyd name, but the Gilmour-led Floyd went on to release two albums. While the remaining members regrouped one last time for Live 8 in 2005, there's still tension - in 2020, Waters accused the band of not supporting his solo material on their social media channels.

  9. The Beatles

    The Fab Four’s1970 break-up was the effective end of the 60s, but they had previous form for booting-out one of their own. Pete Best was drummer in Liverpool's most popular band, the girls loved him and the Fabs were about to go stellar. He played on the Beatles' audition at Abbey Road, but producer George Martin thought he wasn't good enough and employed a session musician instead. The rest of the band used this as an excuse to oust Best and bring in Ringo Starr, who had the same humour, the same musical style and, more importantly, had the same haircut. Best left the band in August 1962, two months before the release of their first single, Love Me Do. The rest is showbiz history, while Pete later became a baker.

    Read more: Why did The Beatles break up? The true story of who left the band first

  10. Smashing Pumpkins

    Enjoying success with Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness album in 1996, Smashing Pumpkins hit New York midway through their world tour. On 11 July, keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin died of a heroin overdose and drummer Billy Chamberlin was arrested for drug possession and subsequently sacked. They carried on as a trio until bassist D'Arcy Wretzky left in 1999 and the band imploded the following year. The original line-up reunited in 2018… but minus D’Arcy.

  11. Black Sabbath

    In late 1977, original singer Ozzy Osbourne quit metal pioneers Sabbath. The band regrouped with another singer Dave Walker, only for Ozzy to decide that he wanted to come back two months later. The band then spent a year working on a new album, before guitarist Tony Iommi decided to sack the unreliable Osbourne. He was replaced by Ronnie James Dio in June 1979, but Ozzy went on to become a metal solo superstar and the original Sabbath line-up reunited in 1997. They called time on the group for absolutely the last time ever (honest) on 7 March 2017.

  12. The Police

    One of the biggest bands in the world as the 1970s turned into the 1980s, the trio went “on hiatus” in 1984 and frontman Sting pursued a solo career. The singer and bassist reconvened with bandmates Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland in the summer of 1986 to tentatively record a new album, but it didn’t work out and they bunged out a Greatest Hits collection instead. They didn’t announce their split officially, but had a brief reunion tour in 2007 and 2008.