Creative differences. Alcoholism and drug abuse. Legal issues. The untimely death of a band member. These are the reasons we typically see cited for band breakups. But, as a recent piece about David Bowie’s legendary Ziggy Stardust-era band, the Spiders from Mars, has reminded us, sometimes far stranger and sillier things cause famous collaborators to go their separate ways. After the jump, we’ve rounded up some of the most bizarre examples, from a public prank to an insult in front of Mick Jagger.
David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars: a Lambourghini
“When the kids had killed the man I had to break up the band.” That’s how the dissolution of the Spiders from Mars went in “Ziggy Stardust,” but the real-life breakup was much less exciting than that. As Classic Rock magazine reveals, unrest in the band began when drummer Woody Woodmansey and keyboard player Mike Garson were on a plane, talking about a Lambourghini Woodmansey was lusting over. When Garson implied that his band mate should be making enough money to buy it, they discovered the huge difference in what David Bowie was paying them. Although the tour continued after a tense negotiation, the pay inequity irreparably damaged morale within the band and led to Bowie’s famous announcement in July 1973 at the Hammersmith Odeon that the show would be the Spiders’ last — news that came as a surprise to Woodmansey and bassist Trevor Bolder.
Rage Against the Machine: an MTV Video Music Awards prank
When Limp Bizkit won Best Rock Video at the 2000 VMAs, Rage Against the Machine bassist Tim Commerford delighted left-wing teens by climbing the stage and causing a ruckus in protest. But apparently other members of the band weren’t amused, and Zack de la Rocha publicly quit Rage the next month. “I feel that it is now necessary to leave Rage because our decision-making process has completely failed,” he wrote in a statement. “It is no longer meeting the aspirations of all four of us collectively as a band, and from my perspective, has undermined our artistic and political ideal.” We can’t help but wonder what Commerford climbed after he read that.
The Smiths: ’60s cover songs
Morrissey and Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr had been butting heads over any number of issues by the time Marr left the band (and was briefly replaced by Ivor Perry, of Easterhouse) in 1987. But according to Marr, what really finished him off was Morrissey’s predilection for covering kitschy ’60s pop hits. “That was the last straw, really. I didn’t form a group to perform Cilla Black songs,” he recalled in a 1992 interview with Record Collector.
The Mamas and the Papas: Mick Jagger
If you know anything about The Mamas and the Papas, you probably realize that “California Dreamin'” is not exactly an accurate representation of the band members’ lives. Although romantic affairs within the band were an issue, it was a casual insult that caused the group’s first split in 1968. It seems that at a party in October 1967, John Phillips insulted Mama Cass Elliot in front of her idol, Mick Jagger. She quit the band that night, but was legally bound to appear on their next album, The Papas & the Mamas. A few years later, Dunhill Records realized that The Mamas and the Papas owed them yet another record, but Elliot only contributed lead vocals to a few of the tracks on People Like Us — supposedly because she was ill during its recording.
Guns ‘N Roses: “Sympathy for the Devil”
Incredibly, The Mamas and the Papas’ wasn’t the only absurd band breakup that indirectly involved The Rolling Stones. Although Guns ‘N Roses never officially broke up — and still, in fact, exist as a vehicle for Axl Rose’s increasingly erratic whims — most fans would say that Slash’s departure qualifies as a major split. Although he didn’t officially quit until 1996, it was the recording of the “Sympathy for the Devil” cover that appeared on the soundtrack to Interview with the Vampire in December 1994 — and particularly rhythm guitarist Paul Huge’s contribution to the single — that finished him off. According to Slash, the track represents “the sound of the band breaking up.”
Violent Femmes: Wendy’s
Aside from a quick break in the mid-’80s, Violent Femmes lasted nearly three decades. When they finally called it quits, it was due to a rift between frontman and songwriter Gordon Gano and bassist Brian Ritchie over Gano’s decision to license their biggest hit, “Blister in the Sun,” to the fast-food chain Wendy’s. In a message after the commercial’s 2007 release, Ritchie informed fans that as the song’s sole credited writer, Gano could license it without his band mates’ approval. “Therefore when you see dubious or in this case disgusting uses of our music,” he wrote, “you can thank the greed, insensitivity and poor taste of Gordon Gano, it is his karma that he lost his songwriting ability many years ago, probably due to his own lack of self-respect as his willingness to prostitute our songs demonstrates.” A lawsuit and, curiously, a cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” both preceded the band’s breakup in 2009.
EPMD: alleged armed intra-band burglary
Things are all good between hip-hop pioneers Errick Sermon and Parrish Smith these days, but considering how heated the relationship became in the early ’90s, it’s kind of amazing that EPMD reunited not once but twice. You see, in late 1991, armed robbers busted into Smith’s home and, as Smith tells it, a police investigation suggested they had been hired by Sermon. Although various accusations flew when the duo split for the first time in 1993, as you might imagine, this alleged intra-band burglary is often cited as a major catalyst in the breakup.