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The Biggest, Messiest Band Breakups in Music History

From the Beatles to N.W.A to Fifth Harmony

Biggest, messiest band breakups


“BEING IN A band is tricky,” Bono said earlier this year. “The older you get, it gets even trickier, because when you grow up together, you’re used to taking bits out of each other. You’re as good as the arguments you get, but at a certain point, when people are doing well, the male loves to be the lord of his own domain. It’s rough. And you can just imagine why people say, ‘Ah, fuck this, I’m outta here.’”

U2 are one of the few bands in rock history where not a single member has said “fuck this, I’m outta here” at any point, even if drummer Larry Mullen Jr. is on break right now while he recovers from back surgery. Going back to the days of the Everly Brothers in the 1950s, bands have been melting down, often in spectacular fashion. The arguments are often about money or creative control, but everything from religious differences to disagreements over how often to tour can also rip a group apart.

There’s also the simple fact that many bands were formed when the members were teenagers. Imagine spending decades with your high school buddies, unable to make major life and career decisions unless everyone agrees. Throw millions of dollars and global adulation into the mix, and things get dicey very fast.  And when a group like Fleetwood Mac, Sonic Youth, or ABBA features romantic partners, the breakup can really get messy.

This list is our attempt to rank the 50 ugliest breakups in rock history, counting down from least to most acrimonious, with the top spots occupied by the truly legendary meltdowns. And since some groups never learn their lesson and keep reuniting even after it’s clear the members probably shouldn’t be allowed in the same room together, several acts will be featured here more than once. We’ve also picked a few cases where a pivotal member left a band even if the band carried on without them. The list covers pretty much every genre, from classic rock to teen pop to hip-hop. It’s proof that if there’s one thing that unites us all, it’s that eventually we all come to resent our co-workers.

From Rolling Stone US


Pink Floyd

If anyone doubted that Pink Floyd were in a rough spot when The Final Cut arrived in 1983, they merely had to look at the album credits to see the truth. “By Roger Waters,” it read. “Performed by Pink Floyd.” There’s no mention of Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright since Waters sacked him during the sessions for 1980’s The Wall. Waters also has solo credit on all 13 Final Cut songs. Needless to say, David Gilmour was unhappy serving as little more than Waters’ backing guitarist at this point. The band didn’t tour behind the album, and Waters left the band a couple of years later, kicking off a nasty lawsuit and press battle when the band carried on without him. “If one of us was going to be called Pink Floyd, it’s me,” Waters told Rolling Stone in 1987 when he found himself struggling to fill seats as a solo artist while his old band was packing stadiums. “That’s my pig up there. That’s my plane crashing. It’s their dry ice.”


Blink-182 (2015)

Tom DeLonge wasn’t on speaking terms with his Blink-182 bandmates in 2008 when drummer Travis Barker nearly died in a plane accident that killed four people. The tragedy put their personal problems in perspective, and the band reunited in 2009 for a series of tours that kept them busy for the next five years. But old problems began resurfacing when DeLonge refused to commit to recording a new record. He also forced the band to work almost entirely around his schedule. By 2015, Mark Hoppus and Barker had had enough and announced that Barker was leaving the band to be replaced by Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio. “It’s hard to cover for someone who’s disrespectful and ungrateful,” Barker told Rolling Stone in 2015. “You don’t even have the balls to call your bandmates and tell them you’re not going to record or do anything Blink-related. You have your manager do it … When we did get back together after my plane crash, we only got back together, I don’t know, maybe because I almost died. But he didn’t even listen to mixes or masterings from [our 2011 LP Neighborhoods]. He didn’t even care about it. Why Blink even got back together in the first place is questionable.”


Mötley Crüe and Vince Neil

By 1992, Mötley Crüe were worn out. The previous three years had been a crazy whirlwind thanks to the huge success of the Dr. Feelgood album and tour, their decision to follow it up with the compilation Decade of Decadence 81-91 and yet another huge tour. They needed time away from the music business and each other. Instead, management sent them right back into the studio to make another record. Vince Neil was often very late to sessions, causing riotous arguments with the rest of the band when he did show up. “I’m fucking out of here!” he yelled after one particularly nasty one. “Call me if you ever change your fucking mind!” Neil claims he was fired. The band claims he quit. “Vince wasn’t the problem,” drummer Tommy Lee admitted in their memoir, The Dirt. “He was just the scapegoat.”



British reggae band UB40 had a long run of hits in the Eighties and Nineties by putting their own spin on classics like Neil Diamond’s “Red Red Wine,” Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” and Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe.” But they fell apart in 2008 when lead singer Ali Campbell left the band. “Ali made a very simple decision; he chose to pursue and put his solo career over and above continuing to work with UB40,” the band said in a statement. “It’s as simple as that.” Later that year, the remaining members brought in Ali’s brother Duncan Campbell to replace him, causing a horrible family schism that only grew worse when Ali put together a competing version of UB40. “I sat back for five years and watched my brother Duncan murdering my songs,” Ali said. “We’re saving the legacy.” This led to a protracted battle in the British court system that ultimately led to a settlement. Duncan Campbell left UB40 due to a stroke, but he still hasn’t patched things up with his brother. “Not really,” Ali told Good Morning Britain when asked if he was going to make peace with his ailing sibling. “I have no contact with him.”


Smashing Pumpkins

The Smashing Pumpkins endured through the death of touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin in 1996, the two-year absence of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin following that tragedy, and bassist D’arcy Wretzky’s decision to leave in 1999. But Billy Corgan decided to end the band in 2000 due to declining album sales and endless drama with his remaining bandmates that he simply grew tired of handling. “The truth of the matter is that guitarist James Iha broke up the Smashing Pumpkins,” Corgan said in 2004. “Not me, not drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, but James. Did it help that bassist D’arcy Wretzky was fired for being a mean-spirited drug addict, who refused to get help? No, that didn’t help keep the band together, not at all … Many friends at the time suggested letting James leave, so Jimmy and I could continue on under the name. But I was too loyal to the man I had started the whole thing with, and so I protected him until the very end.”


Sex Pistols

When the Sex Pistols broke up after their first North American tour in early 1978, after releasing just a single studio album, few people were surprised. Manager Malcolm McLaren took perverse delight in dividing the band into warring factions. He felt the chaos that resulted generated valuable press attention. But the decision to sack original bassist Glen Matlock in early 1977 and replace him with Sid Vicious was more than the group could endure. Matlock was a gifted songwriter and relatively calm presence, while Vicious literally didn’t even know how to play bass and was a heroin addict. Their inevitable implosion was greeted by McLaren as a positive since he always saw them as more of a political statement than a rock band. “The management is bored with managing the successful rock & roll band,” he said in a statement. “The group is bored with being a successful rock & roll band. Burning venues and destroying record companies is more creative than making it.”


Van Halen (1996)

Eight years before they broke down at the end of their 2004 reunion tour (see #24 above), Van Halen went through an even more bruising battle. It was caused by, of all things, the soundtrack to Twister. When they were asked to make a song for the tornado action movie, they’d just finished a long tour, and Hagar told his bandmates that he was exhausted. It led to a bitter fight. “That was the temperature of the band at that time,” Hagar told Rolling Stone in 2022. “It didn’t matter what we were going to do. We were fighting about everything.” The Van Halen brothers claimed that Hagar quit in the aftermath, but the singer tells a different story. “Oh, I was fired,” he said. “I was told that I quit by Eddie. It was Father’s Day, Sunday morning, 9 a.m. The phone rings and I’m laying there with my brand new baby. He goes, ‘You know, you always just wanted to be a solo artist, so go ahead and be one. We’re going to get Dave back in the band.’ ” Things weren’t nearly that simple. The band hired Gary Cherone in 1997, fired him after one unsuccessful album and tour, and spent much of the next decade in a state of absolute chaos. 


Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (2015)

At the dawn of the new millennium, just when it seemed like CSNY would forever remain a memory, Neil Young decided to resurrect the group for a series of reunion tours. They hit the road in 2000, 2002, and 2006 and made a ton of cash in the process. In the years that followed, they came together at occasional charity shows and special events, without a hint of the tension that defined their original run. But then Young divorced his longtime wife, Pegi Young, and began dating Daryl Hannah. In an unguarded moment that he’d live to regret, David Crosby called the actress a “purely poisonous predator” in an interview with an Idaho newspaper. “I have screwed up massively,” Crosby later told Howard Stern. “Daryl Hannah never wound up in a Texas prison. I’m screwed up way worse than that girl. Where do I get off criticizing her? She’s making Neil happy. I love Neil and I want him happy.” This wasn’t enough. Young cut off all communication with his former bandmate. They never spoke again, sealing the end of CSNY forever.


Fleetwood Mac

Determining a single accurate breakup date for Fleetwood Mac isn’t easy. The band spent its entire 50 year career in a state of perpetual dissolution. Even before they hit it big in the mid-Seventies, they’d jettisoned Peter Green, Danny Kirwan, Jeremy Spencer, and Bob Welch. The Mac lineup that made Rumours and defined California rock kept that chaotic spirit alive, from the divorce of John and Christine McVie, to the breakup of Stevie Nicks’ and Lindsay Buckingham, to Buckingham’s decision to walk away from the band after their 1987 LP Tango in the Night, to Christine McVie’s departure in 1998 (she’s return in 2014). Nicks and Buckingham did manage to reach a fragile truce in 1996, which allowed them to stay on the road for another two decades. But when it came to gear up the Mac again for another tour in 2018, everything fell apart. It began at New York’s Radio City Music Hall when the band was honored by MusiCares. Nicks gave a long speech that night, and she felt that Buckingham was smirking behind her in a disrespectful fashion. Days later, manager Irving Azoff called Buckingham to say that Nicks was unwilling to remain in the band with him. “The irony is that we have this standing joke that Stevie, when she talks, goes on a long time,” Buckingham told Rolling Stone. “I may or may not have smirked. But I look over and Christine and Mick are doing the waltz behind her as a joke.” Buckingham filed suit against the band for wrongful termination, which was ultimately settled out of court. “It breaks my heart that we spent 43 years always finding a way to rise above our personal differences and our difficulties to pursue and articulate a higher truth,” Buckingham said. “That is our legacy. That is what the songs are about. This is not the way you end something like this.”


The Supremes and Florence Ballard

Florence Ballard started the Primettes in 1958 when she was still in junior high school, inviting her friend Mary Wilson and eventually Diana Ross to join the group. With a little help from Smokey Robinson, the trio signed with Motown in 1960 and changed their name to the Supremes. They originally took turns singing lead, but Motown head Berry Gordy Jr. pegged Ross as the leader and began placing her in front of the others in their performances and on the Supremes’ singles as well. As time went on, the public saw Wilson and Ballard as little more than Ross’ background singers. This was codified by Motown in 1967 when they changed the name of the group to Diana Ross and the Supremes. Around this time, Ballard developed a drinking problem and started showing up late for gigs. Without her knowledge, Gordy had Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles singer Cindy Birdsong follow the group on tour to learn their act so she could eventually join them. Ballard had no clue this was happening until she saw clothing fitted for Birdsong backstage at a Las Vegas gig. She quit the group and tried to start a solo career, but it went nowhere and she was forced to apply for welfare in the early Seventies. She died practically penniless in 1976. She was just 32.


Queensryche and Geoff Tate

Queensrÿche only had a brief moment of mainstream acceptance when their power ballad “Silent Lucidity” reached Number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1990. But they’ve been plugging away on the metal scene ever since dropping their classic debut single “Queen of the Reich” back in 1983. Geoff Tate was their frontman from the beginning, though the other members of the band grew dissatisfied with him in the 2000s when he installed his wife as their manager and his stepdaughter as the head of their fan club. Things boiled over backstage at a Brazil gig in 2012 after a tense meeting where Tate’s bandmates voted to fire his family from their roles in the band. “[Drummer] Scott [Rockenfield] looks at me and he smirks and says, ‘We just fired your whole family, and you’re next,’ ” Tate told Rolling Stone in 2012. “I just lost it. I tried to punch him. I don’t think I landed a punch before somebody grabbed me and hauled me to the side.” The singer denied reports that he pulled a knife on Rockenfield, but what’s undoubtedly true is that Tate left the band when this tour ended. It kicked off a long and nasty legal battle with his bandmates. In 2017, Rockenfield left the band as well.


The Fugees

Before Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill began their romantic affair near the height of the Fugees’ success in 1996, they should have gone back and studied the history of bands like Fleetwood Mac to learn that this was a spectacularly bad idea. “It was like we were two outlaws in love,” Jean wrote in his 2012 memoir Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story. “We had flights on planes. We had huge fights, and a few times when it went down, she started swinging at me right there in the seats. People would scatter. We never got arrested, but we came close a few times in Europe.” The situation grew worse when Hill discovered that she was pregnant and told Jean that he was the father, even though the pregnancy was actually the result of an affair with Rohan Marley, son of Bob Marley. “In that moment something died between us,” Jean wrote. “I was married and Lauryn and I were having an affair, but she led me to believe that the baby was mine, and I couldn’t forgive that … She could no longer be my muse. Our love spell was broken.” Needless to say, this is merely Jean’s account of what happened. The few times Hill has addressed the breakup directly, she points to creative disagreements and battles over credit. “The Fugees was a conspiracy to control, to manipulate, and to encourage dependence,” Hill said in 2005. “I was not allowed to say I was great; that was considered arrogance, conceit.”



Just one year after the release of their breakthrough 1988 LP Straight Outta Compton, Ice Cube quit the group because he felt manager Jerry Heller and the other members were denying him proper royalties. He didn’t speak much about the situation at the time, saving all the venom for his 1991 solo track “No Vaseline.” “I started off with too much cargo,” he raps. “Dropped four niggas now I’m makin’ all the dough.” He then rips apart Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, MC Ren, and DJ Yella, all by name. (Sample line: “You’re gettin’ fucked real quick/Eazy’s dick is smellin’ like MC Ren’s shit.”) The most controversial line in the song was aimed at Heller. “Get rid of that devil real simple, put a bullet in his temple,” he wrote. “ ’Cause you can’t be the Nigga 4 Life crew with a white Jew tellin’ you what to do.” N.W.A broke up right around this time, and Eazy-E and Dre exchanged their own diss tracks. They eventually forgave each other, right around the time that Eazy-E died of AIDS in 1995. But “No Vaseline” still stands out today as one of the nastiest diss tracks in the history of recorded music.


Van Halen (1984)

Van Halen appears three times on this list, but their original breakup was the ugliest. It took place just as the David Lee Roth incarnation of the band was at the pinnacle of its success thanks to their LP 1984 and the hits “Jump,” “Hot for Teacher,” and “Panama.” But frontman David Lee Roth felt the group was drifting too far from their hard-rock roots by embracing synthesizers, and Eddie Van Halen felt Roth was too focused on his solo career and possible future as a movie star. There were also personality clashes stemming back to the early days of the band. In August 1985, Eddie told Rolling Stone that the rumors about Roth leaving the band were true. “The band as you know it is over,” he said. “Dave left to be a movie star. He even had the balls to ask if I’d write the score for him. I’m looking for a new lead singer. It’s weird that it’s over. Twelve years of my life putting up with his bullshit.” 



In early December 2004, Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo unloaded on guitarist Dimebag Darrell in an interview with Metal Hammer magazine. The group had been inactive for three years at this point, and both sides blamed the other for the impasse. Anselmo said that Dimebag had developed a crippling drinking problem, and the guitarist turned around and said the singer was using heroin. “There was never a point when [Dimebag] could not get drunk,” Anselmo said. “Which was pretty much every day. And now I’m hearing it’s worse than ever…. He would attack me, vocally. And just knowing that he was so much smaller than me I could kill him like a fuckin’ piece of vapor, you know, he would turn into vapor — his chin would, at least, if I fuckin’ smacked it. And he knows that. The world should know that. So physically, of course, he deserves to be beaten severely.” Days after this interview hit, a deranged fan murdered Dimebag during a concert in Columbus, Ohio. It would be deeply unfair to pin any blame for the tragedy on Anselmo. The gunman is 100 percent responsible. But the heated rhetoric in the final days of Dimebag’s life caused deep divisions between Anselmo and Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul, Dimebag’s brother, that were never resolved. Paul died in 2018. Earlier this year, Anselmo and Pantera bassist Rex Brown revived the band with guitarist Zakk Wylde.


The Everly Brothers

Long before Oasis, the Black Crowes, and even the Kinks, there was the Everly Brothers. They were the original feuding-brothers rock act, though few fans knew about their personal issues during the Fifties and Sixties as they landed hits like “Bye Bye Love,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” and “Cathy’s Clown.” As Phil Everly said in 1970, “We only ever had one argument. It’s been lasting for 25 years.” By the Seventies, they were coasting on past success and fighting worse than ever. Complicating matters was Don Everly’s addiction to ritalin, which he claimed led to him having a nervous breakdown and receiving electroshock therapy treatments. In 1973, they decided to end things with a pair of shows at Knott’s Berry Farms. “I was half in the bag that evening — the only time I’ve ever been drunk onstage in my life,” Don Everly told Rolling Stone. “I knew it was the last night, and on the way out I drank some tequila, drank some champagne — started celebrating the demise. It was really a funeral.” Phil Everly was enraged that his partner was drunk and screwing up song lyrics, so he smashed a guitar Pete Townshend-style and stormed off the stage. They wouldn’t play again for 10 years. 


Sonic Youth

As Richard and Linda Thompson, Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, and Sonny and Cher can attest, forming a musical act with your spouse is a very dangerous proposition. It can be a lot of fun when the marriage is thriving, but what happens when you hit a bumpy path or separate? Who wants to be in a band with their ex? This didn’t seem like it would ever be an issue for Sonic Youth because the marriage of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore lasted for decades. But in 2010, Gordon discovered text messages on Moore’s phone from another woman, leading to their divorce after 27 years of marriage. “One morning I got up to do yoga,” Gordon wrote in her memoir Girl in a Band. “Thurston was still asleep, and I looked down at his cell[phone]. It was then that I saw her texts about their wonderful weekend together, about how much she loved him, and his writing back the same things.” She eventually went onto his laptop and discovered many more exchanges and even a “porno-like” video. The band carried on for a couple more months, but called it quits a few months later.



By 2020, Nineties alt-rock band Live should have been an efficient money-making machine. They had enough hits (“Lightning Crashes,” “I Alone,” “Selling the Drama”) to keep them on the road for eternity, and the four members were childhood friends with deep roots. But guitarist Chad Taylor, drummer Chad Gracey, and bassist Patrick Dalheimer brought an investor named Bill Hynes into their business orbit a decade earlier. They are bitterly divided over what happened next, but what’s clear is that Hynes created such a mess that frontman Ed Kowalczyk felt he had little choice but to fire all three of them and reboot Live with new musicians. Odds of a reunion feel very slim. “I don’t ever want to play with Chad Taylor again,” Gracey told Rolling Stone. “The best way to deal with a narcissist is to not deal with him, so I don’t want to. Every time he opens his mouth, he’s either manipulating you, trying to control you, or bully you.”



Liam and Noel Gallagher had a combative relationship before the two brothers even formed Oasis in 1991, but they managed to stick together throughout the group’s many ups and downs over the next two decades. “[Liam is] the angriest man you’ll ever meet,” Noel once said. “He’s like a man with a fork in a world of soup.” It wasn’t until a backstage incident August 28, 2009, in Paris that the partnership finally splintered for good. They were at the end of a long tour, and had recently had to cancel an appearance because Liam had laryngitis (Noel claimed he was merely hungover). That night in Paris, Liam lunged at Noel with a guitar in hand as they waited to go on. “He started wielding it like an ax, and I’m not fuckin’ kidding,” Noel said in 2015. “And I’m making light of it because it’s kind of what I do, but it was a real unnecessary violent act, and he’s swinging this guitar around, he nearly took my face off with it. And it ended up on the floor, and I put it out of its misery.” After smashing the guitar, Noel stormed out of the venue. They didn’t play that night, and they haven’t played since.


The Beatles

The Beatles essentially invented the concept of a band breaking up, and the ugliness surrounding it set the tone for every breakup that followed. Rock historians have been arguing about the exact cause of their split for over 50 years, and even the members of the band can’t agree on what did it. “After Brian died, we collapsed,” John Lennon told Rolling Stone in December 1970, in reference to manager Brian Epstein, who had guided the band through most of the Sixties until his death in 1967. “Paul took over and supposedly led us. But what is leading us, when we went round in circles? We broke up then. That was the disintegration.”In a 2018 interview with Howard Stern, Paul McCartney said that Lennon was the actual cause of the breakup. “There was a meeting where John came in and said, ‘Hey guys, I’m leaving the group,’ ” Paul said. “All that money we’d earned, and all that fame we earned, was going down the pan. There was this guy that was going to take it all. It was that close. I was going, ‘No guys. We can keep it. We don’t have to give it to this guy.’ ”He was talking about Epstein’s eventual replacement, Allen Klein, an incredibly divisive figure in rock history who briefly managed both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. McCartney was the one member of the group opposed to bringing him on board. The others would eventually realize that McCartney was right to have doubts, but not before Klein’s negative influence drove a major wedge between McCartney and the other Beatles. McCartney was especially upset at Klein’s decision to let Phil Spector come in and complete what would become Let It Be, adding strings to “The Long and Wind Road” without his permission.Yoko Ono has been wrongly accused of breaking up the group up at several points in the past. And while there’s no doubt that her presence alongside Lennon at recording sessions late in the band’s career rankled the other members, pinning the entire dissolution on Ono is grossly unfair and simply ahistorical. “She certainly didn’t break the group up,” McCartney said in 2013. “I don’t think you can blame her for anything.”“I don’t think you could have broken up four very strong people like them,” Ono said, “even if you tried. So there must have been something that happened within them — not an outside force at all.”In the end, what broke up the Beatles was being the Beatles. They were four men who were simply exhausted by fame, fights over money and control, and, sadly, each other.