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Pass the Mic: 15 Big Hits Not Sung by the Lead Singer

“Beth,” “Sister Christian” and more smashes performed by unlikely vocalists

Chris Walter/WireImage; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

While there are many bands without even one good vocalist, some groups are blessed with several. Think of the Cars, the Commodores or the Beatles, all of whom had multiple hit singles with different band members taking turns at the microphone. Sometimes, however, a band gives a member who isn’t the usual lead singer a chance in the vocal booth. Occasionally, it’s even the drummer, and now and then, the resulting track becomes a huge smash, maybe even big enough that it overshadows everything else the band has ever done.

In our modern age of careful brand management by corporate A&R guys, we don’t see that sort of fluke hit very often, but consider these 15 examples of when a band’s hierarchy got upended and a popular single was sung by somebody other than the usual lead singer.

This list was originally published July 2014.


Night Ranger, “Sister Christian” (1984)

Unless you are related to the band by blood or marriage, you probably don’t remember that Night Ranger had five 1980s Top 40 singles not titled “Sister Christian,” including “When You Close Your Eyes” and “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me.” Unfortunately for lead singer Jack Blades, the smash “Sister Christian” a power ballad written by the drummer Kelly Keagy for his younger sister Christine was sung by Keagy and is the only Night Ranger song anyone knows.


Heart, “These Dreams” (1986)

Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson had a straightforward division of labor: Nancy played guitar and Ann handled the lead vocals. But in 1986, when they had gone a few years without a hit, they were offered two songs cowritten by Martin Page and Bernie Taupin. They picked “These Dreams” and had Nancy sing it, which she did while fighting off a cold. The raspy result was Heart’s first Number One single. (The song Heart didn’t choose: “We Built This City,” which became a teeth-grinding smash for Starship.)


The Georgia Satellites, “Battleship Chains” (1986)

While Dan Baird was singing lead for the Georgia Satellites (most famous for “Keep Your Hands to Yourself”) and writing most of the songs, he brought the band a catchy tune written by Terry Anderson for Baird’s previous band, the Woodpeckers (a.k.a. the Fabulous Knobs). “Battleship Chains” reached Number 76 on the U.S. charts (Number 44 in the U.K.) and was memorably covered by Warren Zevon and R.E.M. on the Hindu Love Gods album. But when the Satellites did it, lead vocals were handled by the band’s hirsute lead guitarist Rick Richards.


Oasis, “Don’t Look Back in Anger” (1996)

For the second Oasis album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, songwriter Noel Gallagher presented his kid brother Liam (the band’s lead singer) with two songs, both potential hit singles. He told him to pick one to sing — he’d be keeping the other one for himself. Liam wisely opted for “Wonderwall,” leaving Noel with this power ballad, which hit Number One in the U.K. Noel grew accustomed to filling in on lead vocals at a moment’s notice when his brother felt unwell or sulky — most famously during the entirety of the band’s MTV Unplugged gig in 1996, where Liam sat in the balcony and heckled.