5 Classic Rock Comebacks to (Mostly) Celebrate

Breakups are a risk in any type of interpersonal relationship. But they’re especially prominent among musicians. Over the years, countless great songwriting partnerships have come to a head for myriad seemingly irreconcilable reasons. However, sometimes an end, or even a bumpy patch, leads to a brand new beginning.

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From Ozzy and Santana to the Chili Peppers and Green Day, you can go ahead and call it a comeback; these six rock bands and artists recovered to become as big as, or even bigger than, they ever were before.

1. AC/DC

The death of a lead singer often summons the dissolution of the band. But when AC/DC vocalist Bon Scott passed away in early 1980, the act swiftly tapped in Brian Johnson to take his place. He debuted later that same year on the album Back in Black, which became one of the most successful hard rock records ever made—actually, one of the most successful albums ever made, period. As of late 2023, it was the second-best-selling album ever, trailing only Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

2. Journey

After the dynamic, golden-throated lead singer Steve Perry left Journey in the ‘90s, it seemed like the band was toast. However, Journey went on to work with vocalist Steve Augeri, and then Arnel Pineda in the middle-2000s. While it’s near-universally accepted that neither replacement vocalist can top Perry, Journey’s endurance has been exciting enough to keep fans from stoppin’ believin’.

3. Ozzy Osbourne

At this point, Ozzy Osbourne seems like an evergreen fixture in rock music, and pop culture in general thanks to his reality show involvement. But his road to solo stardom was shaky at best. Osbourne’s career as a solo artist began out of necessity after he was kicked out of metal progenitors Black Sabbath for out-of-control drug abuse in 1979 (and seeing as the whole band were fond of drug abuse, kicking the Ozz out was quite a statement). After going through grueling rounds of rehabilitation, and thanks in huge part to his manager, wife, and later The Osbournes co-star Sharon Osbourne, Ozzy returned to the spotlight in 1980 with his debut solo LP, Blizzard of Ozz.

4. Carlos Santana

Helmed by virtuosic guitarist Carlos Santana, the band Santana is one of the most important musical relics of the psychedelic era, having made one of the more memorable showings at the 1969 Woodstock festival. But the Santana brand name took a hit in the ‘80s as interest waned and album sales tanked.

Even though Carlos Santana continued to perform, he didn’t much factor into the industry again until the late ‘90s. In 1998, Santana (the band) was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. A few months later, Santana (primarily Carlos by this time) released the collaborative album Supernatural. Singles “Maria Maria” (with Michelle Branch) and the ubiquitous-to-the-point-of-annoyance “Smooth” (with Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas) recaptured that old magic, and the Santana brand was again looked upon fondly. (And just a reminder to those who agree “Smooth” got annoying upon its millionth listen: it won Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the Grammys!)

5. Green Day

Green Day broke out of the hardcore punk-rock niche with the gazillion-selling Dookie in 1994. But they fell off the map for roughly a decade, until releasing American Idiot in 2004. The topical concept album went far further than past records in terms of commercial viability, which led to gigantic hits like “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” and the title track. The band must have known they were fully back once the record spawned its very own wildly successful Broadway musical.

[RELATED: Behind the Band Name: Green Day]

Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns

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