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The 10 Messiest Band Breakups

The bitter ends of the Clash, the Police, Guns N’ Roses and more

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A rock band can be a lot like a romantic relationship. People meet, sparks fly and, hopefully, magic is made. Some of these relationships end quickly, some last for decades, and some end in a flurry of lawsuits, flying fists and misguided solo projects. Here are 10 bands that went through particularly painful splits. Here's hoping your relationships fare better than these. 

The Police, Sting, Andy Summers, Stewart Copeland

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The Police

The Police were formed in 1977 by drummer Stewart Copeland, along with schoolteacher Gordon "Sting" Sumner and guitarist Andy Summers. Within a year, they were rock's next big thing, but tensions began bubbling over as Sting took control of the band. The others began to feel like his employees and they began fighting like crazy, even as the band got bigger and bigger.

In his 2006 memoir, One Train Later, Summers recalled a fight while the band recorded their 1981 LP Ghost in the Machine. "Sting goes berserk on me," he wrote. "Calling me every name under the sun with considerable vehemence, leaving everyone in the room white-faced and in shock." Sting summed up the group's problem in a 2007 interview with Rolling Stone. "We didn't have a great deal in common," he said. "We were different generations, in Andy's case, welded together by a flag of convenience . . . Part of the frustration was that Stewart and Andy were driven to write. It's difficult to tell somebody it's not a good song, and it was usually me." Sting pulled the plug in 1984 after a long stadium tour in support of their massive album Synchronicity. "It wasn't my intention to punish Stewart and Andy in any way," Sting said. "I was following my instincts."

The Eagles: Don Felder, Joe Walsh, Don Henley, Randy Meisner, Glenn Frey

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The Eagles

By 1980, the Eagles were the biggest band in America, but their success took a horrible toll on the group. Don Henley and Glenn Frey were intense and driven men, and original members Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner had already quit because the atmosphere had become toxic. Joe Walsh was often too drunk and stoned to complain about his lack of control by this point, and new bassist Timothy B. Schmit was wisely obedient. But guitarist Don Felder couldn't stand being treated like a second-class citizen.

Tensions flared all throughout the tour in support of 1979's The Long Run, but they got even worse at a 1980 benefit show for Senator Alan Cranston. Felder didn't want the band involved in political causes, and when the senator's wife visited the band backstage, he said, "Nice to meet you . . . I guess." Those last two words sent Glenn Frey into an uncontrollable rage, and onstage that night, the Eagles were actually threatening each other on mic. "That's three more, pal," Frey said. "Get ready." He was actually counting the number of songs remaining before he administered a backstage beatdown. Felder split in his limo before a fight could break out, and it was the last time the band played together for 14 years. 

Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Joe Strummer, Topper Headon

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The Clash

Like the Police, the Clash had a difficult time dealing with success. Their 1982 single "Rock the Casbah" turned them from a popular punk band into MTV superstars. Ironically, it was written by drummer Topper Headon, who'd been forced out of the band due to his heroin addiction before the song even started climbing the charts. When the Clash opened for the Who on their "farewell" tour, Strummer and co. saw it as a sad glimpse into a possible future: playing old hits for big bucks in football stadiums. It didn't seem appealing. 

Even worse, the bandmates were unable to agree on a future musical direction. Guitarist Mick Jones was becoming enamored with hip-hop, bassist Paul Simonon liked reggae and frontman Joe Strummer wanted a return to punk. Jones and Strummer were barely talking when they returned from a long hiatus to play the US Festival in 1983. The show didn't go very well, and the Clash felt like sellouts for playing the corporate gig. Jones left the band soon afterwards, and the less said about the Clash's 1985 swan song, Cut the Crap, the better.

Billy Corgan, D'arcy Wretzky, James Iha, Smashing Pumpkins

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Smashing Pumpkins

Few bands are true democracies. There are usually one or two people who call the shots, and the other members learn to live with that. When they can't, things can get very ugly. Smashing Pumpkins leader and main songwriter Billy Corgan insisted on playing most of the guitar and bass on the band's 1993 breakthrough, Siamese Dream, which didn't sit well with bassist D'arcy Wretzke and guitarist James Iha. The Pumpkins held it together until 1996, when touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin died of a heroin overdose. Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin overdosed that same night, and was thrown out of the band. He came back in 1999, but shortly afterwards D'arcy left. The Pumpkins called it a day in December of 2000.

Four years later, Corgan explained what happened. "The truth of the matter is that guitarist James Iha broke up the Smashing Pumpkins," he wrote online.  "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." He went on to explain that Iha left the final show without saying a word to him. "He didn't say goodbye to the two people he had won and lost and traveled the world with," he wrote. "So, I won't be protecting him anymore and I won't be protecting a whole lot of other people anymore."

zack de la rocha rage against the machine

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Rage Against the Machine

It's a shame that the best rap-rock band of the 1990s was also the least functional. Rage Against the Machine's three albums are pretty much flawless, and they were the single greatest live act of the era. But by 2000 everything started going wrong. They booked a summer co-headlining tour with the Beastie Boys, but the Beasties' Mike D fell off his bike and they had to cancel the whole thing. Rage carried on with their own gigs, but they fought over the wisdom of releasing the covers album Renegades. Lead singer Zack de la Rocha announced he was leaving on October 18th, 2000.

"I feel that it is now necessary to leave Rage because our decision-making process has completely failed," he wrote. "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." Though they reformed as an oldies act in 2007, they remain unable to agree on future plans. Simply put, Zack doesn't want to do a damn thing, and the other guys want to create new music and tour the world. 

Kim Deal, Joey Santiago, Frank Black, David Lovering, The Pixies

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The Pixies

If the Pixies had survived another couple of years, they could have become huge. Their first two albums are some of the greatest music to come out of the Eighties, but they had the misfortune of being way ahead of their time. When America was finally ready to embrace "alternative" music, they were barely on speaking terms. Simply put, frontman Black Francis and bassist Kim Deal didn't get along very well.

They met when Deal responded to an ad in a newspaper seeking a bassist, and thus had no real relationship outside the band. The fans fell in love with Deal, and Francis got jealous. He froze her out of their later albums, causing her to launch the Breeders as a side project. That band started to take off, and by 1992 Black Francis had quite enough of life in a band. Making matters worse, the Pixies agreed to open for U2 on the first leg of their Zoo TV tour. The tour became an endless slog, and the band grew weary of playing to half-empty arenas of bored U2 fans.The following year Francis faxed his bandmates to tell them it was over. Over the next decade, he didn't speak to Deal once. 

Parker Lundgren, Michael Wilton, Geoff Tate, Eddie Jackson, Scott Rockenfield, Queensryche

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Queensryche

The members of Eighties metal band Queensryche dispute exactly what happened on April 14, 2012 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, but they all agree their long-simmering issues finally boiled over into a full-fledged physical altercation. The incident started with a meeting over the future of the band. Frontman Geoff Tate says the band told his wife she would no longer be the band's manager. "We went to do the show," Tate told Rolling Stone. "Scott [Rockenfield] looks at me and he smirks and says, 'We just fired your whole family, and you're next.' 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 band denies that Rockenfield instigated the fight with that comment, and claim Tate's attack was unprovoked. Whatever happened, there are now two incarnations of Queensryche on the road. They have a court date in September to sort out the whole mess. 

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