20 Years: A lifetime With the Same Band

Jul 30, 2014

20 years. It’s a lifetime for some, the blink of an eye for others. Think about the friendships and relationships you might have had spanning that time, if you’re old enough. How many ups and downs? How many disagreements and reconciliations? 20 years can put even the strongest relationships through hell and back. Sometimes those relationships survive, and in fact thrive over decades. Some simply fail.

This can be especially evident in the world of celebrities. Marriages last only a few years, or even a few weeks. Bands pop up, have a hit, then disband never to play together again. But some endure, producing hits and thrilling fans, young and old alike, for decades. How many bands can you name that have stood the test of time? Probably not as many as you think. Even groups that seem to have been together for forever often lose or change members, break up for years then have a reunion, or simply have songs that have endured for twenty years or more.

Let’s take a look at five popular bands that have weathered the storm of time and have adapted over the decades.


Founded in 1976 (that’s 38 years for those of you keeping track), the Irish musical powerhouse of Bono (vocals and guitar), The Edge (guitar, keyboards, and vocals), Adam Clayton (bass guitar), and Larry Mullen, Jr. (drums and percussion) has become one of the most popular and well recognized groups of all time.

They put themselves together when they were still only teenagers, and their early sound was very much rooted in post-punk, but over the years they have grown to incorporate influences from all kinds of popular music. While their influences may have changed, there are many things that have become central to U2, and have varied only slightly over the nearly 40 years they’ve been together. Chief among them are The Edge’s unique guitar sounds, and Bono’s lyrics, usually focused on spirituality, personal themes, and sociopolitical concepts.

Though they were little more than children when they formed in the mid-‘70s, it didn’t take them long to become a top international act. Popular as a touring act, they hit superstardom in 1987 with the release of their album The Joshua Tree.

Gifted with a somewhat unique ability to reinvent themselves with each decade, U2 has integrated dance, industrial, and alternative rock influences into their sounds, while also embracing a more ironic and self-deprecating image. With hit songs like “Beautiful Day,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” and “With or Without You,” U2 has made themselves one of the top best-selling artists in the world, with more than 150 million records sold worldwide.


Comprised of bassist, keyboardist, and lead vocalist Geddy Lee, guitarist and backing vocalist Alex Lifeson, and drummer, percussionist, and lyricist Neil Peart, Rush is one of the longest active bands in Canada or anywhere else. Formed in the Willowdale neighborhood of Toronto in August 1968 with original drummer John Rutsey. The lineup went through some fluctuations during their early years, but finally settled into the roster we know today in ’74 when Peart replaced Rutsey two weeks before their first U.S. tour.

Over the last 40 years Rush has been appealing to “nerd” and “geek” cultures through their lyrics, drawing heavily on science fiction, fantasy, and philosophy. Their musical style has gone through a few changes, beginning with a blues-inspired heavy metal sound, they have also used progressive rock, and for a while, heavy use of synthesizers. In the last 15 years they have returned to a more guitar oriented sound, and their latest studio album, Clockwork Angels, won the Album of the Year Award from the Progressive Music Awards.

With numerous awards and worldwide album sales estimated at over 40 million units sold by 2004, Rush shows no signs of age or slowing down.


“The Bad Boys of Boston,” “America’s Greatest Rock Band,” “The Poor Man’s Rolling Stones.” Whatever you call them, Aerosmith is the best-selling rock band of all time, with U.S. sales numbering 70+ million albums and worldwide sale totaling well over 150 million. Originally founded in Boston, Massachusetts in 1970 the roster was finalized in ’71 with vocalist/harmonica Steven Tyler, drummer Joey Kramer, guitarist Joe Perry, bassist Tom Hamilton, and guitarist Brad Whitford. Drug abuse and internal strife plagued the band from the late ‘70s to the mid ‘80s, but once the band got clean in ’84 they never looked back.

Following a comeback tour in ’85 the group really found their stride when they collaborated with rap-group Run-DMC, which was the first step in becoming a pop culture phenomenon. Popular music videos, appearances in television and film, even video games, all led to what has been described as one of the most remarkable and spectacular comebacks in rock ‘n’ roll history.

With 21 Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, nine number-one Mainstream Rock hits, four Grammy Awards, six American Music Awards, ten MTV Video Music Awards, and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “The Bad Boys of Boston” are not going anywhere soon.

ZZ Top

Formed in 1969 in Houston, Texas, ZZ Top consists of guitarist and lead vocalist Bill Gibbons (epic beard #1), bassist and co-lead vocalist Dusty Hill (epic beard #2), and drummer Frank Beard (ironically, no epic beard). Ever since the release of their debut album in January ’71, ZZ Top has maintained strong blues roots and playful lyrics utilizing double entendres and innuendo.

Acclaimed by critics and fellow musicians alike, there are few who can match ZZ Top’s success. Jimi Hendrix himself said that Gibbons would be “the next hottest guitarist,” and music writer Cub Koda said “As genuine roots musicians, they have few peers; Gibbons in one of America’s finest blues guitarists working in the arena rock idiom… while Hill and Beard provide the ultimate rhythm section support.

With 11 gold records, and 7 platinum (13 multi-platinum) records, ZZ Top ranks 80th in U.S. album sales with 25 million, and has had major success worldwide with the sale of over 50 million albums.

Green Day

A somewhat younger group, Green Day was originally founded in 1987 by lead vocalist and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist and backing vocalist Mike Dirnt, and drummer John Kiffmeyer, who was replaced by current drummer Tre Cool in 1990. Originally part of the punk scene at the DIY 924 Gilman Street club in Berkeley, California, the band’s breakout album Dookie (released in 1994) helped credit Green Day, alongside fellow California punk bands Sublime, Bad Religion, The Offspring and Rancid, with reviving, rejuvenating, and re-popularizing mainstream interest in punk rock in the U.S.

Throughout the late ‘90s and early ‘00s Green Day saw a decline in commercial success, showing difficulty in recapturing the achievement ofDookie. All that changed in the summer of 2003 when the band went into the studio to record a new album, titled Cigarettes and Valentines.After recording 20 tracks, the master recordings were unceremoniously stolen from the studio. Rather than try to re-record the stolen tracks, they started over, saying what had been recorded was not an example of their best work. That turned out to be the right decision and eventually they released American Idiot. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard charts, a first for the band, recapturing the glory from their early days, and introducing the Green Day to a whole new generation of fans.

20 years is a long time for any sort or relationship, but it can be even more impressive when it includes the ups and downs of making music and touring. Many have tried, few have been successful. But those whose musical careers can be counted in decades have left an indelible mark on the entire world, and refuse to go quietly into that good night.