Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

“I Will Refuse”: 13 bands that could reunite, but won’t

Illustration for article titled “I Will Refuse”: 13 bands that could reunite, but won’t

1. The Smiths
If the passion of a fan base was enough to get a band back together, The Smiths would’ve toured every summer for the past decade, headlining Coachella, Bonnaroo, and any hot-weather festival where it’s inadvisable to wear black on the outside (even if black is how you feel on on the inside). At this point, The Smiths are the biggest “never gonna happen” of this reunion-mad age, an act whose every original member is still alive and active and definitely not reuniting. All the gladioli in the world can’t dispel the acrimony that followed the band’s big split, a tension that’s lately relaxed into the type of withering sarcasm lead singer Morrissey used to apply to Smiths lyrics. “I don’t know a single person who wants a Smiths reunion!” he told Billboard in February, ignoring the fact that coverage of Smiths reunion rumors is practically a full-time beat at some U.K. music publications. That lack of interest aside, the hope for one last Smiths gig persists, goosed by the 2013 mini-reunion of guitarist Johnny Marr and bassist Andy Rourke and foretold in the dreams of drummer Mike Joyce. Of course, that’s a vision of a former bandmate who, when sued for royalties by Joyce and Rourke, presented the book Morrissey & Marr: The Severed Alliance as evidence, telling attorneys “There are two names on the cover, Morrissey and Johnny Marr. Did you notice that?” The dream is dead, boys—and it’s getting lonely on that limb.

2. Talking Heads
By all accounts, frontman David Byrne is the primary holdout in a Talking Heads reunion. “We never ended Talking Heads ourselves. That’s entirely in his court,” drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone in 2013. “We are in touch with the band and we all would love to do it, but we can’t do it without David.” Then again, Frantz, bassist Tina Weymouth, and multi-instrumentalist Jerry Harrison did do it without him in 1996, recording with a revolving door of vocalists—including fellow punk and new-wave survivors Debbie Harry, Gordon Gano, and Richard Hell—in a pseudo reunion halted by legal action from Byrne. Any hurt feelings stemming from the resulting record, No Talking Just Head, were laid aside for the band’s Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction, which featured practically flawless performance of “Psycho Killer,” “Life During Wartime,” and “Burning Down The House.” (Byrne flubbed a verse on the second song, but recovered elegantly.) It’s the closest anyone’s going to get to seeing Byrne sharing stage with Frantz, Weymouth, and Harrison again, since collaborations with St. Vincent, Brian Eno, and old buildings keep him plenty satisfied and compensated. “I’m not keen and it’s unlikely to happen. I don’t need the money badly enough,” he said in 2009.

3. The Modern Lovers
By the time their first album was released in 1976, creative differences had already ended The Modern Lovers. Jonathan Richman, the group’s founder and driving force, insisted on taking Modern Lovers in a different direction from its original Velvet Underground-inspired sound. His erstwhile bandmates quickly went on to successful music careers; drummer David Robinson co-founded The Cars, and keyboardist Jerry Harrison joined Talking Heads. Richman did restart the band under the name Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers, but he all but disavowed the band’s original tracks in future recordings and performances. It has been about 25 years since Richman officially retired The Modern Lovers as an entity, and 40 years since the band’s seminal lineup disbanded. These dudes weren’t even together when they were together. It’s safe to say Richman and company no longer believe in modern love.


4. Marky Mark And The Funky Bunch
Mark Wahlberg is a respected actor and producer, with film credits that include Boogie Nights, The Fighter, and The Departed. But long before he was a Hollywood power player, Wahlberg was known as “Marky” Mark, the shirtless, vibrating frontman of the Funky Bunch. The Funky Bunch was a hip-hop outfit that included such funky individuals as Scottie Gee, Hector The Booty Inspector, DJ-T, and Ashey Ace, and their hit single, “Good Vibrations,” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1991. But for Wahlberg, the group was nothing more than a stepping stone to stardom, and it’s not a period of his life he’s always eager to discuss. Following the Boston Marathon bombings, TMZ asked Wahlberg if the group would consider reuniting for a benefit show. He jokingly replied “Why not?”, but clearly didn’t take the idea seriously. If a fundraiser for his beloved hometown doesn’t get the Funky Bunch back together, nothing will.

5. Hüsker Dü
The acrimony among the three former members of Hüsker Dü is legendary. Although it’s gone through quieter spells over the years, Bob Mould, Grant Hart, and Greg Norton have barely spoken in the 26 years since the band broke up, though Mould and Hart put aside their differences for one night in 2004 to play a couple songs at a benefit for Soul Asylum’s Kurt Mueller. That wasn’t the start of something; Mould wrote in his memoir of the bad feelings that lingered even then. He also noted in the book that the three of them can’t even come to an agreement to get Hüsker Dü’s essential catalogue reissued (and pursue legal action for unpaid royalties against their old label, SST). Mould and Hart regularly perform Hüsker songs in live performances, and considering how happy they seem to be doing that without each other, that’s all fans will get.

6. Minor Threat
Minor Threat got the reunion bug out of its system way back in 1982, after the seminal hardcore band broke up when guitarist Lyle Preslar left to go to college. School didn’t suit him, so he moved back to Washington, D.C., and Minor Threat was reborn for another year or so. But when the group played its final show on September 23, 1983, that was it; all of its members went on to other things, notably frontman Ian MacKaye, who would later found Fugazi. MacKaye doesn’t suffer nostalgia well and has even less interest in a big payday—Fugazi has turned down many lucrative offers to break its 12-year indefinite hiatus—which means the odds of being bummed out by a bunch of old guys playing songs about being a “minor at heart” are thankfully slim.

7. Jawbreaker
For many fans, the great white whale of the reunion era has been beloved Bay Area punk band Jawbreaker, which disbanded in 1996 not long after releasing its major-label debut. Although some bad feelings lingered around the breakup, Jawbreaker had run out of gas more than cracked under interpersonal strain, and the trio has been on at least civil terms for years. (All three members even jammed together for a long-in-the-works documentary about Jawbreaker.) Demand to see them together again has remained high, but they’ve routinely turned down high-paying reunion offers. It looks like the closest fans will come is a band called Jawbreaker Reunion.

8. R.E.M.
When R.E.M. called it quits in 2011, the band noted that it was doing so on its own terms, with no personal, creative, or legal problems forcing its hand. Fans still cried to the heavens and wiped their tears with faded Document T-shirts, but there was a certain amount of peace in the news: Despite a nice one-two finish (2008’s Accelerate and 2011’s Collapse Into Now), it was clear that R.E.M.’s best days were long gone. Better to end on a relative high note than risk another Around The Sun. Happily, the band seems to be sticking to its guns. “We said we’re done and we’re done,” Mike Mills told Rolling Stone last year. “If we honestly thought there was a chance of a reunion tour, we might have said so at the time.” A reunion almost happened last November at Athens’ 40 Watt Club, when Mills and Bill Berry hopped onstage during a Peter Buck solo show. The fact that Michael Stipe was spotted in the crowd that night only solidified the band’s “no reunion” policy.

9. Jellyfish
For a certain kind of music fan, Jellyfish is as revered as The Beatles—even if the band’s pristine take on ’70s classic rock and XTC-style power-pop never resonated beyond a cult audience. But in the years since the group’s 1994 breakup—which was reportedly due to inner-band tensions and financial worries—these same loyalists have wasted plenty of breath longing for a reunion. In interviews, keyboardist/vocalist Roger Joseph Manning Jr. has consistently shot down talk of Jellyfish resurfacing, mainly because everyone in the band has developed other creative pursuits. “I’ve remained in contact with everyone throughout the years, and we have all moved on musically,” he said in 2009. These endeavors are nothing to sneeze at, either: Vocalist/drummer Andy Sturmer has a successful second career as a composer for cartoons (he wrote the themes to Teen Titans and Transformers Animated ), while Manning is currently playing with Beck, and guitarist Jason Falkner is a beloved power-pop artist in his own right. Either way, it seems as though fans have to stay content with the Jellyfish reissues (and rarities) Omnivore Records has been lovingly releasing in the past few years.


10. The White Stripes
It’s implausible enough that The White Stripes managed to survive after Jack and Meg White divorced, but it would take an absolute act of God for the group to get back together again. Jack White’s been repeatedly asked about a Stripes reunion, but he’s doing fine with his solo stuff, and Meg White seems to be doing okay—wherever she is. In 2012, Jack even told NME that there’s “absolutely no chance” that the band would ever reunite, and that he thought getting back together would be “a really sad thing.” He continued, saying that the only reason he could possibly ever see to reunite is if both members went bankrupt—something that seems unlikely with the success of Third Man Records—and that if that happened, he’d “probably be issuing an apology along with the announcement of the show dates.”

11. Soul Coughing
While being in Soul Coughing might not seem like it would have been the worst thing in the world, it apparently was to the group’s frontman. Mike Doughty has repeatedly gone on record to that extent—even writing a book about the topic. He claims the group’s other members—drummer Yuval Gabay, sampler Mark Degli Antoni, and bass player Sebastian Steinberg—were “very cruel” to him, and that they “didn’t like [him] from the jump.” In fact, in 2009 he told the Village Voice that he’s had nightmares about reuniting and that, “if they poked out one of my eyes, I would reform Soul Coughing so they didn’t poke out the other one.” Doughty even hates the group’s old material, re-recording and releasing his new, preferred versions of some SC classics in 2013.


12. Elvis Costello And The Attractions
As tell-alls go, The Big Wheel by former Elvis Costello And The Attractions bassist Bruce Thomas’s doesn’t actually tell much at all. It’s an account of being on the road with an unspecified band led by an unspecified singer; at worst, the unnamed singer comes across as a bit neurotic. (Bands have survived far more damning revelations, as anybody who’s read Keith Richards’ autobiography knows.) Nonetheless, The Big Wheel furthered the growing rift between Thomas and Costello, which first caused the singer to break from The Attractions in the mid-’80s before ending the band for good in the 1996. Even a 2003 induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame didn’t thaw tensions. Asked why he wouldn’t perform with Thomas at the ceremony, Costello snarked to Rolling Stone, “I only work with professional musicians.” Costello has continued touring with former Attractions Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas (no relation to Bruce), enough of a quorum that he could justify retaining the old Attractions billing if he wanted to. Instead, he’s christened the new lineup The Imposters, perhaps in some small way as a show of respect for the former bandmate he’s unlikely to ever reconcile with.

13. Uncle Tupelo
In 1993, the world looked like it was just about to become Uncle Tupelo’s oyster. After the band’s third album, March 16-20, 1992, sold more copies than the combined sales of the two albums that preceded it (No Depression and Still Feel Gone), Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy, and Mike Heidorn were swayed by Sire Records to make the leap to a major label. The resulting record, Anodyne, was released in October 1993, hitting Billboard’s Heatseekers chart and earning considerable acclaim. Unfortunately, Uncle Tupelo itself was on the verge of imploding even as the band began the process of promoting the album, with tensions between Farrar and Tweedy steadily rising. In January 1994, Farrar called the band’s manager, Tony Margherita, and dropped the bombshell that he wanted out of Uncle Tupelo. Since their dissolution Farrar and Tweedy have found success with Son Volt and Wilco, respectively, but despite regular clamoring from alt-country fans for Uncle Tupelo to reunite, it seems unlikely that it will ever happen. Despite joining forces for a successful lawsuit against Rockville Records for back royalties and the rights to the band’s first three albums, Farrar has said that he doesn’t want the band to get back together. Tweedy told Spin that he believed that it wouldn’t be a musically productive reunion, and when PopMatters asked Heidorn about the odds of a reunion ever coming to pass, he laughed and replied, “Uh… no. I think that the guys have a good thing with what they’ve got going, and I would definitely hesitate to say, ‘Yes’, so I would say, ‘No’. Nothing’s ever for sure, but I would have to say, ‘No such thing.’”