Most music groups travel a well-trod path of obscurity, fame, decline, and retirement. But sometimes, love intervenes — and not always in a good way.
These groups made a name for themselves and their bands in part because they worked so well together personally and professionally. But when one side of their relationship fell apart, the other suffered as well. Some bands outlived their usefulness to the couples, while others disintegrated because they were the couple. Whatever the reason, sour love ended these groups well before their time.
Jack and Meg White always wanted The White Stripes to be their band. Jack (born Jack Gillis) told Rolling Stone in a 2005 interview he couldn’t imagine playing in the band with another drummer, and Meg said she couldn’t imagine playing with another guitarist.
Gillis first played in a band called The Upholsterers that his employer (an upholsterer) started, but never tied himself down to just one project. Jack was the lead singer for Two-Star Tabernacle when he married White in 1996, at which point Meg had never played in a band before. He asked her to play drums for a short segment and was amazed by her talent and style.
The two developed a dynamic NPR likened to a comedy duo. They would ad lib to an extent, build off each other’s reactions, and create a unique performance packed with energy every time.
Meg had intense passion for what she was doing, but she also didn’t care about their success and was mainly interested in playing music — specifically with Jack.
Sonic Youth founder Thurston Moore might have claimed the band was more than just his marriage to Kim Gordon, but it wasn’t true. Gordon was instrumental in the band’s rise to fame, and things quickly ended when the pair split.
Gordon moved to New York City in 1980 as a struggling artist wanting to find a career. She ended up in a progressive band called CKM with Christine Hahn and Stanton Miranda, where she met Moore. Moore was fresh off the breakup of his experimental noise band Coachmen and met Gordon through her bandmate Miranda. The two started dating and formed Sonic Youth a year later — although Moore’s “official” biography on his website says he founded the band a year earlier.
Either way, it wasn’t an immediate success. Gordon’s strong, topical lyrics molded the band’s punk image while Moore’s unusual guitar work carved a musical niche for the band. But it didn’t earn any money, according to Moore’s collaborator Tim Sommer. Sommer knew the couple in Sonic Youth’s early days and described them as people with “terribly interesting friends who made odd films and strange, skeletal music.”
Even though they didn’t have any money at the time and were far from mainstream, Sommer said Sonic Youth was the pinnacle of rock and roll, a sentiment music biographer Heather Phares agrees with. Phares says Sonic Youth’s combination of powerful sounds and subjects made it one of the most influential bands in modern music, even if it never went mainstream.
During the height of the band’s popularity in the early '90s — when Daydream Nation (1990) and Dirty (1992) earned high praise from critics and fans — Gordon and Moore branched out into other projects. Both worked with other bands and experimented with solo efforts — and that eventually bled into their marriage as well.
ABBA is another case where side projects and bad romances caused the band’s breakup. The four principle members — Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, Agnetha Faltskog, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad — met while pursuing their own projects and goals.
Ulvaeus headed the internationally popular Hootenanny Singers band modeled in part after The Beatles, while Andersson was part of a smaller band called the Hep Stars, but collaborated with Ulvaeus as a songwriter.
In 1969, both Andersson and Ulvaeus started working with their future marriage partners — Faltskog and Lyngstad, respectively. Faltskog was a successful folk singer and Lyngstad had recently boosted her faltering solo career after winning a national talent contest.
The first time the four worked together on a group project was in 1970 as a cabaret act. Faltskog and Ulvaeus married a year later, and the four published their first international hit — Ulvaeus and Andersson’s “People Need Love” — in 1972 under the name Bjorn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid. In 1974, they renamed it to ABBA after manager Stig Anderson wisely decided a different name was needed, they performed “Waterloo,” won Eurovision, and became an international sensation.
The quartet wowed audiences with their finely crafted sounds — even if some critics said they came from a pop factory. They dazzled with music videos and costumes, all while fans didn’t know they were hearing the band fall apart.
Songs such as “S.O.S.” and “Mamma Mia” sat alongside more obviously upbeat tunes like “Fernando” and “Dancing Queen,” but Andersson said it was the band’s style and “the girls’ voices” that kept people from realizing their relationships were in trouble.
Lyngstad and Andersson married in 1978, after cohabitating for years, but the cracks were already showing by then. Performance pressure, strained relations, and the desire to pursue separate projects took their toll.
The couples divorced, then sang about their emotional pain with “One of Us” and “The Winner Takes It All.” To top it all off, their last album, The Visitors (1981) and last single “Under Attack” (1982) underperformed and convinced the group it was time to go.
The Fugees created what Rolling Stone called an alternative to alternative music, thanks in no small part to Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean.
Hill was something of a child prodigy, according to those around her. She competed in TV contests, amazed her friends and family with her voice, and her collaborator Pras said she had the power to make people feel deep emotion just by singing.
Sometime in the mid-’90s, following the lackluster performance of their debut album Blunted on Reality (1994), Hill and Wyclef embarked on an affair. Wyclef was married to designer Marie Claudinette, but said he was passionate about Hill — even though he claims she was manipulative as well. While the two were working out their relationship, the band was working on what would become their smash-hit second album The Score (1996).
The Score’s success is where things started going wrong. The pressure on Hill eventually became too much — or so her friends speculated. She started another relationship with Rohan Marley (son of Bob Marley) and became pregnant, telling Wyclef the child was his.
The Fugees initially broke up after The Score when Hill started questioning whether she should have gone to college and taken a different route.
They tried recording again, but the session ended with Hill in tears. She and Wyclef worked on solo projects up through 1999 before officially breaking with each other and ending The Fugees.
Wyclef said he couldn’t work with her after finding out Marley was the father of her child, saying his “muse had gone.” Hill lived with Marley and had several children with him, though turned into something of a recluse to help protect her privacy.
The way Sonny and Cher came together meant it was impossible the two could split and still work together as artists. Cher wanted to be in music, and Sonny already was.
Sonny also happened to live in the apartment next door to Cher, and she needed a place to live. The next day, she asked if she could move in, a proposition Sonny agreed to because he needed a chef (she lied to him about being able to cook) and didn’t find her attractive.
Their early relationship showed signs of the strain that drove them apart, though it was a problem they shared in creating. Sonny said Cher wanted to be protected, likely because her father abandoned her when she was young.
Cher said of their relationship in 1975 “It wasn’t a fiery, sexy thing with us, but rather paternal, like we were bound together, two people who needed each other, almost for protection.”
That also carried over into their musical relationship, where they performed together to help calm Cher’s nerves.
But Sonny took it too far. He controlled everything from her career to their image and finances, taking plenty of sexual liberties of his own because (as Cher said) he could never be satisfied with just one woman.
A bad investment on Sonny’s part almost bankrupted the duo, so they shifted from music to television with “The Sonny and Cher Show.”
This eventually saw Cher want to break free from her restraints and Sonny’s control.
The couple split and finalized their divorce in 1975, though Sonny still owned Cher’s music rights for a time. They tried working together again a few years later for the sake of their brand, but it ended in failure both for the project as well as Cher’s new marriage and music project with Gregg Allman.
Out of all this came a concept — the Plastic Ono Band. But it wasn’t a band (as Lennon told David Sheff in 1980), it was a concept with no permanent members, and Lennon used it as an experiment for turning his emotional challenges into music.
Lennon and Ono kept the band name for most of their albums through 1973, but the focus shifted from experimental music to expressing the couple's attempts to establish an identity for themselves. At the same time, their underlying relationship problems came to a head. In ‘73, Ono grew tired of being a hate icon for Beatles fans, and Lennon wanted to roam with his secretary May Pang beyond the confines of his marriage. Thus began the so-called “Lost Weekend” where the two lived apart and Lennon plunged the depths of his soul for song ideas.
The Plastic Ono Band itself was born out ofJohn Lennon’s divorce from Cynthia and subsequent re-marriage to Yoko Ono alongside the Beatles breakup. To make matters worse, Lennon and Ono had just ended a heroin habit, but replaced it with methadone.
At the time, Lennon was struggling with the aftermath of leaving The Beatles while Ono was dealing with a custody battle over her daughter and the fallout of her divorce with Tony Cox. On top of the drugs, divorce, and emotional turmoil, Lennon embarked on his Primal Therapy journey, dredging his childhood for the things that ailed him.
Lennon continued making music under his name while Ono published two albums using the Plastic Ono Band label. It seemed like the two might remain apart indefinitely, but Lennon later told Sheff that the plan was to stay apart for 6 months — but Ono didn’t let him back for 18 months.
Mind Games (1973) reintroduced the Plastic Ono Band as The Plastic U.F.Ono Band (which was more a label than a concept), and then it was rebranded again as the Plastic Ono Nuclear Band for one credit on Walls and Bridges (1974). While Ono and Lennon remained together, the experimental spirit behind the Plastic Ono Band disappeared after 1971’s Imagine and was gone in all but name when the two split.
The Tourists and Eurythmics are a strange combined case of bands going sour when relationships end. David Stewart helped form The Tourists with Scottish folk singer Peet Coombes in the mid ‘70s, and Stewart was dating Lennox at the time. She worked as a waitress, but once he discovered her talent for singing, he recruited her into The Tourists.
The band released a few albums before losing their sound direction and dissolving in 1980, which coincided with Stewart and Lennox’s relationship dissolving because the two had opposing views of how to live life.
But they knew they worked well together and wanted to continue recording under the Eurythmics name, leading to Stewart and Lennox taking their sound in a different direction — opting for synthesizers mixed with punk. They also took their look in a new direction, passing Lennox off as a lesbian to create interest and adding hints of S&M to their act to spice things up even more.
“The record company didn’t know what we were doing. But they thought, ‘They’re selling millions so they can do what they want,” Stewart told The Guardian.
While Stewart thought their success after breaking up was unprecedented, it also presented problems as well. They didn’t have time to process the end of their relationship, which created a pool of painful emotions Lennox used for Eurythmics’ songs.
“There was this strange tension — the pain of the breakup and the excitement of working together on the music. In some ways, that tension has never really gone away. There is always something that brings an edge to what we do,” she told the L.A. Times in 1986.
Whether the tension eased or the two needed to move on, Eurythmics’ popularity waned by the end of the ‘80s. Stewart started working with other projects and writing for singers like Stevie Nicks, entering a world Lennox didn’t want to be part of. The two finalized their split, pursued separate careers, and Eurythmics came to an end.
Tina Turner, born Anna Mae Bullock, tried making a music career for herself in St. Louis’ R&B circles in the 1950s, which is where she first came to Ike Turner’s attention.
She was attracted to his voice and he wanted her to make them famous. Their group, the Kings of Rhythm, turned into the Ike and Tina Turner Revue after he made her change her name — which he owned via trademark — and saw their first hit with 1960’s “A Fool in Love.”
The couple married in 1962 in a less-than-glamorous ceremony held in Tijuana, Mexico, followed by a night at a live sex show because that’s what Ike wanted. At the time, Tina knew what kind of man Ike was by the time they married, and she even said she only married him because she feared the consequences of turning him down.
Tina catapulted the duo to fame in 1971 with her rendition of “Proud Mary,” though any success was hollow at that point. She’d already tried committing suicide, her head was swollen from being hit routinely, and Ike broke her jaw on one occasion.
He admitted to hitting Tina as well, though said it was just punching and hitting, but not actually “beating.”
In 1976, Tina fought back. She hit Ike after he assaulted her, and she planned to leave him. But she waited until he’d gone to sleep, with her rubbing his temples, so she knew she’d be safe.
She left with less than half a dollar in her pocket and took refuge at a hotel. Ike tried intimidating and harassing her, but Tina persisted in her push for a divorce, demanding only the rights to her own name and two of their cars.
Things worked out for her though, as Ike died in 2007 while Tina continued to tour the world and became an internationally renowned singer before settling down with her German music producer husband Erwin Bach in a chalet in Switzerland to enjoy the rest of her life.